Queso Royale: Chapter 10 (The Diner)

Craig (Banana Man) and Eddie were sitting at a booth in the diner’s corner when James walked in.

The cloud of smoke coming from overcooked food struck James’ nose like something that would strike your nose. It reminded him of his childhood, his mom used to say about her cooking, the burnt parts were the healthiest parts. So you could say, let’s just say he ate super healthy growing up.

He made his way towards the booth, but as he headed their direction an older waitress with an over-sized blonde wig body blocked him said, “How many’s it gonna be hon?”

James waved a cool hand in her direction as to say “Don’t worry about it”.

The waitress said counting his fingers, “Ok, so that’s 4, right? You gonna need any high chairs or booster seats?”

He shook his head.

“Alrighty. Any place particular you wanna sit?”

He pointed towards the two men in the booth.

“Uh, you sure you wanna be sitting over there next to those two. Honestly, they’ve been giving me the heebie-jeebies. They came in here an hour ago and have been hunched over whispering to each other this whole time. You sure you don’t wanna sit over on the other side? I know, Dwayne’s sitting over there, but his doctor said that even if the pus got straight in your mouth, it shouldn’t paralyze ya.”

James shook his head, winked at the waitress and moved towards the two men. He sat in the booth behind the Craig and Eddie. He had his back up against Eddie and Craig could see the back of James’ curly hair.

“You want a drink or something while you wait?” The waitress asked.

“Coffee please.” He said.

The waitress nodded and walked towards the coffee machine.

“Find out anything, truck driver?” Eddie said while keeping his head facing his own table.

“Found out it might have something to do with milk.”

“Oh well sweetie, you didn’t ask for milk, you ordered coffee. Hey Frank, can you crack open a new milk jug? Man over here wants some milk.” The waitress had yelled at an ancient man leaning over the front of the grill. He looked asleep. Or dead. Sleep Walking dead.

The old cook’s head turned with his body because of his neck being affixed in a permanent direction relative to the center of his chest bone. “What d’you say? Open what? Why don’t you open it yourself, you lazy hag!” He yelled with volume associated with Norse gods. He shuffled back around to hover over the grill.

“It’ll be out in a minute, sweetie.” She assured James as she moved on to the next table.

When she had moved a few tables away, Craig asked, “So one of the M’s is milk?”

“Maybe. But the word on the street is, someone’s been going around asking a lot of questions. And some ladies said the farmers have been acting a little more giddy than usual too.” Said, James.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Giddy?” Craig asked.

“Dunno. Have you guys had any more disappearances?” James asked.

“Uh… Yeah. We’ve had a few more farms bite the dust. But no more signs with MMM on them.”

“And the farmers?”

“They’re gone.”

“What about the cows?”

“What about ’em?” Asked Eddie.

“You guys been taking care of their… condition?” Asked James.

“Oh, yeah, we’ve been selling them. They make a mess and a half down the highway though.” Said Eddie.

“Here ya go hon.” The waitress said as she placed an overflowing glass of milk on the table. “Stuff was startin’ to go bad, so I decided I’d pour the rest for you. I’d hate to waste it.” She paused and shook some dandruff off James’ shoulder. “My god, your hair is beautiful,” She said with a gasp. 

James’ skin metamorphosed to the color of the inside of a blood orange.

“Hey darling, d’you ever hear from the other three in your group?”  

Eddie launched an ice cube from his mouth, it pinball’d off a glass ketchup bottle. He raised his hand above the table and counted his fingers, one for Jorge, one for Markus, and one for Mike. His eyebrows rose towards his recording hairline. He mouthed to Craig, “That stinkin’ rat. He gave us away.”

As the waitress moved away to a different table, Eddie whispered, “Hey man, you got company or something? Or you just enjoy running that mouth of yours?”

James answered, “What? No. When I came in, she thought I had a party of four and froze and just went along with it. I didn’t want her to associate me with you guys. I’ve been–”

“Wait, a freakin’ minute,” Craig whispered loudly while holding his gaze towards Eddie. “Do we embarrass you or something?”

“I think the waitress knows.” James said.

“Wait what?” Craig swiped on his phone, “My phone keeps buzzing like I’ve got a message, but when I check the screen there’s nothing.” Said Craig. Pulling out his phone and cradling it too close to his face, like an old man.

Eddie said. “I told you, you shouldn’t have switched phones, man. But you were like, (Feminine voice) ‘Oh, I’m gonna love my new phone. Jorge bought one and we’re gonna face chat all the time.’”

Craig smashed his hand on the tabletop. Everyone in the diner turned their direction. To keep his cover, James turned around to face the men. Craig, realizing everyone was staring at him said, “No need to worry. It was… just a bug… crawling across the table. But, I got it! Yeah, I crushed it with the might of my faithful triceps”  

Eddie grabbed craig’s shoulders and body-slammed him into his seat. “Sorry folks. He ain’t had his meds,” he said shaking his head. The diner crowd attempted to journey back to normal. “You’re gonna get us caught! Moron” Eddie whisper-screamed.

“Caught by who?” James asked.

“I dunno, but I’ve been getting this weird feeling that we’re being followed.”

The diner’s doorbell announced a new patron. The men rotated towards the open door. An ancient man in a gray 90s windbreaker hobbled into the diner with his jacket hood covering his head. He looked about as if searching for someone. He ended his search as his eyes fell upon James. The man flipped back the hood. He was older than James imagined. He hobbled towards James in dramatic fashion, without breaking eye contact. The waitress looked up at the man in fear. The old man barked at her in an ominous and rugged voice. She turned and pointed her ashy fingers at James.

The old man set a course and started in James’ direction. Father time, more like Father overtime, was now at twenty feet and closing. James had no escape. Behind James were his partners, behind them a wood-paneled wall, behind the wall God only knew.

The man approached James’ booth, by now Eddie had turned back around and was running through a hasty and ill-remembered version of the Lord’s prayer, not for himself but for James.. James was trying to recall how to breathe. Craig was still fumbling through the notification settings on his phone, unaware of the old man’s entrance. The non-gentleman stood over James’ table now.

James had already analyzed all known excuses to tell the man, yet couldn’t commit to any of them.

The tall oak of a man looked upon them and said in a low voice “I thought I’d lost you.” He reached towards James which by now had given up the life of spy-iary and go back to driving. The man spoke again “You have something of mine. And I’m gonna get it back.”

James swallowed a piece of his soul, “Sir. I’m... I’m confused. You’ve mistaken me for someone else. I think.”

“You driving that cheese truck with the stupid Jesus picture on it?”

“Uh-huh.” James choked out.

“Then yeah, I’m talking to you.” Said the angry old man. He pressed his stare into James’ being, and revealed his point of contention, “You’re in my spot.”

James stood on his shaky knees.

“Sit down!” The old man said in his steeped voice. “I had to park on the freaking sidewalk, and I’m not moving my car ‘til you get that ridiculous truck outta my way!” The old man heaved to catch his breath, “And if they tow my car, so help me, I’ll find you and I’ll…” He pulled back his jacket and revealed the handle of a pistol shoved into the top of his man-diaper. “After I kill you, I’ll show up at your funeral, make out with your grandma, and burn donuts on your grave.”

James rose and exited the booth, this time not wanting to set any more fire to the man’s emotions. James backed away towards the exit, one shameful step after another until he reached the door. As he peeled the door away from its frame, it gave the most unwelcoming chime as if its batteries had given up on living.

The waitress, coming from the opposite side of the diner, inched closer to James, not losing sight of the old man, and said in a cracked voice, “So…I… uh… guess your friends didn’t… I mean they never showed up.” She reached into her apron and pulled out her tab book and said, “Sorry, but I’ve got to ring up your… milk.”

The old man’s bushy eyebrows elevated, paused and said, “Don’t even think about it.”

The diner froze with curiosity. Expectation strangled the hungry. A lady turned a nozzle to silence the hiss on her oxygen tank. She made a valiant effort but, unfortunately, could not soften the rattle from her lungs.

At the grill, the bent-over cook was unaware of the American standoff behind him. “Shut the door, you’re gonna let in a fly”. At that moment, a housefly was trying to crawl across the threshold.

The angry old man, responsible for this circus, cut his eyes to the fly. The fly stared back with all 500 eyes. The crazy old man with a gun revealed displeasure in this fly’s hasty decision. The fly ducked his head in a steaming pile of shame and backed away from the door.

The old man addressed the terrified patrons. “What are you staring at?” They lowered their gaze and pretended to resume their lives with an ounce of normalcy.

James removed himself, the gray terror stepped over to Eddie and Craig’s table. “Sit with your boyfriend. This is my place now.” He barked at Eddie. Eddie stood up and rushed to Craig’s side of the booth.

James walked by the window. The old man (sensing in ways old men can) turned around and blasted James with rays of fear, the kind of fear which can travel through glass. James shielded his eyes from the horrendous view and went to move his truck.

From the sidewalk, he could see the old man sitting with James’ WCC employers.

God rest their souls. He thought.

James had to step out on the busy street to slide around the town car.

James knew that the WCC hired James.  “MMM”.

He wished for more though.

Unfortunately, the men had not given him anything more clued than these three letters.  “What did the note look like?” he had asked. They said it fell apart in the exploding tet incident.

“Where was this farm?”

“It was one of our company’s farms, it’s not important which one,”

The men wanted James to “ask around” with his trucking companions about “MMM”. He was unsuccessful. The cashiers didn’t know, and because he has social anxiety issues.

He had been asking around for a few weeks.

But tonight, The Boredom had located him.

He continued around to the back of the building and crawled up into his truck, and narrowly avoided the rusty seat coil, protruding from the seat which had attempted to prison shank his thigh many times before.

The men gave James a regular driving gig with the Wisconsin Cheese Corporation. This gave James a regular paycheck which was allowing him to do some upgrades to the truck. He could already update the radio (CD and Aux in to hook up a phone) and fix the air conditioning on the truck. There was much more he would like to change on the semi, but with limited funds and a real-life investigation going on, he would suffer through his first world problems.

He liked the extra muh-la-la as a driver for the WCC. But, he hadn’t spent the last 32 years of his life reading non-fiction books only to drive around in circles interrogating old ladies, with unspeakable requirements, to get the job done.

Sitting alone in his truck, staring at the backside of a diner in southern Wisconsin, James gave up on the WCC to solve the case. He wanted to grapple the larger mystery, himself.

Unfortunately, this meant he would need to find out what “MMM” meant.

 

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