Enjoying crunching the snow beneath his boots Sarge ventured along the street of small bars filling the west side of Schmall’s Falls lack of eating establishments catering to the needs of early risers, night owls, and swing shifters until Big Bob’s window sign on bright yellow paper touting “Sunrise Special: 2 eggs, toast & coffee for a buck” caught his stomach’s attention.
Entering the tavern currently conducting its own version of fast food service for the dawn dwellers. he stood to the side and held the door open for an exiting trio of grumpy construction workers. Toe kicking the rock salt from his boots he scouted for an empty stool at the bar crammed with white plates featuring steaming eggs, butter brushed toast and a constantly flowing, heady stream of coffee into squat thick cups vying for countertop space with slippery side dishes flashing crisp thick bacon and fat spitting sausages. After some careful navigation between the hands passing plates from the bar to the fully occupied booths, he managed to slide onto a still warm shiny red stool where the bar snuggled flush up against the far wall. Upon opening his paint speckled wool army coat, he generously contributed his share of body heat to that already creating streaking condensation on the bar’s large front window. He commenced pounding the alternate ends of an unlighted cigarette on the counter while patiently waiting for the barkeeper to take his order.
After setting down four full plates for the customers seated at the curve in the bar near the entrance, the lanky, middle-aged barkeeper smoothed a few slack grey hairs back into place with the rest of a backcombed wave and turned to make eye contact with him. “What it be today?” he demanded while wiping his hands with his waist apron.
Imitating the barkeep’s thick Polish accent Sarge replied, “Ve vant da special. Overeasy, if you please, Stanley.”
Smirking, Stanley nodded. “You gonna be a smartass today, eh? Forget it, Sarge. No mood for funny business.” Stanley scratched the order on a small pad of white paper, clipped it to the wire across the top of the serving window, then picked up the waiting filled order. Plate in hand, Stanley strode to stand across from the customer sitting beside Sarge, before setting down the plate, Stanley growled, “No mood for your funny business, either. F’n poached eggs. Not again. Messes up cook’s grill timing. Got it?”
A hoarse female voice croaked out, “You asked how I wanted ‘em and I told you. You didn’t say “no poached eggs.” Now you gonna give me my order or you wanting to eat them dead chickies yourself, Stan?”
Holding back a laugh in consideration for the barkeeper, Sarge watched Stanley scowl as he set down the platter covered with a double order of milky eggs whites wrapped around gentle hints of yellow yolk and perfectly browned toast drenched with melted butter. Right gray eyebrow arched high, Stanley silently filled the poached egg orderer’s cup with coffee. He started to work his way to the other customers, then, with the nearly full fresh pot of black coffee in his left hand he stopped and looked from Sarge to the customer sitting next to him. Stanley’s pale blue eyes flashed between the two. “You two at same time not good on Stan’s nerves. Don’t get any ideas or eggs go kaput!” Without waiting for a response, Stanley set about filling the coffee cups of the other customers at the bar.
Sarge leaned sideways to set his shoulder against the wall so he could turn and get a better look at the young woman sitting next to him. The Hudson Bay Blanket coat cut in old French Canadian trapper style drapped around her shoulders immediately culled her from the variety of working girls who frequented the bar during alcohol serving hours. It also separated her from the nearby telephone company’s swing shift working women. That left college student pulling an all nighter or some variation thereof. But the last wasn’t quite fitting the bill either in Sarge’s mind since there was no need for such creatures to venture off the perpetually buzzing college grounds for a cheap breakfast special in a working class bar. Hoarse Voice was busy poking the pointed edge of toast into what he considered an obscenely salted egg yolk. “Having a little egg with your salt, huh?”
A mass of long black hair crackling with static electricity was pushed back over a shoulder hunched inside the Hudson Bay Blanket coat, then a white face, made paler from the lack of any real sun during weeks of perpetual snow, with assessing dark brown eyes turned towards him. She sipped coffee to mix with her mouthful of eggs and toast, chewed slowly, then swallowed, all the time staring directly at him. She sniffed a little, then said, “Yep. Three spoons of sugar in my coffee too. You wanna make something of it?” Caught off guard by the effect on him of the unexpectedly sharp lines of her cheeks and bold aggressive eyes, Sarge simply shook his head of brown shaggy hair in reply and Hoarse Voice’s attention immediately turned back to her food.
Sarge watched her small fingers set a fork to work covering a slice of toast with egg, fold it over and stuff nearly all of it into her thin-lipped mouth. More salt was shaken over the remaining eggs, more sugar, along with a very generous amount of cream, mixed with the new coffee that flowed quickly into her cup via the pot wielded by the quick sighted Stanley. Questioning his interest, Sarge continued his surveillance of her liberal saltings, pokings and smearing of eggs until his own plate arrived and distance required him to ask her to pass the Tabasco sauce. She complied readily then made a point of watching him rain red sauce upon his eggs until it pooled along the plate’s upward crease. Deciding to let her know he was aware of her watching him, Sarge twirled his fork in anticipation but turned toward her, clearly waiting for some comment. None came. Unable to resist, Sarge quipped, “What? Want a taste?”
She responded by looking his long broad frame up and down, slowly taking inventory of the well-worn jeans, heavy work boots and dark grey plain sweater. “Nope. Wouldn’t dream of depriving you.”
Sarge thought the better of uttering the sexually suggestive reply that skipped to his lips. He’d had a way too long night of loading freight, hunger for a great deal more than food had been gnawing at him for months, and he already knew his overtired body wasn’t going to settle down for the deep oblivious sleep he mentally craved. Instead of verbally needling the hoarse voiced woman, he commenced slicing and swirling his eggs through the Tabasco sauce and finally satisfying his stomach. Eggs, spices and black coffee worked their usual soothing magic.
After mopping up the remaining streaks of red sauce on his plate, Sarge took note of the departing early morning rush crowd, held up his empty cup for a refill then pulled a half read paperback copy of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency from the inside pocket of his long coat. With the still unlite cigarette now resting between his lips, he pushed his plate away and flipped through the book. As he smoothed out the creased page corner, Stanley cleared Sarge’s plate and laid a cinnamon roll wrapped in a paper napkin on the counter in front of Hoarse Voice. Taking the cigarette between his fingers, Sarge looked up just enough to allow him to see Hoarse Voice’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Standing up she shucked her black sweatered arms back into her coat sleeves, hauled a thick orange backpack off the floor and onto her stool, fished out a man’s style wallet from the pocket in its flap, laid out enough to cover the bill and the sort of tip an appreciative regular customer leaves, then yanked the Hudson Bay Coat belt tight enough to reveal a waist Sarge was frankly surprised to see considering the double breakfast special she’d just slammed down. Black straps went over both shoulders centering the pack. Her eyes slid sideways to the book in his hand just long enough to read the title as she picked up her sweet roll. When she pulled up the coat’s hood she caught him observing her in the mirror. She nodded at his reflection then turned and left.
Leaning back on his stool, Sarge watched her stop outside the tavern door while unwrapping a portion or the roll before walking off. He turned to lift his cup and found Stanley staring at him with a serious degree of curiosity as he poured himself a cup of coffee to enjoy in the current lull of customers. He set a side plate with Sarge’s usual sweet roll on it next to the paperback.
Sarge frowned at the barkeeper, shrugged then picked up his book. Sarge glared at the cover for a few moments before pulling a fiver out of his pocket and tossing it on the counter. Book in one hand, he grabbed the roll from the plate then made a fast exit leaving behind Stanley’s amused laughter.
Once outside in the snow hazy bleak excuse for morning sunshine, Sarge surveyed the street. Hoarse Voice was quickly jaywalking diagonally through the empty four way stop designated by red flashing lights. With his longer legs all that was required was a slightly quicker pace to close the half block distance between them. Setting the necessary pace, Sarge took a big bite of the sweet roll, focused his sights first on the orange back pack then her black leather boots and went in pursuit of quenching more than what overeasy eggs swimming in hot sauce could ever dream of satisfying.