from Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter
They're getting the Ferris wheel ready for winter today. I've been standing by the sink watching out the window as a gang of men with enormous arms unbolt the carriages and stack them on the flatbed of a truck to take away for storage. The wheel itself will stay in place until Spring looking like a giant skeleton against the gray sky.
“We're running low on gin and bourbon,” Joel calls from behind the bar.
He pushes through the swinging doors and frowns at me. “Gin and bourbon, put them on your list and I'll make a run to Stateline Liquor for more. What are you looking at?”
I nod toward the window. “They're taking all the seats off the Ferris wheel. It looks naked.”
He peers over my shoulder as two roustabouts with biceps the size of Sunday dinner hams hoist another carriage onto the truck.
“They have to,” Joel says, “if they leave them up and we get a bad storm they could do a lot of damage.”
“I know.” I lower my eyes and continue unloading beer mugs, Pilsner glasses, rock glasses—all kinds of glasses—from the dishwasher. They are scorching hot and my fingers burn as I touch them.
“How are we ever going to get through this?”
Joel takes a deep breath. “Come on, Layla. How many times have we discussed this?It's only for a few months so I can work on my book. You hated living at St. Basil's. I thought you'd like being somewhere quiet and ...”
He pauses but I know what he is thinking. He is thinking “someplace like what you're used to”—meaning in a bar among people who are the polar opposite of the faculty and their spouses at St. Basil's Preparatory Academy where Joel teaches literature and composition. When I met Joel he was a horny egghead just past thirty and pathetically ignorant of women like me. I wasn't far from thirty myself but I looked lots younger, which was a good thing. Working in a casino can take its toll on a woman. I knew my looks were getting harder and harder to maintain. The only reason a guy like Joel was even in a place like Mohegan Sun, where I waitressed, was because his cousin was getting married and all the guys had taken him out for a final fling before tying the knot.
“... low key,” he concludes. He puts his arms around me and turns me to face him. “Stop worrying, Layla, it'll be fun. Just the two of us. No faculty parties. No high teas. No volunteer projects that drive you crazy.” He nuzzles my neck. “Just the two of us and the Geezers, what could be more romantic?”
The Geezers are a bunch of local guys who hang out at the pub that we—mostly I—will keep open all winter.
from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall
The judge was settling into one of the booths with their high wooden backs and enamel topped tables.
“Chief Werner. Have a seat. I just came in for coffee, want to join me?”
“Sure.” Henry slid into the seat across from him and held up two fingers to Lola who nodded.
“I wonder what amazing creation Lola has for us today,” the judge said. He was a portly man with a perfectly trimmed gray mustache, and an enormous hooked nose on which a pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched. “I don't know how she keeps coming up with so many new confections.”
As he said it Lola, in a ruffled white pinafore apron, appeared with their coffees. “The strudel of the day is cherry-plum. I also have lemon, cheese and apple. Plus I have hot apple dumplings with a glaze made from the Herzing's maple syrup and rhubarb tarts.”
The judge rolled his eyes. “You're cruel, Lola, you're a cruel, evil woman. How's a mansupposed to decide. What are you having, Henry?”
“Just coffee.” Henry said. Lola echoed his words at the same time. He looked at her and laughed. “You know me too well.”
The judge groaned and then looked at Lola. “Well, I'm not about to insult you by abstaining from your amazing artistry. I'll have the apple dumpling.”
“With whipped cream or warmed cream?” Lola winked at Henry.
The judge groaned again. “Warm. No whipped... no, better make it warmed.”
“Good enough.” She started to walk away.
“Lola,” Henry said.
She turned and raised an eyebrow.
“Bring me a rhubarb tart... no cream though.”
She flashed a very pretty smile. “Sure thing.”
The judge watched her walk away. “If I wasn't married...” He trailed off then turned to Henry. “Wasn't her husband killed in a hunting accident?”
Henry took a swallow of coffee then nodded. “That was a long time ago.”
“Well, if it led to her opening this place it was a lucky accident – for the town anyway.” He raised an eyebrow. “You could do worse than that one, Henry,” he said. “She might not be a kid but she's a wonderful cook and has an exceptionally lovely posterior.”
Henry smiled. “I agree.”
“Always puts me in mind of Miss Dolly Parton.”
from The Christmas Daughter
Once outside he opened the rear doors of his van with the words Ritter Plumbing & Heating painted on the side. He put away his tools trying not to think about his irritation with Ethel Hauber. She was regarded as a crank by nearly everyone in town but, even knowing that, she still managed to get on his nerves every time he did work for her. As he reached to close the doors a pair of beady black eyes just a couple feet away startled him. Mike jumped back. The eyes, and the face they belonged to, crinkled into laughter.
“Good grief!” Mike pressed his hand to the center of his chest. “You scared the crap out of me.” He stared at a thin man with a long, sharp face dominated by an enormous, beak-like nose over a substantial mustache. One of his eyes drooped under a scar that cut straight through a bushy eyebrow, and a slow, devilish grin split his face. “Lucius!” Mike said. “I don't believe it. Lucius Wickett.”
“In the flesh.” Lucius wrapped his arms around Mike in a back-slapping hug. “How the hell are you, Plumber Ritter?”
“Where did you come from?” Mike stepped back to study his old friend.
Lucius nodded toward the house behind him. “My brother Juney lives there.” Juney Wickett was a well-known chainsaw carver. His entire lawn was filled with wooden sculptures of bears, dragons, partially-clothed beauties, and other exotic creations. “He spotted your van and told me you were respectable now. I couldn't believe it.”
“It's great to see you.” Mike grinned. “I heard Boone Wilde was back in town but I haven't seen him yet. I didn't know you were here, too.”
“I just got here yesterday. Boone came back a little over a month ago. Look, do you feel like getting a beer? My brother's teaching a carving class at four and I wouldn't mind getting out of here for awhile.” Lucius stuffed his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. Except for a few gray hairs and a few more lines on his face he looked much the same as he had the day he roared out of Marienstadt on his Harley.
Thanks for reading.