Getting food is a tricky enterprise for a private eye. A fine line must be maintained between being a customer and being a regular, especially when you go to places you don’t want to be a regular. But you just can’t help it.
What I mean is: most service people in this town tend to be college-aged or young enough that they’re still in the loop, which is invaluable when you’re plying the detective trade on a college campus. And sometimes, it feels good to be known. Not just for the free slices of Ian’s Pizza or the gratis side of guac with your chips, but also for the lowdown. People underestimate how much community involvement is wrapped up in detective work.
At the same time, you have to maintain your distance. Can’t be going to the corner joint every day at 11 p.m. for a discount meal served to you by your favorite waiter—people’d make connections, and connections are a bad thing in the wrong hands. I can’t have the midnight skeleton crew at Wendy’s knowing my name. It just wouldn’t be right.
Now maybe, you’d argue, it’s better to get close. If you were the detective, you’d get close. Well you aren’t. And this isn’t one of your wonderful Raymond Chandler novels where Philip Marlowe seems to know damn near everyone.
Besides, the turnover rate in cheap eateries here is roughly four years—far less than the ocean but nonetheless complete.
Sometimes, though, the hunger takes you over. The real hunger sitting in the pit of your stomach as it always has. And that night, calling out from behind my own hunger, I had a hungry bull crane in my back pocket, calling out its enigmatic cry. It cried: “Who am I? Why was I found next to the body of your dead professor, in his bony hands? What do I have to do with the Tenny Bros?”
I had to feed the enigma, to make it sing coherently, so I went to Five Guys.
Am I ashamed of being a Five Guys customer? No. Do my hips quiver at the sight of a double bacon cheeseburger unraveled from its silver swaddle, after it’s been unearthed from an avalanche of blister-inducing French fries? Yes, they quiver; they quiver with delight and anticipation. I am, after all, an American.
But I wasn’t there to eat burgers. I had neither time nor money to spare. My stomach still turned with the sight of Professor Graham B.D. Rice in his gory hammock. I needed to feed the bull crane; I could get by on peanuts.
It was close to closing time, but it was business as usual behind the burger bar. I looked over the array of workers—nameless cashier, Something Carmichael, some kid with horrendous pimples was working the fries station—before I found who I was looking for, on condiment duty.
He saw my approach and hailed me with a hand full of fried onion. “Well well, if it ain’t ol Private I!”
See what I mean, about the dangers of being a regular?
“Hey McDaniel,” I said over my shoulder, as I scooped up a carton of peanuts.
“Those are for the customers I think.”
“What? I’m a customer. I bought a water.”
“Three weeks ago, the last time you dropped in looking for leads.”
“Will you keep it down?” I curtly snarled. “I’m trying to be, y’know, low profile.”
“Not with that trenchcoat. And I don’t owe you any favors.”
“Is it about the C+’s on all your essays? I told you to use full stops.”
“But I wanted to emulate Molly Bloom!”
“Well you aren’t Molly Bloom now! Are you?”
“I guess you’ve got me there.” He laughed.
Licking the salt from my fingers and rubbing them on my trenchcoat, I took the slip of paper and held it before him. “Look here, Art History major. Ring any bells?”
“Hmm… no—well, maybe.” He scrutinized it closely. “Damnit Mr. Oliver, you know I specialized in Pre-Raphaelites!”
“Hence why you’re in fast food.”
“This is just my cover,” McDaniels cried. “My parents think I’m a deadbeat waiting to go back and get my ABA, but in reality I’m selling my work around the area.”
I felt pretty tired and (admittedly) I envied his purported art success.“Well, until next time, McDaniels.”
“Wait up!” He threw away the onions and told me to grab my phone. He told me a College Court address. “You might be able to find someone who knows a thing or two about that bird at this party.”
I thanked him and left Five Guys. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nameless cashier staring at me with the vehemence of the wary.
Check back in two weeks for the next part of the Terry Oliver story.