Death is a Drag — Chapter 1
“Zara, did you put up the specials board yet?” Jodie Swanson asked.
“I sure did. Did you remember to put up the Facebook Post?”
“Oh, I forgot. I have an awesome grumpy cat meme ready for it, too,” Jodie said.
Jodie pulled out her phone and opened the Facebook Page Manager app. She was still getting used to this business of running a restaurant. In fact, when she’d bought the Pine Valley Inn and Diner, she’d never realized how much work it would be. But she was getting used to all the running around, and she loved it.
Being back at the Pine Valley Inn and Diner reminded her of her teenage years when she worked here. It felt like she’d gone back in time. So little had changed. Yet, she’d changed so much.
She didn’t think this was where she would be at this point in her life. It seemed like just yesterday that she and Ryan were starting their own web business. He did the website design and the graphics, and she did the writing and social media. Between the two of them, they had all the skills that any business needed to develop a strong online presence. You might think being married to your business partner and then going home with him every night would drive a person crazy, but they were so in love that Jodie enjoyed every moment she spent with him.
Life was good. The business was doing well. They were in love. They even talked about having children…someday.
Then Ryan got cancer. It was fast. And painful. Within six months he was gone. Jodie was left to grieve and try to pick up the pieces of her life. She tried to go back to their business, outsourcing the stuff that Ryan did, but she lost her passion for it. After a year of trying, she sold the business and the house that was filled with memories of him and tried to move on.
It took her a couple years to realize that she didn’t even love the city they lived in anymore. She worked random jobs, lived in a little apartment, and slowly went a little crazy each day. When she heard that The Pine Valley Inn and Diner was for sale, she made some quick moves, talked to her financial advisor and moved back to the small town of Pine Valley quite suddenly.
Everyone thought she was crazy. Maybe she was, she often thought. But it felt like the right kind of crazy, so she didn’t let anyone stop her.
The Pine Valley Inn and Diner was a part of Pine Valley history. It had been around for so long that no one in town could remember a time when it didn’t exist. At one time, it had been a drive-in and motel but, in the sixties, someone had built the diner extension. There were twenty rooms, and they were almost constantly booked. There was even a nice suite with its own little kitchen space and a bedroom attached to the motel, so Jodie didn’t have to find a place to live.
Strangely enough, the sale of the Pine Valley Inn and Diner came with the senior waitress — Sylvie Dawson. Sylvie was in her sixties and had been working there for at least thirty years. In fact, she had trained Jodie when she was a teenager. She was the same as Jodie remembered her — strict and no-nonsense. She just moved a little slower than she used to.
Jodie finished putting up the funny meme that went with the specials post on Facebook. Almost immediately after putting her phone back in her pocket, it began to vibrate. People were already liking the post and commenting on it. The Pine Valley Inn and Diner Facebook Page had only been up for a little over a month, but Jodie was getting amazing results from the food pics and the memes that she posted twice a day.
“What’s for lunch today, Jodie?”
Faron walked in the front door. He was one of her few customers that wasn’t on Facebook, so he hadn’t seen the specials she just posted. Faron was a stocky man who liked to give the waitresses a hard time but, he was pretty happy most of the time. When the waitresses gave it right back to him, he just laughed it off. He wasn’t to be taken seriously. As much of a pain in the butt as he could be, he meant no harm. He responded with a mocking scowl or a genuine grin, no matter what you said to him.
The only time Jodie got really upset with him was when she caught him banging his coffee cup on the table to get Zara’s attention. She was about to go off on him, but Jodie stopped her and came up to the table and told him that he wouldn’t get any more coffee until he apologized to Zara and promised never to do that again. He sat there for three days without being served before he finally apologized to Zara so that he could get some coffee and some lunch.
“Your favorite,” she replied. “Patty melt with mushrooms.”
“You know I hate mushrooms,” he grumbled. “You’ll get them to make it without them for me though, right?”
“Of course. I’ll send Kasey over to get your order.”
Kasey was the opening server, and Faron Crookshanks almost always sat in her section unless it was full. He headed over to the long 8-person table where all the farmers who came in by themselves usually sat. There were already several others sitting there waiting for their food or slurping on the homemade soup or munching on a thick sandwich made with homemade bread, brought to the diner fresh each morning by a local woman that everyone called LaLa. No one seemed to remember what her real name was.
Kasey went over to get his order and she heard Faron say, “Are you coming to the drag races tonight? I’ve got 5 different heats tonight.”
“Of course, you know I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Great. I’m expecting quite a crowd for the first race of the season.”
“Ya, people have been talking about it all week long. Is it true that old Buster is bringing out his Grand Am?”
Faron nodded his head.
“I thought he crashed it up good last season?” asked Gary Sleeman, one of the regulars.
“He did,” Faron said, “But he’s been working on it all winter long. Says it’s in better shape than it’s ever been in.”
“Who is he going up against?”
“That’s a secret. It’s going to be a surprise.”
Kasey nodded, and Faron gave her his order.
“What about you, Jodie?” Faron asked. “Are you coming?”
“I guess so. I’ve never been to a drag race before. I thought they were illegal.”
“Only on the streets,” Faron explained. “My drag strip is completely on the up and up. Heck, most of the cops will be there to see all the action, too.”
“Ok. I’ll come and check it out.”
The diner was filling up quickly. By five minutes to 12, there were people at every table and Zara and Kasey were hustling around between them all. There were several tables that seated six people that only had two people at them though, so Jodie knew that it was bound to get busier yet. By the time the first lunch crowd was paying at the cash register, there would be more people coming through the door to take their place.
As she stopped at one table to pick up empty plates, she noticed that Justus Callahan and Cal-Lee Summers were having lunch together. The two of them were best friends, and Justus worked for Cal-Lee doing construction jobs. What was unusual was that they seemed to be having an argument.
Justus had a scowl on his face, his blue eyes shooting daggers from his dark complexion, making them stand out even more. Cal-Lee’s face matched his unruly red hair. He was talking in a controlled whisper, but it looked like he was yelling. Justus’ eyes seemed kind of red rimmed, like he’d been crying — or more likely out on a bender the night before.
Justus stood up from the table and threw down his fork on his plate, making it clang. Many of the customers turned to see what the noise was about and watched Justus storm out the door. Cal-Lee put his head down and ran his hands through his mane of hair.
No one else but Jodie was close enough to hear him mutter, “I could KILL him!”
Cal-Lee banged his fist on the table, and those who weren’t already looking turned to see what the ruckus was about.
Jodie was debating on whether or not she should go over and see if he was ok when he pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet and placed it in the billfold. He threw his tattered leather jacket over his shoulder and followed Justus out the door.
Jodie was glad that their fight wasn’t worse, but she felt bad. She never liked to see anyone upset.
To be continued…
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