Cheese Steak

This is a story I wrote a long time ago that I re-edited. Hope you enjoy it.

Cheese Steak

By Robert Price

“I want a lot of fried onions and hot peppers on it. Don’t skimp. It’s been a while,” said the man in the black wool trench coat. The counter girl tacked the order in front of the cook as he laid out the thinly sliced steaks on the grill.

Throughout the corner spot, the sizzle of onions, cheese and Steakums mingled with the din of the Friday crowd. It was payday in the City of Brotherly Love. Best day of the week.

Although he stood out like a drop of cream in very strong coffee, the man, pallid in complexion with a chiseled jaw and short blond hair, felt comfortable around the clientele. Awkward glances and straight out stares did nothing to disquiet his presence. He’d smile, nod his head in their direction and continue to wait for his sandwich.

“Cheese Steak, extra onions and peppers,” yelled the girl from across the counter.

The man put his finger up and soft shoe his way through the crowd.

“Thank you, Shay. You’ve made my day,” as he grabbed his food and gave a wink.

“Do you know me?” she asked, puzzled.

“Not really, but you strike me as a woman who knows what she wants and would not let an opportunity pass her by. So the answer is yes to that decision you have weighing on your mind. Mama need things too, am I right?” he said and sauntered away.

From the time he appeared in the doorway of Joe’s and until she took his order, Shay never mentioned her name nor had a conversation with the stranger. She looked down and touched her flat stomach. How did he know?

            Cold wind snaked through the door striking those who dared to hide as a man in white stepped in. Tall, athletic looking and draped in an alabaster coat that stressed his onyx skin.

The patrons glanced his way on instinct, but took notice when he headed towards the back where the stranger in the black coat sat devouring his sub.

“You know there’s something sexual about eating a cheese steak. I mean I get a chubby as soon as I smell the onions,” said pallid man as he nibbled at the corners of the bread.

“Must you be so crass all the time, Lu,” said his acquaintance.

“Here me out. I’ve been coming here since its inception. I’ve seen Joe Sr. stand behind that grill and put every ounce of his being in these subs. Now Joe Jr. is creating art with that spatula and I gotta tell you those hacks in South Philly may be famous, but they ain’t got shit on this place.

Lu’s eyes rolled in the back of his head after taking a hearty bite. He swayed to the rhythm of each chew, licked his lips and softly moaned in ecstasy. His guest stared at him.

“I’m sorry Darius. Did that make you feel uncomfortable?” as he smirked.

Darius smiled, drummed on the table and asked, “What do you need?”

“Is that how you treat family?” said Lu.

“Don’t use the ‘F’ word around me. You gave that up a long time ago”

“Now just because I decided to make a decision instead of being a lemming doesn’t mean that I don’t care,” as Lu placed his hand over his heart and his head tilted to the side.

“I’ll ask again. What do you need?”

“Well, actually, I was looking for the Old Man to grace me with his presence. All that ‘mano y mano’shit, but you came. Why?”

Darius rapped his fingers on the table, one by one. Slow and monotonous. His body relaxed into the recess of the chair as he let out a soft sigh.

“I’m his liaison. Any and all request from you now flow through me,” said the angel.

What little color he had in his face disappeared like an April frost. Lu took a bite out of his sandwich and with his head bent, glowered at the table. After a few seconds, a smile inched its way at the corners of his mouth.

“No problem. The Old Man’s not coming. ‘Nothing but a thing’ as the kids say. He wants to send his assistant, fine by fuckin’ me.”

“Ok, let’s establish some ground rules. I don’t want to hear any cursing from you. If you can’t have a civil conversation without using some type of epithet, I can go now and we can chalk this up as another failure,” said Darius.

“Fine, I can be civil,” Lu said through clenched teeth, “Anyway, I have a Job proposition. See the young lady behind the counter. She is carrying the seed of an outstanding wide receiver named Clinton Morris.

He’s with the Falcons, runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds and have hands like a first baseman’s glove. And the best part, he’s a Christian that’s made a mistake. Married with kids and a bastard on the way. Boo hoo,” as he mocked wiping tears from his eyes.

“To be honest with you… that’s funny …I like the guy. Falcons aren’t my favorite team, but he’s a beast on the field. I love seeing him play. I just wish he didn’t love the Old Man so much. Well, we all have our flaws. I’ll see after I’m done with him.”

“No,” said Darius.

“I’m sorry, what?” asked Lu.

“No. He’s not participating anymore,”

“What do you mean?”

“This is not remedial comprehension. The Old Man has more pressing issues than to play games with you.”

“So is that the real reason you’re here. I’m no longer worthy of his audience?”

“Pretty much, Lu. He has indulged you for far too long. We’re at war. You’re never going to change. He knows it now. It took him awhile, but he got it. Competition is over,” as the angel shoved his hands in his coat pocket.

Outside, the wind and snow blasted through the neighborhood and swirled into a tempest that covered everything in sight. The patrons stood silent as the gray sky darkened into a black pool that swallowed the stars.

Lucifer raised his fist and struck the table with a force that fluctuated through the establishment. Everyone froze where they stood. Not a blink or a twitch. Time ceased in that moment.

Through closed eyes and labored breath, the once mighty angel spoke in a soft whisper, “I am not some child you put in a corner. I’ve laid waste to cities, toppled governments…”

“And we’ve let you do those things because of balance,” roared Darius as the lights inside flickered and sparked, “All living creatures need it. The Universe thrives on it. But that balance has tipped more in your favor. That’s not part of the agreement.

War is declared until you learn your place in this grand scheme.”

Lucifer eased back in his chair with the grin of a kid who just saw his teacher naked. Clasping his hands together, he placed them behind his head and leaned backward as the chair balanced on its hind legs.

“You never forgave me, did you Darius? You’re still pissed. Seriously, It’s been centuries my dear brother. You need to get over it.”

“I forgave you, Brother. That is my nature. I follow my orders to the letter. I don’t stray from his commands like others.”

The dark skinned angel rubbed his right temple in hopes of alleviating the burning question in his mind.

“Stop stalling and ask me. I see it all on your face.”

“You had freakin’ Paradise. Why did you try to take out the Old Man.? He would’ve given you anything,” said Darius.

“Not the keys to the kingdom,” said Lucifer, “I had… aspirations.”

“Aspirations? You’re the ruler of Hell. Is that what aspirations get you?”

“Better to be a ruler of Hell than an errand boy,” as he winked at his brother, “Now I’m just like him. I have people sing praises to me.”

Darius stood up from the chair, shook his head and chuckled. As he leaned across the table towards Lu, his hands grabbed the sides of the linoleum covered tabletop while his cream-colored coat dangled against the back of his knees.

He spoke, “All this time I thought it was more about pressure. I mean, you was his favorite. The Morning Star. Nobody could say anything bad about you. He held you in such high esteem I thought maybe it was too much for you. But I see, now. You loved every minute of it. You’re the epitome of vanity.”

The angel walked away from the table and headed toward the door. When he opened it, the waist-deep snow parted on both sides and formed a path.

“You’re the king of nothing, Lu. A desolate wasteland of sorrow, violence and depravity. But what does an attention whore like you care as long as they’re screaming your name, right?” as Darius sauntered out the restaurant.

He stopped midway and snapped his fingers in the cold air.

The blackness in the sky dissipated as wind and snow calmed. Patrons bustled throughout the place as if nothing happened. Spicy aromas of peppers and onions enveloped the air like a smoky fog.

Lucifer couldn’t help but wonder about his former brother’s statement.

Was he right?

Shay slid into the chair opposite him and smiled. He arched his right eyebrow and asked, “How can I help you?”

She looked him straight in the eye, “You some wannabe psychic or sumthin’?”

“Pardon,” he replied.

“You touched my stomach as if you knew”

“Knew what darlin’?” Lucifer asked with the look of a man who already had the answer.

“Did you mean what you said at the counter? I should…” as she looked to her right and left confirming that no one was in earshot, “Keep the baby and tell the daddy he owes me?”

And as a smile crept its way at the corners of his mouth, he understood the significance. War is the start of his reign over the Old Man. Shay will be his springboard to reshape the Universe.

“You put in another cheese steak order for me and I’ll give you the tools to get anything you want, cutie. Like I said, you need things too, right?”

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