Hank went into Raleigh’s on Thursday morning just like he did every Thursday morning. It was cold as it ever got outside, but when he slipped inside the diner, he couldn’t get his coat off fast enough.
“God damn, Earl, you got it hot enough in here?” Hank said as he took his worn stool at the bar.
“Earl took sick,” said Pete as he came out from the kitchen. “Stayed home today. Can’t say as I blame him, weather and all. Barely got all my parts moving myself, this morning.”
“I can always count on you, Petey. I’ll take my regular, if you don’t mind.”
“Aw, hell, Hank,” said Pete. “We don’t have no bacon this week. Earl must’ve forgot to order it. All we got is burger patties. Know what? I’ll make you something special to make up for it. Maybe like a French toast patty melt? It’ll be real nice.”
He fired up the grill. “Mind reading me the paper while I cook? Haven’t got a chance to look it over yet.”
Hank flipped open the news, quoting from a story about a viral outbreak. “‘Doctors are classifying it as a mutated strain of mad cow disease, with victims’ brain function being affected first, manifesting in short term memory loss. In later stages, the body becomes increasingly affected. Joint stiffness and sensitivity to temperature changes are common.’ This is real good, Pete,” Hank said as he paused his reading to chew the sandwich.
The article went on. “‘In some cases the infection has caused mental deterioration such that its victims become inexplicably violent.’ Huh. What’ll they come up with next.”
Pete took Hank’s plate and went into the back. When he returned five minutes later, his face brightened. “Oh, hey, Hank. Good to see you. I’ll get your regular going for you. Mind reading me the paper while I cook? Haven’t got a chance to look it over yet.”
Hank tilted his head, like a hound dog unsure of what he was being told to fetch. By the time he looked at the paper and back at Pete, a strange look had come over the cook’s face. Pete leapt across the counter.