Enter Bruce McKean.
Spring of 1962,
April 11th 10:15 pm.
Chapter One: Enter Bruce McKean
The whites of his knuckles strain against the glossy wood of his steering wheel. He had hardly looked at the road for the last mile or so, his eyes are focused on the rearview mirror. They appeared to have someone following them.
Their tail concerned him as he and Chuck had been roaring through the countryside at a high rate of speed. The driver behind them could be one of three things. A person with a lead foot, a cop, or an enemy. The last choice concerned him; he had been warned about coming this way again…
His red Chevy 150 coup is well equipped to handle anyone following them. Pressing down slightly on the accelerator the vehicle is propelled forward out pacing their tail.
Chuck’s is also on alert, his eyes had been focused on the wing mirror, staring at the empty blackness behind them. During all this the driver felt thirsty and lifts his cup of coffee, he can feel that it is empty. He tosses the cup aside in frustration. Behind him, the reflection of headlights shines onto the back of his bumper.
“Bruce how fast are you going?” Asks Chuck.
“85” He mutters. The lights were right on their rear fender.
“He might be a cop?” Speculates Chuck.
Bruce hears the unmistakable sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle! He angrily turns to glare at Chuck in the passenger seat. Dark liquor has spilled all over his front. In Chuck’s hand he holds a utility knife, the cork still drips liquid.
“Fuck, why did you do that? That bottle is worth 40 dollars!” Snipes Bruce.
“If it is the law and we get pulled over all of it is gonna be taken away anyways...” Chuck began to suck down the liquor.
“At this speed he ain’t a cop.” Replies Bruce.
Their current rate of speed had maxed out Bruce’s speedometer, it’s red line vibrates at the 90-mph mark. He presses his foot on his pedal this maneuver puts 200 feet between them and the car following them. With space Bruce drops his speed to 40 mph and takes a sharp right turn off the road.
“This road is gonna lead us right through Big Jared’s territory.” whines Chuck.
Again, the car had caught up and follows them, that wasn’t their only problem. Up ahead are two cars blocking the road. Bruce has no choice but to slow to a stop. Bruce looks out of the corner of his eye at Chuck.
“Shit, it didn’t work anyways!” Exacerbates Chuck.
Chuck reaches into the glove compartment and suddenly has a revolver in his hand.
“Put that under the seat we are outnumbered” Orders Bruce.
Bruce steps out of his car, he brushes his thick hair to the left and proceeds towards the headlights of his car.
“Are you boys having car trouble?” Asks Bruce in a bashful tone.
“McKean I thought we had an understanding?” A large man with blonde hair down to his ass stands before him. The large man continues speaking.
“I told you that if I caught that red car of yours on my turf that I would break your hand.”
“Look it is my last run, by the summer Oxford is gonna be wet. You’re a reasonable man. Perhaps we can arrange a one-time toll?” Bruce took out his wallet.
“I give you two hundred dollars to let me pass…”
“That is what it cost you last time, I’ll tell you what, I really don’t want to go through the hassle of ridding myself of a pair of corpses. How about you make it $600.00…” Big Jared wore a huge and smug smile.
“Deal” reluctantly says Bruce, opening his wallet and handing over the cash. Big Jared counts the money and waves to the other drivers in the cars. Soon Bruce is left alone 600 dollars shorter, waiting until their headlights are in the distance Bruce gets into the passenger seat of his car.
Chuck doesn’t say anything, which is good considering that Bruce’s mood took a turn for the worst.
Traveling along the downtrodden single lane road, a fire engine red Chevrolet 150 coup barrels down the concrete path, its engine roaring from the strain of Bruce’s ride. He is pissed having to hand over 600 dollars. Then again being extorted is better than being dead in a ditch.
As the Chevy hits a straightway the driver puts the pedal to the floor to make up time, the machine caters to her masters wishes and purrs out a louder roar, inside the cab the roar is faintly disturbed by the rattling of glass bottles in the backseat.
Tucked behind his seats, the spoils of the coast await his Alma Mater. His journey has been long it begins to draw to a close, sometime later mentally exhausted he enters Oxford Mississippi. Chuck snores against the window. He had drank through half of the bottle of whiskey. Bruce slows down once entering Oxford, it would be another ten-minute drive through town.
Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi; the school is often known by its affectionate nickname, Ole Miss. Ole Miss is encircled among the sleepy Northern Mississippi town. Oxford is a medium sized town with a large portion of its population made up of university students.
As Bruce makes his way through the town he has yet to discover another vehicle on the road, it seems that only he is awake at this time of the night. It is well after midnight when he pulls into his driveway.
Their small two-bedroom house has all its lights on, his headlights shine into the living room as he puts the Chevy in park and cuts off the engine.After he cuts off the engine he and Chuck stretch outside the car. The light from the porch illuminates Chuck, his ass crack shows as he bends down to open the garage door. As usual Chuck has struggled into a tight-fitting white pocket t-shirt, the shirt does his comical figure no justice as the shirt allows his flabby stomach to poke out the bottom.
Bruce stretches his back; the long drive has made him stiff. He leans down and lifts on the slide latch of the seat and the bench seat moves forward.
“Chuck give me a hand…”
With his friends help Bruce empties the backseat, they stash half of the liquor under a tarp in the garage. Bruce places a crowbar next to the saw on the wall...
“Hey Chuck, don’t be tearing into this stash, there is at least five grand worth of liquor.”
“What do you take me for some kind of mooch? I have wondered since they are going to make the county wet, what are you going to do for money?” Asks Chuck making conversation.
“You are the biggest mooch in North Mississippi” Jokes Bruce. He thought about Chuck’s question. “Not sure what I will do.” Bruce’s answer seemed to awaken the question within him. What would he do for money? His skills weren’t exactly in line for someone willing to work in a paper hat.
Bruce opens the door to their house, walking into the kitchen he opens the refrigerator. Looking inside he saw that, Chuck had drank the remaining beers from their stash. Three bottles of Coke stare at him from the door of the fridge. Taking one from the door he steps away withdrawing his silver Zippo lighter from his pocket.
He uses the back of the lighter to open the bottle and takes a sip and then says.
“I am not sure what I will do, I have this last batch to sell, then I’ll find somethin that will turn a buck, regardless this will be my last run to the Coast.”
Chuck takes Bruce’s Zippo from the table top and lights a no filter lucky strike, Chuck spits out the loose tobacco caught on his tongue..
“You will figure out a way to make money, you seem to always sniff somethin out. Perhaps we could put a little cash on the street, our fellow students always seem to need a little money for this or that”
After his statement Chuck exhales the smoke contained inside his lungs from his nostrils. The smoke spills onto the table momentary clouding the vision between the men.
“Yeah but there is always someone late to pay. I hate that strong-arming shit, I would rather just take something, be in and out? Loans require much more than you think, but I got to find something.”
Bruce looks through the smoky haze in the kitchen towards the clock on the wall, at the sight of 1:12 am he feels much more tired than he had a moment ago.
Rubbing the strain from his eyes he sets the half-finished bottle of Coke onto his linoleum kitchen table.
“Shit I am beat, that drive took more out of me than I thought. Want the rest of this Coke?”
Chuck nods his head and pours the Coke into the bottle of whiskey to cut the bitter out of the taste. Bruce shakes his head in humorous disgust at the concoction. Leaving Chuck to it, Bruce makes for his bedroom.
Entering his room, Bruce walks over to the mirror and removes his shirt and socks. He stands and looks at himself in the full-length mirror. He picks up a comb from the nearby dresser and brushes the signs of untidiness caused by his travels of the day.
Setting down the comb he looks over his work. Bruce’s girlfriend often remarks that his hair resembles the Presidents. The President at this time is John Kennedy, Bruce didn’t know if he liked being compared to a Democrat, then again if said by his adoring girlfriend, he accepted it as a complement.
In addition to his perfectly tapered black hair parted to the left, Bruce stands six feet even and maintains a robust, athletic appearance. The strain of the day has driven the exhaustion in his body to the limit. He turns off the light, and falls down onto his bed, he means to unbutton his pants, but he gives into the dreary haze and only comes to the next morning…
Bruce wakes up to a room full of light, he had no curtains on his window so the light filters into the room at full mast. Looking at his alarm clock he groans, it is 9:45 AM, Bruce felt as if he hardly slept at all. Bruce sits up and rubs the sleep from his eyes, as he stretches his nose picks up the stench of something cooking in the kitchen, it is the unmistakable smell of bacon frying in a pan. His stomach grumbles and Bruce pulls himself out of bed and stumbles shirtless down the hallway towards his kitchen.
Wearing only his Khaki pants Bruce walks barefoot into the kitchen, he feels the dirt from the upswept floor cling to his feet, he spies his roommate. Chuck stands at the skillet; he wears the same clothes as the night previous. Only his white shirt has several more noticeable stains on it since Bruce last saw Chuck.
The kitchen is also much dirtier, the ashtray is stacked high with cigarettes and to Bruce’s annoyance, Chuck had finished his own Lucky Strikes, and had torn through Bruce’s unattended pack of Parliaments.
First upon approaching the table, Bruce dumps the ashtray into the trash can. Then Bruce takes a seat at the kitchen table with a cup of black coffee and lights up one of his three remaining smokes.
“What’s the good word Chuck?” Says Bruce moving past his near empty pack of smokes, he takes a sip of his coffee waiting for Chuck to respond over the sound of food cooking in the kitchen.
“Same ole shite, head’n to campus in a bit for class, damn my head is killing me, I think I overdid it last night. You want some food?”
“Yeah, man I smelled that bacon from my bed” said Bruce thankfully.
Chuck hands Bruce two plates, one plate held two biscuits with sausage patties and thinly sliced fried spam.
Chuck had separated the meats with two slices of swiss cheese. Chuck also had the foresight to fry the spam in the bacon grease, giving it excellent flavor.
In addition, a healthy portion of scrambled eggs took up the other half of the plate. The second plate contained a dozen bacon strips. The thick strips were crispy and could be broken like a cracker and yet they were soft to the chew.
Lastly he placed a cereal bowl on the table, instead of milk it was filled with glorious homemade white gravy. A large spoon helps to blanket his eggs and biscuits. Bruce forgets his cigarette in the ashtray as he tucks in.
After ten minutes Chuck asks Bruce a question.
“What do you have planned today?”
Bruce thought about it he would have an easy enough day.
“I have to take the liquor in my trunk to a buyer over at the station on Lamar, then I have class with Callie Bee once I drop that shit off, why do you ask?”
“Want to get dinner on the Square before Chapter? After dinner we could head to Carters to put our lips on a couple cold ones?” Bruce thought about it.
That would be fun, but he made a commitment to someone else, and Bruce would never reschedule on her.
“Can’t man, I promised Callie Bee on Thursday we would go to dinner after Chapter.”
“Speaking of Chapter are you going to skip again?” Bruce nodded his head.
“Yeah I don’t need to waste an hour talking about who paid dues or who needs to pay dues, or what party they want to plan. If they ask why I am not there, say you don’t know, or tell them I planned on showing up. Oh, can you bring a couple bottles of bourbon for Cord and Howard, they wanted two bottles each. Take the liquor from the stash in the garage, they will give you the money?” Chuck says yes but with his usual stipulations.
“No problem as long as I can have a bottle for my trouble?” Bruce smiled and took his last bite of breakfast.
“Yeah sure, don’t go crazy, those bottles are our only source of income for the time being.”
“Don’t worry I’ll have one bottle, anyways where are you planning on taking Bee for dinner?” Presses Chuck.
“We will probably end up eating at the Beacon again, she loves the meatloaf there.” Chuck laughs out loud.
“Who the fuck orders meatloaf at a restaurant?” Jokes Chuck.
Bruce returns the joke with a half-smile; he knew it was odd to order something that heavy at a local restaurant. That uniqueness define Callie Bee to a tee. She is never shy about eating what she wanted, rare among girls her age. However, this gluttony hadn’t affected her figure.
Bruce finishes his coffee as Chuck bums a smoke, once finished with his coffee Bruce returns to his room to shower and dresses for the day.
Walking out of the house the day is extremely hot. Mississippi has two seasons, extremely hot or freezing cold appear to be the constant battle throughout the year, on the days that it is neither hot nor cold, the weather turns to torrential rain.
Expecting the hot forecast Bruce wears a yellowed linen, short sleeve button up. He wears clean Khaki shorts; the length is well above the knee; the high watered look is popular and a timeless look for the student population.
He pauses at the front headlight of his Chevy. He takes a rag and spray bottle from his trunk and hits the headlight with spray. That new route had gotten his headlights dirty, the driver’s side had mud all over the red paint, the sight of it drove him mad. Bruce uses the wet rag and elbow grease, and soon the area buffs clean. Going to the front of the car for inspection he realizes he couldn’t leave the other side dirty. By the time Bruce got the other side clean, he looks at his watch and realizes he is behind schedule.
As Bruce drives through his neighborhood he observes the town had come to life. Everywhere people move about. Dozens of students line the sidewalks under the shade of the tall Oaks and Magnolia. These students are in the process of making their daily pilgrimage to campus, they snake their way through the neighborhoods, many clutch stacks of books to their chests, most walk with friends. Driving by Bruce spies a cluster of students laughing with one another.
As he climbs the hill Bruce sees a bicycle cross in front of him. Bruce is driving at a modest pace so there is no reason to slow down, he and the cyclist pass each other without issue, perfectly at harmony with one another. After the hill Bruce comes to the end of South 18th Street, exiting his neighborhood, he stops as the heavy traffic moves on both sides of University Avenue.
Several more bicycles appear and turn left using the sidewalk heading down University Avenue, Bruce waits for traffic to clear and then makes his left as well. Soon out pacing the cyclists Bruce drives one and half miles. He catches a red light at a four-way intersection, if he went straight University Avenue would take him to campus, Bruce takes a right when the traffic clears, and he enters the Town Square.
Ahead of him is a large white courthouse. In front of the courthouse staring down at Bruce is a tall statue standing 30 feet high. The statue is all marble. At the top of the statue it features a soldier standing at attention. Bruce’s eyes are always momentarily drawn to the white statue, it seemed to hold a mystic energy, the statue had been here for fifty odd years, Bruce figured it would still be here fifty years after he had left Oxford.
Bruce continues his way around the Square, riding the road and keeping right Bruce straightens out the wheel, he drives around and uses the third turn off. Leading him to North Lamar.
Once passed the Square on either side of the road are antebellum mansions, from Colonials to Victorians with sweeping lawns of lush deep, green grass, each home is beautifully unique to itself.
There is a stoplight at the end of the straightaway, North Lamar continues but once the light changes Bruce turns off the roads towards a service station.
Bruce pulls next to a gas pump and the attendant walks over, Bruce opens the trunk with his keys, as the attendant puts the pump in place.
“How much you need?”
“Fill it up, after take the crates in the trunk and put them around back for your boss.”
Bruce leaves the attendant to his work and continues inside.
A fan on the counter hits Bruce with a breeze, he wipes the sweat from his brow, a large bucket filled with bottles of Coke are at the front of the shop, Bruce takes one from the icy bucket and walks over to the counter.
“Ten gallons of fuel, this, and a pack of Parliaments.”
Bruce places five dollars on the counter and the attendant opens the bottle for him.
“Where is your boss?”
“In the back office.” Replies the clerk.
Bruce pockets his smokes and takes a deep sip of his soda as he proceeds to the backroom.
Inside of the office he finds a small hunched man with a bald head. The room is bare and musty, unwashed coffee pots lay about, becoming sticky from days of neglect, a bucket of dirty water sits near the sink. The man looks up as Bruce closes the door and walks towards him.
His desk is a mess, stacked high with invoices and empty takeout containers.
“Bruce take a seat” Says the small man.
“I am fine standing; I am hoping this won’t take long, I brought you the amount that I promised.”
The man gets up from his desk and turns around, he searches the top of a filing cabinet just as unorganized as the desk. He takes an envelope from the filing cabinet and hands it to Bruce.
Eyeballing the money Bruce sees that he has been shorted the agreed amount, then a quick flick of the stack reveals his suspicious are correct.
“Nelson you’re short…”
Nelson looks uneasy and takes an anxious step backwards.
“Nonsense you counted it wrong, it’s all there, if that is all you may leav-”
Bruce cuts him off and reaches across the desk, he gets Nelson by his shirt and drags him across the barrier.
Bruce can feel the fabric of his shirt stretching and tearing under the strain of the altercation. Nelson is a hundred pounds lighter than Bruce; his aggressor is able to pull him with ease over the desk. Nelson turns on his back, as Bruce upturns the bottle of Coke onto Nelsons face.
Crying out for a reprieve causes Nelson’s mouth to remain open, the sticky, thick liquid of the carbonated drink causes him to choke, coughing up the large amount of dark nectar causes the excess soda to run into his eyes, the pain is instantaneous! Nelson struggles to get free.
“You’re short 165.00, you try and swindle me every time I come in here, I let it slide because you usually only swipe twenty off the stack! Enough! Pay me or I will pump gasoline in a place you don’t want it!” Bruce releases his grip on Nelson.
The tiny man rolls off the desk and digs into a drawer. His hands shake as he counts out the money owed. Once it totals 165.00, Bruce pockets it and turns away from the desk.
“Oxford ain’t gonna be dry no more, good thing you’re out of a job, I can’t stand doing business with you Carpetbaggers!”
At the door Bruce turns around, startled Nelson takes a few steps back.
“I will count it a blessing to no longer supply a snake charming Pentecostal, check yourself Nelson, as you can see it does not take much to light this fuse, I would watch what you say around town.”
The threat brought about fear in Nelsons eyes, Bruce departs the room leaving the man in his turmoil and embarrassment at being pushed around by a younger buck.
After making his collection, Bruce notices that it is nearly time for his only class of the day. He drives like a mad man having only minutes to get to class.
He flies around the Square at forty miles per hour, he makes a sharp right on to University Avenue, the tires of his 1955 Chevy squeal against the concrete.
Gunning it down the straight away, Bruce blows through stop signs, he passes the Northgate to the University and over the bridge that follows. Bruce has now entered campus; he slows down to avoid mowing down his fellow students.
Bruce drives towards the Circle near his class, the Grove is on his right. the Grove is more or less a ten-acer park, hundreds of tall Oaks and Magnolia trees cover the park in shade, currently dozens of students sit in groups throughout the landscape. The soft grass offers a comfortable place to each lunch and exchange notes.
After passing the Grove, Bruce enters the Circle, which is another park, smaller than the Grove, the buildings around the circle encircled the park, at the center of the grassy circle is a flag pole, sidewalks border the grass boxing it in, at the front of the Circle there is a statute much like the one on the Square. The rest of the circle is covered in shade by the towering Magnolia trees.
His eyes are always drawn to the statue. The story behind the statues is interesting. These statues are common around the South, a group townsfolk raised money for a war dedication. The organization in charge of the dedication could not decide on a location. The organization split into two warring factions, and one side raised money privately and placed one statue on the campus, while the money originally earmarked was used to build another statue on the Square.
The campus statue differs slightly, the soldier at the top covers his hand above his eyes, and his eyes look south and not towards the North where the Union army lies, Bruce always found that strange, today he didn’t have time to think about it, as he passes the statue at the head of the Circle at thirty miles an hour!
He squeals into a spot between the Lyceum and the Peabody building, he runs across the street to Peabody once parked. As fast as his legs carry him, Bruce takes the stairs to the second level two at a time until he reaches the summit, when he bursts through the double doors to the lecture hall he sees that thankfully the class is still in the process of finding seats.
Breathless Bruce scans the lecture hall looking for a seat, on the other side of the room, he spies a slender hand waving at him. Callie Bee Parker waves excitedly to Bruce.
Today she wears a lavender colored dress of good quality, her hair is, as usual flawlessly straight, the sun from the window reflects off her shiny black hair.
In addition to her long hair, Callie Bee has immaculately straight white teeth. At twenty-one years old her figure is something that often turns heads.
Bruce makes his way over to her, he takes the seat in the aisle, on his left sits Callie Bee, once he is seated she embraces him with a quick and soft kiss on the cheek. Her lipstick leaves a smudge and she wipes it away with her thumb, the pretty girl offers him a friendly smile.
Her soft lips cause a warm feeling to spread through Bruce’s shoulders. Callie Bee takes a neatly stapled essay; she thankfully had the foresight to type it.
“I haven’t heard from you since Friday night, I didn’t know if you had time to do the essay, I still had the copy of your draft, I had to type it cause I can’t copy that messy hand writin of yours.”
Bruce looks down at the at the neatly stapled pieces of paper, in truth the essay she had put through the typewriter is perfect.
“Thank you so much, this is better than anything I would have come up with, you know what dinner is on me tonight” Says Bruce playfully.
Callie Bee smiles as he kisses her on the cheek.
“You always buy dinner” She giggles as his soft kisses tickle her face.
Lacing his fingers through hers he gives her palm an affectionate squeeze.
“It’s the only way I can think of to say thank you for taking such good care of me.”
Just then their aging professor walks into the lecture hall, with his entrance the chatter of the students dies away. Bruce and Callie Bee focus on the lecture. In psychology they learned about conditioning, the lecture takes the full two and half hours.
When they are finally released from the class, Bruce feels he is in need of a nap. Oblivious to his exhaustion, Callie Bee is a chatter box full of energy. She walks attached at the hip, holding on to Bruce’s right arm with both hands. Her hair is held in the red silk bow, causing her hair to sway side to side as she walks. Bruce walks with her towards Sorority Row, The Union is on his left and Bryant Hall is behind him on the right, straight ahead the Grove sits emptier than before, the hot sun still beats down.
“What are you gonna to do while I am in Chapter?” Asks Callie Bee.
Bruce thought about it for a moment.
“I might have a cigarette in the Grove, I am going to skip my Chapter, find me when you’re done.”
Bruce leaves Callie Bee at the entrance to Sorority Row. Watching her walk in the direction of her house, Bruce turns and begins walking down the street with a building called Farley Hall on his left. He waits for the traffic clear and then crosses the road entering the Grove.
Bruce sits under the shade of a Magnolia tree nearly two hundred feet high. The tree is on the highest hill in the Grove, Bruce lights up a smoke and lays down in the soft grass. Inhaling a drag of the cigarette, Bruce holds the smoke in his lungs as he stares at the sky, a cluster white clouds peaks between the foliage.
When he finishes his cigarette, he continues to stare at the clouds, at some point his eyelids close. He drifts off and does not come around until he feels a soft hand nudging him awake. Opening his eyes, he sees a pair of striking blue eyes staring at him, below the eyes, a smile offers an easy sight to wake too. The sun had begun to set, and the temperature had also dropped.
Bruce gets up and brushes the few stray grass clippings from his clothing.
“How was chapter?” Asks Bruce.
He and Callie Bee begin to cut across the Grove towards the Circle the destination being his car parked in front of the Peabody building.
“Well we are planning Fall Formal; I think you’ll be pleased to know it is gonna be in Memphis this Winter. It looks like the week right before finals.”
Bruce opens the passenger door for Callie Bee.
“I love Memphis, are you going to get the hall near Beal?”
Bruce changes the conversation for a moment.
“Bee, where did you want to go for dinner? We could go somewhere nice on the Square?”
After she is seated, she looks up at him, and responds in her sweet drawl.
“I don’t want to make a big fuss tonight; would it be okay if we just went to the Beacon?”
“Not at all”
Bruce closes the door, the second he turns the key in the ignition, Callie Bee slides across the red leather bench seat of the Chevy and has both arms wrapped around his waist.
As they drive, Callie Bee hangs all over him. She always had her hands on him, constantly playing with his ears, absentmindedly fussing with his hair. Right now, Callie Bee rubs the side of his face with the soft skin of her knuckles. Bruce had shaved this morning, but his shadow had already appeared. Callie Bee loved feeling the sharp prickles of his ridged chin on her delicate skin.
Callie Bee continued their conversation from the sidewalk, she jabbers on about all the comings and goings of her life.
“I spoke with Alice last night and I swear that girl is thick headed as a mule. For weeks our President has reminded her about the pancake contest we are planning for next October, every time it is mentioned she acts like it is the first time she has heard of it! I asked her twice if she found which restaurants on the Square would fall within Panhellenic philanthropy guidelines”
“Why do you need to use a restaurant in town? Why not use the dining room like last fall?” Asks Bruce.
Callie Bee playfully tickles his sides.
“Don’t you remember? After a bunch of boys, you included showed up to the house drunk and made a mess, Mrs. Catherine said never again. I mean I understand how you spill syrup on a table, but how does a person get syrup on paintings, I mean it is on a wall for goodness sakes. Anyways the school has strict rules about where sororities can hold events off campus. The restaurants can’t serve alcohol and since the dry county rule is getting repealed most of the restaurants on the Square will serve liquor.”
“I have no memory of showing up to the house drunk” Says Bruce sheepishly.
Callie Bee returns his smile and then leans her head on his shoulder and continues talking until he pulls into a parking spot in front of the Beacon.
The restaurant stands alone as a single-story building. The glass doors open to a small dining room, the restaurant features a larger dining room towards the back of the building, usually the breakfast rush required the use of the larger room. Tonight, that is not necessary as several of the dozen wooden booths are open. Bruce and Callie Bee wait near the entrance of the diner by the register, an older woman with a skinny neck and white hair walks towards them.
Rita asks them in her southern twang.
“Just you two kids.”
“Yes Ma’am” Replies Callie Bee.
Rita leads them into the smaller dining room moving passed the other diners, Rita sets two menus down opposite each other.
They take one of the seats near the back of the room, he sat with his back to the bathroom. As he moves into the booth, Callie Bee slides her menu to Bruce’s side of the booth. Once they are seated together, they look up as the door opens, two people enter the restaurant waiting to be seated. Rita holds a notepad in her hands and takes Bruce and Callie Bee order.
“Can I get y’all started on somethin to drink?”
“Can we get two Cokes please?” Replies Callie Bee.
Rita nods her head and leaves them to look over the menu.
Bruce looks down at his menu and he asks Callie Bee mockingly.
“What are you thinking of having? Your usual two-pound slice of meatloaf?”
“I order that twice and you never let me live it down, I am not sure what I am gonna order, I’ll think of somethin.”
Bored looking over the tired menu she abandons her concern for food and currently leans on Bruce’s shoulder and breathes in his scent, the earthy smell of grass from the Grove mixed with his fleeting aftershave from this morning is intoxicating.
While waiting they observe two police officers walk into the restaurant, Bruce absentmindedly watches the men, they walk to an empty booth without waiting to be seated. Bruce is still staring at the men when one of their radios sound off.
The earsplitting static disturbs people around the officers, the police officer being courteous lowers the noise on the radio. Bruce looks over the officers shoulder and in the window he makes out the backwards letters of a ‘Help Wanted’ sign.
Rita walks over snapping Bruce out of his inner thoughts. She sets down the two drinks and asks.
“Alright kids what can I get y’all to eat?”
Callie Bee pulls the menu out of Bruce’s hand. He chuckles at her brashness.
“May I get the spaghetti and meatballs, with extra spaghetti, and separate side of veggies…”
She pauses letting Rita write down her order.
“May he have a cheeseburger, with no pickles.” Rita takes the menus from the table and walks away.
Callie Bee turns to Bruce and looks at the amused look on his face.
“What is with that look? I thought that’s what you wanted”
He didn’t mind that she ordered for him in truth he always ordered the same thing, he found it cute that she ordered for him, it was also comical when Callie Bee rushed when she was hungry, what amused him the most is her choice of food.
“Bee come on... Spaghetti and meatballs at a diner that is gutsy of you…”
She rolls her eyes and she uses her hand to move the stray hairs covering the part in Bruce’ hair.
“Oh, don’t tell me that you going to make fun of me for that now?”
“It’s just strange, out of a menu with dozens of choices you pick a meal that usually never turns out right when ordered at a restaurant. I mean Bee these gimps fry balls of hamburger meat and toss them into some store-bought tomato paste and boil it for an hour.”
Now it is Callie Bee’s turn to look amused if ordering that dish upset him this much maybe she would order spaghetti and meatballs at every meal.
“So, this really causes you pain, hmm we are going to Memphis this Autumn maybe I’ll order then”
Bruce knows she is joking but the thought of her doing that around real people, at a real restaurant, the notion is cringe worthy.
“That little joke might make you a single woman.”
They both share a chuckle and Callie Bee continues talking his ear off and keeps up the conversation throughout the duration of their meal.
After dinner Callie Bee looks at Bruce, she devoured every last bite of her dish, orange paste surrounds the pale, soft skin around her lips. She tries to kiss him on the mouth to thank him for dinner, Bruce pulls his head away from her.
“What is wrong with you?” She asks confused.
“You face is covered in sauce, sorry you caught me off guard.”
Callie Bee uses a small mirror in her purse and laughs at her appearance.
“I look frightening don’t I?”
She wipes her face just as Rita walks over to their table with the bill. As she does one of the officers from earlier who didn’t mute his radio, stands up to go to the bathroom, as he passes the loud static of his radio radiates throughout the dining room, several people disturbed by the noise look up from their meals. Bruce looks back at the ‘Help Wanted’ sign.
“How was y’all’s meal” Says Rita picking up the empty plates.
Stuffed both of them remark at how tasty the meal was, Bruce lightly pats his stomach and with a smile he says.
“It was delicious as always; may I ask you something about that sign on the door? Are you still looking for help?”
Rita and Callie Bee stare at him, Callie Bee with astonishment, Rita with intrigue, Rita looks the boy up and down and thinks to herself.
‘He comes in here all the time. He’s always put together’
At the same time, she knew he was a student, in her experience students made horrible employees.
‘Still this sweet girl hangs on him so that means someone can stand him. Maybe?’
“Yes, we are, it is only a busboy position, but the pay is fair, come in the day after tomorrow, 7 am sharp. Boy you best not be late.”
Thanking Rita, Bruce pays the bill and drives Callie Bee home. Riding back to campus Callie Bee breaks the silence. In her gorgeous twang she says.
“I am not that tired yet and it is nowhere near curfew, why don’t we go and look at the stars?”
Inches from his face, Callie Bee lets the heat of her breath blanket his ear, a warm feeling spreads through his shoulders. At the same time her hand moves to the inside of his right leg, Callie Bee’s touch is gentle, but combined with the warmth of her breath and the thought of indiscretion, the circumstances cause goosebumps to pop up all along his body.
Knowing where her mind is going, Bruce changes course, using back roads he leads her to a pull off along Molly Barr Road, the pull off overlooks the small Oxford landing strip. The area is dark, no street lights, the only sources of light comes from the half moon, stars and blue landing lights of the runway.
Callie Bee looks out over the ridge as Bruce nuzzles at her neck. Bruce takes her chin in his fingers, her lips are soft and everything about her drives him wild, when she kisses back, he breathes through his nose allowing him to take in her scent.
Callie often rides her horse which is stabled near the school. When she rode through the woods the scent of wildflowers clung to her clothing, wearing one of her jackets tonight the wildflower smell is strong.
As they get tangled up, the windows in the car fog up, Bruce cranks down the window a bit to let out some of the steam.
A feeling of relief washes over Bruce as Callie Bee drops his shorts to the floor mats, he pulls the latch on his seat and the entire bench moves back. Bruce leans back and closes his eyes letting himself succumb to the carnal pleasure, on his release Bruce feels all the troubles of the day are lifted from his shoulders.
A time later after listening to the radio for an hour while cuddling, Bruce takes her home. They arrive in front of the Tri Delta house five minutes before curfew. Bruce drops Callie Bee off at the Sorority house.
He leaves his red Chevy 150 idling on the curb as he walks her to the front steps. When they stop under the porch light he lifts her hands to his chest, looking down at her he says.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, good night Bee.”
Bruce bends down and places a kiss on her soft cheek.
He leaves soon after and his mind is not to his loving girlfriend, but rather to his morally questionable friend Chuck. The idea formed in his head during dinner and he had just worked out some of the logistics.
Bruce enters his home ten minutes after dropping off Callie Bee, inside his home he finds Ashley, Chucks hippy girlfriend on the couch, she reads some Malcolm X Book, and has a joint hanging from her mouth, sprawled out on her lap is a half in the bag Chuck.
His eyes drift to the coffee table and he spies one empty bottle of bourbon, the no longer needed bottle lays abandoned on its side.
Chuck stands up as Bruce enters to greet him, Bruce humorously notices a fresh bottle of bourbon in his hand.
“Hey man how was your date?”
“It went fine, Chuck can I talk to you in the kitchen quick?”
Chuck brings the bottle of bourbon into the kitchen with him.
“Hey man I know you said one bottle, but one for an entire afternoon, I nursed it as long as I could…”
Bruce chuckles, he actually wound be pissed at him if he didn’t have such a brilliant idea. Excited Bruce takes a seat at the table after taking a beer from the fridge. But he reassures a glazed over Chuck
“I don’t care man, as long as you didn’t drink half a crate. When was the last time we pulled a stick up?”
Chuck looked at him with a blank stare and then he draws the recollection.
“It had to be that fundraiser for that Kappa Sig from State, they threw that carnival to get the kid a new wheelchair after that car crash, they had like four grand at the end of the night and we rolled the treasurer in the parking lot. Then the stickup before that was, an adult theater in Memphis, we forced the Jizz-Mopper to take us to the manager’s office and then ripped the safe from the wall. Then the one before that-”
“Okay Chuck I am not asking for a play by play of every job we ever pulled. Listen the reason I have brought it up, is because I think I have found a way for us to hit the credit union on University Avenue.”
Chuck sits and listens as Bruce hashes out his idea, as Bruce speaks the two take turns drinking out of the bottle of bourbon. By the time Bruce laid out his plan to Chuck the two of them finished the bottle and four beers a piece from the fridge.
“Okay Bruce I am in, we will need to make sure every detail is covered. These things can get hairy we never have pulled off a robbery of this scale. Although if you keep this between you and I, count me in partner.” Says Chuck as he finishes the rest of his beer.
Bruce shakes Chucks outstretched hand, and the planning phase of the job had begun.