Jacques Mercier walked off the stage after the third encore, a staggeringly beautiful classical guitar performance at the Avoca Performing Arts Center.
In the back, the stage crew drank beer and hung out with the sheriff, Arlo Wilson.
“Where’s the party tonight, Mr. Mercier.” Arlo pronounced Jacques last name ‘Mer-sear.’
“Any way we can escape this place?” asked Jacques. The non-stop socializing bore him down. He was good at it, but it had gone well past fun more than a year ago, and his nerves frayed.
“Might be tough,” said Arlo. “You’ve got more groupies than Jon Bon Jovi. Where do you want to go?”
“Somewhere with zero pretension.” Jacques carefully shut his guitar in its case.
The sheriff stared at him. “All right. I know a place.”
Arlo gave Jacques his hat and overcoat, and they snuck out the back. Four years of fine dining and cocktail parties wore Jacques thin, but it was the expected lifestyle of a classical musician—even one from Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Arlo drove him to Lou’s Diner, and when they stepped out of the vehicle, the greasy aroma of cooked hamburger seeped into his nose. Glorious. The restaurant was built more like a Dairy Queen than a diner, but Jacques didn’t care.
A waitress named Tina waited on them, and she had no clue who he was. They each ordered cheeseburgers and fries with Coke.
“Where’s your next town?” asked Arlo.
“Let’s not talk about that,” said Jacques. “What’s it like around here?”
“Good mix of folks,” said Arlo. “Hard workers, agriculture mostly, but a fair amount of the arts, too. Generally without much pretentiousness, but they can get carried away. We get our prima donnas at the playhouse—most of them in coveralls.”
“Sounds nice,” said Jacques. He sipped the Coke Tina put in front of him. “In my circles, offense has become a standard in the arts. They think they’re clever and ground breaking and brave, but there is none of that in any of it. They’re just mean.”
Tina laid plates with the burgers and fries in front of each of them. Jacques nearly drooled as he took the first bite. It was magnificent. The fries were lightly spiced and crisp.
“In another life, I might have lived in a place like this,” Jacques said. “Maybe had a music store and taught.”
“Nothing stopping you now,” said the Sheriff. “You can do whatever you want.”
“It took a long time and immense effort to get what I have now.” Jacques put extra salt on his fries and ran two through ketchup, then popped them in his mouth. “At this stage in my career, the money is really starting to come in, and I need it because I owe so much—in both money and sweat.”
“You’re still pretty young.” Arlo finished his cheeseburger and shoved the plate aside.
“I suppose if I dissolved my business, I’d have enough assets to pay everyone off.”
“That’s the spirit.”
They ordered milkshakes and coffee.
Jacques asked more about the area, and Sheriff Wilson told him stories of humor and vice, but a certain goodness coursed through all of them, giving Jacques a feeling of inner peace just knowing they were all alive.
They finished their milkshakes, and the sheriff seemed to get lost in his own mind for a bit.
“Thank you, Sheriff. This has been an adventure. But I suppose I should get back.”
“Sure, Jacques.” He wiped his hands on a napkin and stood up. “Be sure and let me know next time you come through this way.”