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Archive for the ‘Dive Bartender: Sibling Rivalry’ Category

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CHAPTER 9, EXCERPT 3

“Wow,” Frank said, putting on a happy face and squinting at the little red car. “It’s shiny, like a new penny. Parents buy it for you?” Shit, he was sounding like a dick. And he could tell Nikki was looking for something the way her eyes were studying him, digging and searching. “I’d give you a hug, Nik, but I’m pretty stinky from my day of labor. That and walking up the hill from Superior Street.” He started edging toward the house while Nikki stood there, hands on hips, at the side of the Honda her parents got her in an obvious attempt to buy her away from Frank Ford.

“That never stopped you before, Frank. You weren’t exactly rose-like on Saturday morning. We didn’t seem to have any intimacy issues then.”

Intimacy issues?

College girl coming at him with the latest buzzwords, showing off her education. Then he started thinking maybe Nikki was slumming and he was just another topic in her thesis. Maybe she was playing the same game that was going on all over the country. Young people living in dumps and hanging out in dive bars for the “experience.” Was he Nikki’s experience?

“True,” Frank said. But I did have your roommate’s Ban roll-on.”

The skin around Nikki’s eyes crinkled and then she smiled that wide Irish smile that lit up like a flower in the desert, putting Frank solidly back in her camp. “I tell you what, babe,” he said. “I’ll go in and change and then you can take us for a ride. I really need to get out to my mom’s. Haven’t seen her since the day of the funeral and her messages on my machine are starting to sound ah… sort of needy.”

Nikki gave him a kind look. Generous. Forgiving. Meaningful. “I’d like that, Frank. I need to give your mother my condolences.”

Frank was picturing his mother sitting alone in her living room, the furniture as tired and worn as the woman, all of it a package. Could see her on her faded brown couch all limp and surrendered, no fight left in her. So maybe Nikki would give her a lift. There’s truly something infectious about youth and beauty and Irish smiles.

 

Nikki insisted Frank drive and he got in behind the wheel. Being a General Motors guy all the way, he was a little suspicious of the tiny vehicle. There was something about being surrounded by three tons of steel and iron that made you feel safe, and these miniatures gave you one ton of Japanese steel that the mining guys up north on the Iron Range claimed was substandard. Stuff like that was in the local papers all the time. But all Frank knew for sure was that the stuff cost less; these pregnant roller skates were priced to sell.

“How do you like the car?” Nikki asked as they pulled to a stop in front of the Merry Dale Assisted Living Facility, a six-story, government funded complex on the west side of Zenith.

“It’s cute, Nik. But it seems a little vulnerable, y’know? Seems like anything hits you you’re gonna get crushed like an old beer can. Isn’t that what they make these things out of?”

“Yes, Frank, they do. But they use those really old ones. Those thick old cans you find in abandoned cabins or on the ground out in the woods. The cans that stay the same for, like—forever.”

“Really? Okay then. But don’t take it up to the Iron Range. They hate these Japanese cars up there. Kick the hell out of them if you leave ’em unattended.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

(To be continued)

 

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CHAPTER 9, EXCERPT 2

Walking up Lake Avenue, the revolver digging into his lower abdomen, a big hole seemed to open up in Frank’s mind. A window to a vast open landscape where he could see all the bad shit that could happen now that he owned a gun, all of it there waiting on the periphery and ready to drop down into the diorama. He didn’t need to make a list; shit was pretty obvious. And it did feel weird carrying a gun. Like maybe he was crossing over into fantasyland or starring in his own movie, The Amazing Adventures of Frank Ford. Yeah, he’d stepped into a new arena with a whole new set of rules, and damn if it didn’t look like Johnny Beam was living in that same ballpark. And it wasn’t treating Johnny very well, judging by the look of the man. Couldn’t really say a black man was looking pale, but shit, Jesus—Johnny was definitely not his old lighthearted self.

But hey, Frank thought, good things come to those who wait. And then he wondered what the hell that had to do with anything.

By the time he got to Fifth Street after five blocks straight uphill—and after a full day of work besides—Frank was sweating heavily under his denim jacket. And the pistol against his stomach seemed to have worn a hole down to his liver. Man, how did those gang dudes live with this shit? Was there some product out there to deal with rod rash? Prickly pistol chafe? Handgun hives?

Maybe Mr. Pills’ pharmacy had something.

But for now he’d just have to tough out the remaining three blocks to his house. He wanted to take off the jacket but couldn’t because of the pistol. So he had to sweat—and that wasn’t a bad thing, mind you—cleansing the river of life, an old football teammate used to say— but shit, that dude was fat and full of poison now, so what the hell.

Finally arriving at the alley above Third Avenue East and Fifth Street, Frank looked down the pavement at his house and saw an unfamiliar car in the driveway, a little red foreign job. Jap car, little brother Ray would’ve called it. Frank’s heart kicked up a few beats and a shaky shot of adrenaline got his feet moving faster. Who in hell could it be? All sorts of foreboding shit was gathering behind his eyebrows as he walked past the playground and stared ahead at the red car. He could see now it was a Honda. Go little Honda. Hear the Beach Boys sing.

And then the driver’s door opened up and lovely Nikki Clark stepped out looking oh so clean and fresh and delicious in jeans and a green T-shirt. Nikki liked green, looked great in green. It seemed to make her eyes bigger.

Frank was feeling green around the gills.

“I came to show you my new car, Frank,” Nikki said, short blond hair glistening in the sun and white teeth sparkling. But her eyes were sending a slightly different message.

But God she looked good.

Frank was wondering what was wrong with him, how he could let Nurse Judy override this beautiful young girl, this breath of fresh air. But that was part of it—she was young. Too young? That’s what people said. You know her parents had to be questioning it. Why Frank is nearly forty years old, dear, surely you can’t have much in common. It might seem okay now, but soon he’ll be middle aged and you will still be in the prime of life. It’s time you started thinking about your future, dear. What kind of father would Frank make? Why, he’d be an old man when your children graduated from high school.

And they weren’t even engaged, for Christ sake.

But Frank had thought about marriage. And yeah, he’d heard it all, the dirty old man jibes, the robbing the cradle accusations. Perv. Sleaze. Lecher. But man, society is just a fancy name for a mob. A mob that gets its jollies from tormenting the non-fits.

And talk about your non-fits, now he had to get the goddamn gun out of his belt before Nikki saw it, the pistol possessing all the characteristics of the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to Nikki keeping the faith. But maybe it was really better for everyone if she found out. Give the young thing a chance to escape before she got roped into Frank’s mess of a life. Keep the sweet girl from getting permanently tarnished by his mongrel heritage.

Son of Tom Ford, family abandoner.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 9, EXCERPT 1

It had to be past five-thirty when Frank knocked on the glass door of the Storehouse, Closed sign at eye level. But in just a few seconds Johnny Beam was there with his familiar Satchmo smile, Frank thinking it looked a tad forced today. He followed Beam through a showroom of used furniture, toys, dolls, appliances and other collectables, to a doorway at the back of the store with a green curtain across it. They went through the curtain to a large storage area with a concrete floor, a ton of boxes and loose stuff lying around on it.

Johnny said that he thought Frank wasn’t gonna show, said he was about to leave. Frank explained about his new job, a day job, one he didn’t know he’d have when he’d talked to Johnny yesterday. Beam gave him a knowing chuckle and stepped into a small office cordoned off in the southeast corner of the expansive back room.

Lotta old shit in this place, Frank was thinking. Hope Johnny doesn’t bring out a flintlock dueling pistol or some junk piece from the Korean War…

“So you quit on old Betty, eh, Frank?” Beam said, sitting down behind a dark green metal desk, on a worn cloth chair with wheels. On the desk were papers, a phone and one of those rectangular metal address books with the little arrow on the side pointing at the letters of the alphabet. Frank’s mother had one of those things when he was a kid and he used to play with it for longer than he could now reasonably explain.

Frank said, “Yep, that’s a fact, Johnny. I quit. Goddamn bar just finally got to me after all those years. Got so I fuckin’ hated the smell of the place.”

Johnny was chewing gum and drumming his fingers on the desk, fidgeting in the squeaky wheeled chair. “I hear you, Frank. More power to you, man. Change can be good for a person. Been trying to make a few changes, myself.” Then Beam reached down under the desk and brought up a rectangular wooden box that reminded Frank of those silverware boxes he’d seen at Pills’ Palace.

Resting on the burgundy velvet-lined interior of the box were four handguns, two revolvers and two semi-autos.

“I’m not gonna ask you what you need a gun for, Frank,” Beam said. “But I will say that this little popper here,” touching the smaller revolver, “is only gonna be effective at close range, three to ten feet. After that it’s gonna be iffy. This bigger one, the thirty-eight, will give you a little more range and better stopping power but it’s heavier and harder to conceal, if that’s something you’re concerned about. One advantage you get with the revolvers, they don’t kick out any shell casings, don’t leave evidence scattered around. Again, if that’s something that matters to you.” He pointed at the semi-automatics. “The autos hold more cartridges, so that’s an advantage. We got a nine-millimeter and a three-eighty, essentially the same caliber, just one is metric and the other one is American. Some guys don’t like the autos because they say they jam. But these two are top shelf, man, Baretta and a Browning. Go ahead, pick one up; see how it feels.

Frank liked the look of the Baretta. He picked it up and hefted it. Thing was solid, heavier than he expected. Felt good in his hand, strangely satisfying. “How much for this one, Johnny?”

“New, that’s a seven hundred dollar piece, Frank. You can have it for three-fifty.”

Frank only had two hundred and twenty-three dollars in his pocket, all the cash he had in his house when he left for work this morning. “Fraid that’s a little out of my league at the moment, Johnny. What’s the cheapest piece?”

“That would be the thirty-two, the snub-nose, your basic Saturday Night Special. Let you have that for a yard and a half. But I warn you, man, the piece is off brand, could be a hunk of shit. I hear they’re stamping these things out by the carload these days; demand in the big cities is so high.” Beam put his hand across his upper lip and leaned back. The chair squeaked.

Frank picked up the thirty-two and bounced it around in his hand. It felt cheap and tinny. He put it back in the box, sat back.

Beam said, “Tell you what, man, you want a revolver, I’ll give you the thirty-eight for two bills. Smith and Wesson. Good solid weapon. Bluing’s a little tarnished and the wood on the grip’s got a little crack in it, but still very functional.”

“You got a deal, Johnny.”

“Good man. But remember, Frank, ain’t gonna be no bill of sale. You get popped with that thing; heavy shit could come down on you. I ain’t lyin’. And sure as hell don’t try to pawn it.”

“Okay, man, I hear you.” Frank stuck his hand in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a fold of wrinkled bills.

Johnny said, “You gonna need a holster or a shoulder harness or anything?”

“Nah, man, I’m good. I’ll stick it under my belt and put my jacket over it like they do in the movies.”

(To be continued)

 

 

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CHAPTER 8, EXCERPT 4

Frank went through the side door, got inside and sniffed his armpit. Not exactly fresh, but passable. Anxious for the chance to get close to Judy, he was pushing back fantasies as he stepped across the sawdust-covered hardwood floor avoiding hunks of cardboard, scraps of plastic and tin, a level, a plane, a tape measure and power tools. His footsteps sounded loud in the empty back room that seemed to be a den, nice view of the yard and the lake from the long windows. Hearing voices, he continued along a short hallway to what seemed to be a dining room. Nurse Judy and Mr. Pills were there standing in front of a finely crafted, green wooden cabinet.

“Oh, ah, hi,” Frank said. “Sorry to barge in on you like this, but, ah, the Buick in the driveway needs to be moved so the dumpster guy can swing in. I guess he’ll be coming pretty soon.”

Nurse Judy was maybe ten feet away from him in her white uniform, her hair tied back in a short prim ponytail. She was holding what looked to be a box for sterling silverware. Pills, on her left, was holding a similar box. Then Frank’s mind went blank and the next thing he knew he was staring at Judy’s chest. Right at those fantastic tits cupped in the silky bra he could see underneath the white nurse’s blouse. Catching himself, he blinked and glanced at Pills, saw a knowing, bitter smirk, Mr. Pills arching his eyebrows and staring at him, the man’s lips pinched together in a way that made Frank think of a prune.

“Uh… I think the Caddy is all right where it is, though,” Frank said.

“Very well, then,” Pills said, his face blank now. “I’ll take these upstairs,” nodding at the silverware boxes, “so you can move the car, Jude.”

“No need, Ricky,” Judy said, “I’m sure Frank can move it if I give him the keys. He seems a capable enough man.”

She gave Frank a little smile—Jesus, was it Come hither?—and then turned toward the front door. She went into a vestibule with coats and jackets hanging from hooks on the wall and Frank watched her put her hand in the pocket of a long dark coat.

Then she was coming back with the keys and Frank was staring at her eyes, trying to see what was behind them. He was locked in on her, and goddamn if she wasn’t almost wincing. Shit, here we go again, Frank thought, glancing at Pills, the man gritting his teeth and frowning and looking like he knew Frank had the hots for his woman. And also probably knowing that Frank wanted Judy to be aware of this interest.

Frank lowered his eyes.

“Here you go,” Judy said, handing him the keys. “Just leave them in the ignition when you’re finished. Should be safe out there with three strong young men to look after it.”

Did she put extra emphasis on the word young?

Keeping his eyes pointing down, Frank took the keys, reminded now that Mr. Pills was older, somewhere in his forties. All right, so he wasn’t that much older than Frank. But Frank was young for his age, goddamnit. Putting the keys in his pants pocket, he murmured Thanks and went back outside.

Opening the door on the big Buick, first thing that hit him was the scent. Back when Judy was Ray-Ray’s wife, she liked to give Frank hugs. And not really your family-type hugs, y’know. Always a breast pushing against him and lingering a beat too long or a thigh touching a tender spot or maybe a hand straying where it shouldn’t. And man, her fragrance would stay there teasing him for a long time afterwards. But the scent in this car now was different, some change in perfume or shampoo or something. Just the same, Frank knew it would stick in his craw for the rest of the day.

He started the Buick and slid it over alongside the baby blue Cadillac. Then he took a long slow inhale through his nose.

 

The dumpster guy came like he said he would, setting the big green box on the lawn on the east side of the house. Frank and Keith spent the rest of the day tossing in the scraps from Moran’s furious sawing, measuring and nailing. Frank helped with some of the building and believed he’d learned something. Hopefully the start of a new skill set.

By late in the afternoon the backyard was finally free of debris and Frank and Waverly were out front lingering by the dumpster, wondering if Moran would have anything else for them to do. Frank was thinking Danny was anxious to get somewhere that sold alcohol, judging by the way the man’s eyes had begun tunneling back into his head.

Waverly looked to the backyard. “I better put that radio inside,” he said, “looks like we’re done for the day.”

“Can you handle it by yourself, man?” Frank said.

“I’ll try my Boy Scout best, Frank.”

“Good man. You gonna head across the bridge right away?”

“Thought I would, yeah. Why?”

“I could use a ride. Danny probably wants to stop at the Shoal, and I’m supposed to meet someone downtown.” Frank didn’t have a watch to check but he figured it had to be after five and he wondered how long Johnny Beam would wait for him, the two of them never having done any kind of business before except Frank selling Johnny drinks. So shit, maybe the sonofabitch forgot all about it, appointments made in taverns often unreliable. This was some of the wisdom Frank had picked up in his ten years behind the bar.

“No problem, man,” Waverly said, walking to the backyard.

After watching Keith lift the boombox off the sawhorse table and carry it inside the house, Frank leaned against the dumpster and turned his gaze to London Road, the cars zipping by Waverly’s rusty Olds. Frank was tired, could feel the complaints of a lot of unfamiliar muscles, and was fighting with a cigarette craving when he heard the front door of Pills’ Palace squeaking open. He stepped around the dumpster and saw nurse Judy moving toward her Buick carrying a dark coat, kind of a grim look on her face. But her ass was still looking proud in the tight white skirt, the sexy little tart. Frank stepped out a little farther and tried to catch her eyes, let her know what was on his mind, thinking he’d lost all reason but not giving a shit.

He watched her back the Buick up, swing it around and drive away. Didn’t even turn her head. He had a strong urge to follow her but had to swallow it, his car being currently unavailable.

(End of Chapter 8)

 

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CHAPTER 8, EXCERPT 3

Now the sweat was really pouring off him, but Frank didn’t mind. He was outside, it was a nice day, he was working with guys he liked and he was making money. Too bad this kind of job was about as steady as the spring weather in Zenith, because it might be something he could get used to. Homebuilder. Carpenter. Construction worker. They all sounded a lot better than dive bartender, low-rent mixologist, bowery booze master or whatever the hell. The high and mighty, like Nikki’s parents, might even be fooled into thinking Frank was respectable, job title like that. Didn’t need to know it was just three hard-partying n’er-do-wells hanging on by a thread.

As he waited for Moran to cut another slab of paneling, Frank was pondering the call he got this morning at seven-thirty, Nikki on the phone all concerned, her voice serious. So serious he wanted to laugh when she told him she’d heard about his little “Sunday night escapade at the Metropole,” one of her roommates, name not revealed, telling her the story. Frank wondered how he’d missed the roommate in the crowd. But he knew gossip traveled twice the speed of light, and now poor Nikki was worried that he was “overcome with grief and acting out,” the words, to Frank’s ears, like they came directly from the mouth of Nikki’s self-righteous, ignorant mother. Shit, had the same tone and speech patterns even.

So Frank was forced to spend time—time he could’ve better used getting ready for his day of work—reassuring Nikki that quitting the Metro was just an attempt to better himself after being stuck in a rut for the last ten years. He was finally able to placate her and broke off the call by telling her he had to eat breakfast, although he really didn’t have much of an appetite and ended up going with just toast and a quick cup of Maxim.

“It’s almost noon, Frank,” Moran said, looking up as the whine of the saw faded away. “I got the dumpster coming in sometime before twelve-thirty. Billy Moser’s gonna drop it off on his lunch break. Me and Keith can finish off here if you’ll park yourself out front and wait for Billy, show him where to put the thing. You may have to move some cars.”

“Can do,” Frank said and walked around to the front of the house to check things out.

The asphalt driveway widened to an oval in front of the built-in garage. A latemodel, baby blue Caddy—the Pillsmobile—was nosed up to the garage door on the west side of the driveway and Judy’s big Buick Electra was behind the Caddy. Moran’s truck was on the eastern edge of the driveway backed up flush with the lawn, open tailgate facing the lake. Frank could see Waverly’s rusty Olds on the far side of London Road, across from the house, driver’s side mirror hanging down on wire cables.

Trying to picture how the dumpster would enter the driveway—what space the operator would need to maneuver it into a position with easy access to the back of the house where all the debris was—Frank had an inspiration. And it kind of surprised him that his mind was functioning this well with a bleeding-eye hangover kicking his ass. But it was clear to him that Judy’s Buick needed to be moved so the dumpster-delivery truck would have some maneuvering room.

And someone would have to tell the nurse that her vehicle needed to be moved.

Frank walked around to the backyard. Waverly was standing behind Moran as Danny measured boards and made markings with a stub of pencil. “Danny,” Frank said, “You wanna go inside and tell Judy her car needs to be moved? The dumpster guy’s gonna need a little maneuvering space.”

Moran looked at Frank and then glanced at the house. He lifted his elbow and sniffed under his arm, made a face. “Uh, maybe you better go, Frank. I’m a little on the ripe side this morning.”

Of this, Frank was already aware.

Waverly said, “I took a shower this morning, I’ll go in and ask her.”

One thing about Waverly, he was no dirty hippie. Dude was clean, immaculate. Frank hadn’t showered this morning but he had sprayed on some Right Guard deodorant. Also passed out in the bathtub last night after Moran dropped him off. Falling asleep in the tub was something Frank had enjoyed ever since he moved out of his mother’s house. She would never let him fall asleep in the tub. If she even thought he might be drifting off, she’d walk right in on him for God’s sake. Even when he was older and had body hair, man. Christ, it was just real awkward. Now every time he did it, waking up in cold water with his fingertips wrinkled, he’d always think, See Ma, I didn’t drown.

Jesus, his mind was going all over the place.

“That’s all right, Keith,” Frank said, “I’m reasonably fresh, just the sweet odor of Irish whiskey a poppin’ from my pores. You guys finish what you’re doing and I’ll go inform the residents.”

Moran said, “Just go in the side door and yell up the back stairs. Judy should be up on the second floor with the old lady.”

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 8, EXCERPT 2

“I see our carpenter has brought in some new workers,” Richard Pillsbury said to his fiancé, the couple standing at the large bay window gazing down at the backyard. “I’m not sure if I approve of his choice of help. I see he’s got Ray Ford’s older brother on the crew today, the damn bartender who refused to take my money.”

“You did tell Moran you wanted him to go faster, Sweet Cakes. More men means more work, so they get done faster. And Frank was just being nice, giving you a drink on the house. Don’t take everything so personal, Richard, loosen up a little. Those guys are kind of cute. I mean, when you take them as a group, they’re kind of cute and funny, don’t you think? All shaggy and hungover and everything this morning… look at the one with the long curly hair dancing to the radio. I’m sure they’re harmless.”

“Cute? More like mangy mongrel dogs,” Richard said. “Dancing on my dime.” But the truth was, these roughneck construction types made him nervous, got his stomach jumping, got him thinking they were going to steal from him. That’s why he was having Judy take all the silverware upstairs. If only he could lock her up in the safe with the sterling, he might feel a little better. “And your former brother-in-law might be trying to stir up trouble about his low-life sibling getting what he deserved, exactly the kind of thing life hands out when you mess with other men’s women.”

“Oh, I seriously doubt that, Frank knows how Ray was. Losing me was too much for Ray to take, and I felt sorry for him, honey. I was just humoring him, being nice, trying to let him down easy—you know that. Ray was crazy, but I could always handle him. And I imagine I can handle his big brother if it comes down to that. So let’s try and enjoy our time. You’re only young once, you know.”

“I guess you’re right, honey. You’re always right.” Looking at his watch. “And now it’s time for mother’s morning meds. Mustn’t keep her waiting.”

“I’m on my way, Ricky. You going in to the store today?”

“I don’t want to. And I don’t really have to, but I suppose I should make an appearance. Monday—the start of a new week and all. But it’s so dreary there, and it looks like we’re going to have a stretch of nice weather… we should go for a drive later.”

“I’ll see. I have to look in on my aunt today, see how she’s doing.”

“Anything you need?”

“I’ll call you at the store.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to go in.”

“That’s a good boy. Lucille will be proud of her young man.” She gave Richard uplifted eyebrows and left.

(To be continued)

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 CHAPTER 7, EXCERPT 5

Frank stood up. “C’mon, Jenny, sit down here and help these boys finish the pizza. I can’t stand to watch that sonofabitch behind the stick any longer.” He slid out of the booth, stepped through the step-through and turned down the jukebox sound with the knob on the wall by the cash register. Facing the crowd, Frank shouted, “Everybody listen up,” and watched the faces turn toward him, the smiles and the gawks and the bewildered stares. “Those of you who don’t know me, my name is Frank Ford, and I’m your friendly bartender. This is going to be my last day here at the Metropole—after ten excruciatingly long years—and to honor this milestone, our good man, Sack, here, has offered to buy everyone in the bar a drink.” Frank stepped over to Sack and gave him a loose hug; whispering in his ear, “Say anything, Sack, and I’ll kick your skinny ass from here to Havana.” Sack gave a pained look that almost made Frank feel sorry for him. Almost but not quite. “Now get the hell back to your girlfriend and be careful not to get me upset,” Frank said under his breath. “I’ll put this on your tab.”

Then Frank got busy filling the drink orders of the smiling patrons, seemingly nothing like a drink on the house to get the masses perked up.

(End of Chapter 7)

 CHAPTER 8, EXCERPT 1

It is said that alcohol is the perfect Christian drug, in that for each moment of pleasure obtained from its use, the imbiber suffers a corresponding amount of guilt and pain in the aftermath. No pleasure without suffering, say the hard-core Jesus freaks. And if that was indeed the case, Frank was feeling very Christian this morning. Nine a.m. on a Monday in the backyard of Pillsbury’s Palace, warm sun shining off the calm blue water of the Big Lake and beginning to heat up the day after a crisp night.

Moran was creaking around arranging sawhorses and getting his electric saw set up while Frank and Waverly carried slabs of wood from the interior of the house to the backyard. Frank was amazed that Moran was even here, let alone actually moving. Last night after Waverly took off for Bay City, Moran stayed to help with the close, the redhead swilling on-the-house Bushmill’s for the duration. When Moran dropped Frank off at home about two a.m., Danny had a definite night-of-the-living-dead thing going. But now this morning here he was, drinking coffee and moving kind of gingerly, smelling like a dog’s ass, skin as white as the puffy clouds in the morning sky, but on the job and working. Guy definitely had a strong work ethic drummed into him from somewhere.

Frank wasn’t feeling so good himself. Besides the hangover, he was fighting off the guilts. Figured he must’ve given away a couple hundred bucks worth of Betty’s liquor last night—which probably cost her less than forty, but was more than enough to get him fired if he hadn’t already decided to quit. He’d put the bill on Sack’s tab but knew damn well Sack would whine to Betty and she’d transfer it to Frank’s tab, which meant his paycheck—his final one—would amount to jack shit.

So now he wasn’t quite so onboard with his decisions as he was last night, short nervous rushes over not having steady employment rippling through his throbbing head this morning. Northeastern Minnesota was officially—government declared—an economically depressed region. The once bustling port cities of Bay City and Zenith were in decline. Shipping was off, the mines were struggling and the lumber industry was nearly dead. Steel plant was shut down. And Frank was just hoping Betty wasn’t pissed enough to mess with his unemployment claim. Quitting was one thing, getting fired another. And laid off, another thing all together. How the unemployment people would rule on this was a mystery, but Betty’s take on the situation could be crucial.

But at the moment, Frank knew this big white house on London Road was the place he wanted—and needed—to be. Judy Bruton’s Buick was in the driveway and Dick Pillsbury was inside with his money and his controlled substances. So yeah, this was where Frank belonged. And if he could only shake the nausea and the pounding in his skull long enough, he might be able to learn something by paying attention. And looking at Moran, Frank was sure his spying would go undetected by his foreman.  

After about forty minutes of labor Frank and Waverly set the last of the wood panels on the sawhorses. Waverly was stoned and dancing to a song coming out of the boombox on the saw table, Keith doing his Norwegian-inflected reggae bounce to the Mick Jagger/Peter Tosh duet on that old Temptations song, “Don’t Look Back.” At least that’s what Frank thought it was called when he found himself moving with the insistent beat and wanting to sing at the chorus while sweat leaked from his forehead and his armpits.

Just walk and don’t look back—leave all your troubles behind.

Now that would be cool, Frank thought. Just get down the road. Leave all this shit behind. Get your kicks on Route 66….

“There’s some lumber in the back of my truck I’m gonna need,” Moran said behind them, his voice like it was coming through a bucket of gravel.

“So Danny,” Frank said, wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his dark green chamois shirt, holes in the elbows. “You here when Judy shows up in the morning or does she spend the nights here?”

Moran, lining up one of the wood panels on the saw table, squinted at Frank. “I’m not here at night, Frank, so I don’t know her sleeping habits. All I know is that her car is here in the morning when I get here. Like it was this morning. She usually comes outside once or twice during the day. Sometimes she leaves in her car and then comes back. When the other nurse comes on in the afternoon, Judy usually leaves and I don’t see her until the next day.”

“So there’s another nurse?”

“Two, I think. One for the evenings and one overnight.  I’m not really sure on the overnight. But I do know Pills spares no expense when it comes to the old lady.”

Then Frank saw Waverly moving toward the front of the house and Moran’s pickup. Frank thought he’d better follow him, if Keith Waverly was outworking you, you knew you had problems.

(To be continued)

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