He wiped his forehead and felt antsy, anxious for the time to pass, uneasy as always.
“Paradise, double American,” Quintrell, the cashier, called out.
“Paradise, double American heard,” he said and dropped two patties in the middle of his grill and a chicken breast in the ‘hot’ corner.
“Boudin platter, greens, sweet fries.”
“Boudin, greens,” he said and dropped the sausage and the greens on the right of the grill, the ‘warm side.’ “Sweet fries,” he yelled to the fry station.
“Two Phillies, one trashy.”
“Two Phillies, one trashy,” he said and dropped the meat in the middle and the veggies to the warm side. Despite his bandana, sweat was on his forehead. He wiped it off with the back of his arm and put pepper jack cheese on a couple of burgers to let it melt.
“Oyster po’ boy, crawdad po’ boy, no lettuce.”
“Oyster, crawdad,” he hollered to the fry station then put the burgers on the dressed buns at the ‘build’ station. Leroy, at expediter, wrapped them up.
“Two pepper jack, all the way, to go for Ricky,” Leroy called out.
He looked up at the clock. It was the golden minute - 1:45. “Last one in line, last service,” he called out. He flipped the chicken and the philly meat, chopped it with a sharp spatula, pulled the veggies over and topped it with jack cheese.
“Two singles, medium rare.”
“Two singles medium rare,” he replied and dropped the patties on the grill. He flipped several patties and put cheese on some then butterflied the chicken.
“One shrimp po’ boy, two home grown. That’s it.”
“One shrimp,” he yelled to the fry station and dropped assorted fresh veggies on the warm grill for two home grown. Probably some tourists just passing through, he thought. He
hated home grown because they took up so much room on the grill but this late they weren’t too bad. He put cheese on several burgers. “Where’s those sweet fries?” He plated the boudan and the greens right as Jerome brought up the sweet fries. “Good timing, my friend,” he said and put the plate on the build table. Then he put the burgers on their buns and the chicken for the Chicken in Paradise on its Texas toast. He chopped the Phillies again and deposited the concoction in the buns. Then he noticed lettuce on both po’ boy buns. “No lettuce, Bobby. Save that for the shrimp coming up. Your lucky day.”
“Mr. Warren, Willie B. coming in. We serve him?” Quintrell asked.
“Yeah. But no huge ass order.” The medium rare burgers were ready to go so he put them on their buns then flipped the veggies.
“Willie B. just wants a reuben on a po’ boy bun.”
Good, he thought. Reuben’s were the quickest to grill. He dropped sauerkraut and pastrami on the grill then piled half the veggies on his spatula and placed them on Texas toast then repeated the process for the other home grown. Jerome put fried shrimp onto a po’ boy bun.
“Okay, that’s it. I’ll take care of Willie B. Y’all get this place spotless and I mean spotless. I’ll be gone a bayou minute so I want this place sparkling for Mr Fontneau.” He put hot pastrami on the heated sauerkraut and topped it with Swiss cheese. He went to the build station and spread their homemade, spicy Russian dressing on a po’ boy bun. When the cheese melted he scooped up the reuben, placed it on the bun and turned off his grill. He plated the sandwich, added a pickle then got a beer out of the cooler. He walked out to a middle aged black man dressed in a gray t-shirt, dirty overalls tucked into rubber boots and an old cheap baseball hat that advertised RC Cola.
“Willie B.,” he said as he set the plate down along with the beer, smiled and wiped a drop of sweat that had escaped his bandana.
“Ah, now thank you, Warren. I tried to get here by 1:45 but it jus’ wasn’t hapnin’. Sho’ was lookin’ forward to me a samwich.”
“How was the catch today?” He asked.
Willie B. shook his head and took a bite. He finished his mouthful and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “Done brought the few crawdad I caught to Mr Fontneau but ain’t seen no gater. That one I brought last week still lastin’ ya’ll?”
“Oh yeah. We’re good for a few. Don’t sell as much gater as all the rest. You know I’ll be gone a week or two,” he said.
“Yeah. Heard about yo’ daddy. Sorry for you, Warren,” Willie B. said and took a big bite.
He just nodded. “Thanks. Well, I gotta get to work.”
Willie B. nodded with his mouthful and waved as Warren walked back to the grill.
“Okay, y’all, lets get it going. I’m anxious to get outta here,” he said and drained the grease from the grill.
“Mr. Warren, can we turn up the music? We got it on your station,” Quintrell, the baby of the crew at 19, asked.
“Which one?” Leroy asked. “He like soul, cajun, country, rock and roll. Is there anything you don’t like, Warren?”
“Electronic,” he replied. He looked at his watch and the dining room. It was after two and only two patrons sat eating, besides Willie B. “Go ahead, but not all the way,” he continued and the music got cranked. It was KJAK FM, the station who’s program director had to be his own age. “What I Like About You” emitted from the speakers and the crew all picked up the pace. He got a grill brick and began cleaning the dirty surface. Jerome came up to him and whispered “That’s what I like about you, you make me clean like hell,” into his ear along with the song and Warren playfully pushed him.
“Bobby, get a new towel. That one’s filthy,” he said. He shouldn’t call him Bobby. His name was Ron but he looked just like his oldest sister’s pre-teen-mega-star-crush Bobby Sherman. Bobby Sherman was a good looking man but really couldn’t sing. That didn’t keep him from having a number one hit back in the day. Ron was the owner’s brother’s grandson so Warren had no choice but to employ him. But he was the only real fuck up on the crew. Earlier in the shift he had spilled half a container of ranch dressing back by the fry station and just walked off without cleaning it up.
“What are you doing?” Warren had asked.
“Jerome can clean it up. We’re busy and I needed to be at my station.”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll manage until you clean that shit up.”
He wanted to add, ‘you entitled little shit,’ but knew better. He had talked to Mr Fontneau about getting rid of him, but his boss couldn’t do that to family. He had to ride the boy to do his job, which was tiresome. Thank God he only worked three days a week. Just as he was finishing up the grill “Jenny, Jenny” came on and he chuckled as the crew all repeated the infamous phone number together. He began to clean the grill hood when he felt a tap on the shoulder. Jerome, who had just turned thirty and would tell everybody about his Creole heritage who asked, smiled at Warren.
“I got the hood, Warren. You go do your paper work so you can get outta here. I know you anxious to go ahead on.”
Warren wanted to protest but he didn’t want to stomp on Jerome’s generous offer. “Thanks, my friend.” He handed his best fry cook the towel and headed toward the office. “When you’re done, Leroy, come talk with me.” Leroy saluted him as he was cleaning the toaster.
Warren picked up the receipts for the day that Quintrell had printed out and took the cash drawer back to the tiny, cramped office that was neat as a pin and organized with color code accuracy. He sat down and it felt good to get off his feet as he began to rectify charge slips and cash. The drawer was 25 cents short. No big deal. He entered his report on the computer then put the cash in a bank bag. “Juke Box Hero” came on the radio and Warren zoned out to the song. He and Beaux were looking in the Sears catalog at guitars. They knew they were crap instruments but they wanted them all the same. The next year Beaux got one. Warren’s father refused to get him one. But then Beaux’s father suggested it would be nice if the two could play together. Wanting to keep face, his father relented. And that guitar in his hands was one of the greatest feelings he had ever had. He and Beaux started a band, The Haskells, because of their puckish attitude and Beaux’s strong resemblance to the Leave it to Beaver character.
Leroy knocked on the open door. “Thanks for taking over the grill. That was some rush we had. Here’s the tip jar,” he said and squatted like a catcher. He was the longest serving and most trusted of all the employees that worked under him. He was a few years older than Warren, a heavy set man with chapped black skin, a salt and pepper afro and three gold front teeth. His ‘Fontneau’s’ t-shirt had mayonnaise and mustard adorning his ample girth.
“I want you at expo when we’re slammed and short handed,” Warren replied. He got up and offered Leroy the chair. “You count it while I’m talking to you.”
Leroy nodded and began sorting out the cash.
“I’ve got six weeks vacation built up,” Warren said and Leroy whistled. “Yeah, I know. I haven’t taken time off since my daughter graduated high school. Anyway, Mr. Fontneau wants me to take at least three weeks. Says I’m getting burned out.”
“Well, you always here. ’Cept Sundays.”
“Anyway, you’re in charge while I’m gone. Mr Fontneau will be around a lot but try not to bother him. If you have any questions, call me first. Ms. Henrietta and Jack will be working more hours and so will Ron.”
“Lord have mercy.”
Warren chuckled. “Anyway, I have a schedule made out for the next four weeks. After the funeral I might head up to Illinois so I can see my daughters. Not sure how long I’ll be gone.”
“Y’all gonna throw a party?”
“’Cause my Dad is dead?”
“Yeah. I think you should.”
“Not a bad idea,” Warren said and Leroy handed him the money. “Forty-three dollars and sixteen cents.”
“And twenty two dollars on credit card. 14 apiece and one-sixteen for the slush fund.”
Leroy counted out the money and smiled at Warren. “I hope you have a safe trip. You watch out on that motorcycle of yours.”
Warren nodded and left the office. As Leroy doled out the tips, Warren inspected the restaurant to make sure everything was clean. Much to his surprise, even Ron’s station looked spic and span.
“Alright. Looks good. I’ll see ya’ll in a few weeks. Hold down the fort, now.”
The crew left. Warren ran his hand along the front counter. He looked at the chairs up on the tables, the coolers and the kitchen area - a sight he’d seen so many times. Sometimes he didn’t want to leave but it was the end of the day. The end of the day. He hated taking time off. When he wasn’t working he was left alone with his thoughts.
“Call Me” by Blondie came on the radio. He thought of his hate for his father, and the call from his sister. She had simply said, “He’s gone.” He knew he had to go to the funeral. He couldn’t let his sister, Wanda, handle it alone. When she had called he had been sick for awhile so it came as no shock and yet their was an unreality to it all. She had begged him to help her.
“Warren, you have to help me with the funeral.”
“Just throw him in the God damn river or let fire ants pick his bones clean. Fuck making a big deal.”
“Warren! You know we can’t do that! Besides, there’s his will and his estate and the house. Warren I need your help. You were always the smart one. I can’t do this by myself. And Willy say’s she’s not even coming.”
“Do you blame her?” Warren asked.
“I’ll be there, Wanda. Just give me a day or two. I gotta make arrangements at my jobs.”
“Broken Wings” by Mister Mister was playing when he turned off the radio. He grabbed the bank bag, turned out the lights, locked up. He lit a cigarette and smoked it before he went to the Fontneau’s Market next door. 78 year old Bessie Fontneau looked up from the register and smiled broadly when she recognized Warren.
“Oh, Warren, honey. I’m so glad your taking some time off,” she said in her cajun accent. “I know you weren’t close with your pere but when you pay your respects you’re paying the Lord his respects.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Warren replied.
“Besides, you can go up and see your babies.”
A wry grin formed in the corner of his mouth. His babies were 26 and 22. His son would have been 29.
He shook his thoughts. “Is Mr. Fontneau here or at the house?”
“He’s in the office, honey. You just go right in.”
Warren nodded and walked back to the office which was much larger than the one at the restaurant and much more cluttered. 81 year old Levi Fontneau sat punching numbers on a calculator and writing on a yellow legal pad. Besides the restaurant and the market, he owned some motel cottages on the bayou, two apartment complexes and several rental properties. He looked frustrated but when he looked up, he smiled.
“Warren, my boy! Come on in. You ready for your trip, or do you still have to pack and such?” His accent was thicker than his wife’s.
“I’m packed. Just finishing things up and then heading out. Going to see a friend down in New Orleans tonight and then head over to Mississippi.”
“Good. So you have time to take all this money to the bank. I got way too much sitting around. Makes me nervous.”
“Sure, Mr. Fontneau.”
“I’d take it myself but Dorris didn’t show up today and I can’t leave Bessie here by herself.”
“I understand,” Warren said. “Just let me walk down and get my bike.”
“No, Warren, just take my car.” He reached in his pocket, fished out his keys, and handed them to Warren.
Warren collected numerous deposits then went to the front of the market and got into his boss’s 1976 mint condition, dark blue Cadillac. As he drove the few blocks to the bank, he passed Clevon walking past The Blue Crab Restaurant. He had no idea his old drug dealer was out of the joint. He shook his head and his grip tightened on the steering wheel, knuckles whitening. He’d been clean for over five years now, again. But this time felt like it was going to stick. He didn’t ever want to go back to looking over his shoulder, paranoid at fucking up, pulling the rug from beneath his life again. He parked in front of the Comeau’s Corner City Bank. He got out and looked at all the money, ran his hand along the side of the classic Caddie and shook his head. No way he would break Mr Fontneau’s trust. Yet he could almost feel the rush. He grunted. Probably just a surge of fear and anxiety.
He made the deposits and drove back to the market that sold mostly fresh seafood and produce, much of which was locally grown. Of course the real draw, particularly for tourists, was the plethora of canned vegetables, homemade jams and jellies, and homemade candy that Ms. Fontneau and her daughter Laura made. Warren got most of what little he ate at home from the market except for the fresh bread he got from Hebert’s Bakery, also the supplier of all the restaurant’s bread. He rarely went to the Winn Dixie unless he needed an ice cream or Reece’s fix.
He went back to the office and handed Mr. Fontneau all the receipts.
“Well, Warren, ole boy. I’m not sure I like you doing all the traveling on your moto’cycle. Why don’t you take Bessie’s car. She cain’t even drive no more in the night. We can manage ’til you get back.”
“Thanks, Mr. Fontneau, but I’ll be fine. You know I’ve been riding that thing everywhere for years. Got my little trailer to put everything in. I’ll be fine. If something happened to Ms. Bessie’s car, I’d never forgive myself. But I really appreciate it.”
“Well, alright then, son. But you be careful, now. Come back to us in one piece.” The old man got up and gave Warren a rough hug, pounding his back several times. “Now, Bessie has something for you ’fore you go.”
He smiled and nodded. He found Bessie Fontneau dusting jars of pickled peaches and pears. She put down the feather duster and walked Warren to behind the front register where there was a large, handled canvas bag. She hoisted the bag and handed it to Warren. “Now, honey, I made you a sandwich and there’s some Zapps and an apple. There’s some fig and raspberry preserves and some pickled okra to take to your sister and some peach butter and penuche for you to snack with.” She paused and frown slightly. “Warren, be careful and I know you and your pere didn’t get along but you say a prayer over the loaded grave. If not for your pere then for the Lord himself. Betwixt us all we’ll feed that mean ole cat of yours twice a day.”
“Yes Ma’am,” he replied and kissed her on the forehead.
He slung the bag over his shoulder and walked down the road toward Bayou Lamothe that ran through town. His cabin was on 12 foot stilts just back from the Bayou. The Fontneaus owned the house and let him live there as part of his salary. The bag felt particularly heavy as he walked up the steps. As soon as he opened the front door his tortoise shell cat, Aretha, attacked his leg. He picked her up and cuddled her.
“Vous savez ce qui se passe, eh kitty?” He said. “I don’t even want to go, petite amie.” He put her and the bag down and walked up the stairs to the second floor that only contained a big bedroom. He stripped his work clothes off and jumped in the shower which he finished in two minutes. Somehow, after all these years, he couldn’t shake the three minute shower rule of his father, being smacked on his bare backside when he got out if he was in there too long. He put on some jeans, a striped shirt and some boots that were good for walking around. Then he took a bag off his neatly made bed and smoothed the area where it sat. He stood and stared at the bed thinking of all the times when, as a child, his father wasn’t pleased with his job and snatched the covers off, demanding he make it again.
“You know, fuck you,” he said aloud and unmade the bed. He smiled, but then he had to remake it before he went downstairs.
He loaded the bag Mrs. Fontneau made and his suitcase into his trailer which he had hitched up to his ’73 Triumph Trident. He wondered if he had packed enough. His black suit and tie he had left at his sister’s house after his brother died, hoping he could wear it soon for his father. It had taken six years. He went back in the cabin and heated up the last of the cinnamon buns he had bought at Hebert’s. Aretha was meowing from the couch.
“No T.V. today, sweetheart. You’ll have to watch Jeopardy by yourself. It’s on channel five.” He got the pastry out of the microwave and sat down on the couch. He scratched behind his cat’s ears and she purred as she licked at the icing of the cinnamon bun then rubbed his hand with her head. “Ah, petite amie. I’ll miss you too,” he said to the only woman in his life. When he was done, he got up and went outside on his deck and pulled out a smoke. He lit it, inhaled deeply and looked out at the bayou. It had been a warm day, in the low nineties and muggy as hell.
He eyed a tortoise sunning on a rock. “Wait ’til July and August, eh Tortue?” He knew he should really take a nap too but he was anxious to get going.
After his smoke, he fed the cat then went to his music room with the upright piano that had been his mothers, the drum kit, the stereo and albums, the guitars. He looked at it, looked at that one guitar, hidden behind his own. He knew he had to. He knew it was time. He pulled the guitar case out and looked at the stickers affixed so long ago. Van Halen. Pat Benetar. Cheap Trick. The Ramones. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. 38 Special. The Cars. He smiled and drifted in his mind to he and Beaux and the band playing “Hot For the Teacher,” “Blitzkreig Bop,” or “American Girl.” He remembered Beaux insisting on doing “Hell Is For Children,” which cut a little too close to home for Warren. But they worked it up and it became a real crowd pleaser. He smiled. Inside was a 1978, red Les Paul standard. It was three years old when Beaux bought it with the money he saved, working at the bowling alley, from a guy in Biloxi desperate for cash. He paid 300$. It was worth at least 2000$ now. Warren ran his hand over the case.
“You have to do it, Warren,” Calvin said. “You know you do.”
“I can’t. He was my best friend. How could I do something like this?”
“Hare-on make you do some fucked up shit. Only way out from under is to trust the process.”
“He’ll probably never speak to me again. I just...There’s got to be another way.”
“Look, Warren, you might stay clean without makin’ all yo’ amends to folks, but you’ll never find peace. You’ll never be truly happy with this shit hangin’ over yo’ head. You’ll never move on. And chances are, you probably start gettin’ high again.”
Warren shook his head. He picked up the case and selected his semi-hollow body guitar that sounded good even unplugged, and carried them out to his trailer, shut the top and locked it. He went back inside and picked up Aretha.
“Honey, I’ll be back as soon as I can. Hold down the fort and don’t shred the couch too much while I’m gone. Séparation est telle douce tristesse.” He snuggled his nose into her abdomen as she purred. “Do not attack anyone who comes to feed you. I mean it tu veux dire chat.” He put her down and she immediately began clawing the couch. Warren laughed. “I love you too.”
He picked up a book bag that contained his toiletries, note books, pens, medication and a couple of bottles of Swamp Pop. He looked back at his cat before he headed out the door. “Au revoir, petite amie.” He got on his motorcycle and fired it up.
Warren drove to Gulliot’s, home of cajun dining and dancing five nights a week. He had drummed in their band off and on for nearly two decades. The paycheck he sought wouldn’t be much since he usually ate there each evening he played. Despite getting food for half price, a two week paycheck was rarely over 100$ for him. Still, it was fun and the food was good. And after cooking all day, it was nice to have somebody cook for him.
He entered the restaurant that had half the lights out. Two men drinking at the bar looked up and waved.
“Warren. How you be, you?”
“About to take off. Just getting my check.”
“Man, you should stay here and we have a party. Big party. Let the booze flow, eh?”
Warren laughed. They knew how much he hated his father. “Now you know Hugh and Boudreaux, I don’t drink much. But ’preciate the offer. Maybe when I get back.”
“We got to go weeks with Tubby on the drums. You dirty do us wrong, Warren Ware,” Hugh said. “We might have the conju on you when you get back.” Boudreaux nodded.
“Tubby’s not playing every night, is he?”
“Alohrs pas! Not that Grand Beede. My boy Richard play some.”
“Tres bein,” Warren replied.
An attractive blonde woman in her forties came from the back to behind the bar. She smiled at Warren. “Bet you lookin’ for this,” she said and opened the register. She pulled a white envelope out and handed it to Warren.
“You headed out?”
He nodded. “Right after I stop by Dr. Dennis’ house.”
“’Mazes me how you and your ex-father in law is so close,” she said.
Warren kissed her on the cheek. “What’s not to like, beb.” She popped his head with a towel.
“You best go while you ahead,” Boudreaux said.
Warren smiled. “See y’all in a few weeks.”
Warren left the dance hall and straddled his bike. He looked at his watch and saw that it was already after four. That was fine. Give the rush hour traffic in Baton Rouge time to dissipate. He revved his motorcycle and headed towards the intrastate and the north side a town. It had traditionally been the “colored” neighborhood fifty years ago and truth be told, most of it still was inhabited by blacks and creoles. He pulled into possibly the most well kept house on Cherry Street, a midsize ranch style home that was brick and lime green. He parked in the driveway and went up the walk. He knocked on the front door twice then went in.
“Dr. Dennis! It’s Warren.”
An elderly, lighter skinned black man, who was drying an ice tea glass, came around a corner into the living room and smiled. “Warren, my boy. Have a seat. I’m just about through with these dishes unless you want to help me finish up.”
Warren followed him into the kitchen and began to put away the dried dishes. He had always loved his father-in-law’s kitchen, with its ample cabinet space, dark brown formica counter tops, and an island in the middle. Warren enjoyed coming over to fix a good meal, watch LSU sports or the NBA as well as the WNBA. Or just some good philosophical conversation. The two men finished their chore and the elder smiled.
“Now. Get you whatever strikes your fancy and get me a beer.”
Warren found a bottle of IBC root beer and a bottle of Rolling Rock which he opened with a church key hanging on the side of the refrigerator. He went into the living room where his father in law was already seated in his favorite easy chair. Doctor Dennis Morris was a Professor Emeritus of history at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Originally hailing from Rockford, IL, and attending Illinois State where he ran track, he was one of the first black professors hired a ULL. He still had a compact sprinters body but his face was weathered from his 78 years and his thin, loose afro was entirely gray. Warren handed him his beer and the two men clinked bottles together.
“When you headed out?” The professor asked Warren.
“Soon. Let the traffic die down in Baton Rouge.”
“Funeral in three days?”
Warren nodded and took a gulp of the root beer. He stared at a picture on a book shelf of he, his ex-wife, and their kids. He did it every time he came over and was washed in a sea of uncertainty-feelings of happiness interspersed with overwhelming feelings of grief.
“Do you want me to come to the funeral?”
“Up to you, Dr. Dennis. I wish we could just cremate his ass and spread his ashes in the city dump,” Warren replied. “But I, I don’t know. It would be cool to have you there.”
“I haven’t been to Mississippi in sometime. Think the last time was for your Mama.”
“Not my favorite place to be. The viewing is in Tchoutacabouffa but he’s being buried in Biloxi at the military cemetery. Full military honors,” he said sarcastically.
“Now, son, by your own account he was a war hero.”
“Yeah, guess that offsets all the young Vietnamese girls he fucked,” Warren said flatly.
Dr. Dennis gulped at his beer. “Yeah. Guess he was detestable any way you look at it. I remember when I first met your parents. Curtis was a toddler, I think. And your father bent over backwards to be friendly.”
“Yeah he always tried real hard to be ‘down with the brothers,’” Warren said using air quotes.
“Paradoxes and paradigms,” Dr. Dennis said with a laugh. “Then he changed when he realized I was a professor. All of the sudden he was trying to prove just how intellectually superior he was to me. It was almost laughable.”
“Yeah. He had to be top dog and humiliate you along the way. I’m really just going to help Wanda. After the funeral there’s the will and all that shit.” He paused. “I’m really worried about the restaurant. Mr. Fontneau wants me to take at least three weeks. Leroy’s good on the grill but freaks if it gets too busy and…”
“Warren, you left the restaurant before and they survived, haven’t they?”
“Well, yeah. Mavis’ graduation, Mama and my brother’s funerals, and Cleo’s graduation but that was for less than a week each time.” He looked back at the picture and stared at his son’s smiling face. His New Orleans Saints jersey. His blue jeans. His high tops. Curtis would be 29. He shook his head and drank some more root beer.
“Son, you could use some time off. You’re such a workaholic. Do you some good to have some you time,” Dr. Dennis said and sipped some beer. “Hey, Jeopardy is coming on. You want to watch?”
“Sure,” Warren replied. “I’m going down to visit a friend of mine from treatment in New Orleans before I head over to Mississippi. We’ve kept in touch all this time.”
“That’ll be good. You seem to really have a grip on kicking those drugs to the curb,” Dr. Dennis said as he messed with the remote. The familiar Jeopardy theme song emitted from the T.V. and they settled down to watch.
Between the two of them, they were quite good. Dr. Dennis was an expert at history, the theatre, movies, t.v., some popular culture, and geography. Warren could ace categories in literature, cooking and food, the sciences, and music except for opera which Dr Dennis had covered.
At the first commercial break, Dr. Dennis got another beer and handed Warren another root beer although he hadn’t finished the first one. “You know geography has changed so much in the last 25 years. I mean not the oceans and the rivers, but it’s hard to keep track of the countries. I’m still getting all the ‘stan’ countries mixed up.”
“But you’ll always have Georgia on your mind,” Warren joked.
“Still one of my favorite Christmas presents ever, the Ray Charles box set you got me. Damn I love me some Ray Charles. Oh, here they go again.”
Warren nodded and was excited when the contestants chose the Shakespeare category. He knew them all. When the next commercial came on he mused, “For it being sort of a lesser known play, they sure have a lot of Titus Andronicus clues on Jeopardy.
“I’ve only read a couple you know Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Mid-Summer’s Night Dream, Hamlet. The standard ones but over the years I’ve seen about 10 or 15 of them on stage. What one was it we saw last summer?”
“Much Ado About Nothing. My favorite,” Warren replied. “Oop, time for double jeopardy.”
They watched, sipped their beverages and called out answers. The final jeopardy category came up: Presidents, one that both the men were good at. The final was the last president elected from Ohio. Warren wasn’t quite sure but Dr. Dennis knew it was Warren G. Harding.
Dr. Dennis chuckled. “Good thing you’re father didn’t name you after him! Earl Warren has faired much better in history, ’cept for the Warren Report and with racists.”
Warren nodded. “Well, by the time I get to red stick the traffic should be chill. I better get going.”
“Okay. I just might be seeing you in a few days. Old man like me knows a thing or two about funerals. It might do me some good to drive a piece. May even bring you a surprise.”
“I’m going to use the head real quick,” Warren said and went into the powder room. As the toilet flushed, he splashed water on his face and ran it through his thick, sandy brown hair that was just beginning to grey. His eyes avoided the mirror but out of the corner of his good eye he saw the baby faced, angry teenager he had been. He dried off that face and turned out the light without really looking at himself.
Dr. Dennis gave him a big bear hug. “I’m hoping in this trip you can find some peace. Lord knows you deserve it. It’s a new day. A new start. Throw them shackles off. Know a thing or two about that too.”
Warren smiled and thought about the stories his father-in-law had told him about his participation in the civil rights movement. Though born in the sixties, Warren barely remembered them, except that his father was in Vietnam and that he was mostly happy. The seventies, on the other hand, were a nightmare. Peace. It seemed too late.
“Alright, Dr. Dennis. I’m off.”
“Be careful, son. We’ll be seeing you.”