I'm not so sure this is a good idea, putting in pieces of my novel as I write it. I can't imagine many people being interested in it. On the other hand, with the exception of a few of my friends and relatives, I don't really know who my readers are. Quite a few from Russia and the UK, a fact that still amazes me, and a smattering of readers from other parts of the world. How do they find me and why would they want to read my personal drivel? I don't know. For the time being, I'll put in some of what I write, but not every day.
Chapter 1 –
“If it looks like trouble, count me in!”
That was the message on a birthday card his daughter had recently sent him—said by a tough-looking male tabby, one ear sort of ragged from a fight he’d had, eyes golden around midnight irises, half closed in a belligerent stare at the reader, a kitchen match stuck jauntily in the right side of his jaw, pool cue in right paw, pool table in the background. He thought it was perfectly appropriate for his seventy-seventh birthday. He always knew he could count her in for any battle he might have.
He had just sat down at his usual table in his usual breakfast haunt, “The Dirty Spoon.” His usual table was a two-seater located in the far northeast corner of the dining room. One would think that a place calling itself a dirty spoon would be short of customers, but most of the inhabitants of Happy Valley had taken it as their rallying cry and supported it wholeheartedly. In fact, he usually arrived as soon after 6:00 a.m., their opening time, as he was able, the place filling uncomfortably around 8:00. He did everything he could to avoid crowds; thus, his early arrival.
He always tried to beat Marcie to the punch, turning over a cup, opening a creamer and dumping it in, then one packet of sweetener, always the pink kind, never the blue or yellow. And she always tried to get there before he could accomplish the feat. This morning he won.
“Morning, Tom,” she said to him, pouring his usual cup of regular. “I see you were just too damn quick for me this morning, the quick and the dead,” she deadpanned. “Some mornings quick, some mornings dead. What’s that, first time this week? Well, I’ll getcha tomorrow.” She stood waiting as he took a sip of coffee, then set the cup down.
“What’s it gonna be? You gonna surprise me and ask for something different? Like a bowl of oatmeal and two poached eggs?” She stood there, one hand holding the coffee pot, the other resting on a hip, upper body angling to the right. Marcie was a tired forty-something, and had been working the morning shift for as long as Tom could remember. This morning she was dressed in black slacks and black top with a streak of catsup like fresh blood on one of the sleeves, dirty white sneakers on her feet. Well, where else would they be, he thought. For ten years now they went through the same motions, the same words, the phrases varying by tiny increments from one morning to the next.
“No, Marcie, I’ll have my usual.”
Marcie shook her head, scratched his order on her pad, and left to place it at the kitchen. When Tom had first met her, she pulled the old “Sweetie” line on him. He told her right off that he wasn’t a “sweetie” and he never wanted to hear it from her. She smiled at him and tapped her pencil on her teeth. “That’s true. You sure as hell aren’t a sweetie. Maybe more like an old grouch. You’ll never get a sweetie or honey or darlin’ from me. So, do I call you OG or OF? Which?”
“Let’s just call me Tom and I’ll call you . . .,” he looked at her name tag, “Marci. Okay? I don’t think either ‘old grouch’ or ‘old fart’ is accurate.” She agreed and it had been Tom and Marcie ever since.
Tom opened his book, knife across the top to hold the pages down. He was in the middle of a Spenser by Parker, one he could speed through like downhill skiing, machine gun dialogue and Spenserian witticisms. He never went anywhere without a book. One never knew when one would have open space, open time, and without a book one might be obligated to listen to inane conversation from inane people, people wanting passionately to relate their medical histories. In fact, he seldom looked around the dining room for fear of seeing someone he knew, someone who might spot him and want to sit with him. No thanks. All he wanted was a quiet breakfast and a little Spenser.
He was just finishing chapter 23, with Spenser gazing out his office window, admiring the lovely ladies of Boston, when Marcie brought his order and filled his cup. “Here it is, Sport—over easy, sausage, hash browns, sour dough. You just gotta try something else one of these days. This stuff’ll give you arteries set in concrete.” She gave him a pat on the head and filled his cup. “I worry about you, Tommie boy. Who’d I have to fight with every morning if you weren’t around?” He waved her away, head down. She clucked and shook her head and went back to her other customers.
Tom sighed, closed his book, then put another creamer and sweetener in his cup, stirred, took a sip, then prepared his breakfast—salt and pepper on eggs and hash browns. He knew he shouldn’t be using so much salt, but he no longer cared. Eggs and potatoes without salt weren’t worth eating. He opened a half-ounce container of strawberry jam and carefully carved out two-thirds for one of the toast halves. He always used exactly two-thirds for each of the first three pieces, then an entire one for the fourth. There was great satisfaction in the ritual. He took one bite of the toast, then put it carefully on the left edge of the plate. One sip of coffee. Fork into one egg yolk, allowing the orange yolk to seep toward the edge of the hash browns. Then one careful quarter of the opened egg. One sip of coffee. Next came a bite of the potatoes with just the right amount of egg yolk. Another bite of toast. One third of one of the sausage links. The ritual was all. It went like that until all was gone except for the last piece of toast, the one with a full packet of jam. Marcie had been around with coffee, his third cup, and he finished the toast, drank the last of the coffee. Before he left, he put all his breakfast débris—the three creamer cups, the three artificial sweetener packets, the three empty jam containers along with his utensils and paper napkin—onto his toast plate, which he then put on his breakfast plate. He returned the salt and pepper shakers to their official positions near the jam and sweetener holder, positioned them exactly as they had been when he arrived. He took two dollar bills from his wallet and put them on the table, stood with book in hand, and went to the cashier.
“Bye, Tom,” Marcie said from near the serving window. “ See you tomorrow.” She pointed a finger at him and winked. “Think about it, Sport, oatmeal. You, oatmeal, think about it.”
He waved to her, more dismissive than farewell, and left.
Now, he thought, what to do with the rest of the day?