Kevin, Delmar and Murphy

by Tony Shea on November 26, 2012

in FICTION

Kevin would sit by himself in a restaurant or coffee shop or library reading a dirty magazine, or a book with color photographs of the city medical examiner pulling someone’s big pink brain out like a magician with the rabbit.

He would sit there calmly, quietly, without shame apparently, perusing each page like it was the Wall Street Journal, waiting for the manager or librarian or some young mother with her two young children to tell him that he couldn’t read a dirty magazine or a horrible book like the one he was reading out in the open in a place like this. People would see it. It was disgusting, etc. And then he would deliver his speech.

“Who are you to tell me what I can and can not read? How dare you! Are you the national guardian of morals? For Shame! I don’t see you telling that guy over there not to read his newspaper and that’s positively filled with violence and sex and discouraging tales of madness and rape and cruelty. I’m sorry if this offends you, but tough. Welcome to America. Because if you’re going to keep living free you’re bound to be offended and what’s more you’re bound to offend…”

When he imagined it, he always saw the faces of the people in the coffee shop or the library or the restaurant and he could see that they were frightened at first by the power of his liberating words but then gradually they responded positively to what he was saying and then one person would always begin to clap, slowly bringing his hands together, clap, clap, clap, a simpatico soul of dissent, the two of them bonded in solidarity. And then the applause would spread, one person clapping and then another and another until the whole store or library or coffee shop would erupt, and then this eruption would spread down the street, across the entire city, across the entire state, across the entire country, across the entire world and then the person who had dared to censor him would be humiliated and cast out or would avert his or her eyes and run out of the library or coffee shop in hysterical shame. This was his head trip. His dream of greatness. How the world would respond to his provocations. In it, he was a freedom fighter like our colonial forefathers, like a Paul Revere of free speech.

“Can’t read that in here, son. I don’t take to it,” the short order cook at Hyde’s Diner said to Kevin when he saw him sitting at the counter reading Proctology POV magazine.

And then Kevin made his speech, just as he had rehearsed. All that about freedom. Said if you wanted to live free you were bound to be offended etc. and when he was finished he looked around at the other people eating their minute steaks and pork chops and pancakes and eggs, and not one of them was clapping.

“Well?” he wondered aloud.

Sure they cared about free speech too, in theory.

But when the guy on the other side of the counter was a seven-foot-tall ex-con named Delmar, who didn’t take any sass, you learned to hold your tongue.

2.

Delmar worked the grill at Hyde’s diner. Six days a week. Monday through Saturday. Sundays belonged to his second wife Shaniqua, his two daughters, Relana and Cre’line, and God—whom he had come to know in prison almost thirty years ago when he was still a young man.

He had been convicted of armed robbery further complicated by assault on a police officer. But that was a long time ago. Now he had a nice little house, and a short bus ride to work.

His wife worked as a case worker for social services. Every day she was pulling kids out from parents for neglect and abuse, putting them in with foster care that wasn’t any better. If there was one thing Delmar believed, it was that a child needed stability, needed love, needed guidance or it all went wrong the way it had with him. You had to be firm to keep a child from a lifetime of trouble. He didn’t take any sass and his daughters and his wife knew it. His word was final in his house. And he was gentle with them, because they were females.

He wasn’t always the same way with men.

He cracked six eggs out onto the grill one-handed. He flipped two flap jacks on a plate and plucked the ticket. “Order up,” he said and slid the plate up on the pass-through. That’s when he saw the kid, sitting at the counter reading the magazine. He turned around and flipped a row of bacon strips then swung his head around at the kid for a second look. Proctology Pov. That’s what the cover of the kid’s magazine said. And beneath the title was a big red swollen picture of just that. Delmar shook his head. Fast, he buttered six pieces of white toast and made up three plates of bacon and eggs garnished with an orange slice.

“Order up,” he said, sliding the plates up on the pass-through. He looked at the kid again. He shook his head again.

“Can’t read that in here, son. I don’t take to it.” Delmar was standing on the other side of the pass-through in front of the kid now. The kid looked up at him, seven feet tall,  with enormous hands.

“Are you the national guardian of morals…” The kid began his speech and then made some noise about global fascist multi-death corporations, and censorship, censorSHIZZ is what he called it. He said that if you were going to live in America you were bound to be offended and then finally he rose from his stool at the counter with his hands held up in the air in a gesture meant to indicate his consternation. “Well?” he asked the restaurant. “Well?”

Nobody said a word.

“Don’t any of you people care about free speech? Well, don’t you?”

Delmar exchanged a glance with Murphy who was down at his usual spot next to the cash register, reading the newspaper, looking over the tops of his eyeglasses. Murphy smiled then took a sip from his coffee.

“Jesus, go easy on the kid, Del. You got to admit he’s got some balls, and you figure he don’t know the rules.”

But Delmar could already feel it down inside of him, that quality he had developed earlier in life and had been called upon to use, especially when he had been in prison.

The rage.

And then Delmar had his big hand underneath the kid’s neck, squeezing hard. Delmar looked deep into the kid’s eyes, until he found the fear there and communicated with it directly.

He ripped the magazine from the kid’s hand and threw it in the trash can where it belonged, and then he flashed the kid a hard pop in the stomach partly to teach him a lesson, and partly for old time’s sake.

“Christ, Del. The kid’ll end up puking on the floor. Then where ya’ be? Holding a mop is where.”

Delmar looked over at Murphy.

“Okay. Okay,” Murphy said. “Mind my own business.”

The kid stumbled backwards, with a hand against his stomach and his mouth hanging open in pain and shock. He was still trying to catch his breath as he backed out the front door of Hyde’s diner around the corner out of sight.

Murphy went back to reading his newspaper.

Delmar walked back around to the grill and cracked another egg.

3.

Murphy moved down the line of stats, looking over the tops of his eyeglasses. Dodgers. Last place. Brother. He hoped it wasn’t going to be another year like last one.

Now that he was retired, every morning he got his breakfast at Hydes, except on Sundays. On Sundays, his daughter came by with the grand kids. Little Kelly who must have been three or four and the baby.

“You ready yet, Murph?” Delmar was asking as he flipped pancakes onto a plate that he slid through the pass-through. “Order up!”

“I can’t make up my mind. What do you think?”

“How ‘bout the number one? Half order French toast. Two eggs. Bacon or sausage. Order up!” Delmar slid another plate up on the pass-through.

“Yeah. I could go for that. Little of most something.” Murphy set the menu back down on the counter.

“Bacon or sausage?”

“Give me the sausage.”

“How you want your eggs?”

“Hard.”

Delmar ran a few pieces of white bread through some egg wash and dropped them on the grill for the French toast, then cracked another two eggs, and laid out two sausage links.

Murphy went back to his paper. Dodgers. Brother. Lost a double header by sixteen runs. Man oh man. The bullpen was short three guys and they didn’t have one single real power hitter. It was going to be a long season filled with many disappointments. He wondered if he should change teams or get a new sport.

“That’s him, officer. That’s the man who assaulted me.”

Murph looked from his newspaper to see that the kid who Delmar had punched in the stomach about a half hour ago was now standing beside a uniform on the other side of the counter.

“That’s the man, officer.” The kid pointed at Delmar behind the grill.

“Hey there, Pete. How’s things?” Murphy asked the cop standing in the doorway beside the kid.

Pete’s face worked into a nice big smile when he saw it was Murphy. Him and Murph had run a year together in a squad car back when Pete was coming up. Murph had showed him the works. “Real good, Murph. Hey, good to see you.” Pete walked over to shake hands. “How’s the retirement going?”

“Not bad. Read the papers. Play some golf.”

“How’s Carol doing?”

“Just had another little girl.”

“No kidding?”

“Sure did. Cute kid.”

“Congratulations. Tell her that I said hello, would you?”

“Sure, Pete.”

“Officer! Officer!” The kid was yelling behind them, so they all stopped and turned to look. “That man assaulted me! I want to press charges.” The three men stared at him blankly. “That man assaulted me.”

Pete, the uniformed cop, turned to look at Delmar then he looked over at Murphy. “Well?” Pete asked.

“Go easy on him, Pete,” Murphy said. “He’s just a kid and you figure that he don’t know the rules.”

“Sure thing, Murph. Good seeing you again.”

“So long Pete.”

Delmar flipped up the French toast next to Murphy’s two hard eggs and his two sausage links. He walked over and slid the plate in front of him. “Order up.”

Up front, Pete was dragging the kid out by the arm.

“What’s going on here?” the kid was asking in escalating tones of alarm. “Officer, what’s going on here? That man assaulted me!”

Pete pulled out his club and started whacking the kid over the head with it.

Almost everyone began to applaud.

Tony Shea ( Editor-in-Chief, New York)

Tony Shea is based in New York, having recently moved from Los Angeles after more than a decade on the sunny coast. His short films have won numerous awards and screened at major festivals around the world including Comic-Con. As a musician, he is the lead singer for Los Angeles rock n’ roll band Candygram For Mongo (C4M) candygramformongo.com who has been a featured artist on Clear Channel Radio’s Discover New Music Program and whose songs have been heard on Battlestar Gallactica (Syfy Channel) and Unhitched (Fox) among other shows and films.

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