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NEW FICTION: "Enough's Enough At Hank’s Steak House"
This story is a work of fiction and imagination. None of this action or these characters are real, Any resemblance to real people is strictly coincidental and not intended, Copyright Paul E, Saevig, 2020, All Rights Reserved, Rated R for language.

 

 

“Diabetes is the deadliest serpent,  against whom not even the gods [survive.]” -- Scribonius Largus (c. 1-c. 50) court physician to the Roman emperor Claudius

 

 

“Enough’s Enough At Hank’s Steak House”

 

by Paul Saevig, ‘67

 

There was a small town on the coast of Southern California. Many of the residents were retired people who had moved here in the past twenty years. It was no coincidence that many of them had grown up together in other cities and towns. They were old friends. Those who were well to do and affluent belonged to any of three country clubs in town, and some people more than one. These affluent folks also enjoyed the upscale restaurants in town, and frequently went to lunch in groups of four to as many as a dozen, Those of humbler means liked to meet in the bars and steak houses in town where they talked and drank, and when there was live country music, danced together. 

 

Life was good. Among those over seventy years old, of course, most had one or more serious health problems. These could include back problems, heart problems and history of heart attacks, joint replacements, arthritis, respiratory illnesses, diabetes mellitus, obesity, depression and anxiety, to name a few. These were the most common allocations of the age group, so there was nothing surprising about it, They had excellent physicians and surgeons, a first rate hospital and good ones nearby. Many of the men and woman were recovering alcoholics, and some continued their drinking, although most in moderation. For that matter, half or more had used or more properly “experimented” with drugs in the past, but for most of them, they limited themselves to smoking marijuana socially, and occasionally would sniff cocaine. Few what could be called addicts, although a small number of unfortunate residents used oxycontin, heroin, even Fentanyl, concealed from most family and friends.  

 

Again, these were law-abiding Americans who’d worked hard, raised families, and saved. One of the restaurants both groups enjoyed was Hank’s Steakhouse, an old fashioned place at the north end of town, that also served seafood and the best drinks this side of Seattle. The owner was a former Vietnam Special Operations soldier named Hank. Hank Kranepool, no relation to the New York Mets first baseman Ed. 

 

Hank had been a three sport athlete at Monte Vista High School in Whittier, and when an English teacher said something Hank took as an insult to the American soldier, he waited until after class and decked that teacher with a left hook and a right uppercut. Hank was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, and the judge offered him a choice of spending 2 to 5 years in prison or enlisting to serve his country in Vietnam. Hank reported to the recruiting office when it opened the next morning and in two weeks, he was a US Army private in boot camp. At 6 foot 5, two hundred thirty pounds, he was bound to harden into form, and came to Vietnam at a lean, hard 215.  

 

His In-Country service was legendary, and he sustained four serious injuries, the worst a bullet that penetrated his mastoid process, one of the thickest poems in the human body, located behind his right ear,  and became what soldiers called a Million Dollar Ticket Back to the World. 

 

“I was a human wreck,” Hank told his friends at his steak house. “It must have been six months before I could think straight, or sleep more than three hours in a row. I was almost blind for a full year, and still have blurred vision in my right eye. Even the sound of kids on bicycles outside terrified me, and I had weapons stashed in every room of my house, including the bathrooms.”

 

He described his first wife, who’d been what he called the prettiest girl at their high school — described her as a cross between Ann Margret and Carol Doda the Topless DDDDD Queen of North Beach. 

 

“Give me big, huge sloppy boobs! Every time! The bigger the better! Ha ha! Well, Maureen had to carry ‘em around a wheel barrow practically, and she was skinny around the waist and has skinny thighs! Perfect!” Hank crowed.

 

“We were married ten months when my brother Mike in Carson City had his first heart attack and couldn’t work. He’d married a sweet little redneck gal, but she was useless for housekeeping and almost everything else. She was pretty good singer, and kind of like Reba McEntire, but not as good. So I told Maureen, babe, I gotta go up there and get Mike squared away. She said sure, I said probably a month, and I hopped on my bike and shot up the 5. 

 

“You know, there’s always a silver lining, I got Mike all set up and it turned out his little gal Whitney turned out to make the best avocado and tuna burritos I ever the privilege of slipping my tongue into. Ha ha! I’d gobble down four, five easy, and a couple times eight in one sitting. I ain’t shitting you! Tasty little fuckers! I had my weight back and then some, went two ninety at that time.  I benched four-fifty and I felt strong as a Silver Back Gorilla. 

 

“I was getting homesick, though and I wanted some of that good loving Maureen gave me. One morning Mike  and I were pounding back Buds and Boilermakers and talking serious, you know? He says, ‘Hank, there really ain’t a damned reason you need to stay any more!”  

 

“I looked into my brother’s eyes and said, ’Fuckin’ A!’ I grabbed my kit and I was off, made Bakersfield  at 4 AM. I was hoping to catch Maureen just as she woke up ‘cause that’s when she’s most beautiful, you know? So I roll into town and I’m punished, man! I’m out of gas and I don’t mean Union 76 Supreme! Still I figure the sight of Maureen lying there bare ass naked is gonna be a shot in the arm, as my Uncle Melvin used to say. 

 

“I turn off the ignition half a block away, walk it to our driveway and into the garage, I tiptoe inside, I can smell her and I got my M-18 on SPRINKLE! Ha ha ha! I make a pit stop in the latrine to gargle some Lavoris and rub some Arid Extra Dry into my pits.

 

“I turn around and see the big shiny white ass of the door guy from where we go to eat clams and swordfish! He’s on top of her and they’re grinding away. 

 

“They told me later I picked him up and threw him through the plate glass window into the back yard. I can kind of remember ducking his head under the deep end water in the pool, and when he tried to fight me, I conked him with a pool net. They say it took seven cops to pull me off him, and they took him away with a skull fracture. Maureen is going crazy and I told her to be fifty miles away when I got out or else.” 

 

Hank pulled at his Boilermaker he drank from a big brandy snifter. He resumed in a softer voice. 

 

“Well, she was racking a local cop, too, and a kid who delivered the pizza. I just didn’t see it. She was trash. Anyway, they found black tar heroin in the door guy’s undercarriage of his pickup and found out he was running a damn mobile pharmacy, anything you wanted. The judge let me off with a suspended sentence and a year’s probation and I was lucky. I moved up to stay with my sister Barbara and her husband Carl, who was an ex-con and tow truck driver, they're Christians in  Weed, California. 

 

“I worked with him for a year and got some good Christian counseling. I learned I’d had a lot of anger inside, too, and never admitted I was scared out of my fucking ass.  My daddy was a tough guy and he used to hit us if we cried, us boys, I mean when we were little, 3 or 4 years old, But I love my old man, Anyway .. “

 

“I decided I had to finish what started, and I wanted to get my GED. I got an apartment in Sunset Beach and got some security work at concerts, stuff like that. Then I took classes in Exterminator Science at Golden West College, but then I found out I was allergic to some of the poisons they use. I didn’t really mind, though, because really Maureen’s two-timing was the best thing that ever happened to me. Now I had a direction in my life.” 

 

As Hank spoke, a shaft of daylight came from the front door and his friend Alvin walked in. The two men pretended to square off and get ready to box, but Alvin wore no expression at all on his face.  He was fight feet seven inches tall, skinny, and wore a brass crucifix the size of a cigar box around his neck. The bartender poured him a glass of ginger ale and he sat down to listen. He’d been a Marine sniper in Vietnam credited with ninety-two confirmed kills. Hank met him through fellowshipping and they started bow and arrow hunting for rattlesnakes out at Coachella. He almost never said a word.      

 

“When I met Alvin, he encouraged me to go see the guy I messed up. I heard this face was all smashed in and I felt kind of bad. Maureen told all these guys she was single. It wasn’t his fault. I fellowshipped with the kid and told him to look me up when he got out of the hospital. I heard the moved back to Kentucky, though.” 

 

Hank would stand at the bar, sometimes sit with one or two gals on his lap, and a semicircle of people would stand around to listen to him. Alvin  would hand out Hank’s business cards to his locksmith customers, and little by little Hank’s Steakhouse earned a group of Big Canyon, Harbor View and Newport Coast regulars coming in for the steaks and chops, and the avocado and albacore burritos were truly unique and crazy good to eat.  Hank made sure his bar help poured long and deep. One of the guys was a retired airline pilot who had money. He invited Hank and Janeen to join him in his two hundred fifty foot motor yacht where they had brunches and dinners. Pretty soon Hank was out there with him regular. They’d sit on the upper deck and talk, and the pilot told stories about growing up in Sunny Hills with horses, hot rods and wild sex parties.

 

One day they went out past Catalina with their wives, and the pilot started to mumble and hallucinate. Hank had enough training to know how to respond and called in a Medevac. His friend the pilot almost died from a diabetic coma. Turned out he was brittle as a dried out two dollar bill pulled out of a  piss pot.  

 

Hank’s wife Janeen would the pilot good meals at Hoag Presbyterian, but he couldn’t eat much at first. The doctors were able to save most of his vision, and she figured out a way to make diabetic avocado and albacore burritos. The minute the pilot tasted it, she made a friend for life, and the next month she and Hank were invited to the pilot’s granddaughter’s wedding at St. Bede the Venerable Roman Catholic Church in La Canada-Flintridge. 

 

That’s how the guys got started going out past Whitewater in  choppers the pilot flew to hunt wild boars, swap lies and cool out. Those were some of the best conversations Hank and Alvin ever heard, because the pilot held a BA degree from USC in economics and his wife Greta was a French teacher and girl’s lacrosse coach at a private school in San Juan Capistrano. They loved to hear Hank’s Vietnam stories, and he know just how to tell them to be interesting.  

 

Hank had a regular checkup in June, and it turned out he had diabetes mellitus, too. The pilot told him it wasn’t all that bad. Inside of six months, Hank lost thirty pounds. His clothes didn’t fit him any more and he had to inject his own insulin alone in the bathroom, because son of a bitch, that stabbing picture in his stomach made him cry.   

 

Before long Alvin let it be known there was a better way. He didn’t say anything, but he had a book called HEALING THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Hank asked to borrow it and read it in three sittings at home. The idea was you didn’t need junk like insulin to put into your body, or medicine or pacemakers or stents or anything else, if your faith was strong. Hank believed it right away but he had to admit he was yellow to try it, for now anyway. His doctor was a real smart Jewish kid from Brooklyn, New York City and when he talked to Hank, man to man. Hank knew he cared, really cared. Plus he was smart as a whip. Dr. Shiran, Edgar J. Shiran. Hank didn’t want to disappoint him, after all the good he’d done for him and Janeen.

 

Everybody got by okay for a while, or so it seemed. Kobe Bryant came into the steak house with his family one time and they all got to meet him. When the pilot mentioned he wouldn’t be flying for a month or two, just a break, a vacation-like, it didn’t take a minute for Hank to figure out he was using. It was Fentanyl, turned out, and he got medical grade from a psychiatrist he knew up in Agoura Hills, the son of a guy he used to fly with. Hank had half a mind to interdict but he also knew that was not his place. The pilot could maintain for the time being, and he seemed to limit himself. 

 

In fact, everything was more or less normal, looked like, and the pilot was there Tuesday afternoon at the steak house with Alvin and some of the kids. One of the other guys was a retired securities attorney from South Pasadena, and he mentioned that his mother was ninety-three years old and suffering from diabetes mellitus. 

 

Hank watched as Alvin stepped up to the man. 

 

“She’s really brittle and combative when they inject her, too,” the man continued. His name was Jerry.

 

“She doesn’t need that garbage, friend,” Alvin said, in what was an oration for him.  

 

Hank had copies of HEALING THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT behind the bar and he reached for one to give Jerry the attorney, who started to thumb through it and took it out to the patio to read with his Old Fashioned. 

 

“To tell you the truth, I’m on my very last nerve with that crap myself,” the pilot told Hank and Alvin.

 

“My mama had sugar diabetes too, real bad. A dust storm came along and she got separated from our sisters and me at our aunt’s. Two days later she was dead, and the doctor said it was the diabetes that did it. She was only forty-four years old,” Alvin said. 

 

They watched him and Hank couldn’t be sure if he might be starting to cry.  Forty-four years old was hardly even getting started. 

 

“Yeah, right,” the pilot muttered and Hank thought that was harsh, but he was right. He was doing ok himself but he kept getting boils every two or three months. It was embarrassing where they were sometimes. 

 

That night Janeen fixed a delicious carrot and asparagus casserole with Brussell’s sprouts and dietetic olive oil, but Hank lacked his usual appetite. 

 

“What’s wrong, hon?” she asked him, with those deep dark brown Western Nebraska eyes she had.

 

“I don’t know how long I can keep up, sugar. There’s another guy I see in the waiting room at Sr. Shiran's, and he’s going blind. He’s younger than I am, too. A young guy, a Mexican or something. He teaches history at the high school. ”      

 

Anyone would have concluded what Hank said hurt Janeen more than him. She held onto his arm hard, and she was just a little bitty gal. When she bit her lip, too, Hank took a deep breath and asked her if they could pray together. 

 

That night they watched a Mel Gibson movie and went to bed early, where Hank fell into a deep slumber. He only had to get up four times that night, and one time Janeen had a little bowl of dietetic sherbet for him, pineapple, his favorite. They went back to sleep and he cuddled her up next to him, spoon position, where her toes only reached as far as his knees.  

 

When he woke up the next morning, everything seemed clearer than it had in months and his vision was strong. He look out from his driveway and Mt. Baldy  looked no more than a mile away, outlined in a sky as blue as a baby boy’s bonnet. He had to take one of his bikes to the dealer, and when he was there, he noticed another customer about this age who wore a First Marines, Da Nang baseball cap and had a diabetes wrist tag in case of emergency. 

 

Hank looked at him and offered his own hand to say, “Thank for your service, brother.” 

 

“You, too?” the guy said, and Hank identified his own unit.

 

They got styrofoam cups of coffee from a little machine in the lunch room and stepped outside to talk. 

 

“1966 to 1968,” Hank said. 

 

“Man! OK, 1969 to 1971.” 

 

“Notice you got diabetes, friend.” 

 

“Yeah, I do. You, too?” the man asked Hank. 

 

“Yes, sir. Going on 6 years.” 

 

The man hesitated and then asked Hank: 

 

“Are you a Christian, brother?” 

 

After that they were friends, and Hank invited him to the steakhouse for lunch. First they rode their Harleys down to Murrieta, in through the highway, back out and back up to the steak house. The man’s name was Duane Stolley and he was a Porsche mechanic on PCH in Corona Del Mar.  

 

“I’d rather be working my daddy’s alfalfa farm with my brothers, but the pay’s real good and it’s a Christian business,” Duane explained. “My wife and I have five,” he added with a shy grin.   

 

Then a cloud passed over his features and he said, “I figure we’ll need all I can save. With the diabetes and all.”  

 

“I hear you, my brother. I hear you,” Hank said. 

 

He wore neat jeans now, good Western shirts Janeen selected for him at Grant Brothers, and good boots with the big ruby-studded silver belt buckle his granddaddy won at the Stillwater rodeo before Hank was born. Sometime he wore a bolo tie, now, too. He was a Christian and his Lord was a prosperous Lord. He almost never cussed any more either, and Janeen got the credit for that. 

 

After Duane went home, Hank went back in the office to work on the books and got to thinking. Sometimes the ringing in his ears the VA doctors said was from his mastoid injury got so loud he had to lie down in a cot in the back room, with a damp wash cloth over his eyes and the lights off. That’s what he did now. 

 

When he woke up he didn’t know exactly much time had passed. The sun was coming from a different place in the sky with a piercing yellow-orange tinge, and what woke him up was some customers laughing at the bar. He thought he’d dreamed of a big plane, a big plane like a Concorde that the pilot flew and maybe they all went to Acapulco, but he wasn’t sure.

 

Out in the dining room he recognized a new customer who’d been coming around, a stockbroker from an office up by Fashion Island. He was a fast talking guy who said he’d been in a High Altitude Reconnaissance Photography unit in Vietnam, 1970-1972. Blake Saia was his name and the pilot was one of his clients. The guy chain-smoked and he was skinny as a roofing nail, and right away Hank wondered if he was the polite’s dealer. But he was funny as all-get out and even did funny impressions of people too. Everybody liked him and he liked to pay for people’s drinks, too. When he ordered a steak or a swordfish fillet he’d just eat a few bites, push his plate away and light another cigarette. He was kind of a kook but so what?    

 

But today he looked pale, and Hank was astonished to find out he had diabetes mellitus, too, Blake said. He’d been having trouble keeping his level and laughed it off.  He said one of those little injection dealies he paid $200 dollar for to get his shots stabbed him deep, and he bled all over his favorite orange micro checked seersucker slacks that he loved. 

 

“Heaved that damn thing right in the bay, probably get arrested if a cop saw me!” Blake said,

 

“It happens,” the pilot said. 

 

Hank noticed Alvin watching the new guy and shaking his head, or maybe not, because Hank wasn’t sure. He’d never say anything, Alvin.  

 

One of the gals came in from her interior design office and Blake put one his feet up on the frame of a bar chair so he could grab the muscle of his thigh real hard and it looked like he was holding  his penis, a foot long, stallion’s penis. He gripped it hard and squeezed it to make everybody laugh,

 

“All for you, Karen!” he said with a mock sincere look on his face. “Any time you’re ready!” 

She howled with laughter because she was old enough to be his mother. She kissed his forehead and sat down for her glass of chablis. Hank knew he shouldn’t approve that kind of tomfoolery but darn it Blake was funny. Even Alvin smiled, might have chuckled, too. 

 

It got so Blake was a popular guy and people loved to listen his stories that he acted out with funny voices and impressions, even the Korean guys and the guys from Singapore who worked in the software startup across the way, the dapper little guys who tried to pick up the big stacked blonde waitresses who used to dance bottomless in Inglewood and North Hollywood before Hank met them at church and persuaded them to come down to work at he steak house. Blake knew the girls and each guy well enough to talk quietly with and advise them earnestly on how to make it with the girls, and he even knew a little Korean and Mandarin, and he’d wink and gesture with his head to the little Asian guys when the girls walked by. He would lip such, “GO FOR  IT, PARK! GO FOR WHAT YOU KNOW!”

 

He was good for business,and he tipped the girls extra well, advised them on their investments, and even told them in confidence what gynecologists they should she who weren’t players. 

 

The next week, though, the pilot came in just when they were opening and said he’d like to talk. Hank took him up on the roof where they had deck chairs around a table and a Cinzano umbrella, where they could watch the cars down below go by on PCH. 

 

“Pancreatic,” the pilot said. “I’m fucked.” 

 

“How long, Maurice? Hank asked, which was the man’s name. 

 

“What difference does it make? Stage 3? 4? I’m over.” 

 

“Don’t say that,” Hank admonished him, but didn’t know what else to add. 

 

“Who else knows?” he thought to ask.

 

“Nobody. Well, nobody but you. My oncologist,”

 

Hank used his cell to call down for a bottle of Gilbey’s Gin and grapefruit juice. 

 

“It’s a Crips gang drink Blake mentioned, but what the hell?” he told Maurice the pilot.  

 

Louise the Jamaican girl brought the drinks and when she saw Maurice, she started to cry and wail. 

 

“It’s all right, sugar,” he said. 

 

“No nuff dey sey!” she replied in the patois she reverted to when she was upset. 

 

She kneeled at Maurice’s feet and sobbed with her head in his lap. He stroked her hair gently and whispered it would be all right.

 

Hank realized how much he cared a lot about this man. When Louise finally got up to go back, he asked Maurice, “Is there anything can do? Anything at all?” 

 

The pilot lighted a cigarette and said, “Naw, man.”

 

Then he added, “Well, I was thinking about one more good cruise, you know. But it depends.” 

 

“Sure,” Hank agreed, and after a little while they walked back downstairs.

 

Maurice said he had to go and then he must have run into Blake outside, because when the stockbroker came inside later, his own face was ashen.  

 

Hank only a had a minute to talk to him, and Blake said, “I’m not taking this sitting down, Hank!” 

 

The night before, Louise’s roommate Camille, with two years of bioengineering at Stanford under her belt before she got knocked up and started dancing nude in North Beach, had told Hank that Blake handled an account for a diabetes foundation in Laguna Beach, and that’s why so many of their members came in. 

 

“He’s a lot of fun, but I just don’t trust him, honey,” Hank told her. 

 

“No, He wanted me and Louise to go to Papeete, Tahiti with him, said he had a condo, offered us $5,000 each. I don’t roll that way.” 

 

“What did Louise say?”   

 

“She got up in his face and said she’d cut his ass wide open from here to Hell and back if he ever talked to her that way again. She carries a knife sometimes, you know.”   

 

“Yeah. I asked her not to. You think he’s dirty?” 

 

“Well, he’s running something, I think. I heard him taking a call last week and it sounded like he was speaking Hebrew. Other times he talks in Arabic” 

 

Hank reached over and covered her hand with his, left it there for half a minute, then withdrew. It was a habit he had with when he was worried but didn’t know wha to day. He didn’t want to see anyone hurt and it made him mad.

 

“Let me know if you hear anything else. We’ll watch out,” he told her.

 

For the second time in two months his tinnitus kicked up, this time a coarse rattling, like when kids put playing cards on their bike spokes with clothes pins. He had to take his numbers first and he had to eat pretty soon, and when he fell asleep on his cot, he was kind of dizzy and cold when he woke up, getting sick. Alvin drove him home and Janeen made him lie down while she fixed him a bean salad on a bed of crisp Romaine lettuce, with  Swedish crackers. She injected him and within a few hours, he felt shaky but better, still not ready to go. Whenever the happened, he asked himself, “What if I don’t feel better this time? This is getting to be too much.” 

 

They turned on the Trinity Broadcast Network and watched the Gaither family singing show, which they always enjoyed. Those folks could sing. At 9 o’clock Janeen shoved big Hank downtime hall,  pulled off his clothes, pushed him into the shower while he laughed and said, “Honey, you’re just a pipsqueak, you know!” 

 

She soaped him up, rinsed him, draped a terrycloth bathrobe over him and led him to bed. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, and she tucked him in good and nice. 

 

In the morning it was her day to volunteer at Hoag Presbyterian maternity, where she’d hold the little bitty premature babies in her arms, and she’d wear a soft old corduroy romper with a nice T-shirt in case the little stinkers spit up on her which she didn’t really mind anyway. She’d sing in her smoky  contralto that had an Arkansas twang the little people liked and they would even try to smile while she warbled  “Ain’t You Even Gonna Cry” or “I Fall To Pieces”. But she hated to leave Hank alone that morning, even  though he insisted he was fine now and anyway she’d be back by 3, maybe 2, giggling because she’d smell like babies which was so sweet, she always believed.

 

That’s when things started happening fast. Maurice called from his slip on the peninsula and said they were sailing in half an hour. Just come over.  

 

Before Hank could even put his cell back in his back pocket, Blake was in the driveway in his new black Lamborghini that he said was a loaner whole his own was getting tuned.     

 

“Maurice is dying, Hank,” he said.

 

Hank went back inside for his sunglasses, a jacket and his test kit, and back outside, they took off at top speed. Hank thought Blake had a strange look on his face and when the man turned on the radio to a black gospel channel from Los Angeles, he knew all the words and sang along fully throated, basso profundo. Hank knew he’d judged people wrong before and wondered.

 

Everybody was there and the two men barely made it on board before a crew member tossed the line to another one on the dock to cast off. The gals wore on beach smocks over their bikinis, and Alvin had taken his shirt off to reveal his ghostly pale chest. Duane was there with two of his brothers and two sisters visiting from Jonesboro, and Maurice the pilot sat in a captain’s chair bolted to the deck, covered in a blanket and wearing a Ralph Lauren ensemble with a Borsalino rakish on his head,   

 

They cleared the breakwater and of all things, Blake played an alto sax and led them in more old black gospel hymns. Louise had a lilting soprano and look the lead.

 

Three miles out, a couple of cabin boys rolled out a table of lunch and beverages, things Hank had not dreamed of having for quite a while.

 

“Why not?!” Blake yelled, as if to the heavens above. “What can it hurt?”  

 

He bit into a chocolate eclair, pushed the rest in his mouth and reached for a bottle of Orange Crush. Maurice the Pilot was biting into a baseball-sized piece of Chocolate Divinity, and Louise served him a plate of pork ribs and mashed potatoes in red gravy. She fed him a bite, wiped his mouth with a linen napkin, then another, and took one for herself. 

 

Hank glanced at Duane, who held surely the biggest plastic bottle of Pepsi anyone on board had ever seen, and he used a buck knife instead of a sword to slash the top off, cossack style, Sprays of Pepsi rained on the gals, who peeled down to their bikinis and danced a Rockettes kick line. It seemed to Hank he’d never eaten anything as satisfying as the pork ribs, and then Louise came by to serve him aa heaping plate of Noodles Romanoff, which she’d found out was a favorite of his, poured over a big hot biscuit soaked in real butter.  

 

By now Blake wore crimson Speedos and nothing else, and sang a medley of early Marvin Gaye in a passionate impression: “Il Be Doggoned”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “All the Way Round”. The gals pulled Duane, his brothers and sisters and even Hank and Maurice to dance, and they cavorted in the offshore sunshine as freely as harbor seals.  

 

“I’m due for a shot, but the hell with it!” Duane drawled, and sidearm-skipped his kit and needles across the rolling blue green waters. 

 

Maurice stood on the poop deck and pulled a dull red M-80 from his coat pocket, jammed it into his kit, lighted it with a Dunhill lighter and in the split second he had left, threw it high in the air.  The pressure of the explosion knocked them back and scared the dolphins who’d been swimming alongside the ship. 

 

One of Blake’s broker friends as a pudgy little red-headed fellow named Larry from Brooklyn who’d brought a leggy margins clerk named Isabel and her sister Ivelisse, a  medical receptionist from South Miami Beach by way of Havana. They showed the others the Mambo and the Americans  chowed down on potato chips and beef jerky while everybody danced. 

 

Next the waitresses moved into position with Louise,  to sing a medley of Marvelettes songs while Blake played this sax. Someone had a carton of Marlboro’s and tossed packs around to everyone. At the end of “Heat Wave”, Blake started a custard pie fight that lasted until they were all coated with pastel and opalesque cake, dripping from their chins and foreheads, faster than they could lick and eat it all.   

 

“I FEEL FINE!” Duane hollered and danced a Two-Step. 

 

He and his siblings sat with their bare legs dangling under the deck railings, belted out Merle Haggard and George Jones songs and tried to pick out Crystal Cove and Crescent Bay and San Onofre that Duane had told them about and the sisters wanted to visit. He held a Beretta in his free hand and fired into the air at his own fancy

 

Giddy now, Hank rose to his feet, cleared his throat and yelled, “I took my insulin for six long years. I poked my fingertips with those razor sharp blade probably four thousand times! I went without all the foods I love and alway have!  I go for a manicure and a pedicure even other week to make sure I didn’t get an infection! I memorized chart after chart after chart and calories like you wouldn’t believe! I calculated levels more times thanI car to know and I HAVE HAD IT!”

 

“It’s all a hoax, a conspiracy to get to us to shell out our hard-earned money on this rat poison,” Duane continued. 

 

“Who ever actually dies of diabetes mellitus but old people anyway? Maurice the pilot demanded.  

 

“My boss is a Jewish carpenter and that’s that” Alvin offered. 

 

“Enough is enough! Enough is enough!” they chanted, and formed a conga line to dance around the ship. 

 

“E-NOUGH IS — E-NOUGH! 

E-NOUGH IS -- E-NOUGH! 

E-NOUGH IS COTTON-PICKIN 

SURE ENOUGH DOWN HOME 

E-NOUGH! E-ENOUGH!

 

Hank felt sleepy now, sated for once in his new life by food that was good and tasty!  He started to say something and forget what it was. He horse-laughed instead, louder and louder, and then he passed out, Louise hurried over to hold his head in her lap, and big Carole the Tulsa waitress pulled Maurice the pilot, much smaller than she was, to rest his poor head against her bosoms.   

 

Blake slept in his Speedos, spread eagled and twitching everywhere as he dreamed in the sun.  

 

Alvin walked to the prow, sat down to pull a knife and piece of wood from pocket and started to whittle. The pine shavings fluttered into the foamy wake and shot past as if in a desperate race, leaving a trail of shattered pine chips behind. 

 

By now the crew was high on weed and cocaine, and drifting, the liner bobbed and pitched in rolling  seas, beyond the control of mortal men alive or dead. When the great craft yawed to starboard, walls of water pitched onto the deck and washed over the feet and ankles of the sleeping diabetics. White as light energy itself, sea birds dived for the white caps, barrel rolled, and would have seemed to invert if Hank had been awake to watch them.   

 

Stern but impersonal came the Coast Guard bullhorn voice at last, bright blue eyes and deep tans of the blond young men in snowy crisp white uniforms, midnight blue buoys and China red  fiberglass lines at the ready beside eager winches and ebony binoculars inured to the blinding glare of the sun. 

 

When Hank opened his eyes at the sunlamp glare of the ICU that evening, he made out the outline of Dr. Shiran, himself weary and stale-hearted from a long  day’s combat with the Reaper. Dr. Shiran with his liquid hazel eyes and Brooklyn compassion, Dr. Shiran whose hoarse voice squeaked as he asked, 

 

“Hank, what have you done to yourself, man?” 

 

Hank needed all his strength to gather an answer. 

 

“I learned a lesson today, doctor,” he replied in a  croaking voice 

 

“I should hope to tell you, man,” the doctor replied, and then, “I’m being paged. Don’t move!”

 

Hank did as ordered. 

 

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