Friday, December 6, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 17-19

Chapter 17

THEY CALLED HIM Slug. Maybe it is because he liked to punch people. Maybe because he looked fat and somewhat slimy. Or maybe because he made people bleed. Either way, when Slug strode into a bar people cleared out of his way or ran for the exits. Except at the Mine Shaft.
In the Shaft on Saturday, as on any night, he was welcomed like family – surely a dysfunctional family, probably like yours or mine, but as family nonetheless.
Shorty slid a beer and two shots of whiskey his way with a welcoming nod of the head. He did the same for Slug’s two bodyguards, one a step behind each of his shoulders. Guys named Slug seldom need bodyguards, but most other guys named Slug are not president of outlaw motorcycle gangs either. As such, Slug had lots of enemies – some of the law enforcement variety and some of the law-breaking variety. His bodyguards were there to see that those meetings were rare or at least discouraged.
“They here?” Slug asked in a growly mumble best understood by Tarzan King of the Jungle or by old bartenders named Shorty, who nodded toward the back table.
Slug took both shot glasses between his right thumb and forefinger, opened his mouth wide and splashed them down in one flick of the wrist before walking over with his beer in the other hand.
Reuben, Larry and Buster watched the glacier of black ice slide their way. Black was the color for every season for Slug – t-shirt, vest, jeans and leather beret pulled down to his bushy black eyebrows. He was 320 if he was an ounce. Scraggly black hair was pulled back in a loose pony tail that hung to the middle of his back. He hadn’t shaved since the invention of the electric razor. Slug was 6-foot-4 without his leather boots on – like that ever happened – and his tattooed neck showcased an affinity for knives.
The president of the Black Lords sat down. The wooden chair moaned. Larry even emitted a tiny squeak of his own.
Slug raised his chubby arm and dismissed his sidekicks with a flip of a pudgy wrist and they retreated to the bar warily. Slug eyeballed Larry a bit, ignored Buster and turned his gaze to Reuben. Slug smiled, a gold tooth glittering, and said: “How’s it going Reuben?”
“Always good to see you, Slug,” he replied.
Larry and Buster snapped their heads toward Reuben seated between them. “You know him?” Larry asked in amazement.
“My neighbor from across the street,” Reuben smirked a bit.
“Tell Rose thanks for sending over the casserole while I was laid up,” Slug said. “Mighty nice of her.”
“She’s a whiz with that tuna,” Reuben replied.
“Were you ill?” Larry asked.
“Bad leg,” Slug said.
“Gout?” Buster joined the conversation.
“Allergic reaction,” Slug said.
“I’m allergic to bullets too,” Reuben laughed.
“Water under the bridge,” Slug said.
“Well thanks for agreeing to meet with us,” Reuben said. “I’m sure you’re a busy man.”
“July is my slow month. Whatcha need?”
“We need someone to teach us how to ride a Harley,” Reuben explained.
“Must be a thousand guys in these Hills who could do that. Why me?”
“We need someone we can trust to be discreet, who won’t remember seeing us, who won’t rat us out if something newsworthy were to happen in the near future,” Reuben said.
“Something illegal?”
“That about sums it up,” Reuben said.
“I think it can be arranged. When and where?”
“Sooner the better.”
“Tomorrow. Noon. At our ranch.”
“You have a ranch?” Buster said perplexed.
Slug paused and stared at him. Buster slunk down in his chair a couple inches. “If I say I have a ranch, I have a ranch.”
“We’ll be there,” Reuben said.
“Shorty can give you directions,” Slug said, getting up and pointing a thick finger at Buster. “And watch your mouth.”
Buster’s mouth hung agape as Slug and his posse vacated the building.
“What’d I say?” Buster said, holding his arms out. “What’d I say?”
“I don’t know,” Larry said, “but don’t say it again.”

Chapter 18

“TURN LEFT HERE,” Larry told Reuben.
“That must be it up there,” Buster said from the back of the van. The quarter-mile gravel driveway led to an immense A-frame log cabin. From the front it appeared no bigger than your usual two-story A-frame but it extended back about four times farther than any other they had ever seen.
A timber deck wrapped around as far as they could see. A couple hammocks hung from beams and an immense bar bulged out from the west side. It was attached to another deck with three six-person hot tubs sunk inside it. A half dozen shiny Harleys were parked out front, but what caught Buster’s eagle eye were the four topless ladies dangling their feet in one of the tubs.
The boys parked next to the Harleys and briefly sat in the van absorbing the sights.
“Wow, I bet the Sierra Club really hates these guys,” Larry said, admiring the yards and yards of dead trees needed to build the fort.
“Leave it to you to be admiring the logs when there are four Playboy bunnies tanning their tatas right in front of us,” Buster said.
“Well I won’t get the crap kicked out of me for drooling over their trees,” Larry said.
“Yes, mind your manners,” Reuben said. “Where is your wifey anyway?”
“She went into Rapid City to get her nipples pierced. Should keep her busy for a couple hours.”
“Ouch,” Larry muttered. “What are they gonna use – a power drill?”
Reuben chuckled and added. “It’ll give her another place to hang her fish hooks.”
“Very funny,” Buster tisked.
“At least we’ll know where to contact her when you’re taken to the morgue,” Larry said.
Just then two men who looked like they could’ve been from ZZ Top exited the house and waved them up.
“Best not to keep them waiting,” Reuben said, sliding the van door open and leading the troops onward.
The bearded duo met them at the steps. “You the dumb asses who don’t know how to ride?” asked the shirtless one in black sunglasses and blue jeans.
“We be them,” Reuben said introducing his partners.
“I’m Zeke,” the tall shirtless one said. “This is Snake.” Snake was shorter, about 6-foot, and wore a black Poison concert shirt and jeans. Both had a body mass index that indicated they preferred more red meat and potatoes and less tofu and greens.
“Your bikes are around back,” Zeke said, waving them to follow. They did as told and walked past the hot tubs and ladies, who waved politely. Reuben and Larry offered acknowledging tips of the head like four naked ladies was nothing new to them. Buster though stopped to shake hands with each of them. A scowl from Snake hurried him along.
“Is Slug around?” Reuben asked, walking alongside Zeke.
“No. Had some last-minute business in Denver. Told us to help you out.”
“Appreciate it,” Reuben said.
When they finally made it around to the back of the house, they saw three motorcycles leaning on their kickstands with several miles of barren prairie stretching beyond. They were about six miles east of Sturgis, well removed from the forest visible off in the distance to the west. The motorcycles were not at all like the pristine, immaculately detailed ones out front. These were stripped down pieces of metal with just the basics – two wheels, handle bars, an engine and a seat.
“Doesn’t look like we can hurt them too much,” Buster blurted.
Zeke cranked his head around and said to him: “Slug gave us two orders. Teach ‘em to ride and don’t let ‘em run over any of the bitches.”
“Did he say ‘ditches’?” Buster whispered in Larry’s ear beside him.
“No. He said ‘bitches.’ In the best meaning of the word I’m sure.”
“Don’t reckon I could get by with calling Candy that, no matter how nicely I said it.”
“It would be fun to watch you try though,” Larry added.
They gathered around the cycles and Zeke began giving them the lecture on Harley Etiquette 101. While his delivery was surprisingly eloquent, Zeke’s words were obscured by the distraction of his gesticulations with his arms. He was one of those people who spoke with grand waves of the arms punctuated by punches with his fists where periods and exclamation points should be.
Every time he made one of his grandiose gestures it caused the tattoos on his chest to move. Zeke had two giant lizards inked in red, one on each pec. The tails began somewhere below his belt line and stretched upward along the sides of his stomach. The lizard necks curled around each nipple and the heads met a couple inches apart just below his collar bone. When he waved an arm it looked like a lizard was taking a bite at the other. When he waved both arms it looked like an old Japanese movie. It was quite the sight to behold. As such, the distraction caused the teachers to absorb only about half of his instruction. The most important of which was: Before learning to go, know how to stop.
“Any questions?” Zeke asked.
While there should have been many, there was only one. Buster asked, “Do you have helmets for us?”
Zeke and Snake howled, slapped backs, punched shoulders and laughed some more. “Helmets are for women!” Zeke said.
“You a woman?” Snake asked.
“No,” Buster assured them.
“Then who’s first?” Zeke asked.
Larry exuberantly poked his hand in the air. Reuben half expected him to ask permission to use the restroom, but he didn’t. “I’ll go,” Larry said, swinging a leg over a hog and grabbing the handlebars. “Where should I go?”
“Out to the wooden fence and back for starters,” Snake said. “Slowly.”
Larry kick started it on the first try and was proud of the fact. He looked over his shoulder at Reuben and Buster and gave them a thumbs up. Buster smiled back and flipped him off.
It’s a scientific fact that once aboard a Harley Davidson a man’s testosterone level triples, his gonads enlarge and his nose hairs immediately grow an extra half inch. For Larry, the effects were no different. He revved the cycle a few times, enjoying the vibration between his thighs a bit too much, let it roar back down to a slow rumble for a few seconds and then gave it another jolt of gas. He let loose of the clutch, his head jerked back, the front tire popped off the ground, and despite a couple swerves left and right and a near wipe-out, Larry held firm and was off.
With both tires back on the ground, Larry didn’t let up on the gas, somehow managed a couple shifts of the clutch and headed straight for the wooden fence a couple hundred yards to the left. Still upright, it was soon obvious though that Larry wasn’t driving the bike, he was simply holding on for dear life.
The small gang of expert and novice on-lookers knew trouble when they saw it and trouble was shooting away from them at 50-miles per. They started jogging behind as Larry quickly covered the ground between where he’d started and the fence.
“Slow down!” Snake hollered.
“Hit the brake!” Zeke added.
Larry hit the brake, but it was the wrong one – the front brake. Fifteen feet before the fence, the front tire dug into the virgin prairie. The back tire began to rise off the ground. Larry’s butt started to leave the seat. The bike slid to a stop inches from the 2x6 planks. Larry cleared them by about five feet, ass over tea-kettle.
Larry rolled. Remained motionless for a good half minute, while the rest of the gang neared the fence. Larry pulled himself to his knees and was stretching his neck, presumably to see if it was still attached to his shoulders. Then it got interesting.
The fence was basically a corral extending from a wooden lean-to. The lean-to erupted into a chorus of cackles as a dozen six-foot tall brown birds with black heads and sharp-looking beaks burst from their haven. They spotted the red-headed intruder and were none to happy about their nap being interrupted. What man or bird ever is? The flock of emus broke into a sprint. It’s said those Australian ostrich-wanna-bes can hit thirty miles per hour. The emus were proving that theory correct as they closed in on Larry.
On one crank of his neck, Larry’s vision corrected enough for him to see the feathery dust bowl approaching. He wasn’t sure what it was but was sure it wasn’t good. He screamed to his feet and kick-started his skinny butt toward the fence from which he’d just over-flown.
Emus were on his tail, pecking and flapping and pecking some more. Larry screamed while his friends howled in glee. He caught some pecks on the shoulder and a nasty one on the back of his head before he reached the fence. It was six-foot high. Larry managed a head-first dive five feet, eleven inches high, scraping his belly on the way over the top board. The emus skidded to a stop. Larry landed eyeball to eyeball with Zeke’s steel-toed boots on the other side.
The emus flapped and cackled on their side. Reuben and Buster were embracing each other, trying to hold each other up in a fit of laughter. Zeke and Snake were stoic. Larry looked up at them.
“What the hell are those?” he stammered, with a beet-red face and hair filled with grass.
“Our emus,” Zeke said. “You scared them.”
“YOU scared THEM!” Buster shouted. “You should’ve seen your face! You give new meaning to the word chicken-shit.”
Larry rose to his feet, embarrassed, but undaunted. “Did I pass?”
Even Zeke and Snake had to laugh at that one.

Chapter 19

THAT LEFT TWO. Reuben and Buster were up next for their two-wheeled auditions. Reuben hopped aboard. It took a few kicks, but he finally revved his monster to life. “Tender like a rose petal,” he said to himself as he slowly let out the clutch. He killed the rose. Reuben started and stopped three more times before he was on his way.
It was antagonizingly slow for Zeke and Snake to watch but Reuben putzed his machine out to the corral like on a Sunday drive, did a U-turn like an expert and putzed back to the standing foursome. Dismounting, he tipped his noggin toward Larry and said: “Nothing to it.”
“You won’t win many races but you didn’t kill anybody either,” Zeke said.
“Mission accomplished,” Snake added.
“Your turn big boy,” Larry said to Buster.
“Nothing to it,” Buster echoed Reuben’s line and cockily sauntered to his cycle. He kicked his animal to life and gave two loud bursts of the throttle and popped loose the clutch. The front wheel rose, the cycle flipped over and Buster crashed onto his back in the same spot he’d started.
“Maybe we should get him a helmet,” Zeke said, as Larry and Reuben helped Buster to his feet and dusted off his denim jacket. Snake set the bike right-side up again and Buster was back on the bull.
Buster was a slow learner and did pretty much everything the same as the first time but let loose of the gas just before tipping over this time. He was on his way.
He took to the prairie like a man who liked his speed. He made it to the corral in no time flat and rather than slow down took a wider turn before heading back.
Throttle wide open, Buster was flying along toward the gang, getting closer and closer and not letting up at all. “Slow down!” Snake screamed at the twenty-yards-and-closing mark. “Brakes!” Zeke screamed at the ten-yard mark as the Harley bore down on him.
All four saw the blank panicked expression as Buster neared them. It was obvious to all he had forgotten how to brake. Buster then did what men are apt to do when trapped in a burning building. He jumped. It wasn’t a graceful dismount. It was a legs kicking, arms twirling in the air jump that hit Zeke smack dab in the middle of his lizards.
The motorcycle spun and sputtered to death several yards away. Buster got to his knees, wiped his forehead with his arm and let out a “Whew!”
Zeke laid on his back, mouth wide open, arms reaching for the sky, gasping for air. “Arghhhhh. Arghhhhh.” Snake scrambled to his side. “Breathe man! Breathe!”
“Aarghhhh!” Zeke continued, his face purple and beaded with sweat. “Arghhhhh!”
“Breathe!” they all implored at once.
Zeke hacked and rolled over on his side. He gulped two huge breaths of air. His eyes were fixed on Buster. While Zeke’s lungs might have been saying “breathe,” his eyes were saying “I’m going to kill you.”
Buster had seen that look before in Candy’s eyes once when he tried putting a dollar bill in a stripper’s garter. But this look was even more intense and spoke bad intentions. So he did what any smart man does when on the receiving end of that look from a Black Lord. He ran.
Buster took off for the ranch house. Zeke found his air and pushed Snake away from him. He had a fast recovery time and took off after the fleeing hit-and-runner.
“Don’t kill him!” Reuben hollered. “We might need him.”
“But then again, maybe not,” Larry shrugged to himself.
Buster made it to the deck, stood at the foot of the hot tub, panting. The naked ladies viewed him only a little curiously – they’d seen stranger things. He eyed the van in the distance. He glanced at the door to the house. Conflicted, scared and confused, Buster’s survival instincts kicked in and he jumped in with the women.
Zeke arrived seconds later but panting much heavier. Hands on his knees, he saw Buster’s head sticking out from the middle of the tub. He walked over and tried to reach him with an arm while trying not to get wet. Zeke walked to the other side and tried the same thing, but Buster was just out of reach and wide eyed.
Zeke growled. Buster counted the seconds he had left to live. But Zeke had had enough. He waved a disgusted arm at the wet farm boy and stomped inside as the rest of the boys stepped onto the deck.
“You were right, Reuben!” Buster smiled. “Nothing to it!” 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 14-16

Chapter 14

NOT EXACTLY your sit on the phone and chat kind of guys, if ever there were such a thing, the teachers preferred to discuss their plans in person every Saturday night at the Mine Shaft. Besides, they liked beer.
So it was on the weekend after Independence Day that Reuben and Larry nursed their beers at the back table waiting for Buster. He was late but that was no surprise. Once, he accidentally showed up on time so he left and drove around town for thirty minutes before returning – so as to not ruin his reputation.
Reuben and Larry usually used the spare time to discuss whether or not they actually needed Buster for their capers. But they recalled that in each previous one he’d actually done something to save the day, albeit sometimes accidentally, so they always reached the same conclusion to keep him on board. Besides, neither had the kahunas to tell his wife, Candy, if they ever decided to can him. Candy was one of the few with knowledge of their summertime hobby, not because of any value or skills she brought to the table, but because Buster could never lie to her. He valued his testes too much.
For this Candy was not sweet. She was more like a sourball or a hot tamale. Yet she did something for Buster and nobody wanted to even imagine what that might be.
“How about ‘The Rushmores’?” Larry suggested to Reuben as they whiled away more time with their decade-long parlor game of trying to come up with a clever name for their gang – should the history books ever demand one.
“That sounds like a sports team,” Reuben said. “The James Gang or The Sopranos carries more panache.”
“Unfortunately, none of us are named James or Soprano,” Larry pointed out.
“Too bad Lead-Deadwood High School is already named the Gold Diggers,” Reuben rued.
“That connotes manual labor,” Larry said. “Not exactly our cup of tea anyway.”
“Yes, we need something more intellectual.”
“Buster kind of ruins that possibility.”
Reuben nodded affirmatively, took the last swig from his frosty bottle and tipped his head toward the door: “Speak of the devil.”
Buster stood grinning, his lovely bride of ten years at his side. He wore a tan fishing hat with hooks and flies affixed to the brim. His white thermal shirt and blue jeans were spattered and smeared with what appeared to be relatively fresh fish blood and guts and Lord knows what else.
He walked hand in hand with Candy, who still looked like she did when she married him at age 19. A cigarette dangled from her thin lips. If she could read, she ignored the Surgeon General. Her lithe nearly emaciated figure belied Buster’s hankering for large-breasted women. Psychologists do say a man always wants what he doesn’t have. As such, she had no need for a bra. In fact, the only way a person could determine she wasn’t a feminine-featured blonde-haired hippy dude was the tight white tank top she wore which highlighted thick nipples that poked through like cigar butts.
“She could take an eye out with those,” Larry muttered under his breath as they approached the table.
“Hey guys!” Buster said, as Candy swung a leg over the back of a chair and sat down. “You remember Candy.”
“Of course,” Reuben said, nodding to her across the table. “How was the fishing?”
“Great,” Candy replied. “Fourteen big brown trout. They were really biting tonight.”
“Isn’t the limit six?” Larry said.
“What’s the limit on motorcycles?” Candy shot back with a smirk.
“Point taken,” Larry said, rolling his eyes.
“How long you been out here? Reuben asked.
“Pulled the RV out yesterday,” Buster said. “Parked it out at Sheridan Lake. Candy suggested we just keep it out here until after the Rally.”
“Save gas money that way,” she said. “Plus we’ll be closer to the action.”
“Always good to be near the action,” Larry said.
“Hey Shifty!” Candy hollered in a high-pitched screech that no doubt deafened the bats in nearby caves. “We’re ready for some beers!”
She was perhaps the only person who could get under Shorty’s skin. He’d put up with drunks, stoned hookers, antagonistic cops and various members of the FBI’s Most Wanted List, but she was the fingernails and he was her chalkboard.
“The name is Shorty,” he said, bringing four beers. “As in short-tempered, short on patience and ...”
“Short on hair,” she interrupted.
He turned and stomped away. Reuben and Larry looked at their laps shaking their heads. Buster looked embarrassed and was quick to change the subject.
“You guys talked to Selma?”
“I have,” Reuben said. “Everything is still a go.”
“You come up with a plan?” Buster asked.
“We have,” Larry chimed in.
“Care to share it with us?” Candy snipped.
“We will share it with Buster,” Reuben looked at her calmly, unfazed by her obstinance. Reuben had no nerves so she couldn’t rub them one way or the other and knew better than to try. You could light his clothes on fire and he’d simply order two beers and calmly wait for their arrival before dousing the flames with them, secure in the knowledge that on fire or not he was still the smartest guy this side of the Mississippi.
“Then I’ll go play some pinball,” Candy said, pushing her chair back from the table. “Got some quarters for me Buster?”
He swept a handful off the table and handed them to her. She rubbed his chest as if to say, “Good puppy.”

Chapter 15

“FIRST THING I NEED to know,” Reuben said after Candy left, “is can either of you ride a motorcycle?”
“Never have,” Larry said, bothered that he hadn’t considered it might be a useful skill for their plan.
“No way,” Buster added. “It was four wheels or nothing for me. How about you, Reuben?”
“Once when I was 12, but I wiped out and broke my nose.”
“What’d you hit?” Buster asked.
“My brother’s fist when he found out I wrecked his bike.” He smiled, amused at his humor.
“That could be a problem for us,” Larry said.
“I agree. We’ll need some help.”
“Shorty!” the three shouted in unison.
The barkeep trudged back over.
“Got us a predicament,” Reuben said. “You have a friend who could give us riding lessons?”
“Horses?”
“No, motorcycles. Harleys. Hogs. Pigs. Whatever they call them,” Reuben explained. “Somebody who knows them inside and out, can teach us quick and with the usual discreetness we sometimes require.”
“I believe I do,” Shorty said scratching his chin. “A fella owes me a favor. Lemme see what I can do.”
“Think you could have him here next Saturday for a sit-down?” Reuben asked.
“Probably, but ...” Shorty hesitated.
“But what?” Larry asked.
“But I’ll have to see if he’s out of jail.”

Chapter 16

LARRY’S HOME sat atop a cliff near downtown Hot Springs, the county seat of Fall River County on the southern end of the Black Hills, a 60-mile wide, 100-mile long stretch of forested hills that features Mount Rushmore in the middle. The sandstone colored bungalow was a quaint but classy bachelor pad with a wooden swing and hanging plants on the deck and a kick-ass view.
While Larry had a nice, simple home; he had a precarious, complicated love life. He probably would not admit it but he liked it that way. Larry thrived on walking the relationship tightrope and wouldn’t know what to do if on Valentine’s Day, for example, he had merely one filly to send roses to.
The few who knew of his proclivities were often amazed at his successes and the subsequent fixes he sometimes found himself – for Larry was no debonair Laurence Olivier or dashing Errol Flynn nor even a witty Bill Murray. He was actually quite homely in a handsome feel-sorry-for-him sort of way, but Larry had what might be called pizzazz; and he could charm the wool off a sheep and pizzazzed his way though the uppity social circle and subsequent bedrooms of a plethora of Hot Springs maidens – some unmarried, some not so much.
At 47, as he was since 17, Larry was tall, slender and gangly. He had more of a lope than a walk. The bounce in his step made his curly red mop bop up and down like a deer bouncing through an alfalfa field. His twinkling green eyes were no longer hidden behind eyeglasses, as he’d undergone that LASIK surgery five years ago after the particularly lucrative fireman’s larceny had padded his pocket book.
Presently, Larry’s love life included only two gals. Auburn Thrice was one of them and she was home for the summer after finishing her junior year at Augustana, a Lutheran college in Sioux Falls. The vivacious blonde put the “angel” in “evangelical” and Larry was trying like the devil to get rid of it. She’d been a student of his literature classes in high school and they shared an affinity for Robert Frost. Larry continually quoted Frost’s “Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired,” but Auburn preferred Frost’s “The only lasting beauty is the beauty of the heart.”
Auburn’s heart currently rested at daddy’s $500,000 house next to the golf course. Daddy was also the school board president, so you see the sticky wicket Larry picked there – juggling the passion for Auburn’s chastity on one hand and the desire of a retirement fund in the other. Ah well, he’d threaded tighter needles than that before.
His more immediate problem was Deidra Deeds, wife of Lawrence County Sheriff Denny “Dirty” Deeds. Larry found her sobbing on his sofa when he walked in the front door to his house.
“Deidra!” Larry said, inattentive to her tears. “How did you get in here?”
“I used the key under the plant on the porch,” she sniffed.
“Oh,” he said, reminding himself to find a new hiding spot. Larry and Deidra had been sharing carnal knowledge and intimate secrets for a good six months or so. He’d forgotten that he also shared the hiding spot for the key.
“What’s the matter?” he said, sitting next to her.
“Denny is cheating on me!” and she continued to sob.
“But honey bunches, you’re cheating on him too,” Larry reminded her.
“So! I’m not cheating on me. He’s cheating on me.” The sobbing continued.
Larry knew better than to argue with or speak common sense to women in this condition, so he just put his arm around her and rubbed her shoulders. Deidra had soft shoulders. Heck, she had soft everything. She wasn’t skinny, wasn’t fat, just right in the middle. Long black hair with librarian-style glasses, she was 52 but sultry, curvy, nervy and every other “y” word that hints she could steam up a broken sauna just by walking inside it.
“How’d you get here? Where’s your car?”
“I jogged,” Deidra said, which explained the dark blue jogging suit and Nike visor.
“Jeesh it must be three miles,” Larry said.
“My pedometer says three and a half. I was upset,” she sniffed. “I’m leaving him.”
Larry was quick to recognize a potential problem there.
“But you’ve been married for thirty years,” Larry said. “You can’t just throw that away because he had some fling with his secretary or something.”
“He didn’t have a fling with his secretary, Helen,” she said. “He’s having a fling with his deputy, Herman.”
Larry didn’t have much of a response or condolence for that bombshell so he settled for the always useful and noncontroversial: “Oh.”
“So I’m moving in with you,” she blurted.
Larry expanded a bit on his previous response with: “Ohhh, no.” But that probably wasn’t the best time to start practicing a new honesty-is-the-best-policy approach.
“What do you mean ‘no’?” she asked. “We’ve been together for most of the year. I just assumed.”
“Well you know what they say about assuming. I’m not a settling-down kind of guy, plus I’m not going to be around much until school starts.”
“Where are you going?”
“I just have a lot of projects I’m attending to. Besides, Denny has a hell of a temper, a badge and gun. That’s not a good combination.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Deidra said, dabbing her eyes with her sleeve.
“But remember Alexander Pope, ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine,’” he said, drawing on his ace in the hole with women – poetry.
“Oh, you and your damn poets,” she said. “I bet Pope never found his husband in bed with another man.”
“Now you would probably be correct, but it’s the idea of the thing. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Those are all admirable traits.”
“And traits I don’t have,” she said.
“Maybe you have them but don’t know it.”
“Oh, jeez, you’re no better than him. You are about as understanding as a porcupine,” and she stood up and walked to the door. Turning toward him she said, “Remember Shakespeare: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!”
“Actually, that wasn’t Shakespeare who said that.” Larry couldn’t help correcting her. He hated mis-attributed quotes. “It was actually Seventeenth Century poet William Congreve.”
“How about this then: Up yours, Larry!” and she slammed the door.
“Not very original,” he muttered to himself. “Not very original at all.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 11-13

Chapter 11

WHEN SELMA WAS DONE, she asked: “Questions?”
Larry, Buster and Reuben leaned back in their chairs, crossed their arms and stared at the ceiling. Selma glanced up also to see if there were giant spiders descending from the rustic rafters or perhaps a trapeze artist had slipped in unbeknownst to her. But there were no Black Widows nor flying Russian acrobats to be seen. She deduced that this is what men do when they are thinking or perhaps just thinking about farting. Selma hoped it was the former.
Buster finally looked down, at her boobs of course, and broke the ice: “I have a question.”
“Yes, Buster?”
“Are those real?”
It was Selma’s turn to blush and her mouth opened but no words escaped.
“Don’t be an ass,” Larry said, cuffing Buster across the head and turning his cap right-side around.
“Oh, sorry,” Buster stammered. “But she asked and it’s been on my mind all night?”
“Aren’t you married?” Selma asked.
“Yes. What can I say? I’m a boob man.”
“You’re a boob alright,” Larry said.
“Okay then,” she recovered. “Are there any serious questions?”
Reuben raised a finger like he was checking the direction of the wind. “Do you have a market for these cycles?”
“I do.”
Larry then raised his hand, which Selma considered ironic for teachers to be doing. “What’s the split?”
“Pretty obvious,” she said. “Four cycles, four people, four ways.”
“Works for me,” Larry quickly added, which drew a scowl from Reuben.
“You have any more questions, Buster? She said to the sulking hulk.
“No. You don’t answer mine anyway.”
“100 percent real,” Selma smiled.
So did Buster.
“Well, that’s the plan,” she said. “Everybody seems on board. You have two months to figure it out.”
She stood, set her denim purse on the chair, pulled out three prepaid cell phones and slid one to each teach.
“My number and yours are already in the address book. The phones are untraceable, but don’t burn the minutes on personal calls or 900 numbers, Buster. Strictly for business and don’t call me unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
They pocketed them and didn’t bother getting up.
“Was nice meeting you. I’ll be in touch,” Selma said. “Good luck and let’s hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous friendship.”
She reached over the table and shook a hand of each. The look in their eyes told her they weren’t totally sold, but close enough.

Chapter 12

IN SOUTH DAKOTA they seldom measure distance by miles. Since it’s such a large state with towns remotely located and cities peppered far apart, South Dakotans usually talk in hours. Occasionally, you’ll even hear somebody say something like “I live two hours from here” or “one and half hours as the crow flies.” But since South Dakotans are like other Americans who have yet to master the sophistication of travel via jet packs, the “crow flies” analogy is usually meaningless. That said, Selma had a six hour drive ahead of her from Deadwood to her home in Brookings. Toss in the fact that she was traveling west from the Mountain time zone to the Central time zone in the east and would lose another hour. Since she didn’t want to risk a speeding ticket to ever tie her to this discreet appointment (it was a parking ticket that helped finger David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz), she figured to be home by breakfast.
Now that she thought it, Selma regretted the reference to Berkowitz. It’s not like they were looking to kill anyone. In fact, the mere suggestion of that possibility would send her and the meek teachers fleeing from any criminal plan like bunnies from a circling hawk. Selma didn’t consider any of them to be criminals at heart. Their main vices were greed and boredom – a Molotov cocktail for crooked behavior. For Selma, you can throw in the added transgression of revenge.
Six hours out and six hours back gave her plenty of windshield time to self analyze, and as  she passed the New Underwood exit an hour or so after leaving Deadwood Selma’s mind was on the target of her vengeance, her ex-husband and current Governor Arnie McCall.
Arnie had been among the meekest of men, but not meek as in wimpy. He was quiet, tender, loving, huggy-kissy, a hand-holder, a door-opener. That’s why it was such a shock when after fifteen years of marriage, Selma returned home earlier than expected one night from her position as assistant to the college president to find Arnie standing naked at the end of their couch in the living room. If that’s all he was doing, she would have found it odd but not particularly upsetting. The distressing part was that one of her freshman work-study students at the college, Julianne Boofley, was also naked and bent over the armrest of the sofa in front of him, his hands on her hips. Her “ooh”s and “aah”s turned to “uh oh” real quick.
Since Selma was a lifelong South Dakota woman, she carried a .38 handgun in her purse. It’s practically the law. So she could have shot them. In fact, it crossed her mind. But she didn’t. Selma stood stoically and watched and listened. Apologies were all the rage as they scrambled to pull on their clothes. Julianne was first out the door and transferred to USD the next day to be with more like-minded strumpets. Arnie was minutes behind her, but not enjoying it as much as he was earlier.
He never returned to their home and Selma didn’t speak with Arnie until eight months later when they passed in the hallway of the law office after signing the divorce documents. It was pretty much a one-sided conversation with most of her words beginning with the letter “f”, some with the prefix “ass” and others simply initials like “S.O.B.”
Selma now owns that $300,000 house but doesn’t live in it, preferring the University president’s residence. She also has two Cadillacs she never drives, a boat she never floats and an RV she never recreates in. But Selma does keep them parked in front of that home so Arnie can see them whenever he’s in town.
To say she’s a little bitter is to say a dead skunk is a little bit smelly. But he hadn’t seen anything yet. Unfortunately, in her mind, she had agreed in their divorce decree to never reveal any details of their marriage nor any of the sordid events that led to its devise. Selma knew though there was more than one way to skin a cat and she waited patiently for the time to exact even more revenge on that pussy. That day would come. She was confident of that.
Arnie served four more years in the state legislature before running for governor. His kind soft-spoken words and white-toothed smile snookered sixty-two percent of South Dakotans like he’d once snookered her.
Selma was named president of SDSU two months before he was elected governor; and though he had the power to force her out, he lacked the balls. So they co-exist as powerful state executives communicating entirely through assistants. And though Selma knew her resume was as slim as her hips, 25-year-old Julianne Boofley became his Director of Tourism. Selma liked to say Julianne bent over “forwards” for the job.
Now that his defenses were down and Selma was simply the annoying “ex” he must endure from time to time with smarmy glances across conference tables and wiggly waves of the fingers across hallways, Selma made it one of her life’s goals to cause him the most embarrassment, to showcase his ineptness, and enlighten South Dakotans as to what kind of dim-witted untrustworthy eunuch they elected.
Assuming her teachers are successful enablers, Selma might even run against him in two years. Wouldn’t Laurence “Larry” Olivier make a great Director of Tourism? Reuben, the Director of Economic Development? Buster, the Secretary of Agriculture? The mere thought might make them wet their pants. She’d tell them later.

Chapter 13

REUBEN SAT at his kitchen table the next morning drinking his coffee and making a list. He loved lists and his refrigerator was neatly organized with them in perfectly aligned checkerboard fashion. Belle Fourche Broncs school magnets firmly held them in place: the grocery list, phone number list, his to-do list, the list indicating the exact times of the sunrises and sunsets for the days of June, another with rainfall totals from each day recorded from his digital rain gauge, and other lists not nearly as noteworthy.
Dressed for the Saturday in the school colors, yellow and white checked slacks and a purple sweatshirt, he was working on the “list of things we need to do to steal motorcycles.” That one he would keep on his person and not post on the refrigerator.
Reuben’s wife, Rose, skittered about the kitchen paying scant attention to his doodling. A short plump woman with gray-specked black hair and round, pink face, she wore a dark green pantsuit and was tidying up the kitchen before leaving for her part-time secretarial duty at the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce. It was almost summer tourist season so she worked six mornings a week at the front counter.
“What are you going to do on your summer vacation?” she asked.
“I have some reading to get caught up on the next few days. Then I have to get registered for that computer class in Rapid City,” he lied, setting up his alibi for future excursions from home.
“A good teacher never stops learning,” Rose said. She offered an endearing smile to her husband of thirty years.
Though Reuben had whiled away the previous couple summers as a law-abiding gardener tending to his rose bushes, he was confident she was clueless as to his activities for the ten or so summers before that when he masterminded lucrative heists and scams throughout western South Dakota, eastern Wyoming and even one adventure into Montana.
Rose, he thought, had been led to believe that her brilliant husband had perfected the art of online day trading and that he had milked that cash-cow dry or more likely just become bored with it.
Reuben first met Rose during new teacher orientation at Belle Fourche High School. She was in her second year as secretary to the principal and handing out ethics manuals to the new hires. Reuben was not particularly thrilled with his new job, even less so with the ethics manual, but was particularly fond of the way Rose’s black skirt hugged her tiny hips.
He sought her out during a smoke break that afternoon and invited her to a party at his apartment that night. She accepted and neither took nary an interested glance at a member of the opposite sex since.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 8-10

Chapter 8

SELMA HAD NEVER MET the men her mother affectionately called her “pet teachers,” but they were easy to pick out among the small crowd gathered throughout the Mine Shaft. It wasn’t just because their heads snapped toward the door like attached to puppet strings the second she walked in. All heads in the bar did that.
She wasn’t conceited but was a realist. Selma liked to think they noticed her because she carried herself confidently and commanded some degree of respect for being the youngest person and first woman ever named president of SDSU. She could even hope it was a sign of respect for graduating valedictorian of Texas A&M Class of 1979, earning her doctorate from Cornell University, or at the very least being noticed for being the ex-wife of the now governor of South Dakota.
But we know men, therefore know the main reason they turn to stare – it’s her fantastic rack. It’s been said, by her ex-husband several times, that Selma’s boobs enter the room three seconds before the rest of her. It’s good to be recognized for something!
Tonight she was looking different from the usual black pant suit or red power dress female professionals and academics are expected to wear. Since Selma was in deep cover, she dressed the part of biker chick. A red bandana pulled back her charcoal hair. A black “Sturgis Bike Week” tank top clung to her like Saran Wrap and was topped by a black leather jacket. Selma’s faded blue jeans were so tight you could not have slid a butter knife between them and her skin.
So THAT is why the dozen or so men in the bar leered at her as the heavy wooden door slammed shut behind her. And it is why the trio of teachers at the back table turned a deeper blush of red with every step she took toward them – from pale pink to tomato red. Gosh it’s fun to watch grown men sweat, she thought.
Since her mother, Alma, had painted such a vivid picture of each and provided their detailed history before passing on three years prior, Selma knew immediately who was who.
Reuben was the ring-leader if for no other reason than age and he looked the part. His round bespecaled head sported a crew cut with a bare landing strip across the top. A little punchy and pale, after the blushing subsided, it looked like his main outdoor activity consisted of walking to his mailbox and back each morning. He also appeared to be the most confident of the three, actually looking into her eyes rather than at other parts of Selma’s body as she approached.
Larry looked like a Larry and not at all the part of Hollywood actor wannabe as she expected. He was slender, taller and for some reason wore tan coveralls with a red-flannel shirt underneath. His name wasn’t embroidered on the coveralls, but should have been. His face was speckled with faded red dots, not freckles but more like a dermatologist’s nightmare or melanoma on the move. The only hint of the pretentiousness she would later learn he had in spades was a brown fedora atop a pretty healthy head of red hair.
Buster looked like he had just stepped off the racquetball court at the YMCA. He proudly sported a stretched out gray extra-large SDSU sweatshirt. His dark blue cotton sweatpants of the extra-large-in-the-butt variety covered huge legs that would make 100-year-old Black Hills spruce trees envious. And just in case you suspected he might be a doofus but you weren’t quite sure, he removed all doubt with a Kansas City Royals baseball cap spun around backwards on his head.
“Hello fellas,” Selma said with my hands on her hips. “What’s a gal gotta do to get a drink in this place?”
The answer was “apparently not much” as the heavy breathing on her neck caused Selma to turn and see Shorty Miller with a shot glass in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other and a horn-dog grin on his face. She lightened his load.
Reuben smirked and pulled a chair out for her. He introduced the fellas; and she returned the favor.
“I’m Selma McCall. No relation to Jack,” she said, attempting some humor by referring to the man who shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back over a century ago just a few blocks down the street. But apparently the Deadwood clientele still carried a grudge against him as nobody laughed. So she continued. “I am however the daughter of Alma Sorenson who I believe you were all more personally familiar with.”
“She was good to us,” Buster said.
“If you consider blackmail good,” Larry added.
“She made us rich,” Buster argued back.
“If you consider rich good,” Reuben said. “And I do.”
“Yes, she was definitely a woman of contradictions,” Selma said, tossing back the shot of whiskey. She set the shot glass down and continued. “I’d like to pick up where she left off – with an emphasis on the rich.”
“We’re listening,” Reuben said. Larry and Buster nodded.
“My mother filled me in on some of your previous summer jobs,” she said, looking around for eavesdroppers and seeing none. “And I’d like to propose another one for your consideration.”
“Aren’t you the president at State?” Buster asked.
“Yes.”
“So doesn’t that already pay pretty well?”
“Yes.”
“So what’s in it for you?” Reuben asked.
“Well, they say you can never be too rich, too skinny or get too much revenge on your ex-husband,” Selma answered.
Reuben arched a furry brow. “Who is ...”
“The governor,” Selma finished his sentence. Larry and Buster gulped.
“Oh, that McCall,” Larry whined. “That might be enough to keep us from coming out of retirement.”
“At least hear me out, because I’d hate to resort to my mother’s methods.”
“Releasing our files won’t hurt us anymore,” Reuben said.
She tossed down her ace in the hole: “But revealing your past summer jobs might. I particularly liked the one where you stole the firemen’s uniforms and inspected the fire sprinklers at the armored car company headquarters before leaving with a wheelbarrow full of gold bars.”
The threesome surprised her by lifting their bottles, clinking them together at the center of the table and saying: “To the firemen!”
“So you’ll listen?” she asked.
“I never did much go for painting houses in July,” Reuben said.
“Or shingling roofs,” Buster said.
“Or landscaping,” Larry added, wrinkling his nose.
“So here’s my plan,” Selma started but stalled like a car on a January morning.
“Before you expound,” Reuben said, “could I have a word privately with the boys?”
“Certainly,” she said. “I’ll get us another round and save the nosy bartender a trip.”
“His name is Shorty,” Buster said.
“And don’t piss him off,” Larry added. “He’s saved our hides several times.”
“What makes you think I’d piss him off?” Selma asked, genuinely offended.
“Just a hunch,” Larry said.
So she put on her Miss Manners smile and approached Shorty, who while short for a man was almost as tall as she – about five-foot-eight.
“I thought I’d get another round of beers for the guys,” Selma said.
“That’s MY job,” he snorted. “If I needed a barmaid I’d hire one.”
“Actually, they wanted to be alone for a second so this was just my excuse.”
His back to Selma while pouring two drafts for another table, Shorty stared at her in the mirror while never glancing at the glasses. Totally bald, he was built like a concrete cinder block. Probably 80, he still didn’t have an ounce of fat or baggy skin on short table-leg arms tattooed from wrist to shoulder with what appeared to be names. Must’ve been twenty-five on each arm.
Shorty turned around with two glasses in each hand, set them in front of her and continued to glare.
“Forgive me if I’m reading things wrong,” Selma said, sliding him a ten spot, “but it seems you don’t like me.”
“You can read.”
“Yes, so what have I done to make you mad?”
“Nothing. But I can read too, and I see trouble with a capital ‘T’.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“But I know women, and I wouldn’t trust any broad who would come into a shit-hole like this.”
“You may have a point there,” Selma relented. “But if THEY trust me, will YOU trust me?”
They were both looking at the table in the dark corner where it seemed like a silent Three Stooges routine was being played out, and Shorty asked: “You ever seen a herd of deer run into the middle of the highway and stand and stare into the headlights of an oncoming truck?”
Selma didn’t answer that one; just watched the talking deer.

Chapter 9

“SO WE ARE YOUR boys now?” Larry said, still having trouble being anyone’s understudy.
“It was a figure of speech,” Reuben said. “You English majors should have heard of them.”
“Speaking of figures, did you get a load of hers,” Buster chimed in with his wisdom.
“That’s of no concern right now,” Reuben said. “I wanted to get your two cents on the situation before she starts flashing the dollar signs and painting a pretty picture of whatever it is she’s scheming. You guys sure you want to get back into this game?”
“If the money looks right and the idea seems legit, I am,” Larry said.
“Yes, wifey and I have grown accustomed to a higher lifestyle,” Buster said.
“You mean you upgraded to a double-wide,” Larry jabbed.
“No, asshole. For instance, we now drink Heineken instead of PBR.”
“Hey, don’t be knocking Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Reuben said.
Buster apologized for his insensitive remark toward the ‘union-made label’ and Reuben steered the slow train of thought back onto its rusty tracks. “Apparently we’re all interested in getting back in the game, but let’s not appear too anxious.”
“You mean play hard to get?” Larry said.
“Yes, we’re the only army she has,” Reuben said. “Let’s make sure the general gives a good slice of the pie.”
“You are a man of many mixed metaphors,” Larry added.
“Well this soldier’s dead and I need a replacement,” Buster said, raising his empty bottle above his head for any interested parties to see.

Chapter 10

SELMA ASSUMED THAT holding an empty beer bottle over your head was man-signal indicating the MENSA meeting had concluded, so she carried the beers to their table.
“Everything copasetic?” she asked, taking a seat.
Three sets of blank eyes looked at her.
“Is everything alright?” Selma translated.
“You’d have to get awfully annoying before we’d turn away free beer,” Reuben said.
“Whatever it takes. Now does anyone have to go to the bathroom before I begin?”
“Wow, you sounded just like your mom there,” Buster smiled, still staring at her boobs.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, and since you brought her up I would add that I think she’d find this plan delightful.”
“What is it?” Larry asked anxiously. “A new bank in Rapid City? Original artwork from Wall Drug? Diamonds from the School of Mines?”
“Noooo,” she said quietly, slowly leaning over the table, making eye contact with all three and drawing out the suspense ... “Motorcycles at the Sturgis Rally!”
After a pregnant pause, the three let out a roar of laughter that caused the other eight drunks in the bar to stop playing pool, throwing darts or picking their nose to look over at their table.”
“Shit, lady,” Buster said. “There’s thousands of motorcycles here during that time.”
“And most of them are owned by hairy bad-asses who would rather have us steal their old ladies,” Larry said shaking his head in disbelief.
“And we’d have to steal a helluva lot of them to make it worth our while,” Reuben added. “Motorcycles that is.”
“Ya, the old ladies wouldn’t fetch much money,” Buster laughed.
“Yes, the slave trade has kinda dried up all around the country, thankfully,” Larry added, proud of his wit.
“Let me finish,” Selma said, holding up both hands in the universal sign of “stop it, you’re killing me.” “It’s four motorcycles. Each worth about $200 grand. That’s over three-quarters of a million split four ways.”
“800 grand,” ever-exact Reuben said. “Go on.”
“It all starts with the United States Postal Service,” she began, not exactly reassuring her skeptics. “They are going to have a ceremony celebrating the issuing of a new set of stamps.”
Larry made an exaggerated mock yawn.
“Bear with me here, geniuses,” she said. “The stamps celebrate the history of American motorcycles. There are four stamps, each illustrating a different classic bike: a 1918 Cleveland, a 1940 Indian Four, a 1965 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and a circa 1970 chopper.”
“And these stamps are valuable?” Reuben asked.
“No. They are each worth 39 cents,” Selma said.
Buster won the closely-fought contest for most confused look on his face.
“What makes this ceremony special,” she continued, “is that an original motorcycle for each of those stamps will also be on hand with the governor. That, my boys, is the money shot.”

Monday, December 2, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 4-7

Chapter 4

The Mine Shaft was a real drinking man’s tavern. Barkeep Shorty Miller would set a beer and shot of whiskey in front of you before your butt hit the bar stool unless you were quick enough to tell him to hold the hard stuff. Even then, you still might get it – just consider it an hors d’oeuvre.
Barely inside the Deadwood city limits, it was the only bar in town without slot machines, blackjack tables and buxom waitresses in stiletto heels. What you would find instead were grimy miners, sweaty loggers, tattooed bikers, ex-felons and lots of trouble.
It’s where high school chemistry teacher Reuben Rose went to unwind after school. It was about thirty minutes from his home, his school and the nosey parents of his pesky students. It was his Friday night reprieve.
Shorty ran the Mine Shaft for at least the two decades Reuben had been coming there. Not too interested in history and usually lost in his own thoughts, Reuben never inquired as to the bar or Shorty’s past. Shorty set the whiskey and beer on the bar in front of the third barstool from the end where Reuben always sat except for those rare occasions when he was expecting company. Tonight he was.
“Gonna take the table in the back,” an unusually grumpy Reuben said, hoisting a drink in each hand and continuing on.
“Company tonight?” Shorty asked, raising a furry white eyebrow.
“Yup.”
“Anybody I know?”
“Yup.”
“Uh oh.”
“Yup.”
Reuben found the desired table in the darkest corner lit only by the television mounted near the ceiling. He sat down, placed his drinks on a pair of napkins and set a napkin in front of each of the other three chairs around the square table. Head down, Reuben studied the beer bottle as if it were the first one he’d ever seen. Taking a sip, he began to peel the label from the upper left corner and folded it over a half inch. He took another healthy sip, peeled back another corner.
Shorty, just a foot taller than the bar in front of him, watched the familiar but odd routine for a while. When he saw the label torn completely off, folded neatly in a square and placed atop the beer, Shorty brought another bottle and removed the empty – Reuben put the “D” in OCD.
Two corners into his second beer, Reuben looked up when the chair across from him was pulled out. “Sir Reuben!” the chair-puller Larry said, offering his hand.
“Stranger,” Reuben dead-panned, shaking it.
“Not as strange as some,” Larry grinned.
Larry’s given name was Laurence Olivier – no relation to the Sir, just the son of two hippies who thought it sounded cool. In fact, he’d given up years ago trying to convince less sophisticated South Dakotans of the correct pronunciation and mostly now answered to the pronunciation of the common spelling of Larry Oliver. At least his driver’s license was spelled correctly, as he’d convinced the old lady at the driver’s license office of his wished-for heritage. In other words, he lied, a skill at which he was quite adept.
Though sharing similar professions (Larry a high school English teacher) and both living near the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota (Larry south in Hot Springs, and Reuben northeast in Belle Fourche), they hadn’t seen each other in three years. Chalk it up to different social circles. Larry preferred the hoity-toities of high society and even occasionally wrote and directed productions at the Black Hills Playhouse. Reuben didn’t have much of a social circle, an affliction seemingly shared with most other geniuses. Reuben was sitting in his social circle – more of a dot – sharing the bar with other loners who, although friendly, accepted each other’s oddities as none of their damn business.
“I see you received the call too,” Larry said, a bit perplexed.
“Yup.”
“Buster here?”
“Yup.”
“Where?”
“Right behind you!” Buster Odney boomed, causing Larry to jump and hit his skinny knee against the table.
“Jeez, you freak!” Larry said, spinning around and receiving a bear hug from the former offensive lineman for the Chamberlain Cubs.
Shorty Miller sidestepped around them and placed two beers and two shots on the table.
“I’d prefer a zinfandel,” Larry sniffed, rubbing his knee.
“I’d prefer a blow job,” Shorty retorted.
“But whiskey will do,” Larry conceded, a shade of burgundy coloring his cheeks.
Buster wiggled into a seat and downed his shot quicker than most people blink. “So we all answered the call of the wild I see,” he said.
“Is she here?” Larry asked, squinting through round wire-rimmed glasses.
“She is dead,” Reuben said.
“Sure sounded like her on the phone,” Buster said.
“Was her daughter,” Reuben said.
“Didn’t know she had one,” Buster said, perplexed.
“How would she know about us?” Larry, always the questioner, asked.
“Mothers and daughters have been known to share secrets,” Reuben said.
Larry and Buster nodded in agreement – a relative rarity. The motley trio had, in fact, very little in common but a shared alma mater – South Dakota State University. Reuben, Class of 1971, was the elder statesman. Larry the drama king was a child of the ‘80s, having received his diploma in 1981; and Buster was the baby of the triplets, still proudly sporting his 1986 class ring. Thus their ages penciled out to 55, 45 and 42, respectively.
All three owed their graduations to one mean little old lady named Alma Sorenson, the Dean of Students during their tenure. The three also credited, or blamed, her for something else – their summers of crime.  For although she believed in redemption of the college student soul, Dean Alma also believed in blackmail.

Chapter 5

            REUBEN ROSE went to SDSU to be a chemical engineer. He envisioned a career in killing things, concocting herbicides, pesticides, rodenticides, pharmaceuticals to kill diseases, or, in his wildest dreams, top-secret military potions to poison Commies. His hero was Louis Fieser, the Harvard chemist credited with developing napalm. But it was Reuben’s extracurricular mixology that unraveled his career track, as he excelled mostly in mixing rum and Cokes, vodka and orange juice, Long Island Iced Teas, and Flaming Blue Jesus.
            Reuben was legendary in the fraternity for mixing, sharing and partaking. He excelled at what he did. Unfortunately, bartending was not yet a major at SDSU and the career earnings potential is never good when one must rely on a tip jar.
            As the most certain cure for the common hangover is to simply stay drunk, it was by no small miracle that Reuben was still a student in good standing in the first semester of his junior year. But with 200- and 300-level classes weighing heavy on his alcohol-adled mind, Reuben began to do whatever necessary to maintain a C average, an unusual predicament for the former “A” student. That often meant awkwardly peering over a fellow student’s shoulder during exams, or if that not possible, cribbing on little pieces of paper tucked under his thigh. At this he proved most incompetent and was caught.
            That’s when he first met Dean Alma. A small, unassuming woman with a purplish tint to gray hair piled in a bun, it was her eyes that made troubled college students wiggle in their seats like worms on a hook, even if they were geniuses. The eyes were small and deep set and sparkling blue, but not sexy blue. They were eerily blue. Poison Drano blue.
            Sitting before her, Reuben was sweating like an FFA kid at his first county fair in a hot metal barn in August, showing a Hereford calf who just came down with a bad case of scours.
            “Cheating is not tolerated at South Dakota State University,” she said in a deeper voice than he expected. “From an upperclassman nonetheless! It is grounds for expulsion.”
            Reuben gulped, his Adam’s apple stuck up by his chin unable to descend. He thought he was going to choke on it.
            “It seems that isn’t all,” she continued.
            “Oh, God,” he thought to himself. “What now?”
            “I’ve been doing some checking on you. You’re not just a cheater. You’re a drunk too. With one sweep of this pen, I can send you back to Pukwana, uneducated, unwanted and disgraced.”
            She waved a felt-tip marker perilously close to a paper in front of her.
            “Is that what you want? Is that who you are?”
            “Umm, no mam,” he managed to gurgle.
            “Then tell me what you want, tell me who you are.”
            “Umm, I’m a good person. I’m smart. I made a mistake. I promise to never do it again.”
            “But smart people, good people, can’t be drunk all the time.”
            “I’ll quit drinking. I want to graduate.”
            “I don’t see how you can complete your engineering requirements with this cloud over your head, with an F in your discipline.”
            “I can do something else.”
            “Do you like kids?” she asked, catching him off guard.
            “I guess so.”
            “The state needs teachers. Specialized teachers. You could teach chemistry.”
            It didn’t sound like a question. He answered: “Uh huh.”
            “I will talk to your advisor and move you into a teaching track. You will shape up. You will graduate. You will make your family proud.”
            “Okay,” Reuben said.
            “You may go.”
            “Thank you.”
            He stood up to leave, but before he reached the door, Dean Alma added: “Reuben.”
            “Yes.” He turned to face her.
            “I will keep your disciplinary file here. Nobody will ever see it.”
            “Thank you.”
            “And Reuben.”
            “Yes.”
            “You owe me one.”

Chapter 6

            LAURENCE OLIVIER (aka Larry) entered SDSU with many of the same attributes of famous Hollywood actors twice his age. He was smug, arrogant, condescending, pretentious and quite the lady’s man. Unfortunately, he also possessed the acting skills of elementary students half his age.
            But Larry was never one to let reality get in the way of his vision of the way things ought to be. So in his sophomore year, when he was chosen as the understudy to Billy Broadheimer’s Romeo in the spring performance of “Romeo and Juliet,” Larry did what any delusional sociopath would do. He slipped into Billy’s dorm room at two in the morning, channeled Jack Nicklaus and whacked the sleeping Romeo across the shins with a three wood.
            Unfortunately for Larry, he never could hit a three wood well and, fortunately for Billy, a ranch kid from Belvidere, S.D., he slept with his cowboy boots on and nary a welt was raised. But it did wake him. As Billy chased the stocking-cap clad Larry down the hallway, Larry dropped the golf club, which was, again unfortunately, monogrammed on the shaft with the initials L.L.O.
            So although the cowboy actor didn’t catch the thuggish thespian, Dean Alma did and summoned him for a caustic casting call in her office the following morning.
            “Mr. Olivier,” she began with Larry sitting ram-rod straight in the chair before her desk. “Do you know what society does to perpetrators of assault and battery?”
            “It incarcerates them, mam.”
            “Is there any reason why that shouldn’t happen to you?”
            “I hope they would consider that it was my first offense and factor in that it was a crime of passion of which I would never repeat.”
            “Passion can be a virtue or it can be a vice,” she said. “Uncontrollable violent passion is certainly a vice. How could they be sure?”
            “Only by my word,” Larry explained.
            Dean Alma harrumphed. “Well, fortunately for you there is another option. Billy has agreed not to press charges on the conditions that you keep that word and also are removed from the drama program – permanently.”
            Larry blanched at the thought and even his best acting could not hide the natural reflex of blood draining from his face.
            “Are there any other options?” Larry asked.
            “Just the two,” she said.
            Larry felt a temporary reprieve, like the electricity had gone off just before the warden flipped the switch. The feeling lasted three seconds, as she continued.
            “One, Billy presses charges, you are expelled from school and your record follows you for the rest of your life, rendering you unable to even enter a vo-tech school to learn how to repair refrigerators. Two, you apologize, become perhaps an English major instead and hope that somewhere down the line some high school has a desperate need for an English teacher who directs their senior class play. That’s as close to the acting profession as you will ever get.”
            So with that distant light flickering at the end of his career tunnel, Larry relented.
            “Thank you, mam,” he whispered as he exited the office.
            “And Larry,” Dean Alma added as he looked over his shoulder.
            “Yes?”
            “You owe me one.”

Chapter 7

            YOU HAVE TO GO a long way back to ever find a time when Buster Odney was actually a little boy, but ever since he was a young boy Buster wanted to be a game warden. The idea of wearing a shiny badge, carrying a gun and being outdoors appealed to him. Plus, he really liked the pick-up trucks they drove.
            Buster took that dream to SDSU courtesy of a full ride football scholarship, where he used his 6-3 240-pound frame to clear paths for running backs to run through. As a gregarious and likable human snowplow he made an immediate impact on the team and made a herd of friends in the process. Buster and those friends had loads of fun on and off the field – a little too much in fact.
            It was tradition at SDSU that whenever the Jackrabbits played an in-state rival, the opposing teams found it humorous to toss dead rabbits onto the field or basketball court. The aspiring game warden within Buster failed to see the humor.
            So it was one Friday night in the winter of his sophomore year that Buster and some of his well-muscled and well-pickled football teammates thought they would show some support for their school’s basketball team as it prepared to take on their arch-rival University of South Dakota Coyotes in a Saturday night showdown. After polishing off a keg of Milwaukee’s finest swill they grabbed a spotlight and their rifles and headed for the plains and gulleys outside of town near Volga in pursuit of the wiley coyote – to turn the tables on their Jackrabbit-tossing foes. It’s not something Buster would have condoned in a sober state of mind, but thus the term “stupid drunks.”
            They piled out of Buster’s pickup near a farmer’s pasture and crept along a river bed, following the sound of yipping ‘yotes and quietly mooing cattle. When the spotlight finally hit a pair of shiny eyes among some weeds atop the river bank, rifle shots rang out like Chinese New Year.
            A loud yelp and two thuds sent the boys hootin’ and hollerin’ toward the ridge they were aiming. As the spotlight settled on a coyote carcass a spontaneous cheer of “Screw the U, Screw the U” erupted and Buster held the trophy up by a hind leg. But as the spotlight scanned the area a bit more, the “Screw the U” chant morphed into “Oh shit”s when two dead Holstien cows lit up the night with their black and white hides reflecting like ghosts about ten yards behind.
            It’s not even relevant to the story whether or not the linemen successfully sneaked the coyote carcass into the basketball game the next night, nor if that coyote was tossed onto the half court line just as the referee tossed the ball up for the tip-off, nor even if the crowd cheered wildly and the Jackrabbits when on to a 102-70 rout of USD. What IS relevant is that somebody broke that Friday night vow of secrecy and eventually proudly blabbed to a girlfriend who blabbed to a girlfriend who blabbed to a resident assistant of the dorm who blabbed it to Dean Alma.
            So it was a short four days later when Buster found himself seated before her mahogany desk, Dean Alma glaring at him with those abominable eyes.
            “Mr. Odney, are you familiar with the stereotype of the dumb jock?”
            “Uh, huh,” he nodded.
            “Well you are not helping matters any. Perfectly bright, academically elite football players across this nation still suffer the indignities of that stereotype thanks to idiots like you.”
            “That’s all my fault?”
            “Today it is.”
            “Sorry.”
            “You should be. Can you even speak a three-syllable word?” she asked.
            “Ya.”
            “Prove it.”
            Buster’s arm pit stains nearly doubled. He wiped his brow and thought. A partial smile came to his face and he mumbled: “Son-of-a-bitch?”
            Alma shot to her feet. Her chair shot behind her and hit the wall. She leaned over her desk and poked a spindly finger at Buster’s chest.
            “I don’t ever want to hear another swear word come out of your mouth! Ever! Not in my presence. Not in the presence of a woman!”
            “Sorry,” he sheepishly muttered, amazed that his body could produce so much sweat without a blocking sled in front of him.
            She continued standing, ranting and pointing. “I understand you want to be in law enforcement or wildlife management or something that is obviously way to advanced for a simpleton like you.”
            “Um, well, yes, mam.”
            “Forget it!”
            “Okay.”
            “I’ll let you stay in this school under one condition.”
            “Okay.”
            “Do you want to hear the condition?”
            “Okay.”
            “You will become a teacher.”
            “A teacher?” Buster wrinkled his nose.
            “Yes. A high school ag instructor. Maybe even coach some football. And you will teach every boy who comes through your program at least one thing.”
            “What’s that?”
            “To never swear in front of a woman!” she screamed.
            “Okay.”
            “Now get out!”
            “Okay,” Buster said, raising his drenched body out of the chair and walking to the door.
            “And Buster!”
            He turned around. “Yes?”
            “One other thing.”
            “What?” he sighed.

            “You owe me one.”

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Pet Teachers - Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

Miss Scott saw it first because she stood facing the windows. When a quizzical look crossed her face and she stopped mid-sentence of her review of what might appear on their finals exam next week, her twenty-two eighth-graders quit fidgeting and stared at her.
“She’s strokin’ out,” a boy in the second-to-last row whispered to the girl next to him.
Miss Scott tilted her head to the right causing her long blonde hair to dangle. She fixed her gaze on an object outside. The students’ heads turned to the rear of the first-floor classroom as if pulled by a puppeteer’s string. Then they saw it too.
In a red plunging blouse and short black skirt, Miss Scott walked down an aisle between desks and pushed open the horizontal window. She reached outside and as if plucking a butterfly from mid-air grabbed the piece of paper dangling from a fishing string. She got it on the first try and unfolded it.
The students couldn’t see what was written on it and sat in hushed nervousness as she twirled on her high heels and bolted out of the classroom. They heard her clip-clopping heels accelerate across the marble floor as she entered the hallway and followed her in their minds as she ascended the stairs.
Upon reaching the room directly above them they heard her knock on the door and shout: “Mr. Rose! Mr. Rose! Is everything okay!?”
As was his nature, Mr. Rose casually strolled to the door. On the short, pudgy side of the scale, he wore black-rimmed glasses, a short-sleeved white button-down shirt, no tie, and gray dress pants held up by black suspenders. With the always-present yardstick in his left hand he pushed open the door with his right and said: “Oh, hello, Miss …” He paused to sift through the “meaningless data” folder that held names in his brain.
“Scott! I’ve worked here for a year,” she said exasperated. She hurriedly stepped past him and looked around the room focusing on the back row and then on one kid in particular who was busily twirling fishing line around his wrist.
“Bo DeMille! What’s the meaning of this?!” she hollered and handed Mr. Rose the note.
Bo didn’t answer but red pangs of guilt flushed up his neck toward a friendly smirk on his crew cut noggin.
Mr. Rose unfolded the note and read it silently. In red block letters it said: “Help! We’re being held hostage in Mr. Rose’s room!” He smiled and handed the note back to her.
“Looks like the boy was just having a go at some last-day-of-school hijinks,” Mr. Rose said. “As you can see, no hostages here, just eager minds soaking up the finer points of the periodic table.”
“Well, he scared the hell out of me,” the 23-year-old said, still loudly.
“Thank you for bringing it to my attention,” Mr. Rose said. “I will beat him appropriately.”
The classroom of seniors giggled.
“You seem to think this is funny, Mr. Rose.”
“I do.”
“That boy should be suspended!”
“There’s no classroom days left to suspend him for,” Mr. Rose argued. The next week was set aside for final tests.
“Well he should be suspended from finals.”
“I will determine the punishment of my students and I’m not going to suspend him from finals and cause the young man to miss graduation.”
“Then what will your punishment be?”
Mr. Rose walked to the rear of the room and cracked the yardstick on the offender’s desk. “Mr. DeMille!”
“Yes, sir.”
“Give me twenty push-ups!”
“Yes, sir.”
Bo promptly sprawled on the floor and pumped out twenty push-ups faster than Mr. Rose could’ve done five.
“Will you ever resort to sophomoric antics in my classroom again?”
“No, sir,” he said upon returning to his seat.
“There, problem solved,” Mr. Rose said, turning to the fuming middle school English teacher.
“I don’t appreciate your flippant attitude,” Miss Scott said. “I’m going to take this up with the principal right now.”
“Or you could return to your classroom, quit interrupting mine, and I will take it up with the principal during our poker game Saturday night.”
“You think you’re all that, don’t you Mr. Rose.”
“No, but I do think I’ve got hemorrhoids with more tenure than you, and as I am also the teachers union president and have one week and two years remaining before retirement, I suggest you steer clear of me and my classroom for that period; or the next time three of the five school board members are at my house playing Mahjong with my wife I will make it a point of emphasizing to them how this newly hired tart and her padded bras are causing an undo distraction in my hallways.”
“Your hallways!?”
“Yes, my hallways. Now get back down to your classroom while you still have one.”
Her new-fangled Common Core training hadn’t prepared Miss Scott for these situations, so she went old-school and upon reaching the door turned and hollered: “Fuck you, Mr. Rose!”
He turned to his hushed students, most mouths agape waiting for his response. Mr. Rose said: “Now Mrs. Rose wouldn’t approve of that, do you think?”
And the students gave him the first standing ovation of his 28-year teaching career.

Chapter 2

Mr. Olivier sat behind his old wooden desk, arms crossed, day-dreaming out his third-story window while his class finished reading their assignment. The tops of the ponderosa pines stretched for miles, puffy white clouds above them reminded him of his pipe sitting in an ashtray by his recliner at home. Three more hours and he could stuff it with some Dark Fired Kentucky tobacco, draw smoky black wisps of heaven into his lungs, relax and put these little demons behind him for the weekend.
Then one of those demons tapped her pencil on his desk and drew him back to reality.
Ashlee Cross was leaned over the front of his desk on her elbows. Her loose blouse held up by two spaghetti straps hung down to the top of his desk allowing him to look all the way down to her pierced belly button and everything in between.
If he hadn’t been distracted and surprised by her presence, he wouldn’t have looked. But it was instinct, honed by five decades of being a red-blooded high-T male. As soon as he looked, he knew he was caught. She’d done it on purpose and not for the first time. So he took in the sight and then moved his eyes to her face.
She had long brown hair held back by a ponytail, otherwise it would’ve hung forward and blocked his view. She smiled at him. Batted her 18-year-old eye lashes and said: “I need to use the restroom.”
“Next time just raise your hand,” Mr. Olivier said, putting the onus back on her.
“I was, but you were staring out the window and didn’t see me. It’s an emergency.”
“Then go.”
She turned and walked away. He found himself staring again, this time at her tiny rear end sashaying out the door like a runway model.
“Damn it,” he thought to himself. “This weekend can’t come soon enough. These little hussies are going to kill me.”
His ability to project his shortcomings onto others was the least of his many moral failings. Thus far, he’d been able to keep from falling into the teacher-student trap, but barely.
“Four more years,” he thought, returning his gaze to the window. “Oh, Dear Retirement, my heart longs for you.”

Chapter 3

Mr. Odney’s mind was already on the water - the Mighty Mo and the elusive lunker walleyes that inhabited it.
He was outside on his alma mater’s football field, his second most favorite place to be. But he wasn’t playing anymore, in fact his students weren’t even playing American football. They were playing the Communist version with the round white ball.
It was his last physical education class of the day, of the week, of the school year. He’d set up the goals, thrown the ball out and let the fifth-graders chase it around for fifty minutes. Time was about up.
He could see the river from where he was standing. Hands on his hips, whistle around his neck, he’d heard the fish were biting by Cedar Shore. He figured he could have the boat in the water by 6.
A gaggle of kids ran past him toward Chase Long who was “dribbling” the ball. The big lunkhead kicked the ball and like shot from a cannon it came towards Coach Odney. He couldn’t get his hands off his hips quick enough. The ball nailed him in the balls. A direct hit.
Pangs of lightning bolt pains shot down his thighs toward his ankles and up into his stomach like an alien was trying to bust out of him. He tumbled forward into the fetal position and when he woke up, eighteen 10-year-olds were staring at him. The girls looked concerned, a couple crying because they thought he was dead. The boys were laughing, not even trying to conceal it. That’s what boys do.
Odney was smart enough not to speak immediately, as he knew his voice would sound like he’d just sucked on a helium balloon. He took some deep breathes and sat upright. Finally, he said to the assembled: “Let’s call it a year. Hit the showers. And, Mr. Long, you just flunked phys ed.”
The boy’s jaw dropped. Odney gave him a wink and a smirk. The boy smiled and with an outstretched arm pulled him to his feet.