Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Murdock Eats Out

Murdock could either cut back downtown to Phogg’s Grill and have a chat, maybe, with Lola LaVentura, or not. She might be busy. Or he could go hunting this end of county for any semblance of cooked food.

He found a “country deli” about two miles up Rambling Road. It wasn’t a convenience store type with a meat slicer and white bread sandwich shop located next to the cash register. This was a stand-alone place, so far down off the road he almost missed it, a “shack” instead of a place to eat, called “Pony’s Place.” It had a gravel parking lot, an upright refrigerator on the front porch next to two rocking chairs, a genuine wood-frame screen door, and the foot print probably measured seven-hundred square feet, including the porch. It had been someone’s house once upon a time. A very small house. Noticeably, on the inside door were the ubiquitous credit card decals. The order counter and the check-out shared a two-foot wide portion of yellow formica. The adding machine and the card reader both shared an outlet in the ceiling. The coffin cooler was to the left, two glass fronted coolers were behind it, the grill and fryer along the back wall and the prep table to the right. Back in the corner was a unisex bathroom. He didn’t give it much thought about its cleanliness. On the coffin cooler was a county inspection sheet rating the place as ninety-one out of one-hundred points. That was reassuring. A woman bustled in from the dining room. She was perhaps forty-years old, with curly blond hair that looked like a lot of the bottle blondness has been washed out. She gave Murdock a big smile. She wore T-shirt and jeans and apron emblazoned with an alarmed chicken saying “EAT MORE PIGS!”

“What’ll it be, honey,” she said.

Murdock ordered a Rueben, assured that the cabbage was freshly chopped and boiled, sweetie. On wheat, white, or rye? Swiss, Cheddar, or Colby? Mayo? Lettuce? Paid cash.

The dining room held four eight-foot-long folding tables. The chairs were leftovers from two different churches with their names stenciled on the backs. The room was crowded with another cooler for the soda and a chest freezer. The floor was well-worn linoleum of some aged, ugly, yellowish fleur-de-lis pattern. The walls were unpainted paneling. On two walls were fish mounts. The windows were open, but screened. There was a hint of fresh air in the room. The curtains ruffled slightly with the incoming breeze. No fake music. No oversized televisions. No drunks. Nobody else except him and the cook, for that matter. He could hear the hum of the coolers and the tires droning from a few passing vehicles. Murdock made himself comfortable as possible in a metal chair. In the back of his mind he hoped he didn’t die of food poisoning.

The Reuben was excellent, as promised, and Murdock rather entertained the notion of a nap this late in the evening rather than going to town. But, duty called. He hit the bathroom before leaving only to find to his great surprise, the only public restroom he’d ever visited with a shower stall (that looked like it got used), a spotless commode, and hot water instantly at the tap.

There was a lesson to be learned here, thought Murdock. He left a big tip.