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“So the question is, if the homeless thing was a ruse, how come you were soaping yourself up in the harbor?”
Billy takes a sip of Pacifico Claro and grins. “Number one, it helps to explain why that homeless dude is cleaner than most. Number two, when people think you’re homeless, you can get away with all kinds of deviant behavior. And no one’s ever touched this place. I think they’re afraid of me.”
He picks out a ceramic bowl glazed with tropical flowers, and fills it with gumbo eternel.
“There were times, of course, when I actually was homeless. I recall a summer in Sheridan, Wyoming. There was an arts colony nearby, and they were really sweet to me. Even invited me to a barbecue. Sadly, one of them was a gay Jewish art critic from Memphis, and it didn’t take him long to figure me out. That’s how I ended up in Billings.”
David takes a spoonful of broth and lets it soak in. “Wow! Something sweet in there.”
“Cinnamon. Always a provocative choice. And a bit of persimmon.”
“A toasty autumn stew.”
He scoops deeper and comes up with persimmon, a bit of onion and a circular slice of meat. When he bites it, he discovers a spongey texture (a little like Portobello mushroom) and a tangy salt-water edge.
“Wow! What’s that?”
“I thought you’d enjoy that.”
“And thus dies a perfectly good metaphor.”
Billy gives a satisfied smile. “Not my intention, but you did arouse my curiosity.” He takes a spoonful for himself. “My. That is tasty. Much better when you slice it up. Not a big fan of dick stew.”
David performs a spit-take on his beer and wipes his mouth. “Now there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day.”
“‘Less you work in a gay bathhouse.”
David snorts and slaps the table. “You are an entirely funnier man than Billy Redman.”
“I gotta say, it does me good to have a couple people who know the terrible truth. When I’m not hiding from homicidal baseball fans, I can be a damn funny guy.”
David scans the harbor. The day is almost intolerably sunny, as if someone cranked up the brightness knob on a TV. In actuality, he is pre-assembling a rather risky question.
“Billy? Have you ever considered… coming out?”
If it’s possible, Billy’s eyes get bluer. David’s not sure what that means, but at least he’s got his attention.
“It’s been ten years. You’ve done the time. You had your life stolen from you. I think that people would like to have the chance to forgive you. Look at all the screw-up celebrities who return from rehab, and sex scandals – from prison, for God’s sake, and have terrific second careers.”
“But those people are… jokes.”
“Yes. And you are, too. You will always be that bastard who stole the pennant. You will always be defined by that one mistake, while the rest of us – especially myself – make four or five mistakes just like it, on the hour, and get away with it. That is the geoduck that life has thrown into your stew.”
“But I like geoduck.”
“Okay. Scratch the geoduck. Let’s go back to the joke. Right now, you are a sad joke. For all America knows, you’ve gone off somewhere and committed suicide, or you’re sitting in a log cabin in Saskatchewan composing manifestos on a Royal typewriter.”
“Man, you got some imagination. And specifically a Royal typewriter!”
“Had one when I was a kid. But listen, you’re the baseball Unabomber, you’re a sad, sad joke. Wouldn’t you rather be a funny joke? In a really demented sort of way, my friend, you have been touched by greatness. Embrace the joke. Own it! In fact, use the joke. Make your reappearance as the leader of the Billy Saddle Trio. No doubt, most people will come to hear you out of curiosity, the buzz of infamy – but I dare any one of them to deny your talent. I would be overjoyed to be part of…”
“All right already!” Billy’s laughing, holding up a hand. “Geez, buddy! You are into this. If I promise to think about it, will you knock it off for a while?"
“Sorry. But one other thing. Talk to Abbey. See what she thinks.”
“Oh, I get it,” says Billy. “You’re ganging up on me.”
“Haven’t even mentioned it to her. But great minds do think alike.”
“Said Hitler to Mussolini.”
“Oh yeah?” says David. “What do Billy Saddle and Michael Jackson have in common?”
Billy chuckles. “Okay. What?”
“They’re both liable to grab balls when you really wish they wouldn’t.”
Billy snickers and rubs his beard. “Wow. Me and Michael Jackson. That’s impressive.”
Photo by MJV