Snippet from Sentinel In Elysium

Posted: March 28, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Here’s another little (or not so little, maybe) snippet from Sentinel In Elysium:

Before they were out to M.L. Harper’s cruiser, Yonner said, “Chief, I’m powerful hungry. How about you?”

M.L. stopped at his car, looked over the roof of it at the old black man and nodded. “Yeah, I’m hungry too. Tell you what, I’ll spring for a hamburger over at the Dairy Delite. I need to talk to Landry Perkins at the supermarket next door anyway.”

“Uh, Chief. Do black folks eat at the Dairy Delite?”

“Yes they do, Mr. Cole. You need to get out more often.”

“I reckon I do. I cook my own food.”

“I don’t,” Harper said, and climbed inside his car.

*****

The Dairy Delite had started operation along about 1957, when sock-hops, Elvis haircuts and drive-up soda fountains were all the rage. By 1975 the Dairy Delite was a muted throwback to a time that was as dead as the Devonian Epoch. The fifty-foot tall cartoon cowboy with his Roy Rogers style pistol and lasso still cast a long shadow over the parking lot, and the few patrons that still came there for greasy hamburgers and even greasier french fries and gloppy ice cream shakes, hawked those parking spots that would remain the longest in the shade of the eerie obelisk. The cowboy—whom the locals referred to as ‘Roy’—bore a tinge of rust. Eighteen years will do that to sheet metal, even in dry Central Texas. The entire parking area up close to the burger stand had once been covered, but the tornado outbreak of ’67 had taken the awning away and deposited it in a pasture half a mile away where pieces of it still remained. The tornado had left Roy alone, as if it were leery of riling him.

M.L. Harper pulled his cruiser into Roy’s shade and got out. Yonner Cole remained in the car. He walked up to the window and placed an order and paid for it, directing the young lady to take the food out to the black man sitting in the patrol car. The girl nodded.

He then walked next door to the Elysian Fields grocery. Inside he passed by the three operational checkout stands, only one of which was manned, and to the raised Customer Service bullpen. This was where checks were cashed and credit was extended.

“Landry,” Harper called.

“Chief! Say, I heard somebody killed the Childresses. Any idea who done it?”

“No. I had an odd visit from Clyde Purtee. He insinuated that the City Council didn’t want me pursuing the double-murder. Do you know anything about that?”

Landry Perkins had a cigarette in his lips, held up by the adhesion of dried spittle and rolling paper alone. Somehow he talked around it without it falling. Instead it bobbed up and down like a cork in the river with a perch nibbling on the line. His hands held small stacks of two-dollar bills. M.L. waited for Landry to look him in the eye for more than a second. The balding man was still trying to count the stack.

“Oh crap. You made me lose count.” Landry dropped the stacks on the counter and covered one with the other.

“Sorry about that. You got any idea about Clyde’s problem?”

“Clyde’s got recto-cranial inversion.”

M.L. laughed. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s where your optic nerve gets crossed with your anus and you wind up with a shitty outlook.”

M.L. slapped the counter. “I’ll have to remember that.”

“Clyde called me about an hour ago and was trying to get me to say that we should push you to drop the investigation.”

“Did he say why?” M.L. asked.

“No sir. He didn’t say. He tried to act like it was the mayor’s idea. I doubt that very seriously.”

“Why?”

“Because Mayor Fry hasn’t had an original idea of his own since about World War II.”

Landry snapped his fingers suddenly.

“What?” M.L. asked.

“I just remembered. I was going to talk to you about this. Get your take on it. Walk outside with me, will you?”

“Sure.”

M.L. waited while Landry doffed his grocer’s apron and hung it on a hook. When the man stepped down from the side door of the bullpen, M.L. walked with him to the automatic door and outside to the parking lot. M.L. glanced over to see the carhop girl handing Yonner his food, meanwhile he kept pace with Landry.

“Where are we going?” M.L. asked.

“Right here.” Landry stopped at the edge of the street and pointed north along Austin Avenue toward the distant hill and the wilderness beyond the main thoroughfare. “Tell me, Chief. What do you see?” A cigarette lighter magically appeared in Landry’s hand and he re-lit his cigarette. The thing had gone out in transit.

“I see a whole load of nothin’.”

“No sir,” he said and shook his head. A grin had stolen over his face. “It ain’t nothing. It’s a far sight from nothing.”

“You just swallow the bird of paradise or something?”

“Tell me, Chief, that you don’t know about what’s going on in this town?”

“Apparently I don’t. But now I think you’d better tell me.”

“I happen to know that there’s a little secret deal in the works. All that land over there belongs to the Air Force.”

“The old base. Yep. I knew that. Used to know some of the flyboys that did touch and go landings here from San Antonio. They would fly in from Lackland, Randolf and Brooks. That was fifteen or twenty years ago. Used to make ‘em sleep off their drunks in my jail.”

“Yeah, I suppose you did,” Landry said. “I have it on authority that it’s about to be sold to an outfit for a dollar. They’re going to put a junior college there. A two-year school.”

“What the hell for?” M.L. asked.

“Education, Chief. It’s going to put Elysium on the map.”

“They’re going to bulldoze the place?”

“Yep. And they’re going to put up a bunch of buildings—administration building, dormitories, classrooms. All kinds of shit. And I’m getting in on the ground floor.”

“How are you getting in? You’re a grocer!”

“Not for much longer.” Landry turned and regarded the Dairy Delite. He pointed. “That thing there is on its last legs.” Landry pivoted again as if he were about to bowl a perfect ten, brought his arm up and pointed to the west side of Austin Avenue. “I’m about to buy the Blakely Place. Also, I’m buying the Dairy Delite and shutting it down.”

“What in the hell for?”

“Because I’m building a real burger stand on Austin Avenue. The real estate closings for both are in two weeks.”

“You’re either crazy or you’re a genius,” M.L. said. “I suppose time will tell which it is.”

“You’ll see I’m not crazy,” Landry said. The wide smile on his face had not faltered the whole time.

“This what you wanted to tell me?”

“Sure. That’s it.” Landry held out his hands palm up to the sky.

“Okay, what are you going to call this divine, genius hamburger stand of yours?”

“That’s the beautiful part of it, Chief. I’m gonna call it The Blitz!”

M.L. nodded.

“Okay, Landry. When it’s up and running, I’ll come try one of your hamburgers. But they damn well better be better than the Delite’s, or I’ll arrest you for sheer meanness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got business to attend to.”

M.L. walked back toward the Dairy Delite and Yonner Cole.

“And that’s why they call him Mucho Love,” Landry said to himself. He shook his head, grinned widely, threw a kiss behind him to the acreage of overgrown brush, and started back toward his supermarket.

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