Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Grady’s pt. 1

Who’s at the counter?”

What?”

Without being too obvi­ous about it, tell me who’s sit­ting at the counter this morn­ing. You didn’t think we just came for break­fast did you Adderley?”

Well-”

Charlie Oliveri smiled across the booth at his young intern. “Curse of the local news­pa­per reporter, Adderley: you’re always on the job.”

Adderley’s eyes lit up. Whatever bug it is that dri­ves per­fect­ly intel­li­gent indi­vid­u­als to work exces­sive­ly long hours try­ing to report true sto­ries back to an often unre­cep­tive pub­lic had infect­ed young Nathan Adderley so thor­ough­ly that he hadn’t yet learned to hide it in fash­ion­able jour­nal­is­tic cyn­i­cism. “Right.”

Open your menu and just glance up there once in a while, then tell me who you see. Start with the per­son near­est the reg­is­ter.”

Okay.”

And when Grady comes over to take our order, don’t be sur­prised if I’m talk­ing base­ball.”

Well, right off I see Mr. Langen.”

Oliveri nod­ded. He knew that one. Langen taught high school Civics and owned almond orchards and pas­ture to the east of town. He start­ed his days ear­ly at Grady’s. Oliveri spot­ted Langen’s white pick­up truck in the park­ing lot as they pulled in a few min­utes ago. Langen had nod­ded hel­lo to Oliveri when they came in and would come over for a word before he left. In old Europe, Langen would have served as a town Burgher, in the rusty towns back east he would have been an Alderman, down south, a good old boy, but here in Brenlee (incor­po­rat­ed as a city in the State of California in 1952) for the past 17 years he had con­sis­tent­ly won a seat on either the City Council or the School Board. This year and next he was on the City Council. He had an easy man­ner and remind­ed Oliveri of a grey­ing Gary Cooper. The fact that he sat near the reg­is­ter today raised ques­tions for Charlie. Did he arrive late? Was he watch­ing for some­one? Avoiding some­one? Anxious to eat and get going?

Next to him is Mr. Buedall.”

Another Council mem­ber.” And a Real Estate agent who had moved to Brenlee only ten years ago. Always wears a jack­et and tie; half the town thinks he’s a preach­er. He’s not usu­al­ly up or out this ear­ly.

Mr. Rocha.”

Which one?”

Nathan looked at him a bit anx­ious­ly. “The one on the City Council.”

Frank. One more and they have a quo­rum.” Frank Rocha was a Contractor and his broth­ers owned and oper­at­ed a large local dairy. He was a reg­u­lar break­fast nui­sance for Langen and Grady, with a habit of show­ing up not quite entire­ly sober on Friday morn­ings.

Nathan chuck­led and then looked seri­ous­ly into his menu.

What’s fun­ny?”

Rocha is talk­ing to Buedall and Buedall is talk­ing to Mr. Langen. And Mr. Langen just looks bored and kin­da fun­ny.”

Counting the cof­fee fil­ters on top of the machine no doubt.”

Yeah.”

Oliveri spoke as though con­clud­ing a long and detailed expla­na­tion, “So, Bonds is great but he’s a lot bet­ter if he’s hit­ting behind some­one who can get on base… Morning Grady.”

Good morn­ing Charlie. Staff break­fast, yah?” He poured them both cof­fee and water.

Sure. Important edi­tion today.”

Grady’s mous­tache rolled and bris­tled with con­cern. “Too much news.”

You said it.”

Grady arrived in Brenlee pure­ly by acci­dent thir­ty years ear­li­er as an over­grown young German hip­pie whose car stopped run­ning in front of the Bait Bucket. Grady’s par­ents had been great fans of all things American and named him after a jazz drum­mer vir­tu­al­ly unknown to most peo­ple in Brenlee. As soon as he was old enough he had worked his way across the Atlantic on a freighter and began work­ing west across the states. He start­ed work­ing in the orchards pick­ing fruit, then dri­ving fruit trucks, and before long fell in love with a local. Within a few years he had saved enough mon­ey to buy this small restau­rant which had stood board­ed up for sev­er­al years. He moved calm­ly and seri­ous­ly, if not grace­ful­ly, around the place, work­ing the kitchen and front in the morn­ing and rely­ing on his wife Josefa for help wait­ing tables in the evening. Oddly, while his body remained strong, his accent had thick­ened with age, so now “What would you like?” sound­ed like “watt wud tchew like?”

Oliveri and Addlerley ordered. Adderley pre­pared to con­tin­ue, but inter­rupt­ed him­self, “I’ve- I’ve nev­er been here this ear­ly.”

Why would you be?”

To find out what’s going on.”

Charlie smiled, “Just come in and lis­ten in, huh?”

Right.”

I tried that. At first. Doesn’t work.”

Why not?”

First of all, it’s hard to notice things that you’re too close to and sec­ond, nobody real­ly ever speaks off the record. Not for long, any­way. Unless they’re drunk and then you can’t believe what they’re say­ing even if you under­stand it.”

So why are we here?”

Oliveri looked out the win­dow at the small park­ing lot and the con­struc­tion site next door that would, accord­ing to a large gar­ish­ly paint­ed ban­ner, soon be an auto parts store. He looked back at Nathan Adderley. He didn’t want to explain it, but it felt like his job. “We’re here for break­fast and a Geological sur­vey.”