By Thomas M. McDade
Bill, Fran And Molly
I have a couple of things he can do, but Bill the new hardware tech is along mostly to meet the clients. He’s young, a handsome bastard. Our first stop is at Roosevelt Supply. I’m hoping Fran the bawdy bookkeeper will do something to put a blush on his face. She grabs him ten-feet after we enter, whips out a tit to show him the stitched wound from a Harley accident, so she says. Son of a bitch, Bill acts as if it’s an everyday occurrence. As she reloads her ammo, a beautiful calico cat jumps up on the counter. Her face would empty a fleet of container ships fully loaded with feline product in minutes with her TV endorsement. She poses like a sphinx, eyes Bill admiringly. Fran introduces Molly and adds, “She’s named after a Dublin fishmonger, but she’s nothing but a shameless whore.” Molly swivels here head and fixes Fran in her sights. I see a comic strip balloon reading, “Look who’s talking.” Fran continues snubbing me. “Have you any idea how hard it is to find homes for two litters of six?” Then raising her voice to make sure the owner, Jack, hears, she says, “Numb-nuts should pay to have her fixed.” Molly winces. Fran reaches down into a wastebasket, pulls out a headless mouse. “Thanks to Molly,” she says. “She’s brought me rats.” Molly beams proudly. “And his highness provides store brand food for her, some past sell date. It’s up to me to reward her with gourmet meals.” Molly licks her chops.
Fran takes Bill out to the warehouse to check on some connectivity issues. Molly commences grooming. I shake hands with Jack. He lets go quickly, clenches his fists and says, “I’d get rid of both of them in a skinny minute if they weren’t so good at what they do. She’s found errors my accountant missed. She’s full of shit about the litters, just wants to make me look bad. Sit down, take a look, something’s wrong with the inventory committed tracking.” I fall into a squeaky chair at Fran’s desk but don’t get to work until Jack lists his troubles I’ve heard before. This man is the king of bad luck. He suffers from some rare disease he never names. His wife dumped him and pulled visitation rights. His two kids hate him anyway. He’s dating a divorcee he met at a support group who has moved to the Poconos. The weekend commute is killing him. They are both on Prozac. She won’t sign the papers for her daughter to quit school and join the Marines, tantrums, and battles galore. After Jack runs out of breath, I pretend to focus on the “problem.” There is none. Someone is leaving a door open and copper tubing is walking out. Jack can’t believe anyone would steal from him. He bends over backward for both employees and customers. I imagine Fran and her biker pals moonlighting but keep my trap shut. There’s a sign taped to the top of her monitor, “Sexual Harassment is a Benefit Here.” To my left is a silver-framed, eight-by-ten, black and white photo, a fellow exiting a shower, his manhood caught in the door. Ouch. I run a reset program then fib to Jack, tell him I wrote a quickie that will monitor the product file.
Fran and Bill return holding hands. Molly snaps out of a snooze. We have two more clients to visit. I called earlier in the week to announce I was bringing a gift hunk. Jill at Functional Plumbing said she’d sport her Victoria’s Secret pushup bra. Barb at A-1 will wear none; just jiggle her way into at least his heart. Jack offers to have lunch delivered but we’re running late. Fran walks us to the door. Molly romances Bill’s legs all the way. Outside, I tell him to meet her on a clear night. If lightning ever strikes, he’s in trouble. Her bed frame’s do-it-yourself copper, better conductor than brass.
Win Whim Bucks
The exercise rider I meet while nursing a beer at Stacey’s Lounge sure is strange. Renee gives me fifty one-dollar bills easy as if I’m a bank teller. She instructs me to go to Lincoln Downs the next day to bet a horse named Best Whim. Each single has “Win Whim” written along the top border in red ink. Those words put her favorite song in mind, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” I say “Wimoweh,” She says, “Good work, Kiddo. There’ll be a nice commission in it for you. Remember, all deuce tickets. Bring a rubber band.”
I’m 22, just out of the Navy. She has me by 10 or so years I’d say, sure pretty. She seals the deal by dancing with me, a John Denver tune. I get a dirty look from a muscular guy wearing a shabby, tweedy jacket with a leather patch on a front shoulder for a rifle stock. She is a pleasure to hold, my face against her blonde mane that is full and fragrant. “See you here tomorrow in the p.m.” she says, patting my cheek.
I’m too late to check the horses in the paddock. I bet according to her instructions. I get an eye roll from the clerk when I bet for myself using 4 quarters and ten dimes. I tuck my ticket into my wallet next to my driver’s license that will expire in two weeks. That morning I hunted down the vagabond painter I sometimes work for to collect much needed back pay. He had a sob story that would fill a city reservoir.
As the horses are entering the track, it occurs to me that Best Whim is a classic quitter, often leads deep into the stretch then backs up. J. K. Anders, who has a bad reputation but still manages to work, is up on the 11-year-old. He must have a fast talking agent. Anders has served suspensions for “Failing to give his best effort,” and “Reporting to jockey quarters in a condition unfit to accept his mounts.” He peeks at the odds as he passes the tote: 60-1. The race is over a distance of ground, a mile and seventy yards. The gate crew has a tough time loading Lake Hills. Best Whim eases in as if it is his stable stall. The field breaks well except for Our Snicker who stumbles but recovers. More Dignity shows the early foot, takes a 3-length advantage at the clubhouse turn. The rest bunch up except for Best Whim who ambles along behind Big Robby a half-length, but soon Anders with one crack of the whip has his charge gaining prosperously. York Junction joins More Dignity and they match each other stride for stride, Greek Plover a distant third. At the top of the stretch, I imagine Renee is the rider. Best Whim passes tiring rivals and continues to advance. He collars the leaders at the eighth pole. York Junction falters badly. In a sudden lurch, Best Whim dispatches More Dignity and breezes across the finish line 4 1/2 lengths to the good. Anders rides him out to the clubhouse turn. I figure he has a buzzer to ditch. Booing drowns out the few wild cheers from the crowd. York Junction was 3-5. When his jockey dismounts, a drunk throws a beer can that narrowly misses. I would have been excited had I picked the horse myself, unaware of the outcome but thanks Renee anyway. I leave as soon as the money flashes on the tote. Each ticket is worth $122. Driving to the Riverview Diner for a late lunch, it hits me that I am likely in on a swindle, rent money and child support in those piles of ripped tickets. I hum Renee’s song to myself and picture the shoulder patch character stalking me, and the sleeping lion.
I walk into the Stacey’s a little after nine. Renee’s face lights up. Anders and shoulder patch are sitting with her at a table. She looks at her pals, probably says, “Told you nothing to worry about.” She joins me at the bar. I turn over the tickets. She pays for my mug of beer then gives me a fifty-dollar bill. I was certain she’d have counted on a DIY gratuity. If she spotted my ticket as I was stuffing the dough in my wallet, she did not react. I thank her. “Drink up,” she says, “Let’s dance.” I chug, cough a few times. She pats my back. I take her hand and walk her toward the jukebox to pick a song. Anders beat me to it. We danced to Sinatra, “Shadow of Your Smile.”
She maneuvers us to the wall near the payphone and kisses me. Her tongue swishes around as if looking for a ticket I might have crumpled up and hid. When we glide to the middle of the floor, I shoot a glance at her table. No eyes are on us. The song ends. I am alone without a smile or a word from her. Anders shoots the rubber band off his finger at the jukebox. They divvy up. Who gets the odd unit? She stops at the bar before leaving to give me a manila envelope. She is hugging a couple more. “Remember me,” she says. I guess there are other couriers. My gift is a winner’s circle photo. Renee is holding Best Whim’s bridle. Shoulder patch is next to her, Anders is laughing. The bartender has his back to me, serving up a shot the other side of the horseshoe bar but I manage to hear him. “Christ almighty, that dame comes in twice and she wants a song put on the jukebox, ‘Wing Away,’ something like that.” I reach for my back pocket to take out the Grant to break only to find that my wallet had flown, so to speak.
And To Your Right
Black topped Horton Park is across from the bus depot. At the moment, all of its benches are occupied. A stunning white cat assigned perhaps by St. Gertrude, watches sparrows compete with pigeons for muffin and donut crumbs. St. Cecelia’s Church’s lush lawn in the distance is the street’s rare jewel. Two men rise, do jumping jacks, and pushups. Another gent wearing a Van Dyke beard applauds. The crutches at his side are a sight, one metal, and one wood. A hunched dowager walks a dog that looks like Asta in The Thin Man movies, back and forth. A fellow not more than twenty-five jitterbugs by; face crimson from drink no doubt. A horse racing paper protrudes precariously from his pocket, shoes filched from a bowling alley judging from the number 8 on one and 6 on the other. A knockout of a dame in red spiked heels, throws kisses at the cat she calls Fairbanks but no response. Blue jeans snug her long legs. Her substantial braid; red mixed with black is a mugger’s delight. She tosses a loaf of bread to the Park Doyen who shares her bench with six shopping bags. She snags it as any gridiron tight end would. A teen topped by a Toronto Blue Jays cap, olive pants, green blouse who owns lime eyes assumes the Eagle yoga pose while flipping a cigarette holder in her teeth like FDR. A boy stops to work a yo-yo for Doyen. It pulses light as it spins. He does an occasional soft shoe. A departing Greyhound bus has to go a block to U-turn north. Passing Horton Park the driver slows to maybe 5 mph as if he’s daydreaming about someday operating a tour bus, maybe a double decker. One might extract a tsk-tsk or three from the looks on some passenger faces while others ignore the spectacle. The yo-yo artist turns some spectacular twists. The fitness fellows run in place. The movie star dog barks up a storm and strains at the leash. The jitterbugging man has retraced his route. He’s waltzing now. The runway beauty is missing. Van Dyke blows “Ave Maria” across the top of his muscatel bottle while waving his aluminum crutch with his free hand. The Doyen tosses a multi-grain gift slice and the birds hop into action. The cat pounces but snares not a feather. He or she bares teeth to the sky. The bus driver does musical beeps. It’s time for the bells of St. Cecelia’s to peal but at the moment law offices and Planned Parenthood live there.
Thomas M. McDade is a 75-year-old resident of Fredericksburg, VA, previously CT, & RI.
He is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT.
McDade is twice a U.S. Navy Veteran serving ashore at the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Virginia Beach, VA and at sea aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (DE / FF-1091). His fiction has most recently appeared in the Spitball and Twixt & Twain.
I pick incidents and people from my past to build original and quirky poems and short stories that often lose what was found in memory.
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