Just dropping a note to say hello (and thank you) to current readers and welcome to new readers. Comments (positive or negative) are welcome and encouraged and I try to answer any correspondence.
First, a bit of news: interest in Looking for Strange and the noises within is strong enough that I am considering the possibility of making electronic and print versions available for sale. A Looking for Strange bookstore would most likely contain at least one of the finished books that appears here, as well as completed versions of the serialized stories, and possibly a book or two that’s not available anywhere online. If you would be interested in an electronic or print copy, please scroll to the bottom of the page and give your contact information to the “Get Notified” widget. I’m not affiliated with anyone, and am running this website out of my RV; I have no intention of selling your name to a spam list, or even a “marketing partner” since I don’t have any.
And just for being kind enough to sit quietly through that paragraph of housekeeping, here’s a sneak peek at the next story that will pop at Looking for Strange in a couple of months: Comfort Zone.
The voices outside had risen to shouts, tinged with a bit of anger. There was a loud thump as something was thrown against one of the windows. Dori looked at the back door, willing Daniel to appear there, but it wasn’t going to happen.
That was when she smelled something burning. “Dewayne!” Dori yelled. “What the fuck’s on fire?”
“On fire?” He came out of the office with a four-month old People magazine in his hand, sniffing the air. There was a definite smell of carbonization.
“Are you making food?” All of the night staffers took it upon themselves to make snacks whenever the mood struck them. There were ostensibly rules and limitations to what they ate, but they went largely unenforced.
Dewayne jumped as if stung. “Oh, shit! My dinner!” He rushed over to the oven and pulled the observation port in the side open. Dori saw a flicker of flame inside the pizza oven’s dark guts.
For the first time all evening, Dewayne looked like a seasoned pizza-preparing pro. He grabbed a set of tongs from the prep table without even looking, reached into the oven, and pulled the flaming pan out the side. Exposed to more oxygen, the flames doubled in height, but he wasn’t fazed. Three backward steps through the cramped kitchen area and he was at the back door; he slammed it open with his shoulder and pitched the whole pan into the parking lot. There was a clatter as the metal struck the asphalt; the flames turned to sparks and disappeared in the dark.
“So, um, what was that?” Dori asked.
“I had some leftovers from China Garden,” he said. “I took my girl up there last night. I put them through the oven to heat up. I don’t know why the shit lit up like that.”
Dori managed not to roll her eyes, but she did chuckle. Dewayne was most definitely a newbie. “Dude, cardboard burns,” she said. “You have to take stuff out of the carryout boxes before you put it through the oven.”
Dewayne looked properly chastened. “Damn,” he said. “That was some good almond chicken, too. Shit.”
Dori laughed again. The kitchen was hazy. “Block the back door open, would you? It doesn’t look good if customers come in and see the place full of smoke.”
When Dewayne opened the door, they could both hear the voices from the parking lot, which had reached a fever pitch. Apparently the carload of guys who had pulled in was no longer so chummy. From the front of the store, they heard more thuds against the window. Someone threw a bottle down in the parking lot with a tinkle of shattering glass.
Dewayne was looking to Dori for guidance. “Should we call the cops, or wait for Daniel to get back, or what?”
She thought about it for a moment, running a hand through her hair, which was beginning to misbehave as it dried. There was a tangle, and she bought a few more seconds of thought by pulling the snag loose. “Um…okay. No, don’t call the cops, because it looks bad and we’ll get our liquor license pulled if there are too many drunk calls. I heard the big boss telling Rayna that once. I’ll just go out there and ask them to calm down, or take it somewhere else, I guess.”
“You want me to do it?”
She sort of did, but didn’t feel right about sending her short, slender black coworker out in the dark to chase off a bunch of drunken white guys in a hot-rod pickup. “Naah. They sound like urban rednecks, they’ll probably just try to kick your ass.” She crossed her fingers that they wouldn’t kick her ass. After all, guys like this didn’t hit women they weren’t married to, right? “If you see them throw me down and start to rip my clothes off,” she added with another laugh, “you my have permission to call the cops.”
Dewayne nodded severely.
“Dude, I’m kidding. They’re not going to do anything.” She wondered if Dewayne was on edge because of the robbery. Dori was surprised at how nonchalant and not in danger she felt as she went out the door into the chilly evening. Maybe she was numb or emboldened because of the robbery, or something. Maybe it had been such a crappy day she didn’t give a shit any more. She imagined that a therapist could have told her what was up. There was only the slightest touch of uncertainty in her stomach as she approached the guys. There were four of them; they were standing in the orangey glow of the sodium-vapor light in the parking lot. Two of them were standing chest to chest, holding implements of moderate destruction; a broken bottle for the one with the beer gut as big as a Rottweiler, and a hammer for the one who was merely chunky. The bigger guy’s face was purple with rage, and the cords stood out in his neck.
“You fuckin’ faggot!” he yelled into his friend’s face, a high, girlish yell for such a big guy. One of his other friends tried to get between the two men, but he was shoved aside. “Right here and now, you little faggot! Show me how goddamn tough you are! Right now!”
The other guy sounded more rational. “Man, I don’t want to see your fat ass all bloody and crying in the parking lot. Remember when you started crying at softball?” Okay, check that–he was more rational, but his mouth had a death wish.
“I’m gonna kill you!” the fatter one bellowed, lunging forward and shoving the smaller man backward. The motormouth grabbed the fat guy’s arm and held onto it, trying to pull the bottle out of his friend’s fingers. “Lemme go, Ray! Lemme go! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!” They started to dance around one another.
Neither of the other men seemed inclined to do anything but watch any more, so Dori figured she ought to intervene. From a safe-ish distance, of course She stayed on the sidewalk near the door. “Um, hey, you guys?” she called out. That wasn’t nearly loud enough to get their attention, so she took a deep breath and yelled, “Dudes!”
The fighters stopped dancing, but remained in their clench.
“Hey, hi. Um, sorry. Look, is there some other way to work this out? There’s houses behind our restaurant, you know,” she pointed toward the wooden fence at the back of the parking lot, “and people might be trying to sleep or something.”
“This don’t concern you, lady,” the fat fighter said. He let go of his friend and pushed him roughly away.
“Well, it kind of does actually. It’s our parking lot, and we don’t want people to complain. I kind of like working here.”
“If you like working here so much, maybe you ought to go inside and mind your own business,” said one of the bystanders. He had a narrow, ratty face, and sounded like he’d been smoking five packs a day since 1980 or so.
“Look, I’m not trying to be a bitch or anything, seriously. Why don’t you guys come inside?” Dori heard herself ask the question as if she were a bystander herself, and thought, are you crazy? Don’t invite them in, you stupid bitch! But there it was.
The five men looked at each other, nonplussed.
“I’ll make you a pizza or something,” she added. “On the house.” Sure, why not? Daniel wasn’t there. He’d probably be happy that there weren’t rednecks trying to kill each other in the parking lot, or cops trying to stop rednecks from killing each other in the parking lot.
The fat guy laughed. “You’re gonna give us a pizza to make us behave. What, do we look like fuckin’ kids to you?”
Dori chose not to answer that question, knowing that Fatso probably wouldn’t like the answer. “C’mon,” she said, putting on her friendly waitress voice. “It’s cold out here. We’re open till midnight, that’s another two hours. And we’ve got a jukebox.” She raised an eyebrow.
“You must be really, really bored,” Ratface said. He sounded less condescending than before, though.
“Fuck that shit,” Fatso said. “I’ll come in and eat pizza after I break this fucker’s head open.”
“No, that’s not part of the deal. No fighting. Just come in and have some pizza. It’s good, we brush this garlic shit on the crust even.”
Fatso hawked and spat in Dori’s direction. “Suck my fuckin’ dick,” he said.
Dori shrugged. “Okay,” she said without really thinking about it. “But come in and have some pizza first.”
They were too shocked to respond. Sensing that she had the upper hand for the moment, Dori turned around and went back inside. As she turned over what she’d said, she figured they’d either come in, and she’d make them a pizza, or they’d leave because they didn’t have the guts to see if she’d actually suck the fat guy’s dick or not. Either way, she doubted they’d keep fighting. Mission accomplished.