Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oak Cliff Confidential: Chapter 27

  “Ruby Wednesday?” asked Sharon incredulously, looking at the drunken limbo dancers gathered around her. “What the hell kind of name is that?”

  “I can HEAR you,” said the voice on the phone. “I‘m not an idiot.”

  Sharon brought the instrument to her ear. “So sorry about that. It was rather rude of me. Please understand that drinking has been involved.”

  “Got it,” noted Ruby. “Forgiven. Now, what can I help you with? I don’t normally talk to strangers because I find them highly irritating, but since my sister got off her ass long enough to call me, I’m thinking this might be important.”

  “Well,” said Sharon, seating herself again in one of the comfy chairs. “I’m not really sure how to go about this delicately, so I’ll just get right to the point. Why do you have a pentagram on the back of your ashtrays?”

  “The restaurant ashtrays?”

  “Yes, those.” Sharon glanced down at the tiny ashtray on the coffee table. “Or at least the one we have here. I’m assuming the others have that symbol as well?”

  “It’s for the Wiccans,” said Ruby, then apparently turned away from the phone and utilized a spittoon. “Sorry about that. Sinuses. Kill me this time of year.”

  “Wiccans?” repeated Sharon. “As in witches?”

  Ruby made a scoffing noise. “They don’t like that word. Wrong image. Anyway, they’re good customers, nice tips, and they rent the backroom out once a week. So I advertise. Sue me. Now, tell me why you need to know this.”

  Sharon hesitated. It was entirely possible that Ruby knew about The Game, since apparently everybody else on the planet did. But she wasn’t sure. “Well, I’m in this… competition. Sort of like a scavenger hunt. We have to figure out clues. I think your ashtray is one of them.”

  “Oh,” said Ruby. Another ding of the spittoon. “So you’re playing The Game?”

  Damn it, thought Sharon. HOW did everybody know about this except her? Was she really that clueless about what was going on around her? God. “As a matter of fact, yes. Just started, still learning.”

  “Got it,” said Ruby. There was a metallic crash followed by a female voice accusing someone of immense treachery. “Excuse me a sec.” Ruby half-heartedly covered her mouthpiece, then berated an underling with expert precision. There may have been tears, but this was not clear. Then Ruby was back on the line. “Sorry about that. Pretty busy at the diner right now. Issues. Now, you need to come by?”

  Sharon paused, not sure. “Well, probably. I think there’s something about your diner that plays a part in whatever the hell it is that I’m doing.” She signaled for Alejandro to freshen her drink. “You wouldn’t happen to know why your diner might be considered important to The Game?”

  Ruby chuckled. “Hell, I don’t know. But I can say this. Get people like you in here a lot.”


  “Yep.” Spittoon. “Something about this place. Maybe it’s the history. Before Raz helped me buy this joint, there were a lot of fires.” Ruby briefly muffled the phone to yell at somebody else. This person clearly informed Ruby of where she could shove it and how deep. Ruby cackled and then spit again. “Sorry about that. Busy. You still there?”

  “Yes,” confirmed Sharon. “What do you mean by fires?” She winked at Alejandro as he handed her a perfectly-proportioned cocktail. “Are we talking about people dying?”

  “Don’t really recall that part, don’t remember it being in the newspaper. But yeah, some people think this place is cursed. People buy it, business booms, then there’s a fire. They sell. Always had my eye on this place, so I just waited till I had the money.”

  “Really?” asked Sharon, taking a sip of her dandy lemonade. “Why would you want to buy a place that keeps burning?”

  “I don’t know,” said Ruby, fiddling with something that might have been a cash register. “It’s a good location. Lots of people want to eat around here. And there’s some memories.”

  “Is that so?” asked Sharon, glancing briefly at a topless April as she chased a topless Alejandro, waving what looked like something you would snake a toilet with. Theresa and Raz were clapping in support of whatever this misadventure might be. Sharon chose not to think about that right now. “What kind of memories?”

  “Oh,” breathed Ruby, “just stuff. Grew up around here. Back in the day, this was a soda shoppe. Had a lot of fun back then.”

  Sharon’s heart skipped a negligible but still noticeable beat. “Soda shoppe? Exactly where are you located? Surely not near Sunset High School.”

  Ruby chuckled. “One and the same. Right across the street. Of course, there ain’t been ice cream up in here since that first fire.”

  Sharon instinctively reached for her purse to grab a cigarette, then realized where she was and didn’t know if Theresa and Raz would appreciate her lighting up, although it was clear that somebody around here smoked. “The soda shoppe burned? When did this happen? What year?”

  Ruby paused. “Well, quite a while ago. Hang on. Let me go check with Delta Jo. She’s been around forever, keeps getting hired back by the new owners because everybody loves her. But she’s kinda old. Let me go make sure she’s still alive. Gonna put you down for a sec, okay?”

  “That’s fine,” agreed Sharon. There was a clunk as Ruby’s phone was apparently hurled against the wall of the diner.

  Sharon lowered her own phone and looked at Theresa, who was in the midst of encouraging April and Alejandro to leap frog over each other while screaming lyrics from “The Sound of Music”. What the hell had Sharon missed while confabbing with spit-girl Ruby? She waved her hand to get Theresa’s attention. Theresa reluctantly looked her way, a bit sad about missing the end result of the leap-frogging.

  “Girl,” said Sharon, “did you know that the soda shoppe burned?”

  Theresa was understandably a bit perplexed. “What are you talking about? You mean the one from high school?”

  “Yes,” nodded Sharon. “The one across the street. Ruby says it burned.”

  Theresa also nodded. “Well, yeah. It was a big deal. Don’t you remember that?”

  Sharon didn’t. “I had no idea.”

  Theresa just looked at her, trying to politely hide her surprise. “Were you… out of the country for a few years?”

  Sharon slumped back in her chair. “No. Apparently I just don’t pay attention to anything. No wonder people think I’m a bitch. I thought it was just the money.”

  Squawking sounds suddenly came from Sharon’s lowered phone. She raised it to her ear. “Yes?”

  “Okay,” said Ruby. “I finally found Delta Jo, lost and confused in one of the bathrooms. That poor thing is one big mess. Can’t tell you one whit about what’s happening today, but she remembers the first fire just fine.”

  “Oh?” said Sharon, a sinking feeling already descending. “And when did it happen?”

  Ruby spit again and then returned to the phone. “1985. Right after the Sunset High Zucchini Festival.”

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