WELCOME TO PICKETWIRE
A serialized story
by tim wintermute
Sue was feeling anxious as she waited for Joji and Margaret. She wasn’t worried about whether he and Margaret would get along, but whether the Pretty Good Café was good enough. He had told her that he had never been there and, in fact, he rarely went to a restaurant. It was almost ten, after the breakfast crowd had finished and the Café was empty except for several older men who sat at the counter drinking coffee. Jerry, Larry and Gary were regulars who always sat side by side, linked not only by the rhyming of their names but their taciturnity. They sat in almost complete silence. Occasionally, one man would say something, no more than a handful of words. When he was finished there would be a long silence until one of them would say something in response, sometimes no more than a grunt or a chuckle. Sue once said to Bonnie, who worked the breakfast shift at the Pretty Good, that she didn’t understand why the three men sat together since they hardly say anything to each other. Bonnie said. “They don’t like to talk, but it’s not like they aren’t communicating with each other.” Then she laughed. “The other day I even found myself listening in.”
Joji walked in at exactly ten o’clock. Surprisingly punctual for someone who didn’t wear a watch. Sue ushered him to the booth in the far corner next to the front window. This was the booth she preferred when she wanted privacy. Her usual seat was at the outside end of the bench whose back was to the wall. In LA this would be the power seat because whoever sat there wasn’t cornered by the other occupants and could see everything in the room. To her surprise Joji took the spot. The problem Sue now confronted was that if she sat down opposite Joji she would have to slide over to the inside of the bench so that Margaret could sit down and then Sue would be cornered with her back to the room, which was the least powerful position. All of this added to her anxiety so instead of sitting down Sue decided that she should tell Joji that she was going to the Café’s entrance so she could greet Margaret when she arrived. Before she could open her mouth Margaret walked up, gave a cheery hello, sat down and slid over to the inside of the bench, next to the window. As Sue took the now open seat at the end opposite Joji he nodded his head as if he had arranged this all along.
To Sue’s relief after she introduced Joji to Margaret they seemed to hit it off. He said that he had known her Uncle and had been to his farm. Somehow that didn’t surprise Sue that the two bachelor farmers would be acquainted. What did surprise her was what Joji said after Bonnie handed a cup of coffee to Margaret and placed a tea pot between Joji and Sue. “He was very interested in the Fukuoka method and had talked about giving it a try.”
“Uncle Arvid trying something new?” Margaret started to laugh and then stopped. “I mean, he seemed so set in his ways.”
“Maybe this was his way. Just because he stayed in one place doesn’t mean he wasn’t on an inner journey.”
“Sounds almost mystical,” Sue observed, pouring tea into Joji’s cup and then her own.
“Maybe Arvid was really a Zen Lutheran,” Margaret quipped.
Joji sipped his tea. It was Sue’s favorite and she hoped he liked it. He nodded his approval, then said to Margaret. “And now you are on your way.”
“Our way,” Margaret said. “We’re all in this together; the three farmeteers.” Then, turning serious, she asked Joji, “Sue says that this farming method of yours…”
“The Fukuoka method,” Sue said.
“Right, the Fukuoka method, doesn’t require much water?”
“That is correct. It is the natural way to grow in an arid climate such as this.”
“But Uncle Arvid owned quite a few shares in the Purgatory Ditch so he had access to water for irrigation and didn’t really need to use this method.”
“Yes,” Joji nodded. “But your Uncle didn’t believe in waste…”
“Anyone who’s been to his farm can attest to that,” Margaret laughed .
“Yes,” Joji smiled. “He was especially against wasting something as essential to life as water, so he wanted to use the water he was to wisely. He believed, as I do, in working with nature and not against it. That’s why he was interested in the Fukuoka method.”
“What was he going to do with the water that he was going to save using the Fukuoka method?”
“He didn’t tell me. I know that he had already cut back on irrigation and most of his acreage was fallow in anticipation of switching to the Fukuoka method when he died.”
“And now we’re carrying out his plan,” Margaret said. “It’s almost like he knew this would happen when he wrote his will leaving the farm to me.”
“Maybe,” Joji said with a smile and then took another sip of tea.
“We heard that Wylie Boone was trying to buy up all the shares in the Purgatory Ditch Company,” Sue said to Joji.
Joji poured some more tea from the pot and then answered. “Arvid told me that Wylie Boone wanted to buy his shares. He said that Boone offered him a lot more than the market price. Since the farm wouldn’t be worth much without the water rights he offered to buy it as well.”
“What did Uncle Arvid tell him?” Margaret asked.
“That he would get his shares and farm over his dead body.”
“Now that your Uncle is dead, Boone is going to contact you with an offer,” Sue said.
“Then he’ll get the same answer as the one Uncle Arvid gave him,” Margaret said.
“Boone likes to get his way,” Sue warned.
“Then he’ll have to take the highway because we’re taking Arvid’s way.”
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
Harry was perched on the stool at the check-out counter at Bunch of Books like a pot-bellied version of Rodin’s The Thinker trying to figure out a way to confront Wylie Boone about what he had done to Pam. How would he even arrange a meeting with Wylie since he was sequestered at his ranch after the hit and run and even if he did what would he say and if he could figure out what to say what right did he have to say it? Pam hadn’t asked him to get involved, much less to avenge her honor. Maybe he should get stoned like The Thinker? Marijuana was legal in Colorado and he knew where Carlotta kept a small stash. She wouldn’t object if he lit up one of her joints as long as it wasn’t in the bookstore, which had a no smoking policy. The only place he could think of was on the roof.
Harry opened the drawer in the check-out counter. Inside the drawer was a box where Carlotta kept some cannabis. He opened the box, reached in and pulled out a joint. Closing the drawer he got up from his stool and walked over to the door to hang the back in fifteen minutes sign. Through the glass he saw a 57, candy apple red Chevy pull up in front followed by a black Suburban. The driver’s door opened and Wylie Boone stepped out. At the same time two beefy men got out of the Suburban. All three of them headed for the bookstore so Harry quickly retreated to his position behind the check-out counter. Sitting down just as the door opened he didn’t have time to dispose of the joint so he hid his right hand below the top of the counter.
“Harry Bunch,” Wylie said with a smile that was as fake as a three dollar bill. “Been a long time.”
“About thirty years,” Harry answered. He didn’t offer to shake Wylie’s hand and not just because its fingers were wrapped around the joint. “Where are the two bodyguards that came with you?”
“I told them to wait outside. They’re not into books.”
“And you are?”
Wylie reached out and picked up a book that had been arranged on the display table according to Harry’s book bunching system and then put it back in another spot. “I used to come in here. I remember when I was in high school buying Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Harry answered, fighting the urge to go over and put the book back in its proper spot.
“That was when your Dad still ran the place. Then he passed it on to you like my Dad did with the Double B. We’re both running a family business.”
“You own a lot of businesses.”
“Those are things I buy and sell. They’re nothing to me but an investment. But the Double B was passed on from one generation of Boones to the next; it’s a legacy. It’s not really mine to sell. I bet that’s what this place is for you.”
“It’s easier to keep this place in the family since there’s not a lot of folks interested in buying a bookstore.”
Wylie laughed. “I have to admit that buying stock in Amazon early on was a hell of an investment for me.” Without waiting for Harry’s response, he asked. “At least you have someone in the family to pass it onto. What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Carlotta,” Harry answered, rolling the unseen joint nervously between his fingers. “If she wants it. So far she does. Who are you going to pass the Double B onto?”
“Now, that is a problem since I never managed to have one kid with any of my three wives. There are some distant relatives but if they got their hands on it they’d just sell the place.” Wylie sighed. “I guess I’ll just have to avoid dying.”
“Seems like you did that up in Aspen.”
Wylie laughed nervously. “Yeah, I guess I dodged the bullet or, the minivan, to be exact.”
“Is there anything you’re interested in buying? We still have Ayn Rand’s books. You can find them under fiction although they should probably be in the fairy tale section.”
“No, I was interested in something rarer.”
“I was going through the records for our library at the ranch…”
“Ayn Rand’s books wouldn’t fill a shelf, much less a library.”
“I have to admit that my contributions to it are pretty skimpy. Some of the books were bought by CW and then the library was added to by my grandfather and, then, my Dad. But, as I was saying, while I was looking I noticed that some books I remember reading as a kid were missing.”
“You didn’t notice that they were missing until now?”
“I avoided the library because that’s where I found him. He was sitting in his favorite chair with the reading light on and a book in his lap, like he’d fallen asleep while reading.”
“I’d say that was a nice way to go.”
“Yeah, well, the glass of whiskey and bottle of sleeping pills helped.”
“Are you saying your Dad committed suicide?”
“He was dying anyway. Had terminal lung cancer. Never quit smoking and had a pack of Marlboros next to the glass of whiskey. Maybe he’d been committing suicide for a long time.”
“A long goodbye,” Harry said.
“Now that’s a good way to put it.”
“It’s the name of a Raymond Chandler book. We have it in our mystery section over there.” Harry used his left hand to point in the direction of the mystery section.
Wylie looked in the direction that Harry pointed. “Well, my Dad was a mysterious guy. Always seemed to be hiding something.” He turned back to Harry and said. “But, to get back to what I was saying, after I found him there I avoided the library after that and for the last thirty years I’ve pretty much avoided the ranch.”
“And now you come back and find these books missing.”
“Exactly. So I looked in the inventory that lists what’s in the library, Boone’s like to keep track of what we own even if it’s a book, and discovered that my Dad gave them to Miss Bennett just before he died. She was the first grade teacher at Coronado. I believe you and I were in her class together.”
“I believe you’re right.”
“That surprised me. That he would give them to her. Especially, since they’re first editions and worth quite a bit.”
“I guess they were good friends.”
“He never mentioned her. As far as I know he didn’t have any good friends. I don’t think he was close to anyone, not even my mother. I think when she divorced him he was happy to see her leave so he could just sit in the library drinking, smoking and reading.”
Harry thought about whether to mention to Wylie the more than friendly note from his Dad to Rosalind that he’d found in one of the books, but before he could decide Wylie said. “Anyway, when I discovered the books had been given to Miss Bennett I decided to find out what happened to her books when she died and I was surprised to find out that you bought them.”
“I don’t know why you’d be surprised since this is the only bookstore in town and we do have rare books. She had quite a few of them.”
Wylie nodded. “What I was wondering was whether you still have some of them?”
“I still have all of them.”
“Great,” Wylie’s face lit up in a genuine smile. “Because I’d like to buy them. I’m restoring the ranch house and one of the things I want is to have all the original books that were in the library. Those books are part of the Boone legacy that was handed down and it wasn’t right for my Dad to give them away.”
“Well he did. And now they belong to me. And I’m not interested in selling them. I guess you could say that they’re now part of the Bunch legacy,” Harry answered.
Wylie’s smile evaporated. “I’ll pay you more than the fair market value.”
“Still not interested.”
“Everything has a price, Harry, just name yours.”
“Really, then what’s the price tag for your legacy, the Double B?”
Wylie shook his head. “A lot more than you can afford, Harry.”
Harry smiled and said. “Then my price is a lot more than you can afford. Do we have a deal?”
“Okay, Harry, I get it.”
“No you don’t get it, Wylie, that’s the point. You’re used to getting what you want, but not this time.”
“Why Harry Bunch, is that a joint you’re holding?” Wylie answered, calmly.
Harry suddenly realized that he had raised his right hand and was pointing at Wylie with the joint. “Yeah,” he said, placing the joint on the countertop. “You got something against marijuana.”
“Hell no,” Wylie said with a grin. “I’m all for marijuana. I’ve bought a number of cannabis dispensaries in Colorado since they legalized it in 2012. You probably bought that joint you’re about to smoke at one of them and didn’t even know it.”
Harry wanted nothing more than to wipe the grin off Wylie’s face. “We have a no smoking policy in the store,” he said and then reached out, took the joint and dropped it in the wastebasket next to the checkout counter.
Wylie put both of his hands on his hips and stared angrily at Harry. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but then turned and walked out the door. Harry watched Wylie through the window as he got into the Chevy and, without waiting for the two bodyguards to get in the Suburban, he peeled out leaving a strip of steamy rubber on the pavement. Harry stooped down and picked the joint out of the wastebasket, put it in his mouth, lit it with a lighter that Carlotta also kept in the drawer and inhaled deeply. To hell with the no smoking policy. This one was for Pam.
Tom hadn’t been on a date for a very long time, much less a first date. Besides, this was research for their parts in the play and if he was Billy and Carlotta was Karla then this really wasn’t their first date since they were going steady and they were both seventeen year old seniors in high school. Carlotta had even suggested that they meet at Tanneyhill’s, since the play had a scene that took place in a drugstore with a soda fountain. When he entered the drugstore Carlotta was already seated in one of the booths against the window opposite the soda fountain. He noticed she was flipping through song selections on the tabletop jukebox. He’d written about the vintage Seeburg Wall-O-Matic system when he’d done a story on Tanneyhill’s. Before Tom could sit down facing her across the formica tabletop, Carlotta scooted over toward the window and patted the space on the bench beside her. “Remember, we’re going steady.”
“Oh, right,” Tom replied, sheepishly.
“What songs do you think Billy and Karla would have played?” She asked after Tom was seated beside her.
“How would I know. That would have been more than forty years ago, way before we were born.”
“That’s how old a lot of these songs are. Some of them are older. They even have songs by Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee.” Carlotta pointed at a song. “They even have The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand from 1964.”
“Can I help you two?”
They both turned and looked up at a man in his seventies. It was Lyle Tannyhill, who had retired but still came in to help his son Trent, who had taken over the family drugstore.
“Hi Lyle,” Carlotta replied. “Do you remember what high school students would have listened to on your jukebox back in 1978?”
“That’s a long time ago.” He paused and thought a minute then said. “Nope. Now I do remember one song your parents, Tom, used to listen to when they were dating and came in here. It was right after I had graduated from pharmacy school in seventy five and moved back here to help my dad run this place.”
“They graduated in 1976,” Tom said. “That’s just a couple of years before 78.”
Lyle nodded his head. “76, right.”
“Why do you remember what they listened to?” Tom asked. When he thought of his parents he it was hard to even imagine them as kids in high school.
“Because they kept playing it over and over while they sat here mooning at each other…” Lyle stopped and grinned. “Why as I recall they used to sit in this very booth. Like father like son.”
“We’re just friends,” Tom stammered.
“We’re on a date,” Carlotta said nudging Tom with her elbow.
“Our first date,” Tom said, then asked. “What was the song?”
“Love Will Keep Us Together by The Captain and Tenille. I actually liked the song but after hearing your parents play it over and over I got so sick of hearing it that I removed it from the jukebox. I told your folks they’d worn it out.”
“It’s hard to believe that my folks were…”
“Young and in love,” Carlotta said, smiling at Tom.
Feeling his face redden, Tom turned and asked Lyle. “What about Harry, Carlotta’s dad? He must have come in here when he was in high school.”
“Harry came in, but I don’t remember what songs he listened to,” Lyle said. “In fact, I don’t recall him ever listening to the jukebox when he was in here by himself. ”
“That’s because you wouldn’t have had any of the songs my dad listened to back then on your jukebox,” Carlotta said.
“Why, what were they?” Lyle asked.
“The Sex Pistols, Ramones, Dead Kennedys…”
“But those are punk rock bands,” Tom said.
“Punk rock,” Lyle echoed. “I never would have guessed that about your father, Carlotta.”
“No one did,” Carlotta replied. “Dad told me he used to sit in his room and listen to punk rock on headphones. He also told me that when he was shelving books in the store at night he would play punk rock cassettes on a tape recorder with the volume all the way up.”
“Can I ask why you’re interested in what kids were listening to in 1978?” Lyle asked.
“We’re doing research for a play we’re both in,” Carlotta answered.
“It’s set in 1978,” Tom added.
“So you’re in this new play that Howdy Hanks wrote,” Lyle said.
“We’re not supposed to tell anyone what it’s about it before it opens,” Carlotta said.
Lyle sat down on the bench opposite Carlotta and Tom. “You know Howdy used to come in here when he was in high school and then after he came back from college.”
“Do you remember what he listened to?”
Lyle scratched his chin. “As I recall he liked Willie Nelson. Sometimes he would sit for hours at the counter writing in a notebook and drinking black coffee. I didn’t realize until later that he must have been writing a play. I never thought at the time that he’d become famous. No one did…” Lyle drifted off for a minute as if he was conjuring up the past, then he said. “My grandson, Mike, told me he came in the other day. Sorry I missed him. It must be more than thirty years since I last saw him.”
“I wonder if he played Willie Nelson when he came in for old times sake,” Carlotta laughed.
“Mike said he talked with Jemma Lu Tuttle and Milli Pacheco. They come here all the time. I remember Jemma Lu coming here when we were both kids. Of course, she was younger than me. Still is.”
“So Howdy and Jemma Lu know each other?” Carlotta asked.
“I would say so. They dated each other during high school.”
“What happened after they graduated from high school?”
“Howdy went away to college. Jemma Lu went to Picketwire College. Then she started coming in with Wylie Boone after he came back after college. They got engaged but then they split up.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Then Wylie left town,” Lyle paused and then added. “I believe it was around that time that Howdy left as well and so did Jemma Lu, although she was only gone a year. Went to Europe.”
“Have you seen Wylie since he came back?” Tom asked.
Lyle shook his head. “He’s pretty much holed up at the Double B from what I understand.”
“Do you remember what Wylie listened to in high school?” Carlotta asked.
“I don’t remember what songs he liked to play when he came in during high school, but I’ll never forget one song Pam Martindale played...”
“Who was Pam Martindale?”
“She was Wylie’s girlfriend in high school. It’s hard not to remember her because she was the Homecoming Queen, which is about as close as you get to winning a Miss Picketwire beauty pageant.”
“What song did she like to play?”
“You don’t Own Me.”
“By Lesley Gore!” Carlotta exclaimed.
“You know it?” Tom asked.
In response, Carlotta started singing the song.
“You don’t own me
I’m not just one of your many toys…”
“That’s it,” Lyle said.
“It’s one of the classic women’s empowerment songs,” Carlotta declared.
“I didn’t know that, but what did I know, or any of us guys back then. But, to get back to what I was saying, I’ll never forget Pam playing it because she came in the same morning as the graduation ceremony and sat in the last booth for a long time drinking coffee and playing it over and over. Then, all of sudden, she put a five dollar bill on the table, which was a lot of money back then, and without waiting for change she got up and left. When she walked out she said goodbye like we’d never see each other again.” Lyle paused and looked over his shoulder at the back booth. Finally, he turned back and looked at them. “That was the last time I saw her. I heard she left town the next day. Haven’t seen her since.” He slapped both of his hands on the Formica tabletop. “Now what would you two like to order? I’m helping out at the soda fountain today. I can still make really good chocolate shakes.”
After Lyle took their orders for chocolate shakes, Tom said. “Howdy and Jemma Lu and Wylie Boone and this girl Pam, the homecoming queen who suddenly leaves town, were all dating in high school. Then right after graduation Pam leaves town suddenly and Howdy and Jemma Lu break up.”
“Howdy and Wylie both went away to college,” Carlotta said. “And Jemma Lu stayed here and went to PIcketwire College.”
“Then Wylie comes back after college and he and Jemma Lu start going together. Then Howdy comes back.”
“And then Wylie and Jemma Lu break off their engagement.”
“Then all three of them leave town.”
“Jemma Lu’s only gone for just a year, but Wylie and Howdy for thirty years.”
“And now they’re back…” Tom was interrupted by Lyle as he placed the chocolate shakes in front of them.
“…together in Howdy’s play,” Carlotta added.
END OF INSTALLMENT 27
Previous installments of Welcome to Picketwire
(click on PDF)