THE TEABERRY FORTUNE

by Philip Bernhardt

CHICKS DIG IT when they hear that I am a private investigator. Let’s say I’m at a nightclub and I see some long legged blonde. I approach her and say, “Hello, my name is Brendan Baker. I’m a Private Eye.” And it simply never fails. The girl will turn red and start giggling—sometimes uncontrollably.

Of course they don’t know all the crap I have to put up with. Otherwise they wouldn’t be giggling. I must have had a hole in my head to think there would be slinky doe eyed beauties and Alfa Romeos in this line of work. In my two months as an entry level operative at the Bigelow Detective Agency I have yet to meet one single knockout—other than our receptionist Natasha. But she’s married. To my boss, Lester Bigelow.

Up until now I’ve been getting all the crummy cases that no one else wants to touch, but the assignment Bigelow gave me this morning is plenty important. He gave it to me because I know the Combat Zone like Larry Bird knows the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. So now I have another wino to track down—some drunken deviant named Matthew Trent Teaberry. And I honestly have to wonder, is this what all the college graduates in this town call a career path?

The Arch Street Sanctuary is in downtown Boston, five blocks east from our agency. It is run by a Father Malcolm Gilday who every so often will get a call from a long lost relative or small-time attorney looking for the whereabouts of some derelict, usually to wrap up a simple will or divorce. Arch Street is a homeless shelter and so the individual is usually a busted-up, broke down, candy ass loser. A drunk, most often. Father Gilday refers these cases to Lester Bigelow. They are combat buddies going back to their days in Viet Nam and their subsequent recoveries at Alcoholics Anonymous.

It turns out that I will have to pound the pavement to track down this Matthew Teaberry, the wayward scion of the Teaberry Gum empire. Unfortunately there is little to go on so I’ll have to roll the dice.

In summer the street folk like to hang on the waterfront or beneath the breezy Storrow Drive overpasses near the Charles River. But it’s winter now and what Teaberry calls home is likely the Boston Common, Copley Square or the Combat Zone. There are plenty of heat vents in those places.

It seems that before Terrence Lloyd Teaberry croaked he cut young Matthew out of his will, save his son’s inheritance of the Teaberry Family Bible. Believe it or not there are 127 million bucks worth of assets in the Teaberry estate and yet all this joker is getting is a damned Bible. And me? $12.75 an hour to look for the guy, with a four hundred dollar bonus for finding him and getting his signature on a receipt. It seems that old man Teaberry wanted to teach his son a lesson, though I suspect it is too late for that.

I have Teaberry’s high school yearbook photo, school transcripts and medical records. The photo won’t be much help because the picture had been taken well before his street whack phase, back when he used to shave and shower every day. His medical record provides his height, weight, and distinguishing moles, which is fine, but no one can say how much his weight may have changed in the five years since he’d last seen a doctor, and any supposed “mole” might in fact be a fleck of pigeon shit from sleeping on park benches. But there is a diagram in his medical record which shows the exact shape and location of the scar left from the removal of his spleen in 1979. It is shaped like a warped boomerang. In a worst case scenario—the world I inhabit, of course—I would have to yank up the shirt of every derelict and crackpot who vaguely meets Teaberry’s description. Hell, I could get arrested for Lewd and Lascivious.

My phone rings and it is probably Lester, already wanting to know if I’ve found any leads on Teaberry.

“Baker here.”

“You got any leads on Teaberry yet?”

“Who’s this?” I growl.

“It’s Lester Bigelow, Baker. Don’t bullshit the bullshitter.”

“Oh, sorry Lester. Good afternoon.”

“You’re a pill, Baker. Have you got any leads on Teaberry yet? The family is up my ass about this case.”

“I’m convinced he’s still around. His family says he sends letters home once a month, and they’re all postmarked at the South Postal Annex. I spoke to Father Gilday this morning and he says that Teaberry hasn’t stayed at Arch Street for at least two weeks, but he did see him up at the Common a few days ago. I tried the Pine Street Inn—no dice. I called the Hotel Avery—squat. I called every flophouse within walking distance of South Station, and still no luck. I called every labor pool too—zilch. Finally, I found an old friend of Teaberry’s through a family member in Fall River―a third cousin named Bobby Winslow―and the best lead he could give me was that the guy is heavy into strip joints.”

Lester sighs. “I see. We’re looking for a guy who likes naked women. Let me put you on hold while I call NBC News.”

“We’ve narrowed the search, haven’t we Lester?”

“Yeah, from a thousand haystacks to nine hundred and ninety- nine.”

“I’ll tell you what—I’ll cruise some bars in the Zone tonight. Off the clock.”

“That’s a real stretch for you, Baker. But if Teaberry is a derelict, how the hell can he afford ten dollar, watered down drinks?”

“Well, first of all Lester, they don’t water down the customer’s drink, they water down the stripper’s drink. Second of all, if a guy’s got that kind of jones, he’ll panhandle until he gets enough cash. A good panhandler―even if he reeks like some Third World sewer— can bring in a C-note in one day, easy. And this Teaberry character can’t be too dumb. He got into Babson—before they kicked his ass outta there.”

“Fine. Stay on it, but be professional. I don’t usually make a lot of money on these Father Gilday ‘lost soul’ cases, but this one is an exception. If we find this guy right quick his family will throw us a shitload of business. There’s all kinds of internal fraud and theft at their candy plant in Cambridge. All we have to do is find this bum, but it’s gotta be now!”

“Sticky fingers at a candy factory, Lester. Who would have guessed?”

Funny how I can tell when someone is rolling his eyes at the other end of a telephone line. That’s what makes me the kick ass Private Eye that I am.

“I’ll talk to you in the morning, provided you make it out of the Combat Zone alive,” groans Lester. “Your mouth is more than most people can tolerate.”

“A compliment I’m sure, but before you hang up, I want to talk to you about my raise. I am worth fourteen an hour, and you know it. No one works the underbelly of this town like I do.”

“Find Teaberry and we’ll talk.”

The Bible sits on my desk, wrapped in wax paper and bundled just a little too tight, with bleached and waxed gift shop twine. You know, the natural stuff. It is a fairly large Bible—none of that standard sized shit for a big money man like Terrence Lloyd Teaberry. I figure I ought to take a peek inside and I cut the strings. Maybe it will tell me something I don’t already know, apart from all the religious stuff, which is not really up my alley.

For a Bible that has been in the family for three generations it is not showing an awful lot of wear and tear. I crack it open and the binding makes a sound like the creaking floor of a haunted house. It looks to me like this Terrence Lloyd Teaberry character was one goddamned phony. He wanted his son to lead a Biblical life but the dusty old fart never cracked the book open himself. A fucking hypocrite, just like all the other humbug snobs who own mansions on Martha’s Vineyard. And yes, that’s right—I paint with a broad brush and judge a book by its cover. It’s what I do. I’m a Private Eye.

Exiting the Bigelow Detective Agency with Bible in hand I stride briskly through icy beads of drizzle for the Combat Zone. Popsicle color neon lights reflect off the wet pavement and make me feel alive. I love this town. I amble up State Street and take a left on Congress, due south for the wrong part of town, glide down Washington past upscale department stores until things turn decidedly downscale. Past the decrepit Paramount Theater and the House of Hurwitz, where you can bargain for ghetto blasters and discounted daggers. Vacant lots. The Hotel Avery—an infamous brothel and flophouse. In my excitement, I begin to sweat.

What is left of the Zone begins with a black plywood sign painted with pink letters declaring, PEEP SHOW 25¢. Hong Kong neon lights. Drooling bums and mean mouthed whores in hot pants. The fat, greedy developers may yet doom the Zone, but not if I have anything to say about it. I will fight with every last fiber of my being to preserve the notion of an immediate and affordable sexual experience. It’s only right.

Steam spews up from beneath the street, out from sewer grates and manhole covers. I stride one block south and a cabal of drunken bums is hunkered down in the old out-of-business doorway of Freddie’s Famous Steak and Cheese. Sober and clean shaven in my charcoal gray, worsted wool suit with purple, Sergio Goombah tie and carrying the Bible, I approach them and inquire as to the whereabouts of one Matthew Trent Teaberry while trying to ignore the stench of stale piss.

Suddenly I am surrounded by seven or eight creatures who look like they would care to rip into me like a pack of hyenas.

“Hey captain, got any smokes?” asks one swollen individual with the diction of a bullfrog. This loser is not Teaberry. Teaberry has big ears.

“Change, buddy?” asks another filthy creep, his eyes encrusted with congealed, cheesy eye snot. No, this one isn’t my guy either. Wrong size nose. Teaberry’s looks like it ought to be hanging in the window of a butcher shop.

“Hey sport, you look great,” offers yet another loser with a greasy ponytail down to his ass. “Can you spare a quarter?” he pleads.

“Get a job,” I say. “I heard they’re hiring down at the fish pier. You can reek all you want down there and no one will notice.” But it is no dice again. This particular stewpot has the wrong color eyes. Teaberry’s are blue.

Now a wiry little street whack approaches, his dirty shirt and sweatshirt hanging open despite the raw weather. Tattoo on his chest says Shorty and he gives me the hard sell: “Listen Mac,” he croaks, “I’ll be honest with ya. I need some coin for hooch. I’m a vet.”

“Oh right,” I say. “But not in any war we ever, you know, won.”

Shorty is the wrong height. Teaberry is tallish. But Shorty is upset.

Suddenly, he makes a fist and gives me squinty belligerent eyes, the kind you can never avoid in this part of town. Of course my wisecracks are not making matters any easier. Maybe a change of presentation is in order.

Catching my reflection in the dark plate glass window of Freddie’s Famous Steak and Cheese, I note that my look today is quite Corporate. In fact, I have always wondered what it would be like to operate in that world of big boardroom meetings and cubicles full of subordinates stretching as far as the eye can see. I decide to call a meeting.

“Hey folks,” I announce in a tone which would suggest that I am holding court with my staff as I kick off a new and exciting ad campaign. “I am very sorry to interrupt your little festivities, gentlemen, but I need your help. There might even be something in it for you.”

The bums study me warily, some giving the Bible in my hand a nervous eye. They are perhaps afraid that I am about to give a sermon.

“Do not worry, my friends,” I continue, measuring my words with executive repose, as if rolling out an alluring yet unattainable incentive program. “My name is Brendan Baker and deep down I am just like you―except that I am a Private Eye, of course―but we do not have any problem between us. No problem at all. I am simply looking for a gentleman by the name of Matthew Trent Teaberry. His nearest and dearest call him Matty. I have something for him. Does anyone here know of his whereabouts?”

Shorty staggers toward me until he is uncomfortably close. He smells like rancid piss and cheap muscatel. “Well maybe I knows him,” he snarls. “What’s it to you?”

“Well first of all, Shorty,” I sneer, making short work of that corporate demeanor crap—which quite frankly made me feel like a goddamned gerbil—“you might want to consider taking a bath! And beyond that, I am trying to do your friend a favor. I have an inheritance for him. And once he gets it, who knows? Maybe he’ll buy you a drink!”

“What’s he got comin?” He looks me up and down with his beady eyes.

“A bundle,” I say.

He squints, which suggests that he either intends violence or is presently crapping his pants. “Hows do I know you ain’t a cop?”

“If I was a cop, I would have busted you already.” I plant my forefinger on his chest and back him up. “Your face is a public nuisance. Now are you going to help me find Teaberry or do I have to put you through a fucking window?” I toss the Bible into the dry doorway.

Shorty steps in and feints, crouching, arm cocked to give me an uppercut. But before he can get it off I give the little prick a swift wingtip to his nuts, and then a vicious left hook to his right eye. And he goes down. But quick. I bend over and grab the little bastard by his collar. “You’d better find Teaberry and bring him to me. I’ll be in a bar around here somewhere. You and your lay about friends seem to have plenty of time on your hands. All you have to do is find him, and then find me. Got it? There might even be a few pints of T-Bird in it for you and your pals.”

“Let me go!” he snaps.

I let go and he drops to the ground. Doesn’t look like any of these reprobates want a piece of me now. “Have a nice day maggots,” say I.

Brendan Baker, Private Eye and Humanitarian, ventures on. Maybe this Teaberry character hangs out over there on LaGrange Street.

On the corner of Washington and LaGrange I light up a smoke, taking in the atmosphere. These women, I believe, are prostitutes. A black one approaches me. She has huge pendulous tits which are barely restrained by industrial strength, leopard skin spandex. Legs like toothpicks, between which must certainly lurk an insidious disease.

“Hi honey, a good time tonight?” she asks.

“I am having a great time,” I reply. “Thank you for asking.”

“You wants to go out baby?”

I pause. “A hundred bucks.”

“Yeah, honey. That be fine.”

“I want the money up front though, dear.”

She reaches into her handbag. “How you like I slit yo motherfuckin’ throat, white boy?”

“Not so much,” I answer, gingerly moving right along.

The Combat Zone is not fun like it used to be. I simply must find shelter from these cruel elements. The neon strobe lights on the marquee of the notorious Intermission Lounge beckon me. I wonder if Carlotta still works there. It’s unlikely that I’ll find Teaberry in the place but hey, it’s almost raining. I will let my new stumblebum buddies pound the pavement for me.

Inside the Intermission is the familiar smell of stale beer, cigarette smoke and sawdust. Thundering bass in funk tempo assaults the eardrums. Sharp beams of light reflect off a spinning disco mirror ball and slice through the smoky air like Samurai swords.

I hump up to the bar and set the Bible down. A pudgy, middle- aged has-been with an orange wig gives me a come hither from across the way. She had looks once, but they are long gone. I wink back at her anyway. She minces over and looks me up and down. I look her up and down and conclude from her makeup job that she belongs to an exotic religion which forbids the use of mirrors.

“Hey cutie,” she lisps, giving me a nicotine smile. “Would you like to buy me a drink? You look like maybe you own a yacht or something. What kind of business are you in?”

“Stocks. Colgate is down two-and-a-quarter but I’ll be okay. My pork futures are looking pretty good. And the upsurge of Ronco beauty products should mitigate the Colgate shortfall. What kind of stocks do you have in your portfolio?”

“What are you, smart? A cop? Or what?”

“Those are kind of personal questions. Are you a virgin?”

Oops. Feeling quite wet all of a sudden. But I wear her ten dollar, watered down whiskey like a tuxedo. Class shows. I wipe my face with a bar napkin and comb my soaked hair straight back as Bride of Bozo wanders off. The eyes burn a little but I am no worse for the deluge.

On the catwalk behind the bar a well built blonde is flaunting her goods. I put a finger in the air to summon the bartender and the big fat slob marches over like Mussolini.

“Yeah, whaddaya want?” he asks, real surly like.

“Does Carlotta Bendini still work here?” I ask.

“Who wants to know?”

“The Green Hornet. Does she work here or not?”

“If you know her you’ll see her, pal. Now, do you want a drink or what?”

“A beer.”

“What kind?”

“Schlitz,” I answer, just to be wise.

“Bud, Miller or Heinie. They don’t make Schlitz no more.”

“Miller then.”

It just doesn’t get any better than this. Ambiance would probably be the wrong word, but for some crazy reason I enjoy this place.

Suddenly there is a raspy voice in my ear, and warm breath about the neck. “Hey, is that you Brendan?”

I look. It’s Carlotta. Damn! She certainly hasn’t lost her zeal for mascara or outfits designed with extraordinary cleavage in mind. God bless her clothier—or better yet, the entire school of minimalist clothing design.

“No, it’s my retarded twin brother.”

“You’re still a wise ass, Brendan.”

“Well Carlotta,” I smile, “I see that you’re still in the entertainment business. Titillation is certainly your gift.”

“Thank you. How about yourself, Brendan? What are you doing?” She points at the Bible on the bar. “Let me guess—you’re born again and have come to save us from ourselves.”

“Oh that’s just a prop. I’m a Private Eye. Working on a case right now in fact.”

“Wow,” she giggles. “I’ll bet that impresses all your girlfriends. What do you do, follow middle aged men around to motels?”

“Yeah, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.”

“How’s your dad?” she asks.

My god. It has been a long time. I thought she knew.

“He’s dead.”

Her eyes widen, but then take on a look of resignation. It is hard to imagine that there is much in this world that could possibly astonish Carlotta.

“How did he die?”

“Heart attack. All those years fighting the insurance company because they wouldn’t pay off my mother’s life insurance policy. He was obsessive about it. They seemed to think that my mom committed suicide. I’m sure he bent your ear about that plenty. The obsession got worse every day. Finally his heart just blew up.” I glance at her incredible tits. “He used a talk about you a lot.”

“Yeah? What did he say?”

“Well, not much of it was nice.”

We laugh.

“Christ,” she says. “We were going to get married at one point. Remember? He wanted to marry me in spite of what I do. But it just wasn’t in the cards.”

A tiny tear runs down her cheek, which she immediately daubs with a bar napkin. I guess she wouldn’t want the memory of my old man to spoil her makeup. The napkin she discards has a splotched and bleeding adult cartoon on it, the punch line still legible: The only thing my wife ever blows is my money.

“Did you love my old man, Carlotta?” I ask sincerely.

“Yeah, after a fashion,” she says, but suddenly her disposition changes, like someone flipped a switch. “Listen, Brendan, I’m working now. Would you like to go to a private room with me?”

It’s all pretty clear now: She played my old man like a goddamned piano. If it weren’t for her we could have bought a nice waterfront home up in Marblehead or Swampscott. Instead, he spent all that money on Carlotta.

“Nah,” I say. “I’m here on business. And besides, I don’t pay for sex. That’s for amateurs and losers. But would you do me a favor before you go?”

“Yeah, sure,” she shrugs, snapping her gum.

I take Teaberry’s photo out of my coat pocket and show it to her. “I gotta find this guy. His name is Matthew Trent Teaberry. Goes by Matty. He probably looks a little shabbier just now. Might even be a street whack. Likes naked women.”

“Likes naked women. Great clue,” she laughs. “What do you want to find a bum for?”

I tap the Bible. “I have to deliver this to him from his family.”

Shaking her head at the folly of my situation, she examines the photo. “No, don’t think I’ve ever seen him. Looks like a million other guys. A little homelier than most but they all look the same to me.”

She hands the photo back to me and immediately begins to scope out the bar for fresh meat, looking for a guy so pathetic and vulnerable that he’d actually want to spend all his money on her. I keep my eyes on Carlotta as she works the room. She finally lands some old geezer and doesn’t waste any time pressing those tits against his back. He sticks a twenty in her teddy strap and the sight of it makes me ill.

Say it isn’t so, Dad. Please! From your grave, find a way to tell me that you never really felt anything for that trailer trash whore!

My thoughts run back to the notion of finding Teaberry, the great question being just how in hell do you find someone who has no home, no job, no bills, no credit card or paper trail of any kind. Nothing! The only thing I have going for me is those scheming rat bastard lowlifes. They probably think I’m carrying a bundle of cash and expect to roll me for it. Screw ‘em, I say, and slapdash out the door. Gotta roll the dice.

Outside it is still cold, dark and drizzling. I light a smoke and when I look up there are two men emerging from behind a geyser of sewer steam. And wouldn’t you know—one of them is Shorty. It seems he’s got a black eye the size of a city rat. And judging from his furtive body language he is laying for me big time. He has some big bloated bozo in tow who has the complexion of a Cahuna pineapple. Twigs and leaves are stuck in the big oaf’s hair and aside from that he looks as if he has just fallen down an elevator shaft. His coat is covered with ancient food stains.

This guy may or may not be Matthew Trent Teaberry, though I cannot imagine that he could have put on that much weight eating out of trash cans. And I hadn’t noted the acne problem in his photo or medical records. But all such considerations will have to wait. These guys are not here to sell pencils or panhandle for spare change. As they approach the term bodily harm comes to mind.

“Well, if it isn’t my little pal Shorty,” I wisecrack. “Is that a black eye or did someone staple a duckbill platypus to your skull?”

“I’m real sorry about that little run in of ours,” he says with surprising diplomacy, eyes shifting like a pinball wizard keeping track of his shiny steel ball, needing only twenty points to win the tournament. “It was all my fault,” he adds. His faithful behemoth is still close behind, both still skulking toward me like feral beasts.

“I’d stop right there if I were you, Bigfoot,” I warn the lumbering stranger, “or else you’re gonna get blood splattered all over your delicious earthtone ensemble.”

“Yep, Matty,” Shorty says to the grubby hulk. “This here is the smartass punk I was telling you about.”

It’s Matty! I’ve found him!

He tells Shorty to stop and Shorty obeys, but Matty keeps approaching. If the bum so much as twitches a muscle I’ll nail him right between his eyes and drop him like a sack of potatoes.

“I mean it, Matty. Don’t piss me off.”

Matty finally does just like I tell him. I like that quality in a man. But Shorty goes maverick and begins to circle me. Suddenly he lunges with fists flailing, taking his best shots. My nose isn’t perfect but I kind of like it the way it looks. I dodge and dance, giving him a little fancy footwork―like I’m serenading some luscious babe on the floor of the Downtown Lounge—and nail him with a left hook to the jaw, dropping the little bastard. He screams as he falls to the wet pavement, then spits out a tooth. Blood drips from the corner of his mouth and now he’s whimpering like a little fairy. Not such a tough guy now, is he? Hell, that tooth probably had to come out anyway. These people don’t take very good care of their teeth. But hey, I’m not a dentist, just a Private Eye. I straighten my tie and turn my attention back to Matty. And those lost eyes do look familiar.

“Are you Matthew Trent Teaberry?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m Matty Teaberry. Who are you?”

“My name is Baker. I’m a private investigator. If you’re Teaberry I have something for you. All I need is to see some ID.”

Matty shakes his head, eyes welling up. “I lost my wallet a couple years ago. I haven’t gotten around to replacing everything yet.”

“Too busy, huh?”

I reach into my jacket and pull out the photo of Teaberry from high school and compare it to the guy in front of me. The eyes seem similar but there are no acne scars on the kid in the high school photo. And I’m looking at a weight gain of seventy-five pounds, easy. I hand the picture to Matty for a reaction. He looks at it and laughs before lapsing back into his crying jag.

“What’s so funny?” I ask.

“My old man followed me to the photo studio that day; he had to make sure the photographer would take his airbrush to all of my pockmarks.”

The story makes sense of everything, but his sad little recollection won’t carry much weight with Lester Bigelow or the Teaberry family. I need proof. This Matty character could be a ringer in a scheme by Shorty. I never should have provided Teaberry’s full name to Shorty. Maybe Shorty actually had the brains to convert “Matthew” to “Matty” and set this Bigfoot character up to impersonate my subject. Hell, any degenerate could think that scheme up, and there are plenty of those around here.

This is what I had been afraid of all along. Now I have to seek out the scar. As far as this guy has fallen over the years he still tucks his shirt in. I turn him around and yank it up out of his pants, then pull his greasy stinking jersey and coat up to the armpits, which doesn’t seem to bother him much, though it bothers me plenty. He smells like a dog that’s been dead in a ditch for three days. But he’ s got a scar and it looks just like the medical record diagram. This definitely is Matthew Trent Teaberry.

“Listen Matty, I have some bad news for you. Your old man has, well…passed along.”

“That ain’t bad news,” he says, sniffling and tucking his shirt back in. “All he ever did was call me a no good loser because I never gave a rat’s ass about his stupid candy factory. I tried working in shipping and receiving, accounting and advertising. Sales too. All of it sucks. Especially sales.…Did he leave me anything good?”

I spin around looking nervously for the Bible. Uh oh. I’d left it in the Intermission Lounge. Christ! What if one of the lowlifes in there has a freakin’ epiphany and decides to find some good old time religion? Maybe some shady character swallows a bad ice cube and sees God! There are any number of opportunities for a religious experience in that goddamned place—particularly with Carlotta working the room. For all I know, there’s a full blown Evangelist revival meeting going on in there right now!

“You gotta hold on a minute,” I tell Matty. “I’ll be right back.”

Matty, rightly sensing that the answer to his question is not in the affirmative, puts his scabby swollen hands up to his face. “I guess the old man was right,” he blubbers. “Maybe I am just a loser.”

“No, no you’re not,” I jabber, feeling a little sorry for him now. “Just hold on!”

I dash back inside the Intermission and there, thank goodness, is the Bible right on the bar, exactly where I left it. Unmolested. And there is no revival meeting in evidence.

I grab the hefty leather-bound tome and start back for the door, but an idea occurs. I take a twenty out of my pocket and tuck it randomly within the pages of Deuteronomy, whatever the hell that is. Sounds like an invasive medical procedure, but what the hell do I know? I’ve never even read the Bible—which in itself tells you that I have the chops to be a topflight Private Eye.

Back on LaGrange Street Shorty is still nursing his jaw, wiping blood and snot on his greasy sleeve while Matty is hitting up the occasional passerby for spare change at Washington and Essex. I approach Matty.

“All the old man left you is the family Bible.” He looks stunned, as if I had just punched him in the gut. “Here, sign this paper. It simply proves that I delivered the Bible to you. I stuck a double sawbuck in it for your trouble. I’m getting four hundred bucks for delivering it, and when I get it next week I’ll come back and give you a hundred.”

He scrawls his signature and starts to get all weepy again. “Do you really mean that?”

“Yeah Matty. I do. Why don’t you treat yourself in there,” I suggest, jerking my thumb toward the Intermission Lounge. “They have plenty of napkins on the bar. There’s cartoons on them and everything. Hell, one of them might even make you laugh.”

Matty gives me a yellow, craggy toothed smile. Still sniffling, he plucks the twenty out and deposits the family Bible in a wet trash can. “C’mon Shorty.” He points to the Intermission and does a disturbing pantomime of a stripper fingering her G-string. “Let’s go have a cold one.”

They stumble in there together. They’ll have a drink and grab an ass or two, and when they run out of money they’ll get thrown out. But Matty Teaberry will enjoy himself, if only for a short time, and that is the important thing. The poor bastard deserves it.

With compassion in such short supply these days, I’d like to think the idea of throwing Matty a hundred bucks next week is a generous notion. And it is. But it will pass.

______________________________

Philip Bernhardt recently completed an historical novel, “Bastards of Plimoth: Myles Standish, the Failing Colony at Wessagussett and the Indian Massacre of 1623.” Another of his stories appeared in the July 2009 issue of Gemini. He lives in Weymouth, Massachusetts and can be reached at philipbernhardt@yahoo.com.

July 2009