11 December 2010

Willie Cripps Has Lunch (Part 1)

Noon, Friday, time for lunch. 

Willie opened the cabinet and selected a can of Johnson “SECRET RECIPE” Crab Soup from among the 20 or 30 cans on the shelf- his standard Friday noon meal for the past ten years- and opened it. As he dumped it in his dented little saucepan, he noticed a small plastic packet floating on top. Willie fished it out, cut it open, and pulled out what appeared to be a note. He unfolded the damp scrap. The paper was darkened, making it difficult to read. Willie held it to the light only to find out it was written in Spanish. As near as he could determine it read, “Ayude por favor. Esta preso en una cucina se sopa Johnson." Then on the back, “245 Beal St. Macon Georgia". Lucky break for Willie, his girlfriend, Pearlena, or Pearl for short, grew up in Nogales. She could read it for him. Willie had a date with her when she got off work at six this evening. The translation would have to wait till then. In the meantime, his curiosity was doing handsprings.
After what seemed an endless wait, Willie stood outside the restaurant where Pearl worked as a waitress. As soon as Pearl came out Willie grabbed her arm and they hurried toward their favorite bar. Pearl was confused at the urgency, but had to wait before they were seated in a booth before Willie said anything. He pulled out the message, and as he handed it to her, told her of the strange place he found the message.
Pearl read, “Please help. I am being held prisoner in the Johnson soup kitchen. 245 Beal St. Macon Georgia.”
“For heaven’s sake. What on earth could this mean? Do you think its just someone’s idea of a good joke?"
“I don’t know, but what if it is true?” 

There was a resounding silence; no more was said of the matter the rest of the evening. Willie and Pearl took in a movie and went for a hamburger and malt after. Then Willie walked her home. All was fine until Willie turned in for the night, when the message began to replay over and over in his mind. It simply would not go away. This message had triggered other thoughts, like the words, “SECRET RECIPE.” Could there somehow be a connection? This went on for days. Enough of this! Willie had to know.

Willie had worked as a laborer over 12 years for the Schmidt Construction company, which made him eligible for two weeks vacation. Willie had been fortunate to work close enough to home so he could eat his lunch there. Pearl had timed her vacation to coincide with Willie’s, and they had their spot all picked out: the sunny beach at Gulfport. When Willie dropped the bombshell that he wanted to go to Macon, a running debate lasting three days followed with tempers on both sides pushed to the limit. Finally, Willie laid down the gauntlet, “There’s always next year for the beach, Pearl. I’m going to Macon with or without you.” Pearl walked out. There would be no next year for Pearl. It was over with her and Willie. These two friends who had been dating for three years were splitting over a crazy note found in a can of soup.

Willie rode the Greyhound into Macon and had no trouble locating the Soup Factory. He could think of no other way inside than to apply for a job in the kitchen. The personnel said the only thing available and immediately was a temp for an employee on 2 week vacation. Perfect. Willie took it. 

He was told to report immediately to Pete Ruben, the head chef. The main kitchen was in a large basement area full of steaming cauldrons and three very busy workers dressed all in white with white skull caps. Pete was shouting out orders. Willie could not help but notice the size of Pete and two of the men and their menacing appearance. The third person, whose name was Juan, was just the opposite- a scrawny little guy with a kind face and a ready smile. Juan not only took orders from Pete, but the other two as well. Willie could see immediately he was little more than a slave. Not only that, but a most likely candidate for sending out the note and in a perfect position to do it, since Juan operated the canning machine. Pete screamed at Willie to get on top of carrying ingredients from the storeroom to the cook pots. It was definitely monotonous but not particularly strenuous. Willie was biding his time, waiting for an opportunity to get Juan alone. 

It came on Friday noon, when the men got their paychecks. Willie noticed Juan got nothing, stirring up his suspicions even more. Pete and his two buddies decided to go out for lunch and grab a couple of beers. They saw no danger is leaving Willie and Juan alone, since Juan could speak no English. As they left Willie heard the key turn in the door lock. Strange. 

The second the door closed, Juan grabbed Willie’s arm and took him into a small room off the kitchen. They set on the bed, the only piece of furniture in the room. The sheets and cover were filthy. The words poured forth from Juan, but in Spanish. Willie had him slow down, he could manage the interpretation, but very slowly and awkwardly. Then Willie listened to the most incredible story of his life.

-by Bud Goldkamp (Grandpa)
-edited by Henry Goldkamp


fern said...

WHAT HAPPENED!!!!!!!!!! what was the story? it is unfair to leave one hanging like this! there better be another post!

Anonymous said...

I really need to hear the end of this story. I think this happened to my uncle.