"Baker kept up his rant, getting even louder when the cop would turn around and threaten to shut him up. After awhile, Owens just slumped in the corner, too tired and too drunk himself to keep up with their battle...."
words: j.b. hogan
Gimme a hamburger, fries and a coke, Baker told the teenager behind the counter at Wilbur's Drive-In.
I'm sorry, sir, the boy squeaked out, voice wavering, we're closed.
Baker wobbled against the counter and leaned over it. The boy backed away, grimacing fearfully. Baker was a big, thick Pennsylvania boy and he was drunk as hell. He could be pretty scary. A couple of young girls and another boy working at the grill and soda fountain several feet behind the counter watched the scene. Another kid was off to the side but neither Baker, nor Owens, who stood behind Baker laughing, noticed what he was doing.
I guess you didn't hear me, sonny, Baker growled, gesturing towards the boy, I want a burger, fries, and coke. So does my buddy here. Now hop to it. The boy didn't move.
Just cook us some food fast and we'll be out of here before you know it, Owens interjected.
We can't, sir, the timid boy said to Owens, we really are closed, and the boss will get real mad if we stay open longer.
The hell with your boss, Baker threatened, get your butt back there and get us some chow, mister. Move it.
The boy backed up another step but still faced Baker and Owens. He was scared, but he wasn't going to get in trouble with the boss. One of the young girls by the grill, a cute little curly-haired blonde, came up to the counter.
Why don't you guys go on back to the base, she said evenly. We're closed and you're trespassing here. As she spoke, a black and white cruiser pulled into Wilbur's parking lot with its lights off.
Trespassing, Baker laughed drunkenly, you hear that Owens. We're trespassing, in a lousy burger joint in Crapland, North Carolina. He guffawed at that. Owens chuckled, but not too much. He liked the curly-haired blonde girl.
All we want's some food here, Owens told the girl, we're hungry and we want to eat before we go back to the base.
Please leave, the girl said. We're not going to reopen and you're trespassing on our property.
Damn it, Baker cursed, banging his hand on the counter, making both the girl and the timid boy behind her jump, you better . . . .
What's the problem here, a deep voice in back of Baker and Owens suddenly boomed.
They turned to see a stocky local cop standing behind them, arms folded across his considerable chest. Wilbur's kids excitedly gathered around the cash register.
You boys causing a little fracas, are you?
Baker made some guttural grunt. Owens tried to be cool.
No, sir, he said, the sir coming out of his system like a string of bilious phlegm, we were just trying to get something to eat. We thought they were still open.
We told them we were closed, the timid boy volunteered.
Baker gave the kid a fierce look over his shoulder. The kid backed up two or three steps.
That's right, the blonde girl said, but they wouldn't leave.
All right, boys, the cop said, let's go.
Go where? Baker said brusquely. What'd we do?
Officer, Owens said, it's a mistake. We'll leave. We're just heading back to base.
Let's go, the cop said.
What are you talking about? Baker said, moving towards the cop. The cop put his hand on his night stick.
Donny, Donny, Owens intervened, stepping between Baker and the cop, cool it.
Outside, the cop said.
Outside by the police car, the Wilbur's kids watching from inside the cafe, the cop cuffed Baker, then Owens. He put them in the back seat. All the way downtown, Baker maintained a running complaint. The cop nearly stopped the car a couple of times.
What are we? Baker would repeat in more or less the same words, Murderers? Killers? All we wanted was some lousy ass food.
Shut your mouth, boy, the cop kept telling Baker.
Knock it off, Donny, Owens repeated, shut up.
But Baker kept up his rant, getting even louder when the cop would turn around and threaten to shut him up. After awhile, Owens just slumped in the corner, too tired and too drunk himself to keep up with their battle. When they finally got to the police station, the cop hustled them up to the Desk Sergeant's counter.
Here you go, Rafe, the cop told the sergeant, got a couple of heroes here. This big one's a real wise guy, ain't you, boy? He pushed Baker against the counter to emphasize his point. Baker mumbled something.
Speak up, the sergeant said.
When the sergeant talked, Owens realized for the first time what people were talking about when they called somebody a redneck. The corpulent cop's neck was in fact red, the veins sticking out grossly as he talked.
Well, he said, what was it? Baker just muttered under his breath.
Empty your pockets, the desk sergeant said.
The arresting officer and a couple of other cops standing behind Owens and Baker laughed at the proceedings but when they apparently felt Owens was too slow in responding, they grabbed his front pockets from behind and pulled up hard, the seams on his jeans pinching really hard against his groin.
All right, all right, he said, hurrying to empty his pockets, I'm doin' it. I'm doin' it. It's pretty hard with these cuffs on. The cops laughed again. They seemed to be real cards, or thought they were.
After they got Owens squared away, the officers started to take Baker down a narrow hall to the jail cells but he was having none of it and a brief scuffle broke out. Owens moved quickly into the hall to see what was happening but two of the cops grabbed him and slammed him up against the wall.
Don't move, one of them snarled.
Owens went rigid. Down the corridor, Baker was being subdued and hustled into the cells in back of the station by the guy who had arrested them. The cops released Owens and shoved him down the hallway. He made a point of not resisting them.
There were only five large cells in back, all concrete and bars, completely bare but clean. Most of them were empty; there were a couple of guys in one cell and a solitary passed out drunk in the one in which they put Owens and Baker.
Their cell had three metal, two-man bunks; the bunks had no mattresses, no sheets, no pillows. There were no facilities. After he was uncuffed, Owens went over to a lower bunk opposite the drunk and sat down. The cop hadn't uncuffed Baker yet. The other cops had gone back up front.
Gimme your hands, boy, the cop told Baker. Baker didn't move. Move it, the cop ordered.
Go to hell, Baker said.
Shut up, Donny, Owens said, standing up.
Sit down, the cop told him. Owens didn't sit down. Couple of tough guys, huh? the cop said.
Go to hell, Baker said.
The cop slapped him openhanded, hard. Owens moved forward. The cop pointed at him. Owens stopped.
Butthole, Baker said, his cuffed hands opening and closing into fists at his waist. The cop slapped him again, really hard.
Bastard, Baker said. He got slapped again, and again.
Donny, Owens said, shut the hell up.
Mother, Baker said.
The cop slapped him again, and again, and again. Baker's face was bright red all over. His eyes watered involuntarily and were blazing red with anger and residual drunkenness. He looked like a madman ready to kill. But he didn't say anything else. The cop laughed. Owens sat down on a metal bunk. The cop leered at Baker for a few moments more, then roughly uncuffed him. Baker wobbled backwards.
Get to sleep, boys, the cop said, leaving the cell and closing it loudly behind him. We'll make your call for you. I'm sure your commander will be real glad to send some boys out to pick you up, real glad.
Jesus Christ, Donny, Owens said after the cop was gone, you could've got yourself beat half to death.
Screw 'em,' Baker said, climbing up onto the top bunk, they can go to hell.
Lousy beds, Owens complained, they're like sleeping on an airplane wing.
Stupid southern rednecks, Baker griped, some treatment, huh?
Southern hospitality, Owens said.
For some reason, Baker thought that was funny. He laughed until the combination of the night's events - the alcohol, the arrest, being slapped around - caught up to him and his laughter turned into a barking cough that was almost like throwing up.
Jesus, Baker, Owens told his friend, settle down, dude.
Yeah, Baker agreed, spluttering.
I'm goin' to sleep, Owens said, gingerly laying his head on the hard metal, if I can.
Guess we're gonna get it for this one, huh? Baker said.
S'pose so, Owens yawned.
He closed his eyes and the room started spinning. He squinted, then, barely letting in light - that was better. Well before he could get comfortable enough to sleep, he heard Baker's staccato, nasal snoring. For a second, just before he drifted off, Owens felt a surge of fear as he imagined the arresting cop and a couple of his buddies coming back into the cell wielding long billy clubs. In a moment the fear passed and he fell asleep, too.
It was after three in the morning when the base police came for Owens and Baker. They weren't particularly hostile and their mild threats about base punishment didn't bother the two young GIs. Baker was now totally docile and sat beside Owens in back of the covered jeep with his eyes closed not saying a word. Owens was surprised at how sober he felt and that Baker's face wasn't all bruised up. He even exchanged a few words with the cops up front.
As they drove through the deserted town, through the black night and the chill air, Owens managed a smile to himself. Maybe for the first time since he'd been in the service, he actually found himself looking forward to getting back on base.
It was indeed a new sensation for him and he almost laughed out loud. One look at the military cops, however, with their fuzz cuts and rigid jaws, and he suppressed that impulse. He knew you didn't press your luck too often with the police, civilian or otherwise. It was a lesson he'd been slow to learn, but he was beginning to get a handle on it. He leaned against the side of the jeep and sighed. Baker looked like he was asleep. The jeep rattled on towards the base.