much of a fighter. Usually, whoever starts the fight will give Bill a fat lip and then get embarrassed when,instead of getting mad, Wild Bill would just stand there, his arms dangling at his sides, looking as if he might cry.
“You ain’t found yourself a girlfriend, have you?”
Bill shakes his head, but he stops chewing his toast to look at Harry, who wonders if he might be lying, if he is capable of lying.
“I promised your uncle I’d tell him if you got into trouble,” Harry warns.
But Wild Bill has gone back to his toast, which he chews with exaggerated concentration, as if he fears making a mistake. There is a thud against the front door of the diner and Harry goes to unlock. The rolled up
is lying in the entryway, and Harry returns with it after checking to make sure he didn’t hit the number the day before. The
knows its readership and prints the three-digit number in the upper left-hand corner of the front page above the headline, which today reads, in somewhat bolder type than usual, TANNERIES BLAMED FOR ABNORMAL AREA CANCER RATE . Harry skims the first short paragraph, in which a university study of Mohawk County concludes that people living in the county are three times more likely to contract cancer, leukemia, and several other serious diseases than elsewhere in the country. Persons who work in the tanneries and leather mills themselves or who reside near the Cayuga Creek, where the Morelock, Hunter and Cayuga tanneries are accused of dumping, are ten to twenty times more likely to contract one of the diseases listed on page B-6. Spokesmen for the tanneries deny that any dumping has occurred in nearly two decades and suggest that the recent findings are in all probability a statistical anomaly.
Harry leaves the paper on the counter for anybody who wants to check Friday’s late racing results. The sausages done, he scoops them off the grill and into a metal tub. He will toss them back on to warm for a minute as the orders come in. What doesn’t get eaten by breakfast customers he’ll use in sandwiches later in the day. He knows within a link or two what is needed. There are few surprises in the diner, for which he is thankful. With the long spatula he moves the puddle of grease toward the trough before lining the glistening surface with rows of bacon strips.
“Hey,” he says. Wild Bill’s busy thumbing toast crumbs off his saucer. “You don’t ever drink out of the crick, do you?”
Wild Bill shakes his head.
Harry shrugs. It was just an idea, but it would’ve explained a lot. Harry wasn’t around Mohawk when Wild Bill was a boy, but some people said he’d been normal once, more or less. The bacon begins to sizzle. Harry belches significantly and wipes his hands on the stomach of his apron. He feels the way he always does on Saturday morning after a hard night’s drinking. He has come directly to the diner without any sleep, and the sweet smell of frying meat has his stomach churning. It’s not his stomach he’s worrying about, though. He has proposed marriage to some woman during the course of the evening. When drinking, Harry is indiscriminate about women, to whom he invariably proposes. The women Harry ends up with on Friday nights usually say yes, and then he has to renege. On the plus side, they know he hasn’t any intention of marrying, so their feelings are never hurt. They say yes because it’s a long shot and their lives are full of long shots. They know Harry doesn’t need a wife and could dobetter if he were serious about taking one. There was a time when they could’ve done better than Harry, but that was several presidents ago. The calendar above the grill is for 1966, a year out of date. Whoever gave Harry the calendar the year before didn’t give him a new one this year. The months are the same and Harry doesn’t mind being a few days off.
“Don’t get hooked up with women,” he mutters.
Harry sees Bill eyeing yesterday’s sticky buns beneath the glass dome. He hands Bill one and dumps the rest. The bakery man will be along in a few minutes. Harry flips the bacon.
On the other side of the wall is the sound of tramping feet on the staircase, which means the all-night poker game on the second floor is breaking up. This in turn means that Harry will have some early business. When the front door opens and several men enter, Wild Bill starts to leave, but Harry puts a hand on his shoulder and he
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