Kirk Novak: James Ellroy Eats a Sandwich

Jimmy opened the plate glass door to the deli. He let it swing free and slam close behind him. It went bang. The doorbells jingled in time with his footsteps. The sandwich artist saw him. He stopped mopping. He leaned in hard on the countertop. His biceps twitched. He popped his knuckles one by one. He put his full weight on his elbows. He grinned wide. He was missing teeth.

Jimmy looked in the glass case. Deli meat was sweating under fluorescent lighting. It glistened. It shimmered. It cried. Jimmy licked his lips. Jimmy bit the inside of his cheek.

“What’s good?”

“It all tastes like lips and assholes.”

“I’ll take a tongue sandwich.”

“Excellent choice.”

The sandwich artist slapped two pieces of rye down on the cutting board. Crumbs scattered. Fennel seeds rolled. He grabbed the hunk of tongue from the case. His biceps flexed. He put it to the slicer. He sliced it thin. He piled it high. He raised an eyebrow at Jimmy.

“Mustard, no mayo.”

“A man after my own heart.”

“Maybe that’s what I’ll order next time.”

Jimmy guffawed. Spittle flew from the corners of his mouth. The sandwich artist groaned. He threw his hands up in mock surrender. The customer is always right.

The sandwich artist cut the order in two. He stabbed each half with a toothpick. He rolled it up in wax paper. He slid it toward Jimmy.

“Anything else?”

“Sarsaparilla.”

“$9.99 with a drink.”

Jimmy palmed the sandwich artist a sawbuck. They shared a look. The sandwich artist kept the change.

Jimmy took a seat in a booth by the window. Sunlight cracked through the blinds. Dust mites drifted. He tore the wax paper. His stomach gurgled. He gripped the sandwich. The veins on his hands popped. He took a bite. He chewed. He tore gristle. He ripped muscle. He snorted from the grindhouse in his mouth. He swallowed. He pulled on the sarsaparilla. He shouted at the sandwich artist.

“This is a good fucking sandwich.”

“It all tastes like lips and assholes.”

“I’m going to come back every single day.”

“I know you will.”

Jimmy finished the sandwich. He crumbled the wax paper into a ball. He took a shot at the wastebasket. He lifted up his head. He soaked up the exultations of the cheering crowd. He missed. He opened the door. He hit the pavement outside. He looked back. The sandwich artist started mopping.

Jimmy felt full. He was satisfied. He popped a button on his jeans. He walked tall.

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