Noontime at the Green Grill is always as busy as if it was a deli in the heart of Times Square. Obviously, since it is about an eight hours drive from that busy metropolis it is not surrounded by a huge world renown city. You can find it on the corner of Main Street and Charles Street in Billston the county seat in the panhandle of West Virginia. Bordered by Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, the panhandle is almost like a diaspora of the rest of the state. However, it is still West Virginia.
Billston is not your average busy county seat, in fact it is a small town in the mountains that at lunch time looks more like an abandoned village. In fact, walking down Main Street one got the sense he or she was in a twilight zone episode, one of the several of people in a virtually abandoned downtown. Maybe even the one from Outer Limits when the whole neighborhood was transported to the planet Mercury. Well, in any case, Billston was not a place where people went to become famous.
That is because Billston eateries teem with county and town residents and the three states’ employees. They gathered with other locals to eat at the most popular place by far—the Green Grill. That is where one found the best ruebens among the three states. Tommy Naismith cooked them well in his own style for the past twenty years and his creations became some of the most famous above and below the Mason Dixon line along with his great hamburgers, omelets, chicken fried steak and more. He could’ve made it big in one of those fancy New York restaurants, everyone knew that and many visitors passing through told him so as they paid their bill and left.
Violet Johnson worked the counter and during lunch she was the busiest woman in Billston. Mary Engels, just out of high school began to work with Violet because the place became so popular.
As the Grill began to fill up, the sound of Violet’s West Virginia welcoming charm comforted all as they began to fill the whole restaurant. It resonated throughout the restaurant even over the din of the many people talking about the politics of the day. A thin woman, dressed in her black waitress apron will frilly white trim. She had short brown hair and her strong voice reminded one more of a prairie woman than a waitress.
“Come on in Cletus, your usual seat is waiting for you.” She smiled and nodded to the stool at the end of the left side of the lunch counter, just before the break that opened to the pick-up window at the kitchen. From there she served the street side of the restaurant including the smaller lunch counter on the other side of the break. Carrying a huge tray with two meals on it, she was walking over to one of the booths on the far side of the front door.
“Violet, I’d starve without you, I swear.” Cletus took his usual seat. He was a large man with black hair. Sweaty and his white shirt was all untucked. He was not wearing his tie.
“Now, Cletus, I know your wife feeds you real good.” She maneuvered her way through the entering crowd to the booth against the corner across from the lunch counter.
Mary Johnson just barely eighteen, with blonde hair in a pony tail led entering customers to a booth or counter seat and handed them all menus.
Violet continued to the table closest to the door to deliver the two meals, one a rueben and the other a cheeseburger, both with fries and soda. She laid the plates and glasses on the table next to the door in front of two elderly ladies in the first booth to the right of the front door.
“My wife does not feed me as good as you and Tommy in the kitchen, besides I have to be filled up to finish counting all those votes.” Cletus was turned toward her smiling as she took the order.
“What votes?” said Jimmy Mickens. “Mayor Jackson has already been re-elected again.”
“Yah, he has been mayor so long that Mary over there has never been alive for an election when he wasn’t on the ballot.” Said Louella Weller, from the far end of the restaurant, under the muted TV showing the local news program. She was the librarian.
“He’s talking about the death machine vote.” Tommy yelled from the kitchen, as he grilled chicken and hamburgers and looked over the new orders. Tommy spoke little and associated with few, so when he spoke, it was usually for something real important. Nevertheless his large body caused him to bellow his words over the sounds and the heat of the grill. Sweat poured down his face from under his white hat.
“Tommy, it ain’t a death machine.” Cletus spoke loud so Tommy would hear him. They were classmates from high school and good friends at least for a month after graduation.
“Of course it is, Cletus, it is about killing people because the government says so.”
“Tommy that ain’t true. It is about naming casualties in a war so our beautiful state does not get annihilated.” Cletus said as he thanked Violet for bringing him a cola. He did not order because he had a rueben every day and Violet put that order in as soon as he sat down.
“Who then report to the hospital and drink some fruit drink to go into permanent sleep. Then they put them into some kind of freezin’ machine and store them until this war game supposedly ends which is who knows when. You know that freezing process is nothing but making believe they ain’t actually being killed. It is a ruse.” Tommy turned to put more chicken on the grill.
“Tommy,” Cletus picked up his sandwich and took a bite. “That ain’t going to happen, because this is designed to prevent people from dying in war. The computer says who would have died if they used real missiles and bombs. The doctors then freeze them after the drink goes into effect and they will wake them up when this war ends. Besides, no one is going to put that system to action unless another country declares war on us and we don’t see that happening. We ain’t in the cold war no more.” He sipped his cola right after Violet dropped it in front of him before she turned back to the filled pick up window. “Didn’t you watch Brock Thompson explain it during the commercials on TV. He thinks it is a great idea.”
“Brock Thompson don’t live in West Virginia no more, he lives in Hollywood. Besides he plays a doctor on Happy Hospital, he don’t know nothin’ about bein’ one.” Jimmy Mickens interrupted his order to Mary to make his opinion known.
Mary took his order and rushed back with her tray to retrieve the food for her customers.
“Well, I think the whole thing is strange, but I don’t want to see our beautiful countryside look like Afghanistan filled with dead people.” Violet picked up another meal putting it on her tray.
“It was for just that reason, Violet, that Representative Frank Druggon proposed that bill.” Cletus waited patiently for his rueben.
“Yeah, another politician that if I could vote, I would not vote for, but you guys took away my vote. Now you want to put in a death machine.” Tommy slid a hamburger into the bun putting on a plate with fries and left it on the pick-up window for Mary. He rang the bell. “And I have no say about it.”
“Oh Tommy, I had nothin’ to do with takin’ away your vote. I just count them, that is all I do.”
“And if y'all voted to jump off a bridge, your vote tally would tell us what time this afternoon to do it.”
“Tommy, that is democracy. The people vote and the government acts.” Cletus drank again from his cola. “That is how it works.”
“Yah, well, it is dangerous to have a democracy if the people are too stupid, selfish and easily manipulated to run it. It can only work when people work for everyone’s good, not for their own interests.”
“Tommy, I need some orders quick.” Violet yelled from the lunch counter. That was her way of telling Tommy to shut up and cook.
“Comin’ up in a minute, Violet.” He put another hamburger on the grill. He got her implied message.
“Well if that bill will prevent my son from going to war, I am all for it.” Millie Winkins was getting ready to pay Violet. “Mary don’t need no fiancé at Billston cemetery.” She pulled out seven dollars and thirty cents from her wallet in her pocketbook then left another dollar forty for the tip. “Do you dear?”
Mary, too busy serving to answer, nodded slightly and raised her pencil in the air to show she understood and agreed.
“Aw, I don’t get it, I can’t vote no more and so the power to vote is in the hands of those who don’t know how to vote.” Tommy threw some corned beef on the grill for another Rueben, then took the grilled chicken patty and placed it on the bun. He already arranged the lettuce and tomato on the side. He could feel his anger rising and hoped it was not so obvious to others through the way he was throwing food on the grill.
“Tommy, you know why you can’t vote no more. It is not because of us.” Cletus nodded to Violet that he believed the rueben and fries in the pick-up window was his.
“Cletus, I did my time, got out twenty-two years ago.”
“Tommy, I need another order. . .” Violet spoke out again. This time real loud.
“I know dear, I am trying to focus on my work here.”
“Tommy is not too far wrong.” Louella spoke up from under the TV. “Virginia’s vote to annex West Virginia just passed.” She pointed to the Kyron at the bottom of the screen. The vote was seventy percent for annexation.
“It can’t happen without our permission and I will be damned if I become a Virginian without the West,” the voice from the crowd came from the corner. It may have been the local rental car man from that company whose office was in a pawn shop.
“Virginians really want one state of Virginia.”
“Well, they ain’t gonna get us.” Cletus thanked Violet as she placed his lunch front of him.
“Of course not, we will all be too busy at the death machine.” Tommy yelled.
“Tommy, it ain’t . . .” Cletus began
“Yes it is and don’t tell me what it ain’t, Cletus.” His face was redder than the Oakston’s big barn as he shook his spatula toward Cletus. His voice bellowed loud enough to wake the judge from his noon nap in the courthouse.
“Will you boys just cook or eat and stop trying to recreate the Hatfields and the McCoys.” Violet turned from taking an order to ‘quiet the boys.’
“Everyone, pipe down!” Louella yelled out pointing to the TV. “The governor is on the air.” Mary grabbed the remote and unmuted the channel.
The camera zoomed in at some kind of gathering Governor Rayoluna addressed. He wore his favorite bolo tie and his blue suit. A whole crowd of people were in front of him with dark green curtains behind him. “We have just confirmed that enough votes are counted so that there is no way, with the uncounted votes to assume this question will not pass.” He was smiling ear to ear. “Therefore, we are now affirming that we are the first state to enter this technology of peace.” He raised his hands in celebration as if he was calling all to join in on his celebration.
Lowering his hands to grab the dais, he continued. “As of January first, we will prepare our cryogenics stations in West Virginia. Certainly, we will never have to use them, but if there is a war, we will ensure through cryogenics that all will survive and be revived once the war ends.” He read from the teleprompter over the television camera.
The TV filled with applause and about half of those in the Grill started an applause as well. Violet began, others continued, including Cletus and Mary. Louella, Jimmy Mickens and Tommy were among those who refused.
The governor continued and the applause in both venues faded down. “Further, we all stand firmly against the idea that Virginia will annex our fine state. It will not happen!” He paused. “Well . . . not without a war.” He waited for a laugh. There was instead a gasp.
Tommy looked right at Cletus with those angry eyes as he put another chicken patty on the grill. Cletus sheepishly finished his sandwich.
The whole restaurant suddenly went totally silent like never before, never before.