Unpaid Bill

vapros

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Tincup's premature congratulation

Tincup's premature congratulation

Tincup grabbed the golden ticket from Marvin's hand and consulted the front page of the Morning Advocate. “Five out of six,” he announced, “that's fifteen hundred dollars right there, and you're luckier than a shit house mouse.” He gave it back.

“I knew good things were gonna happen to me at Tincup Billiards, and sure enough they did. Where do I go to get my money? I'll smile all the way back to Houston.”

“Nobody will cash that for you today. Too big. It has to be verified or certified or something like that. You'll have to wait 'til Monday.”

Marvin frowned and looked at Lee, and then at Tincup. “Man, I can't stay here until Monday. If I don't show up for work Monday morning I will lose my job. How about if you buy the ticket from me, and you can cash it Monday? You ain't got nothing better to do.”

Tincup was trying to keep a straight face. “Sure, I'll do that for you. I'll give you eleven hundred for the ticket and you can be on the job bright and early Monday morning.”

“No,” squawked Lee. “Don't give up your cheese, man. Don't let this ugly old man rob you of your ticket!”

Now Tincup looked at me. “Mr. Bill, you wanta buy this ticket off Marvin? He's gotta go to work Monday.” He knew I couldn't raise eleven hundred dollars if I cried my eyes out.

So Marvin and Lee went down to the end of the counter and pow-wowed. They were arguing about the ticket. Lee threw up his hands and turned away, and Marvin came back to Tincup, who had the money fanned out in his hand. “Well, gimme the eleven hundred, you chinchy old bastard. I got to get on the road. I wish I hadn't bought you them toaster waffles.”

The deal was made and I walked the pair to the door and let them out. Tincup put the ticket in his shirt pocket and did a clumsy little dance step by table six. “They's always another way,” he said through a big grin. “If that pair comes back, they better have a gun. I'll skin 'em again!” He was forty bucks ahead for the night, plus at least six toaster waffles with butter and maple syrup.

About this time, the. cleanup man came to the front door and let himself in. His name was Tony, and he was no spring chicken. He had been the cleanup man in more than a few rooms around the country, where he might have been known by other names.

“I seen a car pullin' out. Did you play pool all night? Who was them two, anyway?”

“Couple of children from Houston,” said Tincup. “I had to give up the seven ball just to get a game.”

“Did you go off again, Cup? Yer getting' famous, you are, and they are comin' from all over to play you. Them guys was headed east, and their tag said Alabama. How much did you lose?”

So Tincup recounted the night for Tony, and added, “I went off on the table, but I got well on the lottery.” He explained how he had made the visitors pay for his action, and waved the fifteen-hundred dollar ticket at him.

Tony look at Tincup, and then he looked at me, and then he heaved a great sigh and walked over to table eight, where the game had been. He reached into the rack and picked up the black eight ball. He held it up at arm's length and peered at it for several seconds. Then he wiggled his eyebrows and made some hocus-pocus signs with his free hand and put the ball back on the table.

“Cup, that eight ball just told me that in your shirt pocket you got a ticket for the lottery drawing this Wednesday, with some numbers that would have been good today.” He looked at Tincup for a response.

Tincup kept us waiting for maybe five seconds, and then he took the ticket from his pocket and examined it. He put it back in his pocket, without giving us any hint as to what he had seen. He took a paper napkin from the dispenser on the counter and blew his nose on it, and dropped it gently into the garbage can. He walked to table eight and picked up the offending eight ball and weighed it in his hand. Then he replaced it and took the orange five and tossed it once or twice. This is all in slow motion. Then Tincup jumped into the air and reversed his feet and whirled around like a pitcher going to first base, and fired the five ball across the counter. It went through the drywall like an artillery shell, taking the autographed picture of Buddy Hall with it. In the kitchen it struck with great velocity and set off a loud crash that seemed to go on for a long time. That would be the cups and saucers on the shelf over the sink.

He looked at us, as if for some approval. Then he selected a striped ball – it looked like maybe the fifteen – and hurled it at the bathroom door. It shattered the frosted glass panel on the door and made a similar crashing sound inside the room that also seemed to continue for a time. That would be the mirror over the lavatory.

All the activity made Tincup appear somewhat disheveled so he unbuckled his belt and lowered the zipper and tucked his shirttail in neatly and closed the fly and buckled up. As if Tony and I were not there, he checked his watch and strolled toward the door. He went about ten feet and then turned and came back and took the ticket from his pocket and gave it to Tony, and continued out the front door, locking it carefully behind him. He still had not said a word. We could see his car crossing the lot slowly as he headed for home.

I felt like I had been holding my breath for a long time, and I let it out. “Shit, man,” I said to Tony, who was already gathering up the ashtrays, “I'm glad that's over!”

“Well, it ain't quite over yet, Mr. Bill. It will be over when Tincup comes in on Thursday morning and I tell him I win five hundred on that ticket in the Wednesday drawing. That's when it will be over.”
 
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vapros

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Harry strikes out

Harry strikes out

Harry Ashcraft was our anchor man, back in 1956; that is, our fifth place bowler. Harry was an engineer. He had a solid game, a sharp haircut, a good job and a new blue Chevrolet with maybe six hundred miles on the clock. He liked for things to go as they were supposed to, and could be a bit peevish when they didn't. In bowling, sometimes they don't.

Morgan Stewart was not at all like Harry. His bowling game was somewhat less than great, but Morgan didn't really care. His hair generally needed trimming, he was blue-collar in his employment and he drove an old Packard that weighed only a bit less than the Senate office building. The rear bumper on the Packard was long gone, and Morgan had replaced it with a hefty length of angle iron. He loved it when things were not going as they were supposed to for Harry, and was not above poking at the sore places now and then.

One Thursday evening, when the league matches were over, which puts the time at a bit more than eleven pm, Morgan fired up the Packard and left the lot. Harry, who was a bit more than peeved at Morgan that night, due to some minor discourteous incidents, fell in right behind him, in his blue Chevrolet, and proceeded to tailgate him around north Baton Rouge. When the car behind you is so close that you can't see his headlights at the stop signs, it is very irritating, and Morgan got pretty irritated before long. He even made a few extra turns on his route, just to be sure.

He turned the Packard back onto North Foster Drive and headed for the big intersection at Florida Boulevard. The light was red, the traffic was very thin, and the tailgater was still snugged up close behind him. Whether he knew it was Harry back there or not was a popular topic of conversation around the Baton Rouge Bowling Center for some time. Anyway, when the light turned green, Morgan shifted into reverse and put the pedal to the metal, as they say, and caved in the front of the Chevrolet like you would not believe. Harry bailed out and went to waving his arms and screaming. Morgan left the Packard and walked around to see the damage, and claimed to be absolutely amazed to discover it was his friend Harry back there.

As you might expect, the commotion attracted a policeman in a patrol car. He parked so as to block traffic and turned on the flashing lights and approached the two bowlers. Harry got in the cop's face immediately.

“I'm stopped for the light, minding my own business,” hollered Harry, “and when the light turned green, this idiot shifted into reverse and rammed my new Chevrolet!” The cop turned to look at Morgan and Morgan rolled his eyes toward Harry.

“That's the worst story I ever heard in my life,” said the cop, and he wrote Harry a pretty long traffic ticket.
 

vapros

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How Pig Head got his name

How Pig Head got his name

This story is about a guy named Pig Head, and the exciting event I will describe to you happened about sixty years ago, a couple of years before I heard the story. I never knew Pig Head, and never knew his last name, but I saw him a few times at the bowling lanes. He had a sizeable dent in his forehead that seemed to be permanent.

In north Baton Rouge, there was an unbroken row of chemical plants that stretched from downtown to the Old Bridge. They were bordered on the west by the river (Mississippi, of course) and on the east by Scenic Highway. Pig Head, whose name was Leo in those days, and his friend Jarvis worked at the Ethyl plant, which was right next to the Esso plant. This was pre-Exxon. Every evening, on their way home, they passed the Devil's Swamp area, which they knew well as a prime place to hunt squirrels. There were wild hogs in there, too – clever and dangerous beasts that intimidated hunters. For some time they had pondered on a good plan to catch one, allowing them to bring home the bacon, so to speak.

So, one weekend Leo and Jarvis took axes and shovels and machetes and went into Devil's Swamp. Nobody had chain saws in 1957, as far as I can recall. Anyway, by Sunday afternoon that had built a small corral that they figured was stout enough to hold a hog, at least for a day or two. There was an opening of about two feet in their wall, and a spring-loaded gate with a trip wire to be sure the hog didn't get away. They baited their trap with a bunch of their household table scraps and other inedibles which figured to attract any respectable hog in the swamp, and they went home, dirty, weary and with high hopes.

Monday evening on their way home, Jarvis wondered aloud whether they should stop at Devil's Swamp to check their trap, but Leo vetoed that, saying it was too soon and anyway they had no weapon to kill the hog even if they had caught one. But, of course they went anyhow, and sure enough there was a small hog in the corral, and the hog was busy rooting at a weak spot in the wall, planning to exit and beat it. It was obvious that they must take the pig now or lose it, but how? Time was getting short; it got dark early in Devil's Swamp, so they made a plan to bushwhack the porker. They scouted around in the woods and found sizeable clubs for each of them, hefty enough to deal a lethal blow.

The plan called for Leo to enter the corral through the spring-loaded gate with his weapon, and to disable the gate, leaving the gap open for the pig's use as it fled the blows from the wooden stick. Jarvis took a stance, not unlike Mickey Mantle's, right outside the gate, ready to peelay the fleeing hog. As you might have guessed, things inside the trap did not go as planned, and in the gathering dusk it was Leo who was forced to dive through the opening in the wall, not the hog. Jarvis nailed his friend just above the eyebrows and caved in the front of his skull. Leo survived, but just barely, and he wore the dent in his forehead and the name Pig Head, as of the last time I saw him. The guy who told me the story was unable to say what had become of the hog, who was, after all, responsible for the whole thing. Life is like that.
 
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vapros

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Tincup makes a bet

Tincup makes a bet

I probably posted this several years ago on this site, but it's a favorite of mine.

* * * * * * *

Darlene and Sheila were playing eight ball on table five, and playing it very poorly, as neither could play it any better. There were several sweaters seated nearby, only to watch Darlene move around the table. She was long-legged and well prepared for any wet tee shirt contest that might spring up. Tonight she wore denim short shorts that fit her is if she had grown up in them, stretched tight in every dimension. The assembled viewers wondered silently how she could possibly take them off and put them back on, but none of them would ever know. Sheila was what the merchants might call plus size, or even a bit more. She was not a contender; maybe an also-ran, at best. Darlene was her decoy.

When he could stand it no longer, Willy went to the counter and got a shop towel from Misty and returned to table five. As Darlene bent far over, stretching to reach the shot, Willy ran up behind her and tore the shop towel in half, making a loud ripping sound. Darlene went straight up like a bottle rocket, throwing the cue into the air, but she joined in the general mirth that followed. It was a normal Tuesday evening at Tincup Billiards.

The big snooker table by the door had a golf game going on; a game that threatened to become a riot at any moment. Also normal. The always obnoxious Rolly Rivet bullied the others, and seemed to be hoping for an excuse to push someone. He was big and loud, but he knew Tincup would ban him from the joint if he pushed people, so he didn't.

Tincup, himself, was playing nine ball with Tyler on table eight. Tyler needed the last four, but Tincup would give him only the call eight, and was collecting something after nearly every game. They argued baseball as they played, with constant insults and scornful comments about the other's favorite team. 'Cup loved the Yankees, Tyler was a Cardinals fan. A dozen cries of 'I'll bet you a hundred dollars' were offered and ignored.

Cup finally threw up his hands. “Yer a wussy, Tyler, and you don't want to gamble. You wouldn't take two to one that two big dogs could whup a little dog. Don't talk to me about bettin' a hundred dollars!”

“Tell you what, Cup, we'll see who won't gamble. I could offer a bet you can't lose, and you wouldn't take it.”

“Aw, I don't want yer money, Tyler,” said Tincup, who had been taking Tyler's money for the past two hours. “Don't offer anything stupid. It's your shot.”

“That's about what I figured, and if I make this bank, you'll prolly cry when you give me my ten dollars.” He missed the bank and lost again.

Another game passed, and Cup asked, very casually, “What were you gonna offer me?”

“Forget it,” said Tyler. “It was gambling, so it wasn't for such as you.”

“Yeah, but just out of curiosity, what was the proposition?”

“Well, I was gonna bet a hundred dollars that for the next fifteen games, I would add up all the Cardinals' runs, and you could multiply the Yankees' runs and try to keep up. I saved my hundred dollars by you not having the heart to take the bet.”

“Multiply, you say!?”

“Yep, that's it. Keep up a running total, multiply by the number of runs they make every day, and see who would have the most after fifteen games. Thank you for being a wussy.”

Tincup mentally projected the calculation through even four average games and the light suddenly hit him in his mind's eye. “It's a good thing you were only bumping your gums about that, 'cause I'd have been on that like a duck on a junebug.”

“Well then, you can still get it, unless you are feeling sort of faint.”

So the bet was made, and each gave Misty a C note to hold. Within fifteen minutes, Darlene knew about the bet, and Sheila and the entire bunch at the snooker table. Tyler won the next three games from Tincup, who was trying not to grin, and then headed for the door. Before he could get out, Rolly Rivet buttonholed him. “I don't guess you got another hundred to bet on that, do you?”

“Why not?” said Tyler, and Misty found herself holding two hundred more.
 

vapros

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Math class at Tincup U

Math class at Tincup U

Well, in the weekend games the Cardinals scored four, four and six runs, for a total of fourteen. In the Yankees' three games they made two runs and then six runs in each of the next two. When the multiplication was done, that came to seventy-two. Neither team had a Monday game, and when Tyler came in on Tuesday, Tincup had prepared a scoreboard on a large sheet of poster stock from Home Depot, and had it tacked up on the wall at Tincup Billiards. Cup and Rollie Rivet were both on hand to welcome Tyler.

Tincup said, “Well, Tyler, it ain't looking so good for your dog-ass Cardinals, is it?”

“So far,” responded Tyler, “the news is lousy. I should have known better than to put my foot in my mouth. The old lady and my two little girls might not eat much this month.”

“Aw, don't worry about them,” said Rollie. “Me and Tincup will make up a care package for your family. For two hundred bucks we can feed 'em pretty good. If old Tincup ain't screwed up the arithmetic, we're ahead by seventy-two to fourteen. We're gonna muttiply you right into the poorhouse. But just to show you my heart's in the right place, I'll take ninety-nine dollars right this minute. You can save a dollar. How about it?”

“I'll think about that. A dollar might come in handy.”

The Yankees played at home Tuesday night and erupted for nine runs. With a straight face, Tincup consulted his cell phone and updated the big board and showed 6498 in their column. Rollie Rivet amended his offer, and now offered Tyler a buyout for ninety-nine seventy-five. From the west coast came the news that the Padres had shut out the Cardinals by 4-0, and Rollie roared with laughter, a blast that filled the joint with a combination of garlic, Schlitz beer and cigar. “Cup, don't forget to add on that zero for the Cardinals. What's their score now? Still fourteen, you say – are you sure about that?” Tyler suffered and all the others smirked and wagged their heads.

When the Wednesday and Thursday games had been reported and recorded on the scoreboard, the Yankees column had reached 97,470. Tyler failed to show up at the joint either day. Then, on Friday the Indians blanked them, 2-0. Tincup posted the zero in their column, drew the line and repeated the huge total. The Cardinals total had reached twenty-one. As if by magic, Tyler came through the door on Saturday, and went to inspect Cup's math.

“Cup, what happened to the Yankees last night?”

“Well, Buddy, my boys hit a stump last night, and your Cardinals did a bit of catching up, but we still got a little lead on you. If you're here to negotiate with me and Rollie, we might consider an offer, but it will have to be pretty good. This here ain't no welfare office, you know.”

“Tincup, I just checked your poster, and I see that you neglected to do your multiplication today.” Tyler walked over the to the scoreboard and took the marker and crossed out the huge figure and replaced it with a big round zero.

“Wait just a minute, there! You can't muttiply by no zero,” Rollie howled. “What the hell are you trying to do, anyway?”

“Lemme tell you something, baby boy,” said Tyler. “Multiplying by zero is the easiest multiplying you can do, because the answer is always zero, like I just wrote down over there. You must'a slept through the third grade.”

Tincup was struck dumb, and he stared at the board with his jaw hanging open. He turned and appealed to Sidney, who figured to know about such things. Sidney spread his hands and indicated that Tyler was correct. Tyler went to the counter and asked Misty to give him the four hundred dollar stake she was holding, but Rollie was having none of that and hollered that Misty should hold on to the money.

“Take it easy, Rollie, and don't get excited,” said Cup. “This is only for the first six games. We can start over tomorrow and run the score up again. Tyler thinks he is putting something over on us with his gimmick bet, but he's messing with the wrong people. Just wait.”

Tyler looked at both of them and said, “No, you can't start over, either. According to the bet, you multiply today's score by the running total, and carry the new total over. The running total is now zero and it's gonna stay zero. If your Yankees make twenty-seven runs tomorrow, when you multiply that by zero, the answer is gonna be another zero. Get used to it.”

Tincup could see the light. He knew Sidney was right and Tyler had beaten him. Rollie was another matter, however. He was screaming like a stuck pig. “You're trying to cheat us, Tyler, with a crooked bet. You set us up. You're stealing from your best friends, and if you take that money nobody will ever speak to you again. Shame on you!”

“It never was a crooked bet, Rollie. I was betting on a shutout – just one shutout. If they scored every day, you and Cup would win by ten million, and don't try to tell me you wouldn't have taken my money. You both took the bet thinking you were stealing, and you're getting what you deserve. I will damn' sure get the cash from Misty, and if you two are my best friends I just might go and jump into the river instead of going home. Have a nice day.” He went to the counter and no one objected when Misty began feeling around in her bosom. “Lemme help you with that,” said Tyler. “No, I got it,” she said and gave him the four C notes. He gave her a twenty from his pocket, and gave the crowd a little two-finger salute as he left.

“I can't say nothing,” said Tincup. “I sure figured I was stealing. But at least I showed him I got some gamble, didn't I?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” said Rollie Rivet. “You're a gambling motor scooter, you are. And I must be brain dead to think you had something I wanted in on. I was all set to help you rob poor ol' Tyler.”

Misty waved the twenty Tyler had given her. “Maybe you Einsteins learned something today at Tincup University. Come on, I'm buying milk and cookies for all the freshmen.”
 

vapros

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Houma, Louisiana

Houma, Louisiana

Bowling came to my home town, Houma, Louisiana, in 1945, just before the end of the war. Ten lanes in a new building in the first block of Barrow Street, just forty-five steps off Main. I was thirteen years old that year and I wanted to bowl, so I went into the pits and racked pins several nights each week. We made .08 a game. A league match (two five man teams on a pair of lanes) produced thirty games, or $2.40. Billy Romero and Junius Navarre could, and did, handle two pairs of lanes routinely, but that was mighty hard work. I did it a few times. Let me note here that in other areas of the country, 'pinboys' were paid a little better, and there were individuals that made a life's work back in the pits. Indoor labor in the winter time, in Wisconsin maybe, was better than a lot of other jobs.

The job required that at the end of the evening I had to walk home, and the trip was about three miles, and half of it was on the Dug Road, that had no illumination of any kind. The neighborhood was black, but I rarely saw any one, and most of the houses were already dark by the time I passed. No reason to be afraid, anyway. I did get to know several of the dogs, who would trot out to the road to be sure it was just me out there, hoofin' it to the house. If the weather was bad, one of the bowlers might drive me home. I said 'might'.

Later I graduated to the job of foul judge, and that paid three bucks, which you could earn sitting on your butt. I climbed a ladder to a perch above the lanes, right at the foul line, and I had a kitchen chair and a board with a switch for each of the ten lanes. If you crossed the line I rang you up - red light and buzzer. Some nights I was in no hurry for the desk guy to bring the ladder for me to get down, and it was rare for a bowler to drive a foul judge home at the end of the evening. No air conditioning in 1945 and south Louisiana is very humid, so the approaches would be damp and sliding was impossible. Big disadvantage in bowling, and some fouls were pretty violent and perhaps painful.

Terrebonne High School class of 1948 – that was me, and my first full time job began that summer. Old Ashby Pettigrew built the new and upscale Pettigrew Hotel on Main Street, and I was his very first night clerk. The Pettigrews lived in a big house out on Bayou Black, and they brought some of their antique furniture to give a bit of class to the lobby, which was two stories high. And there was an elevator. The place had more than forty rooms and I believe the going rate was $3.50; $3.57 with tax. I worked the desk from eleven in the evening until seven in the morning, seven days each week, for $20.00. Bowling money.

Pettigrew and his wife appeared most mornings around 6:30. He generally had a cold cigar in his mouth, and before long he would brush off the burnt end and put the whole thing in his mouth and chew it. His wife loved to make the wake-up calls on my list. She would sit at the little switchboard and ring the phone in the room. When it was answered she would screech 'time to get up' and break the connection.

Recalling that little switchboard, through which all calls had to come, it was part of my duties to keep track of the charges for the long distance calls, and to update the bill before check out. Somewhere between two and three in the morning I would call the long distance operator at the local phone office, and verify my record with hers. The usual contact was with a young lady with a very sexy voice. I don't think I ever knew her name, but things were pretty slow for both of us at that hour, and we would kill some time in private romance. This was before phone sex reared its bulbous head in my life, but it could get a bit steamy now and then. Until she found out that I was sixteen years old. I didn't even get to kiss her goodbye. I left the Pettigrew Hotel to go to work offshore, as deckhand on a boat. Couldn't turn down $150 a month. Ten days in the marsh, four days at home.

I seldom had to walk home from that gig. I could use the family car, because knocking off at seven am I was able to get it home before my dad needed it to go to work. I had turned fifteen years old in 1947, and during that year the state of Louisiana either passed a driver's license law or began to enforce the one they already had – I'm not sure which. Practically no Louisiana driver had a license, and it was out of the question to try to test them all, so they issued licenses to everyone who was already driving, as I was. At the tender age of fifteen, I was grandfathered in, and I'm still untested.

One of the deYeide brothers opened a donut shop on Main Street, right next to the new Pettigrew Hotel. It was all glossy white and stainless steel, and there was an automatic donut machine right in the big glass window in front. Donut batter to greasy delicious donut in about four or five minutes. For the first month there was usually a crowd on the sidewalk, watching the wonderful machine in action. Over the door was a vent, with a little fan blowing outward, and the smell of fresh donuts was a powerful force. After mass on Sunday, at the big St. Francis de Sales church, the trade was fierce for an hour. Characters in the western novels of a writer I follow refer to donuts as 'bear sign'. Is anyone on this site familiar with bear sign? Does it really look like donuts?

There was a big shrimp plant right on the batture on East Main Street. The batture is the strip of land between a road and a bayou. The shrimp boats would come right up Bayou Terrebonne to the shrimp plant with their catch, and each arrival was cause for an urgent call for workers to come on the double. It might be any hour of the day or night, the horn would sound – like a big fog horn, only it went on and on, without letup. It might blow for ten minutes without stopping, and if it was at night one could see lights appearing in houses and workers in the roads and streets, hot footing it to the plant to make some cash. It was a part of life in Houma, and no one thought to complain. I can close my eyes and hear it now.

All the companies with business in the oil fields in the marsh or offshore set up their warehouses in Houma. It was the last of the high ground. Elevation of maybe five feet above sea level. Cajun music and cajun dancing had many fans, but a lot of the people were honte (embarrassed) about it, and drove to other towns to enjoy it. Boiled crabs were the fare on Friday nights. Catholic town, no meat on Friday. I don't recall anyone eating crawfish in those days. Our post office box number was 470. My girlfriend's phone number was 5722. My favorite bowling ball was number 188C0. The human mind is a very strange place.

These are some of the things that make Houma unique in my recollection. I suppose all home towns are unique.
 
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vapros

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Missing Person

Missing Person

Missing Person is a slice of life story. It's not my life and probably not yours, so you might find it interesting – or not. There's no blood, no sex, no jokes and no moral at the end. Just a slice of life from the marsh, in 2,941 words. Feel free.

MISSING PERSON

“Deputy, you in there?”

“I'm here, Victoria. Come on in. I'm just before closing up the office and going home. What brings you out?”

“Missing person case for y'all.”

“Druby again, most likely – is that it?”

“Druby again, you got that right. Day before yesterday he left, and I hadn't seen him since.”

“What makes you think something has happened to him?”

“I ain't seen him, that's what happened to him. I need for y'all to find him for me.”

“Victoria, you ain't seen Druby for two days, and he's a grown man and he ain't really your husband, anyway. This ain't no missing person case. It's a fugitive case. Druby has took off for a couple days, is all. Domestic matter.”

“So. Y'all are going to find Druby, or you're not?”

“We're not, Victoria. Come back when he's been gone a week and you got reason to believe something has happened to him, or he's broke a law. Just 'cause you want him found is not a legal reason for us to saddle up and go look.”

“I tried to call him a lot of times already, and he don't answer. I figure that means something has happened to him.”

“Victoria, maybe Druby don't want to talk to you right now. When he's ready, maybe he will call you up and then y'all can talk. Or maybe he will just show up at the trailer like nothing happened.”

“Well, maybe it's not the law, but he's supposed to talk to me when I call. Maybe when he does call, I might not want to talk to him, by that time. How about that?”

“I hear you, Victoria, but that wouldn't be my business. That's you and Druby. Work it out for your own selfs.”

“Well, Deputy John Law, if I don't hear nothin' from Druby tomorrow, I'm sending Luke and Sostan to find him, and that will be his ass; don't worry about it. Them two will do your work for you while you sit on your butt.”

“I'm making a note, Victoria. You go on home.”

Weldon Braud turned off the department radio and computer and turned out the light. He stood in the doorway of the little trailer office and watched Victoria walking away in her rubber flip-flops. It was slow going in the loose gravel. She was on the downside of forty and on the wrong side of two hundred twenty pounds, and the rubber shoes did nothing to improve the sight. He wondered why Druby would come back to Victoria at all. He shrugged and locked the door and fired up his patrol unit and took the drive out to the hard road. After a pause, instead of turning left to his own trailer in the little community of Foster Canal, he turned right and took the Little Bayou Go To Hell road. The map said Colyell, but the people said Go To Hell.

He wanted to talk to Luke and Sostan before Victoria did. Sostan's right name was Celestin, but few people knew that. He had been Sostan since before he could walk, and he and Luke were Victoria's brothers. Braud turned off the road onto a long driveway that stopped just before the marsh. There were two small houses on his left and a workshop on his right. It was open on both ends and there was a small Lafitte skiff on a boat trailer in the shop. Luke and Sostan were loading some stuff onto the boat. They watched him approach.

“Comment ca va, bro?” called Luke. He shook Weldon's hand. “How 'bout if I read your mind, cuz? You're looking for Druby Benoit.”

“Not exactly, man. I'm looking for you and Sostan. Victoria came to the office to tell me that if she don't hear from Druby tomorrow she's going to send you guys to go and get him, and I don't want to see nothing happen.”

“She's a day late, bro. We just fixin' to dump the boat and go see Druby today. He's making a shrimp stew. You can come if you want.”

“You know where he's at?”

“Yeah, we know. Everybody knows but Victoria. Druby's at a camp and he's making a shrimp stew and me and Sostan is taking some beer, and we're gonna get us some stew this evening. Druby can cook, bro, and we got room in the boat, no shit, and you mo' than welcome.”

“Did you know that Victoria was looking for him?”

Both brothers chuckled. “Well, we know Druby's at the camp for a couple of days already, so you can bet your ass Victoria is looking for him. Night follows day, you know what I mean?”

“I could eat some good shrimp stew,” said the deputy.

“That's where we going, bro. Watch your feet, there – we fixin' to dump the boat.”

Luke checked the drain plug at the stern, and Sostan backed up a pickup truck into the shop and they connected the trailer to the truck, and backed up another thirty feet. The wheels went into the water and the cradle tilted backward and the skiff slid into the bayou. “I hope you holdin' the line, bro, or somebody gon' have to swim.”

“I got it, Luke. Comin' in wit' it.” Braud hauled on the rope and the skiff swung around and nosed up into the marsh grass by their feet.

Luke climbed in over the bow and let the big Yamaha motor down into the water on pneumatic shocks. He turned the key and the motor started quickly and idled softly. Sostan drove the truck forward and left the trailer in its original position. “Go 'head,” he said. “I'll get on last, I got my boots on.” Braud climbed onto the bow and over the windshield and Sostan, standing in the shallow water, gave the boat a shove and hoisted himself aboard by his big arms. Thirty seconds later they were cruising slowly down Little Bayou Go To Hell, careful to make no wake until they had passed all the moored vessels. From there on, it was wide open, and the brothers grinned at one another and turned their caps around backward, so the Deputy did the same. The glass would certainly have kept them out of the wind, but they sat on the backs of the seats and took the rushing air in their faces, bending forward only to light cigarettes.

They passed two luggers without slowing down, waving at the crews on the decks, and then made a right turn into a canal. Sostan smirked at Luke, noting the alarm showing on the Deputy's face as the boat seemed about to slide off into the marsh, gaining traction again and leaping forward. Right turns didn't offer the same firm control as turns to the left. Fifteen minutes took them five miles into the 'sea of grass'. Braud had long-since lost his way. He was from Houma and this was not his part of the salt marsh.

They passed two or three empty camps, on stilts or on pontoons, and suddenly they turned at idle speed into a canal that was little more than a ditch, and there was Druby Benoit sitting on the porch of a tiny building mounted on a small barge hull. There was a dock of sorts, where a fourteen foot aluminum bateau was tied. It had a small outboard mounted on the transom; shroud removed, uncertain maker. Probably an Evinrude, as the blue paint could still be seen. Sostan stepped onto the dock and tied the line to a stake sticking out of the water and Luke cut the motor.

“Qui ca dit, brudd'n-law?” said Druby, without getting up.

“I smell shrimps, brudd'n-law,” said Luke.

“Oh, I got shrimps. And you better pick up your motor, too. I see you brought the law wit' you. I'm trying to think which crime he might know about.

“He ain't workin', he knocks off at five. He smelled shrimps, too. Look at him. He's young and single and got a steady job, and I couldn't leave him there with my wife, you know, so I brought him. You better have plenty shrimp.” Luke thumbed a button on the dash, and the big motor tilted forward, bringing the propeller clear of the water.

“Yeah, but I'm out of beer. I hope you brought beer.”

“The boat's full of beer,” said Sostan, “we're lucky it didn't sink on the way, with all the beer.” He lifted a hefty ice chest onto the porch and passed around the beers. The quartet of Cajuns sat on the porch, as best they could; a couple on overturned five gallon plastic buckets and one on the ice chest. Druby still had not gotten to his feet. The little porch sagged under the weight. They smoked and drank beer and made small talk in a combination of English and French.

Druby pointed out across the marsh grass to a shrimp lugger chugging along. It was one of the ones they had passed earlier, and it was still in the main bayou, maybe two hundred yards away as the crow would fly. Most of it was plainly visible, including the name on the bow – 'Little Brother'. The grass in the salt water did not grow higher than about two feet.

“Maybe an eight' of a mile away,” said Druby, “but maybe three miles by water. I see the boats pass every day, goin' and comin'. Sometimes they wave, but they couldn't none of 'em get to this place. They don't know how. That's how I like it.” He looked at the Deputy.

“Hey, man, don't worry about me. I wouldn't tell, even if I could. I thought Sostan was lost two or three times. I know I was.”

Druby stood up and entered the little camp and walked to and fro, serving huge amounts of shrimp stew over rice on assorted china plates, with heavy metal forks. Duke brought two loaves of French bread from the boat, and they tore great ragged chunks. They ate with great appetite, smacking their lips and wagging their heads over the delicious meal. Dusk was beginning to fall by the time they had finished, and they all leaned back and lit cigarettes and smoked in silence.

Finally Duke spoke, but without turning his head to look at Druby. “Brudd'n-law, you got any messages for Victoria?” The silence continued for several minutes.

Druby commented, “Look at that red-wing blackbird on the other side. He's got a very pretty call, him, and I love to hear it, me. He's got him a grip on that roseau with them little toes, and he's getting him a nice ride.” The reed waved in the wind, making an elliptical orbit for the bird. “Nonc Benny wants me to go shrimp wit' him this year. I 'magine I'll do that, mos' likely.”

“You goin' wit' him, on the 'Baby Ruth'?”

There was another silence before Druby spoke again. “I 'magine I will. You know?”

“You know why nobody don't want to go wit' him, Druby? Sometime Nonc Benny goes on the outside with that little flat-bottom boat. One day the weather is gonna catch him out there and him and his little flat-bottom boat gon' go turtle, man. Bottom up.”

Druby shrugged. “Maybe not.”

“Where you gon' stay, Brudd'n-law?”

“On the boat. In the camp, here,” he explained, and then repeated. “On the boat, in the camp.” Neither man had faced the other throughout the exchange. “Look at me, Brudd'n-law. I'm good. I'm good where I'm at. Ol' Guillot is all but dead, and I can use the camp as much as I want. Nonc Benny feels good when I'm on the boat – he can leave it and go home to Houma when he wants, and he won't worry about the boat. So I'm good, you know? On the boat, in the camp, in the camp, on the boat, I'm good where I'm at.”

“That's what you want me to tell Victoria?”

“I already told her. I told her on Saturday. Victoria knows.”

A full moon was rising, and so were the mosquitoes, and they all moved into the camp, which had tight screens on the windows. A Coleman lantern burned on the table. Druby covered the pot of rice and moved the pot of stew into the ice chest with the beer. Both were still half full. Braud began to wonder about the trip back to the landing. “We goin' back by moonlight?”

“Deputy,” said Sostan, “we ain't goin' nowhere until the tide turns. In an hour they won't be fo' inches of water in this canal. We'll catch the tide in the morning, after it turns. All this pretty water in the marsh ain't nothin' but a mud flat when the tide is out. People who don't know about that can spend a lot time out here, sittin' on the bottom and waiting for the next tide. If you come into the marsh, you better know the tide.”

Everyone settled in for the night. There was one spare folding cot, and the brothers insisted that Braud take it. They slept on the floor, on pallets of well-worn quilts. Braud wanted to take off his uniform, but he was unwilling to be the only one undressing. They all slept well until the sun was turning the sky orange across Little Bayou Go To Hell. Luke was first up and made coffee and pulled Honey Buns from a Walmart bag. Druby went out onto the porch and reported that it would be another forty minutes before the skiff floated again, so they sat on the porch and smoked and talked about people and events foreign to Braud. The water level in the canal rose as they watched it. Shrimp boats and work boats passing in the bayou, two hundred yards away, sent their wakes through the marsh grass, wakes that were little more than faint ripples as they reached Druby's little canal. There was no more mention of Victoria.

The trip back to the little workshop went quickly and without much conversation. Luke gave the skiff a sudden burst of power that drove it into the grass, and then he cut the motor. Victoria was at the landing, leaning against a vintage Cutlass Supreme and smoking. There was no sign of the brothers' wives. “Y'all seen Druby?” she challenged.

“We seen him,” said Luke. “We spent the night at Druby.”

“He didn't come back witch'all?”

“Druby said he's good where he's at. He said he told you Saturday.”

“Well, I guess he did, but I just wanted to know, you know? I guess I'll go back to Morgan City.”

“Richie still there?”

“Yeah, he's there. I talked to him today.”

“Looks like that's the thing to do, well. Don't leave me no mess, Victoria. You pick up good, inside and outside, you hear?”

“Well, Baby, I'm gonna need me some gas money,” she was speaking to Sostan's back. With a small nod toward Luke, he redirected her attention. Luke gave her twenty dollars from his wallet and she turned her attention back to Sostan, getting another ten. She sighed and lit another cigarette and returned to the elderly Oldsmobile. It started quickly but was in serious need of a muffler.

She turned around in the yard and was gone. Luke and Sostan were loading the skiff back onto the trailer and back into the shop. They began to remove items from it. Braud wondered how he might help. He was being ignored.

“I'm glad you come wit' us, Deputy. That was some good shrimp stew, you think?”

“Oh yeah, Luke. I'm glad y'all brought me out there. That was some good shrimp stew.”

A brief association was ended, dismissed with only a small motion of Luke's head. Or maybe it was his shoulder. Hard to tell, from behind.

Deputy Weldon Braud hesitated for three seconds and shrugged and turned to his own pickup truck with the Sheriff's Department decals on the doors. Instead of turning in the yard, be backed out the driveway to the hard road and went left toward his little office on the edge of Foster Canal. It occurred to him that he had never been to the end of the Little Bayou Go To Hell road. Make a note, he told himself, it couldn't be far. He decided he could wait until noon to go to his trailer for a fresh uniform. Or maybe the one he had slept in would be okay for today. Even money he would see no one before quitting time.

He stretched and climbed the two steps, made of cinder blocks, and unlocked the door and turned on the light. He made coffee on the counter and then powered up the department radio and the computer on his desk. Nothing from the Sheriff this morning, and only a couple of personal emails on the PC. Searching through the program, he found the form he was looking for and brought it up. On the proper line, in all caps, he typed 'Missing Person'. After a moment he rose from the desk and went to a window, staring out across the salt marsh. He stood motionless there, pondering the words he should use.
 

vapros

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Claudine's

Claudine's

Sometimes I find myself thinking that there's not as much nostalgia as there used to be, but of course that's not possible. The truth is that I forget. I have forgotten a lot, and that's not good. Here is something, however, that I remember. Bear (bare?) with me for a minute.

In a south Louisiana town near where I grew up – very near – there was a brick house, two stories tall, with green and white aluminum awnings over the windows, right on the main drag, but set well back from the street.. There was a shady front yard with big oak trees, and a painted concrete statue of Little Red Riding Hood, carrying her little basket. Behind a nearby oleander bush there was a statue of the Big Bad Wolf, lurking. The driveway curved around the house to a parking area, out of sight in the rear. I went by every day on my way to the junior college where I was . . . well, enrolled at least.

I don't know if any of it can still be seen, but it all stood for a long time. The house was known as Claudine's – just Claudine's. It was quite a well-known place, and not only locally. A great many men throughout the South knew the place, and many of them had visited. It was open for many years. Inside the house, I am told, there were attractive young ladies in short shorts who generally lounged around or helped out behind the bar now and then. Claudine, herself, was pretty much retired by about 1950, and she strolled around the premises now and then, just to have something to do and to be seen by those who had come to see her. The ones who knew said that Claudine had been a knockout in her time.

The actual administration of Claudine's was mostly handled by a gentleman named Charlie Montalbano, who was not only the bouncer, but also the bookkeeper. At intervals during the evening, one or another of the young ladies could be seen climbing the stairs, with a man in tow, and without fail she would sing out “Mark me, Charlie. I'm going upstairs.” This might have been a bit disconcerting to some of the men, but no matter. It could not be avoided. The girls needed to be sure that Charlie heard and noted. We must assume that Charlie made an appropriate note in his Blue Horse composition book. If I can recall the reports of others, the going rate was three dollars, (no gross comments here, if you please) and Claudine's was a going concern. Not all gentlemen were welcome there – only the ones with three dollars.

Almost traditionally, young boys in their teens might be initiated into the world of grownup men with a visit to Claudine's, perhaps financed by their fathers or near-kin. The occasional freebie might even be involved, bestowed by a smirking girl. Women cannot possibly know the excitement and anticipation that is attendant upon such a rite, for a youngster. Bug-eyed and breathing hard, I'm told that some even failed to make it to the top of the stairs. How mortifying that must have been.

But this is all beside the point and happened a long time ago and it is all hearsay, of course. I sat down tonight to relate the matter of the battle cry: “Mark Me, Charley!” Everyone I knew was aware of the origin and the significance of that phrase, and few days passed without hearing it at least once on the streets of my home town. Many women knew, also. Some thought it was funny, and some did not. It just occurred to me to wonder if any of them had ever climbed the stairs at Claudine's. We will never know. More than just a smidgen of domestic discord might be attributed to those words.

In those days, before cell phones and internet, the widespread distribution of the phrase is truly amazing. One must wonder. Personally, I have heard it shouted by a bookmaker in Dallas, as the Steelers scored with time running out. I have heard it delivered by a bowler in Memphis who had just thrown a crucial strike. A Blackjack player in Gulfport made the announcement as he caught his ace and pumped his fist. Even a lady, out of sight in an examination room in a Mobile clinic, was heard to appeal to this famous Charlie. Without exception it was a cry of exultation and accomplishment, never invoked by a losing shmuck.

This is the stuff of genuine nostalgia. Claudine and Charlie have long since made the transition, as have all but the hardiest of the three dollar sporting congregation. I assume that I have offended no one with this reverie. If anything at all has survived the years, it might well be Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Someone with commendable foresight may have rescued them, and perhaps they might be in view somewhere else, if one only knew where to look. I will have to ask. The generation that would recognize them, what's left of it, would instantly smile and mouth the words. I have no idea how long it has been since I heard the triumphant cry that once was music to Claudine's ears. There was an unconfirmed report that it was the final utterance of a man seated firmly in the electric chair.

Mark me, Charlie! I'm going upstairs.
 

vapros

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Shame on me

Shame on me

On Labor Day weekend in 1960, Sugar Lanes opened, just a block off La 1 in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Twelve lanes, shiny new AMF equipment. Bad judgment. Anybody in the business could have told them that if you can't build at least sixteen lanes, don't bother. You already have everything you need in the building, requiring only a little more air conditioning. The staff is there, the snack bar and the beer and all that you need for lane maintenance, the rest rooms and the insurance coverage, all on hand on opening day. You might net a few nickels in a small house, but at peak times you will wish you had six more lanes.

An opening is inevitably chaotic. The public crowds into the concourse and they all want to bowl. The hired help is not ready to deal with all of it. The a/c is straining to keep up, and is making ice. The pinspotters are not yet broken in, and are causing trouble on most of the lanes. Some customers are unhappy, for their various reasons. The nine stockholders in the corporation are all on hand, and making things worse.

The manager, a salesman of industrial products for the past twenty years, went tits up. He went into the office Sunday night, locked the door and refused to come out. Mike Jones, corporation president, called me at home in Baton Rouge at 9:30 pm, in a panic. I was available, and agreed to go down and keep it going for a month, while they found another manager. I checked into a motel and took a deep breath and stayed sixteen years, which is another story.

Vice president of the outfit was a mortician named Doug Walker, a fine and sensitive guy who was dedicated to his craft. He owned the largest and best funeral home in Lafourche Parish. I seldom saw him when he was not in dress shirt and tie, and often in the whole black suit. Doug carried a flask in his hip pocket, but there was no liquor in it – it was mouthwash. He went to it often, and sometimes I think of him today when I see the dippers with their spit cups. Doug could have used a big spit cup. He scurried around hunting a place to spit.

Twice in the space of a month, he experienced the very worst thing that can happen to a funeral director, and it nearly killed him. A casket failed, and dumped a corpse out on the ground, once right on his front lawn. I don't know how he survived it.

Every two or three months, Mike and Doug and I would get together, usually at Mike's house. He was a pediatrician, and had a room set up in which he saw his after-hours patients. He went to bed early and didn't like to go out at night. We would sit in there and I would make my little 'state of the lanes' report, and we would talk business for a little while and then sit around and have a beer. It was in that room that I had one of the worst experiences of my life. I hate to remember it.

After one such meeting, as we were discussing nothing in particular, Mike looked at me and said, “Well, Bill, it just seems that the bottom is falling out of everything.” I stared at him, probably with my jaw hanging open. I couldn't believe he had said it. As I looked at him, he took a drink of his beer and then began to laugh. I looked at Doug, and he was in agony, but Mike was still laughing. For some reason I will never understand, his laugh was contagious, and I began to laugh in spite of myself. Doug was crying quietly, suffering at the hands of a couple of his friends. Good friends, as you can see.

My laugh fed off Mike's laugh, and vice versa. I'm not talking about chuckling. Far from it. This was the kind of laughing that brings tears to your eyes and makes you gasp for breath. We both wanted to quit, but we could not. It was terrible. When we were able to stop it, the respite was never more than ten seconds. One of us would have to laugh and it would all begin again. I'm not sure how long it went on; surely less than eight or ten minutes, but it seemed like a long time. Can you imagine being horribly ashamed of yourself and unable to stop laughing, all at the same time? Later, Mike correctly blamed himself for starting it, but where was my contrition? There was none.

At some point, Doug stopped crying and got mad. “If y'all weren't my friends, I'd pick up something and hit y'all,” he said. I wish he had. It would have made me feel better. The three minutes of absolute silence, in which we called off the session and headed out, did nothing to mitigate the disaster. It was total. There were no more such meetings for about a year.

My story has a punch line, and here it is: in the car on the way home, I burst out laughing again, without knowing why. Is that weird?
 

vapros

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Head Shot 1

Head Shot 1

Two deputies in a green and white cruiser showed up at my place one day. They were looking for Tom John. I could have showed them if I wanted, because I know where he's at. I put him there. Let me tell you up front that I don't like lying, and I avoid it when I can. I know people who will lie if you ask for the time, but I'm not that way. I only lie when I need to. I'll tell you how it went, and you should notice how hard I tried to stick to the truth.

“Mr. Deakin, do you know Tom John?”

“Oh, yeah, I know him.”

“How long since you seen him?”

“Well, he was here just a few days ago.”

“Is Mr. John a friend of yours?”

“Not hardly, he's a sorry piece of shit and I should of shot him in the head the first time I seen him.”

“Why did he come here, Mr. Deakin, if he wasn't your friend?”

“We got a couple common interests and we needed to talk and get something straightened out. I drove to Bonham a couple of weeks ago, and I missed him, so he came here.” I neglected to tell them that I know Mrs. John much better than I know Tom.

“What was your business?”

“Well, I got me some wooded property over that way, and I give him permission to go in and pick up the down stuff and cut firewood and send me half. So I had to nag him, and I finally got a check for thirty dollars, and then I found out he was lumbering in there; cutting down my good trees for the mill. It's a good thing I didn't find him when I went over there.”

“Mr. John come over here two days ago, and he come to see you, and ain't nobody seen him since. His wife reported him missing. We thought you might know where he's at.”

“Well, he was here, but he ain't here now, and I don't see how I could help you. Maybe his wife has got lucky.”

“What was he driving, Mr. Deakin?”

“He had him a white F-150 pickup and it looked like it was about ragged out. You'll know it if you see it. A lot of rust and Bondo and primer.”

“You expect to see him again?”

“No, and I hope I don't. Tom's nothing to me but bad news. We just had a couple of things to get worked out.”

“Okay, Mr. Deakin, let us know if you see him or hear from him.”

“Sure, maybe you could leave a card with your number.” So this caught 'em unprepared; you know, like a business card? Neither of them had shit, but the skinny one went back to the unit and rummaged around and finally came back with one of the Sheriff's cards. It had mustard stains on it (I hope) and the number was scratched out, and another number wrote in. They left it with me, and hitched up their gun belts and drove away. I remember thinking, if they ever get into a shooting scrape, I hope I get to see it.

Reading back through this story, I believe I went through the whole routine without a single lie. Did you notice? It's an art; they should teach it in school. Or maybe they do, like in Harvard or Yale, you know?

Well, Tom John had been to my place, and he was not there now, just like I told the deputies. So, where was he? Day before yesterday, I'm sitting in the front of the lean-to where I keep my little plywood skiff, and I'm having me a smoke, and I see this raggedy-ass Ford pickup going by slow on the road, and the driver is taking him a good look at my house. Then, he spots me over to the side, and he turns his face away and speeds away toward town. This is what I was talking about when I said he had been to my place. He had drove by, slow. It's Tom John, I was pretty sure, but I had to know, so I put my shoes on and got my own truck and followed after him.

That ugly pickup was parked at the Dollarooney, and I set up down the street a block to watch. Sure enough, it was ol' Tom – I got a good look when he limped back to his ride. I knew one thing for sure; there wasn't but one reason for him to be in Cutman, and that was me. I went straight home and had me a drink. Than I had another drink. I been knowing Tom John a long time, and I knew he had not come to town to wish me well. I just had to decide what to do about him. In the end, it was not so hard to make a plan.

I went camo, and bundled up my sleeping bag and a mosquito bar and some stuff to eat and a big thermos of hot coffee. Then I slicked up my .223 rifle and some shells and as soon as it was dark I climbed up the hill behind my house, crossing the old road I figured he would come in on. I picked out a good spot above the road and set up my little camp. It was just before daybreak when he showed up, still driving that old wreck of a pickup truck. He was on the old road and he parked and got out and limped around a few minutes and then he got a rifle with a scope out of the truck and hiked down toward the house. He went almost to the very edge of the woods, and set up a shot of about a hundred fifty yards and downhill. There wasn't any doubt what I had to do, and I followed him and dug in just as he did. My shot would be only about sixty yards, and I didn't need no scope. My iron sights would do fine.

I lay down behind a log and watched Tom John until the light got good. It give me a funny feeling, looking at him. His ass was mine, just any time I wanted it, and I guess he was feeling the same way about me, looking down at my house. Two or three times I seen him fidget a little, and turn his head to see in all directions. One might almost think he could feel me looking at him. I never considered no amnesty for him – if I didn't do this today, I would have it to do tomorrow, unless he did me first. I hope he enjoyed the sunrise, because it was his last one. Here you go, Tommy Boy.
 

vapros

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Head Shot 2

Head Shot 2

Well, I left Tom John lay all day, and then late that night I took my shovel up the hill and loaded it in his old truck and put Tom in there with it. I drove all the way down to Weller's bridge and crossed the river and up into the heavy woods beyond town. By the light of the moon, I buried him deep in a good spot among the trees and smoothed it over good, so you couldn't tell. You couldn't tell there had been a hole dug at all, let alone a hole with Tom John in it.

That old F-150 looked like hell, but it ran like a clock, and I really hated to go off and leave it. As good a vehicle as my Dodge, for sure, but that's life, I guess. It had to go. I drove five or six miles along the old river road and hid the Ford behind an abandoned wood building; an old church. Even by the moon I could see the faded sign – Special Deliverance Baptist Church.

I stripped down and waded across the river, holding a garbage bag with my clothes and my boots up out of the water, carried the shovel on my shoulder and hiked through the woods back to my place. It was nearly noon by the time I got home. I have to say I really didn't feel anything for Tom, but I was some kind of weary from looking after his dead ass. We do what we have to do, don't we? Well, don't we?

About three weeks later, or not more than a month, and one day an old Toyota Corolla shows up at my house, pulling a two-wheel U Haul trailer, and it ain't nobody but Lily Rose John and all her shit. Me and Lily Rose been knowing one another for a good while – actually we know one another very well. Truth be told, Lily Rose was about eighty-eight percent responsible for the hole in Tom John's head.

Lily Rose is good. I got to give her that. Not world class, or anywhere near it, but a good old country girl, by any reckoning. I was glad to see her, but you need to understand me about all this; no way would I ever kill a man over a woman. But Tom John would. He was in Cutman to kill me, no doubt about that. So it was obviously a kind of self defense, wasn't it? One might say I had hit him back first.

So, I said, “Baby, ain't you pushin' it a little? Tom John has only been gone a month. I hope you don't think you're fooling anybody.”

“Well, Deakin, the rent was past due, and the days of grace was running out, and I didn't have the two hunnert fifty, so I drug up. I didn't do it to fool nobody. It was a economic maneuver.” I helped her unload the little trailer and directly she went into the kitchen and started fixing supper. We never said much about Tom, but I could tell she was pretty sure he was history. Women just know, and Lily Rose didn't grieve all that much that I could see. Don't ask, don't tell. I was her bird in the hand, that's all.

Like night follows day, in less than a week them two deputies in that green and white cruiser came back to see me, and there was another man with them this time. He wasn't in uniform, and he had on a white shirt with a little string tie, held by a Indian medallion of some kind. He had him on a big Stetson hat and cowboy boots with pointed toes. There wasn't any doubt he was there to do the talking, but it took him a while to get around to it. He shook my hand and strolled around a little, looking first at my truck and then at Lily Rose's Toyota. Then he came back to where I was, and he went to rearranging the gravel in my drive with the toe of one boot. It looked like he might by trying to make a star.

Finally, he looked at me and said, “Mr. Deakin, we are still looking for Tom John.”

So I said, “Well, I guess that means you ain't found him yet.”

“No, we aint found him, but we will, if he's anywhere around here. Has he been back to see you?”

“Nope, just that once, like I told the deputies.”

“Do you know where he was going when you last seen him?”

“I believe he lives over around Bonham. Did you look in Bonham?”

“They still ain't seen him over there. Do you know if he has a family in Bonham?”

“Just a wife, far as I know.”

“Well, long as we're on the subject, do you know where Mrs. John is, Mr. Deakin?”

I stretched my neck to see past the corner of the house. “I believe she is in the back yard, right now.” If you remember, I said me and Tom had a couple of common interests. The firewood was one, and Lily Rose was the other.

So, then Deputy Dude made his eyes real big, as if he had just spotted Tom John's ghost. “And what is she doing in your back yard, Mr. Deakin?” He knew where she was at, or he wouldn't be there.

“I think she's plucking a chicken.”

“It ain't been but a few weeks. This don't look real good, does it?”

“Well, I don't mind, and Lily Rose don't mind. You might be the only one that's upset about it.”

He went back to moving the gravel around with his toe, and he can't seem to think of anything to say, so I tried to help him.

“Mr. Deputy, sir, let me explain something to you. In a situation like this one, every day that goes by is an act of love – actually, one or more acts of love per day – that is gone forever. You can't go back to it, and you can't send for it. It's gone. So, me and Lily Rose, we're trying to keep such days to a minimum, and that's it.”

“And what will she do when Tom John comes back? Or is she pretty sure he ain't coming back?”

“You could ask her. Matter of fact, she's got two chickens to pluck. Maybe you could help her with that. Can you pluck a chicken, Mr. Deputy?”

“You better hope to hell I can't, Mr. Deakin.” Me and him was about nose-to-nose by that time. He had that miserable, frustrated look about him like somebody who thinks he knows something, but he don't know it for sure. I can remember my first wife looking that way, now and then.

He wagged his head once or twice and headed back toward the green and white. The two soldiers in uniform hitched up their gun belts and followed him. They got in the front seat, and he got in the back, and they cranked up the car and went to turn in the road, but then I seen the brake lights come on. Deputy Dude opened his door and got out and walked back to me.

“It just may be, Mr. Deakin, that the sheriff will want to speak to you about this matter his own self.”

“Fine, sir, send him out. I will be happy to help him, if I can.” He looked like he might want to say something else, but he didn't. I don't know if he even seen that I hadn't told him no lies. If he was any smarter than the other two, it wasn't by much. "If the sheriff will let me know when he's coming, I will cook up something to eat. Lily Rose ain't so hot around the kitchen, but I can cook."

It's maybe four or five months, now, and the sheriff hasn't come yet. He's smarter than all three of them. That's prolly why he's the sheriff. You think?
 

vapros

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Head Shot 3

Head Shot 3

I would see them two deputies pass on the state road now and then, when it was their turn to have the squad car, but they never come to my place again. With Tom John gone, I drove over to Bonham one day and made a deal with a man named Pepper for the same down timber that Tom had contracted for. He looked at me kind of funny, as if he might know what had happened to Tom, but he needn't have worried. He was in no danger of losing his wife, who was maybe a hundred pounds bigger than me. And I still had Lily Rose at my place.

Speaking of Lily Rose, now that she had her rent problem worked out she had got pretty independent, and was vexing me right smart. We was still cohabiting on a pretty regular basis, if that word means what I think it does. There wasn't no alfalfa growing under our butts, I can promise you that, but her enthusiasm wasn't near what it used to be. She hadn't never been too big into cooking, and not doing a whole lot of it, and she didn't want to get a job, so Lily Rose really only had one thing going for her.

One hot day when we had had worked up a healthy sweat, and I was getting into a pretty good nap, Lily Rose rolled out and put on her skivvies and cracked her a beer.

“Deakin,” said Lily Rose, “don't you ever get enough?”

“Yes, indeed I do,” I told her without opening my eyes, “I get enough every time.” I didn't hear no reply to that, so I opened my eyes and turned my head to see her. She had her mouth full of Dixie beer and her lower lip stuck out and her eyebrows way up and holding there. It's not a good sign when the lady in your house looks at you that way, but I was still sleepy and off I went. I didn't get to sleep very long.

“You know, Ol' Tom John was not such a bad guy. Maybe I didn't appreciate him when I had him. He wasn't as hard to please as you are.”

“Well, Tom John is gone, so it may be that you didn't please him all that good. I don't guess you ever thought about that, did you?”

Things like we had tend to peter out after a while, so to speak, and after I've had my little nooky it sort of alters my personality for the rest of the day. She had picked a bad time to brace me. “Maybe you'll get lucky,” I told her. “Maybe your husband will stagger into town one day and tell us he had the amnesia, and you and him can go back to Bonham.”

“Yeah, he really might show up again. You never did tell me what happened to him. You're the only one who knows.”

“Well, you never ast me, and it didn't matter, because I couldn't have told you, anyway. The law seems to think I was prolly the last one to see him, but I don't know why. I don't think they even know which day he disappeared. For all they know, they could have been forty-six more people to see him after me.” I could see that it was about time for me to get used to telling lies – not only to Lily Rose, but to anyone else, too.

“You did him in for no good reason, Deakin, and you and I both know it.” I was just before telling her she was right about me having no good reason. She was it. She was the reason Tom John had set up behind my place with his rifle and waited for me to come out of the house. I would not have cracked his coconut just for stealing a few trees off my land.

“And you didn't waste much time packin' up your little shit and comin' to my door with that raggedy Toyota and that little trailer. Well, now you have done wore out your welcome. Here's ten dollars. Go rent that little U Haul buggy again and pack it up and go. I don't need all this grief. Let them deputies follow you a while and leave me alone.” I could fade them sandwiches again if I needed to. I was eating sandwiches before she showed up.

“You're a cold sumbitch, Deakin, to put me out like I wasn't nothing.” So Lily Rose went to cryin', and she said. “Where am I gonna go, Deakin? Where can I go?”

“How about Italy?”

“Italy?! You buyin' my ticket?”

“No, I'm not, but I'll show you which way to go. You go through Halley and then through Pellegrin and then just keep goin' east. That's the way to Italy.” Since my nap was busted, what I really wanted right about then was to go down to the store and have a beer or two, but not with her packin' up. “Don't take nothing that don't belong to you.”

“Well baby boy, I reckon you're thinking this is the end of it – that you can take me in and put me out when it suits you. Well, you cain't. We'll just see.”

“You should have thought some about it before you started runnin' your mouth. Wherever Tom John went he should have brought you with him. And I didn't take you in – I let you in.”

“And it's not 'brought' when you are going away. It's 'took'. He should of took me with him. You're not as smart as you think.”

I had the red ass pretty good by then, and Lily Rose was out, to go wherever. Maybe I was just looking for a reason. I was looking forward to a bit of down time, and maybe going' up the river for a few days to catch some catfish. You don't have to get up in the dark to catch catfish. But it was not to be. The very next day, a big black Buick comes up my road, and I could see a decal on the side. It had to be the high sheriff. The guy driving didn't get out right away; I could see him in there, surveying the terrain through the window and lookin' like he might want to buy the place.

Directly he opened the door and got out, putting on his Stetson hat as he came. He was a right portly guy, no spring chicken, and he moved pretty slow. He had pointed cowboy boots, but they was a lot older than the ones his top deputy had been wearing when he was here. He wore a badge, but as far as I could see he wasn't carrying, which is to say he didn't have no gun on him. There's a bit of a grade from my little road up to my porch, and he was breathin' heavy by the time he made the trip.

“You must be Mr. Deakin,” he began, and I owned up to that by nodding my head just a little bit. “My name is Elray Pfister, and I'm the sheriff of Bignoot County.” I stood my ground and didn't say nothing, and he got tired of waiting on me. “Guess who appeared at my office yesterday afternoon.”

“Maybe you better tell me, so I don't make a bad guess, Sheriff Pfister.”

“It was Lily Rose John, widow of Tom John, from over in Bonham. You know Mrs. John?”

“Sure do. She was living' here with me until yesterday. You called her Tom's widow, so I guess you have found his dead body. Where was it at?”

“No sir, Mr. Deakin, we ain't found him, but we will. I figure he's not far from his truck, and we found that a few days ago. Miz John tells me you done something to Tom John, and that's how come I drove out here today. How about a comment on that, Mr. Deakin?”

“I'm not surprised. When we was fussin' yesterday she accused me of killing ol' Tom, and after all this time, she never said anything about it before. I had just give her her travelin' orders, and I knowed she had a corncob in her ass. I'm not surprised that she showed up at your place, wantin' you to come out here and give me some grief, but I am surprised that you saw fit to do it. So here we are, standing in my yard.”

“Well, a woman scorned and all that, I s'pose, but you and me should have got together about it before now, to be honest. How about if you go ahead and lock up your door and ride down to my office with me?”

“Sheriff, I'm standin' here trying to decide whether to go with you or not. I don't feel no obligation, to be honest. Is Bonham in Bignoot County?”

“Yes it is, so I'm the sheriff over there, too.”

“Well, I'll go if it will help you, but you will have to bring me back home after.”

“Don't start tellin' me what I have to do, Mr. Deakin. Don't be a smartass.”

We stood there for maybe ten seconds, like a couple of dogs getting' ready to go to fist city. I was just before telling this pot-bellied public servant to go piss up a rope, but I held my tongue. “I think I'll take me a ride into town,” I told him. “I'll swing by your office if I have the time, and if you are there, maybe we can have a little talk and get all this worked out.” And I went and locked my door and got in my old truck and cranked it up.

I left the sheriff standing in my yard, and I never looked at him as I went past him and the big car and swung onto the state road. I figured I was winning, so far.
 

vapros

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Head Shot 4

Head Shot 4

I didn't want to be in a rush to see the sheriff, I wanted to act a little more independent than that. Better he should wait a bit for me to show up than me to wait on him. There is a little store where Prosperity Road hits the highway, and I could see Tig Gentile and another guy sitting on the edge of the porch drinking a beer, so I pulled into the lot and joined them. The porch of the store is just high enough that you can sit on the edge of it and your feet will reach the ground. It's the same porch where Heavy Torres sat drinking beer with some guys about two years ago. Jerry Pine's youngest boy crawled under the porch and screamed and grabbed Heavy by his ankle, causing Heavy to moisten his dungarees so bad he had to go home and change. Since then, we always check under the porch before we sit down.

It was a few minutes until the sheriff's big car went by, and I pretended not to notice, but I wondered why he was so far behind me. Did he hang around my place for some reason after I was gone? I finished my beer and went on into town and stopped by his office. He was in the front waiting for me, and I followed him on back to his office.

“Do you know why you're here, Mr. Deakin?”

“Yep, it's because of something Lily Rose told you yesterday, far as I know.”

“She said you had told her that Tom John was missing because you done him something.”

“Well, Lily Rose and me have been doing him something for a while, sheriff, but that ain't why he's missing. Lily Rose is pissed at me and she lied to you about that. She's been at my place for a few months and not a word ain't been said about Tom John until yesterday. I would never tell her anything such as that. You know that. You don't tell secrets to a woman, and 'specially not to a woman like Lily Rose. The short answer is that I ain't told her nothing about him at all.”

“But you could if you wanted to, couldn't you?”

“Hell no. You and her think you know something about me, but you don't know nothing, either of you, and I'm tired of hearing about it. You sent two yoyos out to ask me about it, and then you sent the two yoyos and a cowboy, and you finally came your own self, all with the same question. Where's Tom John? Well, I'm telling you what I told them. I can't help you and I prolly wouldn't help you if I could. If I had shot him and left him in the road, it might take your crew a week to find him.”

“The more you talk about it, the more I believe you're lying to me about it.”

“Okay.”

“You're pissing me off, Mr. Deakin.”

“Yeah, well that gives you and Lily Rose something else in common. She left my place looking for a place to live, and then come straight to you, trying to stir up something bad for me. You called me in here for nothing because you ain't got nothing. I'm going home.” And that's what I did. What the hell was he expecting?

Well, things went along for a while after I seen the sheriff. I caught some fish and picked up a couple small jobs for my little dozer and twice I took it over to Bonham to do some stuff around my property and to check on the new guy cutting firewood on halves. Maybe you think it must be pretty lonesome around my little place without Lily Rose, but it's not that way at all. My house was gettin' to feel smaller and smaller with the two of us in there, and I never did like to be crowded. My sunny disposition is just now coming back.

I don't know where Lily Rose landed, but it wasn't too far, because she would turn up in Cutman now and then. I won't say I don't care what happened to her, because I do, but I'm glad she's gone. I liked her better when she was living over in Bonham with Tom John and sneaking out to see me once or twice a week. That was what you might call recreational sex, and that's the kind I'm best at. I still miss her for a hour or so, maybe every other day, but I'm glad she's gone. When I spot her little red Toyota in town I make sure to go the other way. No doubt she has located another house and another man. She needs to make her a good connection before she gets much older. She needs to remember that her goods are perishable.
 

vapros

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Head Shot 5

Head Shot 5

This was all Lily Rose's fault. When me and her was slipping around now and then and shucking our snuggies, I have no doubt that some people knew about it, and likely Tom John was one of 'em. There ain't many secrets in little towns like Bonham and Cutman. I musta figured that if he knew he didn't care. A man can generally find an excuse for what he is doing, but the truth was something else. Looking back, I figure ol' Tom wasn't willing to face me and have a showdown, but that didn't mean he was ignoring me. And when I found that he was doing the same thing to my timber that I was doing to his wife, I had the balls to get mad and cuss him out about it. That part was my fault.

When I seen him cruising my place for no good reason, it came to me that this guy was in town to do me something bad, and I was wise to set the trap for him. I shot him while he was all set up to shoot me. After a few days Lily Rose had reported him missing, but she never asked me if I knew anything about that. He was just gone, and it wasn't until he had been gone so long everybody figured he was dead that my name come up – but only as somebody to look at because I was good friends with his wife.

All that changed when Lily Rose turned up at my place with all her stuff in a little trailer and I let her move in. I should have known better than that. Right away the high sheriff figured that I was his man, but I was just thinking that I had fell into a UHaul full of free sex. At the worst, by that time he should have suspected us jointly. There's a good word.

Now she's gone and the sheriff is on me like white on rice and I'm beginning to wonder if I have done everything I could. I had buried Tom John pretty deep, and even if they found him some day they couldn't prove anything by that. So I took a perfectly good rifle forty miles up the Interstate and threw it into a big river. That made me feel better, until I thought of Tom's old truck. It might have my fingerprints, and I hadn't never thought of that. I had drove it to the old church where I left it, and I tried to remember if there was some kind of cover on the steering wheel or not. The sheriff said they had found it, so it must be in his lot, behind his office. I wondered if I could buy it from the county, or at least get a chance to touch it and sit behind the wheel before anybody could check it out.

So I went down to the lot to have a look, but Tom's old white Ford 150 was nowhere to be seen. The guy in charge of the lot was a deputy about a hundred years old, and I asked him about it and told him I might want to buy it. He said it was already gone, but I could see that. It wasn't that big a lot. He said it had been taken for junk or either the State Police had come and took it. How many reasons could the State Police want it? I could only think of one, and it chilled me pretty good.

I can't do nothing but wait, and that's what I'm doing, but my phone rang just now. You'll never guess who it was. She wants to come and visit for a hour or so. Well, I'm up for that, in a manner of speaking, but she better be traveling light. You know what I mean?


The End
 

vapros

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Endings

Endings

Yesterday I posted the last of five entries for my short story, Head Shot. I don't know how many readers hung in there for the whole thing, but there were several, at least. It was a typical story, in that the ending was a problem. The action is over – you can't extend it forever – and it is time to put the tale to bed. If you can concoct a finale with good results for your characters, something really satisfying, and a surprise, or maybe even a moral, then your short story might have been a success. If, on the other hand, you want to claim that it's literature, then I think you just stop writing.

When your protagonist (hero) has committed a serious sin, or a crime, then you have to decide whether to let him get away with it or have him caught and punished. In Head Shot, I wimped out and wrote a sort of vanilla ending. Deakin is left worrying and wondering if there will be consequences. I would never let him be punished, or even inconvenienced, for what he was doing with Lily Rose. If they jail folks for that, how many of us would be left to support our local pool rooms, you see what I mean? But bushwhacking the hapless Tom John is another matter. If Deakin is to be held responsible for that, then Sheriff Elray Pfister would be the winner, and I couldn't write that down. So I typed up a cornflakes and milk final entry and went to bed feeling ashamed. Couldn't be helped.

I'm working on another one, which will be called Heist. I think I will start a separate journal for it instead of posting it under the Unpaid Bill heading. It will be longer, and will show up in a few days. Again, my main guy will be a sinner – a thief – and again I will paint myself into a corner, trying to decide what to do about it. This time there will be a real ending of some kind, but I will keep writing without knowing where it is taking me. That's pressure, man, like Christopher Columbus. My world might really be flat, after all. As Jeff Sparks says, you're never lost if you don't know where you're going. That's what makes it fun.
 

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The Twelve Days of Mary Agnes Wallis

The Twelve Days of Mary Agnes Wallis

Tincup Wallis is the proprietor of Tincup Billiards, but he is other things as well. For one thing he is the husband of Rose of Sharon Wallis, and has been for quite a long time. Even so, Rose of Sharon doesn’t know as much about Tincup as she thinks she does, which is probably just as well, to be honest. He is also the father of Mary Agnes Wallis, who attends Daigleville Junior High and is the star of the school chorus, having a sweet, strong soprano voice. Or at least she used to be the star. Outside of pool, she was Tincup’s favorite topic, but it was usually pretty difficult to start a conversation about the junior high chorus in the poolroom. None of the players knew diddley about it, and cared less.

Mary Agnes had just turned fourteen when the last fall term began. She wasn’t much to look at, but you could say that about a lot of girls in junior high school. You could also say that a lot of the girls in Daigleville Junior High School didn’t care much about Mary Agnes, but that didn’t bother her, as she didn’t care much for them either. Her mother, Rose of Sharon Wallis, had trained her to sort of look down her nose at the other kids because of her Talent, and of course she was not allowed to visit Tincup Billiards. Mary Agnes could sing, and no mistake about that. She could carry a tune and had a fine, strong soprano voice that might rate pretty high on a scale of one to ten. Because of this Talent, she got all the solos whenever the school chorus performed for the public, which was several times every school year. Rita Mae Bonvillain was the next-best singer at the school, and some people rated the two of them a dead heat, but Mary Agnes got all the solos and Rita Mae had to sing in the chorus. Rose of Sharon Wallis chalked it up to the Talent, but some folks suspected it might be because Tincup was sneaking around and holding hands with Terri Babin, the music teacher. This would have come as a shock to Rose of Sharon, who thought her husband spent every evening at Tincup Billiards. Maybe some of you have noticed similar situations in your own neighborhoods.

Anyway, Tincup and Rose of Sharon didn’t think much of one another, if you want to know the truth, but they both liked to talk it up about Mary Agnes. They were sure she would be offered a singing scholarship to one of the state universities. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a singing scholarship, but they had no doubt about it.

Now, as we have all seen, stuff occasionally happens, and it happened last fall between Tincup and Terri Babin. Whatever it was, Terri not only refused to let him hold her hand any more, but threatened to drop a dime on him if he even came near her, which is to say she would call up Rose of Sharon. Tincup took that pretty seriously, as he figured it was a mortal cinch that Rose of Sharon would take a dim view of the whole thing and might even bust a cap or two on him. Just to make it worse, Rita Mae Bonvillain was picked to sing all the solos in the Christmas program at Daigleville Junior High School, and Mary Agnes Wallis was relegated to the chorus. This was a bitter pill to swallow, as there are some fine solo parts to be had in the Twelve Days of Christmas and Rita Mae got them all.

Rose of Sharon took it mighty hard and pushed on Tincup to take the matter before the Principal to remind him of the Talent and all, but Tincup was able to talk her out of it, saying it would be good experience for Mary Agnes to do a hitch in the trenches, so to speak. Tincup was not born yesterday and this was not the right time to make any waves with Ms. Babin.

So Mary Agnes had to stand in the chorus with the troops, but she didn’t go quietly - you can believe that. She didn’t speak to the others unless it was necessary, and pretty soon they noticed that during the rehearsals Mary Agnes was sort of improvising her own lyrics and not singing the songs exactly as they appeared in the song books. You might say it was her little rebellion against having to stand back there with the kids while Rita Mae stood up front in the lights and sang the solos. And that’s how it came about that the rest of the chorus hatched a little plot without letting Mary Agnes know. If you are going to be a snot, it is likely that the others will eventually plot against you, and you might as well look for it. And that's what they did.

Everybody who’s anybody in Daigleville turns out for the Christmas program every year and they packed the auditorium at the Junior High School. Tincup and Rose of Sharon were in front row center, as usual, and Tincup had on his suit, but Mary Agnes was not in her usual spot at the front of the stage. She was back in the shadows with the chorus and behaving herself pretty good, relatively speaking, until the third number, which was the Twelve Days of Christmas. And when Rita Mae sang out ‘Five Golden Rings’ and it was time for the chorus to come in, the other singers all clammed up and let Mary Agnes have her little solo. ‘Four Crawling Turds’ wailed Mary Agnes in her clear, sweet soprano voice that you could hear all the way to Podnuh’s Barbecue and maybe farther. And then the others came back in with the French hens and the turtle doves and the rest of the song.

Well, there was maybe five seconds when Mary Agnes didn’t know what had happened, and then there was about ten seconds when she wasn’t for sure that anything at all had happened, and then there was nearly a month when Mary Agnes and Rose of Sharon knew exactly what had happened but couldn’t do anything about it.

Terri Babin was up at the front of the stage, directing the music, so she had her back to the crowd and it was hard to see her face, but you could see her shoulders shaking and some said there was tears running down her cheeks. A lot of folks said she was crying and a lot of others said she wasn’t, so you can make of that whatever you like. Tincup’s chin dropped down on to his chest and his eyes rolled back in his head and Rose of Sharon began to slide down in her seat until there wasn’t anything to see but her beehive hairdo. She and Mary Agnes didn’t even come back after the intermission, so the chorus was a voice short for the rest of the program. A fine, strong soprano voice.

I would like to tell you that it all worked out for the best, but that would be a blatant lie. Here we are in the last part of January, and Rose of Sharon still hasn’t returned from her mother’s house in Dry Prong. Nobody knows if she’s coming back at all. Mary Agnes seems to be doing okay, and I’ve heard she is even a little bit proud of what she did. I guess she got her solo after all, didn’t she? It will be a long time before they forget Mary Agnes in Daigleville. Rita Mae Bonvillain is now the star of the music program and Terri Babin is reported holding hands with the manager of the paint department at Home Depot. She is not one to abstain very long when it comes to getting her hand held.

Tincup doesn’t talk about anything but pool these days, when he talks at all. Mostly he is in a terrible mood and he stomps around the joint giving dirty looks to anybody who wants one. He needs to get his butt kicked to maybe improve his disposition, but he’s a pretty big guy, and so far there haven’t been any volunteers.

Night before last the place was pretty quiet, with only a couple of tables of young couples playing eight-ball near the front door. This is not to say there was nobody else in there, just that nothing was going on. Tincup was at the back table, practicing long straight-ins by himself. Belly Gautreaux was doing a little rabble-rousing among the customary rabble at the golf table, and finally he offered to bet $5 that nobody had the cojones to stroll back there where Tincup was and whistle the tune from the Twelve Days of Christmas. Whitney Dugas, who should have known better, was finishing up his third or fourth beer and he took the bet. He put on his best stupid grin for the boys and hitched up his pants and walked to the back of the room and stopped by Tincup’s table, but he couldn’t get his whistle going right away, as no one can grin and whistle at the same time. You can try for yourself if you doubt what I am saying. So he stood there for a few seconds, trying to get his instrument primed, and Tincup stopped a shot, right at the end of the backstroke, and stood up and stared down at Whitney without saying a word. You might have thought he was reading Whitney’s mind.

Misty said later that Whitney’s grin froze solid and all the color sort of drained out of his face and down his neck, as if he might have sprung a leak down around his patella or someplace. It didn’t take Tincup long to stare him down and Whitney stumbled past the table and into the men’s room, and none too soon, either. Just when Belly began to worry about whether he should go and find him, Whitney finally came out of the bathroom and walked past Tincup without looking at him and reported back to the golf table and gave Belly a fin from his wallet.

Belly is not really such a bad guy, and he tried to give back the money, but Whitney wouldn’t take it. He said it was the best five dollars he had spent since Christmas, and I’m pretty sure it was.
 

vapros

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Do you know this lady?

Do you know this lady?

Well, I'm so glad I caught you, Elvira, because I know you go to yoga on Tuesdays, but I didn't know what time you get back, and I have something exciting to tell you. I was going to get the oil changed in my car today and I always like to go to the How About a Quickie on Stanford instead of the one on Purcell, because on Stanford there's a really nice man who will check everything on your car. He doesn't mind checking the water and the brakes and the radiator and the tires and everything, and nobody does that any more, now that we all pump our own gas and pay with a card and just go on down the street.

I felt like such a doofus when I went down Fryer and saw that the street was still blocked off and you have to back up and go all the way around by August Street to get to Stanford. It was all torn up the last time I went to get my oil changed, too, and that was a hundred years ago. Aren't they ever going to fix it? It doesn't look like they have touched it since then. I'm glad I don't live on Fryer – don't the Gaudets live in there, somewhere? If they do, I bet Marilee has plenty to say about that mess, and she's not one to bite her tongue for anybody.

Anyway, after I had my Quickie on Stanford – oh boy, how did that sound – I'm not going to ask you if you ever had a quickie, because I'm not going to tell you if I ever had one. If I ever did, it was when Moby Dick was a guppy, and you can imagine about what year that would be. Or even a noonie, you know? But I was determined to go to the big plant sale at the Super Walmart on Cheyenne, and from Stanford you have to make a big loop around the new high school, and it's like maybe a hundred miles. Don't ask me why I still call it the new high school, because Quentin went to high school there and he's grown up now with four kids of his own, and I heard that he may have a grandchild this summer, and everybody wonders who the father is, but nobody wants to ask. A lot of people might say it's the Sprague boy, but I hope it's not. He looks like malnutrition on the hoof. Anyway, there's been two more high schools built since that one, but I can't seem to break the habit. I guess it will always be the new high school to me.

I wanted to pick up some ground cover plants and some other fresh things to do a little bit of landscaping in the side yard and around the bathroom window. When that new development went in last year, on the Garcon property, they put in a new road that goes right by that side of the house. I finally got Clyde to have his old Cutlass Supreme hauled away – he was never going to do anything with it anyway – and the weeds around it had grown up as high as your patootie, and there was also those horrible old banana plants. I was embarrassed to have all those Section 8 people see my side yard in such a mess. I should have gone to the Walmart first and then to have my oil changed, because the good plants were all picked over like you wouldn't believe, and they were marking them down as I got there, but there wasn't anything I wanted. Long trip for nothing.

But here's what I wanted to tell you! From Walmart I drove across Cheyenne to that new little shopping center. I've been wanting to stroll around in that little boutique – I can't seem to rest when there's another boutique to see – but I never even got inside the place! Next door is a donut shop, and right in the window who do you think is sitting at a table and drinking coffee and eating donuts? You'll never guess in a million years, but I knew you would never forgive me if I saw him and didn't tell you, because everybody knows you're his biggest fan in the world. Garth Brooks is sitting right there in the window with two other men, drinking coffee and eating donuts. I recognized him right away. He had on jeans and a western shirt and cowboy boots, but he didn't have the big hat, he was wearing a cap. Elvira, that's only like five minutes from your house, and if you shake your booty over there you might still see him. He's not going to sit there all day waiting for you, though.

Don't thank me, Elvira. It's just one of those things that might come along once in a lifetime, and you don't want to miss it. I won't keep you – you go, girl!
 

vapros

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May 24, 2004
Messages
3,627
Idle ink

Idle ink

I've been away from this journal for several days, fiddling with my short story, Heist. Can't do either, really, when I'm trying to do both. My version of multitasking is eating lunch while reading a novel. I've got one of those wire frames that support the book, leaving both hands to put in my plate. Heist is sort of a frantic thing right now. It's a writing project that I started several years ago, and put on the shelf for lack of an ending. I must be out of my mind to break it out now, still with no ending. Bloop! In the water, pal, sink or swim. One way or another, this will be the end of it.

I hope all of you saw youngstownkid's recent journal post, with the picture of the putting green in his back yard. Man, that's impressive! If he ever decides to sell the place, that green will be worthy thirty large. Imagine such an item behind your maison! That's a French word for house.

I'm enjoying androd's journal, too. It's a running account of his pool adventures, fashioned about the same as mine, in that it's a series of posts under a single journal title, but he has been a more reliable poster than I have in recent days. Not only that, he has started adding a bit of local color and human interest in his entries. Nothing is as ridiculous and fascinating as people, and rod has a good eye and ear. (That's a definite plus when your other parts are not in good order. Trust me.)

YouTube is a great place to spend forty minutes or an evening, or whatever you have to spare. It offers almost anything you can think of, and lots of it. Beyond the thousands of pool matches, one can research or just enjoy his favorite interest. I have spent many hours looking at tiny houses, log cabins, wilderness abodes and emergency shelters – Robinson Crusoe, I believe, was a distant relative of my father's. Or not. Several years ago, I bought a small house in two acres of woods just below Natchez. Big frontage on a fifty-acre pond, too. I let my Medicare supplement insuror bully me into coming back to town. To be honest, I was already too old to live in the woods alone by that time. But it was a nice outing for a couple of years.

I have also watched a thousand rats die in recent weeks. The current air rifles are deadly, and there are a lot of gunners killing rats and photographing the events. They go to farm venues, mostly at night, and with all manner of equipment one can watch the big rats going about their nasty habits and dying from pellets. They reside in those places in unbelievable numbers. Their eyes shine big and white in the green light, and you can see the sight picture on the weapon, and perhaps watch the flight of the pellet. With six rodent corpses already on the ground, they keep coming, and the gunners keep shooting them. Those air rifles are capable of harvesting rabbits and bigger animals, too. Yesterday I saw a feral hog succumb to a good hit in the head. Fantastic. I wasn't kidding about a thousand rats, either.

Also, and often in the UK, they have similar sport with dogs of all kinds. On a farm or in a barnyard of wet mud, they turn out the rats and the dogs, quick as cats, run them down and kill them with a violent shake that breaks their necks. There are breeds of terriers, such as the Plummers, that live to kill rats and are mighty good at it. The most amazing thing, to me, was to see men with shovels in an open field, digging into a mass of earth and decaying grain or hay or feed, and flushing multiple huge rats with a single turn of their shovels. Maybe as many as four or five at a time. One wonders how many of the filthy varmints must live under ground in those places. Some of them are too big for a cat to engage, I'm sure.

Anyway, I hate rats, and if I had such an unlimited source of 'em nearby, I would have one of them varmint guns. YouTube, man, there's nothing like it.
 

vapros

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May 24, 2004
Messages
3,627
People who need people

People who need people

In the newest upscale shopping center in this town, there's a Whole Foods market. I can't think of it as a grocery store like Walmart – at least not for people in my pay grade – but I go in once in a while for a sandwich, and it is a choice destination for that. Lunch for me is generally the middle of the afternoon, due to the hour of my breakfast, and I customarily find lunch places in a bit of a lull, so to speak.

This week, the guy who made my sandwich was a big guy, tall and heavy, well-groomed and pleasant and professional. During the time I stood at the counter, several people passed and gave him a hello. He had regular customers. We talked as he worked, and he gave me a bit of insight into the world of sandwiches. For example, when he asked if I wanted my sandwich cut in half, he noted that not everyone wanted theirs cut in half. In certain areas of the country, patrons might be greatly offended if you cut their sandwiches in half without asking, he said.

My point is that this is a sandwich guy. This is his trade and he is good at it. Obviously he had practiced it in more than one town and for a considerable period of time. I don't believe he is looking for a better job, unless maybe it might be a better sandwich-making job. He has a good shop in which to work, all the best tools and materials are at hand, and he is in the midst of upscale people to serve and talk with. He has a good job and he likes it.

In case you have not noticed, I sometimes write about the bowling business, and my time as a pinboy during the 1940s. I mentioned not long ago that this also had been a career for some guys in that period; setting pins back in the pits. Not upscale, to be certain, but in its fashion a good way to get along, and a coveted indoor job in the wintertime in those areas where it was cold as hell outdoors. In such bowling establishments, the pinboys had their own area behind the lanes, where they hung out together when they were idle. There would be magazines there, and a radio and a table big enough to play cards, and restroom facilities of some kind. Often there would be one among them who presided there and enforced behavior and housekeeping. It was their private place and they were a kind of fraternity.

By circa 1960, when I became involved in business at the front of the lanes, the pinboys were gone. Automatic pinspotters put them out of business, and one trained pinspotter mechanic could handle all the calls on a great number of lanes. My own experience with those guys was that, as soon as I left the building, they were up front with the customers, and had to be summoned when needed at their jobs. They hated the solitude. And, having financed a three week training period in Shelby, Ohio for them, I couldn't very well run them off and hire another off the street. I sometimes wondered who was running the joint.

Conversely, where I grew up in south Louisiana there are a great many bayous and a great many bridges. As you might expect, there were a lot of bridge tenders; men or women whose task it was to stop road traffic and open the bridges for the various kinds of boats that wanted to pass. Cars and trucks are more easily stopped and started than boats, and the rules were made accordingly. When you have a tugboat and you're pushing eight loaded barges, you really would rather not have to stop and then begin again. The bridge tenders worked in tiny booths, and pressed buttons to lower the traffic barriers and operate the bridge. I could see them in there, when there was nothing to do. If the weather was nice they might leave the booth and stand at the railing and look down into the water. Believe it or not, there are things to see in the bayou and along the banks. Sometimes there would be a fishing line hanging over the edge of the bridge.

One of the older bridges in my neighborhood did not elevate to make room for boats. It was on a pivot, and it swung round to clear the bayou. The bridge tender had to come out of his kiosk and descend almost to water level and push the bridge by hand, trudging along on a curved sort of boardwalk. Then back again when the boat had passed. He might have to do this several times each day, in all kinds of weather. This was not a footbridge, either. Vehicles by the dozens crossed the bayou on it. Bridge tending was a solitary employment, but many people continued in it for years – perhaps for a lifetime. It suited them better than working on a crew of any sort.

There were other occupations with similar work places, and other workers who manned those jobs. When I had met the public, and smiled at it sometimes if I had to, in the bowling business, for as long as I could stand it, I learned to be a sign painter, quite late in life. Technology has done away with sign painters now, and that's sad. The masters of that craft were true artists, and much of their work was solitary. I wish I could have been one of the masters. People who need people, crooned Barbra Streisand, are the luckiest people in the world. I have never been one of those, so I can't say. I like dogs and goats, and private space. In some ways, however, I have been lucky, too.
 
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vapros

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Joined
May 24, 2004
Messages
3,627
It's the internet

It's the internet

Hard rain today, and there's water standing in the driveway, so I can't get to my mailbox. No matter, probably about like the stuff already on hand this week. I've got a certificate for $850, to be used only if I buy hearing aids. Silence is better, send me an e mail.

I am promised a warm and fuzzy feeling if I will go 'round to the local Honda dealer. Sounds a little like the beginning of an anesthetic. Masked guys with knives; clerks with calculators. If I would like to buy a new pickup truck, this is the month for it. They will forgive me the first $13,000 of the selling price. I paid less than that for the last pickup truck I bought. Nearly new.

The people at the bank will kick in $200 if I start a new savings account. Sounds like a gift, but I never am very comfortable around the people in banks. No warm and fuzzy feelings in banks. I'm on the mailing list – isn't everybody – from one of the finance companies. On Monday they sent a copy of a check for $1,372.25, with my name on it. Wonder how they came up with that amount. Included in the envelope was their repayment schedule. Credit references permitting, one can borrow a thousand dollars for a year, and repay just $133 each month for twelve months. That's just four cents less than $1600, and we're talking sixty percent! How would you like to have a hundred gee on the street at that rate?

Got a notice from Humana that they were denying a claim for $108 from the optical store at the Ochsner clinic. A couple of days later, my bill from Ochsner advised that someone had paid $78 of that amount, and all they needed from me was the other $30. That's nice. I can do that without calling on the finance company.

For an additional $10 a month I can get a lot more channels on my cable TV. The dish TV folks will give me a free Visa card for $100 if I switch.

Why is all my mail about money? That's a silly question, of course, because everything seems to be about money. Actually, not everything is about money; it just seems that way sometimes. There's the Muslim thing, the black/white thing, the liberal/conservative thing, the mover/shooter thing and the Cubs/Cardinals thing. Those things are about people, and not about money. So, where does that take us?

Well, money plus people equals news, and lies, and that takes us to the internet. Maybe I have found the key to everything. It's the internet, that's the answer. I believe I think better when it's raining. Or not. Mark me, Charlie, I'm going upstairs.
 
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