“What the hell happened to this place?” Jeff said, inching forward until a piece of ivy penetrated the Mercedes logo in the center of his grill.
Jeff silenced the stampeding horses beneath his hood and opened his door until the hinges squealed. He got out and did a full 360-degree turn to confirm he was the only car in sight. Once he stopped spinning he was facing a sign that was partially buried beneath several years of unattended foliage.
Jeff closed the door with the gentle care of a new parent and mashed the lock button on his keys four times to make sure his beloved Benz was secure. He walked towards the illegible letters, maintaining his balance as the uneven gravel shifted beneath his Seabagos like the sand surrounding his ocean-front property. He grabbed one of the strands of ivy and pulled it like a sail rope, but instead of righting a ship, he showered himself and his vehicle with the contents of the rain gutter.
The nautical bell by the entrance chimed, telling Max it was time to put away his newspaper.
“Welcome to Max’s, I mean, My Claw Trap,” he said, stowing the periodical beneath the register.
Jeff’s protruding jaw was the first thing through the door, followed by the rest of his rage-twisted face and arms that he held away from his torso to avoid spreading the sludge across his Ralph Lauren button up.
“Max?” said the scarecrow-esque silhouette standing in the sunlit doorway.
“Yes?” Max replied.
“It’s me,” the silhouette said, approaching the counter, “Jeff.”
“So it is,” Max said, hopping off his stool and heading to the order side of the sandwich bar. “What can I get for you?”
“Do you have to ask?” Jeff said, allowing his arms to emphasize his bewilderment.
“I do if you want to eat,” Max answered.
“Give me the usual,” Jeff said.
“Which is?” Max replied.
“A Lobster roll, extra lemon butter hot sauce, on a sundried tomato hoagie; just like the old days,” Jeff said.
“Can’t you get that at The Lobster Snare,” Max said, slicing the roll with a giant bread knife.
“I wish,” Jeff said, resting his forearms on top of the deli case, “but you’re a stubborn son of a bitch.”
Max continued down the assembly line without saying a word. He used his bare hands to dig through the lobster trough and pluck out the tiniest pieces of meat he could find. He zig-zagged the hot sauce so wide, more liquid ended up in the basket than it did on the sandwich.
“Chips?” Max asked.
“Of course,” Jeff responded.
Max grabbed a handful of fried potatoes and squeezed, sprinkling the shards of starch across the pond of hot sauce next to the sandwich.
“Drink?” Max asked.
“Just water,” Jeff answered.
Max took one of the styrofoam cups sitting next to the register and carried it to the hand sink behind the drink machine.
“Can I get a little ice?” Jeff asked as Max returned to the register.
“Machine’s broken,” Max said without breaking his stride. “That’ll be eleven-fifty.”
“Do you take cards yet?” Jeff said, reaching for his wallet.
“Nope,” Max said.
“It’s like you’re trying to scare away new customers,” Jeff said.
“Maybe I am,” Max replied.
“Well, you’re doing a great job at it. Between this, your ivy-covered sign, and that death trap you call a parking lot, I’m surprised you’re still in business.”
“I stay afloat,” Max said, opening the register and grabbing the crisp twenty from Jeff’s hand.
“That’s a great way to describe it,” Jeff said. “Staying afloat.”
“You want to take this to go?” Max asked.
“No, as a matter of fact, I think I’ll sit right here,” Jeff said occupying the table closest to the register.
“Suit yourself,” Max said, unfolding the newspaper and hopping back on his stool.
Jeff grabbed one of the tiny morsels of lobster meat and grinned before popping it into his mouth and letting it dissolve on his tongue.
“Good God, Max,” Jeff said. “Even at its worst, this sandwich is still better than anything we serve at my restaurants.”
“I know,” Max replied from behind his tabloid veil.
“Do you ever think of how much money you could’ve made?” Jeff asked.
“Nope,” Max responded.
“With your recipes, and my business savvy, we could’ve been the Bubba Gump of lobster.” Jeff said, followed by his final bite of sandwich. “You’d be Forrest, of course,” he continued, cheeks as round as buoys, “or maybe Bubba. Bubba was the one who knew how to cook everything.”
Jeff filled his fingers with the last of the soggy chips, tipped his head back and trickled the butter-soaked spuds into his mouth before giving his entire hand a cat bath.
“But you decided to stick with this,” Jeff said, pointing his glistening fingernails at every corner of the establishment.
“A captain doesn’t abandon his ship,” Max said, still hidden by the paper.
“Well, you could be commanding an entire fleet by now,” Jeff said, standing up from the table. “Just like me.”
“No thanks,” Max said.
“Deja vu,” Jeff said, lifting his basket from the table. “You want me to do anything with this?”
“I’ll take care of it,” Max answered.
“Don’t wait too long,” Jeff said, “Customers won’t like it. Speak of the devil!”
The nautical bell chimed and a middle-aged woman wearing jeans and a windbreaker rushed through the door.
“Max,” the woman shouted from the entrance, “I’m gonna hit the head, but I’ll take the usual.”
“You got it, Sandy,” Max said, hopping off his stool.
“Well, Max, it’s been a pleasure,” Jeff said and headed towards the door. “Stay afloat.”
“Hey Jeff,” Max said.
“Yes?” Jeff responded with one hand on the door.
“Your fleet’s looking a little lost,” Max said, holding up a full-page newspaper ad for The Lobster Snare that read, The world’s greatest lobster roll* is charting a course for your freezer.