Episode Eighteen




Of course, Walt kicked himself on the way in to the DP, Monday morning; the morons who ran the government had to have moved back Columbus Day, otherwise he wouldn't have to be going out to Oceanside tomorrow. His eye had fallen off the big picture, BCM's senior super-salesman acknowledged, he was letting adversity make him sloppy, lose his edge. He'd have to do more than the physical work of the Dog Pound... which probably was good for him, at least that and cutting back on the smokes... he'd have to exercise his mind. Do a crossword puzzle, maybe, watch one of the cable news channels instead of those airhead puppets on the local station... work the system for all it was worth until the company cut off his service and he wouldn't have any options.

He'd already told the Mexicans who did the yard he wouldn't be requiring their services anymore. He'd done so over the phone, reaching this woman whose English wasn't that good herself, so the physical fitness excuses he'd given were sort of ambiguous, at best. Hell, he'd done all his own yardwork back in Ohio and, besides, it was past time for Scottie to start earning his keep. It wasn't any sort of imposition to have the kid cut a few weeds and set out the sprinklers... those people in jails in Iraq and Cuba had things worse, much worse. Of course, without a blower of his own, Scottie would have to rake up the leaves and debris, bag the crap and carry it to the curb... not only their own vegetable waste, and what the Freschettas' Mexicans blew onto their lawn every week, but what the Simons' Mexicans blew onto Freschetta's lawn, and, probably, what the Gendelmans' Peruvians blew onto the Simons'. The circle would finally be broken for, like Atlas, the Fales clan would shoulder the entire burden of neighborhood cleanliness, instead of blowing it on to the Pilkington's. Someone had to take responsibility in this god-damned world. And if any of those Oceanside bureaucrats asked, tomorrow, he'd let them have a piece of his mind, too.

Walt clocked in, went to the Chemical Closet and removed the mop and bucket. He still teared up when the full strength ammonia-based fluid hit the metal, but, even though Eunice and Fermeley had simply told him to run the water in first, it didn't bother him... it was, in fact, a sort of wake-up ritual to begin the new day, and the new day's work. And it was his signature, too, the smell wafted towards the counter, at least, if not the dining area, and Mister C damn well smelled it too. And what could Barry say... did he want to manage a filthy restaurant?

Like a dog marking its corner hydrant, Walt covered the bottom of the bucket and then added water, and wheeled it down the corridor towards the registers. The DP dining area was vacant... flat out vacant; no bums, no military, no professor... there weren't any cars at the window, either, and Fermeley nodded towards the manager's office.

"Did you catch that?"

"Catch what?" Walter replied.

"New boy." She held up a limp wrist and nodded, Walt nodded back.

"Good for Barry. He wants this..." Walt shook the mop, "he's welcome to it. I can do your job."

"You're bad," Fermeley scolded but, then, a scratchy voice rasped out "...(crackle) dog, guacamole, pizza dog, (crackle crackle) fries, (crackle) Slushie, pie..."

"Thank you, move up to the window," Feremeley said.

"What the hell was that?

Fermeley killed the intercom, tapping the keyboard to send the order back to the counter. "Pound dog, double cheese fries, orange," she glared, " couldn't do my job, you can barely push that mop."

"Probably right," Walter shrugged.

"It's why I earn the big money," Fermeley preened.



The new kid emerged behind Barry about a quarter hour later, as Walt was finishing the floor and getting ready to wipe down the salad and condiment bars. He had one of those, well, ambiguous faces - could've been sixteen or twenty-six probably somewhere between, of course and a mop of dark, curly hair that looked artificial, like the multicolored clown wigs drunks at Qualcomm put on, sometimes, hoping they might get on TV. Square cut goatee, like a poet or crapuccino jockey for a Starbucks might sport. Green silk shirt, white pants and knee-high riding boots with three inch heels that enabled him to almost come up to Barry's nose - if the kid had been black, Walter might've figured him for an outsized metal jockey, like the one the Gaffigans kept on their lawn.

The kid swerved to give Tex a high five, and then fell in line behind Mister C. as the manager spieled off the various duties of the Dog Pound, pointed out employees who'd stopped to gape and gossip, saying something, probably saucy, about each. They paused at the registers... Ed and Eunice responding to Barry's monkeyshines with mile-long, dead, DP stares, then the manager lifted the counter, beckoned the kid forward and waved at Walt, cheerful as a beetle on a rosebush.

"Now this is Mister Fales, Walter Fales, and you and Walter should get along especially well because Walter used to be somebody, too, once upon a time. Tell him your name, sonny..."

"I'm Gwan," said the kid, tottering forward on his high heels, extending a hand.

"He doesn't recognize you, I'm afraid," Barry pretended offence. "Gwan's a celebrity, he used to sing with Spicy Mice, right?"

"What's that?" Walt shrugged, afraid that it might be one of the DP's older, failed dogs.

"That's all in the past," the kid admitted.

"Spicy Mice wasn't a what, it was a who," Barry tried to explain, "a band, had a couple of hits, and then it died."

"The Who... them I know," Walter said. "Used to bust up their instruments, then they all did up drugs, and died, too. Did that thing uh... you know, with Elton John? That movie, on cable, the Queens? You sang with those guys?"

"No I'm uh... well, I was more pop, than rock."

"Same difference, these days. Not that I'm one of those Bible-banging, book burners like some, around here, I don't hate kids and the crap they have that passes for music. I feel sorry for 'em. All those whining losers... the white kids, I mean, who'd want to get behind that?"

"C'mon," Gwan objected, "James Taylor was one of the biggest stars of the sixties, still around, and he was in mental institutions, and a junkie, but nobody made a big deal about it and he got to be married to Carly Simon awhile. Spicy Mice, we had our first gold record in oh nine, you know, we... they, uh... had four gold records before I signed up. But it was for kids, I mean real young kids, pre-teen girls, and they had this rule, twenty-one and out..."

"Well I had nothing but boys, three of 'em..."

"Boys didn't fit our marketing profile," Gwan admitted. "And then there were all those legal battles over the name, somebody ruled that we were infringing on the Spice Girls, even though we, or the band, had been around much longer."

"So - what are you doin' here?" Walt smiled, leaning on the mop in a way calculated to bug Barry.

"Well, I watched Dr. Phil, a lot, on the road, and I figured it was time to get real. I was singing since before getting out of school, then that age thing came up and afterwards was like hitting a brick wall up in the City, L.A. I mean? I carried my tapes around, but none of the labels would give me a contract, and there weren't any acting jobs, either, so... I like the area, and my aunt's letting me stay in her garage..."

Walt scratched his head. "Didn't you make any, you know, money from your career?"

"It sort of got lost," the kid shook his head. "Legal shit. I had managers putting everything into stock and funds that all went broke, like that one with the dude on the run..."

" now," Barry took back control before some unpleasant revelation ensued, "he's part of the DP team. Right? You pay attention to Walt, kid, he'll teach you a lot of things that it's important to know... cleanin' floors, bathrooms, stacking deliveries in the cooler..."

"Does that mean I'm going to work on the grill?"

"No," Barry grinned, an unusual and unsettling sight that sent warning flashes raising the hairs on the back of Walt's neck. "I've got something special in mind for you."