Bobby B – Clueless

First weekend of June, 2007

Arnault the Third motioned for the waiter in the small, high class Italian restaurant in the Montrose area of Houston, handed him a credit card and waited until he returned and disappeared back into the people stream.

“Hope dinner set you up, Bobby. We’re about to go to work.” Arnault motioned for the black woman in a light blue pants suit and impossibly tall high heels three tables away to join them. He pulled a chair for her without getting up, Bobby stood. “Ms. Annabelle Monette, meet Mr. Bobby B.” She offered him her hand and he got more than the usual lady-fied handshake.

She adjusted her chair and the waiter had a drink in front of her Bobby hadn’t seen or heard anyone order. She smiled at Bobby like his fifth-grade teacher. “Sell many boats today, Mr. B?”

“No ma’am. A couple of maybes. Be back tomorrow or Sunday.”

“They’ll be back to bend you over close of show. Do you have any problems with women? Don’t lie. I know all about your Momma.” She pulled the little stick out of her drink and set it on an unused napkin. “Or problems with African American women, for any reason?”

“No ma’am. There’s some kind of attitude goin’ on with the checkers at the grocery store, acting bitchy and talking all kinds of shit, but I think it’s down to those crazy women on the Housewives reality shows. ‘Cause that’s who they sound like. But that’s all of them, not just the black girls.”

“Observant, synthesized. Fair. That pleases me.” She sipped her drink, kept her eyes on Bobby. “Third, you plan on talking or sitting there all night with a cork in your bony ass?”

Arnault reached in the pocket of his starched shirt, pulled out a folded check, opened it on the table with one hand in front of Bobby.

“Two hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars? Made out to Swamp Vue?”

I sold some Swamp Vue boats today, and this is the total of their deposits. I’ll sign it when you hire Annabelle.”

Bobby looked back and forth between them, wished like hell Carrie Louise and Junior had picked another weekend to go meet everybody they’d be going to school with at different places in Atlanta. Third and Annabelle looked at him with blank, unreadable expressions, waited.

“Why?” Was all he could come up with.

“Because there’s no way in hell you’ll ever deliver these boats without her.”

“Ms. Monette can build boats?” He shifted his gaze her way. “Sorry, ma’am. You can build boats?”

“I can build anything. From custom sofas and speaker cabinets to pontoon airplanes and custom carbon fiber motorcycle frames.”

“No shit?”

“No shit. Not by myself, but I can turn that barn full of rednecks you have in the swamp down there into a shop that builds custom, enclosed swamp boats, and make enough money doing it to keep them employed. Which is what they’re counting on you to do. You can’t do that buying scrap from your buddies in Tennessee and stopping in the Home Depot for router bits. For a while? Maybe. Long term, no way.”

“I thought we were doing okay. I mean…” He knew that was bullshit. They weren’t doing okay. Swamp Vue was a money pit that was eating a hole in his allowance from the settlement interest.

Annabelle spun a picture out of nowhere of one of Swamp Vue’s four-seaters being welded up, stuck a two-tone polished nail that matched her suit on the bow cover. “How many of this piece right here do you get from a sheet?” She wasn’t being a smart ass, or mean, and he could tell she knew more about what was going on at Swamp Vue from that one picture than he’d ever know.

“I don’t…Well, we don’t buy sheets, exactly. One? Two?”

“I worked for a man who built twelve sizes of speaker cabinets, sold thousands of them all over the world. I got on the computer with the designers and figured out how to cut what we needed for all twelve models out of expensive sheets of birch plywood with nothing left over but sawdust. And that’s what I want to do for Swamp Vue. And your people.”

“What’s that gonna cost me? Us?”

“Honey, money is not why I’m here. What motivates me is working with someone who can see, who involves people of all kinds who want to make it real. Down the road after I’ve made this work, which I will, we’ll turn it employee owned, make somebody a manager. I take a royalty check, add it to my resume and move on. Right now? You need to shut down building anything for a week or two, let me bring in three or four people to meet with everybody, assess what you have and what you need.”

“Or?”

“Or you can lead those people on and shut it down when your next big idea strikes and takes your attention and money away from Swamp Vue.” She kept her eyes locked on his face, sipped her drink. “People like you are my specialty, Bobby. We need each other. Third?”

“I know it sounds as off as week old roadkill for breakfast, but Annabelle and I talked it through, and decided Swamp Vue is a winner. You’re an idea man, Bobby. Knew it two minutes after I met you. And you’re as cheerful and honest a young soul as ever was. But otherwise, you ain’t got no more of a clue than a four-year old with a big ol’ bucket of Legos and too much free time.”

Bobby still couldn’t put it together. “You guys want to buy Swamp Vue?”

Annabelle put her hand on top of Bobby’s. “No. Hell no, baby. Third doesn’t want to be in the boat building business, he wants to be your boat distributor. I don’t want a boat company. I want to make yours work.”

She looked at Third, back to Bobby. “We have two more days to generate serious pre-sold boat numbers, gentlemen. I don’t want those people in Houma having time to look up. Bobby, leave the suit in the room and bring me Tom Sawyer the idea boy. I’ll call Montagne in for tomorrow and Sunday to close a few big players. We’ll take a day off, meet Tuesday morning in my office. Then we go to Houma for a spell, and it’s on.” She pushed her chair back.

“How come you and Third and some guy you know can sell my boats and I can’t?” He knew he’d come off as a kid when they gave each other that adult-parent look, and he started to get pissed off. Third grinned.

“Bobby, salesmen are just like lawyers. Everybody in business needs one, nobody likes them. Particularly crazy ones. To everybody who might be lookin’, you’re a crazy swamp kid in a new suit that don’t fit right, with a handful of pictures of crazy boats that are a crazy idea, and a machine shop full of crazier people building them for you like you’re the crazy boat Messiah. Which makes you the poster boy for crazy. You can’t sell your own boats because nobody wants to talk to you but other crazy people.”

“Then what am I supposed to do? Quit? Sell out? Let Swamp Vue go dead in the water ’cause it’s crazy?”

“Stop your worrying and listen to me, Mr. Bobby B.” Annabelle stood, picked up her clutch with one hand, finished her drink with the other. She set the glass down, locked his eyes with a look in hers that would have sent a Voodoo priest into the diaper service business. “I am Annabelle Monette. And I am how crazy gets done.”

***

Following Tuesday – Jackson, MS

“Goddam.” Bobby sat in the passenger seat of Arnault the Third’s F-250 after the longest Tuesday of his life, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I just wanted to build some cool boats. I didn’t know about any of this shit…Computer assisted butt-wipe vendor selection. I mean, what if I like to have Charmin in the shitter in case I get a late starter? What if I do pay too much for it at Rouse’s? Lightbulbs? Router bits? Damn, Third…” He looked around the parking lot of the smallish three-story office building surrounded by trees just east of the Jackson airport. Third took a short swig from a silver flask, didn’t offer.

“Whatcha gotta do if you want to stay in business. Business people have to talk their shit. Like it’s a religion or something. Talk, talk, more talk. And we gotta listen. Get lawyers and salesmen and marketing or money folks involved and they talk some more. You got lawyered smart up front on the business end, cuts down on a lot of that shit, and between you and me nobody wants to do business with Liz Vernier. That’s good, ‘cause no matter who or what else you round up for day to day lawyering, knowing she’s there is enough to keep everybody honest.” He handed Bobby a business card. “This man here stays on top of who’s honest for you, including Annabelle and me. Even Liz Vernier.”

“Background Checks. Forensic Accounting Services? Why do I need all that?”

“Vendor and placement kickbacks, vendor financial stability, true discount structures. He’s an ex-FBI accountant who knows or can find out all about everybody you’re dealing with, can read your books forward and backward and reports to nobody but you. Spot a half-point skim all the way from Chicago. Best friend a business man can have. Honest, too. He shot a man once who tried to bribe him. Well, actually now, he shot the man twice. Or maybe three times. Anyways, once was just the only time anybody tried to bribe him and lived to tell about it.”

Third hit the flask again. “Ya know, Bobby. I don’t mind doin’ business. But if had to listen to business motherfuckers talk about doin’ business all the time like they do, I’d be an alcoholic.”

Bobby understood how Third felt, offered to drive. Third took him up on it, hit the flask again. Bobby glanced over and Third was gone before they got out of Jackson. He was a nice man, and no shit thank God Third and Annabelle had taken Swamp Vue of his shoulders and kept it real. But when Third slept in the car? He wasn’t angelic like Carrie Louise. In fact, along about Hattiesburg Bobby rolled the window down again and left it.

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Bobby B – Swamp Vue

Late January 2007 – Arnault’s Bayou Boater – Find Your Paradise on the Water

“Swamp Vue?” Arnault the Third lifted his cap, scratched his head. “Enclosed you say?”

“Yes sir. Standard boat technology, Lexan canopies. Lighter than glass and stronger. What they use on astronaut visors. We can do little four-to-six-seaters for fishing and drinking, and up to twenty, twenty-two on the back-to-back tourist traps. We do those double pontoon like a lake party boat on a diet, with a Merc or Yamaha outboard. I’m not talkin’ little camper trailer houseboats. Plenty of people have little houseboats you can buy. Swamp Vues are swamp boats, enclosed.”

“I’ve seen some Florida boys put Jet Ski packs on swamp runners. Claim it’s a more modern approach.”

“Maybe for open water or bay runnin’, but you start sucking the swamp into a hole, hopin’ to push it out for forward motion? You have a recipe for failure. We smoked a few tryin’. You know what’s in the swamp?”

“I do. Best to be-ridian the Flo-ridians, I say. ” Arnault snorted, tossed a dogeared NADA used boat price guide to left edge of his desk where the wall stopped it. “Custom paint?”

“We have a woman can paint anything, any kind of way. She’s not the friendliest, or the best lookin’, and she don’t talk much. But she can paint. Bass boat glitter, NASCAR colors, you name it. Even portraits.”

“Portraits?”

“She projects pictures on whatever, sketches it out, fills them in.” Bobby fanned the photoshopped boat pictures. “One man wanted his wife off his be-hind for the boat, so he had her picture painted on the fan tail rudder of a custom two-seater prop drive.”

“I’ll be damned.” Arnault Three tapped a few of the pictures before he opened the back door of his office, lit a cigarette and motioned for Bobby to follow him out into the boat yard. “Just how long you been sellin’ boats, son? This is off-season for boat salesmen.”

“Weekends for a while. Pictures at boat shows, fish-offs. Everybody says you’re the boat dealer of all boat dealers, so I figured I’d come here first. Beat the Springtime boat salesman rush.”

“Beat it hard and large. Weekends?”

“I still go to school, week days.”

“School is a good thing. Education is a better one. You say these boats are your idea?”

“Yeah. Couldn’t build one by myself, but I could see ‘em sittin’ in the scrap yard. Found some people who know how, and we set up in an old machine shop. The sheet metal man came all the way from Kansas. Used to work for Cessna.”

“Well, if he could make ‘em fly, they oughta float. Tell me again why you did this?”

“Lots of people, when they think swamp, they streak their shorts like this girl I know, thinkin’ about snakes fallin’ out of trees. Or worryin’ about their kids ‘cause of gators doing things they only do on TV like jumpin’ in boats after babies and dogs. My Mawmaw wanted to see the swamp again before she died, but getting’ out in it would have killed her before she got to enjoy it. So there’s old people, wheelchair people, people who can’t handle the heat or the bugs. I asked around, seems everybody has an idea for who needs Swamp Vue. From the Girl Scouts to bootleggers.”

“Enclosed swamp skimmers and tour platforms. Never thought I’d see the day. You’re gonna give us a whole generation of swamp pussies, youngster. You can live with that?”

“I figure there’s way more curious swamp pussies out there than gator hunters, Mr. Arnault, and they all have credit cards.”

Arnault looked over his boat yard, seemed not to notice his cigarette had hit the filter and died.

“I’ll take two of the platforms for personal. We have a tour business up bayou west of Annadale. And looky here, Bobby, were doin’ business and all, you call me Third, like people who know me. Sounds like turd, and I’ll answer to either one, but I know the difference.”

“Yes sir. Is that Mr. Third, or –”

“Third. You call on the phone, you get my Jenny Craig poster girl daughter, say ‘Bobby B for Third’. I’ll pick up. You can put one of anything you can build in here on consignment, any time they’re ready. Take custom orders off ‘em, sell ‘em as is. They start movin’ we’ll work out some financing with you to keep ‘em on the lot.” He walked Bobby over the crushed shells to the big chain-link gates. “Craziest shit I ever saw, enclosed swamp boats. Call me when you got ‘em welded up. I’ll need to carry some folks down bayou and have a look, talk paint.”

“Would that be before, or after. On the Jenny Craig.”

“You gotta make the drive on a weekday for that one.” Arnault lit another cigarette, put a hand on Bobby’s shoulder. “Betcha a dollar it’ll be worth the trip.” He grinned, winked. “Either way, it’s education. Not school.”

May 2007 – Houma, LA

Carrie Louise looked over her shoulder, her feet wobbling in her heels, prom dress rustling with every step. “Goddammit, Bobby, why couldn’t you have driven a real car tonight?”

“You can stop walking. Junior’ll be along in a few.”

“In a tractor! A Goddam tractor! Last year we went to that noses-up-their-butt’s country club prom in Arizona…And this year I get halfway to my senior prom with a paisley tuxedo wearing excuse factory in a dead piece of shit boat car that same dumbass excuse factory thought was a good idea, and now we get carried the rest of the way in a tractor?”

“Hey, the tux is an eBay classic. And we’ll still be there on time.”

“And we’re still going to prom in a fucking tractor! You don’t see the problem with that?”

“Chauffer driven tractor, and it has an airconditioned cab. That’s where I got the idea from the scrap yard about the covered swamp boat business and the boat car for adverti –”

“Hoo-ray for Bobby fucking B, boy genius. I didn’t know spending a weekend with Aunt Liz setting up that boo-shit Swamp Vue business meant I had to be your first humongous prom night fail.”

“The boat car was just for show. It was running fine the other day, I don’t know why –”

“I don’t care ‘why’, and the ‘other day’ wasn’t prom. God Dammit, Bobby…” She saw the row of blinding lights on Junior’s tractor make the turn a quarter mile away. “I think I might hate you forever for this one. For. Ever.”

Bobby B – The Jamabalaya Dream

Early July 2006 – Environmental Recycling – Gentilly Landfill – New Orleans, LA

Bobby looked across the field of broken machinery and salvage from Katrina and saw more cool stuff than he could think of uses for.

“Whattaya think, Eldridge? Heaven, or what?”

“Looks like mountains of broken shit to me.” Junior Eldridge scanned the field trying to see what Bobby saw, but decided no one ever saw what Bobby did. Except Carrie Louise. And there’d been times he’d seen her throw up her hands, exasperated. Or, like Junior was, confused.

“You can’t see it?” Bobby’s eyes were as big as a four-year-old at Christmas. The skinny Santa Claus, with so much white beard and hair all you could see was nose and glasses, handed him a clipboard. Bobby signed the waiver and took the roll of orange duct tape and the Sharpie, headed off into the junk.

Late July 2006 – Used-to-be-abandoned Celitore’s Machine Shop, West of Houma, LA

The eighteen-wheeler pulled up in front of Celitore’s Machine Shop on the narrow two-lane that dead ended a few miles away at the old Milchem mud farm. Bobby had rounded up as many friends and still-looking-for-work Katrina locals, including a couple of ex-Celitore’s employees, as he could put in the back of his old pickup. The eighteen wheeler’s crane arm unloaded parts of boats, swamp skiffs, cabins from tractors and combines, a couple of single engine planes, outboard motors and all the salvageable aluminum and light sheet steel Bobby could get the Katrina salvage yard to load up.

Senior Eldridge stood between Bobby and his son, an arm around both their shoulders, looked over the parts scattered around between the machines and through the open hanger sized door into the back lot of Celitore’s old shop. “What the hell you plan on buildin’ th’all this shit, Bobby?”

“Boats, Mr. Eldridge. Air conditioned swamp boats. Came to me in a dream.”

“I was you I’d stop eatin’ Mama Roche’s Jamabalaya. She gets her sausage over to Rupert’s.” He crushed out a cigarette under his workboot, gave Bobby a sideways glance. “Shit’ll make you crazy. Before it kills you.”

Late August 2006 – Celitore’s

Carrie Louise had on work boots with her cutoffs and tank top, her hand on a SURF LOUISIANA surfboard with a metal room fan bolted to the back end like a propeller driven swamp boat, the board stuck on a pole set in a cut-off whiskey barrel full of cement. She was toe kicking the barrel a little harder than absently.

“Bobby, I don’t want to learn how to weld.”

“Every party has a pooper. You don’t wanna learn you can hang and watch me.”

“Imagine the joyous memory that’s gonna bring me in the old folks home. Me and that ol’ numb-nuts whatsisdoodley, I forget his name because he was so boring, we were a real pair of weldin’ demons down to the machine shop.” She walked around the surfboard pole, hanging on it like a lamp post. “I want to go to Lafayette before school starts. To a real movie. Not X-Men but something with half a plot. And I want to eat some of that shrimp done up right three kinds of ways like they do it at LeCroix’s.”

“Half a plot with some slow, noisy slobbery kissing and shrimp roulette?”

“Only if you make me. If we leave early we can do all that and be home by midnight, can’t we?”

She could work him and didn’t even know she was doing it. Carrie had always liked Lafayette for some reason, even when they were little kids and one of their parents drove them up for a cinnamon pancakes and ice cream lunch after church. Lafayette was just enough college town, a little touch of metro with some lingering old school coon ass where you could still eat legitimate Cajun and listen to old farts play Zydeco. She’d make him dance with her like she did when she was ten. Uptown bayou girl. Damn. If he said ‘yes’, there’d be no welding lesson. But there’d be a shower, some happy girl rowdy sex, a boring ass chick flick and dinner outside Lafayette with a couple of no-ID-check beers. The dancing part would suck. And four fucking hours round trip in the car. They’d talk all the way there and she’d sleep most of the way home. Which wasn’t so bad. He thought she looked almost angelic when she was quiet and asleep, something he couldn’t tell a soul but felt all the same. His Mawmaw used to say Joli de fleurs printemps. Pretty as spring flowers. Prettier the quieter and sleepier she got. He tossed his grease rag into an oil stained wooden box, checked the clock. Noon fifteen.

“Pick a movie, Roche. If you’re waitin’ on me, you’re backin’ up.”

 

Thanks to Environmental Recycling in Lexington, KY,  for the Katrina salvage info call. That’s one of their pictures, helping clean up after Katrina

Bobby B – Only Half Stupid

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – July 2005

Elizabeth Vernier waved off one assistant, handed another a china coffee cup and saucer and held up two fingers before she got back to the man sitting across from her.

“We’ll take fifteen grand as good will to recoup the funeral and sixty days living expenses. Six grand a month maintenance, post taxes and fees, until we put an offer together we can both live with. Say ‘yes’ or he’s a traumatized minor, and you’re a big, bad oil company.” She leaned back into the uncomfortable Victorian love seat, drummed her fingers on her knee. “I can have this in front of a sympathetic judge tomorrow morning.”

“Six grand?”

“It’s low, but acceptable.”

“What I should be asking is why.”

“So you’ll take it and look like a hero with your homies at Magnolia and buy your child bride something pretty with your bonus.”

That was low. I can go twelve without touching my phone.”

“I don’t want twelve coming back on me. When I bend you over for the settlement next spring I want you to look like the cheap, uncaring bastards you are. Sign it at six, Brad. Or go to court in the morning where we both know twenty will be a gift and hero goes out the window along with your bonus and happy trophy wife.”

“You’re a gold-plated, sapphire crusted, oil dipped bitch, Liz Vernier.”

“Thank you, Brad. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me this morning.” He signed, pushed the document her way, she flipped it up with a polished nail. “Leave the doors open on your way out.”

***

“Two coffees, straight and strong.” The assistant set the coffee on an antique table between the curved Victorian love seats, pulled the office doors closed behind her.

“Any questions, Carrie Louise?”

“Why did you go low?”

“Keep them over a barrel, anywhere they look. He can’t argue with us or we go to court. He’s an oil company, your Bobby is a damaged waif kept alive by the charity of neighbors. Court is the last place they want to be right now. We know Bobby’s liabilities and he can live on six grand, easy, and you can give your mother more than enough to feed him.”

“But you said settlement in the spring and that’s all court, ain’t it?”

“Isn’t it. And yes, it’s all court. I’ll ask twenty-five, we’ll puff up and sit on it down to the wire. I know they’ll waste both of our time fighting anything over twenty. When they finally lose we’re a year further down the road, they’ll go buy us a bunch of crap financial instruments that won’t mature until doomsday…” She waved her hand dismissively, tested her coffee, set it back on the table.

“On the courthouse steps I’ll deal us down to seventeen to keep them out of a drawn out court battle with pictures of Bobby dressed like Huckleberry Finn everywhere they look. But only if they’ll write us a check. They’ll bite, I’ll take two off the top and buy that house I’ve been looking at in the wine country. You and I will go shopping for institutions to act as wallets for Bobby’s money that you will learn to manage. We’ll cross those bridges when the time comes. In the meantime, go to the library and read what you can stomach on long-term and short-term interest only payouts from various financial instruments, and the tax burdens on those payouts. Put some scenarios together, see what Bobby’s allowance would be living on the interest. Call me with any questions.”

“Okay.” She closed her new leather folio, dropped it and the $200 pink Italian fountain pen, both gifts from Aunt Liz, into last year’s school backpack. “Shooo-eee, Aunt Liz. Was Bobby’s daddy really worth seventeen million dollars?”

“No, it’s worth seventeen million for Magnolia not to look like shit in the press and have OSHA up their asses for a couple of years levying millions of dollars of fines every time one of their platform workers sneezes.” She tested the coffee again, drank half the cup. “Bobby’s daddy, from what I gleaned, wasn’t worth much of a shit for anything but roughneckin’ and keeping Budweiser in business.”

“He wasn’t mean, though. He just kinda left all that up to Bobby’s momma.”

“And she kinda said ‘fuck this’ and handed it all back to him. And didn’t get a damn thing for eighteen years of indentured servitude but a trash bag full of cheap clothes, a son who won’t talk to her and a pansy greeting card artist.”

“That’s why I’m going to law school? So when me and Bobby get married and he fucks up I get half?”

“So you get it all.”

“All seventeen million?”

“Fifteen, sweetie. I’ve got a house to buy, remember?”

***

Bobby’s Living Room Houma, Louisiana – July 2005

“But you won’t will you? Fuck up and make us get divorced?” Carrie Louise switched off the Charlie’s Angels re-run and shook Bobby’s knee again, harder.

“Hey! Come on –”

“Bobby, you need to be listening.”

“It’s okay. Only the half stupid one would have made it twenty minutes in a real swamp. Fifteen million dollars, that’s what you said? No shit, CL, that’s honkin’. When?”

“April. Maybe May. Nobody stalls Aunt Lizzie much. And you still weren’t listening to me.”

“Yes I was. You wanna know will I maybe have a girlfriend on the side ‘cause of you not sexing me up like a millionaire deserves. And the answer is no.”

“Good. Because –”

“I’ll sure as hell have more than one, CL. That kinda money? I can afford a butt load of girlfriends, spread out all over.”

“Bobby, you listen and listen good. I won’t –”

He reached around, pulled her into him on the couch, kissed her.

“Well gawl-damn, Bobby Buisson. Why didn’t you just tell me to shut the hell up?”

“’Cause I’m only half stupid?”

She chewed “Right answer” out on his lower lip and smashed him into the back of the couch.

***

Houma, Louisiana – September 5th, 2005

Bobby, Carrie Louise and Momma Roche, all in new rubber waders from the WalMart in Meridian, Mississippi where they’d waited out the hurricane, stood in the street in front of their houses. Momma tried to cry, was so shocky she couldn’t. Carrie Louise was about to squeeze Momma and Bobby’s hands off. Everywhere, houses were covered in a chocolate pudding mud, like the sky had taken a giant shit and covered their town with it. Windows broken, chunks of roof gone. The bayou behind them was still sloshing out of it’s banks, choked with debris and dead livestock. There was an upside down cow where Bobby’s detached garage and his daddy’s workshop had been. His car, like Carrie Louise’s daddy who’d decided to ride out the hurricane in place, were nowhere to be seen.

“Eldridge Junior said his front loader came through okay. He’ll be by in a day or two to carry off the cow.” Bobby had a hard time believing what he’d just said. “I heard they’re truckin’ plywood all the way from Montana. We oughta have it all fixed up by Mardi Gras. Christmas, maybe.” Bobby wasn’t sure he believed either of those, what with having to live in one of Aunt Liz’s condos with Carrie Louise and Momma Roche and go to school somewhere outside of Phoenix. He shook CL’s death squeeze. “We ever do get married, and have us a daughter? Katrina is out of the name pool. Just sayin’.”

Momma Roche broke, hugged them both like they would blow away, and cried so hard they were afraid she might choke on it and die.

Almost Halloween 2005, a golf resort condo outside Phoenix, AZ 

Bobby pulled his phone out of his jeans. Unknown and an area code he didn’t recognize. All the calls from insurance companies and contractors over Katrina, he answered it anyway, listened, stepped out on the balcony. He talked for a minute, left his phone on a chair, slid the door closed when he came back in.

“Momma R? Mr. Roche turned up. Passed out drunk in my car at a rest stop outside Memphis. The cop said it looked like he’d been living in it for at least six weeks. Puke and vodka bottles and trash all over, gone to taking a leak and laying cable in the back. He’s in the hospital, crazier than a hoot owl, might not make it. I told them to burn the car and I’d get online when they told me it was scrap and kill the title. He said they’d had him about a week and apologized, but what with Katrina fucking everything up…Sorry. What the cop wanted to know from you was did you want to post his bail and claim him, in case he makes it?”

“Is the policeman still on the phone out there?”

“Yes ma’am. He said he’d give you time to –”

“You go back out there and tell him no. I don’t mean any kind of maybe no, or polite no, Bobby. You tell him Virginia Roche is on record saying Fuck. No. That miserable son of a bitch can rot in hell and don’t anybody need to apologize to me. His sorry drunk ass is Jesus’s problem now, not mine.” She waited, caught Bobby’s hand before he left. “When I’m gone and folks talk about all this, you tell them Katrina might have fucked up a lot of things, but she fixed a few things can only be fixed by a hurricane.”

The Art of Drowning – Episode 3

Dreams, Blood and Sand – by Ash N. Finn

Empathy is hard to come by when veracity has to be cloaked in madness to survive. Evelyn watches the visitor walk away into the sea breeze from her window and wonders if she will see him again.

Xylophones, the sound of hailstones hitting them in a competition of accelerating crescendos is what she hears when an episode grips her. They give her Xanax here whenever they notice her cupping her hands over her ears. She saw her visitor’s eyes darting over to the packet on the coffee table, taking in the evidence that at least that part of her story is true. What can be seen must be true. Does he smell the airborne stench of rotting matter, too, she wanted to know. He shook his head at this. No, he doesn’t.

Of course, he thinks she is crazy. On the surface of her existence in this place for crazy people she wears the crazy outfit like a triangular road sign, giving off a warning to navigate the dangerous bends ahead with caution. Loose rocks might tumble and crush you regardless, even if you avoid speeding off a cliff and plunging into the sea to join all the lost ones in it.

Reality is so much more than people want to acknowledge. They stick to the visible mostly and let themselves be fooled by it. She knows it is the invisible we must strain to see if the evil force is to be stopped. He asked her to explain what she knows of the evil force. There is a watery depth in this man’s eyes which made her think that here is someone who has taken deep dives into the invisible inside himself and that inside others.

Dust settles on everything so quickly she told him then, and he watched in silence while she dusted the framed portraits above the bed on the far side of her room, waiting for her to continue. He must have noticed how tidy the room is, but didn’t comment on it. She is sure his alert investigative mind retained all he saw and heard during his visit in minute detail. It calms her when there is order to the visible around her. In these parts, so close to the sea, dust combines with the fine sand the sea breeze sends and enters through the smallest cracks in the walls. Keeping the window closed at all times doesn’t manage to keep it out.

Ink drawings of her younger self cannot suffer to come in contact with sand for long, much like her present self. She washed her hands and face after dusting them, then sealed the dust cloth in a plastic sandwich bag before throwing it into the small bin under the sink. What is worse than the dust is when you wake up on the beach, your legs buried in sand that is still moist from the tide that must have swept over you while you were out cold, dried blood mixed with sand caked to your naked skin. You turn your head to cough the salt water out of your lungs and stare right into the face of a dead woman. You turn the other way and there are rows and rows of skulls. Skulls and bones as far as you can see. At that point, her visitor asked her if that was a recent dream she had.

Not the first time it happened. The first time she was there and made it out alive like a resurrected corpse dragging herself away from the beach on all fours, but she didn’t tell him it was real the first time. If he goes there and sees for himself and comes back to visit, she might reveal to him that the first time was many years ago and real.

Every episode brings that same dream is all she has told him for now. Only recently, the face of the dead woman is a new one each time. The last one looked like the missing woman the detective is trying to find.

Clouds formed from sea foam and darkened by sand sucked in from the beach are carried toward her now by the strengthening breeze. The unbearable putrid stench it delivers makes Evelyn gag. She closes the window in what she knows is a futile attempt at shielding herself from its evil power.

Holy wells are what her mother and aunts would have prescribed for her, were they still alive. Deep inside her they are still alive for as long as she remembers them, she reminds herself. She had left Ireland a long time ago, and as far as she knows there aren’t any holy wells around here. If there are any, the detective might know of them. She will try to remember to ask him about it next time he visits, if there is a next time that is.

A protective shield can be fashioned in many ways she muses, but to choose the most effective one is difficult when you’re not sure who or what has tried to drown you and might come after you to eliminate the risk of you telling. The detective promised that any information she had shared would be followed up discreetly and treated as confidential. Will that be enough to protect her?

Old age has crept up on her, giving license to no longer worry as much about the consequences of telling. She has been the crazy lady for so long now that there are more times when she believes herself to be crazy than not. Is that a sign of sanity or madness?

Screams and shouting in the corridor outside interrupt her thoughts. The door comes crashing into her room and flattens the coffee table on impact. She should have told the detective it was real the very first time.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts