Johnny and Bill rode in Bill’s red Toyota Camry down an empty two-lane highway. They were about two hours outside of Wichita, Kansas. Johnny’s hands, callused from years of guitar playing, tightly gripped the steering wheel. Bill watched as the sea of fences and wheat fields passed by.
“I’m hungry,” said Bill.
“I think I saw a sign for a Burger King a few miles ahead,” replied Johnny, not averting his eyes from the road.
“God, not Burger King again.”
“What’s wrong with Burger King?” asked Johnny.
“We’ve had Burger King over four times in the last 32 hours. If we eat any more I think my shit is gonna start coming out with the Burger King logo.”
“Well, where do you want to eat?” said Johnny as he rolled his eyes.
Bill thought for a moment, then exclaimed, “Ihop!”
“What’s your problem with Ihop?”
“I can make pancakes better than that overpriced shit,” said Johnny.
Bill crossed his arms. “Well, I’m not eating at Burger King again.”
“Well, how about this, we’ll stop at the net gas station, and you can get some goddamn Boston baked beans. How’s that sound?”
“Better than Burger King,” Bill replied quietly.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be an asshole. It’s just..” Johnny fingers squeezed even tighter against the leather steering wheel.
The two quietly stared ahead for a few moments.
“Look man, if you want to turn back, it’s fine. We can get you some actual help. A therapist. Some medication,” said Bill.
“That shit isn’t gonna cure me, Bill,” replied Johnny through gritted teeth. “And we’re not turning back. My dad…my father, is gonna to pay for what he did.”
“You ever going to actually tell me what he did?” asked Bill
“There’s a sign for Ihop. Ten miles,” said Johnny.
Johnny and Bill sat in a booth near the back of the restaurant. They both ordered a coffee and a water. Bill looked around the restaurant. Only an elderly couple and a lone twenty-something occupied the other seats.
“So, how far are we?” asked Bill.
“About an hour and half from Ellsworth. My mom said that’s where Manny Marlow lives,” replied Johnny.
“And who is this guy?”
“An old contact of my father’s. The only one my mom actually knew.”
“And you actually think he’s going to know where your old man is?”
“He’s the only lead I got.”
Bill took a sip of coffee. “Why didn’t you just email him, or something?”
Johnny took a sip. “Because, if he knows where my father is, he probably knows that my father doesn’t want to see me. In which case, I may have to take specific measures to get the information from him.”
Bill raised his brow to Johnny. “Specific measures?”
The waitress dropped three plates in front of Johnny. One with pancakes and eggs, the other with toast, and the last with two slices of bacon. Bill started eating his French toast before the waitress even finished handing him all his plates.
“You boys need any more coffee?” she asked in a soft tone.
“We’re good for now,” replied Johnny with a half grin. The waitress grinned back, then walked away. He took a large bite of the pancakes. “How’d you manage to get your girlfriend to let you come on this little adventure anyway?”
“Told her we were going to a Motley Crue Reunion Show in Las Vegas. Just a boys’ road trip for old time sake,” Bill replied with a sly smile.
“You gotta quit lying to that girl so much, or she won’t be around much longer.”
“Oh, so I shoulda told her were going to shake down an old man, so we can get some information about your dad’s whereabouts?”
“No, I’m just sayin’.” Johnny lets out a loud belch.
“Jesus, man, have some manners.”
“Sorry, I-” He belched again. This time, he felt a wad of food collect in the back of his throat. “Uh, give me a second.” Johnny jumped out of his seat, and ran to the bathroom while he covered his mouth.
Johnny slammed open the bathroom door, and dove into the nearest stall, barely closing it behind him. A beige mixture of pancakes, eggs, and bacon exploded from Johnny’s mouth, some getting on the floor, some hitting the toilet rim, but most going in the bowl.
With every painful expulsion from Johnny’s mouth, the mixture became darker and darker, until it was as black and thick as dirty motor oil.
“It’s getting worse,” he whispered to himself.
After three more expulsions, Johnny collapsed back onto the bathroom floor, his throat swollen and his mouth on fire.
Johnny crawled over to the sink, and forced a handful of water into his mouth. He pulled himself up to the mirror and examined his face. There were pieces of food and the dark-colored liquid surrounding his face, and every vein from the base of his neck to the top of his forehead shown a bright purple-reddish color.
“I’ll kill you for what you’ve done to me!” Johnny exclaimed to his reflection.
Johnny stormed out of the bathroom and over to Bill. “Come on,” he said as he grabbed Bill’s arm.
“But, my French toast,” replied Bill as he was being pulled out of his seat.
They exited the restaurant, and ran over to the car. Johnny slammed his head against the steering wheel.
“What the hell is going on with you?” asked Bill.
“…I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”