Skip had the blueberry buttermilk pie at the quaint liberal farm to table place, but really didn’t taste much of it. This was not the fault of the baker or the owner, who ambled about the dining room in a pair of overalls saying hello to regulars and people she knew.
Really, he found the place charming and a reminder that while conservatives were great at things like building fast food empires and soft drink companies, they were terrible at coming up with charming restaurants that you’d want to spend more than 10 minutes in.
Of course, on paper this place would sound like a risk with its mismatched furniture, bohemian servers, eccentric local art and bizarre music choices for the dining room.
While Skip tucked into his fish and chips, the restaurant had been tuned to a bluegrass channel which was playing an entire hour of rock n’ roll covers. It was the sort of thing Skip would only gladly listen to if he was being tortured by Central American revolutionaries –not that he was really paying attention.
He didn’t really enjoy the fish or his pie, which he was sure were both excellent. Skip just didn’t have an appetite. He felt nauseous and tense all the way from his navel up to his neck. The only taste he had in his mouth was bitter bile.
It was a monster of an assignment. Skip had been tasked with destroying 12 different people. These were supposed to represent the next wave of conservative Republicans in the state of West Virginia. They were good, clean people; decent, god-fearing and hard-working: the kind of people who could get rightward leaning Democrats (something that only seemed to exist in places like West Virginia) to vote for them, based in principles and values.
These were the kind of people Skip would vote for, the kind of people whose cheap, paper and wire signs he’d plant in his yard, because they represented the best, possible hope for this country.
And Skip needed to kill or somehow disable all 12 inside the next year and a half.
He was heartsick.
Skip called Betty to talk about it. He used the burner phone that called her burner phone because what was being asked of him was obscene and he needed to have a frank discussion, but she couldn’t talk. Stu was in jail.
“A complete misunderstanding,” his wife said, cheerily. “You’ll remember that I told you that Stu had moved home, this morning.”
How could he forget? That had set off his monstrous case of indigestion, which was then aided by a couple of gas station chili dogs.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Just a misunderstanding,” she repeated. “As soon as he got a few things settled in the house, Stu went out for a bit. He said he was going to go see some old friends from high school.”
“But Stu went to boarding school in Massachusetts,” Skip said. “None of his friends from school…”
“I thought it was rather strange, too, but I was busy with the backyard and the cherry trees. Those turned out wonderfully, by the way.”
Betty was stalling.
“Well, Stu says he went to see this old friend about some money that was owed, and they got into a bit of an argument,” she explained. “The sum was considerable, Stu says.”
“What happened?” He said again, his voice becoming gruff.
“Please calm down,” Betty said. “It’s all taken care of. I got him out. I paid the bail from the household petty cash fund, which I’m afraid is depleted.”
There was 20,000 dollars in that fund. It was supposed to be used in case they needed to book plane flights immediately or bribe a policeman.
“Betty, for the love of Ronald Reagan, what did our son do?”
His wife sighed and said, “He stole a car and then almost ran over the owner as he was attempting to leave, but Stu says the owner of the car owes him $10,000 and he was only taking it as collateral. Stu said he wasn’t actually trying to hit the friend, just scare him a little. He didn’t mean to take out the mailbox and the dog.”
“He took out a dog?”
“Well, no. He took out the mailbox and killed the dog. Oh, yes,” Betty added brightly. She wasn’t used to using industry slang in casual conversation. “Yes, Stu did take out the dog, which was apparently a pure bred Snitzerdoodle or something.
“I’m a plant person. I don’t know much about animals.”
Skip let out a long, pained sigh. His eyeballs hurt.
“What are the charges?”
“Well, right now, it’s just the grand theft auto and reckless endangerment,” she said. “Stu said he thought he could talk his friend into declining to press charges about the car and the reckless endangerment, given the nature of the debt, but it would probably cost another 20 thousand dollars to make sure that the friend didn’t talk to the members of his club about the situation.”
“Club,” Skip said wearily. “I think you mean gang.”
“Well, no. Officially, they’re members of a motorcycle club,” she said. “Stu said there’s a lot of confusion about that. Motorcycle clubs are often labeled as gangs by the Federal authorities, but that doesn’t mean they’re what the government says they are. He says that normally, they’re just a bunch of guys who like to ride around on their motorbikes and throw parties on the weekend.”
They also occasionally run guns, drugs or protection rackets. They kill people, too.
“So, I’m glad you called,” Betty said. “I need to come up with $20,000 in the next 48 hours or we might be in a bit of a pickle.”
Stu would be in a pickle, at least, Skip thought.
“If Stu can get the man to drop the charges, we should get most of the $20,000 back. Maybe he’d take $15,000?”
Betty gasped. “You would have me haggle over the life of our oldest son?”
Actually, yes. Skip wasn’t sure where the $20,000 would come from. Actual cash reserves were low. The rest of their wealth was tied up in properties difficult to liquidate in just a day or so.
He pulled the phone away from his face, groaned miserably and said, “Have Stu talk to his friend. Get a commitment to wait a week until the money from the bond is released back to you. I can make up whatever difference.”
“Will that be OK?” She asked.
Skip had no idea, but it was worth a try.
“I’m certain Stu’s friend is reasonable. What’s the man’s name?”
Skip rolled his eyes.
“I’m sure Mr. Warthog will be OK with the arrangement.”
Betty, sounding slightly less cheery, said, “Are you sure?”
No, he wasn’t sure, but Stu was a big boy –a dumb, big boy, but a big boy, nonetheless. If he couldn’t straighten this much out on his own, then maybe Skip would let him take the charges. Skip would work something out later, of course, but maybe the terror of the possibility of having to spend the remainder of his 20s in a California prison would shake some sense into him.
“I think it will be OK,” he told his wife.
“Alright, then.” She sounded relieved. “I’ll see to things here.” Then, she seemed to suddenly remember that she wasn’t talking to her husband on his iPhone but using a cheap flip phone purchased from a gas station.
“Are you alright, dear?”
Skip took a deep breath. No, he was not alright. In the few days since he’d left home, his entire household had gone to hell in a handbasket. He didn’t feel particularly well, and he didn’t like the assignment he’d been offered, though it sounded like he didn’t have much choice about whether he’d accept it or not.
“Just some work stress,” he said. “The new job will pay well, but it could mean I’m going to be away from home a bit. It is a big job.”
Big and heartbreaking.
“But the contract is satisfactory?” She asked.
“We’re dealing with a Democrat,” he told her. “They throw money at everything to make it better. If I do this, we should be set for quite a while.”
“But that’s the only problem, you might have to spend some additional time away from home, maybe stay in West Virginia for a while?”
He sagged in his suit.
“That’s about the sum of it.”
“Is it really so bad there?”
Skip looked around. He was parked outside a dog park, where a couple of Labradors were chasing each other in the mud, while their respective owners flirted beneath the shelter. The rain was really coming down now, but he could still see the gold dome of the capitol. The whole place looked gloomy and depressing.
“It’s nice,” he said.
“Maybe I could come out and join you for a bit,” she said.
But that would also require her to know more about what he’d been tasked to do than he wanted to tell her.
“Maybe,” he said. “You could come and make it into a mini-vacay, stay a week or so. And really, I guess, I won’t be here that much. I can do a lot of preparation and planning at home. I’m sorry I worried you with this.”
“You just needed to talk it through,” Becky said. “Everything will be fine.”
He agreed with her for the sake of brevity. They said good-bye for now. Skip tossed his phone into a nearby garbage can, then he popped the last of his Rolaids into his mouth.