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To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

 - Winston Churchill

Chapter Eight

Carry Out

The best thing about Bud’s was the food. The place was open all night, and had that yellow-green fluorescent lighting that was supposed to keep the bugs away. Somehow they came anyway. A bunch came in with Eddie before the screen door slammed shut. The inside of Bud’s smelled great, but looked terrible. The lighting gave everything a sick, unhealthy look. It made the burgers look purple, and people look ghoulish. When the place was crowded with people eating, it was like a scene out of hell. There was no stove, broiler, or oven. Everything at Bud’s was made in the fryer or on the grill.

If there ever had been a Bud, he was long gone. Ruth and Connie ran the place. They both lived upstairs, and rumors and gossip often floated around that they were lovers. Eddie knew better. He knew better from personal experience. In her day Ruth had liked men plenty, and had liked plenty of men. Eddie smiled at the memory. It was possible, of course, that Ruth had enjoyed the favors of both sexes; but Eddie’s mind didn’t work that way. To him, you were either one thing or the other. Ruth was on tonight, and Eddie teased her, as he always did, that Bud’s disappearance had been suspicious.

Ruth smiled slyly, and leaned in close, as if sharing a great secret. “Well, you know it’s funny you mention that. Right after he disappeared, people started talking about how the burgers tasted different, and were so much better. Then after a few days, they were back to the way they had been.”

Eddie grinned, “I hope he was undressed and hosed off before he went into the grinder.”

Ruth laughed, “Eddie, you know we run a clean place. So, you hungry tonight?”

Eddie shrugged, “A little; but mostly I want some burgers to go. How about a dozen, with some fries? I’m stopping over at my mom’s place tonight.”

“Oh, that’s sweet. “

“Yep, I’m her little angel. You got any soup tonight?”

“Sure, chicken noodle, and some chili.”

“Any bugs in it?”

“Nope, not tonight.”

“Well, give me some chili anyway.  I’ll eat it while I’m waiting. I’m in trouble again, and have to see the Sherriff tomorrow. They’ll probably toss me out of Duke’s for a while.”

“Well, they don’t know you like I do, sweetie.” she said, obviously flirting.

At one time, Ruth had been an extremely sexy young girl. Eddie recalled twenty or so years ago, she had been a regular at Duke’s. By the time Eddie knew her, she had been well into middle age, but was still an intensely attractive woman. Ruth, in middle age, had been experienced and worldly wise, clever, and insatiable. Eddie, back then in his mid-twenties, had succumbed to her charms completely, and had found a passion and a violence just equal to his own. Never before or since had he known such a torrid affair.

He remembered her for a moment, as she had been, and longed for that woman of the past. She had been dark and wicked like an angel from hell. Her eyes had been black glinting mirrors, and her hair a corona of black smoke curling around her evil child’s face. She had been slim, hard, and tough as nails. Most of the women he knew, slapped. Not Ruth. When she was angry, she balled up her fists and threw a mean punch. He had some firsthand experience with this.

Eddie had slapped her, one night at Duke’s, for flirting with another man, and she slapped him right back. He then started swinging at her, and much to his surprise, she swung right back. Eventually patrons at the bar pulled them apart. Eddie had plainly gotten the better of the engagement. Ruth had been subdued; but Eddie had sensed her fuming.

He had expected passion and excitement that night. A fuming and smoldering Ruth was something to treasure and anticipate. Eddie had gotten more excitement than he had bargained for. The night ended, as it almost always did, with the two of them in bed.

In the midst of it all, Ruth had grabbed Eddie’s crotch, and with her strong grip had squeezed HARD. Eddie had felt the strength leave his body, and gasped, almost unable to breathe. Ruth rolled over on top of him, never relaxing her grip, and brought her head down hard to butt him in the nose. She then began yelling, punctuating every word with a punch from her unoccupied hand.

“Hit me? Hit me?”

Raising herself up, she began to hit Eddie with the heel of her hand, using it like a mallet.

“You son of a bitch. You better never hit me again.”

Releasing her grip, she brought her knee up to hit him in his already overtaxed groin, and warned, “If you ever hit me again, you bastard, you better kill me.”

She then used her foot to propel him from the bed. He fell to the floor, and lay there for a few moments, marshalling his strength, before he got up. Finally, he staggered to his feet.

He fumbled around a bit, getting dressed, then headed towards the door, mumbling, “Sorry, I guess I just lost my temper.”

Ruth sat up in bed and nodded. “That’s OK sweetie. You come back to bed then.”

Eddie crept slowly back into bed, leaving his clothes on.

He shrugged her off when she pulled at his clothing. She smiled, and asked, “Not in the mood?”

Eddie replied sullenly, “I’m always in the mood. Just keep your hands where I can see them.”

That was twenty years ago. Eddie presently watched an old woman in a polyester uniform and stained apron slap his burgers on a grill. She looked a bit like an old grandmother on the label of a bag of cookies. It was amazing that this woman had once been his Ruth. She was now in her mid-sixties, and many years of hard drinking, smoking, and wildness had left her looking worn out and beat up a magnificent wreck. It didn’t help that a hysterectomy had contributed to what was becoming a plump and matronly figure. The once rich black hair had lost its luster and much of its color, to now hang in limp dirty gray tangles.

Still, it was hard not to like Ruth. She was a great old gal, and Eddie dearly wished he could muster some attraction. It was too bad. Eddie was lonely tonight and could use some company. Ruth would be perfect for him. Why did she have to get old and fat?

Eddie pondered that for a moment. He was now at just the age Ruth had been when as a much younger man, Eddiehad started seeing her. He thought about the young women he saw now. In twenty years would they see him as some worn out old man that they had once had feelings for?

Eddie dreaded few things as much as he dreaded growing older. For right now he was still somewhat young, strong, and fast; but not as young, strong, and fast as had once been the case. Some men had ability, knowledge, kindness, and trustworthiness. People had affection for such men, which did not fade with age. All Eddie had was his toughness, and every year took a little more of it away.

Eddie wasn’t particularly worried, in any real way. He doubted he would live to old age. Few men in his business, and even fewer with his lifestyle did. One day, the sheriff would get him, or Eddie would be just a hair slower than an adversary, and that would be the end. It was a mercy, really.