Wednesday, 29 April 2015
“I hear you can put a half-decent days work in,” Jim commented without looking up as Barkus took the same stool he had the night before. “For a city boy that is.” Barkus snorted. After Lyn had left, Arthur almost sprightly at the notion of dinner, he pulled up every single plant in the bed -be it a weed or not- and put them into another bag, making a mental note to find out where the nearest compost pile was. He then thoroughly picked, hoed and raked over the ground, unrolled a God-only-knew how old tarp and covered the bare soil with it. After tidying everything away and dropping off the refuse, the street lights were well and truely alight and the early stars were a-twinkling. Barkus had walked into Jim's Place thirsty.
“I've gotten soft over the years I guess,” he replied as Jim placed a beer in front of him and went back to his crossword.
The Place was pretty quiet, there were a few tables occupied, another patron down the end of the bar and Jim. The jukebox was playing away to itself, Barkus savoured his beer and took stock of the day. His back ached dully, his hands were hot and stung until he soothed them with the beerglass, his face and neck felt tight with the sun that he had neglected to properly protect himself against. And he was tired, in a way that he hadn't been in years. The kind of tired that only comes from working hard in the fresh air, indeed the kind of work that he had not done in a long time.
When is the last time that you put in what your father would call a 'Good days work', eh John? His inner voice prompted. Barkus thought about this, it must have been when he was last on the family farm. He and his brothers went out into the fields every day at sun-up, his brothers laughing good-naturedly at his muttered complaints of aches and pains as they sat together on the porch and watched the sunset, drinking beer and swapping stories, the sounds and smells of his childhood wrapping him up in a thick blanket. He envied them completely then, had begun hatching plans to leave the city and set up an office in the town nearby. His wife's laughter, lighter than in a long time, had drifted out of the kitchen, sparking happy images of he and she getting out of the rat-race. Endless possibilities had danced in the air. No it's not, it was the week after that, remember? Barkus slammed the voice behind a door in the back of his mind as his hands tightened imperceptively on the beerglass.
“Coveted plant that needs fungus to grow,” Jim said. Barkus blinked. “Six letters”
“Orchid,” he replied, rubbing his forehead, suprised to feel moisture. Dear God, when he had last thought about that? Jim was shaking his head.
“Doesn't fit.” Barkus thought for a minute, glad for the distraction, then moved up the bar. Jim slanted the newspaper towards him and rested the point of his pencil by the offending space. “See? Needs an 'H' in the beginning.” They both studied the crossword for a few minutes, Jim pencilled in a different clue.
“Well, if this is 'goats' instead of 'sheep' then it fits,” Barkus pointed out slowly. Jim considered this, then nodded, made the change and filled in 'orchid'. “So in that case,” Barkus began. “This one is...”
“My crossword,” Jim stated gruffly, turning the paper back to him. “Thanks.” Barkus stood taken aback for a moment, before smiling and going back to his beer.
“Any time Jim.”
End Chapter 1
“Yes, but you've forgotten about the armed guards again.” Barkus looked over as the door swung open and Gus strode in, followed by Sol, both men waving to various people who had trickled in as the evening wore on.
“Nah,” Sol replied merrily. “I would just take the elastic band, the pen and the coins and take them out, McGyver style.” Gus laughed.
“Before the first guard hit the ground, the other three would open fire. Dead again.”
“McGyver would laugh at such a threat, eh Barkus?” Sol winked at Barkus as he sat down.
“Nah,” he disagreed. “McGyver would make bulletproof armour by folding popcans, then take his sweet time and take out the guards hero style.”
“Making sure the last guard had an imprint on his forehead, of course,” Gus pointed out.
“Of course.” By now Jim had set their drinks in front of them and was handing a fresh beer to Barkus.
“So how did you do today then city boy?” Sol asked after settling in.
“Working through it,” Barkus replied. “One small flowerbed finished, three small and four large to go.” There were nods all round. “How much time do I need to give the planning commission to get a design together?” All three men snorted in unison.
“Unless you want to be here till Judgement Day,” Jim shook his head, unnoticed Sol and Gus glanced at each other before putting noses to glasses. “You put your own design in place.”
“It'll take them three months to agree that the beds have to be done, then no matter what gets decided, they'll be wrangling about it until three years after it goes to seed, and then they'll be moaning about the state of it again,” Gus elaborated with a heartfelt sigh.
“Poor Gussy here made the mistake of offering to do the beds last time,” Sol explained as Gus put his head on the bar and made strange noises.
“You did that, design?” Barkus asked incredulous. “I thought even drummers had better taste than that.”
There was a warning finger before Gus lifted his head.
“One of these days you'll know who designed those beds and nobody will have to point him out to you.” Sol and Jim nodded agreement. “Believe me, you'll come up against him and not too long in the future either.”
“Do I need to be afraid?” Barkus joked. Gus shook his head, Sol made a rocking motion with his hand and Jim did a one-shoulder shrug. The three men regarded each other as Barkus' eyebrows rose. Sol turned to him.
“I would be wary.”
“Wii-iild horses,” crooned the jukebox before an ominous skipping noise interrupted the peace. Sol and Gus groaned and put their fingers in their ears as Jim suddenly lunged for the circuit board. Before his fingers could trip the switch however, a burst of static and a piercing whistle erupted out of the speakers. “Dead man's hand again!” blasted out of the speakers at almost physical volume before Jim cut the juice. The silence was a solid thing.
“Well,” Barkus said, moving his jaw to try and stop the whining in his ears. “At least we know the speakers work.”
“That's why it's called the Damned Jukebox,” Gus stated, twisting a little finger in his ear with a grimace. Sol threw him a dark look.
“There is nothing wrong with the guts of that machine,” he protested, massaging his ears. “I've opened that thing up five times and the all the connections are fine.” Jim made his way back to them, acknowledging the mock derison from his other customers with a wave of his finger.
“I say we get the Padre to scatter some wine over it,” Gus answered, to a snort from Jim.
“You know full well what his reaction would be if I asked him to preform an excorcism on that, Thing,” he stated flatly.
“Yeah,” Sol agreed while finishing his drink and handing the glass to Jim who promptly started refilling it. “It would also be pure comedy though.”
“I take it that you still haven't managed to fix the Thing then Jim,” came a female voice from the door. Jim looked up with a faint frown, which melted into a smile once he saw who it was. “I see that you've managed to fall in with the worst crowd in town Barkus,” Lyn continued as she advanced, but her warm smile belied her words.
“Marlyn.” Gus greeted her with a hug. “How are you doing these days?”
“I'm doing okay,” she replied as Sol made sure he got his hug too. “You know how it is.” The three men nodded, they did know. Barkus of course didn't have a clue but picked up enough cues from the others to know not to ask right now. “But I got the night off so I immediately knew where I was headed.” Jim placed a large rum and coke on the bar and waved off her money.
“This one's on me, Li'l Girl.” Lyn smiled her thanks as she pocketed the note and took a pull from the drink.
“Mmm, vanilla rum,” she enthused. “You're the best Jim.” Jim shrugged, smiling faintly.
“That's what it says on my business cards.”
“Still got the pool table?”
“You know it.”
“Anyone up for a set?” she looked from Sol to Gus to Barkus.
“I'm game,” Barkus offered.
“Alright,” she beamed. “Wanna make it a foursome?” she asked the other two. Gus shook his head and smiled.
“Tempting idea,” Sol considered with a wink. “But I'll pass this time.”
“Fair enough,” she turned to Barkus. “I warn you; I'm a bad winner.”
“I guess I'd better make sure you don't win then.” Laughing and joking, they made their way to the pool table in the corner. Jim went to serve another customer and flicked the Thing's switch on the way. A quick burst of static caused a general wince before the Wild Horses started up again.
“Are you sure you didn't, meddle, with that Thing,” Gus grumbled at Sol, who raised his hands in denial.
“Innocent as charged, honest.” A stern look from under bushy grey eyebrows made him reconsider. “With regards to the jukebox anyway.” Gus rolled his eyes and took a drink.
“Somehow I find that hard to believe,” he stated dryly.
“Yeah well, that's your problem.” There was a few minutes of silence as both men regarded the pool table and what had swiftly dissolved into an epic battle, complete with warcries. “You heard anything yet?” Sol asked as Lyn sank her last solid ball with a whoop. There was no need to clarify.
Gus shook his head. “Not yet.” Sol watched Lyn line up on the black as Barkus tried to distract her. Despite the laughter, he could see where the strain had marked her face, the set of her shoulders told him of her exhaustion. It had been a long year for Marlyn Roberts.
“That's one thing I've always pitied them for,” he said so quietly that Barkus would have strained to hear from right beside him. Gus, two stools over, nodded slightly.
“Me too.” A groan from the table illustrated how Lyn's shot went and Barkus tried to make the most of his chance but missed the last stripe by a hair. Lyn made sure her shot was good.
“Alright, alright, best of three,” Barkus insisted as Lyn began a victory dance.
“Rack 'em up,” was the only reply.
Sol and Gus watched in silence as the game was played and Barkus narrowly sank the black. His victory dance was not as graceful as Lyn's but did the trick.
“Alright buddy,” Lyn stated, rolling up an invisible pair of sleeves. “It's getting serious now.” With no further ado, she broke and sank three stripes. Barkus' jaw dropped further as she promptly worked her way around the table, not missing a single shot.
“You've been hustling me,” he protested with a laugh as she lined up on the black. She grinned cheekily as it was pocketed.
“Only a little. And in any case,” she added, swigging back the last of her drink. “I'm running dry”
“I'm buying,” he stated, reaching for his wallet. He over-rode her protests by using the extra length in his legs to get to Jim quicker. “No, put it away. This is not a chauvinist gesture, you won fair and square and where I come from that means I buy you a drink.” Lyn shot a chagrined look at Jim who grinned and flicked a thumb toward the trophy behind him.
“I'm not so sure it's fair, since my name's on that thing five times,” Lyn told him. Barkus raised an eyebrow and made a show of inspecting the trophy that Jim helpfully placed on the bar.
“I'm not so sure I believe that,” he said at last, with a glance at Jim. “I mean, could you even reach the table ten years ago?” Jim guffawed as Lyn waved a threatening finger at him.
“You better watch yourself mister,” she told him, but the pink in her cheeks took a while to recede.
“Sure. So in that case, a beer and a rum and coke please Jim.” Still chuckling, Jim poured the beer and gripped a glass for Lyn before pausing.
“You got a ride home?” he asked her. Lyn, in the middle of pulling her copper curls back off her face, nodded and glanced at the clock.
“Johnny Red is calling through about 11, he said he'd drop me off on the way.” Jim seemed satisfied with this as he poured her a stiff measure. Barkus handed Jim a note and pocketed his change. Lyn led the way back to Gus and Sol who had moved to a table.
“Thanks for moving guys,” Lyn sighed as she sat down. “Those backless stools really kill my back.” Barkus decided to reserve comment on her footwear and settled for;
“Why don't you get a massage then?” Lyn laughed.
“In this town? All I'd get for my troubles is a line-up of men outside my door with baggies of cooking oil and a hopeful grin.” She twisted and a series of audible pops made her audience wince. “Aaah, that's better. No I definitely need one but it'll have to wait. By the way,” she held up a finger as something occurred to her. “Before I forget, I have the colour scheme for the flowerbeds.”
“Now how on earth did you do that?” Gus asked in astonishment as Sol laughed out loud. “It took weeks for them to tell me that they wanted some purple in it.”
“Well the fact that Paul is out of town helps, so does the fact that the school is coming up to 50 this year.” She nodded as Gus rolled his eyes. “So the colours they want are blue and yellow with red accent,” she told Barkus.
“Any particular shade?”
“Try and get royal blue but it's not essential.”
Gus snorted and muttered into his drink, “Until Paul gets back anyway.” Lyn's eyeroll and sigh combo told Barkus that he'd want to have the beds planted before this Paul got back. I dont want to be here forever after all
“And just a bright shade of yellow,' she continued.
“Do they have an actual design in mind or should I make one up?” Lyn shook her head and made a face as she swallowed rum and coke.
“Ugh, I think Jim's trying to get me drunk,” she said before taking another pull. “Make a design, submit it for consideration and if there are no objections after an hour or two, start on it.”
“An hour or two?” Barkus asked eyebrows raised. Three grim nods answered him.
“Trust me,” Sol said, to a barely audible snort from Gus. “You don't want to give those idiots any more time to throw the whole thing out of whack.”
“My cousin Annie's chairperson you know,” Lyn reminded him, with a wink at Barkus.
“And how she hasn't smashed every brainless skull in there against the wall I don't know.”
“Yet,” Lyn emphasised with her glass. “She hasn't smashed every brainless skull in there yet.”