October 03, 2009

The Booth

By Paul McGuire © 2009

The Beatles Michelle played on the radio and Larry hummed along. The diner pumped in music -- one of the reasons why Larry loved going there. The other reason? Their savory coffee. Helen, the blue-haired behind the counter, insisted that their coffee was better than "them folks at Starbucks." Except, Helen was originally from Waltham, MA and she pronounced it, "Stah-becks."

Two cops, a female with a butch haircut and a bulky guy with a shaved head, sat in the back booth. The cops were starting their shift by killing time eating a quick breakfast before they set up a speed traps on the other side of town. Larry could not hear what they were talking about, although he heard their radios go off a couple of times.

Larry was slowly returning to the Earth's orbit after the third day of a bombastic binge. He probably could stay up for another day or more, but he decided that it was time to wind down the bender. At 6 A.M. the diner was usually empty aside from a couple of old guys slumped at the counter hovering over oatmeal and blue plate specials. A fidgety Larry had nowhere to blend in as only person sitting in a booth along the wall. The cops had to pass him on their way out and they'd know that he was fucked up. How could they not know? He could stop scratching his arms and his shoulder. It was pretty obvious what he had been doing. He should have went to the drive thru at McDonald's instead, but he vowed to never feast McD's again after he say the Super Size Me documentary. Larry was a functioning addict and a walking paradox. He'd snort absolute shit yet he refused to eat greasy fast food.

The local police spearheaded by Sheriff Buckley, who must have been one of Hitler's SS officers in a previous life. The Sheriff was just plain mean and he was on a mission. His force busted methheads everyday, sometimes up to a dozen in a single shift. The patrol cars were told to pull over as many vehicles as they could for the tiniest infractions. The goal was to catch methheads and put them away for a long time. Although his crackdown worked, many innocent locals bore the brunt of the harassment from the police in the form of speeding tickets (for going as little as 4 mph over the posted limit), citations for driving without a seat belt, or driving while talking on a cell phone. Some where doing all three. Sheriff Buckley had no qualms about his questionable procedures.

"Paying a $50 speeding ticket is a small price to pay to get all the methheads out of this county. If you don't like it, move to Jefferson county. You can drive as fast as you want but be afraid that someone's home made meth lab is going to blow up."

Larry hated Sheriff Buckley, especially because it was his ex-girlfriend's born-again uncle. He used to have quite the drinking problem and crashed his pickup into a utility pole. After his third DUI, he finally sobered up and became addicted to religion. He vowed to clean up the county in the name of Jesus.

"A total hypocrite," lamented Larry.

Larry witnessed Buckley buy cocaine a couple of times in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen off of old highway 17. Larry showed up twenty minutes early for a different drug deal. As he pulled into the parking lot, he spotted Buckley buying the goods. Buckley was not a drug addict, on the contrary, he hated them, but he was an entrepreneur. He shook down the low level coke dealers. They handed over some of their product in exchange for protection from the law. It was sort of a payment for having a "drug dealing business license" in the county. He allowed them to operate and he targeted the meth trade instead.

Sheriff Buckley sold the coke for a profit. He justified his actions by giving away some of that money to the church. However, he kept the rest to cover his bar tab at the Penny Lane -- a former honky tonk that was turned into a laundromat and strip club.

"You can drop off a load in the front, then drop off a load in the back," as one of the locals used to say.

Larry was all to familiar with Penny Lane. That's where he met his ex-girlfriend and his current girlfriend, Sunny. Larry was wishing that he stayed in bed with Sunny instead of waiting for his breakfast in the line of sight of a couple of cops.

Larry tried not to look at the cops when they stopped in front of the cashier. They can sense fear and trick him into letting them search his car where they would find enough evidence to send him away for a very long time. The male cop paid the tab and made small talk with Helen, while the butch cop looked Larry over. He tried not to breath. She took a step towards him. He froze and the front door opened. A large figure rumbled through.

"Big Reid!" shouted Helen. "Haven't seen you in a while. How have you been?"

Larry exhaled with Big Reid to the rescue.

Both cops stopped Reid Washington to shake his mammoth hand. Big Reid was the closest thing to a celebrity in their small town. Towering over both the cops and Helen, Big Reid stood 6'9" tall. He weighed 350 and carried a beer gut, but the rest of him was "solid like an oak tree" as one former TV broadcaster described him.

Big Reid was in his forties now, but twenty-five years earlier, he was the starting lineman on the high school football team that made it to the state championship game. Larry's uncle played wide out on that same team and said that Big Reid was the greatest athlete he had ever seen. It was rumored that Big Reid could throw a baseball 95 mph. Due to his gigantic size, he earned a football scholarship to Ohio State, where won a Rose Bowl with the Buckeyes as a starter. He played eight seasons over a span of ten years in the NFL including two Pro Bowl appearances. He would have played more, but the chronic knee injuries ended his career earlier than he hoped.

Big Reid moved back to his hometown and invested the millions he earned playing pro football. He owned two gas stations, an Arby's franchise, and a brick laying company. He wasn't the richest man in the county, but he was definitely the most famous.

Big Reid saw Larry sitting alone. He waved and shouted across the diner, "Larry Hawkins. Is that you? How's you uncle Bobby doing?"

"He's got testicular cancer," Larry shouted. "He had a nut removed, but he's recovering."

Larry hoped that he wasn't too loud with his inebriated answer. Both cops stared him down before Big Reid whispered something to them. They nodded their heads and walked towards the exit.

"Bobby Hawkins has one nut? Ain't that a bitch," said Big Reid.

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

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