“Honey, you are not going to believe this.” Grant Garrath banged through the screen door just ahead of Jamie and Ned. He tossed his hat on the rack and flopped down in his chair at the dinner table.
Hannah called out to the quickly retreating boys. “You two go wash your hands and get ready for supper.” She placed another clear green glass plate on top of the checkered table cloth and stopped with the stack of plates under her arm. “What?”
Grant clapped his hands once. “The grand metropolis of Miller’s Landing now has a hunting and fishing club.”
Hannah rattled the next plate down on the table. “Grant, you are not going to join one of those clubs.”
He pressed his face tight with the heels of his hands. “Darlin’, I don’t even hunt. The shotgun’s for …” He stopped to take the hard edge out of his voice. “I just overheard Dancin’ Charlie during the afternoon break. He’s convinced his bunch of boys to start one.”
“Charlie? Not one of them has the sense God gave a … do any of them …?”
“Own a gun?” Grant shook his head. “Not one.”
“Then why on earth … ?”
“Per-zactly. It makes about as much sense as a steering wheel on a mule, but they’re gonna start having meetings down at the old Anders place. To do what, I have no idea.” Grant held one hand up. “And hold on, I want to get this right. They couldn’t agree on a name so they shoved two names together … they want to call it … ‘The Gentlemen Colonels of Whispering Waters.”
“Oh, land.” Hannah giggled just once, straightened her face and reached for the pile of napkins. “Who owns that place now, anyway?”
“I expect the Anders still do. Nobody’s done a thing with it since the day they left, but I’ve never seen a ‘For Sale’ sign on it either.”
“They’ll be lucky not to fall through the floor. That place has been vacant for how many years is it?” Hannah began placing knives and forks. “I’d bet you anything Fred Black is behind it. It sounds about like him.”
“You think Fred might be lookin’ for a little help to his backroom sales since he had to shut down his bell tree?”
Hannah shrugged and paused by his chair with her hands on her hips. “It wouldn’t be the first time that bootlegger has swayed somebody just to make a little more moonshine money.” She placed her hand on Grant’s shoulder for a moment.
He rested his hand on hers and looked up at her. “I like your hair up like that.”
She dipped her eyes and smiled back with only her dimples, then called out to Jamie and Ned. “Boys! Wash up now, it’s time for supper.”
For the ‘Gentlemen Colonels’ in question, going to the hunt club more often than not consisted of sitting around on hand-me-down chairs and bang-together benches by a low fire in the Ander’s place while they grimaced down rough-cut moonshine from Dancin’ Charlie’s blind hole. Rarely did their talk refer to killing anything. In fact, their total death tally was one deer by automobile, two raccoons from a felled firewood tree and Mrs. Isabella Johnson’s miniature poodle ‘Minny-Poo’ via a forgotten bowl of brandy soaked prunes.
Their moonshine mumblings did however give birth to hare-brained schemes of grand scale. Trouble was, once the bunch was three sheets to the wind, that the needed common sense to reel themselves back in was in short supply. Learning tends to be a function of memory. Charlie’s boys were just too forgetful to avoid repeat.
The original purpose of gathering this night was to celebrate employment. Afterwards not one of ‘The Gentlemen’ could reliably recall whether it was Charlie or Lowell Lowry that made the original suggestion of walking to the beach. No matter that it was over a hundred miles away. They did recollect Charlie and Lowell leaning conversation at one another.
“We’ll get there by midnight, dive in, take a swim, taste a little saltwater. We’ll be back ‘fore breakfast and then go to church. Whaddyasay?’ Charlie unscrewed the lid on a fresh mason jar, took as deep a sip as he dared, wheezed and held it out to Lowell.
Heads nodded all around at the idea and a short chorus of affirmations echoed.
Lowell belched as he took the proffered jar and smacked his false teeth lips. “That’s right; a body should go to church.” He lifted it to his lips and drew in the pungent clear liquid.
“So it’s a plan?”
“What’s a plan?”
“To go to the beach and take a swim in the surf.”
“In the what?”
“The surf. Th’ place at the beach where the ocean and the sand get together. Don’t you know nuthin’?”
“I know the room’s spinnin’. And in the wrong direction, if I may say. If it were spinnin’ the other way it would be all right, but this way is makin’ me dizzy.” Lowell sniffed. “And I know I’m going to church tomorrow and pray for mother.”
Charlie crushed his hat off his head and held it tight to his chest. “Why? Is she gone?”
A slow nod. “Yeah. She left early spring when the daffodils were just beginnin’ to bud.” Lowell drew his red bandana from his pocket and pinched it around his nose. He blew hard and honked like a tuba. “She loves daffodils. I do miss her. She is the best damn mama a man could have.”
Charlie backed up unsteadily, felt for his chair by waving his hand in the air behind him, found it and slowly lowered until he was sitting solidly on the tortured cane seat. Splashy tears left shiny trails down his face. “A man oughta have a good mama. You been lucky that way, then?”
A weaving unsteady nod. “Oh yeah.” Sniff. “And now she’s gone.”
Charlie launched out of his chair and landed with a thump on the bench beside Lowell. He slung his arm about Lowell’s shoulders. “That’s so sad she left ya. Was she a church-goer?”
Lowell reached up, slid his false teeth out of his mouth and yawned. He dug at the back of his gums with one finger. “While she was here, yeah. Now I dunno. Pro’bly.”
“No proba-bubly about it. There’s plenty of chance for talking to God where she’s gone.”
Lowell nodded. “Lot of nice people too. She loves it there.”
“Who … wouldn’t? They say it’s a nice place. I’d like to go there. Knowin’ me, I won’t, but I’d like to.”
“Me too. Maybe someday.” Lowell rubbed his sleeve across his nose. “Aunt Rachel is there. Mama likes talking with her.”
Charlie hugged Lowell about the shoulders, slid his hat back on his head and took the jar from Lowell’s hand. He tilted it to his lips again, swallowed, wheezed a sigh, then coughed and leaned back against the hard wood wall and patted Lowell on the back. “Lowell?”
“What’d she die of?”
“Your mama, that’s who.”
“What about her?”
“What’d she die of?”
“Your mama, the one what borned ya.”
“What about her?”
Charlie handed Lowell the mason jar and leaned back against the wall. He pressed one palm against his forehead. “Lowell?”
“What … did … your … mama … die … from?”
“Mama’s dead? Who said?”
“You said she left.”
“Oh, yeah. I did say that.”
“So, what’d she die of?”
Lowell weaved his gaze at Charlie then slung his head back and wheezed a single soundless laugh through his empty mouth. The laugh was short-lived because he slammed his head into the wall boards with a thump. “Ow.” He rubbed his head then looked at Charlie and laughed again.
Charlie squeezed his eyes shut, slapped his palms on his knees and did his best to focus on Lowell. “I don’t see that death is all that funny, Low’. I mean she were your mama and all. If I were her I don’t think I’d take it at all kindly that you laughed at me after I was in the … cold ground.”
Lowell hissed his laugh again and pounded his feet on the floor in a pretty good imitation of Charlie’s laughing dance. “Mama ain’t dead, Charlie.” He leaned in close. “She’s just gone to visit Aunt … Rachel.”
Cackles and hoots burst from the men sitting on the floor around the room. “Git that, willa?” One fell over holding his stomach. “Git ‘em, Charlie.”
Charlie swiveled his face around at the hoots and catcalls, then swung his eyes back around to Lowell. “Wha? You told me she was dead.”
“No, I didn’.”
“Yes, you did.” Charlie yanked his hat off and smacked Lowell on top of the head with it. “You … you-you tol’ me she was dead. Say you did or I’m gonna smack you into next week. That ain’t no good thing ‘cause you be missing a paycheck.”
“No, I didn’.”
Charlie lifted his hat and smacked Lowell’s head with each word. “Yes … you … did … and … I’m … gonna … make … you … say so.”
Lowell crammed his false teeth back into his mouth, stood up and balled his fists by his hips. “No, I didn’, and stop slapping me wid that great dirty head lid of yours.”
“Oh, a great dirty head lid, is it?” Charlie slapped his hands to the bench and pushed himself up. “Boy, you and me gonna have a little word of prayer …”
Whosoever was within reach scrambled to scatter as Charlie reared back for a great roundhouse swing at Lowell, but by the time his swing winged back forward Lowell had bent down to delicately place the Mason jar on the bench. Charlie’s staggering momentum took him over his own chair. Lowell ducked at the end of the swing then charged toward Charlie’s falling figure, fists flailing in wide alternate swings. By the time he got there Charlie had slammed to the floor and was moaning. Lowell tripped over Charlie’s feet, keeled over like a tall pine and dead-weight bounced when he hit, much the same as a tree.
They both rolled over, elbowed up from the floor, breathed hard and wondered how they had gotten there.
Charlie’s voice returned first. “What’d I ever do to you?”
“What’d you ever do to me? What’d I ever do to you?”
They wavered stares at one another then slumped back, sprawled flat on the floor.
Neither question was ever answered, exhausted sleep being the great equalizer of inebriate men. The beach, mothers and hunting were all forgotten in the alcoholic fog. So ended the first great adventure of The Gentlemen Colonels of Whispering Waters. It was not to be their last.