Roy at the Gateway
by John K. Marsdon
August 24, 2001
Roy at the Gateway_John K. Marsdon-Short story.
Contrary to what many people believe, not everyone who possesses a gun is stupid. In the case of Roy Harkin, however, the anti-gun crowd would be quite correct. The man was plenty dumb for a twenty-year-old, and if you were to ask him what he was thinking as he stood outside the Gateway Diner with a loaded pistol in the oversized right front pocket of his absurdly oversized pants, his response would most likely be “I don’t know.” He had no plan whatsoever, but the emotions inside him this evening told him that a gun might well give him some sort of satisfaction, and he was terribly eager to be satisfied in some way.
Despite the humid heat of an August night in the Midwest, Roy had tied the arms of a heavy sweatshirt around his waist to help conceal the bulge of his weapon. Though this was not his style, people who knew him would not question it because they all knew Roy was strange and not that bright. His sweaty white tank top revealed a wimpy physique and a black one-word tattoo on his right bicep that said “Gal” in elegant calligraphy. With Route 415 to his back, he stared at the dozen or so people inside the Gateway and slid his hand down through his pocket to feel the metal. As a mosquito buzzed by his ear, he finally decided to enter.
It was a typical layout: booths along the large windows, a few tables back in a non-smoking area, and a long counter with swiveling stools. By the door was a smaller counter for the cash register, and a wall clock that read 10:35. Some country tune Roy didn’t know was playing softly overhead. He mounted a stool, careful not to let the piece fall out. The only waitress on duty was named Alison, and she was the reason that Roy was now seated at the counter with a gun in his pocket. Alison had never seen him before, but figured he was a pig like all the other men in the world and intended to treat him as such. As she approached him with a menu and a pot of coffee, she found that he certainly smelled like a pig. Roy was meticulous when it came to greasing his black hair back just so, but wasn’t too particular about applying deodorant to his armpits.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Roy. Alison flipped a cup onto a saucer and carelessly filled it up, letting the liquid splash over the sides profusely, but Roy didn’t notice. He was examining her face and hair with extreme scrutiny.
“Know what you want?”
I want you, he thought, but said “No.”
Behind her, through the opening to the kitchen, a man said “Order Up” while placing two plates of burgers under the heat lamps, and Alison turned to take them to table six. The man in the kitchen was Jim DeMarco, owner of the Gateway, and he paused as he spotted Roy. This is that idiot who was in here the other day, he thought. The two men locked eyes and awkwardly exchanged nods. Jim then brought the next order to the attention of the other man in the kitchen, his new cook, Tony. Roy took a good look at Tony, who was perhaps five years his senior, and clenched his jaw. That should be me.
Roy had seen the classified ad in the paper and was in two days ago to see about filling the third shift cook position despite his utter lack of knowledge and experience in the culinary arts. Jim, desperate for a new cook so he wouldn’t have to stay up all night himself, was ready to give the job to almost anyone, but he quickly found out that Roy was not much of a thinker. Roy spent most of his time with Jim looking around for any sign of Alison, but it was her night off. “I’ll keep you in mind,” Jim had said, giving Roy a false sense of hope. Just two hours ago the hopeful candidate called to ask if they were still looking for a cook, and the answer sent his mind reeling. An hour later he was removing the gun from his nightstand drawer.
Roy stared enviously at Tony for the next few minutes until Alison came back and asked, “Do you need more time?”
“Yeah,” he said, reaching for the menu. “Sure is hot in here,” he added.
“I know, the A/C broke down yesterday. Guess you won’t be needing that sweatshirt after all.” Roy blushed with embarrassment, and Alison eyed him with disdain and thought, What a loser. She wandered a few feet away to fill several squeezable ketchup bottles before returning. “Well?” she said, pulling out her tablet and pen.
“Cheeseburger and fries, I guess.” He didn’t have any money on him, but he figured he wouldn’t be leaving in an ordinary fashion.
“Excellent choice, sir,” she said, writing CHB FF. As she brought the order to the kitchen window, Roy ogled her figure, picturing her naked.
Here’s how Alison unwittingly caused Roy to show up with a loaded gun: About two months prior to this, she dumped her boyfriend of seven months, a handsome two-timer named Curt Madison. She was a good deal more intelligent than Roy, but she was a sucker for smooth-talking bad boys and foolishly dated that type exclusively. Curt was very upset about the breakup, though they had almost nothing in common, because he enjoyed having sex with her a great deal – so much so that he developed an avid interest in digital photography so that he could document those occasions. Alison was naturally reluctant at first, but Curt was a very smooth talker, and soon she was posing with a big old smile and nothing else and in every position imaginable. Within 48 hours of being dumped he had set up a free adult website with 587 photos and fourteen x-rated video clips. He got the word out to his buddies, and soon there was new graffiti in the men’s restroom at the Gateway.
See your waitress nude at
ALISON’S PORN VAULT
One of the first men to read that with interest was Roy’s friend Tim “Tubby” White, a bona fide internet porn addict. Roy wouldn’t mind being an internet porn addict too, but he lacked a computer, not to mention the brains with which to use one, so he had to settle for an hour here and there sitting on a folding chair next to Tubby and his wonderful high-speed cable modem. On the night that Tubby raced home from the Gateway, fully aroused at the mere thought that the site might actually exist, Roy happened to stop over and wouldn’t leave until he got ten color printouts of this waitress girl, which he took home and taped up on the wall near his bed. The next day, he pestered Tubby for additional printouts, but Tubby drew the line at three more. Color ink cartridges were expensive.
Roy sipped his coffee with fresh beads of sweat forming instantly on his forehead, and he looked up at the whirring ceiling fans, incredulous that they offered no relief. Despite his obsession with Alison, he’d never been inside the Gateway before his “job interview.” He was never very good at talking with girls, never had money to even buy coffee there, and until now was content to just look at the pictures. But now he wanted more and needed a job besides. Seeing her in person for the first time made him forget momentarily about his half-baked idea to go on some sort of rampage. For one thing, her hair was now dyed black, six inches shorter, and straight, not wavy, like her natural blonde hair featured on the internet, but there was no mistaking the small distinguishing mole on her lower right cheek which Roy found so sexy. The rage came creeping back, though, as he remembered that his fantasy would not come true: he would not be working nights at the Gateway, and Alison would not be falling in love with him. He stomped his right foot on the rung below his stool in anger and felt the gun nearly slip out onto the floor. He was sick and tired of his pathetic life and desperate for a drastic, life-changing event, even if it landed him in jail.
The door opened and three high school boys walked in and wandered to a booth, stealing glances at Alison. The Gateway had seen a highly unusual increase in the young male demographic since Curt Madison invited the world to see Alison doing the nasty on his website, and though Alison was always rude to her customers and never smiled, the tips were now exceedingly generous. As soon as her bank account balance reached $4,000, she would be on her way to Boston, never to look back. She was now just $1,340 short of that goal.
She dropped off some menus for the boys, not planning to return for another twenty minutes. When she was back behind the counter, she said to Roy without looking at him, “Why do you have the word ‘Gal’ on your arm?”
This was a sore subject for Roy, but he felt obligated to answer. “She was just this girl I used to see.”
“That was her name? Gal? There’s usually an ‘i’ in there, you know.”
“I know,” said Roy, bringing his coffee cup down harshly on the saucer. “I didn’t know about the ‘i’ when I had it done, okay?”
“Alright. No need to get snippy.” She went back to her ketchup project while Roy pouted and stared at her ample chest. Gail Bennett was the only girl he’d ever slept with, back when they were both underachieving seniors in high school. They had sex just once, and Roy was in the tattoo parlor the next day. The day after that, Gail spoke to him for the very last time upon seeing her name misspelled in calligraphy. “Screw you,” she’d said, punching his right arm as hard as she could.
Another man entered the diner and sat two stools to Roy’s right. As he chatted with Alison, his kind disposition and southern accent served to irritate Roy and to convince Alison that this stranger was completely unaware of Alison’s Porn Vault. She could generally spot a lecherous fan within thirty seconds, and this was not one of them, therefore deserving slightly better service. She knew Roy was a lecherous fan, but judged him to be too stupid to be any trouble. The heavy-set southern gentleman ordered pancakes and bacon.
The heat was starting to get to Roy, making him not only angry-mad, but nudging him toward insane-mad. The only thought going through his head was a mental image of himself pulling the trigger over and over. But then his cheeseburger was ready, and his mini-trance was broken. Might as well eat first, he thought.
It was Roy’s odor that first caught the stranger’s attention, then the tattoo, the sweatshirt, and the silly pants, and then he decided after a few minutes that Roy was in need of a friend.
“How’re the burgers here, chief? Any good?” he asked.
Roy took another bite and shrugged.
The stranger nodded and laughed. “I know just how you feel. Why, down south, where I’m from, a meal never tastes all that great when it’s hotter than hell and more humid than all get-out.” Despite a lack of any response from Roy, the man proceeded to talk Roy’s ear off – about what he did for a living, where he was headed, how many kids he had, and so on – but Roy’s brain didn’t register a word. It was busy thinking about pulling a trigger.
And then, after his pancakes arrived, the stranger said with concern on his face, “Tell me, son – how’s your walk with the Lord?”
Roy became aware that a question was asked – something about “the Lord,” whom he knew nothing about, so he shrugged again.
“Well now, let me put it this way: do you serve the Lord or do you serve the devil? ‘Cause there ain’t no in-between. You’re either doin’ the Lord’s work or the devil’s work, so I’m asking – who do you work for?”
Roy didn’t know what to make of this. Surely this guy was what Roy’s dad would have called a “religious nut,” and he was suddenly in the middle of a religious conversation, so he replied in a way that left religion out of it. “I don’t work for anyone, ‘cause I don’t have a damn job.”
The stranger nodded. “You’re a young man in need. ‘Been there myself, but trust me, son – you need Jesus more than you need a job. You work for the Lord, and the Lord sees to your needs.”
“What I need,” snarled Roy, “is some damn ice water.” He spun around toward Alison, who was refilling some coffee cups. “Could I get some ice water here?”
“Sure, I’ll get right on that, sweetheart,” said Alison, who never filled a lecherous fan’s request until the third asking. She continued with the refills.
“Well, now,” said the stranger, “I see you’re not exactly open to the moving of the Spirit just now.” He reached into the pocket of his shirt, pulled out a tract, and slid it down the counter toward Roy. “All I ask is that you put this in your pocket before you leave and maybe it will interest you at some later time.” The twelve-page pamphlet had an illustration of blue sky and puffy white clouds on the cover with large text that proclaimed “THERE’S MORE TO LIFE!”
“Fine, if that’s what it takes to shut you up.” Without looking at it, Roy shoved the tract into his giant pocket, then returned his attention to his fries, the damn heat, and pulling the trigger over and over. When Alison returned to the kitchen window with a new order, Roy said sharply, “’Scuse me, can I get that water now? I’m dyin’ here, dammit!” The edge in his voice caused Jim and Tony to look at him with raised eyebrows.
Alison said, “I’ll get that for ya right now, hon.” But he would have to ask one more time, no matter how angry he got. She went back to the kitchen and leaned against a wall where no one could see her. Jim knew all about the Three Request Rule and let her handle matters as she saw fit. Every time he saw her run back to her little retreat spot, he thought Damn that Madison kid for doing this to her!
The stranger had made quick work of his meal and stood up, reaching for his wallet. He left a five dollar tip, though his tab only came to $4.35. Jim saw him head toward the cash register and went out to take care of him. After the transaction, the stranger bid Jim a good evening and turned to look at Roy. “Y’all take care now,” he said, then left the diner.
As Jim walked back toward the kitchen, Roy said, “Hey, is that gal ever coming back? I need water real bad.”
Alison returned just then and said, “Is that ‘gal’ spelled with an ‘i’ or without?” She stood, waiting for an answer while Jim went back to the grill.
Roy was flustered. “Without,” he said bitterly, and suddenly he could not bear to look at Alison.
“Right the first time,” she said, as she retrieved a glass and scooped some ice into it. She set the ice water down in front of him. “Sorry to keep you waiting, handsome.”
Roy was never very good at discerning sarcasm from sincerity, and since he considered himself good-looking, he quickly convinced himself that Alison had just complimented his appearance. She grabbed the stranger’s dirty plates and tip, and Roy’s eye followed her every move as he gulped down the water. Maybe he wouldn’t have to blow her away after all.
He slammed the glass down with nothing but ice remaining. “I need some more water here!”
Fine, she thought, taking the glass, let’s get you on your way home. To compensate for violating the Three Request Rule, however, she filled the glass with warm water, and the ice shriveled up in seconds. When he took a big swig, he made a face and exclaimed, “It’s warm!”
“Well, you’ve got to give the ice a chance to work.”
Despite the noticeable lack of ice, Roy didn’t argue. I want this bitch so bad, he thought and sat still for a moment. Maybe it was time to try some charm. “Hey,” he said more calmly, “What do you think about hookin’ up with me this weekend – catch a movie or something?”
Alison looked him in the eye and sneered. “I think you’re stupid, I think you’re ugly, and I think you’re a creep. Catch my drift?”
Roy glared at her with fury. His jaw tightened up again, and he pounded a fist on the counter. Alison went back to her retreat, leaving Roy scrambling to decide on his next move. He was ready to start pulling that trigger for real, but a new thought slowly entered his head as he realized he could also use his gun to kidnap Alison and take her somewhere where he could force his sexual fantasy to come true. For that matter, he could also use it to steal money from that cash register.
The diner door opened again, and Jim called out “Howdy, Frank.”
Roy turned his head to see a tall state trooper smiling at Jim. Jim nodded in Roy’s direction to give Frank a subtle warning that there was a potential problem. Frank sat down at the counter three stools to Roy’s left.
“How you doing tonight, buddy?” he asked Roy.
Roy squirmed visibly. “Well, I’m hot, that’s for damn sure.” He drank some more warm water.
Frank nodded. “Aren’t we all.”
Frank was a regular. In fact, he was responsible for getting Alison’s Porn Vault offline about ten days after Tubby White first read about it in the men’s bathroom. When Alison found out she was an amateur porn star, she became physically sick for days, crying incessantly and unable to eat. She wanted to die. Jim, who fondly thought of Alison as the daughter he never had, didn’t find out about the whole mess until the fifth straight day that Alison called in sick. The employee restroom was occupied, so he brought his newspaper into the men’s room for some reading material, and when he put on his reading glasses, he saw the naughty advertisement. Below that, someone had scribbled, “She’s really there! Awesome hooters!” and Jim quickly surmised the cause of Alison’s illness. When Frank showed up for coffee that night, Jim asked him to look into the matter and see if anything could be done.
Frank’s first piece of detective work was to go home and save every image and movie from the site to his hard drive. In the morning, he had his computer geek neighbor find out who ran the site, and then paid a visit to Curt Madison, threatening to make his life miserable if he didn’t take the site down. Curt, who had marijuana growing among the weeds behind his garage, acquiesced, but the damage was done: Alison’s dirty pictures were being e-mailed all over town and beyond and posted to several other sites on the internet. Frank went to Alison’s apartment to tell her personally that he had closed up the dreaded vault, though, unbeknownst to him, its contents were now scattered about the world wide web. She was grateful for his help, of course, weeping on his shoulder, and Frank hoped that she would someday return the favor with sex. He didn’t know that she was prepared to be celibate for the rest of her life if sex was the only thing men wanted from her, as seemed to be the case.
The state trooper’s presence was most unwelcome to Roy, who took several quick glances at the officer’s gun, wondering how quickly the guy could get it out of that holster. Roy was pretty sure he could win the draw, but he was a lot more nervous than he was a moment ago.
Alison slammed Roy’s check down on the counter. “Here you go, hot stuff. Bye now!” Being dismissed by Alison in this way pushed the button in Roy that made him jump off the stool and reach for his gun. He looked at the trooper, who was looking right back at him, and that made Roy hesitate with half his arm shoved down his pocket. Frank raised an eyebrow and swiveled around to be at the ready.
“Something the matter, buddy?”
“What do you have in that pocket of yours, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Nothin’. I –,“ Roy stammered, “I just realized I ain’t got the money to pay for my burger.”
Frank stood up, standing a full foot taller than Roy. “Is that so? Well how ‘bout we turn out your pockets just to make sure.”
“No, please,” Roy protested, backing up. He then felt something else in his pocket and pulled out the stranger’s tract. “I was just going to give this to the waitress.” He handed it to Frank.
“There’s More to Life,” read Frank aloud. “What are you, some sort of religious fanatic?”
It sounded good to Roy, so he nodded. “I heard there were dirty pictures of her on the internet, so I came here to tell her about the Lord.” Roy was never a convincing liar, despite an awful lot of practice, but Frank, and the others looking on, didn’t know what to make of people who handed out religious tracts, and thought they might well be like the freak that Roy appeared to be. “She’s on the highway to hell,” continued Roy, “but it’s not too late to turn around.”
Frank couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
Roy looked at Jim, who had come out of the kitchen. “Look, I’m real sorry I can’t pay for the meal, but I can wash dishes or whatever. I thought I had some cash on me when I came in, honest.”
Jim looked him steadily and said calmly, “I think you should just leave now and never come back. You can go save souls somewhere else.”
Roy left the diner with his head spinning, completely shocked at the turn of events. He spat on the trooper’s squad car on the way to his dilapidated Impala, and cursed angrily in defeat as he got in and sped away.
Frank, still smiling, looked at Alison and held out the tract to her. “I believe this is for you.”
Alison took it and said, “Well, I guess I need it, don’t I?” The diner seemed suddenly cooler now that Roy had left, and Jim and Frank started chatting about religious freaks. A man in a booth asked Alison where his chocolate milkshake was, but he would have to ask one more time before he received. With her back turned to the others, she flipped through the little pamphlet in her hands, then discretely tucked it into her purse under the counter.
Roy drove wildly on his way home, repeating the words “stupid bitch” over and over. As he recalled the pictures of Alison on his bedroom wall, he thought of the real-life Alison, who was much different than he had imagined, and decided that he would take those printouts down and burn them. Then he thought some more and shook his head. Not yet. And as he approached Tubby’s neighborhood, he wondered if his old friend might have a few more for him. She sure has a fine body, he thought.
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