The BOYS

 

Episode TWENTY-EIGHT

 

 

But Monday did arrive, inevitably, and, with it, Barry Cullery... invigorated, refreshed from whatever the hell he did on his day off... full of vinegar and ready to kick butt. Tex was back on the grill, full of shit-eatin' grins and winks; whatever Walt had taken at the rave and in Merritt's balloon had finally passed through his system, leaving him tired and cranky, but alert, observant, even... and he kicked himself, just a little, for failing to recognized the musician's puffed up, all-too perfect Carnaby Street wig, under the paper Dog Pound hat, for the hair hidey disguise that it was. Gwan was still missing in action, though; even the weather had changed... the first tendrils of the first Pacific storm were probing the hot, dry valley, fencing with the fires, and angry humidity pressed down upon the Dog Pound like a sheet of warm, wet plastic over the mouth and nostrils - choking off the air, diffusing sunlight, ratcheting up the static electricity in a corner of America that seldom, if ever, saw electrical storms.

It wasn't just Walt, wasn't the drugs he'd pissed and sweated out of his system, everybody seemed to have gone just a little mad - some more so than others. The lunch rush arrived with no Gwan, and Fermeley had already secured Barry's permission to string together the day's breaks to take off and go to her children's school for some reason she preferred not to discuss. So Eunice went to the window, and Walt was put back on a register... he'd fucked up two orders in the first half hour, but Eunice broke off her dialogue with the customers in line to red-key him without Barry's intervention. Afterwards, things had gone okay until Walt, taking advantage of the slow traffic, went out into the parking lot through the front door, shortly after one, brushing past a nut, a Confederate Colonel in rags. Perhaps half the Freedomland staff had been laid off by now and, from the survivors (who'd gather, two or three days a week, when their shifts ended between four and five in the afternoon), Walt had learned that the absentee owners... Danish, some said, or from some other Scandinavian country... were notoriously indifferent about reclaiming costumes and uniforms from the downsized and just plain fired-for-cause Founding Fathers and moon-suited astronauts, frontiersmen, Captains of Industry, Civil War re-enactors or such. So an occasional, bedraggled General McClellan, Dolly Madison or Lindbergh could be espied on the mean streets of San Cris, flitting from the discount depot and fast food strip malls to the welfare office, to the liquor stores and, often, thereafter, Cresley Park.

These were depressing, but mostly harmless... this Colonel, however, had blown one of the critical fuses remaining in his brain and, after ordering (and paying for) three Chihuahua sliders and a small coffee, he'd stumbled out into the humid Juvenile Jungle, and asked a couple of kids playing on the slide if they wanted to see his sword. Their mother's shrieks had brought Barry out of his office... taser in hand... and, while Walt or Joe, even Tex, were able and willing to pitch in, Mister C. had turned in the door, posing, and ordered: "Everyone remain at your station!"

Ed, Walt had observed through open security door, glided away from his two Mexicans in the parking lot, crumpling a small bag, which he placed in a back pocket. Fermeley had returned, parked, and was walking back towards the Jungle when one of the mothers approached her, babbling... leading her back to the sandy pit where two kids cowered behind the swings, three others laughing and pointing. Barry fumbled for his cellphone, slapped the taser into Fermeley's broad hand, saying: "Take this, and stand ready!" Then the day manager raised a forefinger to the renegade Colonel, declaring: "That will be enough of that, sir! Please remain where you are, I'm calling the police."

Instead, the man in gray rags turned, with a leer. "Wanna see my weapon?" he cackled...

"He's got a gun," Barry cried to Fermeley. "Shoot him!"

And, without hesitation, the DP's window cashier fired.

Walt saw it all from his register, he couldn't make out much of the conversation, but the screaming poured through the thin Dog Pound windows like molten jell-o. Johnny Reb's bestial keening and wailing finally subsided to grunts and sobs, for Fermeley's aim had been unerringly precise, the Colonel's sword indubitably tarnished. As he writhed in the sand... his thrashing head lashing the edge of the slide, opening a gash that spouted heavily alcoholic gore... two cop cars squealed into the parking lot... lights blazing, sirens blaring... and four San Cris officers leaped out, covering Fermeley with their revolvers, one to each point of the compass...

Barry recoiled disdainfully... he pointed to the whimpering, bleeding perv, cellphone in hand, and said "Officers, he's the one." One of the cops, whose vision wasn't all it should've been, saw the cellphone and shifted his gun from Fermeley to the manager.

"Let's everybody drop whatever they're holding, and just put their hands on top of their heads," he suggested, while Barry and Fermeley were cuffed and patted down. "You, too," he ordered the two outraged mothers who'd run to their respective broods... the kids holding their hands out, pleading to be let into the game.

Another officer lifted Fermeley's vic to a sitting position at the edge of the slide. "Are you alright?" he worried. "Do you want to file a citizens' complaint?"

And then he beheld the Colonel's sword... reduced, by now, to a Swiss Army knife. Out came more cuffs.

It took fifteen minutes... and the belated arrival of the DP's protectors, Plick and Farley, to sort out the details. At the end of it all, the cuffs were removed from Barry... not, however, before Achmed, transiting between whatever errands he'd been assigned to, had sidled up and, unbeknownst, snapped a picture with one of those combination cellphone/digital cameras that were the bane of the police and citizens alike. By Wednesday, prints of a manacled, disheveled Mr. C. were circulating through the DP and its environs... the mall shops, even the health club and, by the following week, certain scurrilous Internet sites... but, in fact, no action was against him for reasons of anonymity. Fermeley, however, was bundled into the back seat of a squad car, and the Colonel taken away in a County ambulance. The two mothers were detained until their names, and the names of the five children, could be taken down and, when this was accomplished, one little girl whose thirst for adventure had still not been slaked, pointed and said... "Mommy, can I have some bread, to feed the squirrels..."

Mom saw what her precious pointed to, and told Barry... rubbing his wrists in a theatrical display of outrage, but with a self-satisfied smirk all over his puss... "You people will hear from my husband's attorneys."

Even this promise, however, did not dampen the manager's high spirits, nor did the first of the sparse, fat raindrops that spattered the DP, bouncing off the slide with an ominous "Plink! Plink! Plink!" Detective Jack Plick took Barry aside, mentioning that his window cashier might require the services of a lawyer, so... after Mister C. swaggered back into the restaurant, barking into the cellphone the authorities had, reluctantly, returned to him for Mr. Z to secure the timely intervention of Counselor Omartian, at the San Cris lockup... he snapped the device shut, glared at the counter and Joe Sybco, leaning on his mop by the condiment bar, even the few customers still gazing out the window over their sliders and salties and formerly Freedom Fries, and said "Back to work! The nut is gone... everything's back in its place."

Walt saw Fermeley glare back over her shoulder from the cop car as its lights and siren went on, making a sudden turn onto Gerson against traffic.

But, if Barry emerged from his personal Appomattox chipper and cheerful, Gwan's return about a quarter-to-three, sent him back into his usual hostile funk. They caucused in the back office for barely five minutes, long enough for Barry to scream some... then the former pop star emerged with a sly grin, leaning against the wall to inform Tex of his decision and, also, anyone else who cared to listen in.

"Mecca really sorted out my mind for me," he chuckled, ruefully. "I mean, what the fuck was I thinking... hot dogs? Hey, I'm still young..."

"Twenty three, bro," Tex reminded him...

"I know people, I've got talent... there was never any question about that... I just signed a bad contract and lost my confidence. But I can get back there, I go to LA, I can get plenty of jobs in the studios, backup voices, maybe cartoons. I'd even do commercials now... I told myself I wouldn't, but you can make three months of these crap wages in half an hour, singing love songs to shampoo or pizza. And if I need a day job, money's better in the city..."

"Most of those places are unionized," Davy interrupted, from the frypit.

"Yeah, costs a little up front, but it's like two bucks over minimum an hour..."

"Rent sucks, though," Tex shook his head.

"Yeah, I'll have to crash with friends a while, probably share. Hey, like we talked about... the band, you know, you could find gigs even easier than I could. You're good..." and he turned to Walt, nodding... "he's really good. There's even more work for guitarists who can play... not just that punk crap three-chords and a sneer..."

"Did I give you permission to hang around?" Barry sputtered, emerging from his office, brow knotted, cellphone welded to his fist. "You wanted to quit on me... you quit... that means you have no status in here, from this moment onward. If you want to go to the other side of the counter, Walter will sell you a hot dog... pay attention to the door, Walt, I've barely started in on you, and Tex... don't look at me, either one of you, just do your fuckin' jobs."

"Frank Booth!" Tex smirked.

"Don't you fuckin' look at me!" Gwan replied.

"There are no unauthorized persons allowed behind the counter," the manager reiterated, "and, as of this moment, you're unauthorized!" And Mister C. lifted his cellphone. "You want me to call the police, I'll bet they're right around the corner. You can share a cell with Fermeley youd like that, I suppose. Or else the gangbangers would be happy to have you to play with..."

"Keep your pants on, Gregor, I'm out of this place. No offense, guys, but after what I've seen, I wouldn't eat here if you paid me!"

"Whos Gregor? Don't call me Gregor! I will not be contradicted," Barry shouted, stabbing 9-1-1 on the cellphone.

"I don't work for you, anymore, I can call you anything I want... Michael Jackson, even. I'm goin'!" Gwan shot back, giving the manager... maybe the whole environment... a finger at the door.

"Police..." Barry rasped, "I want to report trespassing at the Dog Pound, Northwest 271st and Gerson... no, it's not the same incident. A former employee... uh, no..." as Gwan's Corolla spun out of the parking lot. "He's gone, now. He's in a brown Civic, headed north on Gerson... yes, I'll file a complaint, alright..."

He snapped the cellphone shut, glared from Tex to Walt. "I can have you two taken in, too... especially you. Who the fuck is Gregor? Frank Booth? Isn't he the manager of that fuckin' Wendy's where they claim to pay thirteen dollars, almost? And don't look at me, that way!" he turned on Eunice... she simply stared at him for a full thirty seconds until a civilian drove up to the squawkbox... "two cheese and fries, lemon slushie, pie..."

She turned, slowly, fanning herself with three fingers as if to brush away a fart. "Pull up to the window, honey."

 

GOHOME, BOY