The growing intersection had flow. A daycare center looked on while a locally renown ice cream slinger beckoned in neon with frosty fingers. Freddy wasn’t tempted as he glanced over his shoulder at the people lined up to get a cold belly on a hot day. He was working on getting his bony ass cheeks imprinted in the front counter stool at Knuckle Sandwiches, a hardcore metal-inspired, renegade diner that promised Lunch with a Punch! It would be his oasis; his sanctuary from a life of stained, drawn window shades and ashtray hourglasses filling and emptying with the butts of whatever dirt brand of smokes he could find coupons for.
The bell on the door rang, and Freddy nodded to his buddy, Hank. Hank took off his corduroy newsboy cap and swiped it across his brow. He sat down on the next stool and picked up a menu.
“Can’t read shit without my glasses,” he said. “What’s good here?”
“It’s all good, Hank.”
“But what’s really good?”
Freddy pointed at the black stenciled menu on the wall above the counter. “Bigger letters. You name something, and I’ll tell you it’s really good.”
“What are you chomping on? Looks huge.”
Freddy wiped his mouth. “It’s a Stigmata burger. And it’s really good.”
“Is that?” Hank squinted. “Hot peppers… raspberry jam? Seriously?”
“It works, man. Don’t ask me how.”
Hank jawed with Jackie, who was juggling three burgers and two baskets of fries. He asked about each burger, and after asking if he could have each one special made, she directed him to the Flat Broke burger, in other words, build your own shit. Hank shut up and ordered a Black and Blue.
Freddy put his burger down and poured some salt on his side of hand-cut fries. Hank picked up a flyer for a show, swiped his finger over it and put it down.
“Are you going?” he said.
“You should. You paid for the damn thing, ya’ crazy fuck.”
Freddy sipped his Pepsi. There was a time when, in the factory, he became tight with a guy named Zack that was going places. They met over a smoke on a break, on a day the wife drove him in and picked him up. Zack took him through the ranks, and his family on trips and outings. Freddy was enjoying the good life too much to catch Zack enjoying his not-so-good wife.
Jessica left him the house, but she left him. The kids were old enough to decide that they wanted Zack’s pool more than their old man. Zack shuffled Freddy back into penetration testing, which meant spending years in a black-lit room. His hatred of Zack was cast iron.
“Do you need anything, hon?” Jackie tipped her thumb to the grill. Freddy pointed to the largesse on his plate and thanked her anyway. She checked the time, tracing the fingers along a rose on her tattooed arm.
“I still don’t know why you’re doing it,” Hank said.
Freddy bit off a hunk of fried egg before it slipped off the burger. “When we—me and him—were good, he was playing the long con for Jessica, but I got to know him. You don’t lie about the shit it don’t make sense to lie about—your favorite color, your unfavorite color, foods, music… all shit, and it’s nothin’ anybody cares about, so they don’t bother paying attention. I did.”
He wiped off his fingers with a napkin. “When he bit it, his life insurance would’ve paid for his send-off. So I come in talking about needing to make peace with Zack, and Jessica’s eyeing Cancun with the insurance check. And she didn’t know any of his minor details either. Too much a drama collector. But funerals thrive on minor details.”
“So you spent your life savings on the funeral of the man you hate the most in the world, to what? Piss him off? Play a song he hates at the church?”
“It was so much more than that, but yes.”
“I think you’re nuts.”
Freddy burped into his hand.
“He wrecked my life,” he said. “I’ll be damned if I can’t wreck his death.”