Bubba was surprised. He had been placing stones, crushed shells, and other solid debris along his route to Alacort for several years now.
He'd dump stuff off The Duck along the way, being careful to drop either right alongside, or off the stern.
As time went along, the route was slowly becoming more dry land, and less marsh.
It was easier to drive The Duck all the way, at low tide, over the mound of debris, than it was to keep switching back and forth from wheelin' to boatin'.
A few folks had caught on.
Luke Salters drove his Jeep to the mainland on the last full moon. The tide was very low, and enough of Bubba's 'causeway' appeared for Luke to make the trip.
Of course, Luke got all liquored up in Alacort, missed the next low tide, and had to load the Jeep onto MacAlinden's Barge for a voyage to the deeper water docks on Aarrghh's ocean facing shore. This took almost a week, and cost $200.
Luke blabbed around about the 'causeway'.
"It's just been one of my ongoin' projects. I never saw it as any 'causeway'. I figgered that if The Duck ever died, I'd get an old Land Rover. Why are you askin'?", questioned Bubba.
"Because, when the suits were here, I overheard them discussing a plan for their roadway to follow the natural route of the 'causeway'. It seems that aerial surveys show the road you been buildin' follows the most accessible path out here.The mounds of rock and shells are visible from the air, Bubba. And all your choices of natural high points are the most solid foundation material. You've drawn them a map. A concrete block, bigger than Hugh's house, is going to sit right atop Baldy's Knob."
"Shiiit! I really am the biggest yahoo out here. Let's get this money hand-out underway. Why don't you come with me to the shop? We'll get you scrubbed up, find some cleaner rags, discuss our plans, and, Damn, how did I not recognize you before?"
"I guess you wasn't lookin' clearly."
some time later...
Ernie asked, “Hey, Bubba, ya’ll serious about this no bridge deal?”
“Sure am, Ern. Whadda ya’ll think?”
“Who’s gonna pay to maintain the roads we already got, when all that new traffic shows up?”
Bubba ran to the phone and dialed. “Laura, Laura, pick up. C’mon, I gotta tell ya sumthin’. Pick up the phone. Call me back.” Slam.
“Ernest, my good man, you’ve done did it. We’re gonna close the shop, get our gear together, including large amounts of food and ice cold beer, and go fishin’ ourselfs. Ever operate a video camera?”
Ernie was used to Bubba suddenly getting all wound up over something he’d said, but this was over the top. Bubba could sense Ernie’s hesitancy.
Not to be deterred, Bubba said, “We’re buyin’ that used camcorder in the window down at Nell’s. It’s a professional tool, not a toy. Let’s see if she’ll show us a thing, or two about how to work the gadget. Nell used it to make that documentary about Slater, and them. She was so freaked by the time she’d finished, that the camcorder is bad gris-gris to her. Lester told me all this. So, let’s go get it. We need to set up some sort of tripod in the bow of Lazy Jane. Her flat bottom, and long beamy shape will make a perfect set. Let’s run a hose over her before we go out. Maybe scrub the rails once.”
Ernie knew that he was along for the ride on this one, “Whatever ya’ll got in mind, we gotta really catch us some fish. And, ya’ll gotta promise to pay attention at least enough that we don’t swamp. You can fall in as many times as necessary. But, Ernie don’t get wet. Deal?”
“You take the seat at the center console, put your feet up, and enjoy your afternoon.” chuckled Bubba, “If I get ya’ll wet, I clean the sump filter every day for a month. O.K.?”
“I’ll gas up, and run her onto the beach. Tide’s comin’. I’ll walk the anchor up high on the beach, and we’ll reel her in as we load. I know where there’s a tripod. Maybe set it and tie off the legs.”, said Ernie as he walked briskly toward the gas dock, over the dinghy fleet.
Bubba watched. Hardly a ripple.
He walked up toward the shop. About halfway, one of those thoughts that’s an experience in and of itself, hit him. His pace slowed. “I’m about to blow off potential millions, go into some crazed venture with Laura, the barefoot beggar, and Ernie, the savant. When it’s over, we’re a team forever, and I feel good about it.”
The screen door slammed and hit Bubba on the ass as he entered the shop.
That’s movin’ slow, when you get hit on the butt by your own screen door.
Laura wanted to return to her shack, get stoned, and daydream about Bubba all day.
It’s all she wanted lately. Not just since the two recent visits, since…whoa. That’s way too long to be callin’ lately. This looks like it’s gonna be fun.
The fun rush abated quickly.
Laura bent over and dry heaved for several seconds. Her nervousness was overbearing. She’d been cookin’ this up forever.
Now, with the help of Bubba and Ernie…good grief!…she was about to orchestrate her masterpiece.
All the experience, every up, down, nook, and cranny of her past was picked over for bits and pieces of wisdom. The whole heaving incident was spent thinking about knowing that she was as ready as she’d ever get.
Bubba’s phone rang. It was Chief Allerton. Hugh had wandered off.
“The last time he was seen, two kids, Carson, and my nephew, Will, say he was staggering along the edge of the cliff, singing loudly. Thought you’d wanna help us look for the ol’ goat.”, said Allerton.
Bubba said, “Yeah, I’ll be right out there. He was drunk, Chief. Fool always got a chuckle tellin’ about fallin’ off the cliff on his way home. He knew places where you’d just roll downhill to the beach. Let’s hope he’s forgotten about that little game.”
Within half an hour, there were 103 people roaming around Whitney’s and the surrounding area. The other 17 Aarrghhites were otherwise engaged.
12 due to physical disabilities which made gettin’ around impossible. And 5 layin’ around drunk, somewhere.
Every able bodied human was lookin’ for ol’ Hugh.
People roamed the beach below the cliff, combed every square inch of the junk yard, all the trailers, and were about to call it a night when Laura, who’d been standing by, draped on Bubba’s arm, decided to stop by her place for a few minutes, feed the cats, and check in on things.
She jumped backwards from the doorway. “Hey, c’mere. It’s Hugh. Musta came lookin’ for the rest of the Jack. I don’t believe he let hisself in. He’s never been closer than fifty feet to this place. He’s out. But, he don’t look dead.”
Bubba and Allerton entered.
The Chief checked for a pulse, and looked around for signs of foul play, just in case. Hugh’s heart was still beatin’, but he was all banged up.
Bubba noticed that Hugh’s cuts and bruises all had pieces of bramble with sand and stones stuck in the dried blood. “Hey, Chief. He’s rolled down the embankment, struggled back over here, and passed out on Laura’s floor. Look at all the grit and shrubbery he’s collected. Let’s get him sat up.”, said Bubba.
They propped him back against Laura’s nest.
It was a pile of blankets, furs, Persian carpets, and pillows that stood higher than most beds. Hugh was enswathed in the thing when he came to.
He sputtered, “Dang it all girl, I come visitin’ once ever and ya bring the whole gang. Whadja think happened? D’ja figger ol’ Hugh finally bought it? No such luck, nieces and nephews, I’ve lived to walk my own property, pass out in a beautiful woman’s living room, drunk as I can get, and awaken to the faces of friends. God Bless Aarrghh.”
“God Bless Aarrghh”, in unison.
“Well, wake up, Bubba. Now’s the time. Tell everyone your plan. C’mon. I already know what I’m doin' with my instant grand. Hey folks, Bubba’s got sumthin’ ta tell ya’ll. Lissen up.”, came Laura loud and clear. “I’m designin’ and sellin’ a T-Shirt honorin' Aarrghh. They’re gonna be expensive. So, don’t worry about buyin’ none of ‘em. After things get rollin’, we’ll come up with one we like to wear, and everyone will get a few. These are for them.”…pointing to the mainland.
“O.K., folks.”, Bubba spoke, “ Most of ya’ll have heard about the roadway, and I guess ya’ve heard about this Riparian idea. Laura here thinks now’s a good time for me to tell ya what I’m thinkin’.”
“Whoa, hold on there, Bubba. Whadda you know about what I think?”, Laura scolded.
“Again”, Bubba cleared his throat with a hearty ‘AARRGHH’, and went on, “I figger Laura was thinkin' now’s a good time ta tell ya’ll about what’s next in our battle to stop the Hiway from comin’ here. I’m gonna hand out $1000 to each and every one of you. We’ll do it tomorrow, at the shop. Do whatever ya want with it. Pretend it’s Tourist Dollars, from the future. Then realize that the next grand worth of tourist dollars ya’ll see will come after 100 hour weeks tendin’ yer Tourist Trap. And, we’ll be fightin’ each other over parkin’ spots, so’s we can run our Tourist Traps. Not to mention, who’s gonna maintain the roads we already got, after all the new traffic starts. That one I’m sure about. Ernie came up with it. It’s gonna cost lots of money to get that next ‘free’ grand. So, come by tomorrow. Plan on makin’ some time, ‘cause we’re bound to have sumthin’ else to go on about. Now, get on home and figger what yer gonna do with the free money. Nite!"
“Hey, Laura.", said Bubba, "Ernie and me’s goin’ fishin’ all day tomorrow. I’ll give you the money, and you give it out.”
Laura got right in Bubba’s face, as she said, “Nah. You, Ernie, and Me’s goin’ fishin’ tomorrow. We’ll put up a sign on the shop. It’ll say ‘GONE FISHIN”…FREE MONEY TOMORROW’.
That way, they’ll feel the anguish of knowin’ ya got money, but ya can’t get at it. That’s what livin’ on Tourist Dollars is gonna be like. Always waitin’, hopin’ for that green to come in. Ya’ll know it’s out there. But, it ain’t in your shop right this minit. Let’s be ready before dawn. I neva seen the sun come up over Aarrghh from that marsh.”
Bubba thought for a second before saying, “Uh-Uh. I ain’t trickin’ no-one into nuthin’, Laura. We’ll tell ‘em all what you just said. You say it just like that. These folks will distill it into common thought in a day, or two. We’ll all do the money tomorrow. Fishin’ waits another day. C’mon. Let’s go dig it up.”
Laura grunted, “I thought you said I was in charge. Heh! Fat chance!Yuk-Yuk.”
The three piled into the ol’ Chevy.
Ernie could feel the day of fishin’, eatin’, and drinkin’ with Bubba slippin' away.
He said, “Oh, well. That video camera would have gotten in the way. Bubba’d be fallin’ overboard every minute, or so. And we’d never catch so much as a mudsucker.”
Laura piped in with, “What video camera? There’s a real good used one for sale in the window at Nell’s.”
Bubba smirked as he said, “Not anymore. I grabbed it on the way over here. We gotta stop back there to get some lessons. All three of us should know how.”
“I know that machine like the back of my hand, Bubba. It’s exactly the same camera I used on my Thesis. We don’t need to stop, unless ya’ll need to see Nell for some reason.”, was Laura’s retort.
Laura’s voice sneered the name Nell...
Bubba said, “Girl, I don’t need to be seein’ no-one else but you.”
They drove in silence. Each thinkin’ about how close their thoughts had become.
Laura’s nervousness dissipated.
Ernie smiled like the Cheshire Cat, from “Alice in Wonderland”.
Bubba let his mind roll.
This wasn’t thinkin’. This was free rein.
“The already existin’ road I’ve built, is the most direct, natural path. With tons more 'heavier than the tide can normally wash away' gravel, dumped there, I could supply an army over that road at low tide.”, he thought aloud, as Ernie and Laura hummed along. “I think we should let them get so far as havin’ to spend lots of ‘grease the skids’ money by suggesting that they complete the low-tide causeway, for the purpose of settin' up a workstation in Aarrghh. That way, they’ll have an access road to all their ‘future’ work. For every man hired from ‘away’, they’ll have to offer hirin' to an Aarrghhite, up until anyone who wants a job, has one. We’ll rent The Duck to shuttle people back and forth while the temporary ‘Workway’…that’s what we’ll call it…gets completed. After that, we’ll all have more money, so we’ll be able to hold out. I’ll buy a couple of freezer-truck bodies. Laura, you figger out how to get Hugh to go for havin’ ‘em at his place. Each trip to Alacort, we’ll drop someone off to buy stuff to freeze. By the time the ‘Workway’ gets done, they’ll have spent tons of money right here. Fred'll, get a couple of those coffee-matic machines, and have someone make muffins. Fred’s Barber/Coffee Shop will become our first attraction. We’re gonna make ‘em build us all the stuff we need, and then we’re sendin’ ‘em packin’. Believe me. They’ll go away glad…glad to be rid of us.”
Laura sighed. Her entire being went totally to rest.
Ernie said, “Ya’ll been thinkin’ this one out, ain’t ya?”
Laura dreamed all the way.
She had visions of all those people being inside her place.
In all the time she’d spent there, no-one had ever entered her door. She lived outside. People came by when the weather was nice.
Otherwise, she’d been holed-up alone.
Images of the interior of the shack danced through her head. It was like she saw it for the first time. Each time her vision lit on some weird thing she’d collected, she saw it through the eyes of others.
“Cripes! They must think I’m crazier than they are. Maybe I am”.
There were hundreds of shells, skeletal remains of fish, birds, and whatever that larger thing was in the corner.
She’d made a necklace of Cormorant skulls. It hung on an obscenely done-up mannequin.
Laura smiled as she realized that now was the time to start wearing the necklace. She needed to dig through some of her old clothes and find a few of those black-silk evening dresses. There were a few skin tight, low cut ones that she could start wearing with the necklace, and nothing else.
She felt pure glee, thinking about going to all the events leading up to the big showdown, drop dead gorgeous, and barefoot. Her feet looked they should be on a pilgrim in Nepal. They were calloused, dirty, and the toenails grew wild. Some were broken. Some appeared to have been naturally sanded by walking the beach, and some were two inches long.
Her hair had grown to its natural length. The tresses ended in a little curl, just above her buttocks.
The ‘Auburn Mane’, as Laura’s ‘do' was called back in the day, was a little out of control, but some consistent washing and brushing would restore the lustre.
She pictured herself, standing at Bubba’s side.
It became so real that she could feel the sharp little Cormorant beak-tips scratching across the top of her breasts.
She shuddered and almost came.
“We’ll get ‘em ta build us a schoolhouse. How many kids are there. Let’s see…hmmm…I count 27. I seen a thing on the TV down at Fred’s about some town needed new school buildings. They put up Quonset Huts. The ‘Workway’ project is gonna need a building of some sort. I can picture these kids goin’ to school in a big ol’ place, wide open, no classrooms, just one big Quonset Hut. We can get Elmer to paint the inside to look like the sky. Make sure we remember to have them leave several of those rolling scaffolds behind.”, Bubba again.
Ernie asked, “Ya’ll gonna give a grand to the kids too? What if a few of ‘em get together and just up and leave? That ain’t gonna make folks too happy.”
“I’m givin’ it ta everyone. We’ll come up with a statement before tomorrow. Parental Advisory…I seen that on TV too. If any of that Quinn bunch starts actin' all rich, fallin’ down drunk every day, we’ll know that Harry stole his kid’s dough. How many’s he got? Six, seven? That’s gonna put eight, maybe nine grand into the Quinn household. We’ll have to keep an eye out for that sort of thing. Goddamn, how does she put up with that fool?”, responded Bubba. “Good thinkin’ Ern. I figgered Laura for the best thinkin’. But, yer doin’ fine. Keep it up.”
Laura slipped out of her dream just long enough to "Harruummmppphhh”.
“Hey, Laura. Ya’ll gonna keep up with the beggar lady thing?”, asked Bubba, “It would be cool. But, I like the way…Ooops! Sorry, Ern. I’ll go into that later.”
Ernie had a thing for Laura.
Bubba knew because ol’ Ern never asked about anyone else.
He reminisced about the days Bubba brought the wild bunch out to Hugh’s. Laura would break away, and come into town.
She always stopped at Bubba’s shop, had a drink, or two with Ernie, and sometimes smoked a joint.
As usual, Bubba never seemed to be around when these little parties took place. Ernie felt that he’d seen into Laura’s soul.
He saw the emptiness of comin’ from ‘away’.
Laura is the only person Ernie ever got to know from ‘away’. Now, Bubba was courtin’ her, right before ol’ Ernie’s eyes.
“O.K., here we are. Ern, grab the pick and shovel outta the back. I gotta look around a little, like I don’t know where they're buried, to see if anyone else could ever have found this stuff. I didn’t plan on diggin’ it up for years. See if you can find the three places. I figger they’re well hid.”, said Bubba as he and Laura jumped from the driver’s side.
Laura fell into Bubba’s side as they jumped out.
She clung for a moment, then stood straight up and pecked his cheek. She let him see the girl for a moment, or two, then called to Ernie, “Hey Ern, I can see two of ‘em from here. I watched him bury the third.”
Ernie dug for a few minutes, right where he was standing, and bent down to raise the first suitcase.
Bubba leaned back against the ol’ Chevy, “How many other folks know where this is?”
Laura giggled, “Heh-Heh, hotshot. Wouldn’t you just love ta know? But, it don’t matta no mo’ Ho-Ho!”
It was fun. Laura remembered now. It really was.
But, it got a little out of hand. 12 years of self-enforced, ragamuffinesque, celibacy, and nurturing the soul. “Jeez”, she thought, “It mighta justa been worth it.”
“O.K. You’ve had your shits and giggles. Let’s get the other two. You can find ‘em, I’m sure. Maybe we can still get The Duck ready for an predawn run to Alacort. Full moon, tide’ll be real low. The storage unit is out on 42. I’ll put up some flyers in the morning. We’ll run the sale over there. Wait, better idea. Maybe just leave Harkins with a list of stuff we want, give him the key to the unit, and tell him to sell it all, or trade it for other stuff, whatever leaves us feelin’ good. I’ll give him twenty percent of the sale. That way he’ll push for top dollar. I’ll end up with more, because I’d have given away most of it. Laura, you figger out how to band the money into $1000 piles. It’s mostly twennies, and a few fifties. I didn’t get C-Notes because I never would have been able to spend them in Aarrghh. There’s duct tape on The Duck. Just count it out and tape ‘em into a bunch. We need 120 packs. Tell people we’ll replace the bills that get stuck to the tape later, if they can’t separate them. We’ll see Harkins tonight, get that over with, and return before morning. The tide’ll be high, but we’ll just stay roundabout the channels and 'boat' all the way to the beach. Well start the hand-out just after dawn. Laura wants to watch the sunrise over Aarrghh from the marsh. Don’tcha sugarplum? Heh-Heh!” Bubba was clearin’ out thoughts like a man shittin' bad apples.
“As soon as we get to the shop, Ernie, take Laura and start gettin’ ready. I’m gonna call Harkins, tell him were comin’, and go get Hugh. Well park the rocker and lash it down. He can carry on all the way. Laura, grab the First-Aid kit off the front wall, there. Just lift it up. It comes right away…and some towels. I’ll bet anything he’s sittin’ there, half the island still stuck to him. We’ll get him straightened out. Maybe even take him into Sal’s. I bet he hasn’t been there for fifty years. He’s a pissa, ain’t he? Start thinkin’ about stuff Harkins can get us. Maybe mention the freezer-truck bodies. I hope sombody’s rememberin’ all this. I ain’t. Laura, Ernie remembers all this stuff. Ya just gotta get used to the way he returns the thought. See ya. I’m on a mission. ‘Bubba the Riparian’ strikes, for the first time.”
“Guess he don’t even know about all them talks you and me had, huh, Laura?”, Ernie spoke softly as they walked toward The Duck, “You know the way my thoughts work, don’tcha? I know ya know I ain’t dumb. I kinda stay behind the scene Bubba creates, and wish him well. Ya Know.”
“Yeah, Ern. We had some laughs, didn’t we? Sorry I stopped comin’ by. I stopped doin’ much of anythin' fer a while there. Didn’t I?”, asked Laura, “Ya know I’m gettin’ real sweet on Bubba, don'tcha? I see it like this. Ya’ll got so much bright in there, that all the dark spots, the ones keep others worryin’ theirselfs sick, ain’t even there, are they? So, you know pretty much how this is gonna go. I’m just a chick, Ern. I can’t control the urges. Believe me, I been tryin’.”
“O.K., Laura, jes so’s ya know how I feel.”
“I do, Ernie. I do.”
The pair continued on toward The Duck, and worked in silence for quite a while.
Ernie’d grunt out a suggestion, now and then, but it remained uncomfortably quiet until the sound of Bubba’s truck radio, blarin’ John Fogerty’s “Eye of the Zombie”, came over the hill. Bubba roared up to The Duck, “Ol’ goat’s been holdin’ out. We got us a gallon of peach liquor’d take off yer head and screw it into the dirt, ya ain’t careful. Don’t we Hugh?”
“Hey, kids, nice ta see ya’ll. Where we goin’?”, asked an excitedly befuddled Hugh Whitney.
Alan Hart, director of the roadway project, sat at Fred’s Barber/Coffee Shop, eating a muffin and drinking coffee. He thought that no-one would know he was involved with the proposed roadway construction.
There were tourists in Aarrghh, just not all that many. He tried to act like one of them.
It’s not like he was wearing a hard hat and sporting an I.D. badge, but he wasn’t exactly looking relaxed, either.
Fred said, “Gonna be a few minutes, pal. I gotta finish up on ol’ Ern, here, and then I gotta start another pot o’ coffee. Ain’t seen ya’ll around before.”
Hart tried to be casual as he responded, “Nope. I’m from Atlanta, driving up the coast on a little ‘getaway’. I’d heard about this place, and thought I’d like to see the famous Aarrghh.”
Ernie gave a little ‘hmm’, and looked Hart over.
“Don’t move, Ern. I’ll take yer ear off ya’ll keep squirmin’ around like that.”, said Fred.
“Where’d ya hear about us?”, asked Ernie.
“Oh, I guess the first time was in National Geographic, several years back. But, you folks, and your beautiful little world are known all over. Everybody wishes they could live in a place like this, at least for a while. Life in the big city’s pretty stressful, and dreams of someday living in a small, coastal village like Aarrghh is what keeps a lot of us going.”, was Hart’s answer.
“Whydja ya do it, then?”, inquired Ernie,
“What? Live in the city? I guess it just gets started that way, and the next thing you know, life takes over.”, was Hart’s reply.
There was no further response from either Ernie, or Fred.
Hart sipped his coffee, and tried to act nonchalant.
“Hey, Freddie, whatcha been hearin’ about this road ta the mainland?”, was the next thing Ernie said.
Fred answered, “Not a lot lately, Ern. I guess it’s becomin’ one a them ideas gets started, then peters out over time."
Hart perked up.
Ernie looked at him in the mirror, trying not to move. Hart was almost totally bald, with a shiny dome. His T-shirt and jeans were neat and clean, and he wore brand new L.L. Bean hiking boots. Ernie could smell the newness from ten feet away.
He had the ‘tourist’ look going. His shirt bore the Atlanta Falcons logo, seemingly backing up his claim to be from that city.
There was no-one else in Fred’s at that moment, and Ernie wanted to see if he could get the guy goin’ about the roadway. Hart had been to Aarrghh before. He was one of the ‘suits’ Laura’d seen back a few months ago. Everyone knew he was one of ‘em.
They also knew that he came from New York City. I guess the Atlanta act was being played out to make him seem more ‘folksy’.
It wasn’t working. He had Yankee, carpetbagger, and phony written all over him.
“Next time ya’ll get ‘round this way, y’ll be able ta drive right out from Alacort. D’ja know that?”, tested Ernie.
“No. I didn’t.”, said Hart. “What’s that? Is there going to be a road built out to here? I guess you folks will love that. Being able to get back and forth to the mainland whenever you like. No more spending half a day on the ferry. Think of how much easier that’s going to be.”, spoke Hart.
“I like the ferry. Waitin’ don’t bother me none. Ain’t much on the mainland I need.”, said Ernie. He didn’t mention The Duck.
“Me too.”, was Fred’s response.
Hart looked around Fred’s shop, and wished someone else would come through the door. He’d decided to spend a few days, ‘incognito’, in Aarrghh, trying to muster up support, get a feel for the attitude amongst the locals, and gain some insight into what approach to take with them.
It wasn’t going very well.
Every conversation worked it’s way around to this.
Not one single Aarrghhite had responded with anything positive about the roadway. Each time he struck up a conversation, the other party seemed willing, friendly even. But, as soon as the roadway was brought up, the comments about no need, no reason, no use for the thing, ended any hope of promoting his plan.
Aarrghhites had an ability to leave words dangling in the air, leaving Hart feeling alone and foolish.
Not one of them could envision the need, nor the advantages. He finished his coffee, dropped the paper cup into the trash, and rose to leave.
Ernie couldn’t resist. “Ya’ll ain’t gonna get no haircut? It’s only $5 when ya buy coffee and a muffin first. Fred here’s one heck of a barber. Even a ‘close ta bald’ man, such as y’self, needs touchin’ up around the edges.”
Fred said, “Ern, the man don’t need barberin’ today. Any fool can see that.”
“Oh, yeah. Guess yer right. This fool wasn’t lookin’…just askin’. I hate ta see the fella go. I like hearin’ about the big world. Don’t want nuthin’ ta do with it. But, I like hearin’ about it.”
Hart said, hopefully, “I’ll be around for a while. If you’d like to discuss anything with me, I’m staying at Nell’s. You’re welcome to drop by. I’d offer you a beer, but there isn’t anyplace to buy it. Nell says the VFW has a bar, but I’m not a member.”
Fred said, “O.K., Ern, yer done.”, as he snapped the towel from around Ernie’s neck, and gave him a pat on the head.
This was Fred’s style. He’d seen Floyd, the barber on The Andy Griffith Show, do it.
Each, and every haircut he gave ended with a snap of the towel, and a gentle pat on the head. Folks liked it.
Ernie asked to use the phone.
He handed Fred some money, and dialed. “Bubba! Meet me at the VFW. I’m bringin’ a guest. Fella from Atlanta, says he likes it out here, and reckons we should get used ta the idea of the roadway. Says it’s a good thing. See ya in a few.”
He hung up, and said, “C’mon, let’s go get with ol’ Bubba, and them. Y’ll like it. Hey Freddie, close up and join us. Ain’t nobody here, and it’s gettin’ late fer coffee and muffins. We’ll show our new pal a good ol’ Aarrghh time.”
Fred picked up, and flipped the sign on the door around to say ‘Closed’.
He and Ernie introduced themselves, properly, to Hart, who said, “Alan Hart, Atlanta. Call me Al.”
The three walked toward the VFW.
Now that you've met the characters, wadda ya think?
This tale tells itself, because it's true. The names and places have been changed to protect the guilty. The innocent don't require my protection. Future installments will take Bubba, Laura, ol' Ernie, Hugh, Aaron, Nell, and the rest of the Aarrghhites on a series of adventures pitting their outlook against that of 'The Hiwaymen'.
I believe that native intellect, and good ol' guileless openness will win out over the need for violence. But, even I don't know that for certain.
Maybe the road gets built, Bubba and Laura move to Manhattan, become friends with Al, and his bunch, Ernie inherits the shop, and Hugh lives happily ever after. Maybe. But, I don't think so.
It turns out that Bubba has been using The Duck for more than his excursions to Alacort.
Among the pile of rubble he's been placing along the way, are two Volkswagen-sized mounds of concrete.
He and Ernie mixed them up one day, a few years ago.
They have no recognizable shape, looking like busted up pieces of aggregate, from some demolition job.
There are several smaller pieces tossed around, for good measure.
It seems that Bubba and Ernie stumbled across a natural sweep in the tidal flow, where gold, from the wreck of "The Hornet", a coastal schooner, loaded with newly minted coins from California, which sunk off Aarrghh's outer banks, in 1852, just keeps on ending up.
The coins, thousands of fifty dollar gold pieces, are mixed into the concrete.
If the loot from "The Atocha" is any example, Bubba and Ernie's stash is worth about half a billion dollars.
Bubba figgers they can swim down with a hammer and break off pieces which hold a few hundred grand at a time.
Greg Allison, down at the boatworks, has a big pot he uses to melt lead for keels. Ernie's the one mentioned that gold and lead are very much alike. He wanted to become an Alchemist when he was a kid. But, this is even better.
Harkins, over at Alacort, knows where to sell anything and everything. Bubba figgers Harkins'll move the gold, for a fee, once it's been formed into bars.
Laura's bettin' on Bubba.
She's had a feelin', for as long as she can remember, that somethin' was up with her life. She knows the ropes, and ain't afraid to use her wiles to get her way, if her way fits with the newfound peace of mind her twelve year 'drop-out' period has provided.
Bubba was making goo-goo eyes at Laura through the screen door.
“Damn”, said Bubba, “C’mon in, Laura, I’m on the phone with Ernie.
‘The Hiwaymen’ thing must be gettin’ goin’. Ernie uses the phone about twice a year. Says he’s got some poor fool headin’ over to the VFW. "
"See ya’ll in a little bit, Ern. Treat him nice ‘til I get there. Tell Aaron to start a tab. I’ll pay. See if ya can get the Atlanta guy to start on some of Hugh’s Peach liquor. I can’t believe the ol’ goat’s had that stuff settin’ around for all this time. Twenty friggin’ gallons of 150 proof ‘shine, and he forget where he’d hidden it, for ten years or more. Geez. It’s dangerous stuff, so pure that ya don’t even know it’s liquor, for a while. Heh, heh.”
“Hey now, kiddo.”, to Laura, who’d come inside.
“Hey”, said Laura, “Ya’ll goin’ ta get the poor fool in trouble too soon, ya not careful. Maybe I should go with ya’ll to see Aaron.”
Bubba stepped back a bit, and drank Laura in.
She had been paying a lot more attention to her appearance lately. It was working on Bubba.
She hadn’t yet started wearing the little black dresses, with the necklace, but she had allowed Bubba to run every stitch of her T-shirt, sweatpants, and sweater collection through the wash. After drying, the expensive clothing fit like paint.
Today’s Tee was an old, tye-dyed, threadbare, body contourin’ dream.
The sweatpants had shrunken as well.
“Goldang! Hey sweetness, let’s spend a little time here before we go anywhere.”, was all Bubba could muster.
“Ya’ll told Ernie that you were on the way.”, said Laura, “C’mon, Hoss.”
They closed up Bubba’s shop and headed for the ol’ Chevy.
Bubba ‘goosed’ Laura, and grabbed her when she jumped. She turned toward him and threw a left, which Bubba laughingly deflected.
“Knock it off, creep. I’m gonna teach you some manners before this is over.”, Laura snapped.
“Shiiiittt! Jump in. Let’s get goin’, girl. I got no time fer this foolishness.”, Bubba chuckled as he opened the passenger door. Laura grinned, and climbed in.
“Ya’ll gotta start callin’ me ‘Woman’, Bubba. It’s not like we’re some kinda bad teenagers, or somethin’.”
“Ain’t no teenager, good or bad, looks like ya’ll, girl. Yer startin’ ta smell better, too. Yipes!”
“Woman! Creep!”, growled Laura, jabbin’ Bubba in the ribs.
“AARRGHH, that hurts, woman.”
Laura nuzzled up for the ride. They were a lot like bad teenagers. Like it, or not.
Hart insisted that he was only a beer drinker.
But, when Fred started callin’ him a big city wussie boy, don’t know how ta get down w’ the locals, ‘fraid he might scuff up his new boots, Alan Hart held his nose, and slammed back a belt of Hugh’s ‘shine.
It tasted like Peach flavored air, with a bite.
Hart didn’t know it, yet, but trouble was on the way.
The front door of the VFW opened, held back by Bubba, as Laura breezed in.
“Well, thank you, kind sir.”, Laura added an artificial tone of civility to her voice.
“Laura. Ya’ll know ya cain’t be comin’ in here barefoot.”, shouted Aaron. “I ain’t got many rules. But, that one’s by The State, and I ain’t losin’ my license over it. Bubba, cain’t ya’ll get this ol’ gal a yers ta wear shoes, at least sometimes?”
Laura hesitated, snarled at Aaron and his friggin’ rules, and looked to Bubba for assistance.
Hart spoke up. “Ma’m, my car’s only a block away. I’ve got a pair of running shoes in back. You put these on.”
He removed the new L.L Beans, handed them to Laura at the door, and walked out in only his socks.
“I’ll be right back, fellas. Kindly introduce the lady as soon as I re-enter the door. Howdy, Ma’m. Alan Hart, Atlanta, Georgia.”
Laura looked disdainfully at the ‘Beans’, snarled over at Aaron once more, and slipped into the boots.
Fortunately, they were way too big.
“These’ll be O.K. in about ten years.”
She wiggled her toes around.
“Damn. I can barely feel the floor. Bubba, I need a drink, and a seat, please. Atlanta, huh? Like hell. That boy’s got NEW FRIGGIN’ YORK written all over him. I can smell it. How mucha that ‘shine’s he had? Don’t lose him, yet. Hey, Ern, Fred, whatcha up ta? Hi Aaron. Ya big pain.”
“Ya’ll been around Bubba too much lately, Laura. I’m glad ta see ya in here. But, don’t let these boys influence ya wrong.”, spoke Aaron as he got two beers, and poured two more tumblers of Hugh’s ‘shine.
“Truth be told, I don’t know why I’m worryin’ about shoes. State eva finds out I’m lettin’ ya’ll drink this stuff over my bar, I’m in real trouble.”
“That mean I can take the boots off, Aaron?”, asked Laura with girlish petulance.
“Nope. Gotta keep up 'pearances.”
Hart walked in the door wearing a pair of expensive running shoes, which weren’t brand new. The guy was a faithful jogger. He kept the shoes in his luggage all the time.
Laura stood for the formal introduction.
Bubba spoke, “Mr. Alan Hart, Atlanta, Georgia, nice ta meetcha. I’m called Bubba. This gorgeous woman is Laura. She don’t have no surname, nor location attached. I guess she’s ‘Laura of Aarrghh’.”
Laura and Hart exchanged pleasantries.
Hart was hopelessly smitten. He was already thinking about whether, or not, he’d ever wear the L.L. Bean’s again, when Laura raised her right foot, stomped it down hard on the floor, pulled ‘em off, and said, “These things suck. Let’s drink up and git ova ta Bubba’s. We’ll set out and enjoy ourselfs. ‘Nuffa this formality. That O.K. with ya’ll, Mr. Hart?”
“Call me Al. Whatever you say, Ma’m.”
“Ya, ya, ‘whatever I say’, right. Bubba says that all the time. Don’t mean squat. Ya’ll call me Ma’m again, and yer gettin’ these boots back where the sun don’t shine. Let’s get goin’. Ern, Fred, ya’ll comin’? Nice haircut, Ern. What’d Fred use? Hedge clippers?”
“Aw, Laura, don’t make ol’ Freddie feel bad about his skills. Ya shoulda been here when Bubba was barberin’.”, said Ernie. “Yeah, we’re comin’ along. Ya’ll go on with Bubba. Freddie n’ me’s gonna ride with Al, here. See ya’ll in few minits.”
Bubba paid and left Aaron a big tip, for his trouble, and the fact that Laura’s performance had cost him an afternoon’s worth of beer sales He poured the ‘shine free, only when Bubba’s crew were around. It really was risky, but, it was Bubba.
Alan Hart had rented a high end Land Rover for his ‘getaway’.
Ernie’d seen them, but hadn’t ever been in one. Land Rovers were all metal, with hard seats the last time Ernie’d been inside one. This thing looked cushier than Nell’s parlor.
Ernie had seen Hart cruising around Aarrghh in the vehicle, and wanted to test it out.
“Mr. Hart. What say I drive? I got a legal license, can drive anythin’s eva been made, and I know the way. Here. I snagged a beer for the ride. Set back, relax.”
“O.K., Ernie. But, call me Al, would you?”
“Sure ‘nuf, Al. Get in, Freddie. We’re goin’ the long way over ta Bubba’s.”
Hart fished in his pocket. No Keys. He looked into the back of the vehicle. The keys were laying inside, next to his luggage.
The Land Rover was one of those new type, which locked as soon as the doors closed. In his rush to get back into the VFW, and spend precious time with Laura, Hart had made a mess of it. Bubba and Laura were already out of sight.
Hart asked, knowing the answer, “Do either of them have a cell phone?”
“Didn’t think so. Dammit. Now what, fellas?”
Ernie suggested walking. It was only a few miles, the short way.
He was disappointed, but the Land Rover wasn’t goin’ anywhere. There’d be another time, if Hart made it through the next day, or two.
They walked back into the VFW, ordered three beers each, and asked Aaron to phone out ta Bubba’s in twenny minits, or so. “Tell him we’re hoofin’ it. It’ll be awright. Give him n’ Laura a little time alone togetha.”
The guys swallowed the beers quickly, paid, and exited.
Fred spoke up. “Well, ya’ll, I ain’t comin’ along. I reckon y’ll end up stayin’ over ta Bubba’s for longer than I want to be away from the shop. I gotta open up early t’morra. Sorry, Ern. Let me know what I miss, O.K.?”.
He walked away quickly, so there’d be no chance of changing his mind, stopping to call back, over his shoulder, “Mr. Hart. If ya’ll wanna get back, and Bubba’s too drunk ta drive, call the shop in the mornin’. I’ll borrow some wheels, and run out ta get ya. I’ll get in touch with the car rental place over ta Alacort, tell ‘em ta get a set of keys, or their guy, or whatever, out here as quick as they can. See ya’ll later.”
“C’mon, Al. It’ll only take us half an hour. The view along the way’s real nice. We’ll talk some more about that roadway ta the mainland. Ya seemed kinda interested, back at Freddie’s.”, said Ernie as he strode off. “That fancy rig’s probly betta off right where she sits. Bubba gets his hands on it, we’ll be drivin’ ta Alacort at low tide. I don’t think these newfangled ones is really made for that.”
Hart prided himself on being in good shape. Ernie’s stride had him twenty feet off, and movin’ away fast, before he could get in gear.
Hart thought, “Half an hour at this rate and we can make ten miles.” He was practically at his jogging pace just trying to maintain a position alongside Ernie, who seemed to glide along, effortlessly.
The pair settled into a comfortable, side by side, pace. Hart’s heart was beating at his usual ‘workout’ rate. He was glad he’d changed into the running shoes. Those new boots would have killed his tender feet.
“Ya’ll like the scenery, Al?”, asked Ernie. “I’m so used to this that maybe I don’t really appreciate the view. Tell me what ya’ll thinkin’. O.K?. I like talkin’ with folks from ‘away’.”
Hart looked up to see the sun going lower over the marsh. His first thought was how beautiful the postcards, showing the bridge glistening in the sunset, would be.
“Yeah, Ernie, it’s gonna look great to the tourists. The sun shining on the bridge. The marsh gleaming beneath.”
He wasn’t thinking clearly enough to be as cagey as he should have been. Hart loved man-made objects. He was an engineer by training. The thought of being in charge of such a wondrous project made his heart beat even faster.
“Probly ain’t eva gonna be no bridge, Al. Bubba, n’ them’s dead set against it.”, said Ernie before stopping to think. “I can’t see no good eva comin’ from it, m’self.”
Oh, oh. Ernie’d never been any good at keeping secrets. If something crossed his mind, he usually said it aloud.
As I mentioned, earlier, careful thinkin’ was not high on an Aarrghhites list of priorities. It barely made it onto Ernie’s list at all. He reacted and responded.
Hart stopped in his tracks. He reached out to touch Ernie’s shoulder. “Whoa. Hold on there, pal. Say that again.”
Ernie dumbed up.
He continued on toward Bubba’s, thinking to himself, “Aarrghh! What have I done now? Bubba will get over it. But, what’s Laura gonna think?”
“Ernie. Let’s stop here for a few minutes. I’d like to hear what you’ve got to say about this.”, said Hart.
“C’mon, Al. We’re goin’ ta Bubba’s n’ get all foolish. Ain’t no bridge there t’day. What’s it matta ta ya’ll?”, asked Ernie as he sped up.
Hart gathered himself together and looked around. He was just drunk enough that business didn’t seem all that important. Plus, Laura was out there.
“Yeah, Ern. I guess I’m stickin’ my nose where it don’t belong. Let’s go have some fun.”, he said. What he thought was that he’d take advantage of the opportunity to find out more, and see just how wild this Laura was.
Damn. She was unbelievable. Were there more like her out here?
They got to within a hundred yards of Bubba’s shop before another word was spoken.
Laura suddenly appeared in the road before them. “Well, now, if it ain’t two of my favorite fellas, right here, walkin’ along, headin’ my way.”, she said with a flirt and a giggle. She’d changed into one of the little black dresses, and was wearing the necklace. Her Auburn Mane shone. She spun around, did a little dance, and ran toward them.
Hart staggered and almost fell. Ernie’s heart skipped several beats.
Then, Bubba showed up, right behind Laura. “Heard ya’ll had some car trouble, Al. Good thing ol’ Ern knows the way. Elsewise, ya’d a missed the fun.”
He tossed each man a beer, and put his arm around Laura’s waist. “C’mon, boys. Let’s get this underway. We got some serious drinkin’ ta do.”
Ernie recalled his slip of the tongue. “Hey, Bubba. I mighta messed up.”
Bubba shushed him, and said, “F’get it Ern. Let’s f’get about ev’thin’ fer a while.”
Laura orchestrated the walk to Bubba’s so that she and Ernie were a few steps behind.
Bubba put his arm on Hart’s shoulder and led the way.
“What happened, Ern?”, questioned Laura.
“Ah, I got talkin’, and mentioned that nobody liked Al’s bridge idea. Didn’t mean nothin’. I just let it out.”
“Did ya let on that we know who he is?”
“Don’t think so. I just said that nobody cared much fer the roadway. He’s not a bad sort. Seems to like the idea.” Ernie seemed down as he said this. It seemed like no matter what he did, if talkin’ was involved, it always got a little off.
Laura slipped alongside Ernie, put her arm around him, and nudged him along. “F’get it, Ern. Let’s go have some fun. Where’s Fred”
Ernie smiled and fell in stride with Laura. As awkward as Ernie’s inability to be guileful could be, his lack of guile always made things work out.
He shrugged, and said, “Ah, Freddie didn’t wanna be away from his place. He’s takin’ this Coffee Shop thing real serious. Guess he figgers someone might need a mugup. Sadie comes by fer the left ova muffins about this time. Ya know ol’ Freddie.”
Ernie drank a few beers real quick, had a swallow, or two of ‘shine, and then slowed down. He knew that Bubba would get all messed up workin’ on gettin’ ta Hart. Laura was already kinda loopy. So, he best keep it together.
He said, “I’m goin’ down ta shut the pumps off, and check the lines, see that all’s well before we f’get ‘bout ev’thin’. Hey, Al, take a peek ova thissa way.”
Ernie did one of his greatest Dinghy Dances ever.
He was spinnin’ in the air between boats.
Hart applauded, and slammed back a big gulp of ‘shine.
Laura smiled. She knew that the performance was more for her benefit than Hart’s.
She shouted, “Lookin’ good, Ern. Whatcha gonna do on the way back?”
Ernie got to the fuel dock, took care of biznis, and started back.
He wondered if now was the time to do it.
He acted busy for a few more minutes, while considering his return, but decided, “Nah. I’m waitin’ til it’s just Laura and me.”
He walked back over the twisted, rotting, half underwater floats. No more Dinghy Dancin’ right now.
“Boo.”, hooted Bubba. “I give the trip out a ten, plus. The way back, zero. What’s the deal, Ern?”
Ernie remained silent all the way to Bubba’s porch.
He stood at the base of the steps, and said, “Gettin’ back here dry, ova them floats, is a betta trick. See, not so much as a drop on me. Hey, Al, Ernie don’t get wet. Not eva. What’s ta eat?”
Hart chimed in, “Will anyone bring us food? I’ve got cash and credit cards, if there’s a pizza delivery, or something like that.”
Laura responded with, “F’get it, Al. No take-out pizza fer this bash. Why don’t you and Bubba get the charcoal goin’. Me and Ernie’ll take the pick-up out ta Hugh’s. It’ll be low tide in a while. There’s nobody stayin’ there right now. I need ta get a few things, feed the cats, and look in on Hugh. Ain’t been home in several days. Bubba, I’ll take the keys. Ya’ll can’t keep me trapped here. It’s about time I learned ta drive that ol’ Chevy. Ernie can teach me along the way. C’mon, Hoss, toss ‘em over.”
Bubba looked at Ernie. He was the only person Bubba ever allowed to drive the pick-up.
While it looked like a run-down ’48 Chevy, there was a full race engine under the hood. The suspension could handle any back road at top speed. And, the stereo would blow out the windows if ya turned it up too high.
“Ern, whatcha think?”, asked Bubba with a funny tone of voice.
“Well, the tidepool’s prob'ly filled with all kindsa food, Laura wants ta get close ta her stuff fer a few minits, and Al, here, needs ta eat. Toss her the keys, Bubba. I’ll show her.”, responded Ernie in a firm tone Bubba’d never heard.
Laura sensed the moment, and struck. “O.K., Bubba. Either toss ‘em here, or you and Al go feed my cats, while Ernie and I make the fire.”
One of Laura’s cats, a Maine Coon Cat, weighing about forty pounds, had decided to be Bubba’s enemy. The friggin’ thing jumped him from a tree the last time he’d gone by. A forty pound, mostly wild cat, landing, claws out, and teeth rippin’ had grabbed Bubba around the neck, and just hung there.
Bubba still had open gashes on top of his head.
Laura held out her hand and giggled. The ol’ boy was roped and tied.
“Be careful. Ern, ya know how I feel about that baby.”, said Bubba as he handed over the keys to Laura.
“Ya, Bubba. I know how ya feel, about the truck, about Laura, and about that there kitty a hers. Heh, heh. Don’t worry. You n’ Al get the fire goin’. Laura n’ me’ll be fine.”, Ernie’s tone was even more unusual than before.
“I’m fillin’ one a them five gallon pails with ice and beer. Hugh’ll like that. Laura n’ me’ll have few while we harvest the tidepool. We’ll leave the rest with ol’ Hugh. C’mon, Laura. Let’s git goin’. Times awastin’. Me and Al’s hungry.”
Bubba looked at Hart. Was he imaginin’ all this? What the frig was Ernie up to? He’d lost control of the situation.
“Oh, well, what the hell. C’mon, Al, we got us a fire ta build.”
Bubba tried to regain his swagger as he said this.
He wasn’t sure if it was working, or not, because Al was standing stock still, jaw dropped to his knees, staring at the pick-up as it fishtailed away, over the gravel.
The windows were open, and the stereo coulda been heard in Alacort.
Bubba thought he heard Laura’s giggle over the music.
Just before the pickup went out of sight, he heard a loud ‘AARRGHH’.
When he looked back toward the truck, he saw a beer can fly out the driver’s side window, as the ol’ Chevy sped away.
“Geezus. Do good, Ern.”
Bubba’s barbeque was a sight to behold. The pit was lined with ceramic fire brick. The cooking surface was a custom made, heavy steel grate. The low wall surrounding the pit was made of large, carefully fitted boulders, with spits and stainless steel shelves protruding out over the pit. It was clearly a work of great care and expense. Hart was impressed. This was his type of thing.
“Wow! This is really something, Bubba. Who built it?” asked Hart as the two men approached with a wheelbarrow full of charcoal.
“Aw, Ernie n’ me’s been improvin’ it, bit by bit, over the years, Al. It’s cooked some pretty amazin’ feasts in its day. I’m glad ya like it. We’re a little backwards, out here, but we know what’s good fer us.”, said Bubba with humble, ‘aw shucks’ pride. His swagger was returning. “We gotta set the charcoal just right, before layin’ in some nice dry hick’ry from that pile ova thea. See the drippins around the edge? That’s grease from all the other times. As we fill the pit, we’ll scrape some off, into the hole. It gets the coals burnin’ right hot, and gives the smoke a tang ya can’t get no otha way. They’re gonna be a while, out ta Hugh’s place. Let’s set n’ jaw a while. That there big ol’ box, off ta yer right’s an enclosed reefer. Open the door and grab us a few cold ones, O.K.? I’ll get us them two chairs ova thea.”
Al stepped over to the large container. He lifted the door latch and opened it to reveal an insulated refrigeration unit the size of a large truck body. Inside were at least 100 cases of all kinds of beer. The cartons were carefully stacked, separated by brand, and there was a stainless shelving unit with loose bottles and cans, set row upon row, all organized, looking like the wine rooms in some of New York’s finest restaurants. Al was impressed.
Bubba pulled the two chairs into place beneath a large beach umbrella. He waited for Al to react. “Not too shabby, eh? Like I said, we’re up ta speed on some things. Don’t hold the door open too long. It’s kinda warm out here.” He was feelin’ like the Bubba of old, once again. The doubts about Ernie and Laura’s behavior dissipated.
“What kind would you like?”, asked Al.
“Bud’s my choice, Al. Always. You pick whatever ya’ll like. Them Anchor Steam ones is popular with the folks come by from all over. Grab one a them empty milk cartons and fill it with several of each. Take cans. No need ta be cleanin’ up any broken glass. I got ice in this here cooler. No point gettin’ up ‘n walkin’ all that way ever’ time we want anotha.” A large, ice filled, cooler sat between the two chairs, like a coffee table. Bubba dropped into a chair, flipped the cooler’s lid open, and settled in. ‘All that way’ was about twenty feet. Al was starting to appreciate the way things went in Aarrghh.
He took a moment to gather his thoughts, grab a couple dozen beers, and take a look around him. The area surrounding the barbeque pit was neatly raked gravel. There were several seating areas, with awnings and lattice-work fencing around them. Each one had a distinctive style. One awning was a large sail, rigged over booms and mast sections, with fancy Yacht-interior seating. Another awning was a huge NASCAR banner, draped over steel, roll-bar tubing. Two old Cadillacs, roof removed, front end cut off, sat beneath. The two rows of seats were in place. Each faced toward the sunset.
Al got to where Bubba had seated himself. This location was not as carefully decorated as the others. It was just the two chairs, cooler, and umbrella. The chairs were comfortable, classic ‘Adirondack’ lawn chairs. Al sat back, and felt as relaxed as he’d ever been within a few seconds. “Aarrghh!”, he roared.
Bubba laughed and said, “Now don’tch be gettin’ too used ta this, Al. Ya might get spoiled. Oh, yeah. That roarin’ ‘Aarrghh’ is not to be done casual. Ya gotta really let yer larynx vibrate. Like this…’AARRGHH’. Try it again. Don’t hurt y’self. A good one’s almost like getting’ off. It’ll shake ya down ta yer little toesies.”
Al swallowed deeply, and roared, “AARrgHh.” His voice broke a few times, but it was better than the previous.
Bubba said, “Ya betta give it up fer a while, Al. Y’ll get so’s ya can’t talk fer a week, ya do it wrong too many times in a row. Yer gettin’ it. Don’t worry. By this time tamorra, it’ll be comin’ natural ta ya. Drink up. Relax. I’m gonna go get the fire goin’. We’ll use some of Hugh’s shine as starter fluid. Coupla ounces won’t be missed, and it’s as volatile as anything I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, here’s some ta sip on. He placed a large coffee mug atop the cooler. It held about twelve ounces of ‘shine. Go easy. We got all night. Keep this here bar coaster over the top when yer not drinkin’. Elsewise, it’ll ‘vap’rate.” Bubba set a plastic bar coaster, from the VFW, atop Al’s mug.
Laura did O.K. with the pick-up. Ernie cautioned her to downshift before the turns, and reached across to turn down the stereo a few times. Once, when some fellas on a boat, at least a quarter mile out, blew their air horn, and shouted over a bullhorn ta turn it down. But, all in all, it was uneventful.
They drove up to Hugh’s porch. Sure enough, he was sittin’ there, starin’. Ernie got out and brought Hugh a beer. He opened it, and placed Hugh’s fingers around the can. Hugh felt the cold in his hand, and realized that he was supposed to drink. After a long swallow, and a pause, Hugh said, “This ain’t Jack. Whatcha up ta Bubba?”
“Hugh, it’s me, Ernie, and Laura too. We’re goin’ by her place ta take care a somethin’. I brought ya’ll beer. We’re gonna go harvest the tidepool. Ya need anythin’?”, spoke Ernie in a reverent whisper. “C’mon, Hugh, drink up. It’s ice cold.”
Hugh rubbed his eyes, and rolled the can over his forehead. “Oh, yeah. Hey, now, Ern. Howdy Laura, ain’t seen mucha ya’ll lately. I heard that dang radio blastin’ n’ smelt that race fuel exhaust comin’. Just figgered it had ta be Bubba. Wait a minit. Hold on. What’re you two up ta? Where’s Bubba? Even ol’ Hugh knows that truck don’t go nowhere ‘thout ol’ Bubba. What’s up, kids? Somethin’ happen?”
Laura jumped out and stepped quickly to Hugh’s side. “Hey, lover. Whatcha doin’? I missed ya’ll.” She smootched Hugh on his stubbly cheek, and gave him a hug. “Ernie n’ me’s takin’ care a Bubba’s truck fer now. Nothin’ wrong.”
“Now, girl, ya can’t fool a fooler. That where ya’ll been? You gettin’ it on with Bubba? Damn. Why’d ya go n’ do a thing like that fer. I’m right here.”, said Hugh as he stood, stepped back a bit and chuckled. He was gathering his wits now. Sometimes, all the lights would come back on for a while, and Hugh’d be his old self. “What’s goin’on? Look at you, Laura. It’s still too cold ta be outside in yer slip. Y’ll ketch yer death. Go get one a them big ol’ sweaters a yers.” He said this like a frustrated, angry parent.
Laura said, “This ain’t no slip, Hugh. It’s a Versace original. Friggin’ thing cost more than Bubba’s ol’ truck’s worth, fifteen years ago. This is style, Hugh.”
“It’ll look good in yer coffin, ya don’t put some clothes on. What in God’s name is that around yer neck. Looks like dead birds. That ‘style’ too.?”
“It is dead birds, Hugh. I made it outta some Cormorant skulls. Ain’t it pissa? Here take a closer look.”, she pulled Hugh’s head toward her chest, and rubbed her tits all over his stubbly drool. The skulls rattled.
Hugh jumped backwards. “Dang, girl. Ya’ll been into that ‘shine, ain’t ya? I neva shoulda let Bubba get his hands on it. Shoulda remembered ta keep on fergettin’ where it was. I knew somethin’ was up. Don’t let no open flames near yer face. Y’ll explode. Oh, yeah. Ya sure do look fine. Don’t get too crazy. That ‘shine’s been known ta do it.”
“Don’t worry, Hugh. I’d neva let anythin’ happen ta Laura. I’ll keep it togetha.”, Ernie’s tone was still reverential, but also a little concerned.
“I know ya won’t, Ern. How ya doin’? Say, yer goin’ down ta the tidepool, eh? Howsabout I tag along? I ain’t changed the gurry bag fer a while. Guess ol’ Hugh’s slippin’ some, eh, Ern?”
“Ya’ll jes let me know, Hugh. I’ll tend the bag fer ya anytime.” Ernie was gettin’ sorta depressed, seein’ ol’ Hugh slippin’ in and out, and realizin’ that he’d volunteered to care fer Laura, while Bubba had his way. “C’mon. Have another beer, n’ jump in the back with me. Laura’s drivin’. Can ya b’lieve that?” Ernie dropped the tailgate and helped Hugh in, without makin’ it seem like he was helpin’ all that much.
It was only a few hundred yards to the tidepool entrance. But, Laura revved it, popped the clutch and gave ‘em a ride. Hugh and Ernie rattled around the back, laughin’ and tryin’ not ta spill too much beer on each other. They pulled up to the gate. Laura yelled, “Jump out, n’ get started. I’m gonna go feed the cats, n’ take care around the shack a little.” Ernie grabbed the beers, and gave Hugh a hand down, as Laura peeled away.
Hugh and Ernie made their way down to the tidepool. Just as they reached the bottom of the walkway, Laura cranked the stereo up again. She’d popped in one of Bubba’s ‘Sea Chanty’ tapes. “What da ya do with a drunken sailor, early in the mornin’?” blasted over Aarrghh.
Hugh danced a little jig along the ramp. He asked, “Ya’ll still doin’ that Dinghy Dancin’, Ern? I like that. Maybe ya’ll can teach me, someday. I got time, ya know”
“Yeah, Hugh. You n’ me’s got nothin’ but time, do we? Sure, ya’ll get by Bubba’s when it warms up a bit. I’ll teach ya. Fact is, I been practicin’ a new one. I’ll be sure ta come by fer ya when I’m ready.”
“Don’t wait too long, Ern.”
Laura entered her shack. It hadn’t seemed right since that night she’d found Hugh there. It still held her stuff, all in its place, but the magic was gone. The skulls and bones looked like nothin’ more than skulls and bones. The mannequin, which was her personal dress form, back in ‘the day’, looked ridiculous. She pulled an old chenille bathrobe off its hook and covered the poor ol’ gal. She even got a cloth and washed her face. New magic was afoot in Aarrghh. Time ta change, again.
“Whew!”, said Laura to herself. “This betta work. I ain’t gonna be able ta come back here no more. C’mon. Bubba. I’m bettin’ on ya, ol’ Hoss.”
She stepped outside to see what was up around the place, and whistled for the cats. She opened a large bag of dry cat food, and dumped it out on the ground. There was always plenty of water runnin’ off the hillside, and most of ‘em could fend fer theirselfs. But, strangely enough, that ol’ Tom, the Coon Cat, giant badass that he pretended ta be, would only eat the dry food. She looked around some more. Two, or three of the cats let themselves be seen. She couldn’t tell Tabby from Tuffy, so it may have been just one or the other poppin’ up from the hole by the outhouse. The two of ‘em were sister and brother, and looked exactly alike. They worked as a team, catchin’ mice, birds, and chipmunks around the outhouse. She’d rescued them from the boatworks when they were kittens. Seemed that there were enough ‘mousers’ around the boatyard, and ol’ Gilly, the maintenance guy, was gonna put ‘em into a bag, with a brick, and drown ‘em. That’s just what he always did with feral kittens who showed up when he didn’t need anymore around the yard.
Tom, the Coon Cat was not in sight. Laura whistled again, then walked to the truck to turn off the stereo, in case Tom couldn’t hear her whistle. As she opened the door, Tom was inside, tearing the upholstery to shreds. “GIT”, she smacked his butt, and he jumped out the window. The driver’s side looked like the loser in a knife fight. “SHIIITTT!”, she screamed.
She realized that Ernie and Hugh must have heard her, with the stereo off. She jumped in. A spring got her left butt cheek, and she screamed again, as she wheeled around and headed back to the tidepool.
Ernie was at the top of the ramp, and Hugh was chuggin’ along behind when she pulled up.
“I’m awright. I’m awright. Oh, damn. Ern. Look!” She swung the door open and jumped out. Her dress caught the spring, and ripped. Blood ran down her leg, as she tripped, stepping aside to show Ernie the damage.
Ernie ran alongside and grabbed Laura before she fell. He looked back to see ol’ Hugh strugglin’ ta catch up. “She’s O.K., Hugh. Take it easy.”, shouted Ernie as he tried to calm Laura.
Ernie thought the problem was the ripped dress and the blood runnin’ down Laura’s leg. It didn’t look too bad. What was she all upset about? Ernie guessed that she musta really liked that V’satchy. “What happened? That ol’ Tom decide he don’t like ya’ll no more, either?”, asked Ernie while tryin’ ta hold her up, and look back ta see if ol’ Hugh was makin’ it.
Hugh got to the truck, and looked inside. He started to laugh so hard that he fell to the ground.
“Look, Ern. That dang cat tore up Bubba’s upholstery. Oh, my Good Lord. I can’t wait ta hear more about this.” Hugh fell back into fits of laughter.
“Ernie, Ernie, what am I gonna do? Damn cat knows what’s up, and he’s jealous. Bubba’s gonna freak. C’mon, Ern. Ya gotta help me figger out what ta say.”, Laura pleaded.
Hugh arose, gathered hisself, and spoke up, “Yer gonna tell him just exactly what occurred, Missy. If he don’t respond kindly, c’mon back home.” He then sat back down and continued to laugh so hard it hurt.
“It’ll be O.K., Laura. Bubba n’ me’s gonna fix it up good as new. Ya awright? Yer bleedin’, n’ yer dress is all tore. Here take this beer, and rub the can over the cut. It’ll help. Nuthin’s gonna happen. Bubba n’ me tore that front seat half outa the truck one night over in Alacort, rasslin’ around drunk. It’s no biggie. Ol’ Chevy seats ‘r a dime a dozen. Hugh knows where ta get ‘em. Don’tcha, Hugh?”, said Ernie as he helped Laura around to the back and sat her on the tailgate. “Take it easy. It’ll be O.K. If ol’ Hugh don’t have a seizure laughin’ so friggin’ hard.”
They all looked at each other and sat there havin’ a beer, laughin’ their asses off at Bubba’s misfortune. The first time anyone ever used the truck, and now they’d be bringin’ it back home all tore up, with Laura’s blood all over everything. And they hadn’t even done anything. It was that ol’ jealous Tom. It’s the kinda story they’d be tellin’ at the VFW, and down at Fred’s, for years. Ernie could see Aaron reachin’ over the bar ta rub the scars on Bubba’s head from the cat, while he told the story. Bubba would get purple in the face, pretendin’ ta be angry, before he broke out in laughter.
It would become an Aarrghh legend.
Hugh must have had a brain clearing event from all the laughter, because he spoke up first. “That tides comin’ back, ya’ll. Let’s go get ta the harvestin’ Whatever ya’ll are up to, I’m hungry from all that activity. Where we goin’ after we get done with the harvest? I ain’t missin’ none a this. C’mon. Let’s get to it. Laura, get back in that shack, find yerself somethin’ else ta wear and meet us at the tidepool. The salt water will help that little ol’ scratch on yer perfect heiny ta heal up. Be sure ta use lotsa lotion as she heals. We can’t be lettin’ a butt like yers get scabby now, can we? What’ll ol’ Bubba thinka me if I send his woman home all messed up…like his friggin’ truck…heh…heh…c’mon…c’mon…let’s go…” He laughed, and grabbed Ernie’s arm, leading him away, toward the water.
“Laura, grab a thick blanket, or somethin’ ta cover the seat so ya don’t get stuck again. Take a minit, if ya need it. Meet us by the gate to the tidepool whenever yer ready. Me n’ Hugh’s gonna go get started. Bubba’ll be gettin’ worried about us pretty soon. He’s probly got ol’ Al rollin’ in the dirt, rasslin’ over the roadway by now.”, said Ernie, just before breaking into laughter again.
They harvested the pool, got the truck seat squared away enough ta drive without gettin’ jabbed, and loaded a fishtub filled with lobsters, crabs, clams, mussels, and several small rockfish, all covered with seaweed, into the back.
Laura drove back carefully. The stereo was turned way down, playin’ old-timey country music for Hugh. They were all crowded into the cab, pretty drunk. Hugh seemed to be doin’ fine. Ernie hoped the excitement wasn’t too much for him, but figgered, “What the hell. If he’s gonna check out, why not while havin’ fun with us. If he runs outta gas before the party gets really goin’, I’ll lift him aboard that ol’ Chris Craft in Bubba’s yard, tuck him in, n’ let him sleep as long as he needs.”
“Laura, when we get there, pull up ta the shop. I’ll get right out, find Bubba n’ Al, tell ‘em we got Hugh, distract him, n’ smooth things out. Hugh, you lay back a bit. Then just bust right in on us with some sorta foolishness. Laura, give it a minit. Then come around ta distract Bubba. He’ll notice that ya changed clothes. If he don’t, Al, sure as all get out, will. Who wouldn’t? Tell ‘em ya got a chill from bein’ in the water. I’ll get back ta the truck, unload, and bring ev’thin’ ova ta the pit. Hugh, ya with us enough ta remember what’s goin’ on?”, said Ernie.
“Ya, sure, Ern. Were gonna not tell ol’ Bubba about the truck ‘til later. We’re hidin’ it by the side a the shop. No need ta ruin the party ova nuthin’. Laura, Bubba notices the cut, tell him the cat did it. That’ll make him feel betta." Hugh seemed totally lucid when he said this. Ernie hoped that he wouldn’t suddenly have a flashback ta the laughter over the seat and let the cat outta the bag, so ta speak. The three conspirators began their little ruse as Laura quietly braked at the side of Bubba’s shop. They stepped silently out of the pick-up and began to carry out their plan.
Hugh grabbed Laura’s arm, and said, just loud enough for her and Ernie to hear, “Don’t worry, kids. Ol’ Hugh’s got a clear head t’night. That shine works good, if ya don’t go ovaboad with it. I’ll stay cool. Laura, you remember how cool ol’ Hugh could be when ya’ll brought them folks around, don’tcha?”
Laura wrapped her arms around Hugh and Ernie at the same time, and said, half cryin’, half chokin’ back laughter, “Let’s go have some fun, kids. Damn! I love havin’ good friends.” She blubbered like a girl, for a second, or two and snapped into action.
Ernie was already headin’ for the barbeque pit, figgerin’ Bubba’d be there, sittin’ with Al, both of ‘em drunk enough ta have forgotten anyone was ever even gone. He was right. The two of them were sprawled in the chairs, fishin’ hats pulled down over their eyes, snorin’ like ruttin’ hogs.
“Good.”, thought Ernie ta hisself.
Laura pulled Ernie aside. She asked, “Ern where’s them real bright construction lights Bubba keeps around? I got an idea.”
Ernie was busy tendin’ the pit. Bubba and Al had gotten some sorta fire started, but it wasn’t doin’ much. From the look of ‘em, it’s a good thing neither had fallen in. He said, “Whatcha got in mind, Laura? They’re in that room, back a the shop. Standin’ in the corna. Want me ta get ‘em fer ya?”
“Nah, ya’ll get the fire started up again. These boys’ll need food. Hey, Hugh, go throw that switch on the side a Bubba’s beer case. It’ll start the fans up under the fire pit. Bubba uses ‘em when there’s not enough air ta get things goin’ the way he likes. We’ll be havin’ us plenty a food before them two fools wake up. If yer hungry right now, open the cooler door n’ grab some ham and cheese from the shelf ta yer left. It’ll tide us ova, ‘til I get things ready. I got work ta do.”, said Laura as she headed off toward the shop.
When she’d gathered everything she needed, the lights, the video camera, the tripod, extension cords, and another one a them little black dresses, she pulled Ernie and Hugh aside. They chowed on some ham n’ cheese while Laura explained the plan. “That fire ready ta be left alone fer a while, Ern?”
“Yep. She’ll be jest about right, come sunrise. Hugh, don’t lemme f’get ta turn the fans off in a while. They’ll burn ev’thin’ up too fast.”, was Ernie’s response.
“Good. Now, here’s the deal. We’re gonna set the lights and camera up so’s it’s all aimin’ right in them two ol’ fools faces. We’ll get the grub set in place in the pit, pull a few a them tables around, ‘n set it all up nice. As soon as the sun rises over the back hill, I’m gonna turn the camera on. Ernie, you stand by the lights. On my count, flip ‘em on. Hugh, set off ta the side fer a while. Y’ll get the idea quick enuf. Don’t worry, I already put some a that Cornhusker Lotion on my butt, n’ the beedin’ stopped. It ain’t bad, just a little battlescar. I got a few of ‘em ya’ll neva seen.”
“O.K., Laura”, came Ernie n’ Hugh’s response. They were gettin’ the idea already. This was to be Laura’s show. The two hours before sunrise were spent, by Ernie n’ Hugh, settin’ tables, n’ placin’ all the food into the pit, with the seaweed over top. Hugh remembered ta tell Ernie about the fans. They muttered about Laura a lot, drank beer, n’ told stories. Laura disappeared back ta the shop. Bubba and Al didn’t move a muscle, unless ya count their lips flappin’ from all the snorin’.
Just before the sun broke the hilltop, Laura appeared. She was absolutely gorgeous. The new little black dress was even skimpier than the lost Versace, and it fit tighter. Her hair, the famous ‘Auburn Mane’, was wrapped above her head, in a style reminiscent of Forties movie stars. She wore the necklace, and even had lipstick on.
This time, Hugh wasn’t feelin’ parental. He actually felt a twitch.
“O.K., fellas. It’s showtime.”, whispered Laura as she walked toward the sleeping fools.
Laura walked over, in front of the two sleepin’ drunks, facin’ the sunrise. “O.K., Ern, the camera’s rollin’. Be ready.” She stood like a statue of Venus. The first sunbeam hit her. She raised her arms over her head, twirled around, and closed her eyes. The dance she performed for the next several seconds was unbelievable. Ernie and Hugh didn’t know women’s bodies could move like that. She was like some creature without bones. Her hands fell to her side, her fingertips poised at the hemline, and she posed. “Hit it, Ern.”
Ernie threw on the halogen lamps. They shone directly into Bubba n’ Al’s faces, from behind Laura. The snorin’ turned into sputterin’ n’ chokin’. Al reached for his head, which pounded like the hammers of hell. Bubba did a snap roll forward, off the chair, and scrambled to get outta the light. It was an instinctive reaction. Bubba’d been in a few bad situations over the years. His unconscious brain knew that being smack dab in the light wasn’t good. He reached for his knife, just as he noticed that he was lookin’ up at Laura. She snatched the dress over her head, tossed it, shook her hair out, and smiled. “Howdy, Hoss. Keep rollin’. Laura’s workin’ here.” Hugh stepped in and grabbed Bubba’s wrist, before he got to the knife. “Get ova heah”, said Hugh as he yanked on Bubba’s arm. Fortunately, Bubba recognized everyone instantly. The kill, or be killed, response went away as quickly as the pounding in his head started. He looked up at Laura as the first blinding sensation came over him. “AARRGHH”, he roared. “Damn that hurts. What’s goin’ on? Gimme a beer.”
Hugh was still very strong when he needed to be. His arm yank got Bubba movin’ away from the scene, as he placed a cold brew into the hand he wasn’t twistin’. “C’mon, play along. I got no idea what’s up. But, I don’t wanna miss it. Git ova heah, I said.”
Al hadn’t moved, except to keep placing his hands on different spots that hurt, and trying to block the blinding halogen beams from his eyes by pulling the fishin’ hat down tighter.
Laura moved toward Al, and sprawled across his lap. Hugh had to hold Bubba’s arm with all he had, until Ernie stepped in and got him into a strangle-hold. “Shhhh! Calm down. It’s awright. Laura’s got somethin’ up her sleeve. Well, not exackly, cause she ain’t got no sleeve. But, stay still. Yer ruinin’ somethin’ here.”
Bubba took a deep swallow from the ice cold can, and seemed to be calming down. Ernie let up a bit, and Hugh released his wrist. “What in the name a? Lemme go, Ern. What’s she doin’ ta him?”
“Don’t know, but it looks like fun. F’get it, Bubba. I seen her do stuff like this years back, when her n’ that wild bunch come ‘round the place. She calls it Performance Art. Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen between ‘em. Be still. Yer head’s gonna bust, ya’ll don’t get it togetha.”, said Hugh. They settled down to watch.
Laura snaked her way all over Al. He was beginning to gather himself some. His first reaction, after the throbbing in his head moved lower, was to start pawing away at Laura’s body. She slapped him so hard that his head wobbled around like one of those ‘bobble-head’ dolls. She jumped up from the chair, positioned herself so that the camera would still feature Al, with her standing before him, drop dead gorgeous, naked as the day she was born…except for the necklace…and said, with a sweep of her arm, “Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting Mr. Alan Hart, of Hotlanta, Georgia, in his first starring role. I call it Mr. Hart Visits Aarrghh”.
She walked out of the frame, and grabbed an old shirt Bubba had left layin’ around. She wrapped herself in it, pecked Bubba on the cheek, and said “Chill, Hoss. I got a plan.”
Alan Hart, still in the chair, lights blasting his senses, head pounding, tried to sit up. As soon as he moved forward, he began choking and spewing a stream of billious, green liquid toward the camera. He fell forward, into the puke, and rolled around groaning.
“Well, Bubba, that what ya’ll had in mind when ya went ta get Nell’s camcorder?” whispered Laura into his ear.
Bubba had no idea that the camera was there. “Girl, sorry, I mean woman, this is gonna take me a few seconds. Ol’ Al don’t look so good, eh? I feel about the same. Camera? Whatcha up to here?”
“Hey Al, here’s some ‘hair o’ the dog’. Ya’d best drink it, even though ya might not wanna. Elsewise y’ll be chuckin’ all day. Catch!”, said Hugh, as he tossed a beer into the mess on the ground in front of Al. He reached for the can, sat back in his own slop, and popped the top. The can was badly shaken from hitting the ground. Al’s mess got worse, as beer sprayed all over. But, he did jam the opening to his lips and swallow the frothing beer. He gagged a few more times, but settled a bit after that.
Laura said, “Welcome to Aarrghh. Mr. Friggin’ Lyin’ Skunk Hart. I reckon we got some a that NEW YORK CITY stench offa ya’ll now.”
Hart leaned back against the chair, sank into a comatose state, and intermittently drooled, and choked, while the rest of the crew got busy tellin’ each other all about what had been goin’ on, except for the cat in the truck part. The camera was still rolling.
Bubba got sorta up ta speed after the second beer. “I’m so friggin’ hungry that I can’t think enuf ta figger whatcha all up ta here. That pit ready?”
“Right soon, Bubba. Hang loose, n’ get yerself togetha. Have a chunk a ham, n’ some cheese. We got us a good one goin’ here.”, said Ernie. “It’ll come clear ta ya’ll in a bit. Laura’s runnin’ things fer now. Take it easy.”
Laura had gone to the shop. She returned with a bucket of warm water and towels. After administering to Bubba for a few minutes, leaving him with a warm, wet, towel over his head, she stepped toward Hart, poured the water over his head, and dropped the rest of the towels into the muck around him. “Get up, Hart. Bet yer ol’ lady’s gonna love this.” Laura faced the camera and said CUT! She walked over, killed the lights, and shut the camcorder off.
Hart fell sound asleep, in his own mess. Ernie got the hose. He left it hanging over the back of Hart’s chair, nozzle closed off, but ready.
Laura needed a few minutes to gather everything up, put the videotape away for safe keeping, and just wind down. She washed off the lipstick, pulled her hair back into a thick ponytail, hung the necklace over the pick-up’s rearview mirror, tied Bubba’s ol’ shirt around her waist, and pulled on a pair of cut-offs. She felt better than she had in years.
Bubba was comin’ around. He was still dazed and confused, but what else was new?
Hugh snored away in Bubba’s chair. He’d turned it to face the rising sun, and looked at peace.
Ernie called over to say that the pit was ready. He was pulling back the seaweed, and placing the cooked food onto the shelves around the interior. There were piles of clams and mussles steaming away. The rockfish were split open, deboned, and ready to pick at. He wrapped the crabs and lobsters in the seaweed, and set them into the fish tub. “Don’t let it sit too long. It’s just right. It’ll be good all day, but it’s best right now.”
Just as everything seemed settled, Al’s rented Land Rover appeared in the drive. Fred was behind the wheel, Nell was seated beside him, and Aaron was in the backseat.
They drove up, jumped out and said, as one, “Heard there was some fun out here. Hey, now.”
Fred stepped over ta Bubba. “I called the rental place ova ta Alacort. Fella told me there’s a set a keys in a magnetic box under the wheel well. We heard the music all night, and seen some real bright lights comin’ up just ‘round sunrise. Whatcha up ta?”
Nell handed Bubba a big box of steaks from her place. They were the finest sirloin, straight from Omaha. “Hey, Bubba, ain’t seen ya’ll lately. How they hangin’? We smelled the pit goin’ n’ figgered ya might need these”, she said, just as Laura stepped between them.
Nell’s was the ‘Hi-Tone’ place in Aarrghh. She’d gone off some years back, got involved in the restaurant business, and, after learning the ropes, returned to Aarrghh to open Nell’s. It was the only real ‘sit down’ restaurant, had a few rooms for rent, and was the home of ‘Nell’s Parlor’.
Nell’s the type that used to be referred to as a ‘handsome’ woman. She’d grown up in Aarrghh, gone away for several years, done well, and returned to share the wealth. In her day, Nell was a sylph. She had flaxen hair, the type of body that comes from outdoor living, tomboy raising, and good genes. Her years in the restaurant business had placed a few pounds over the sylph-like frame, but she had the good genes to thank for the fact the it distributed itself evenly. She was ‘Rubenesque’. Her face was as pretty as a picture, as they used to say.
O.K., let’s face it, Nell was no kid. She’d put on a few, and she worked hard to hang onto the attention she’d gotten as a younger woman. While she’d been ‘away’, Nell discovered that her sylph-like tomboyishness was a very attractive quality to some. It had served her well.
If not for the fact that she and Laura were rivals, they’d be friends, with some great tales to compare. Their paths never crossed in the big world, but they had more common experiences than either knew about. Laura took the box of steaks, gave Bubba a look that could kill, and said, “Hey, Nell. Thanks, but we got all we need here, without ya’ll.”
“YA’LL this, Bitch. I know you don’t really talk like that. Ya can stay here ‘til Hell freezes, but y’ll neva be from anywhere but ‘away’.
Bubba spoke as firmly as he could muster, hung over, feelin’ sheepish, and just plain wishin’ this wasn’t happenin’, while standin’ between the two. “Now, now, girls. Aw, shit. Women, Ladies, whatever…Ernie! I need some help here.”
Laura was about to toss the flat cardboard-box of steaks, Frisbee-like, at Nell, when Ernie stepped in and grabbed ‘em. He set the box aside, said, “Thanks, Nell. How ya’ll doin’? Nice a ya ta come by. Laura, Chill! This is Bubba’s place. Ya’ll ain’t no ‘woman a the house’ ‘round here, yet. Nell, you keep that nasty yap a yers shut, unless ya’ll got somethin’ nice ta say. Hey, Freddie, Aaron, what’s up? What brings ya’ll out this way?”
Fred was dumbstruck. But, Aaron, the barman, had seen and heard it all. He spoke up. “Fred got wind that the Atlanta fella’s rig had a spare set a keys attached. We could hear yer ruckus in town all night, n’ decided to stop by, drop the Land Rover off, n’ join the proceedins. I brang along some ‘shine. Fred’s got both his coffee machines, all the fixins, and a coupla dozen muffins. Town’s about closed fer the day. This about the roadway? That Atlanta fella’s one of ‘em, ain’t he? Where’s he at? Damn! That Hugh Whitney sleepin’ ova thea? Aw, shit. That’s the Atlanta fella down in the muck, ain’t it. Whatcha all done here, Ern? Hey, Bubba.”
Aarrghh’s finest were all standin’ there, in an uncomfortable bunch, tryin’ ta figger out how ta just get along, as they assessed the situation. For all intents and purposes, Ernie seemed to be in charge at the moment, with Aaron catchin’ on fast. It was only a few hours past sunrise, and the day was headin’ outta control already. Bubba felt as out of it as he’d ever been, right then.
Laura grabbed his arm, tugged him away, and said, loud enough for all to hear, “C’mon, Hoss. We’re goin’ back ta bed. This day needs a fresh start. Damn you, Ernie, for that ‘woman a the house’ comment. Get over it!” They headed toward the shop. Laura was drunk. She’d never been able to behave decently after one of her performances. That’s why she decided to stay in Aarrghh. Now, after all the time, the enforced solitude, and celibacy, she’d gone way overboard. She knew it, and felt like shit. But, somewhere in her secret mind, she knew it was for the best. All she had to do was get away for a little bit.
As she dragged the befudlled Bubba off, she had the presence of mind to shout back over her shoulder, “Ernie, please forgive me. This is all about the stuff we used ta talk about. I’m so sorry. Ya’ll know I don’t mean any of it. See ya in a while.”
Bubba awoke. He sat up, scratched himself, took a few to get it together, and decided that he’d better do something. He’d been deciding that he’d better do something for way too long. This deciding stuff required thought. The events of the previous day, and night flooded back into his memory.
“Aw, Geesus. We done it now.”, he said outloud.
Laura stirred, and rolled toward him.
They looked at one another and both had the same thought. “What if Hart’s gone and drowned in his own puke?”
“Laura, you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”, asked Bubba.
“I think so, Hoss.”
It went silent for a bit.
Laura threw back the sheet. They both still wore the clothes with which they’d entered. Neither was lookin’, or smellin’ very good. “Let’s get it on, Hoss. C’mon, we got work ta do.”, said Laura as she tugged on Bubba’s arm. “We’ll go get a shower outside. Is it today, yesterday, or tomorrow? Damn, Bubba. Yer a bad influence, ya know that?”
“Hold on there, GIRL! This is my scene. YEAH! I know a lot more about ‘scenes’ than ya’ll think. NOW! If Al ain’t drowned, ‘n Ernie ain’t up n’ walked ta Alacort, n’…ya know…we got somethin’ ta discuss.”, Bubba said this while he held Laura’s arms down on the bed. She squirmed around some, but it wasn’t like she was really tryin’ ta get away.
They both backed off.
“When this settles, I want ya ta ask me ta tell ya somethin’”, said Bubba.
“Yeah, me too!”, responded Laura. In fact, tell me somethin’ right now. “Ya’ll eva been ta Nell’s Parlor?”
“Give it the frig up, GIRL. Whadda ya’ll take me fer?”
Laura smiled, and said, “That ain’t an answer, Bubba. But it works fer now. Let’s go get cleaned up. We gotta check on the crew, n’ see that Al ain’t dead, yet. I wish that ol’ Nell weren’t here.”
Bubba was smart enough to say nothing.
They headed around to the back of Bubba’s shop, where an outdoor shower protruded from the wall. There was a concrete pad, enclosed by a latticework fence, and it had unlimited, super-hot water. Ernie had rigged up a continuous water heater that coulda supplied an athletic club. There was room for several people, at once, along with few plastic chairs. Laura loved it. Bubba had always taken it for granted. It was mostly so guys comin’ in from fishin’ could scrub up, but Laura used it like a steam room. She’d drape a tarp over the fence, enclosing the shower stall, face the shower head back toward the wall, turn on just the hot water, and sit there on a plastic lawn chair, soaking up the steam. She also loved to fool around with Bubba while steamin’. He didn’t mind it, either.
Laura had forgotten about the pick-up, until they turned the corner, and saw it parked.
“Hey, why’s she parked ‘round here?”, asked Bubba? “Anythin’ wrong?”
“Nah.”, Laura had to be quick, “Ernie pulled it around so there’d be no chance a anythin’ happenin’ durin’ the festivities. C’Mon. Let’s go play.”
Bubba was a little skeptical, but Laura had removed the shirt, and was steppin’ outta the cut-offs, as she walked toward the shower stall. Bubba was a goner. He forgot all about the truck.
They soaped up, and fooled around just enough to get Bubba’s blood flowin’, when Laura said, “Oops. We ain’t got nothin’ clean ta put on. I’ll be right back.” She rinsed, and exited.
“Dang! I gotta get this project ova with. I’m gonna go nuts. This girl does keep on once she’s got the bit in her teeth.”, Bubba muttered to hisself.
Laura returned with clean, dry clothes. She called to Bubba, “Hey, get rinsed n’ c’mon outta thea. I’m ready.” She’d already dressed in one of Bubba’s T-shirts. It fit like a long, baggy dress. She’d tied a piece of line around the waist, and put her hair up. She waited for Bubba, and tossed him a pair of jeans and a clean T. Hers was white, with a big sunset across her breasts. The one she tossed to Bubba was black, with Dale Earnhardt’s #3 roarin’ across the back. As soon as he’d gotten dressed, she pulled him toward the gathering, away from the pick-up.
“Ya’ll gonna make me cuckoo with all this ‘runnin’ the show’ stuff, Laura. I ain’t used ta this.”, Bubba was close to whining as he said this.
“MAKE ya’ll cuckoo? Heh! That’ll be the day. Yer already cuckoo. Don’t try ta blame me. Ya want me ta leave?, pouted Laura. “I could go get Al cleaned up, n’ run off with him in his rented Land Rover.”
“I betcha done that more than once in yer day, ain’t ya”, asked Bubba.
Laura drove her heel down onto Bubba’s right foot, just as they turned the corner of the shop, and saw the crowd. It seemed that Ernie hadn’t gotten miffed and walked ta Alacort. But, it did seem he’d taken the Land Rover into town to pick up everyone who’d fit into the thing, twice. There were over a dozen Aarrghhites sittin’ around the tables, feastin’ on Ernie’s clambake. He was stridin’ among the tables, openin’ beers, clearin’ plates, and ‘hostin’ the event.
Laura skipped over to Ernie’s side, and gave him a hug. “Nice spread, Ern. Got some fer me?”
Bubba limped along, wantin’ ta yell about how much his foot hurt. When he got there, Ernie handed both he and Laura a beer, and a platter of steaming seafood, with two perfectly charred steaks, some macaroni salad from somewhere, a handful of paper towels, and all the proper utensils. He said, “If it ain’t His Lord n’ Master, n’ The Queen, herself.” He walked off to see to the others.
“This looks great, Ern.”, yelled Bubba. “Thanks!”
“Shit, Laura. We hurt his feelins. He can go on like this fer days, he takes a mind ta. What’re we gonna do?”
“I don’t sense no hurt feelins, Bubba. He’s doin’ his thing, without ya’ll gettin’ in the way.”, was Laura’s comment. “Where’s that ol’ slut, Nell?” She ignored Bubba and dug into the platter of food. Bubba sulked as he ate.
A few minutes later, Ernie returned with Hugh at his side. They sat with Bubba and Laura. Hugh smiled. He knew things were gettin’ uncomfortable, and sorta enjoyed bein’ the old guy, outside the fray. Ernie said, “Nuffa that foolishness. Laura, yer forgiven. Bubba, let’s get on with it. I don’t think I care much fer this. Nuf! O.K.?”
Bubba grabbed Ernie around the neck, and nuzzled into him for all he was worth. “Sure, Ern. Nuf! No hard feelins?”
They ate and drank in silence for a little bit, while each adjusted to the situation. Hugh spoke first. “Hey, ya’ll. I had me a nice sleep there. And, guess what? I remember the whole thing. Somethin’ good’s happenin’ here. ‘AARRGHH’!”
Suddenly, there was an ‘AARRGHH’ from everyone. Everyone except Hart. He was still out, laid back onto the chair, dryin’ into his mess. The rumble of a group ‘AARRGHH’ shook him.
Ernie got up, and walked toward Hart. When he got there, he picked him up, shook him a few times, dropped him back into the chair, and hosed him down. Hart sputtered and thrashed. He got up, and tried to get away, but Ernie kept at him with the hose, until Hart had scrambled far enough away that the hose no longer reached. Everyone roared with laughter.
Ernie said, “C’mon, Al. We gotta get ya’ll cleaned up. The party’s just gettin’ started.”. He grabbed his wrist and led him toward the shower.
He turned his attention to the crowd, “Calm down, ya ragged lot. Al’s not a bad sort. He just fell in with the wrong crowd, back a ways there. Give the man a break.”
Ernie was feelin’ pretty full of himself, and rightly so. He’d kept the event under control, gotten plenty of folks out there, and was puttin’ on one helluva clambake. Besides, he sorta liked Al.
“Hey, Al. Ya’ll got clean clothes in that Land Rover? ‘Course ya do. Step on in, here. It’s an outdoor shower. Watch the hot water. Here, I’ll get it runnin’ right fer ya. There’s a chair, in case ya need ta set a while. Don’t worry none about the hot water runnin’ out. It’ll go an all day, ya need it. Probly should start off clothes and all. Yer a friggin’ mess. Just toss ‘em ova the top when yer ready. I’ll get ‘em cleaned and dried. I pulled yer runnin’ shoes, n’ socks off last night, and cleaned ‘em up some. They’ll be dry soon. Don’t know where them fancy hikin’ boots got to. I’ll go get yer luggage. The Land Rover’s here. Freddie found ya some extra keys. We’ll tell ya all about it when ya get feelin’ right. We got plenty a good food. I’ll bring ya some, with a few cold beers, n’ yer clothes. Get right, Al. Ya’ll got work ta do.”, said Ernie before walking away.
Hart plopped into the lawn chair, leaned forward, held his head, and tried to recall what had happened, as the water rushed over him. He thought, “Land Rover, fancy hikin’ boots, Freddie, extra keys, work ta do? Who’s this guy? Where the hell am I?” He settled into the chair and let the hot water do its work.
When Ernie got back, he tapped the lattice, and said, “Hey, Al. Ya O.K. in thea?”
Hart snapped to, and fell forward. He smashed his nose on the floor, and when he tried to get up, slipped on a bar of soap. Ernie reached in just as Hart, arms flailing, and legs goin’ every which way, was about to fly out the door. They bumped hard into one another, and both fell backwards to the ground, outside the shower stall. Hart was hemmoraging blood down his front. Ernie dropped the luggage, a plate of food, and a few beers. He immediately sat Hart back, and placed a cold can onto the bridge of his nose. He grabbed a towel, and pressed hard against Al’s face. Hart was so crazed that he thought Ernie was trying to suffocate him. Fortunately, Ernie was much stronger than Hart, and he held him up, head back, while calming him down. Hart screamed like a child, thrashing, and spitting blood everywhere. “Stop it, Al. It’s gonna be awright. It’s me, ol’ Ernie. Yer pal from the walk. Remember? C’mon Al, get it togetha.” Hart surrendered, just as Bubba, Laura, and Hugh appeared to see what the screamin’ was all about.
“Aw, Geesus. We kilt him.”, said Bubba. “He din’t drown in a pool of his own puke, but we kilt him anyways. Ernie, tell me he ain’t gonna die.”
“Shut up, Bubba. Yer crazy drunk. He’ll be O.K.”, said Laura. “Won’t he be, Ern?” She didn’t sound convinced.
“Yeah, yeah. Git back ta the party. I’ll take care here.”, reprimanded Ernie. “Scoot! All a ya.”
Hugh took in the scene, chuckled, took Bubba’s arm, and led him off. “Good job, Ern. Clean him up. We got biznis ta attend ta. See ya.” He’d seen this type of thing more than once out at the Trailer Park. “C’mon, Laura. It’s O.K. Ernie’s got it in hand.”
Alan Hart babbled drunkenly while Ernie was setting him up, out of the muck. Ernie removed his shoes and socks, took the wallet and other belongings from his pockets, and gave his face a wipe. The bash was underway. Hugh, Laura and Bubba were asleep.
“I really am from Atlanta. New York’s just where I live now, business, and all, ya know. Who are you? Where’s that magnificent creature, Laura? Where am I? Why’d she slap me? What were those lights all about? Ooohhh! Goddamn, I hurt everywhere.”, blabbed Hart while Ernie was getting him straightened out.
Ernie said, “Easy, Al. Easy. Y’ll be awright. Yer at a party in Aarrghh. Dontcha recall? Ya come out here to check us out. We’re showin’ ya a good time. I got yer shoes n’ socks, n’ otha belongins. I’ll take care of ‘em while ya gettin’ betta. Set back n’ sleep. I’ll see ta ya’ll later. Nite!” Ernie sat Hart back, against the chair, tossed a blanket over him, and went back to what he’d been doing.
With everyone else asleep, Ernie took a moment for hisself. He had the Land Rover Keys. What better time to give the fancy rig a try? He got in, set the wallet, a few hundred dollars cash, and some sort of religious medallion, taken from Hart’s pockets, into the glove box. Ernie squirmed around in the driver’s seat, got settled into the plushness, and started her up. He looked around the interior, sighed, and drove off. He hit every road, trail, and byway on the entire sandbar over the next several hours. Most of them twice. Ernie loved driving anything new and different. That ol’ Chevy of Bubba’s, and The Duck were nifty. But, Ernie knew, this was stylin’.
On one of the passes through town, Fred saw Ernie in the Land Rover. He hailed him, but Ernie kept on going. Fred shrugged, and continued on to his place. Ernie completed another pass around, and stopped at Fred’s. Fred stood before the door, wondering why Ernie hadn’t stopped the first time. Ernie said, “Hey, now, Freddie. I seen ya’ll seein’ me drivin’ Al’s rig. Whatcha think?
Fred said, “ I guess I missed some doins out at Bubba’s, eh?”
“Ya, Freddie. But, it’s just gettin’ started. Ya’ll ain’t opened up, yet. C’mon, let’s go see what’s up. This here thing’s the balls. Jump on in. Leave that ‘Closed’ sign just the way it is”
Fred took a second, looked over his shop, gave a shrug, and climbed in. He couldn’t resist.
The new commotion in Aarrghh had been making him extra money, just like Bubba said. But, Bubba was also right about the idea of ‘feelin’ like some sorta slave, waitin’ fer the dough ta come in’. He figgered it might be a good idea ta spend some time lissenin’ ta ol’ Ernie. And, he could use some fun. Nobody needed any barberin’ today. They’d all lived without the Coffee Shop before, they could do it again.
Ernie said, “Let’s drive around a bit. I wanna see who else is up, and ‘round. We gotta drag as many folks out ta Bubba’s as we can. This is gettin’ outta hand, real fast. Stick with me, Freddie, O.K.?”
“Yeah, sure, Ern. Fill me in.”
They turned the corner just as Aaron walked out his door. Aaron lived above Nell’s. He had a neat little room, with all his memories around, and was, seemingly, content. But, he, too was ready for some different kinda fun. “Hey, Ern, Fred, STOP! Whatcha up ta?”, he shouted as the Land Rover passed.
Ernie kept going, for a hundred feet, or so. Then, he said, “Hang on Freddie. Here we go!” Ernie slammed on the brakes, spun the wheel, and gunned it. The Land Rover swayed wildly, and almost tipped, but not quite. Ernie went brake, clutch, shift, gas, a few times, and screeched up in front of Aaron. “Hey, now. Jump on in. We’re havin’ some fun with this here rig, n’ headin’ out ta Bubba’s fer a feed n’ all.”
Once Aaron had climbed aboard, the day was set in stone. Ernie felt he’d kinda known what recent events was all about, but now, it came real clear to him.
They drove off.
Aaron spoke up, “Hang on a sec, there, Ern. We blowin’ this day away out ta Bubba’s, ya say?”
“Yeah, we gotta get on out there n’ get a handle on things. It’s gonna get right wild, real soon. Whatcha thinkin’?”, responded Ernie.
Aaron said, “I’d kinda like ta bring ol’ Nell along. She’s been workin’ awful hard lately, n’ she’s a good ol’ gal.” Aaron was getting it on with Nell, and he wanted to bring her to the party.
“She up’ n’ ‘round, yet?”, asked Ernie.
“Nah, not fer a while. I’se hopin’ we could wait on her fer a bit.”
Ernie pulled the Land Rover off to the side. He stepped out, handed Fred the keys, and said, “Awright, Aaron. Ya’ll take some time, get a few things togetha fer the feed, n’, when Nell’s ready, Freddie drives. O.K.?”
Fred said, “Yeah. Ya sure , Ern? Whatcha gonna do?”
“I’m gonna get a few more folks up, take me a good run out ta Bubba’s, n’ clear m’ head. Ya’ll take yer time, pick up anyone wants ta come, n’ maybe we’ll go back n‘ forth a few times. That there thing’s fun ta drive ‘round in.”, said Ernie as he took off through town.
Over the next few hours, Ernie went back and forth, running at top speed, crossing paths with the Land Rover a couple of times, and gathering his thoughts.
By the time Fred pulled up with Nell and Aaron for the last time, Ernie had run about twenty miles, the crowd had been gathered, extra fixins, such as macaroni salad, coffee and muffins, hot dogs, and the extra jar of ‘shine, from the VFW, were on premises. Ernie was clearheaded. It was turning into a beautiful day, and the principals were waking up.
“Bubba? Ya’ll awake? C’mon, I gotta talk at ya fer a bit.”, Laura poked Bubba, and ran her hand up his leg as she whispered.
Bubba had learned that when this happened, he’d best just say, “Yep, I’m wide awake. Whatcha need ta talk about, sweetness?” He’d also learned that he’d better really listen, because it was sure to come up again, and he’d best recall. It wasn’t all that bad, listening, because Laura kept busy the whole time.
She began, “Hoss, yer gettin’ ta know me pretty good. But, ya ain’t really. Ya know?”
Bubba knew better than to say anything to stop her. He went, “MMMMhmmm.”
Laura continued, “Ya know, we’re just a coupla kids got caught up in the flow. I’ve had more fun than anyone deserves. I reckon ya’ll have too. Can ya believe it? I sometimes can’t.”
Another “mmmHHmmm”, came from Bubba.
“I made lotsa money, back in the day, Bubba. I still got most of it. It’s settin’ in places I can’t recall, but it’s there. I’ll recall, if it matters. Some of it might be considered ‘Ill Gotten’, but, it’s mine now. Ya know? Nell’s right. I don’t really talk like this, n’ I am from ‘away’. But, I neva felt this good in my life. I hope ya’ll meant it when ya said I wasn’t an outsider. I love bein’an Aarrghhite. That is, if ya’ll feel the same. Ya know? What’s gonna happen with Al, Bubba? We messed him up pretty good, but he’ll live. Ya know, I think Ernie might be right. Al’s O.K. Dontcha think? I do. How’s ‘bout you, Mr. Bubba? How much dough ya really got stashed? I know that measly coupla hundred grand ain’t it. C’mon, Bubba, tell me all about it.” whispered Laura as she slid down, beneath the sheet.
Bubba kinda wished Ernie was there. Not really, ‘cause it woulda been awkward. But, he needed that savantness, right now. “Geezus, Laura. That feels good. I don’t know what ta say, right now, except, MMMMMMMM.”
This gave Laura another chance. Bubba knew that, for some reason, it was all foreplay, and he’d be better off if he just allowed things to occur naturally. He sure didn’t want it to go that way, but he was catching on.
“I needed all that time, Bubba. N’ I don’t think I coulda gotten it anywhere’s else. Thank you fer that. But, as with all things, we gotta keep on. I still got the video, ya know. Al says him n’ his ol’ lady ain’t talked in months. He’s only concerned about his job. He looks inta every window n’ mirror he passes, seein’ the new Al. Ernie’s got him ‘flamboozled’ ta just the right point, n’ I don’t feel right about it.” Laura said this as she drew her tongue up Bubba’s chest, just a few seconds too soon, as usual.
Bubba said, “Let’s f’get the whole ‘Hiwaymen’ thing. Ernie n’ me’s got enuf hid away ta buy this friggin’ place. Al can stay. He’ll f’get about the job. He eva tell ya ‘bout any kids? He talks more ta ya’ll than he does ta me. He done fine, n’ he really is an ol’ Atlanta boy. He tells me he really comes from the hills above the city, place called Dacula, about fifty, sixty miles North. Town’s got about 1500 folks, all named either Hart, or Harrigan. Must be somethin’, eh? Ya know, Laura, this whole biznis a tryin’ ta talk ta ya gets nerve wrackin’. I can speak proper English, just like ya’ll, but it’s much clearer if we just say what we gotta say the way Ernie does. He’s used more big words in the last month than I’ve heard come outta his mouth in all the time I’ve known him. It’s makin’ me uncomfortable. What say we just get back ta simple gruntin’, noddin’, n’ smilin’? Ol’ Hugh’s real good at that. I know ya know.”
“Yeah, Bubba. That’s the way. Let’s do it. We’ll get Al, n’ everyone else together, n’ burn the video in the barbeque pit. O.K.?”, Laura gave Bubba the goofiest grin he’d ever seen, and slid back beneath the sheet.
“Awww, ain’t this sweet….”