Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode XXVI: Strangers In The Knight

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 October 20.)

Indian summer had rolled into the Loess Hills on the day before. The frost of last week had given way to a warm day of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature would be about 25 degrees Celsius, if you weren’t in the USA.

Outside the Old Home Café at 6 A.M., the sun was nowhere near being visible; dawn was waiting for a quarter ’til seven today. But fog obscured the street: looking out the Main Street window, Jon couldn’t see the bank. The lone lamppost on the corner tried vainly to illuminate the sidewalk outside of the Café.

A blue truck, moving slowly down Main, pulled up next to the diesel pumps. Its driver alighted and began to fill his tanks.

Inside the Café, Jon was observing the weather while May handled the early customers. June should have been working today, but she was taking the day off to drive to Omaha to see a specialist. Jon hoped that the news would be good.

Jon couldn’t clearly see the tractor through the fog; he thought that it was a Kenworth. But he did see three people approaching the Café, and they appeared to be coming from the back end of the trailer. That’s strange, thought Jon. There are no new cars in the lot, and semis don’t carry passengers. Where did these people come from?

The trio entered the Café. A young man, about thirty, held the door for a much older, gray-haired man and a woman wearing a greasy jumpsuit and carrying a small black duffle bag. “Thank you, Michael,” said the gray-haired man.

“Just respecting my elders,” said Michael, as the door closed behind him.

“I’m not going to believe that,” said the old man. “But I’ll take the compliment anyway.” He and the young man sat down in the corner booth, while the woman headed for the restrooms.

Jon grabbed a carafe of coffee and headed for the booth. “Good morning, folks. What can I get you?”

“Coffee. Black, and lots of it,” said Michael. “Devon?” he asked, looking at the old man.

“I’ll have tea, please. Do you have any Earl Grey?” asked Devon.

“We’ve got thirty-four different kinds of tea, sir. My girlfriend insists. There’s bound to be some Earl Grey in there somewhere,” said Jon, as he poured a cup of coffee for Michael. “Cream?” he asked.

“No, I take it black,” said Michael.

“Back in a minute,” said Jon, as he went to fetch a pot of boiling water and a bag of Earl Grey. On his way back to the kitchen he passed the woman, who was now wearing blue denim jeans and a t-shirt. The greasy jumpsuit was probably in the duffle bag, thought Jon. As he entered the kitchen, he heard Devon call out “Bonnie!”.

Jon rummaged through a cabinet in the kitchen and found the Earl Grey tea; Twinings, to be precise, in a yellow pouch. From the coffee maker he filled a small stainless-steel pot with boiling water.

The three customers where studying a map when Jon returned. Devon was saying something about “…car should be about here, if my guess is correct.” Jon set the pot and tea bag in front of Devon. “Anything else?” he asked.

Bonnie spoke up. “Pancakes, a half dozen. Blueberry syrup, if you have it. Two English muffins with butter and grape jam, three eggs scrambled, bacon, and a large orange juice.”

Michael appeared to be shocked. “Bonnie!” he said. “That’s quite a bit for you.”

“Just something to get the taste of those MREs out of my mouth,” she said. “You try living on them for three days, Mister Expense Account.” She glared at Michael.

Jon took Michael’s and Devon’s orders. Eggs and sausage for Michael; Cheerios for Devon. Jon thanked them and headed back to the kitchen. Their orders were ready in less than five minutes, as Mike the cook had anticipated everything except the Cheerios — which he wouldn’t cook, anyway — and by the time that Jon gave him the order, the eggs, bacon, and pancakes were already on the grill and the muffins were in the toaster.

The group conversed over breakfast, occasionally consulting their map. Jon overheard the words “kits” and “flags”, but the details where drowned out by the myriad conversions taking place at the other tables.

By the time that they had finished, the sky was beginning to lighten. The blue Kenworth had moved over to the parking area. Jon hadn’t seen the driver enter the Café, but he figured it must be one of May’s customers at the counter. When Devon asked for the check, a grey-outfitted driver had glanced at the group then tossed five bucks on the counter, picked up a quart Thermos, and headed for the door.

“Thank you, my good man,” said Devon. “Excellent service in this small establishment. I shall endeavor to stop by in the future.”

Jon picked up the dollar bills which Devon had laid on the check. “And keep the change,” said Michael, and he, Bonnie and Devon rose and departed.

Jon watched them walk across the lot towards the blue Kenworth: they walked towards the rear of the trailer. The fog was beginning to lift, but not enough for Jon to see exactly where they went.

A few seconds after they disappeared into the fog, the blue Kenworth pulled out of the lot and headed north, and Jon returned his attention to the Café.

Next: Mister Sandman, bring me a dream

Previous | Next