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Number Nine: Devil’s Tower
The endpoint for the front nine is suitably dramatic: a twelve-foot rendering of Wyoming’s striking landmark, surrounded by fallen columns of hexagonal basalt. Blaine has opted to send his fairway straight through in a trio of hills, with tunnel openings at the apex of each valley. Land your ball in the center valley – inside the tower – and you receive the best result, followed by the first valley and the last. Blaine’s plans call for a green featuring the state logo, a cowboy on a bucking bronco.
Two weeks later, as David could have predicted, Thomas is still in Ocean Shores, paying daily visits to the course, and absolutely fixated on the latest find, the incarnation of his father’s long-ago postcard. What’s more, he has flown out his wife Gillian, who reminds David of Katherine Hepburn, one of those slim-hipped East Coast tomboys who could be seventy or thirty. She is absolutely devoid of pretension, which makes her an absolute delight.
Elena insists on inviting the Blaines for Thanksgiving, and their company is well worth the extra cooking. They banter like retired Vaudevilleans, and their repartee is colored with a mutual respect rare among the long-married (most of whom, in David’s experience, seem to be auditioning for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”). Gillian possesses a mental library of Jewish jokes (taught her by her Jewish friends) that David is determined to pilfer.
“So the rancher says, ‘Listen, Oiving…’”
“Oiving!” says Gillian. “Nice touch.”
“It’s a simple thing. When you want the horse to walk, you say ‘Oy.’ When you want the horse to trot, you say ‘Oy-oy.’”
“What about when you want the horse to dance?”
David clicks into speed-strategy. He’s at his jazz gig with Elena, Pablo, Derek and the Blaines. As far as anyone knows, Abbey’s a friend, and it would seem to be, well, kosher to dance with a friend.
“You say ‘Oy-oy-oy.’”
“Okay.” He pats Gillian on the shoulder. “I’ll get the rest of it later.”
Thomas provides an unwitting cover by launching into a joke about yarmulkes. David attempts to look not entirely comfortable with the one-arm dancing thing, but then Isaiah kicks “Funny Valentine” into a waltz. There are only two options in waltzing: grace, or picking yourself up off the floor. He settles for grace.
“One-two-three, one-two-three, well this is new.”
“Dancing in front of my wife.”
“No, we’ve done that. But that was before we started… consorting.”
“Consorting! Ain’t we fancy?”
“Just in case your wife reads lips. Tomorrow night? Seven?”
“That’s a good boy. I borrowed some costumes from the drama department.”
“Ooh! One-two-three. What kind?”
“No way, Andre. That’s my incentive plan. You show up, one-two-three, you find out.”
“Teasing little bitch.”
“Oh now don’t get me all one-two-three hot in front of your…Uh-oh.”
David follows her gaze to find Elena steaming across the floor with a determined expression. She greets them with a phony smile.
“May I cut in?”
“By all means,” says Abbey.
Isaiah segues to “Dancing on the Ceiling,” two-time, and David sways with his wife, discovering another way in which he has become spoiled. Even before her weight-gain, Elena’s breasts were always interfering in their choreography. This is, of course, the least of his worries. Elena gives him a thorough sizing-up and speaks.
“Is there some place we could go for a talk?”
“Sure. Follow me.”
He leads her down the long field of dining tables to the entrance hall, where a left turn takes them into a dead end furnished with pay phones. He leans back against a shelf.
Elena folds her hands together and looks at him but not precisely.
“In future, could you not dance with Abbey in front of your sons?”
Well! Things just got interesting.
“Abbey’s my friend. And Derek’s favorite teacher. Where’s the harm?”
Elena is biting her lip, working up the necessary hydrothermal pressure to say hurtful things.
“Because you’re sleeping with her.”
“Yes. And you’re sleeping with some chub… with some guy in Aberdeen.”
Her expression turns fish-like. He has caught her unawares.
“I have no idea what you…”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Is this the part where the woman develops a parallel universe where she hasn’t done anything wrong?”
Elena looks around to make sure no one’s eavesdropping. And then she keeps lying.
“Oskar is a friend. From the Overeaters group.”
“Oh stop it. I’ve got a video.”
“Billy trailed you and caught a nice little feeding and makeout session. So please don’t fuck with me.”
She’s crumbling. David coaches himself to stay tough.
“But… why would he do that?”
“Because he’s a friend. And he couldn’t tell me without proof. I suppose he wanted to buy my freedom.”
“So you could be with Abbey?”
“At the time, I was trying to stay true to my wife.”
Uh-oh. Starting to cry. Stay cool.
“But… you wouldn’t make love to me.”
“And you wouldn’t stop stuffing your face. And when I helped you out by covering your time at the shop, you responded by going out and fucking another man. That’s how little you loved me.”
“It’s not true! It’s not…”
She presses her face to the wall and begins to sob. David waits her out.
“What do we do now?” she says. “Do we get a divorce?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“What about the boys?”
“They’ll be okay. Derek’ll hate us for a while. But listen: let’s not do anything right away, okay? For their sake, let’s be civil. Just, no more bullshit.”
“In a bizarre kind of way, I’m sort of… glad you’re getting some attention.”
“Can you tell them I went home?”
“Are you okay to drive?”
Out of the tears comes a hiccup of laughter.
“It’s four blocks, honey.”
“Okay. Take care.”
He kisses her on the cheek and turns before he does something stupidly kind. The tables pass by in a blur, the blur of life irrevocably changed, and he’s surprised because he knew this was coming, it shouln’t be hitting him this hard. Isaiah has launched his cue: Strauss, the Blue Danube. How in hell is he supposed to play a gig? But he knows he will, the music will drag him to the present moment and hold him there like a thumbtack. As he nears the lounge everybody’s smiling, like some weirdly overhappy scene in a musical. Abbey is paired with a tall, thin man, the two of them lacing the floor with loops and spins. Isaiah rushes to the finish, the man drops Abbey into a dip and smiles. It’s Billy.
Between Abbey’s affections and Thomas’s cross-examinations, Billy is able to sing only three songs. David is determined to get him alone for a few minutes, so he calls a break. Billy steps into Isaiah’s camper and responds with appropriate awe.
“Wow! I think I’ll just move in.”
Isaiah grins and slides behind the bar. “You’re not the first to say that. Martini?”
“Is that a functioning bar?”
“Okay. How ‘bout a White Russian?”
“Oh! I get it. I’d like a martini, please.”
“Gin or vodka?”
“Why don’t you tell me.”
“Gin it is!”
Billy and David scoot into either side of the table and adjust their legs so they don’t end up playing footsie.
“Okay,” says David. “Explain yourself.”
“Well, you know that Blues fan from Centralia? The one who ratted me out?”
“That was me.”
They pause while Isaiah creates an ungodly racket with his shaker.
“That little talk you gave me,” says Billy. “The one about my big comeback. Embracing my infamy. The idea intrigued me. But I needed some more proof. And I had a very interesting standing offer from my pal Frankie Minor – that’s the brief Italian man who keeps flirting with Abbey.”
“That’s Frankie!” says David. “Bastard.”
“Ah, he’s harmless. He’d flirt with a rock if it had breasts.”
Isaiah serves them two perfect-looking martinis – Spanish olives on toothpicks, little crystals of ice hugging the surface like naiads.
“Impressive!” says Billy.
Our offerings are limited but high-quality. To the return of the Jedi.”
He leans over to clink their glasses, and they all take a sip.
“Mmm,” says David, then turns to Billy. “Standing offer?”
“Yes,” says Billy. “Damn that’s good. You know, I have a recurring dream where Frankie gives me a bear hug and prevents me from making that fateful grab. In a parallel universe, he is worshipped by Blues fans as a god. And his name, you know, is actually Quattrochi. He was named after his dad, but he didn’t like ‘Junior,’ so they called him Minor. Wait! I need another drink to cease the digressions.”
Isaiah slams the bar. “Cease the digressions!”
Billy swallows and smiles. “I missed you jackasses. Anywho, poor Frankie got a divorce this summer and was itching for a vacation. Said he could get us a cabin in Sequim, so I said, I’ll see you there. The next day, I called the Daily World, tipped ‘em off, grabbed a bus. I’m awfully sorry I had to get Derek involved.”
“Oh yeah,” says David. “All that cash and attention. It’s been brutal.”
“Ha! I did sorta hope he’d get something out of it.”
“He got a cheerleader out of it.”
“Well! In that case, I think the little bastard owes me a steak dinner.”
“That’s what I told him.”
“Well anyway, Frankie and I did some fishing, hung out at the casino, and meanwhile I used his laptop to keep up on the press coverage. You do a great interview, by the way. And thanks for the kind comments.”
“Overall, I was impressed with the relatively calm nature of the coverage. I also kept an eye on the reader responses: only a couple of yahoos, and a lot of people saying, basically, Leave the guy alone already. I remember one exactly, a lady from Chattanooga. ‘I feel terrible about what we put that poor man through. If I met him tomorrow, I would make him an apple pie.’ By last week, I was teetering forward, just about ready to make my big return. But I’ll tell ya, you spend that many years digging a trench, it’s hard to get back out. The final push came when I wandered onto Derek’s blog and read that story of his. After that, I really had no choice. He’s a brilliant kid, you know.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Billy bites down on his olive and pulls out the toothpick.
“So where do you go next?” asks Isaiah.
“Not sure. How does one conduct a reemergence?”
David smiles. “Well, we can put you in a tomb for three days. Or, you’ve got a standing offer from Sports Illustrated.”
Billy grins. “Well! I guess that would do it.”
“And I believe I speak for the band when I say, the Billy Saddle Trio awaits your blessing.”
Isaiah smiles. “I’ve always wanted to ride someone’s coattails.”
“Fantastic!” says Billy. “I am dying to sing. I tried a night of karaoke in Sequim, and I’ll tell ya, it sucked ass. You boys have got me all spoiled.”
David finishes his drink. “We are awfully good.”
And we’re awfully late, too,” says Isaiah. “We’d better head back.”
“Aye-aye maestro,” says Billy. “Thanks for the nutritional supplements.”
Photo by MJV