“Keep driving till we see sexy Jesus,” Mike said, navigating his phone back into his jean pocket.
“But I’m starving over here,” Eddie pounded his hand against the steering wheel. “Can’t I drop in the deli and get some cold cuts while you watch for this joker from the car?” Eddie said while forsaking his r’s.
“That’ll take forever, man. You know, it’s ok to eat a hamburger sometimes.”
Eddie released his hands from the steering wheel. “Whaddya freaking talking about? Can’t a man enjoy a meatball gondola in the A/C with a little—”
“—a little music—and a this—and a that— and a bada-bing and a bada-boom.”
“You’re not even Italian, Eddie.”
“Take it back!”
“But, your Mamma Mia’s from Idaho, dude!”
“She was in the witness protection!”
Eddie swerved the rickety 80s import sedan across three lanes of oncoming traffic, while Evel Knievel-ing the curb, bouncing across the sidewalk, and landed in the parking lot of a Greek sandwich shop. He tail whipped the car towards the highway; smoke jetted from the tires as they came to a screeching reduction of forward momentum.
As inertia kicked in and the smoke cleared, Eddie threw open the car door, crawled out, turned to Mike and said, “Do you want anything?”
“A new job.”
Eddie slammed the door, mumbling Italian-sounding words to himself as he made his way to the deli’s entrance.
Mike hand-cranked the window down.
“And an Italian on wheat! Extra meat, no veggies, and a slice of avocado!”
“That’s not an Italian!”
“Yeah, neither are you!”
Eddie mumbled his Ray Romano accent to himself as he stormed into the small sandwich shop.
Mike stretched out in his seat. He watched the cars crawl by on the highway in front of him.
A shirtless Hispanic man came into view, walking his muscles down the sidewalk. A group of teenage girls trailed behind him. The parade crossed Mike’s view of the highway. He assumed the beefcake’d individual had more muscles in his right arm than Mike had in his entire body.
Mike continued his observation as Señor Músculos crossed the street and vanished behind the slow-moving traffic with the gaggle of girls following close behind.
The driver side door opened and Eddie threw a small paper sack at Mike, awakening him from his Spanish daydream.
“Guy at the counter couldn’t stop laughing at your ridiculous order,” Eddie said as he put the car in gear and drove away from the deli.
“But you ordered it, anyway?”
“It’s because I like you. I don’t care what they say about you..”
Mike peek-a-boo’d over the paper sack at Eddie and locked eyes with the sorta Italian man.
“Geez, like a brother or something.” Eddie said as he yanked a slice of pastrami out of his sandwich with his teeth. “But don’t get me wrong, if I were a lady…”.
Mike laughed. “What does that even mean? If you were a woman, what?”
“Don’t make this weird, Mike.”
“I’m not making it anything. You’re the one that brought it up. And now, I gotta know.”
Eddie froze 2.09 seconds to think. “Ok… If… Only if… I was a woman…”
Mike curled his hands under his chin and batted his eyes.
“And, I was desperate.”
“Wait,” Mike interrupted. “D’you say desperate or depressed?”
“Both,” Eddie spoke through his sandwich. “Like I’m saying… and I swear if you interrupt me, or if you tell anybody—I’ll kill you.” He regained his composure and said, “If I was a depressed, lonely, desperate housewife, I would think you were an above-average looking dude.”
Mike gushed, “That means a lot, dude. But, that’s only if you were a woman, right?”
“Yeah. If I woke up one morning, and I’m brushing my teeth and I look down and say ‘Hey! Where’d all my man parts go?”
“We could have that arranged,” Mike said, mimicking the cranking of a weed-eater.
“I swear to you; it’ll be the last freaking thing you arrange.”
“Whatever man! You like me too much for that.” Mike leaned towards Eddie. “But I do have one question. If that’s how you’d feel as a woman, how would you feel if you were actually Italian?”
Eddie launched chewed pepperoni across the windshield, and loaded his mouth with a foul comeback, but instantly forgot it.
They both stared; their ability to blink denied its existence.
They’d found Jesus.
Chapter 2: The Truck Stop
Eddie pulled the car into the gas station parking lot. The crowd of teenage girls that had been following Señor Músculos had abandoned their Spanish heart throb, and had instead surrounded the driver’s side of a large black eighteen-wheeler parked at the pumps.
“What is up with this? Nobody said we’d find Jesus plastered on the side of a truck!” Eddie said.
“It’s gotta be him, right?”
They passed the truck to grab better view of the giant mural of Jesus painted on the side of the truck’s driverside door. The girls were taking selfies while kissing the Nike covered feet of the Sexy Jesus portrait. Señor Músculos was nowhere to be seen.
Eddie’s face watered the pocket of his old man polo.
“That’s the most… um…”
“Athletic.” Eddie interrupted, wiping his eyes.
“For sure. That’s one jacked Jesus!”
“Those arms, though!” Eddie shouted abruptly. “Look at those Triceratops!”
“Triceps?” Asked Mike.
“Whatever, I mean his whatevers. His whatevers look friggin’ crazy.”
The apparent driver of the truck appeared and walked across the parking lot towards the convenience store.
Eddie parked the car in a front parking spot. They both exited the car while glaring into the large storefront window.
“Don’t look like any spy I’ve ever seen,” Eddie said.
“You’ve seen a spy?”
“Tons of ‘em: James Bond, Austin Powers, that dude from Taken,” Eddie replied.
“Movie spies aren’t real spies,” Mike said. “And Austin Powers? From what I’ve heard about this trucker dude, he ain’t no dumb spy.”
“You’re a dumb spy.”
“You wish,” Mike said flashing a grin while bouncing his dorky eyebrows.
Mike’s phone blared a song about the attraction of blended ice cream to adolescent males.
The man inside the truck stop glanced their direction—ish. Eddie dove for the hedges while dragging Mike with him.
Mike landed in a squat amidst the shrubbery. He struggled to wrestle the phone from his stubborn pants pockets. The sudden requirement to lower his buttocks close to the earth made acquiring the phone a difficult task for the big guy. The pocket entrance had transformed into an airtight fortress. He thumped to his back. He straightened his legs to ease pressure from his maximum-security pocket holes. His fingers snapped like a blind alligator in a duck pond until they found their prey. He removed the phone from its entrapment and said, “Hello? Hey man, what’s up? Any update on the situation?”
“Who is it?” Eddie whispered.
“No. No. I understand. Have you guys talked to him yet? I bet he’s off the chain,” Mike paused. “The cops still don’t know, right? Did you guys get that clean-up crew?” Mike asked.
“Who’s on the phone?”
“Oh yeah. You’re right that’s a good idea.”
“Hey man, who you talking to?” Eddie clenched his fists and pleaded, “Why are you ignoring me? Please!”
“Craig.” Mike mouthed, “Now shut up, dude.”
Eddie rolled his large eyes.
“Alrighty. I guess we’ll see ya in a few. By the way, we found Sexy Jesus.”
Craig says something on the other side of the line.
Mike says OK with his mouth but his head and expression were a definite no. “Yeah, that would be hilarious,” Mike paused. “No thanks, I’m not interested in having my rear-end electrocuted.”
“Nope. Me neither.”
Mike continued, “Oh, yeah. He’s standing beside me— hey, one more thing. Eddie wanted me to tell you something, but I think he’s too embarrassed to say it himself.”
“Whattaya freakin’ doin’?
“Eddie said that he loves you.”
“What!? No, I didn’t. Give me that phone!” Eddie yelled at Mike.
“Oh, what’s that?” Mike asked while holding his companion back with a stiff arm. “He said that he misses you and couldn’t imagine having these kinds of feelings for anyone else in the whole wide world.”
“Whadda ya doin’? I didn’t freakin’ say that!”
Mike turned his butt to block Eddie and whispered like a golf announcer, “And now he’s making little kissy noises. What’s this? He’s folding his hands into a heart. Oh, my, he’s literally crying over here; like a little Mario who wants to save his princess.”
“That’s it!!” Eddie swung forward and volleyball spiked the phone from Mike’s cupped hands. The phone banged against a large plastic garden rock.
Mike snatched the phone from the ground, “You cracked my screen, idiot.”
“What’s your problem, why did you say all that sappy romance crap?”
“Don’t worry about it, man. You know Craig’s wife don’t ever flatter him. Just consider it job security, man. I’m trying to make the world a better place, you know?”
“I could freaking kill you right now.”
Mike batted his eyelashes.
Mike and Eddie crawled out of the bushes and stood on the sidewalk. They slapped away wood chippings from their clothes and pretended as if the last few minutes hadn’t involved two grown men hiding behind gas station bushes.
Eddie said, “I don’t think he’s a spy. Look at that idiot; he looks like he broke loose from the redneck zoo.”
The trucker sported a red flannel shirt, with both sleeves rolled above his bony elbows. He covered his strong legs with khaki-colored carpenters jeans, because to quote his dad, “Wranglers are stranglers”. Aviator glasses rested atop a pile of dark black curls. A cell phone holster clung to his brown leather belt and yellow work boots sealed the look below.
He flipped through the cassettes on the audio rack.
“Let’s go inside, we’re just getting a tan out here.” Eddie said.
“Maybe it’ll help you look more Italian.”
Eddie cocked his head and slapped his hips and said, “You kiss your momma with that mouth?”
“No, but I’d kiss yours.”
The men walked into the door. Sudden pressure to their face from the window assisted them in looking like morons. They backed off the stubborn door and looked around to see if anyone had noticed. A little girl saw the whole thing. She laughed, fell to the floor, and rolled into a metal rolling chip rack.
They walked to the door again, and used caution by waiting until after it had opened.
The truck driver stood before an overflowing audio cassette bin. A few lucky titles sat in the nearby shopping basket.
“What’s he think we’re stupid or something? Cassettes, really? Ain’t nobody here trying to buy some cassettes. You can’t even get those things at the thrift shop no more.” Mike said.
“Let’s split up. I can’t see from over here.” Eddie grabbed Mike’s shoulder. “And Mike, act natural.”
“What do you mean, act natural?”
“Are you freakin’ kidding me right now? Mike, you’re the weirdest person I’ve ever met.”
Mike sighed and tugged his vintage NSYNC T-shirt over his hairy, protruding belly.
The men separated.
Mike inched down one of the aisles. He wanted a looky-loo inside the man’s basket.
Eddie headed towards the soft-drink aisle; in his path bowed an ancient lady, with her face almost touching the floor, and her rear-end suspended entirely across the walkway. She seemed to examine the cold medicine on the bottom shelf.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me.” Eddie whispered.
Mike scurried to a different aisle to view their VIP’s shopping items.
The truck driver continued browsing the audio cassettes in the dusty, overflowing clearance bin near the rear of the truck stop’s lobby.
As Mike turned the corner, the truck driver locked his beautiful eyes on him.
Mike snatched the closest item, primarily intended for women, but forced himself to examine it. He looked back at the truck driver, held up the object for the trucker to see, and gave an approving shrug and timid smile. The truck driver nodded and continued flipping through the cassettes. Mike dropped the item to the floor and retreated to a more comfortable section of the store.
Eddie tipped his brown fedora toward the Igor-esque woman blocking the aisle with her large granny-butt. When he attempted to go to a different aisle, he discovered yet another little old lady.
This one stood erect and smiled at Eddie while saying in the softest voice, “Out of my way, loser.”
He attempted to avoid her shopping cart, but she swung the cart and slammed his body against the glass door of the refrigerated beer cooler and said, “Nope.”
He shimmied out of the buggy’s grasp and away from its demon-driver; he spun back towards the lady with the warped torso, limped towards her, leaned way down and said, “Hey lady? Whaddya say you get outta my freaking way, huh?”
The woman crooked her head his direction, curled a toothless grin. She then rose with the fury of a pissed off sloth and pressed a wrinkled ball of fist across Eddie’s mouth. Slowly one punch after another mashed Eddie’s face, chest, and thighs, he wobbled backward and tripped over and into a buggy, slamming him from behind. The impact of his head against a brick in the old lady’s pocketbook, knocked him out cold.
“Nice hook—Delores,” the other old lady coughed.
The truck driver mosied away from the cassettes and grabbed one more item on his way to the cash register.
A woman with dyed blonde hair and lips with permanently applied pucker stood behind the counter.
“Sorry for the mess, honey. It gets crazy in here after the first of the month. Everybody comes running in with their granddaddy’s disability checks; between cigarettes and lottery tickets, you’d think it was the day after Thanksgiving or something. Not to mention, they let the old people at the nursing home free range on Mondays, on account of the home’s owner just bought a big boat. I heard he makes those poor nurses man the sails.” She looked around the store, “Hold on a second, honey,” the cashier grabbed a small silver microphone attached to the cash register and barked into it, “Clean-up on aisles 3, 5, and 6.”She pushed the microphone away, She leaned over the counter and whispered, “I’m the only person here but nobody knows that but you,” she paused and said, “and that guy behind ya.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me.” the truck driver said.
“Me neither,” said Mike, from behind him.
She rang up the items from his basket. “That’ll be $14.53.”
“Oh, so the tapes were on sale?”
The cashier glanced at the long-forgotten relics, “Those things? Nah, they’re free for you, Honey.” She leaned closer to the truck driver and said, “but I have to charge you for the—” she pointed at the item on the counter. “—other thing.”
“Oh, no problem. Here’s a twenty, and keep the rest for the children’s stocking fund. But I’ll need the cassettes in a bag, and as for that thing, I bought it for the dude behind me.”
Mike felt an urgent need to re-enter the conversation. “Oh. I don’t know what—”
The cashier shot him a shut-your-mouth-and-mind-your-elders stare.
Mike forced a smile. “You didn’t have to—”
“No problem, man,” The truck driver patted his back, “I want you to have the bra. I think you’ll enjoy to have the added support.”
The cashier handed The truck driver his impressive bag of cassettes. He turned and walked out of the gas station while avoiding the rickety automatic door’s attempt to stall his grand exit.
Mike turned around and called out, “What’s your name trucker dude?”
The truck driver stopped, turned back to Mike and said, “James. Just—James.”
“Oh…” Mike held up his shopping bag. “Thanks for the bra—James,” Mike said. The truck driver exited the store, and Mike turned back to face the cashier. “Nice guy, huh?”
“Yeah, sure. Nice butt, too.”
Mike coughed, “I was talking about his character,” He shook his head, “But, yeah. He’s got a desirable amount of fat cells in that derriere, too.”
She leaned closer to Mike and whispered, “Too bad they’re gonna kill him.”
Click here to continue Queso Royale: The Truck Driver