Cookin' Up Trouble


On our way to the lake, me 'n' my bassin' buddy Harry made our usual breakfast stop at the Dew Drop Inn, Swamp Gas Corners' favorite dining establishment. We was surprised to find the parking lot nearly empty when we pulled in, but we was even more surprised when we got our food. "Ouch!" Harry winced as he bit down on a biscuit. "I cracked a molar on this dang hockey puck!"

"These pancakes ain't nothin' to write home about, neither!" I grumbled as I pushed my plate aside. "The Dew Drop used to serve the fluffiest flapjacks this side of heaven, but these are just plain awful!"

Flo, the Dew Drop's frowsy redheaded waitress, poured us more coffee. "Say, what's up with the food in this place, anyway?" I wondered. "These pancakes is as rubbery as Yugo floor mats!"

"We've been gettin' tons of complaints about our chow ever since our cook Zeke retired and moved to Florida," Flo confided. "Don't repeat this, but the new guy in the kitchen's on work release from the state prison! He ain't no Emeril, if ya get my drift!"

"I never thought I'd live to see the day when a paroled axe murderer would be cookin' breakfast at the Dew Drop Inn!" Harry moaned as we headed for the lake. "That food was terrible, and there's no other place in town that serves country grub!"

"Well, let's see," I thought out loud. "Wang's over on Frump Street has purty good Mexican food …"

"What does a dude from Shanghai named Wang know about cookin' Mexican food, anyway?" Harry snorted. "I came down with a near-terminal bout of Montezuma's Revenge after eatin' one of his sweet 'n' sour burritos!"

I didn't even mention the Perky Petunia Tea Room on Main Street — what with their watercress sammiches and lace doilies, that joint didn't really cater to us redneck bass fishermen. Slimy's Pizza behind the used tire shop was decent enough, but man does not live by pepperoni alone! Harry was right — with the Dew Drop Inn out of the picture, there was no longer a decent place within 50 miles to get some good home cookin'.

"Stop the truck, Charlie!" Harry blurted, his eyeballs wide with excitement.

"Whatsa matter, you sick?" I wondered as I turned off onto the shoulder of the road.

"I just had a brilliant idea!" he sputtered. "It came to me in a flash, just as clear as crystal: Harry 'n' Charlie's Down Home Cuisine!"

"What in blazes are you talkin' about?" I asked.

"I'm talkin' about openin' our own restaurant!" Harry explained.

"Has you lost your ever-lovin' mind?" I laughed. "What do we know about cookin'?! Why, we can't even open a can of Vienny sausages without bustin' off the pull tab! And our ol' ladies ain't exactly Martha Stewarts, neither. You know how you always say Maybelline's food tastes as bland as dentists' fingers? Well, Zepha's chow ain't no better!"

"What if we could talk ol' Zeke outta retirement?" Harry suggested. "By now he's gotta be bored stiff playin' shuffleboard down there in Florida. I'll call him up and tell him we'll cut him in on a third of the action if he'll move back here and cook for us! I'll also mention that once our restaurant starts packin' 'em in, some big corporation is bound to take notice, and they'll buy us out for 20 gazillion dollars apiece so they can franchise our concept!"

Harry's enthusiasm, however misdirected, was catching. Soon I was as pumped up about this restaurant idea as he was! Instead of going fishin', we did a 180 and headed back to town so Harry could show me the location he had in mind for our new eatery. "It's right there, on the corner next to the used shoe store!" he pointed.

"I dunno," I said skeptically, eyeballin' the dilapidated building "That place is a total dump!"

"A fresh coat of paint and it'll look good as new!" Harry insisted. "You can't beat the location — just one block off Main, and there's plenty of parking for bass rigs in the vacant lot across the street! I'm tellin' ya, this restaurant idea can't miss! It's solid gold!"

Turned out Harry was right about Zeke — the elderly ex-Dew Drop Inn cook was bored out of his gourd with retirement living, and itchin' to get back into the kitchen! "Heck yeah, I'll be your cook!" he agreed over the phone. "You got a location in mind?"

"Has we ever!" Harry replied. "It's that vacant building on the corner a block off Main, and it can be ours for a song!"

"Hmmm … I know that old building you're talkin' about," Zeke said. "It was a feed store 50 years ago, but it's been empty ever since. There was some reason why nobody ever moved back into it, but danged if I can remember what it was! Heck, at my age, I'm lucky if I can remember to get out of bed in the mornin'!"

The wheels of progress turned quickly once we had our cook on board. We bought the decrepit old building dirt cheap, then immediately put Lefty LePieux's cousin Pierre, a right good carpenter and handyman, to work making it ship-shape. He lined the walls with rustic old barnboard and built family-style picnic tables for our customers to sit on. By the time he was nearly finished, Zeke had moved back to town and supervised the installation of the commercial oven, fryers and other kitchen equipment that he bought dirt cheap from a salvage company in Taterville. With some dusty lunker mounts, old fishin' lures and rusty metal signs nailed to the walls for atmosphere, and a big red neon sign on the roof, we was ready for our grand opening!

We opened for our first breakfast Saturday at 6 a.m., and by 7, it was standing room only! "Congratulations boys!" Crusty Popodopolous, our bass club's president, enthused as he buttered another hot, fluffy biscuit. "This food's fantastic! It's as good as the Dew Drop Inn was back when Zeke was in the kitchen!"

"That's 'cause Zeke's in the kitchen!" I explained. "We talked him out of retirement so's he could be our chef!"

"I thought I recognized them pancakes!" Big Moe grinned as he shoveled down mouthful after mouthful of the heavenly pillows of goodness. "Tell Zeke to fix me another big stack, will ya? And I'll have a couple of more slices of country ham to go with 'em!"

"Comin' right up!" Harry winked as added the order to Big Moe's escalating tab. He turned to me and whispered, "What did I tell ya, Charlie? This restaurant is solid gold! We're rakin' in money hand over fist, and this is just breakfast! Wait'll word gets out about Zeke's chicken dinners!"

Suddenly the happy sounds of clattering silverware and smacking lips was pierced by a woman's high-pitched scream: "Eeeekk!! A mouse!! I saw a mouse!"

"You must have imagined it, madam," Harry said, trying to calm her. "There ain't no mice in this establishment!"

"There it is!" a man seated at the far end of the room cried out.

"There's one here, too!" hollered another woman across the room.

"EEEEKKK!!!" the first woman screamed as she jumped up on the table in total panic. "MICE!!! THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!!!"

It was like a scene out of a '50s horror movie! Mice, thousands of them, poured out of every crack in the walls and floorboards, evidently driven to a frenzy by the smell of breakfast cooking in the old building! Our customers fled the restaurant, leavin' the place empty except for me, Harry, Zeke and a few million scampering rodents.

Zeke snapped his finger: "Now I remember why this building sat vacant for so long! Because it was overrun with mice, that's why!"

"Now ya tell me," Harry said glumly.

"C'mon, fellers," I suggested. "Let's close this rathole down and go to the Dew Drop Inn for breakfast. The food there may not be great, but at least you don't have to share it with a bunch of rodents!"