Carefree Cove Ch. 06byNigel Debonnaire©
Another Seville Hills, Missouri Wednesday, and the Methodist Domino Club gathered on an August evening at the shelter house by the community pool. Mutt Hayes talked his grandsons and their friends into playing Texas Hold 'Em with his usual companions, with Reverend Hoot Pidgeon acting as dealer for the evening.
"Raise the pot."
"Call." Mutt Hayes looked smug as he peeked at his cards. His grandson Todd studied the old man, searching for a clue to his hand. The flop hit, and Todd's initial raise was re-raised by his grandfather. They both checked the Turn, and on the River, they raised until Todd was all in. Turning over his cards, he shouted: "Flush, old man, a motherfucking flush. Got you at last."
Mutt turned over his cards placidly. "Not against a full house, boy."
The young man's jaw dropped and he put his head in his hands. The old man smirked as he raked in the chips. "Look at it this way, boy. Someday, you're going to get this all back."
"Yeah, well, you can fucking well give to me after you die tomorrow."
"Thank you, son. Chip off the old block, I'm proud of you, even though you're a loser. Shall we go again?"
Todd got up and sauntered over to where Thomas Albright was at the side of the pool, sketching the WPA poolhouse. He was the youngest of the Methodist Domino Club with his grandfather, Reverend Hoot the dealer, Petey Harms, Freddy Kleinschmidt, and Chigger Jones. "Busted you too, I see," Tom guessed.
"Yeah. The old bastard." The young man was downcast.
"Well, don't let the bastards get you down." Tom said as his pencil captured another contour.
"You don't have my grandfather," came the rueful reply. "He's ruled this county since before my dad was born. I remember when I was little, there was that corporation that tried to develop Carefree Cove. You remember?"
"No, I really don't, even though I live there. Before my time."
"Well, a developer bought all the land around there, set up the town corporation, constructed some infrastructure, started building houses. Then, Grandfather found out is was going to be a Gay community, with room for 1500 residents from the beginning. He organized protests, got the old men over there involved in a petition, found a few old deeds, and sued to keep them from going through with it."
"I remember I got a great price for my house; so did Tom Smithson. Were they selling out?"
"Bingo. Grandfather made it so difficult for them: short-circuited some tax breaks, called some regulations violations to official attention, got some easements denied, found a rare animal whose habitat would be screwed up by construction. It took six months, but he did it. They gave up and relocated in Minnesota."
"First I've every heard of it."
"It's not spoken of. The developer was a friend of Grandfather's until he found out what the deal was. When Mutt Hayes gets pissed, everybody else gets pissed on.
Tom continued drawing calmly. "I have no doubt about who and what Mister Mutt Hayes really is," he said at last.
There was a pause as the kids splashed around the pool. Tabitha Smoot was lying on a chaise lounge,: she was a redheaded teen in a yellow, one piece suit that hid very little from view; her sunglasses made her appear unaware of the admiration coming her direction. Todd regarded her while Tom drew for several moments before picking up the conversation again. "The funny thing is we could've used the business. There'd be a lot of money here if Carefree Cove Resort opened for business."
"Your grandfather is a manipulator, that's for sure. But you don't have to be intimidated by him. My grandfather was a bootlegger who was afraid of nothing, a real badass. Even Mutt was afraid of him."
"Nope. Your day will come. Hang loose and learn something. Especially, don't play cards with your grandfather, unless you get a lot better and don't fear him."
"Yeah," Todd said. Tabitha got up, climbed the ladder, and bounced deliciously on the diving board before a double somersault into the water. "Like to get a piece of that."
"Since her granddad's a minister, there's a verse from the Bible that'll help you." Tom said quietly.
"Oh, yes. 'Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find.' "
Todd shook his head and looked at Tom incredulously. "No. Really?"
Tom looked the young man directly in the eye. "Well, you got two choices: you can ask her, find out if she's interested and if you're lucky, your dreams will come true and if you're not, you can find another dream. Or you can just keep slobbering over her from afar, never find out if she's possibly interested in you, and guarantee you'll never date anyone in your life, in which case, you might as well become a monk. Which do you want?"
He blinked in reply. "Oh, I want her. I'd do anything for her."
"Then go over and ask if she's interested in ice cream later before you lose your nerve."
Todd did a double take at Tom, then looked over at Tabitha longingly. He looked down, driving his cranium at maximum capacity, then looked at her, then at Tom. "What?" he asked at last.
"Don't think about it; walk over there now and ask her out for ice cream. Think about it and you'll get scared. Just do it." He looked around confused again. "Look at me, Todd. Are you looking at me? Are you listening to what I'm saying? Don't think. Go ask her."
Tom dug a twenty out of his pocket and held it up. The boy started staring at it: the ticket to realizing his dream, or at least, his immediate desire. "Take it, or call a monastery and tell them you're on your way," Tom murmured. After a few moments, he plucked the bill from Tom's hand and he started to walk like a robot over to the fence where Tabitha was standing. He beckoned her over and murmured something to her. She didn't understand at first, but after a moment, she nodded and began walking to the pool house. He paralleled her, and moved around to wait for her by the door, his step getting firmer with each stride.
Tom hummed to himself. Hello, young lovers, wherever you are. . .
Monica Hayes and Tammy Kleinschmidt waddled over in minuscule bikinis, dripping wet, their hair plastered down. "Hi, Mr. Albright," Monica smiled. "Would you paint our pictures? My Grandpa said he'd pay us fifty bucks each if you'd do it."
" I don't know," he said as he continued sketching. "Are you 18 yet?"
"Duh. Grandpa Mutt's known me all my life. He says my tits are the best in the family."
"He should know," Tom murmured. The fading sunlight played with their hair, and illuminated their young curves deliciously. They were too young for him, and the memory of his old lover Renee Carter still stung. She was about their age that year they spent together. He was Professor Higgins and she Eliza Doolittle, but they played George Bernard Shaw's version rather than Lerner and Lowe's, and she left him after a year with a sense of failure and a month old daughter to care for. Taking out his digital camera, he shot them together and separately in several poses, as they preened and flirted with the camera. As he worked, he didn't hear as much action from the poker game, but the conversation drifted his way. ". . .well, this lady's heart's been broken badly, and she's desperate for someone to tell her she looks beautiful," Mutt Hayes declaimed
"And God anointed you for this task?" Hoot chuckled.
"No, I'm just at the right place at the right time. Been playing my cards right, going slow, and soon, I'm going to cash in."
"Mr. Hayes, are you going to play cards?" Benny Kingman, Freddy's grandson, asked.
"Don't be in such a hurry to lose you money, son. Look at the pool for a minute; there's something there that'll keep your attention." The young man gasped as he saw from a distance what Tom was drawing. Mutt continued: "No, I think we may be looking at number four if things go my way."
"You're optimism embodied, Mutt," Freddy opined.
"Stupidity embodied," Mutt's grandson Jim Hayes contributed.
"Yeah, Mutt, after two failures and another wife on the ropes, don't you think you ought to give up?" Petey put in. "Marriage just ain't for you." + "Right, Petey." Hoot agreed. "Where is she now, Don Juan? Isn't she usually here on Wednesday night?"
"I think she's working late at the child care center," Mutt said calmly.
'How do you know?"
"Well, I had dinner with her last night, and if she was free tonight, I sure as shit wouldn't be here. Call." The showdown cost Freddy's grandson the rest of his chips; Mutt chortled with glee as he raked the chips in.
Tom struggled to pay attention to the young ladies in front of him, but he got his focus back and finished before the lifeguard blew his whistle to clear the pool for the evening. The girls were delighted at the work he showed on the little screen of his camera. He got out his clipboard and each signed a model's release. Squealing, they scampered off.
The game broke up as Tom walked back to the shelter house. Mutt had most of the chips, the rest of the Methodist Domino Club members had smaller stacks to cash out, and the boys were predicably broke. Their grandfathers knew better than go all in with Mutt Hayes. Hoot was giving him the Look That Could Maim, but Mutt's Armor of Disdain was foiling it. Petey and Freddy were talking and got into Petey's truck for the ride home. Tom established they were gathering next week
As he drove home on the winding gravel road, he had to screech to avoid hitting a deer. Lightning was playing in the distance again, and most of the stars were blocked from view. Pulling into his drive, he saw only darkness from Michelle's house across the way: was she meeting Mutt again tonight? He threw the keys on the end table by his door as he entered the house, walking over to the bar to fix himself a Tanqueray and Tonic.
Sipping it, he walked around his great room aimlessly. The silence of the evening hung heavily, punctuated by distant thunder. Memories flooded back of Monday night: making love on the deck in the rain, sleeping entwined in his big bed and waking during the night to continue their passion, the morning wading in the cool water while watching her swim naked.
Going back onto the deck, he had a first balcony view of the storm passing to the north. Putting down his drink, he made a pitcher of Tanqueray and Tonic with an entire lime, and brought out his box of Cohiba cigars. Smoking cigars was an occasional vice he practiced when Amanda was elsewhere. Stoking the cylinder to life, he sat on a deck chair beside the lounger and wondered whether Michelle would come back to him, or fall for the aging rich Lothario who would surely break her heart.
He started pacing as he blew huge billows of smoke. What could she see in the dirty old man anyway? Didn't the past few days mean anything to her? The old man may be into kinkier shit than he was, and flaunted his money, but she was closer to his age and such a perfect lover.
It was dark across the way at Michelle's house. His cock stirred in remembrance of the evening before, hoping for more. At ten o'clock, her lights went on for while, then went out. Car doors opened and closed, and her car roared off into the night.
Where was she going? Images of her meeting Mutt Hayes at a local hotel came to mind, smiling at his charming conversation, excited by his wealth, intrigued by a local patrician. Maybe he should have told her about his own financial status: years of working for the Kansas City corporation as a senior executive made his Lake lifestyle possible, and he would be able to provide Amanda's needs and quite a few of her wants for the rest of her life.
Blowing great gusts of smoke, he created his own personal cloudbank that evening. The sight of her and Mutt at the Q and A kept coming back to him. He wondered briefly about Ashley's sincerity in her repentance, but if Mutt took advantage of her, the need for vengeance would explain a lot.
It was well past midnight before he made his uncertain way up the stairs. He walked past the series of Renee growing rounder with each portrait. The journey always saddened him, refreshing old pain, and when he got to the last one, he had to turn and regard the portrait of his daughter that hung over his fireplace across the Great Room. Alcoholic sentimentalities shifted to less maudlin feelings, and he was able to prepare for bed.
But as he spun into slumber on his double bed, the image of Michelle's smiles of amusement at Mutt's stories at the Q and A haunted him. He pictured her at his disposal: he'd done some very gruesome work for Mutt on commission, and the vision of her chained next to torture equipment with Mutt's smirking face under the torturer's hood would not go away.
He woke up the next morning to the phone ringing. His head was muzzy from the night before and his mouth tasted like an ash tray; had he drunk a whole pitcher of Tanqueray and Tonic and smoked three cigars? The phone would wake Amanda; no, she was still gone, on vacation with her great grandmother Gracie in Branson. What day was it? Thursday. The phone kept ringing, he picked it up and rasped: "Hello?"
"Hi Daddy. How's it goin'?"
"Fine, sugar. You have fun your first day with Grammie?"
"Oh, yes. We had to stop and rest a couple of times, but we did a lot of shopping. There's a toy store down here that has everything! You should see it, Daddy."
"I'm glad, punkin'."
"It goes on and on and on and on. I got a new doll and a lots of clothes for her." He chuckled to himself, since it was almost impossible to keep her clothed around the house and down by the Lake in the summertime. "And we got a new game that Grammie and me played last night. It's called Snakes and Ladders. Every play that one, Daddy?"
"Yes, baby. It's a lot of fun, isn't it?"
"Absolutely. Did Shelley leave for her trip yet?"
He did a double take at the phone; was Michelle telling her things she didn't tell him? "What Amanda?"
"Shelley said she was gonna be gone a few days. Tears came down her face when she told me. She didn't know when she's coming back. Did she go yet?"
"No, Amanda, she didn't tell me, but she left last night. Do you know where she's going?"
"No, Daddy. She looked very worried." Her voice took on a teasing, sing-song tone. "I think she's worried you'll miss her too much."
"Now Amanda. . ."
"I gotta go, Daddy." Back to business. "Are you working today?"
"Yes, baby. I'm doing a painting of Michelle." "That's nice, Daddy. 'Bye."
He stared at the phone in his hand. Michelle knew she was leaving yesterday, told his daughter and not him. She knew the kid wouldn't have time to spill the beans too soon. What the fuck was she up to?
The steamy water finished off the hangover. As he soaped himself, Monday night's tender lovemaking with Michelle flooded back; he turned and expected to see her beside him, soapy and alluring. His cock sprang out and he started to jerk off, but the vision of her with Mutt in the bar Sunday night and her unexplained absence cooled his passion as quickly as it arose. He hurried to rinse off so he could get dressed and move on to something else, anything else.
He dressed in a Mizzou T-shirt and overalls. On the walls of his room was his daughter's art work: she was a finger painting enthusiast, and an abstract artist. His old acquaintance, Livingston Alastair Quigley, had been after him to do some abstract work for years. This was not a morning for delicate brushwork; it was a morning for something visceral He put on a pair of slip ons and bounded down the steps by twos.
Tom spread a canvas on the concrete floor and marked out an eight by six work area. Mixing some paint, he came up with a palette of primary and secondary colors to work with; might as well stay basic at the beginning. A couple of wide brushes, a thick one and a fine brush were prepared, and after some thought, they were put away again.
Going out to the deck, he surveyed his view of the Lake. Clouds were gathering in the west again; a tropical storm wandering around Texas was sending moisture North to soak Missouri. The rain wasn't close, and it would be welcome after a dry July. A few sailboats were on the water, and a couple of pontoons sailed toward the Party Cove 10 miles away. He was tempted to untie his pontoon and head over: the Party Cove was uninhibited fun, but he had business to take care of.
Mutt Hayes face hung in his mind's eye: smiling, greasy and conniving. Tom had knew he was a local power boss, with friends in high places, and a hammer lock on county government. However, this was the man after his lover. Her face as she stood naked in front of the waterfall, mature sexuality embodied, occupied him. The thought of her in his grubby clutches made his stomach turn.
Anger boiled within him, and he ran back downstairs, grabbed a pot of paint and assaulted his canvas with fierce globs of red pigment. Kneeling beside the canvas, his hands trailed harsh, thick lines in jagged patterns, occasionally flattening his palms to work the paint into a smudge.
He paced around the canvas like a madman, walking out to work on patterns with his bare feet. His toe made wide semicircles; he squeezed pure color into dots that stood up like erect nipples. The energy faded, and he became more reflective, but another glance at Michelle refired his passion and he began to throw yellow paint around the canvas from the center. The next few hours alternated manic dances of creativity punctuated by reflective lulls. At 4:00, he cleaned himself and drove away from town, away from Seville Hills, stopping for dinner at a greasy spoon in the next county, and wandering the roads to Arkansas before returning to throw himself on his bed and falling into black dreams.
The phone rang in the dim morning light, and a familiar voice was on the other end. "Hi, Daddy! How's it going?"
"Fine, Sweetheart. Are you having a good time with Grammie?"
"I'm having a great time with Grammie. We went out on the Branson Belle today; it was so much fun, but they wouldn't let me go swimming. Yesterday, Grammie went to the beach, and an old man came up and asked her for a date! She said no, but it would have been okay with me."
"Was he a handsome man?"
"No, Daddy. He was fat and old and wrinkled. Didn't have any hair on his head at all, and his toes were all crooked, like Grammie's. Are you having a good time?"
"Yes, baby. I took a lot of pictures today."
Yipee. Did you take pictures of Shelley?"
"No, she's still gone."
"Oh. Yeah, she told me she was going visit her little girl, an' it might be a while. Didn't know when she'd be back." Tom sighed with relief at first: but did the trip back mean an attempt to reconcile with her husband? The thought she might not return to Carefree Cove made him sad. At least she was clear of Mutt Hayes for a while, and if he had anything to do with it, she would never see his smirking face again.
"Daddy, do you miss me?"
"Yes, angel. I miss you a lot."
"A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot."
"Sing the song, Daddy!"
It took a moment to clear his throat before he warbled: "That's my daughter in the water. . . "
After he finished, she asked him: "Would it be all right if Grammie and I stayed here another day?"
"Oh, yes. There's an art fair at Silver Dollar City and I want to look at the pictures. Grammie said I could go."
"Well, if it's okay with Grammie, it's okay with me. Put her on."
A moment later, Gracie came on the line. "Hi. Well, you got the big question. I take it we can stay?"
"Sure Gracie, if you're having a good time and she isn't bored yet. I took her fishing the other day, and she loved it."
"I'm surprised she can sit still that long."