I have a cat.
Well, he’s not really mine. But he does come for a visit everyday, looking for food and attention. Probably the attention more then the food. I suppose he stays in the trees that border the path behind our house. Wherever he sleeps, almost every day he shows up, looking at me with big eyes and meowing a greeting. Sometimes it’s in the morning when I take my wife to work. And other times it’s in the evening after supper while we’re watching television.
I don’t know his name. I just call him Buddy and he looks up and responds so that’s good enough. Names aren’t important. A cat has several anyway. There are the names humans call their pet and then the name by which the cat thinks of themselves. Do you really think that that mighty cat, killer of mouse and bird, the hunter who even chases deer, the guardian of 325 Elm Street thinks of himself as Fluffy?
So I call him Buddy and that is enough. He greets me as I drop a handful of food in a dish, rubbing his face into my hand before starting to eat. Must be starving for attention because he usually only eats half before jumping to the bottom of the stairwell and rolling on his back so I can dig my toes in the soft white fur of his belly, scratch him under the chin and around the ears. Sometimes he jumps in my lap, stretched out with his head laying across my arm. We sit, like two old men puffing their pipes while looking over the water.
Three females live inside with us, one an eight month old kitten who considers me her daddy and sleeps curled at my side. We have a black cat, who acts like an aloof princess yet curls up in my lap , kneading and rubbing and purring like a Mack truck. There’s the oldest, who considers herself the Queen of the household and chases a laser pointer up and down the hallway like a madwoman. And outside…
I have a Buddy.
Everything is white this morning. The road, the sidewalk. I’m not always sure if I’m walking on the sidewalk or somebody’s yard. Started snowing early and is still going on. Should for most of the day. Drifts mean you don’t always know where the curb is so watch those ankles.
It’s quiet. Not much traffic even on the main road. Walking down my street, about all I hear is the wind, blowing. Always blowing. There’s the occasional sound of kids playing, shovels on driveways. The steady crunch of my boots as I tread through the snow. One or two cars driving slowly pass. Quiet. Beautiful. The kind of walk that lets your mind wander, think over some piece of writing. Come up with my best stuff on walks. Just doesn’t always stick.
I really love these days. Even the shovelling isn’t that bad. It also lets your mind chew things over. Work on that thorny plot point. What IS the connection between these two characters.
Anyway, enjoy your weather, whatever it is. And if it’s like mine, curl up with somebody or something special, and enjoy some hot chocolate or coffee. Or get that fixed plot on paper.
This story was inspired by a tweet from Saladin Ahmed (which, if you haven’t bought his book what are you waiting for?) about an assassin trying to get paid by a kingdoms bureaucrats.
He stretched on the chair, back popping. Little heat reached these chambers, most of it coming from the sunlight streaming in the large windows along the back wall. The scribes wore woollen cloaks and kept small braziers at their desks. There was a lot of books and scrolls in the Finance and Archives Dept. and they couldn’t risk fireplaces shooting out sparks. He’d asked once why they couldn’t just put up screens and all he’d gotten was a dirty look.
“Number fifteen,” a scribe called out. He glanced down at the scrap in his hand, despite having long since remembered the number written on it. There was some vague hope that it had maybe changed, that perhaps he would move up.
He shifted again on the stone bench. Even through his leathers the cold was seeping into his bones. I’m getting too old for this shit, he thought. This is why people get apprentices. Sitting around waiting on paperwork was no task for a craftsman of his experience and ability. It was simply preposterous. It…
His fingers tapped on his knee. Why the hell did they have to do this personally? Should just be able to have the papers delivered and the gold sent. He had performed a service and deserved his pay in return. Bloody accountants always had to…
“Number seventeen.” He glanced down at the paper again. The number hadn’t changed but he was just one away.
Ha! Some fool must have let his bladder get away from him. Probably had brought drink, the amateur.
He stood up quickly and walked over to the desk before anyone had a chance to cut him off. He handed over the paperwork, everything filled out in triplicate, signed by all appropriate parties and even in the proper colour ink.
The clerk flipped through the pages. “You are Derik Goodman?”
“Yes, of course.”
“This is a rather large sum.”
“It was a rather large job.”
“Mm.” The clerk flipped through the pages.
“Look, General Potter signed this. Said it was good to go.”
“Yes, well, we are operating under budget constraints. This is more then I’m allowed to release at once.”
Derik took a deep breath. “I want, I need my money. Just give it to me.”
The clerk handed the file back. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m not authorized. You’ll have togo to the level 2 offices upstairs.”
“They will give me my money?”
“Yes sir. Just give the clerk this file. Number nineteen.”
He took the file, standing still a minute eyes closed before turning on his heels. There was no point arguing with this clerk.Besides, security was never far away. He stomped upstairs. There would be hell to pay over this. Somehow. An angry letter at least.
The upstairs office was smaller. They didn’t deal with the general stuff, mainly overseeing what the bean counters under them did. (Literally. The king was fanatic about knowing exactly how many beans were in the royal storehouses.) There was only two other people waiting, a soldier and a lady. He snatched the scrap of paper. Number four.
“How long you guys been waiting?”
“Two hours,” the soldier said. “They don’t even serve breakfast.”
The lady sniffed. “That would be why I brought my own. I would think a soldier of all people would understand the importance of being prepared.”
“And I would think the kingdom would understand the importance of paying off its mercenary troops. Before they, you know, decide to just take what’s owed them.”
“Those unwashed bandits? They wouldn’t get past the city gates. The city guard would destroy them. And if the Kings Guard was called out…” She shook her head. Derik thought it must be nice to live with such certainty.
“And what brings you here, milady,” he said, in his most bland unaccented voice.
He was amazed that her nose reached even higher. “That is hardly something I would discuss with one such as you. It is private business.”
“Hardly private if your asking the treasury to pay for it,” the soldier said.
“It is the duty of the treasury to provide for the Queens needs. I am her lady in waiting. And that is all any needs to know.”
“Number two,” came the dry voice of the clerk. It didn’t sound like he talked much. The lady rose from her seat, gathered her skirts and entered the office.
“Then there were two,” Derik said. He pulled a flask from one of his inner pockets and took a healthy pull. He held it out to the soldier. “Mercs, eh? You must be Captain LaGrange.”
The soldier took the flask and drunk. “I don’t know about must but that’s who I am. But not many would know that. You would be?”
“I did some scouting work with the cavalry. Always way ahead of the line but I heard Colonel Breskin speak highly of you. Said nobody else had ever did as well with those sell swords.”
The captain fidgeted on his seat. His way of blushing, Derik supposed. “Ah well, just doing my job. The bastards haven’t paid you yet, either?”
The Queens lady in waiting marched out if the office and past them, tucking a small bag into her skirts. “Good day, gentlemen.”
“Well she must have been persuasive.”
LaGrange laughed. “Nobody wants to piss off the queen. Haven’t you heard? The king is sickly and she is next in line of succession.”
“Indeed? That is interesting.”
“That’s me, mate,” the captain said, standing up. “Need any work, look me up. They’re sending me out to the western forests after bandits. Could use a good scout.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.”
He watched the captain enter the office and slid a dagger from a hidden sheath, tossing it in his hand. So honourable and trusting. Yet LaGrange was doing a good job commanding the mercenaries, who usually ran off anyone from the regular army sent to lead them.
So the king was sick again. Must be serious if people were all ready bowing to the queen. She was young but seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, from what he’d heard. But then, she was Lord Gretans daughter and he didn’t believe in not educating a child because it was a girl. Mayhap she’d even keep that head where it belonged. The kings cousin had been eying the throne a few years now.
The big question for Derik was did he care? He exclusively worked for General Potter so wasn’t likely to be asked to remove the queen or anyone else in the line but he was a subject of this realm. He wasn’t sure anyone who wanted that throne badly enough to kill for it deserved to sit on it.
He decided he would keep his ear to the ground, see what went down. Protect the queen if need be. Being owed favours by the queen and Lord Gretan was no small thing. And it was never a bad thing to be remove some competition.
The door slammed open, rebounding off the wall and almost hitting the captain in the face as he stormed out. “Gods damnit, but I won’t be able to control them with no pay! They’ll storm the fucking city.”
“That sounds like exaggeration, Captain LaGrange. The funds are not available at this time.”
“It’s on your head then.” His boots beat an angry rhythm as he stomped to the stairs. “Good luck,” he muttered to Derik as he passed.
The clerk was still standing in the door. An old man, a few last whisps of grey combed over his head. “Number…” He started wearily. “Oh sod it. No one else is there. Get in here.”
“And good morning to you, good sir,” Derik said, settling in the seat before the chief clerks desk.
“Let’s see the file.”
Derik handed it over and leaned back as the clerk looked through. “Every i dotted and t crossed,” the old man said. “As always, General Potter is exemplary with his paperwork.”
“This is a rather large sum.”
“So they told me downstairs.”
“They were right. Unusual in these days.”
“It was an unusual and rather large job.”
The clerk tapped the paper on the desk. “It doesn’t say what you do for Potter.”
“That’s because it’s a secret. Only Potter and the king are privy.”
“So I’m to release funds on the generals say so?”
Derik shrugged. “He is the kings spymaster. Consider it vital national defence.”
“I’m not sure that’s enough”
Smiling, Derik leaned forward, eyes glinting. “I killed a man. Stabbed him while he sat on his chamberpot. While the body thrashed and shat all over itself and the floor.”
The clerks eyes went wide but Derik wasn’t done. “Then I dumped the body outside a brothel on the waterfront. One which caters to tastes that are…wrong. Which is how one kills both a man and his good reputation. And both those tasks are what I am being paid for.”
The clerk gasped. “The minister from the Island Kingdoms! The entire trade mission has been recalled.”
“Yes. Along with their spies. Who can no longer map our defences. And maybe now there won’t be a war.”
The clerk reached for his quill pen and scratched out a cheque to be drawn on the treasury. He shoved it over to Derik.
“Number five,” he said, voice still quivering.
They stood before the door, eyes darting around. Thirsty, what with the long days and short nights of summer. Not as much time to hunt and feed and still get online for multiplayer. One nudged the “Welcome” mat with his foot.
“Look, it says welcome. Means come on in. It’s an invitation.”
“You’re crazy as shit. Don’t mean no such thing. Just there to wipe mud off folks shoes.”
The third stood a ways back. He was a few years older then them, been a vampire longer too. Acted like the veteran, the man with the plan. Considered himself a real Hannibal. “Knock it off, you guys. We gotta get on with this and get back to the house. Big match tonight.”
“He’s right, Johnny. So lets just go down by the jip joint, pick off some drunk asshole.”
Johnny shook off the hand on his shoulder. “No. Go if you want. I’m going in here.”
“Damnit, Johnny, you can’t just walk into a house. We’ll leave your ass here.”
“What the hell, man? Blood is blood. We gotta eat.”
Johnny turned around, looking at his two friends. “Sally lives here.”
“Who the fuck is Sally?”
“Oh right, you were all ready graduated. Shit, Paul, Sally was Johnny’s high school crush. Pined after her something awful. Blonde, cheerleader, big tits.”
“What? We’re here over some piece of ass? Fuck. Lets go.” Paul turned on his heel. The hunger was growing and the bar was close. He could almost taste the blood pouring down his throat; hot, rich, that metallic scent and taste.
“She’s no piece of ass,” Johnny said in a harsh whisper.
“That’s right, he never got none. Most everybody else did.”
Shut up, Ace.”
“Why don’t both you two sad sacks shut up? Or would you like to just stand here, dick in hand, until the sun comes up?”
“I’m going inside,” Johnny said.
“To feed on the hot cheerleader who ignored you in school? That’s lame, dude.”
“Besides, Johnny, you can’t. No invitation.”
“The mat. It says welcome. Might as well say walk on in.”
“Oh for fucks sake. We’re back here again?” Paul shook his head. “Dumbass, that’s just a mat. Coupla bucks at Walmart. Doesn’t mean jack shit.”
“No, it does. What else could it mean? All are welcome.”
“The invitation has to be said, not written on a damn doormat.”
“Says who? There some vampire rule book? Fourth edition? A vamp bible?”
Paul shoved his hands in his pockets, staring angrily at Johnny. “Pissant little fucker. Go ahead then. We’ll all head inside and enjoy some cheerleader blood. I’ll take a thigh.”
“Goddamnit, I don’t want to eat her…”
Bright UV lights suddenly flicked on, bathing the three in an unending stream of sunlight. They dropped to their knees, howling in pain. The door slammed open, crashing into the wall.
“Stupid bloodsuckers. Top of the food chain are ya? That damn mat gets you fuckers every time.” The shotgun blasted three times, the shells loaded with wooden shot. Heads blown clean off, bodies disintegrating into ash.
The young blonde woman pushed three more shells into the shotgun and leaned it against the wall just inside the door. She adjusted the welcome mat then closed the door.
Ok this one I know about. Saw the movie however long ago. It pops up in cable, I don’t turn the channel. I like Elle. And I like the messages to be found in this movie. Messages that aren’t found in other romantic comedies. Like, be an individual, be strong, be smart, don’t dumb yourself down for a man. And don’t give up something you want to do to stay home and make babies. I don’t know, I got three girls. Maybe I’m sensitive to this sort of thing.
Of course, if you know the story, you know that is Elle’s plan at first. She wants to go to Harvard Law, impress her ex so he thinks she is serious and will take her back. “Your IQ drops to 40 whenever you around him,” one character says. And it is true. She goes back to the stereotypical sorority girl. But she is intelligent and capable and comes to realize that. And learns that instead of being just a means to an end, the law can help people. She may not be serious but she is not less than anyone else.
I’m starting to sound like an echo but Neptune did one hell of a job here. They just keep raising the bar. The sets, the costumes (of which there are 144, I believe, not counting the dogs), the music. Just pure excellence across the board. Live music obviously has its challenges but the folks at Neptune pull it off wonderfully. The costuming looked awesome and Elle had all her pink. And I loved the way the sets slid on and off stage with ease, giving us just enough to set the scene. The choreography, well damn. Done by Chad McNamara who was one of the Doodlebops, I was happily impressed. I’m merely an observer here, knowing less then nothing about dance, but this was awesome. Lively and full of great moves. I would praise it further but I really don’t know enough to say anything but bloody well done. There must have been an insane amount of work and it paid off in spades.
They started rocking the joint right from the beginning with the Delta Nu girls and “Oh My God! Ohmigod You Guys!” Songs were sung, dances danced, the sets sliding back and forth with the actors. Everybody did a great job from Lindsay Frazier as perpetually pink Elle to David Cotton’s slightly clueless and jerkish Warner, the impetus for the whole story. Liz Gilroy, who I saw last in Elf, was funny and sweet as Paulette. And I’m not sure who got the biggest reaction from the audience, Graham Coffeng as Kyle the UPS man or Rufus the Bulldog. For me, the stand out was the Delta Nu girls, specifically as the Greek chorus once Elle had moved to Harvard. In a play filled with laugh out loud moments, they almost brought tears to my eyes. And the girls were right. They really did add to the show. I’m glad their roles were expanded. Another stand out was the court room scene, with the cast singing “Is He Gay or Is He European?” I want to buy it in iTunes. And the bend and snap? Again please.
The story seemed a little quick at times, things happening without a lot of development, but I think that’s the nature of the game. It cant be easy turning a movie into a musical. Things will have to change to make room for the song and dance. Some moments get stretched out, others speeded up. But overall, the story didn’t suffer and it does keep the running time down. They are really turning me into a theatre and musical fan at Neptune. I’ve come to expect excellence from them and they keep delivering. On April 11 they release the schedule for the upcoming season and I can’t wait. I will be there for as many shows as I can.
As for Legally Blonde? Go see it. Got a girl, take her. I think they recommend 12 and older. Some sexually related things. Its nothing major but that depends on you and your child. Make it a girls night out or a date night with hubby. He’ll enjoy himself. Obviously something about Elle Wood’s journey strikes a chord with viewers. The movie came out in 2001. The musical had million dollar weeks on Broadway. And now a standing ovation at our own Neptune Theatre. And well deserved. I laughed practically the entire time. Got mad at the appropriate times. Cheered on the heroine. And that’s knowing how the story goes. Legally Blonde isn’t in the genre i typically like, as some of you know! but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Its a good story told well, with wit and enthusiasm. And we can all stand a little pink in our life. Who knows, maybe next year we get The Expendables The Musical.
Spring is coming. May all ready be here where you are. Temperatures going up, flowers poking out. Course the north east and the Maritime provinces are having or preparing for a winter storm as I write this. Old man Winter wants one more lay before he walks out the door.
It’s a hell of a time, spring in Kentucky. Brown dead grass replaced with green. Calving and fooling season. Easter. Resurrection. The world becoming alive again. Time to plant seed for the fall harvest. Check the almanac, it’ll tell you when.
Buds will pop out on tree branches, leaves will unfurl. Animals start moving around. Ready to eat something fresh. Birds flying back north, red breasted robin hunting worms on your front yard. A sure sign of spring, like goldenrod is for the fall. But that’s months away. A whole lifetime.
Dig out the camo for the spring turkey hunt. Gobblers will be strutting. The sap is rising and they want to plant their seed, you know. They’ll sometimes gobble at car doors closing. So call in one. Don’t want to kill it, take a camera. It’s an experience.
Tobacco. Float beds are used a lot. Plant the seeds in styrofoam trays and float em in water in the green house. Then when the time is right the plants are taken to the fields and planted. Fall is cutting and stripping time but that ain’t for months. It’s a progression. But there ain’t much better then driving down a country road and breathing in the scent of tobacco hanging in a barn. But we’ll get there.
Spring. Time to get up. Get going. Get out. Run through the fields. Skid around a curve on a country lane. Push the gas pedal down a little more and watch the dust billow up as you bump down the gavel road. Tear the plastic off the windows and open the house up. Air it out. Find a tree to set against. Air out your soul.
A simple job the old man said. As complicated as a pizza delivery. Just show up, get the pills and pay. Take them to the dealers and get money from them. Bring that back. If you can make them pay extra, keep it. But don’t jeopardize my business. Wendell’s fingers drummed on the door of his pick-up. Simple. Right.
He glanced at his watch again. The assholes were all ready a half hour late. The old man had said to meet them at a rest stop on 75 south of Richmond. At ten o’clock. Been here since a quarter to ten and still no sight. He was about ready to call the old man up when he saw the car swing into the parking lot. Monte Carlo like the boss had said. Two guys. They nodded when they cruised past and pointed to the restrooms. Wendell sighed. So much for quick and easy.
“You know, I don’t tend to make a habit of meeting men in restrooms. How about we get this over with so I can get the fuck out of here?”
The guys were in front of the sinks, leaning back with arms across their chests. He had to wonder if they’d practiced the look in front of the mirror. “Wendell? What the fuck are you doing here?”
Wendell frowned, trying to place the man. “Helping a buddy, dude. Got the shit?”
“Got the money?”
“Would I fucking be here if I didn’t? What the hell is wrong with you?”
They looked at each other. “Go ahead, Pete, tell him,” said the taller bearded man.
Pete. Now he remembered. “I will, man but shit. This is the guy shot Perkins.”
“Who gives a rat’s ass? Just do it.”
“Yes, Pete. You have something to say?”
“Well, um, Wendell, well we want more money. We went all the way down to Florida after these pills and we just ain’t getting paid enough.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Yeah it is,” the fat guy said. He reached into the gym bag on the sink, pulling out a knife. “Or we carve up that pretty face.”
“You seriously think this is going to work? What happens when you burn through this money and need more? The old man won’t give you any more runs and he’ll make sure no one else where either.”
“Fuck, he’s right, Billy,” Pete said.
“We got plans for that, Pete, remember? Besides, we could even sell the pills ourselves and make a pile more money.”
Wendell nodded. “You probably could.” He took a step forward and kicked, his steel toed motorcycle boot crashing into Billy’s crotch. The man screeched, the knife falling to the floor as he doubled over, clutching his groin. Wendell grabbed his hair and slammed his head into the sink with a hollow thunk. The screeching stopped and Wendell let him fall, turning his gaze on Pete. “What about you? You want to sell these…”
He started to turn as he saw the stall door opening in the mirror but not quick enough. The edge of the door caught him in the back and pushed him into the sinks. Pete saw his opening and started raining blows, fast and many. At least there wasn’t much weight behind them. Wendell shoved him away and dodged back as the man from the stall swung a knife at him, hissing as it sliced across his ribs. He dodged back, closer to the doors, Pete now between him and the knife guy.
It was a small guy, black suit, white shirt, no tie. Wendell had to wonder how he’d hooked up with these two rednecks. He spared a glance over his shoulder. The door was behind him but opened into the bathroom. Fuck. The guy grinned. “No running, buddy. Should have paid up.”
“Yeah? What’s your stake in this?” Wendell pressed a hand to his side, looked at the blood on his fingers. Looked like mostly a slice, but it burned like hell.
“Call me an interested investor. And I’d much prefer if I didn’t have to retrieve the cash from your corpse.”
“I bet. Sound like you’re from up north.”
“Don’t worry about where I’m from. Let’s just do this as easy as possible, eh?”
“My thoughts exactly.” He rushed the guy, dropping into a tackle and hitting him square in the middle. He could feel the knife slicing through the back of his leather jacket, cutting into his shoulder then they were tumbling over top the fallen Pete. He pulled the knife free, ready to drive it in again and Wendell reached for his hand, pushing it away and driving his forehead into the guy’s nose. He slammed the hand holding the knife into the floor, trying to knock it loose. Finally it fell from loose fingers and he pulled back, chest heaving. He could feel a vague pain in his shoulder where the knife had landed and knew it would be worse later when the adrenaline had worn off. Snarling, he kicked the guy in the ribs mercilessly, over and over, the heavy boots thudding in flesh. The man was stunned from the headbutt and weakly tried to draw in on himself but it did him no good. The blows just landed on his kidneys then.
Pete scrambled away, gripping a sink to pull himself to his feet. “Jesus Christ, Wendell, you’ll kill the bastard,” he gasped out. The door swung open and both men turned to look. It was an older guy, bald, shorts and sandals with socks. He took one look and stepped back, closing the door.
“Yeah, well, what the fuck do you think he was going to do to me?” The guy had rolled over to his belly and pushed up on his hands and knees, coughing. Blood and drool hung from his lips, mixing with the blood running from his broken nose. Wendell rubbed his forehead, wincing as the movement pulled on the wound in his shoulder. He growled again and kicked the guy in the face, knocking him over. Wendell didn’t know if he was knocked out or decided it was smarter to stay down. “Who the fuck is this asshole?”
“I don’t know his name. Some guy Billy was working for while he was in Canada. Wanted to clear a path, get a straight route for the pills to go north.”
“Uh huh. And robbing me in a bathroom would accomplished that how?”
“I don’t know, man. Cut out the middle man, I guess. Maybe they are tired of paying so much.” He licked his lips, eyes darting around. “It wasn’t my idea, you know? Let me go, won’t you?”
Wendell sighed, his breathing starting to even out. “Yeah. Get out of here.”
“What about a couple pills, man? I’m hurtin here.”
His eyes narrowed. “Get. Out.” Pete swallowed and hurried out the door. Wendell rifled through the man’s pockets, slipping the wad of cash in the wallet in his pocket. He tossed the knife in the trash can and, growling, kicked the guy once more for good measure. Then he opened a bottle, popping a couple pills in his mouth. That knife wound in the shoulder was going to be a bitch.
Outside he tossed the gym bag in the cab of his truck, wasting no time getting back on the interstate. At some point someone would finally call the police and he didn’t want be sitting there when it happened. He dropped off 75 on Boonesborough Road, pulling into the truck stop. He could hear police sirens racing down the highway and grinned. By the time they got any description, IF they got any description, he’d be too far away to have to worry. Might as well call in and get it over with.
“Put the old man on,” he told the girl that answered, shifting on his seat. The shoulder and the slice on his side was starting to bother him. Good thing he had plenty of oxy at hand.
“Wendell, you done all ready,” the old man asked when he came on the line.
“What the fuck is going on? You trying to get rid of me?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I got jumped by your fucking delivery boys. Them and some other guy. Not exactly the type to do their own planning. Which don’t leave many options.”
“And you think I’d do that? Fuck, man, I ain’t got to go to all that trouble if I wanted rid of you.”
Wendell grunted. “Could be your right,” he said. “Just thought I’d check. If it ain’t you, then someone’s trying to move in. Might want to talk to your people. Those two druggies said someone from Canada was wanting to cut out the middle man.”
“I’ll look into it. Where are you?”
“Truck stop down by Boonesborough. Got the pills. Reckon you won’t mind I hang onto the money, seein as how I got knifed over it.”
“Well then just deliver them up to Pike’s Holler and consider that your payment. And Wendell?”
“So far all I got on this is your word. Don’t be fucking me on this. I’d hate to lose you.”
Wendell closed the phone and tossed it on the seat. Fuck it. Plenty of time for a piss and some lunch. Patch up the shoulder a bit.
Pike Holler was up north, bordering the Ohio River. Not a bad place to bootleg shit, Wendell had to admit. Got the customers from both sides of the river, still plenty of woods to hide in. His uncle had lived up this way, used to make money trapping and digging up roots to sell to the drug companies. It was that kind of wild place. Nothing but hills and valleys. Damn cows didn’t even know how to walk on flat land.
At least the Darlins had put in a road all the way up to their place. Getting to his uncle’s cabin had required a ten minute walk. He held the wheel with an easy grip as he took it slow along the rocky road, wheels jerking one side to the other. This was one reason everybody had shitty trucks and brand new four wheelers around here. The road led down one hill, crossed a creek then up another hill, and at the end was the Darlin house. Two story, wood siding, ain’t seen a paint brush in fifty years. The outhouse was behind the house, on the hillside. Below was the creek that led into the Ohio. Yeah, it was that kinda place. Wendell turned around and backed his truck in. He wanted to be able to leave in a hurry if need be.
One of the Darlin boys stood on the porch, hands stuffed inside his jeans pockets, jaw working at a wad of tobacco. “Who the fuck are you?”
Wendell raised the gym bag. “Got this week’s shipment. Regular guy’s sick so the old man sent me. I know how much you owe so don’t try any shit.”
“That still don’t answer my question.”
“Don’t you know nothin, Cody?” A man stepped out on the porch, beer hanging in his hand, cigarette in mouth, almost a twin of his brother. “This here is Wendell Cassidy. And Cassidy don’t think he has to answer to anybody.”
“Bobby,” Wendell said with a nod. “Sorry to hear about your momma.”
“Uh huh, I bet. Mr. High and Mighty is a delivery boy these days, huh?”
“Just temporary, Bobby. Just give me the money and I’ll get out of here. Nobody wants any trouble.”
Bobby Darlin sat his beer on the porch rail and ground his cigarette out next to it. “You sure about that, big man?”
“This is business, Bobby. No need to let personal shit interfere with business.”
“Personal shit? That’s what you call it?”
“Bobby, I ain’t in the fucking mood. It’s been a long day and I don’t want shit from your ass. Just give me the money and you can have the pills. Or I go back to the old man and tell him we need new dealers. I’m sure you remember what the firing process is like.”
“Man has balls, don’t he, Cody,” Bobby said to his brother.
“Why don’t we cut em off, feed em to the dogs?”
Wendell sighed, dropping the gym bag at his feet. “You going to pay me my money or not, Bobby?”
“Well, we’ve been thinking. What exactly do we need you guys for? You don’t do nothin and take a big chunk of the money. We do all the work as it is so maybe we should just cut out the middle man.”
Wendell sighed. What was with people today? He rolled his shoulders, pain flaring from the knife wound. The old man was going to owe him big for today. “Believe it or not, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that today. But fine, Bobby. If that’s the way you want it.” He kicked the bag closer to the porch. “Consider this your severance package. I’ll just get out of here.”
Bobby laughed. “Oh you ain’t goin nowhere.” He walked down off the porch, stopping by the bag. “Never heard of Wendell Cassidy backing down so easy. What you put in here? Got it booby trapped with a bomb or something?”
“It’s just pills, Bobby,” Wendell said, glancing up at Cody. The younger brother was still on the porch, lounging against the rail. Barechested, the only visible weapon was a folding knife in a sheath on his belt. Bobby didn’t even seem to have that much. “Getting paranoid there, Bobby. Maybe you shouldn’t smoke so much of your product.”
“I could shoot you, you know. Trespassing. Nobody’d be able to do a thing. Fuck, who’d want to?You ain’t exactly a popular man around here.” He paced a little, back and forth in front of Wendell. “Mr. High and Mighty, at the mercy of the Darlins. Scared yet, asswipe? Ready to squeal?”
Wendell reached behind him, pulling out his Colt .45. He gripped it in both hands, firing. Three shots pounded into Bobby Darlin, dropping him into the dirt. Wendell stepped forward. Cody had dived for the door of the house as soon as the shooting had started, scrambling to grab the shotgun leaning against the doorframe. He aimed carefully, firing the last five rounds at Cody. At least four hit the man, knocking him into the wall of the house. Cody still tried to reach inside, his fingertips just brushing the shotgun when Wendell kicked him aside.
He searched the house, throwing all the money he found inside the bag. Look like he’d doubled what he was supposed to have been paid. Him and the old man both were going to make out ok and they still had the pills to sell. Finally he dragged Bobby’s body inside and lit the place. He didn’t think the cops would give a damn about them showing up dead but there was no point to being careless.
The truck rattled and shook back down the old farm road and up the hill. The flames were nice and high by the time he reached the main road. He dialed up the old man as he headed back home. “Yeah, I got the money. The job’s done. Gonna need to find yourself some new pillbillies though.”
I’ve never met Oscar Wilde. Heard of him, sure. Dorian Grey, the indecency trial, that’s hard to miss. But I’ve never read any of his work or seen one of his plays. Whether good or bad, I went into the Neptune Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest with fresh eyes, no expectations. Well, maybe one. This is Neptune after all. We know they will knock it out of the park. It’s just becoming a question of how far.
That famous Wilde wit is rapier sharp here, and he stabs society with it and makes them like it. Nothing is off limits, from family to non-educated daily newspaper critics(one wonders if Wilde was thinking of any in particular here). He pokes holes in the idea of someone being important merely because they have a name and nice clothes but otherwise destitute. Hell, he even made cucumber sandwiches sound good.
If you don’t know the story, it introduces us to Algernon Moncrieff and Ernest Worthing. But Ernest is really Jack. Ernest is a persona, the profligate brother Jack goes to see in London whenever he needs to get away and have some fun. Which is something Algernon understands well, being a Bunburyist himself. What is a Bunburyist one may ask? Why Bunbury is the invalid (and fictional) friend Algernon visits whenever he needs to leave the city and his aunts interminable dinner parties. Nothing as horrible as a married couple flirting with each other, you know.
Jack is love with Gwendolen, who loves Ernest. And Algernon, pretending to be Ernest, meets and falls in love with Cecily. (Incidentally, this is my only problem with the play. It seemed as if Algernon only wanted to meet and bed Cecily to piss off Jack. But he meets her and suddenly she’s the love of his life. Minor quibble, to be sure, when everything else is rock solid.) Of course, everyone ends up at the same country house and the fall out is…well, you should really see for yourself. It is quite wonderfully written and Oscar Wilde nailed women here, and everything else, like nobody else.
Ah, but that’s the play, which is the same story everywhere. How did Neptune do? Absolutely fantastic. The set and costumes are the first thing to catch ones attention. And Sean Mulcahy did an amazing job. While in some ways the set was simple, nothing moving, only (only he says) three individual set pieces, it is also extravagant Victorian houses we are looking at here. And they were truly beautiful. And bonus points for showing us the statue through the window of the country house that we see in the garden. A little thing that is greatly appreciated and shows an eye to detail. The costumes, the clothes, the hats, were utterly beautiful and seemed quite accurate. Specifically the women’s dresses. Very well done.
Ah, time for the meat and potatoes. The acting. Amazing job from everyone. From the lazy insouciance of Algernon to the, well, earnestness of Jack, all the actors inhabited their roles as if they were born to them. Algernon is a little flashier, while Jack is a bit long suffering and serious but they both could be over played. That doesn’t happen here. Michael Therriault as Algernon and David Leyshon as Jack were great fun to watch. The rapid fire wordplay was batted back and forth with nary a trip. Even the height difference between the two was played off in a quite natural way. You couldn’t help but want to hear about more of their sordid London outings.
The real stand outs for me were the girls. Marla McLean plays Gwendolen and Chilina Kennedy(a beautiful name I may steal for a character) is Cecily Cardew. The characters come to life in their capable hands. Their odd love for the name Ernest and the characteristics a man with such a name must possess, their feud as rivals to calling each sister, it was really amazing, and hilarious, to watch. And these two young women were just as facile with Wildes language and jokes as the gentlemen. In fact, the cast was top notch from top to bottom, with Lady Bracknell also having some hilarious lines and delivery.
This is Neptunes 50th year and they only keep getting better. I believe George Pothitos, the artistic director, could stage a play against a black curtain and it would be awesome. I’ve never been a theatre guy but I’m coming to love it, and Neptune specifically. A great place with great people who produce great results. The Importance of Being Earnest will have you laughing, sniggering, maybe groaning a time or two. But you will never be bored. It is entertaining from start to finish. So go see it if you can. You won’t be disappointed. And me? I’m off to read more Wilde, while having some cucumber sandwiches.
This recipe from the Glory Of Southern Cooking. Amazing book and well worth checking out. For anyone with celiac, there’s not a lot of flour in this, so it should be easy to adapt.
For The Steaks:
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 cup dry bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
Four 4-ounce beef cube steaks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
For The Gravy:
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1 large onion, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To fry the steaks, combine the milk and eggs in a small bowl and whisk until well blended. In another bowl, mix the bread crumbs, salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper till well blended and transfer the mixture to a plate. Dip each steak in the liquid, coat with bread crumbs on each side, and place on a plate.
In a large heavy cast-iron skillet, heat the oil and bacon drippings over moderately high heat till quite hot. Add 2 of the steaks to the pan, cook about 2 minutes on each side or till golden brow, transfer to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with the other 2 steaks and reserve the pan drippings.
To make the gravy, heat the bacon drippings over moderate heat, add the onion and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and stir 1 minute longer, scraping up any brown bits from the pan. Add the heavy cream, milk, salt and pepper and whisk briskly till the gravy is thickened and smooth, 6 to 7 minutes.
To serve, place the steaks on individual plates and ladle gravy over each.
This is a damn good recipe and worked out very well. You don’t see cube steaks much here but I used what are called fast fry and it worked well. I fried up a pan full of bacon for lunch and that gave me enough drippings. The on,y thing I really changed was dropping the onion from the gravy. It’s really a matter of personal taste. As mentioned, I don’t think it’d be hard to adapt for someone with celiac, since there’s just a cup of brad crumbs and a spoonful of flour. What you would switch it with, I’ll leave to you. I used Panko crumbs, which didn’t stick as well as could be but didn’t do bad. Enjoy.
Some of you may not be here for stories of redneck hoods and copious bad language so the story will continue after the jump. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments.
The truck bumped along the dirt road, pulling into the field doubling as a parking lot. He parked at it the end, backing in so he’d be ready to go in a hurry if need be. He’d seen a man killed cause his vehicle was blocked in and swore he’d never make that mistake.