Cottage Cheese & Green Onions
He heard music in his dream, something that sounded an awful lot like ‘woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, found my way downstairs and drank a cup, and looking up I noticed I was late…’ and felt a little confused. Why was Paul singing in the middle of a dream?
‘Or…am I dreaming?’
Then he smelled coffee, heard someone walking around – and his eyes popped open.
“Adairs. Beer. Too much fuckin’ Lone Star.”
“You got that right, Slick.”
He recognized the voice and bolted upright. “Where the fuck am I?”
“You really don’t remember?” Sawyer said, stepping out of the shower, drying off with a towel.
He looked at her breasts and shook his head. “No. Did I have fun, at least?”
“The first two times were fun, John. The third time was surreal.”
“Ah-h. I remember now.”
“Do you? Good.”
“You’re really very sweet, you know?”
“Sweet? I’ve been called a lot of shit, but never sweet,” she said as she came to the bed and lay beside him. “Think you could use some coffee?”
“Maybe, but I think I need a little more you.”
“I like the way that sounds,” she said. “What’d you have in mind?”
“I’m still hungry.”
So was she, as it happened.
She watched the man park his Mercedes and look around, then he got out and walk into the adult bookstore. She followed him in, watched him look around the videotapes for a while, then walk back into the arcade – to one of the booths. He loitered outside of one – and then turned and looked at her when she walked into area. He nodded towards the booth and she smiled, walked over to him and followed him inside.
‘Good,’ she said to herself. ‘No glory hole.’ She let him fondle her breasts, slip a finger inside for a while, then she went down on him, taking him to the edge then pulling back.
“Take your clothes off,” he growled. “I wanna fuck you up the ass.”
“Ooh, yeah baby.” She pulled off her panties and stuffed them in his mouth, then took a stocking out of her book bag and tied it off, then came up to his face. “Do it hard, baby. Like really rough, real deep. Hurt me, okay? And when you’re gonna cum tap me on the shoulder ‘cause, like, I want it in my mouth. Can you do that for me? Please?”
He was wild-eyed, almost desperate now, so she took him in her mouth again and got him slick, then turned around, presenting herself to him.
And he was rough about it too, which only made her anger blossom into something new – and far more dangerous than he expected. She’d meant this to be something like a recon, hadn’t planned on doing anyone today, but the way he was trying to hurt her? No…she was going to enjoy this one.
When he tapped her on the shoulder she pulled free and turned to face his need, but she was slow about it now, kept him from the edge while she dug her fingernails into the backs of his thighs, getting him used to the prickly sensation. Then she found a vein and slipped the syringe in while she bit the tip of his cock, and he came in her mouth while she pushed the plunger on the syringe.
It took about thirty seconds, then he put his hands out to steady himself and she helped him down into the slimy fiberglass seat. “You feeling a little light-headed? A little woozy?”
He couldn’t have spoken even if he wasn’t gagged, but when she pulled up the knife and held it up to his eyes she felt the fear in him. She unbuttoned his shirt and felt for the base of his sternum, then stepped back and got to work.
They had just stepped back into CID when the intercom blared: “Anyone down there?”
“Yup,” Dickinson said.
“Got another signal one signal thirteen combo. Is Sawyer down there yet?”
“Yeah. Give me the address. We’ll take it.”
He wrote down the particulars while Sawyer listened, then she spoke up to the intercom: “Can you ask the patrolman on scene if there’s a container of cottage cheese anywhere near the victim?”
“You don’t think?” he said. “Not this soon?”
“I have a bad feeling about this one, John. I think she’s pissed off at the world. I think she’s just getting started, too.”
“You there?” dispatch asked.
“That’s ten four. A pint cup with a silver spoon in it.”
“Okay, notify the WC and roll a crime scene van to that location, get some patrol cars in the area to stop any female on foot, and checking dumpsters for things that could used as a disguise.”
She turned to him. “Know where that place is?”
“Out on Harry Hines, near Royal, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Out by all the titty bars.”
“Think she could be a dancer?”
“Hell, who the fuck knows. And let’s not call her a ‘she’ just yet, okay? Lot of chili-packers on their knees in those places…know what I mean, Jellybean?”
He nodded his head as he picked up his briefcase, then they walked down to the parking lot and checked in route, and she made him drive again while she thought out loud…
“I think we need to tell the media, get all the pervs to wake up, stop taking chances.”
“Wouldn’t do much good. That’s not exactly a risk-aversive population, ya know? I mean, who the hell sucks anonymous dick with that new virus out there?”
She shrugged, frowned: “Maybe if she knows we’re on her six she’ll cool it, ya know?”
“So, you think it’s a girl?”
“Yup, I do. And I think she comes from money, and she’s probably smart, too. Or at least she thinks she is.”
“Settling old scores?”
Another shrug. “Who knows. That, or she could be doing it for the kicks. Too soon to build a psych profile.”
“The crucifix incisions?”
“Let’s see if she repeats. I’m looking for anger, I guess, but the whole cottage thing’s got me stumped. Why take the time to do that?”
“Tell us she’s not in a hurry?”
“Yeah, but why?”
“Because she thinks she’s smarter than us?”
“Bingo,” Sawyer said. “Either she’s really fuckin’ smart or she’s insecure as shit, wants us to think she’s really fuckin’ smart. If that’s the case she’ll slip up, make a mistake.”
“And if she’s really fuckin’ smart?”
“It’s her game. She’ll think it through, stop when we get too close.”
He could see a half dozen patrol cars ahead, their reds & blues flashing in the late afternoon glare and, as they got closer he could see the ME’s van – and a WFAA Channel 8 news van – all parked on the north side of the white brick building. A crime scene van pulled in just before they did, and after he parked they went inside the bookstore.
“Why do all these places smell the same?” Sawyer said as they walked into the video arcade.
“Cum and disinfectant,” a bald headed patrolman said, down on his knees with a Mag-Lite, shining it on the floor at a really odd angle.
“Eddie?” Dickinson said, clearly pleased to see the man. Paul Edward McCarley had been, a few years back, his FTO, and it looked like he had a new rookie in-tow this evening, as well.
McCarley turned, saw Dickinson and smiled. “I heard you were wearing a suit now. How’s it goin’, Amigo?”
“Interesting. What do you have down there?”
“Maybe a print, but it’s in a puddle of splooge. As long as no one stepped in here before we got here, I think we can get some good photos, maybe with a ruler for scale, maybe get lucky and get a size.”
One of the CSU techs stooped down and looked at the smeared print with McCarley’s light and nodded. “Yeah. I see it too. Looks like a Adidas tennis shoe, something like a Stan Smith. You know, the one with all the round nubs?”
“Slick,” Sawyer asked, “can you put that out on the air?”
“Any idea how long ago this went down?” Sawyer asked.
“Not long,” McCarley said. “He’s still warm, blood hadn’t coagulated when we got here, it was still running like crazy.”
“Where’s the container, the cottage cheese?”
“It’s still on the seat,” Eddie said. “Got an evidence bag?”
“As soon as you’re clear I want the techs to take it straight to their refrigerator, then right to the lab. Can you tell much about the wound?”
“Big cruciform pattern, sternum to groin. Why?”
“We had one last night, down by Oak Lawn, same MO, same cottage cheese thing too.”
McCarley sat up and looked at her then, his face registering recognition now. “Fuck-a-doodle-do,” he whispered.
“That’s what John said, too.”
“We got us a serial. Fuck. Anything else I need to know?”
“I’ll give you the number for our original report; you’ll need to write it up referencing that.”
“Shit. Is that why the news is out there?”
“Doubtful. Nothing about that one made the news. Or it hasn’t, not yet, anyway. Better give me your number too; I’ll have John write up a supplement for your report.”
Dickinson walked up carrying a Canon F-1N with an 85 1.2L on the nose. “I loaded some Tri-X, set the ASA to 800,” he said, handing the camera to the tech.
“Eddie?” Perry Goodman, the CSU tech asked. “Get that light down low again. I’ll try for a few from that angle, then let’s put a tape down for scale.”
“Right. Man, it’s tight in here,” McCarley said, laying on the floor, wiping sweat from his forehead. “John, can you get my rookie, have them turn on the AC back here; it’s getting ripe – and so am I.”
Dickinson turned to McCarley’s rookie, told him not to come back ‘til the AC was spitting snow from the vents, then bent in to look at the victim in the booth. The man looked to be about fifty, and there was a Rolex visible on the man’s wrist.
So, robbery not a motive?
“See anything?” Sawyer asked.
“Rolex,” he said – as Goodman started clicking away with the Canon.
She grunted. “Figures. Too easy to trace, no way to pawn one without leaving a trail a mile long.”
“There’s a syringe cap down here, under the seat,” McCarley said.
“What?” Dickinson and Sawyer said – at the same time.
“One of those orange syringe caps. You know, the thing they pull off before they stick you in the butt?”
“Ridged,” Goodman said. “No prints. Besides, maybe a diabetic shot up with insulin in here, you know, like before he had his Big Jack Attack?”
“Yeah?” Sawyer rejoined. “And maybe our perp stuck him with something so he wouldn’t scream.”
“Good point,” Goodman said.
“Hey, at least you got it.”
“A three year old could get that one, Perry.”
The rookie came back, trailing a very scared looking girl, and Dickinson looked at her. ‘Uh-oh,’ he said to himself. “What you got there, Patterson?”
“Witness,” the rookie said, and Sawyer turned and looked at the girl.
“Oh? What did you see, Ma’am?”
“The girl who came out of there. And I’ve seen her before.”
Her name was Sam, Samantha Bigger, and she rode down to central in the back of their Crown Vic – with the promise that they take her home after she swore out a statement. They took her into an interrogation room, but only because it was quieter there than just about any other place in the building – and Sawyer didn’t want any distractions.
“Okay Sam, can you tell me when you got to the bookstore?”
“I guess it was around three, maybe a little before.”
“And where were you. When you saw all this?”
“Do I have to, you know, like say all that?”
“Yes, Sam, but nothing you say in here will be held against you, alright?”
The girl looked around, tried to ignore her feelings. “I go there, sometimes, ya know. I can make a hundred bucks in an hour, you know what I mean?”
“Doing what?” Dickinson asked. He was pissed because on a good day he made a hundred bucks.
“That’s okay, Sam. You don’t need to answer that.”
“I do need to know where you were, what you were doing when you saw her.”
“I was in a cabin across the aisle, waiting for a, well, a customer.”
“And what did you see?”
“Well, this girl comes out. She had a book bag with her, which I thought was kinda weird, then she walked off – like she was in a hurry.”
“Tell me about the bag, like maybe what color it was.”
“Blue, with red trim, and it had an SMU thingy on it, like a patch, or a decal.”
“What was she wearing? Could you see her well enough?”
“Oh, yeah. Jeans, a dark green polo shirt and maybe white shoes.”
“How about her hair?”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I don’t get. Last time I saw her she had brown hair cut real short, but today her hair was blond. Long, and blond.”
“And you’re sure you recognized her? What was it you saw that makes you think that?”
“Her eyes, man. I saw her eyes.”
“Do you think she saw you? I mean, well enough so that she knew you saw her?”
Sam nodded her head. “Yeah. She saw me.”
“Where have you seen her before?”
“That’s the thing…I’m not sure, but I think it was over by SMU, at the old movie theatre across Hillcrest. Maybe she worked there, like behind the candy counter?”
“You said she walked away quickly. Was she scared?”
“No. She came out and looked around real fast, and that’s when she looked at me. Then she just took off.”
“Did she run?”
“No, more like a fast walk.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I went and looked inside the cabin, saw the guy on the floor and ran up front, got the guy behind the cash register.”
“So, almost no time between the time you saw her leave and the time it took you to got up front to report it?” Dickinson said.
She nodded her head. “Yeah. That’s right.”
“And you’re sure you don’t remember where you’ve seen her before?”
“No. I sure wish I did, but I don’t.”
He watched as she looked down and to the left when she answered that one, sure now she was lying – and not sure how to handle it. He looked at Sawyer, who just looked at him and winked. She knew, too…so why wasn’t she intervening?
“Well,” Sawyer said, “I guess we’ll take you home now.”
“Say,” she added, “you think there’s any way she might have remembered your face too? Like, she might try to find you now?”
Sam’s eyes darted away, then down to the floor, but still she didn’t say anything.
‘Bingo…’ Dickinson sighed. ‘She’s scared.’
She sat in the Mustang, breathing hard after she detoured around all the cop cars, then she turned on the engine and flipped on the AC, let the air cool before aiming the vents at her face. She’d dumped the wig in a dumpster and put on some sunglasses, and now she focused on getting her breath under control – yet she felt alive, more exhilarated than she ever had in her life.
“God! What a rush!” she cried, then she slipped the car into gear and drove off slowly, thinking about what she needed to do about Sam.
She’d been making LSD since her junior year at SMU, when one of her TAs in an organic chem lab taught her class how, and she’d been selling the crap ever since. Even in the little house she’d bought with the proceeds, her first priority had been to set up a small lab in one of the bedrooms, and she still cranked out 5-6 thousand bucks worth of the stuff every week. Three weeks work paid for a year of med school, too! Like…duh!
And Sam was one of her oldest clients, wasn’t she?
Had she talked?
Well, she decided, she couldn’t leave that to chance, so she’d have to pay her a visit. She drove over to Haskell and passed under Central, and she stopped to use a payphone at a 7-11 just down the street from Sam’s place.
D, Sam’s boyfriend, picked up on the tenth ring. “Yo!” the kid said, and she wondered how someone could make a two letter word sound so exasperated.
“D? It’s Becka. I got some fresh shit, and it’s really smooth. Wanted to know if you’d like to try a sample, maybe move some for me?”
“Becka? I can have some?”
“Yeah. Try some out for me. It’s a modified formula, just learned it. I tried it,” she lied, “and it’s outrageous shit.”
“Yeah. Can I swing by, drop some off with you?”
“Yeah, man. That sounds righteous!”
“About a half hour?”
“I’ll be here.”
She went inside the store and picked up a pint of cottage cheese, then drove around the projects a few times, making sure there weren’t any cops around, then she parked a few blocks away and walked over to the apartment. He opened the door as she walked up on the porch, and closed it as soon as she was inside.
D had played football at SMU and he’d been a monster – until he blew his knee in his junior year. Now he was on disability and pimping out a half dozen girls, but she still liked him – if only because his dick was about the size of her forearm.
“How’s it hangin’, D?”
“Still down to my knees,” he said, grinning. “Want some, baby?”
“Um, you know it.”
It still looked like a water moccasin, still all shiny and black when he took it out, and she went right down on him, took him to the edge a couple of times before she finished him off with her mouth. “God, you still taste so fuckin’ good, man.”
His ego sated, he leaned back and looked at her. “So, what’s with this new shit?”
“I added a few magic ingredients, really mellows the trip. You wanna try some now, or wait for Sam.”
“Fuck that bitch, man. Gimme some now, man. You got me stoked!”
She opened her bag, pulled out the vial she’d used on the guy at the bookstore and drew up just a little hit, then tied off his arm and patted a fat vein. She swabbed him and stuck him, then sat back and watched him fall into the deep end of the pool.
His eyes half closed, he moaned a little then his eyes popped. “Oh, man, this is fuckin’ far out,” he sighed. “Like flyin’ in technicolor cloudland, babe…”
“I told ya.”
“How much ya got?”
“How much can you move for me?”
“Can you get me enough to sample some out?”
“A thousand units be enough?”
“For samples? Shit, babe, I’ll have the whole east side hooked in a month.”
“So, you wanna make some real bread?” she said, taking his cock in hand as she spoke.
“What’s with you, Beck? Why me? I thought you was done with this shit?”
“I need some bread, D. Some serious money, know what I mean?”
“Well, we can make some serious dough with this shit…”
“Think you can give me another load?”
“You keep working me over like that you’ll get more than you can handle…”
He sunk back in his chair again, his eyes closed now and he felt her magic mouth take him almost all the way down. “Man, Beck, you still the best that ever was, ya know?” He looked down when she stopped, saw her sliding out of her jeans, then sliding down his snake. She rode him easy now, letting the pressure build, then easing off again and again, and after about a half hour she slipped back down between his legs and savaged him with her mouth, taking him all down again – just as Sam walked in the door.
She walked over and looked at them, then sat on the sofa beside D, and she could tell he was in electric ladyland by the way he was moaning. When Becka looked up at her and grinned she knew everything was cool.
D opened his eyes and looked at Sam. “Man, Becka’s made some cool shit, Sam. She sampled me some, wants to do a deal. You in?”
Sam looked at D, then at Becka – with come still streaming out the side of her mouth. “What? You’re not going to share?”
Becka leaned over and slipped her tongue in Sam’s mouth, and they rolled their tongues together for a while, then she broke off – when she saw the bracelet around her wrist. “What’s that?”
“This? Oh, I been out at the fair all afternoon. Ridin’ some rides, ya know?”
Confused now, maybe she hadn’t seen Sam in the bookstore. Maybe. “Oh yeah? What did you ride?”
“Oh, you know that worm ride? Goes round and round, the canvas thing covers you up? I love that one…can’t get enough…”
“So? You wanna try some? D? A little more?”
They both said yes – and she smiled.
When she was finished she washed her knife in the kitchen sink, then sprinkled the last of her green onions on the cottage cheese and ate half the container, then turned on the TV. She left the apartment in the middle of the night – long after Dickinson and Sawyer had called off their stakeout for the night – and she drove home with a smile on her face…
They were both off Sunday-Monday, and he was just waking up when the phone by his bed sounded off.
“Yello,” he groaned into the handset.
“Sleeping in?” Sawyer said.
“Well, yeah, considering I didn’t get in ‘til damn near four in the fuckin’ morning. Don’t tell me you got up and went to church?”
“No,” Becky said, “I mowed the lawn, picked some weeds out in my garden.”
“Jesus…you ambitious people make me ill.”
She laughed. “I’m going to go to a place I know east of here for lunch. Wanna go?”
“I dunno. What kind of grub?”
“CFS, bar-b-cued ham, good veggies and righteous cobblers.”
“East Texas grub, huh.”
“I’ll be ready in a half hour.”
“A half hour? What…are you going to put on make up and heels?” she asked.
“Yeah, little lady, I wanna look a purdy for you, ya-ya-know,” he said, doing his best John Wayne imitation.
“Dear God. A John Wayne fan.”
“With my name – well, it kinda had to be, I guess.”
“I guess. I’ll be there in ten. You be ready.”
He said “Yes, Ma’am,” but he was pretty sure she’d already hung up the phone, so he hopped in the shower and threw on some clothes and made it down to his apartment building’s parking lot just as she pulled in – in a slate blue ‘74 Triumph Spitfire…with the top down!
“My, my, but you are full of surprises,” he said as he folded his mile long legs into the right front seat.
“It was Bob’s. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.”
She turned away, took a deep breath. “Yeah. Bob was my, well, we were not quite married but should have been. He worked for DSO, was killed one night, hit while working an accident.”
“Damn. Sorry to bring it up.”
“Keeping this old thing brings it up, John. I like to bring it up, I guess. Reminded that he was such a big part of my life once.”
“You never married, you said?”
“Yeah. The whole two cops thing,” she said as she pulled out onto the street. “Simpler that way, I guess. We wanted to keep everything ‘uncomplicated,’ I guess.”
“If you’re not having kids I reckon there’s not much reason to get married.”
“That’s what Bob used to say.”
“You…don’t agree with that, do you?”
She shook her head. “I like permanence. Knowing I can count on someone, and that they can count on me.”
“Does it take a piece of paper to make that happen?”
She nodded her head. “I think so. Sometimes it’s that little piece of paper that makes people think twice before they say, or do, something stupid. That little piece of paper that keeps you focused on today AND tomorrow. Know what I mean, Jellybean?”
“So, you think two cops can’t make a go of it?”
“Oh, not at all. Matter of fact, I think the only person a cop can rationally marry is another cop. You know the stats as well as I do.”
“Yeah, got that on day one in academy.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the point. I think marriage is a good thing, and being married to a cop is the best thing, for me, that’ll ever be.”
“Where are you going with this, Becky?”
He laughed. “That’s not what…”
“I know what you meant. I guess I want to know you better, John. Let’s just leave it at that for now, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” But that was going to be difficult, as after Friday night he’d had a hard time thinking about anything else. Yeah, he’d been snockered, but not so out of it he didn’t know what was going down, and he’d enjoyed her, physically, but a lot more than that had quickly developed between them. Right down to her call this morning.
With the top down and her speed nailed on 55, the little Spitfire purred along and the wind wasn’t bothersome. He leaned back, turned his face to the sun and felt the dance between warm sun and crisp autumn air, and he felt the muscles in his shoulders ease for the first time in days.
“Damn, it’s nice out here,” he sighed.
“I miss life out here. It was slower, easier. Dallas is changing fast, too. It’s not going to be ‘Paris on the Prairie’ much longer, ya know?”
“It’s getting to be more and more like LA. Too many people pulling in too many different directions, pulling the fabric of the city in too many directions, too. Something’s gotta give.”
“It’s giving all the time, John. People weren’t meant to live like this, all bunched up and pushing in against each other all the time. A few hundred years ago we were almost all nomads, bound together by common interests and our beliefs, often by our churches. And now – this? Too many people piled on top of one other, doing meaningless jobs, almost leading meaningless lives and with zero prospects. Add drugs to that mix and we’ve grown a toxic cycle of decay and despair.”
“Sorry I asked.”
“I started on my Master’s last spring, just taking a couple of classes a term, but this stuff interests me as much as it bothers me. Doing nothing is being complicit, ya know?”
“So, you gonna teach?”
“I’ve been doing this fifteen years; five more and I can take early retirement. I’ll be in my early forties, and if I can finish a PhD by then I can teach college; if not I can teach in junior colleges or even high schools. Do that ‘til I’m sixty-five and I can have a nice retirement.”
“And do that with a husband and have an even nicer retirement? Is that the way that song goes?”
“Something like that,” she said, casting a little sidelong glance his way. “Does that sound bad to you?”
“No, not at all. It’s good to have some kind of goal in mind, and that’s as good as any I’ve heard.”
“My mom’s gone, but my dad still lives out here. Mind if we drop by? I haven’t seen him in a few weeks.”
“I’d like that.”
Another sidelong glance, another grin in the flickering sunlight…
‘Damn,’ he thought, ‘it sure feels good out here.’
Into Athens then south on 19 about five miles, they turned onto a little red sand road and drove about a half mile off the highway until they came to an immaculately kept bungalow. Pristine white with light gray trim on the soffit and around the windows, it was classic twenties farm architecture, and the barns were as immaculate as the house. ‘This guy’s the real deal,’ he thought as they pulled up to the house.
And his name was, as it had to be, Tom Sawyer. Red hair going gray, a few freckles on his nose and forehead, he even had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he walked up and hugged his daughter, then looked over at Dickinson.
“Your name really John Wayne?” he asked.
“John Wayne Dickinson. Named after two uncles.”
“Hell, that’s worse than Tom Sawyer,” the old man said – taking his hand – and everyone laughed. An old coon hound up on the front porched barked once, a deep, booming volley of a bark, and Tom turned to the dog: “Huck! Knock it off!”
“Don’t tell me…that’s Huck Finn, right?”
He turned to his daughter. “Hell, Becky, this one reads books. Quite an improvement over that last fella.”
Her face turned beet red. “Dad? Be nice, okay?”
“Yup. Reckon I can try that.”
“How many acres you got here, sir,” Dickinson interjected, trying to change the subject.
The old man looked at him, then just shook his head.
“Uh,” Becky said, “that’s kind of rude to ask. Least most people out here think it is.”
“There’re a few things most folks out here consider off limits,” the old man said. “Politics, religion, how much land you got and how big your dick is. Keep them in mind if you talk to folks out here – got it?”
“Yessir. So. How many acres you got?”
Tom and Becky both laughed. “Shit. I like him, Becky.”
“He’s alright, Dad.”
“Well,” Tom said, pointing out behind the house, “we got a hundred and sixty back here, and across the road over there,” he said, pointing across the highway, “I just picked up forty more. They’ve been planting corn over there for a hundred years, but I’m gonna let the ground rest a while, run some cows. Good grass, maybe try some dairy stock for a few years, feed the soil then move ‘em back over here.”
“You have dairy cows here?”
“Yup. Milkin’ barn over there,” he said pointing to one of the huge – and pristine – barns a hundred yards further back from the house. Got about forty acres of soy planted out back.”
“I always thought having a dairy farm would be the unshelled nuts,” John added.
“Oh, it’s a lot of fun. The getting up at three thirty in the morning, seven days a week. Real fun.”
“Satisfying, I think I should have said. Growing things, yeah, but there’s something about dairy that seems like it’s a good thing.”
“Spend much time on a farm?”
“No, sir. I grew up in Dallas, so the closest I’ve been to a farm was the livestock pavilion at the fair. Still, the thing is, I linger there, look at the animals, watching the kids and their 4-H projects. Feels like I missed out on something important, if you know what I mean?”
“Yup, I do. So, did y’all come down to talk, or you wanna slide over to May’s.”
“Dad? You like to join us?”
“I was about to head over myself, if you can stand the company?”
“May’s?” John asked.
“May’s Cafe,” Becky answered. “About a mile from here. Best food in East Texas.”
Tom followed them in his own two-seater, a twenty-something year old Chevy pickup, and they parked in front of a old, white diner, the surface of the parking lot a mishmash of mud and old asphalt roofing shingles that had been baked by time into a semi-hard surface. There were two Harley’s in front, in the lone shady spot, and John followed Becky inside to another world.
Just a handful of table, five or so, and a small counter – with no stools – greeted them, and over in the corner? Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings had some sheet music open, and they were working away on a piece – which jolted Dickinson out of his reveries. As they walked over to a table Nelson looked up at Becky and smiled: “Hey, Beck, how’s it goin’?” he said as he stood and came over for a hug.
Which was as affectionately returned.
Then Tom walked up and shook hands all around, and Becky introduced John – who suddenly appeared tongue-tied and twisted inside.
They left them to it when May came out. “Almost out of ham, Tom,” the woman in the flour-specked apron said.
“What kind of cobbler you got,” he shot back – as if the choice determined what he’d order for lunch.
“Apple and blackberry. Oh, I made up some cheese-grits too, Tom, in case you want an egg on your CFS.”
Dickinson’s mouth was already watering from the smells drifting out of the kitchen – parts of which were visible just on the other side of the counter – and he looked at the old woman like she was some kind of magician. Everyone asked for a CFS, or chicken fried steak – and she was serving up turnip greens and mashed potatoes with it today, which suited all concerned just fine.
The afternoon was warming up and the little dining room’s window box air conditioners were rattling away, cooling the space just enough to make it comfortable, then the songwriters paid their bill and said goodbye on their way out – just as a lone girl walked in and sat by herself over by one of the air conditioners.
“Looks like a Koon Kreek girl,” Tom said, looking at the girl as May walked up to her table and described the days menu.
“Koon Kreek Klub,” Becky added. “Never heard of it?”
“Kind of a close cousin of the Petroleum Club downtown. Old Dallas place. Words are spelled out with Ks. Ya know, as in KKK. Something like a 40 year waiting list to get in, costs a shitload, too.”
“A club? What kind of…”
“Huntin’ and fishin’,” Tom said.
“Downtown, at the Petroleum Club, there’s a mural on one of the walls. I mean a real oil painting, of ducks taking flight from one of the lakes there. The two are linked, I guess you’d say. When you consider oil is the biggest industry in the world and these two clubs are where the top oilmen in the world hang out, or aspire to hang out, it makes the place kind of a big deal.”
“And no one knows much about ‘em?”
“And that’s a Koon Kreek gal? Know her, Tom?”
The old man shook his head. “Nope. Don’t pay much attention to them folk, and they don’t pay none to me, neither. I like to keep it that way, too.”
“You got something they want, they take it. One way tor another. They pretty much keep to themselves down here though, but if they got a hankerin’ to pick up some land, say, or a business in town, well, no one get’s in their way.”
He turned to Becky then: “Say…you know Willie?”
She grinned. “Yup.”
“From around here?”
She shrugged, picked up a jalapeño from the plate on the table and took a slice, munched on it, then took a sip of ice water.
“Nothing to say about that?” John added.
Their lunches came, huge plates overflowing with cream gravy, and Tom’s steak had a sunny side up egg on top, as well as a small dish heaped with steaming cheese grits.
“Dear God,” Dickinson sighed, “if this is half as good as it looks…”
Tom spoke while he salt and peppered his plate: “May makes the best CFS in Texas. Hell, even LBJ used to stop by on his swings around the state, when he was courtin’ the vote, anyway. Man wasn’t as stupid as he seemed.”
John looked at Becky just then, noticed her trying not to look at the gal across the room so he turned around and looked. The girl looked at him, didn’t break contact for a moment, then she shook her head and turned back to a book she had open on the table – some kind of textbook, he guess, by the look of it.
He turned back to his plate and no one spoke while they worked their way through the meal, but May came out and slapped three blackberry cobblers on the table when they got close to finishing up. “Anyone want coffee?” she asked.
“Got any buttermilk?” Tom asked.
“Ain’t your arteries hard enough, Tom Sawyer?” May shot back.
“Well, I’ll see if I got some.”
They settled up a half hour later, and Becky watched as the ‘Koon Kreek gal’ paid up and walked out to a new Mustang convertible, and she headed north like she was going back to Dallas – and that fit…if she’d been down at daddy’s house over the weekend. They said ‘bye’ to May and walked out to her Spitfire, talked a minute or so, and Tom asked them to come down again real soon before they loaded up and started the drive back to Dallas.
“Well, that’s my father. What’d you think of him?”
“I like him.”
“No buts, he just seems kinda lonely. How long ago did your mother pass?”
“Been a while.”
“He’s not gonna get remarried?”
“Doesn’t want to. He works all day and Huck doesn’t leave his side. Seems content, anyway, to finish out his life that way.”
“Like I said. Lonely.”
“I think so too.”
“He gonna sell the place?”
“Nope. Goes to me. I always thought I’d come back out here someday, maybe try to make a go of it. You mean what you said about dairy cows?”
She turned and looked at him then, then nodded her head. “You wanna, like, move in with me?”
The question startled him, and it showed.
“Look,” she added, “I’m not trying to be forward, but maybe we ought to see where this is headed, ya know?”
“One of us would have to quit, you know.”
“Only if we got married.”
“So, just live together?”
“For a while. See if this…thing…is real?”
“Well, yeah. You see, John, the thing is, I think I’m falling in love with you…”
He smiled, turned and looked at her as she drove. “You too, huh.”
And she looked at him, looked at his smile. “Oh, yeah. I got it bad.”
“Why don’t we run by my place and I’ll pick up a few things…”
And so they drove on, back to the city – lost in thoughts about the future – and neither saw the Mustang convertible following a few miles back…
This fragment © 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com
Okay, for the uninitiated, here’s a rundown on the most important thing in life: chicken fried steak at May’s cafe. Yes, May’s Cafe was the real deal, as is the Koon Kreek Klub, though it shows up on Google Earth spelled with CCCs, not KKKs. You can read about the Club here, and here, and my guess is it was a very interesting place to spend time as a kid. Anyway, for those of you not fortunate enough to know Texas culinary traditions, here ya go.
Chicken fried steak is like oxygen to most people in the American South, but the east Texas variation is a beast unto it’s own. It’s all in the breading, too:
Unlike, say, a schnitzel, an east Texas CFS is beef, usually pounded into near oblivion then dredged in an egg wash, then flour – to which salt and pepper have been added. Set to dry on a plate, the steak is then re-dredge a second time, first in the egg, then the flour, and it’s this second dredging that makes the legendary crispy texture of a real, good CFS. It is then fried, usually in peanut oil but often in pure vegetable oil, though back in the day the poison of choice was Crisco, the solid stuff. It’s got to fried crispy, too, and you check that with a fork. When you tap the steak and your fork pings like a tuning fork, it’s done.
Cream gravy is an art. Erica makes a good one, my Dad’s was better, but not by much. You take the remnants in your skillet, the crispy bits – and not too much oil should be left, then you add milk or cream and start stirring in flour once the milk is not quite simmering. Add a little more milk, then flour, stirring constantly. The stuff goes from liquid to wallpaper paste in zero point two seconds, so you can’t walk away and leave it.
Most folks like mashed potatoes, and if they’re homemade they’re not bad, but I’ll do french-fries too. Greens are a must, and though collards are the norm in the deep south, in Texas you’ll get turnip greens:
Cheese grits, anyone?
And last but most definitely not least:
May was famous for her CFS but her bar-b-cued ham was legendary, too. You could find her most Tuesdays at the farmer’s market in downtown Dallas, and no, she wasn’t famous, but she was loved.