Melvin looked down at the soggy and emaciated Tangy Southwest Chicken that lay on Jerry’s plate like a corpse on an autopsy table and said, “You’re gonna get fucking salmonella if you eat that.”
Jerry looked up and furrowed his brow. “What the fuck is ‘salmonella?’” he said.
“It’s when you get sick from eating undercooked chicken,” said Melvin.
“Like food poisoning?”
“Yeah, like that.”
“Why didn’t you say food poisoning, then? What the fuck is ‘salmonella?’”
Melvin shook his head. “It’s not food poisoning, Jer. When you get it from chicken it’s called ‘salmonella.’”
Jerry snorted. “That doesn’t sound real.”
“It is real. It’s a bacteria that’s too small to see, and it makes you throw up and have diarrhea.”
“My chicken’s not undercooked,” said Jerry, shaking his head. He picked up his knife and fork and cut into it. “Don’t worry about me, Mel, you’re the one ordering food that ain’t cooked.”
Melvin looked down at the medium-rare t-bone steak on his own plate. It shared the plate with some shrivelled and pathetic looking broccoli and a pile of greasy steak fries. The steak looked pretty good, though, considering they were at the Denny’s by the highway and it was midnight. Where else could you get a steak at midnight?
“Steak’s okay,” said Melvin. “You can’t get salmonella from beef, it’s only in chicken.”
Jerry shoved a mouthful of Tangy Southwest Chicken and rice pilaf into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a few seconds. “But it’s not cooked all the way,” he said. His mouth was still full, and a few grains of rice escaped. “There’s blood coming out of it.”
“Well, yeah,” said Melvin. He cut into the beef with his steaknife and watched the watery blood ooze out. “But you don’t get sick from beef. Hell, you can eat beef raw.”
“What?” said Jerry, disbelieving.
“Yeah, man, you can eat it raw. Steak tartar. Ain’t no way you can get sick from eating undercooked steak. Take a look at your chicken, though. It’s pink as hell in the middle.”
Jerry stabbed his chicken breast and held it up to get a better look. He narrowed his eyes inquisitively as the juice from it drizzled off in a thin rivulet back onto the puddle on his plate. “Nah, it’s fine,” he concluded. “That’s how chicken’s supposed to look.”
“You think that’s how chicken’s supposed to look?” said Melvin.
“Don’t worry about me, worry about your raw beef over there, Mel. I’ve been eating chicken all my life, I know when chicken looks good to eat.”
Melvin lowered his voice and leaned across the two-top. “Fine, but when you’re doubled over with stomach cramps at Uncle Bob’s and the security guard’s coming, don’t expect me to carry your ass back to the car.”
“Eat your own damn food, Mel! God damn, man, can’t a guy eat his Tangy Fucking Southwest Chicken in peace?”
A couple two empty booths away was giving them the stinkeye now. They looked like college students who didn’t need to be eating at the Denny’s by the highway at midnight. Fuck ‘em, thought Mel. He cut off a hunk of steak and admired its tender pink center before putting it in his mouth. Considering they were at Denny’s, it tasted pretty damn good.
Two hours later Melvin and Jerry were climbing over the fence of Uncle Bob’s Self Storage. It was eight feet high, but that wasn’t a big deal. They’d brought a little step ladder with them that folded up thin enough to fit through the wrought iron bars, so they could pull it through and use it on the way out.
“Smart fucking thinking bringing that step ladder, Mel,” said Jerry when they were inside.
“Quiet,” hissed Melvin. “We’re looking for 567.”
They found the row labelled “500-600” and walked down it about halfway before they found it. Jerry got out the bolt cutters and looked up and down the aisle to make sure security was nowhere in sight. Then he squeezed the teeth against the steel of the padlock until it snapped and fell to the ground with a clank.
Melvin threw up the door to the storage unit, which made a terrific rattle. It contained a mattress, a bed frame, a desk, some old paintings, a dining table, four chairs, twelve bankers boxes, and a dresser. They were all in storage because their owner had bought new furniture, but the old stuff was too nice to give away so he paid Uncle Bob $85 a month to hold onto it. It was a pretty big unit, but Melvin knew exactly what they were looking for. He opened the top drawer of the dresser. It was full of socks. He dug through them and located a fat white envelope in the bottom stuffed with hundred dollar bills.
“There it is,” said Melvin, holding up the envelope like a trophy. “Doesn’t get easier than that.”
“Do people really leave ten grand lying around in their sock drawer?” asked Jerry, who was grinning with disbelief.
“Rich guys do,” said Melvin. “Guys so rich that ten grand is nothing. He forgot it was even here, but the housekeeper remembered, and she told her boyfriend, and her boyfriend told Teddy, and Teddy told us. Now it’s our ten grand, and the rich guy’s gonna feel real fucking stupid when he finds out. You gotta notice the little things, Jer, because it’s always the little things that bite you in the ass.”
A light flashed from one end of the aisle. “Who’s there?” a voice called.
“Shit,” said Jerry. “Security.”
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Melvin. As the words left his lips he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen and doubled over. “Oh God,” he said, falling to his knees. His stomach roiled, surged, and flipped over. A fountain of vomit poured out of his mouth, full of chunks of beef and steak fries.
“Oh shit, man!” said Jerry. “I told you not to eat that raw beef! It’s fucking salmonella, man.”
“It’s not salmonella,” said Melvin, but he was cut off by another heave. His stomach was mostly empty now, and the bile burned his throat.
Jerry reached down. Melvin held out his arms for assistance, but Jerry wasn’t trying to help. He snatched the cash envelope from Melvin’s hand and stood up, flashing a sad half smile before taking off for the fence.
“Sonofabitch!” shouted Mel. He crawled forward out of the unit and tried to stand up, but the pain in his stomach made his eyes water, and his colon startled rumbling as if it might explode any minute. He collapsed on the ground in the fetal position, legs tucked to his chest, and watched Jerry climb the fence and pull the little step ladder through after him.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” said the security guard, who by this time had reached Melvin’s prone form and shined a 543-lumen tactical MagLite in his face. Melvin was trying so hard not to crap his pants that he couldn’t even answer.