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.”