Carleton Towers squeezed his impressive girth into the narrow confines of the worn mahogany booth and glanced toward the grease stained menu board behind the counter of the Outrider Diner. His faded blue sweater strained against the surging tide that was his ever expanding belly, and he sighed as he eyed the approaching waitress, her hips swaying in time with an oldies tune on the jukebox- Thunder Road, Springsteen, 1975- almost forty years ago. He sighed again.
“Morning Carl, Whatllitbe? Coffee? The usual?”, the fading blond inquired, her heavy mascara framing pale green eyes, a button missing from her wrinkled white blouse, revealing the lace of a red bra that had known more than its share of eager, yet fumbling hands. Carl quickly averted his gaze and returned his thoughts to the menu and his stomach. “Good morning, Isabelle, looking good. Sure! Bring it on ,and hey, make it a double order of bacon. Please.”
“’Kay, Hon, be with you in just a minute. You alone this morning?”
“Actually Izzy, I’ve got a friend joining me, should be in shortly. Might as well bring a second cup of joe. be ready for him.”
The massive plate of creamed chipped beef was mostly devoured, along with the double order of bacon, an extra side of scrapple, greasy home fries and three cups of coffee, black, when the tall lanky man with weathered snakeskin cowboy boots slid into the booth opposite Carleton.
“Jeeze, you fat fuck, you could’ve at least left some food in the joint for the rest of us! ….and this coffee’s cold.”
“And a cheery good morning to you, too, Barney. Sorry, I showed up early, and well, you know me and bacon. Settle in sport, I’ll get you some fresh coffee. Sit tight. Izzy!?!” Carl waved his cup toward the waitress.
“Yeah, I remember. You’re the guy who had the ham flavored ice cream on that job down in Mississippi a few years back. How could I forget. What’s good here?
Carleton flicked a bit of bacon from his snowy white beard. Since retirement he found that Santa Claus was a more and more familiar face grinning back at him in the mirror. Or perhaps the latter day Papa Hemingway. “Well,” he laughed, “the creamed chip beef is pretty tasty.”
“Sure, Carl, sure, and I can see why your wife doesn’t let you out too often on your own”, chuckled his old colleague. “ I think I’ll stick to the coffee and two eggs, over hard” Barney said to the waitress, as she bent low to retrieve Carl’s now spotless plate, giving him a long glimpse of her freckle dusted cleavage. Victoria’s Secret dancing in his sub-conscisious, Carl snapped his head back across to face his friend as the waitress retreated toward the kitchen, a practised grind to her step, pony-tailed hair swinging in time to her hips like an old fashioned metronome.
“Carl, old buddy, you will surely burn in hell for what you’re thinking right now. Why don’t you try and pull your eyes back into their sockets and tell me why you dragged me out here so early in the morning. I know it wasn’t just to share this heart attack on a plate with you. You’re retired now. You can sleep in as late as you want. What’s up?”
Carleton Towers leaned in closer across the boomerang festooned formica, his belly oozing onto the tabletop, threatening his coffee cup with a tsunami of flab. He adjusted his thick, black-rimmed glasses and took a deep breath. “Damndest thing, Barney. I had the weirdest dream the other night, woke me up in a sweat. It was so vivid, so clear. We , I mean you…. and me, we were in a diner, just like this, and a bunch of punks came in, started shooting. Barney, it was just too real. I mean, your brains were splattered across my scrapple for God’s sake.Did I mention they killed you in the dream? It was all, you know, just so real. Too real. It’s been bothering me for days.Like Newtown. I told LouAnne about it, she said I woke up shaking, you know, babbling in my sleep, and she suggested I sit down and talk to you about it. I’m sorry, Barney, I realize this all sounds crazy, but it was like a premonition, it’s stayed with me for days now. I know the last case we were working on before I retired was wading into some pretty murky waters, and well, I, I guess I just wanted to be sure you were alright. See for myself.”
Barnswell Chesterfield sat upright and smiled as Isabelle the waitress set the plate of eggs in front of him, and topped off both their coffees, the earthy aroma of the dark, bitter liquid mingling with the scent of cheap perfume rising from between her breasts. “ I threw a couple of pieces of bacon there on the side, in case my boy Carl here hasn’t had enough.”, she giggled. “ I like a man with healthy appetites.” Another flash of lace and flesh past the missing button, and Izzy sashayed off behind the counter to tend to the coffee machine.
“Carl, my friend, if you ever had a go at a young girl like that you’d have a heart attack before she even got to that missing button, “ chuckled Barney. Besides, even if you managed to come out the other side alive, LouAnne would kill you the minute you stepped through the door at home. God, did you smell that perfume? Must cost a whole dollar a quart down at Walmart! She’d smell you coming for blocks. Christ! ….but, hey, maybe that’s the solution to my problem. The whiz kids down in research don’t seem to be having much luck.”
Carl sipped on his coffee and removed his glasses. He slowly and methodically wiped the lenses with a corner of his sleeve, and returned the spectacles to his face. Carleton Towers leveled his gaze across the booth at his friend and spoke in a lowered voice. “Barney, I know something’s up. This dream, this feeling. I just can’t shake it. I was in the business more than thirty years.I just know.
Listen, I understand I’m retired, and maybe I’m not the hotshot I used to be, but maybe I can help.”
Barney closed his eyes and kneaded the bridge of his nose. Steam rose from the cups of coffee. A Keno machine blared from the opposite end of the diner. A woman sneezed on her stool at the counter.
A car honked as it drove past down Route One. Imitation maple syrup made its lazy way down a short stack of pancakes. From somewhere in the kitchen came the smell of burnt toast.
Barnswell Chesterfield leaned closer to his fat friend and in a voice as still and dark as a stagnant pond asked “What do you know about……zombies?”