Friday afternoon, the Exxon tanker rolled in and really did fill them up. Eddlin finished washing off the pumps as the state inspector dropped by to apply the official seals. This was only possible in a rinky-dink town. They shook hands and Eddlin continued on with filling the washer fluid, emptying the trash and setting out a big OPEN sign at the turn-in by the road with a few balloons attached, which Rick thought looked gaudy.
“This is gaudy, but 25 pink flamingos on the only grass we have is not?”
“Tourists love that crap.”
On Saturday, they had a few customers come by, uncertain townies snooping around the marginal changes. Several tourists stopped in to get gas; Rick sold one pink flamingo with a triumphant look in Eddlin’s direction, which made him laugh.
The Emerald Gazette dropped off a stack of Sunday papers at 4pm, and a wave of locals came through and bought them all, preferring, he supposed, to read Sunday’s news on Saturday. Saturday night, Eddlin closed up shop at 8pm and set the “We’ll Be Back” sign to 7am. And he was back, bright and early on Sunday with a dozen muffins for a display case he dug out of the pile in the back office. He brewed a fresh pot of coffee and put out Styrofoam cups, cream and sugar. He gave away a free cup with the purchase of a muffin and sold them all by 9.
On Monday, guessing even Emerald Isle had a rush hour, and because he wasn’t expected at Mrs. Purifoy’s until 9am, Eddlin arrived at 630am, made two pots of coffee and set out pastries, muffins, and 2 for $1 saran-wrapped cookies. The people showed up. A line formed at the register. When Rick arrived at 715am, he gave Eddlin a nod and went to the back office to take a nap.
During a lull, Eddlin boxed up every mug that Rick Mart owned and set them quietly in the dumpster. He Windexed the front windows back to 100% transparency and mopped the floors until the room was pleasantly clean – and bright. He commandeered the four tables, former home of the vast mug collection, which conveniently came with matching chairs – a vinyl-mustard throwback from the early 80’s – literally ever millennial’s dream – as customer seating, and took a step back, admiring the half-formation of the café.
He roused Rick from his unconsciousness and left him in charge of the fort, setting off for Mrs. Purifoy’s.
He returned at 8pm, as he did every evening that week, and until his watch beeped 12am, he was at work, creating a kitchen in the back office area with items pulled entirely from Rick’s hodgepodge collection. A French press for sandwiches, silver tins for every kind of condiment, bread racks to hold a full day’s supply, if a full day was no more than 30 sandwiches.
He placed an order with Frito Lay and within two days was on a regular route, the guy dropping off packages of chips and a host of jerkies and meat sticks. A Pepsi driver delivered and filled a cooler full of sodas. The Health Department granted an A passing inspection (also Dave, Chief Inspector for Carteret County), which Eddlin proudly applied to the front window, in a surreal moment of accomplishment.
Rick Mart’s sign needed an upgrade, the first big money Eddlin paid out of his own pocket, and he decided not to change the name. It had a kitschy nature so fitting of the place even after its upgrade.
The new sign arrived on a pick-up truck – plastic, colorful, and big. They hung it outside and gave each other a high five when it lit up.
Eddlin placed a Now Hiring sign in the window – they needed the help. They were making a good margin on the gas, snacks, drinks, and now the deli business was underway. He couldn’t leave it all to Rick, who regularly retired for a power nap at the drop of a hat.
And Eddlin knew he would have to go home, back to that little nothing-town, at least for a while to get things squared away.
From Raleigh, Ink, Missouri was roughly two flights and a four-hour drive in the direction of the Ozarks. The town sat at the intersection of Missouri Route N and Country Road 328.
A hick tranny, Eddlin thought, raising a thumbs up. Joanne would never leave him alone and he was beginning to realize it was alone he very much desired to be. And so what if he relented and returned. So what. He could always come back. He had something to come back to.