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A HUNK OF BURNING LOVE / Francois Camoin GENE IS ALREADY there when I come through the door of the New Deal Cafe and Bar. There's a sausage speared on the end of his fork and he's waving it in Rita's face. Gene's a fat man but a long way from jolly; he can in fact be mean as a snake if you give him half a chance. His hat is on the stool beside him, upside down with his work gloves folded in it. This morning we'll be digging post-holes for a new fence in old man Hazzard's pasture. This sausage looks more like a dog-turd, he says. I like Rita. We have been to bed together now and then, after a hard Saturday night, in her little trailer out back of the cafe. Ease up, Gene, I tell him. He turns around on the stool and gives me his Monday-morning stare, cold and nasty, as if I was some Dallas-Fort Worth traveling salesman cutting in on his time, instead of the man he has been working alongside of, off and on, for the past three years since I came down from Chicago. Can I have the number three? I ask Rita. And lots of coffee? Gene is still giving me the stare. I know what you've been doing, he says. What's that? Never mind, he says. I know, that's all. Eat your breakfast, I tell him. It's going to be a hard day. Mellow out, buddy. He looks after Rita, who is jiggling her way into the kitchen with my order. Yeah? he says. His eyes show white all around like a spooky horse. I'm watching him carefully, ready to slide off my stool and give him room, but he blinks and heaves a big sigh. One of these times they are by pure accident going to get somebody back there that knows how to cook and then I am going to have to start eating my breakfast in some other cafe because my stomach couldn't stand the surprise. Dog-turds, he says, shoving the sausage in his mouth and chewing loud enough to make the salesmen at the table behind us turn around and look. Gene looks back at them and smiles his best affable smile; they have the good sense to smile back. Rita puts my breakfast in front of me and swipes at the counter with a wet cloth. Don't mind him, she says. As soon as we get settled in the truck Gene slips the same old The Missouri Review ยท 235 eight-track in the stereo; we ride the fifteen miles out to Hazzard's property listening to Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes and the rest of this tormented music that Gene likes so well. He lights up a joint big as a dollar cigar and passes it across to me. In no time we are driving along in a cloud so thick it's a wonder he can find the road through the windshield. It was all them drugs give him by Jewish doctors, Gene says. That killed him, I mean. How do you know they were Jewish? I read about it, he says. You telling me they weren't? I don't know. You don't know much, he says. His truck is an old four-wheel drive Ford with balloon tires and a worn-out suspension; every little bump sends us swooping across the highway almost into the ditch on the far side. You think I'm some kind of bigot, don't you? he says. No. Yeah you do. Watch the road, I tell him. It's all right. No it ain't all right. He takes a deep drag, adds to the cloud. The truck bounces; Elvis sings. The heater is on and I feel dopey and too warm. The King, Gene says finally. Being from Chicago you wouldn't know what that means. Why not? I ask him. I watched Elvis the first time he was ever on TV, on the Ed Sullivan show. I know the songs. Nope, Gene says...


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