AmSAW Registered Writings

Chi-Town Blues: An Anthology

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1/ "The Fisherman"

by D. J. Herda

John wished he had someplace to pee. 

He looked around, up-shore, down-shore, all around.  Nothing.  Not a solitary shrub.  Not a lamp pole.  Not a rock.  He shrugged.  Perhaps it would pass, this growing pressure deep down inside.  Maybe he needed to take his mind off of it, concentrate on the task at hand.

I shouldn't' have had that fourth cup.  But he realized, even at four in the morning, just how cold the lake would be, how bitter the winds, the water whipped into a frigid froth, icing everything in its path.

It was that fourth fuckin' cup.

It was not John's idea of a good time, coming to the lake so early in the morning, in fall, just days before the first snowflakes began their assault on Lake Shore Drive, just days before classes resumed at Columbia.  It was not his idea of fun at all.  But when his uncle had called the night before and said he was going smelting and would John like to come along--they're running like crazy!--well, John naturally clenched his fingers around the receiver, fought off the lump that sprouted in his throat, and stammered, "Sure.  Love to.  What, uhhhh, time are you going?"

John loved his uncle dearly.  And his uncle?  He loved fishing.  Well, not fishing, exactly.  But catching.  There was a big difference between the two.  Fishing, to John's uncle, was a means toward an end which was, simply enough, bringing home the bacon.  Never mind how you got from Point A to Point B.  It's simply arriving that makes all the difference in the world. 

John's uncle wasn't a spit-and-polish fisherman; he was not of the catch-and-release school of thought.  He had never tied a fly in his life and never could see the value of standing in the middle of a rolling stream, throwing cast after cast into the wind in the hopes of snagging a small brookie or a rainbow or even a giant brown and reeling it in for the kill.  To John's uncle, it was a simple fact: you fish to catch.  The more you fish, the more you catch.  The more you catch, the better your life will be when you stop to look back upon it just before expiring, drawing your last breath, dying of lung cancer or angina or maybe even something so goddam mundane as getting run over by a bus.  Jesus, I caught a shit-load of fish.  It's been a good life!

That was pretty much how John's uncle saw it.  And John knew that, if his uncle said the smelt were running, then, by God, the smelt were running!  John liked little more on the face of God's green earth than the taste of freshly caught smelt fried up fast and hot in a pan and served with a little salt, pepper, and enough seafood sauce to float a small armada.  And if he occasionally had to go through hell to get it, so be it.

The wind whipped up suddenly--a growling, swift gush sweeping across the lake and across John and across the entire world, making the boy's teeth rattle--rattle literally out loud--so that in order even to catch his breath, he had to turn sideways to its fury.  "Fuck!" he said finally.  His uncle looked up at him.


"What, what?"  John couldn't believe his ears.  He couldn't believe his uncle could even think about asking so foolish a question.  "What do you mean, what?  It's fuckin' cold out here, that's what!  Jesus, who's idea was this, anyway?"

His uncle laughed.  Besides catching fish, John's uncle liked nothing better than showing off his toughness.  He had served proudly in the United States Army as an infantryman stationed in Italy during the waning days of World War II.  He had caught some shrapnel in one arm at some battle or another, Antietam or something, and John thought he remembered having heard that he'd caught some in his head, too, which is exactly where the doctors decided to leave it for fear of causing complications should they have attempted instead to remove it.  So, they installed some sort of metal plate inside his uncle's skull to prevent the shrapnel from moving, from working its way deeper and deeper into his cranium, like a worm tunneling through the decaying carcass of a once-living creature, until finally it would reach the soft innards of the brain, itself, turning his uncle into an avocado.  Although, at times like this, John couldn't help but wonder if the plate had really done any good.

"Aren't ... aren't you ... c-c-c-c-cold?" John shivered.

His uncle laughed again.  "Nawww.  Cold is all in the mind."

John pictured the metal plate slowly but steadily dissolving.

"Tell you what," John's uncle said as he strained to see his watch in the near-light of near-morning.  "It's almost five.  Old Man Feeney will be opening his bait shop soon.  Why don't you go on over and get yourself a cup of hot coffee.  That'll warm you up.  When you get back, we'll pull up the net and see how we did."

John didn't have to be asked twice.  He tugged at his coat collar until it hid his ears and turned and followed the shoreline north, shielding his head from the incessant pounding of the wind and spray so that his face was cranked to one side, like an owl.  He walked like that, head craned sideways against the cold, when he felt himself stumble across the edge of the pavement and turned to face the glowing windows of Old Man Feeney's bait shop.  He quickened his pace and reached the stairs, leaping up them three at a time while grabbing for the knob that led to the heated confines inside.  He twisted it.  He twisted it again.

"Shit!" he spat.  He looked around, then quickly checked his watch.  Two minutes to five.  "Shit!"

John peered through the glass pane, rattling against the wind, peered through the door and into the shop, where the lights glowed an eerie yellow-green and the coffee machines sent plumes of steam funneling surrealistically toward the ceiling.  He looked away, huddling lower into his coat so that a passerby might mistake him for a turtle.  He shivered, which made him recall that he still had to pee, and he looked around for some sign of a rest room.  He peered back inside the shop and saw a closed door against the back wall.

"Thank God," he said softly, then pulled back into his shell where he stood quietly, except for the shivering.  He stood there counting off the seconds, too cold to pull his hand out of his pocket to check his watch.  What if he doesn't open on time? What if he doesn't open at all?  What if he had an emergency or something and had to take off and won't be back until later?

These were not mere rhetorical questions.  Old Man Feeney was a loon, pure and simple.  His reputation preceded him up and down the lake.   

It'd be just like the old fart not to open up at all.  It'd be just like him, goddamn it.  Just to spite me.

It would be like him, but when it came time for Old Man Feeney to open the shop, John heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps followed by the soft clang of metal-on-metal as the iron bolt slipped to one side.  Suddenly the knob turned and John's heart leaped as the door opened wide. 

Now, Old Man Feeney--John knew from past fishing trips he'd taken to Lake Michigan with his uncle--was a year or two older than Moses and a ton more ornery.  John once watched the old bastard drop a pot of coffee in some poor kid's lap, then throw the kid out for making such a mess.  Still, Old Man Feeney today wouj no matter how much of a shit he could be.

John slipped halfway through the door and stopped to shake off the cold.  "Mother fuck," he mumbled, shivering.  He looked up, and his jaw fell slack.  His eyes glazed over until they looked like the shiners he used for bait whenever his uncle and he went walleye fishing in Wisconsin.  He shivered again.  Less from the cold than from what lay before him. 

My God!

She looked up at him ... curiously at first, then more comfortably.  She craned her head gently to one said and smiled through painted red lips.  Her teeth were whiter than the foam off the lake, each one set perfectly into a turned-up mouth like so many matching pearls clinging to some widowed dowager's neck.  She batted her eyes--actually batted them, for God's sake!

"I ... I ..." John heard somebody say, then realized it had been he.  His eyes brushed her lips--red, deep red, crimson, the color of a fire engine after it has been freshly washed but not yet dried.  She smiled past a complexion so sweet, it had to have come from a bowl full of cream risen to the top, soft and white, with just a blush of peach. 

But her eyes ... oh, her eyes.  Those two limpid pools of aquamarine, the color of Lake Michigan on a calm summer's day; the color of a sapphire caught glistening in the sunlight; the color of a Taos sky on a cold, crisp, cloudless January eve.  It was those eyes that caught his attention, caught his desires, caught his very heart and reeled it into her so that he could feel their two bodies touching, beating, flopping around in unison.  He could smell the jasmine in the air, hear the nightingales sing, feel the silk of her anointed skin.  But more than that, he realized something else:

God, is she built!

John knew right then and there that he would have to have her.  She didn't have to say a word.  She wouldn't ever have to say a word.  And if it turned out that she never ever said a word, he would still possess the world in all its glory.  She was poetry.  She was porcelain.  She was stacked.

I'd kill for those tits!

"Aren't you cold?" she said.

John stirred.  Fear raced through his chest.  Terror stalked his brain.  He wasn't positive, but he thought for one split second that he felt his heart stop beating.  She had spoken to him.  She, this apparition of joy, this vision of perfect loveliness, this goddess of all goddesses, this monument to love and light and life. 

Jesus, will you look at them?

The girl giggled.  "I'd just better get you a hot cup of coffee," she said, and she turned, jiggling her way across the room.  John felt himself take one step after her, heard the door close behind him, and stared.  She was poetry in motion, a perfect body to match a perfect face.  A twenty-four-inch waist set between 34-inch hips and a 38-inch chest ... 38-D, even!  Give or take a letter or two.

The goddess hesitated as she reached the counter, then looked back at him and smiled once more before ducking down and skittering through the passageway, only to emerge upright on the other side, looking more radiant and perfect than before. 

"Well, come on," she said, her voice oozing honey, draining sweet nectar lightly squeezed from a comb so that it dribbles its golden goodness down your forearm.  "I won't bite."

John took several steps across the cracked brown linoleum that somehow, after 57 years, still managed to pass for a floor and slid down across a vinyl-covered stool that matched, in age and overall condition, if not in cleanliness, the linoleum.  He stared at her chest--he couldn't help himself--at the promise of the untold wealth at which those two magnificent breasts hinted, watching first one stupendous globe strain tightly against the pink chintz of her uniform, then the other, she turning halfway away from him to pour a cup of steaming coffee, then halfway back as she reached for a saucer and spoon.  He managed to lift his eyes only milliseconds before she turned full toward him, placing the java on the counter between his outstretched hands.  She smiled.  He smiled. They both smiled.

He looked down at the cup, managed to thread one trembling finger through the hole, and lifted it slowly off the counter.  Slowly, deliberately, wantonly, his vision, his apparition, his goddess leaned forward, resting her weight against her forearms, pressing lightly against the counter's edge.  She reached out and grasped his wrists.

Setting the trembling cup back down, John looked up--up and in, up and deep down within that chasm of hope, that sink-hole of joy, that glorious crater of delirium in which those two grandiose globes were laid wide for his inspection, opened to reveal the swollen ripeness of their glory, two honey-do's ripe for the harvest.  They were the biggest boobs he had ever seen, and he was positive they must have been the sweetest tasting.

Gradually, the faint scent of jasmine on a moonlit night swept past him, and he heard the voice of an angel incant, "Cream?"

John couldn't believe his ears and blurted out suddenly, "Oh, God, yes!"  He stopped short.  His eyes widened and a sudden rash of red sheathed his face.  "I ... I mean, y-y-yes.  I'd love some ... cream ... if it's not too much ... trouble."

She smiled at him, pausing far longer than one would have thought necessary while staring into his eyes, capturing them, taking them prisoner, ensnaring them for all eternity, pausing far longer than anyone would have expected a waitress to pause before finally releasing his wrists from her grasp; and, still smiling, turning away to fetch the creamer.

Suddenly, John felt a new surge race through his body, a swelling deep down within, felt his manhood straining against all decency, straining and coursing, ready to race, raring to go ... and felt his bladder begging for release.  He shifted his weight uneasily to one side as his vision of loveliness returned, set the pitcher before him, and said something softly, too softly for him to make out, before smiling once more and turning away to go fiddle with one of the coffeepots.  John raised the cup to his lips and took a sip, then another, then a third, his lips lingering at the edge, his nostrils taking in the heady aroma, the heat rising from the black brew, a heat that nearly matched the one he felt burning within his loins.  All the while he sipped, he watched the goddess move her derriere first this way, then that, its perfectly formed twin globes matching in symmetry and in promise, if not in size, those other twins that had already captured his imagination, his heart, his lust-filled soul.  She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  He had to have her. 

It's strange how these things happen, sometimes.  At one moment, you find yourself wandering aimlessly through life, aching to meet someone you could be attracted to, fall in love with, and never ever want to be apart from again.  And the next moment, wham!  There she was.  Standing right before you.  Standing there and staring into your eyes, all gooey with sappiness and tenderness and all that other stuff, just the way it says in the movies.  Standing there invitingly, hoping that you notice, that you feel the same way about her that she feels about you.  Hoping against hope ... and more.

"So ... " the goddess' voice chimed sweetly, dragging John back to reality.  "What's your name?"

John swallowed hard and set the cup down.  He cleared his throat.  He had to be cool.  He had to do this just right.  Oh, he knew it wasn't a tough question.  He knew he could handle it.  He'd done so in the past many times.  But now ...  Now, his answer would have to be perfectly smooth, confident, relaxed, secure.  He would need to be all of that and more if he was to capture this wanton beauty for his own, forever.  He knew his chances in life of ever meeting anyone again even half so desirable would be slim.  He was not about to waste his best shot.  She was just too good to be true, his fantasy dream walking.  If this was John's one-in-a-million shot, he was going to sink it.

"John," he replied.  "John ... "  He paused.  He felt his knuckles tighten, his palms begin to melt.  His feet grew suddenly to twice their normal size.  His head began to throb.  Fear raced through him like a condemned man on Death Row, walking those last few desperate steps. 

Wait a minute.  Wait!  Something's wrong.  Something's very wrong! a little voice in the back of John's head screamed.  Did he remember?  Could he remember?  A year or so ago or more.  Back to the very first trip he'd taken with his parents to Las Vegas.  It had been a high-school graduation present.  He'd wandered down to the bar late one night, 1:30 or 2 a.m., long after his parents had turned in, and fought his way past wall-to-wall bodies, a sea of sweating torsos, smoking cigarettes, waving cigars, beaded handbags, stacks of chips, plastic cups filled with quarters, until finally he spotted a solitary stool.

Sliding quickly through the crowd, he settled onto the perch and motioned to the bartender for a beer.  As he slowly raised it to his lips, the woman seated next to him turned around.  "Well, helloooo," she said seductively.  She was dark-haired, dark-lipped, with plenty of eye makeup, but clean, not greasy looking, and when John's eyes swept across her, he couldn't help but notice that her peek-a-boo blouse was peeking back.  "What's your name?" she asked.

"John," he replied, surprised that someone older, someone so sophisticated would express an interest in him.  He sat up on the stool, trying to make himself look taller, and older, too.  After all, she was 23, 24 maybe.  He couldn't tell.  "John Aiello."

"Well, nice to meet you, John Aiello.  My name is Marie ... Amore," she said, holding out her hand for John to squeeze.  He hoped she hadn't noticed the sweat on his palm and wondered how it had gotten there.  "Are you here on business or pleasure, John Aiello?"

"Oh," John replied, reaching nonchalantly for his beer.  "Pleasure.  Strictly pleasure.  I always come to Vegas when I want to have some fun.  I love it here.  Always something going on.  You know?  Always some action."

She smiled.  "I know what you mean.  I'm here for some action, too."  She stared at John as he sipped from the glass.  "Are you staying here?  At the casino?" she asked.

Suddenly a bell went off within the distant recesses of his mind.  Ohmahgawd ... she wouldn't be ... I mean, she couldn't be ...

"Uhhh, yeah," John said.  "Yeah, I am.  And you?"

She smiled, ran her long nails gently across his forearm, and looked up at him.  "I could be...if you're looking for some fun."

John flinched.  "Ohhhh, gee.  Yeah, well, I mean...sure.  Who isn't looking for some, I mean, fun?"

Fun ... as in, fifty dollars and a lifetime of herpes?  A hundred bucks and she throws in an autographed HIV kit?  This wasn't exactly John's idea of a good time.  Not to mention the fact that, for his first ever, well, paramour, he had always pictured something, someone, a bit more ... romantic.

"I mean, no.  I mean, not really.  You see, I've got this business, uhh, engagement.  In the morning.  You know, early.  In the morning.  Tomorrow?  So, you see, I really shouldn't, uhh ..."

The woman leaned forward, her ample breasts dangling invitingly, unrestrained, just inches from his nerve center.  "Oh, nooo.  You're not going to put business before pleasure, are you?  Life is soooooo short."  She slipped one hand, long-fingered and delicate, through his hair.

"Ohhh, yeah.  God.  Yeah, that's saying a mouth ... I mean, yeah, you can say that again.  But you know what they say.  All work and no ... I mean, no rest for the ... "  He felt his hands begin to tremble and his arm sink back down to the bar where the glass clinked softly against the damp urethane.  Slowly he pushed himself backwards until he slipped off the back of the stool.  "Yeah, well, no, really.  I mean, I appreciate the offer and all.  I really do.  That's ... that's just ... swell of you.  Really, it is.  But I think, under the circumstances and all, well ..."

The woman raised her brows and pursed her lips into a tight, inviting pout, all the while her eyes never leaving his.

"Sooo," John said.  "I guess I'll just be, you know, turning in."

She smiled.  "Well, that's too bad, John Aiello.  Are you sure you don't want some company?"

"Ohhh, gee.  I mean, yeah, that would really be, you know, nice.  But, really, I can't.  I've got this the know?  And--" he spread his arms out to his sides, looking for all the world like a Mallard coming in for a landing, and forced a loud yawn--"I'm really tired, as you can plainly see."  As he spoke, he backed slowly away from her and, lowering his arms, said, "No, I'm just going to...hit the old hay and get some shut-eye.  You know.  Just me.  All night.  Alone.  Asleep."

"Well, then, maybe we can get together tomorrow night...if you don't have any more business meetings, and if you're not so tired."

Oh, my God!  I told her I'm staying here at the casino.  I told her my name!  I'm dead fucking meat!  Jesus Christ, what if she looks me up?  What if she comes knocking on my door in the middle of the night, stoned out of her head on drugs or something...or drunk as a sailor?  Or what if her pimp gets mad at her and beats her up and throws her out for not making any money and she comes to my room looking for help?  Or, Jesus Christ! What if she goes to my parents' room by mistake!  "Hi, my name is Marie, and I'm a hooker.  Is John in?  He's expecting me."  Oh, my God, that'd be it.  That'd do it.

"John what?"

"Huh?" John said.

"I said, John what?  What's your last name?" the goddess asked, staring across a big, inviting smile that reminded him of another smile he'd seen so long ago, a smile so potentially disastrous.

"Oh," he said, fear coursing through him like a thoroughbred breaking at the wire.  "John ... uhhh ... John ... "

John John?  John John?  Oh, that's just great.  Really great.  You are sooooooo smooth, John John!  Anything else you'd like to tell her?  Like maybe where you're from?  Like maybe ... Chicago Chicago?

"John John!  That's so cute.  And unusual.  You must get kidded a lot."

"Uhhh, no.  I mean, not that much.  Not really.  Some.  You know, with a name like John...John.  Some, but not a lot."  He shrugged.  "But some.  You know."

She smiled, her lips opening to reveal those same bead-like pearls that had first lured him to the trap.  He wondered how anybody could actually chew anything with teeth that tiny.

"My name's Mary Lou," she said, holding out her hand.  "Mary Lou Feeney."

John shook her hand, amazed at how soft her skin was, how warm, how delicate her touch. 

Feeney!  "Mary Lou Feeney?  I didn't know old-man Feeney had any kids.  I didn't even know he was married!  I mean..."

She giggled.  "I'm not his daughter.  I'm his niece."

John raised his brows, his eyes washing over her ample assets, then took a deep breath.  That was close.  John couldn't begin to imagine what kind of a girl could spring forth from the loins of a fruitcake like Old Man Feeney.  He breathed out again.  He should have known.  No one this nice, this gorgeous, this stacked could be the progeny of a loon.  He was ashamed of himself even for thinking it.  For thinking lots of things.

She's no hooker, for chrissake.  She's just a nice, warm, friendly gal looking for a nice, warm, friendly friend.  Just because she's stacked doesn't mean she's a hooker, for God's sake.

On the other hand, John thought, he hadn't seen it coming in Vegas, either.  He hadn't been able to tell.  At least not until she had practically come out and propositioned him.  Could it be the same thing here?  With Mary Lou?  Could Old Man Feeney's niece be a goddam whore?  That would certainly fit.  That would certainly explain her being with him.  So inviting.

Jesus, Christ, John.  Can you pick 'em, or what!

"I just work here whenever I need a little...extra cash," she said.  "You know, to help out with school and things like that.  I'm in collage.  The University of Minnesota.  You know, home of the Golden Gophers?"

She took one step back and threw her arms out to one side.  "Hit 'em high, hit 'em low, come on Gophers, go-go-go!"

At the end of the cheer, she thrust her boobs so far forward, John expected them to come flying at him across the counter.


She looked at him.  "What?"

"Oh.  Oh, nothing.  I was just thinking about...someone."

She glanced at him mischievously and reached up to tug at her top, still straining to pop open.

"How about you?"


"I said, how about you?  Do you live here?  In Chicago?"

"Ohhh.."  John's mind raced around for an answer.  If she were a hooker, he wasn't about to share his life story with her.  On the other hand, even if she was, he didn't want to come off looking like a dork.  "Oh, no.  No.  I'm from ... uhh, South Dakota.  Yeah, that's it.  I'm just here helping my uncle work his nets."

"Oh," she said.  "Then your uncle lives here."

"Huh?  Oh, no.  No.  None of us lives here.  Actually.  We're all from...we all live somewhere else.  Far away.  Far, far away.  All over.  All over."  He hoped that she was buying it.

"And do you go to school in South Dakota?"

"I...go to school there.  In South Dakota.  You know, far away."

"Oh.  At the University?"

"Yeah, that's right.  In Fargo."

"Oh."  She smiled again, then paused, the smile fading from her face.  "Wait a minute.  Isn't Fargo in North Dakota?"

John stirred uneasily.  "Oh, yeah.  Of course.  But, I, uhh...commute."

"Oh, well, that's fine...I guess."

"Sooooo," John said awkwardly.  "What's your size?  I mean major.  Major.  What's your major?  What are you studying?  You know.  In college.  In Minnesota."

Her lips turned up into an impish grin.  "You're cute.  And kinda shy.  I like that in a guy."

Holy God, she thinks I'm cute.  And shy.  And me?  I think ...


"Just for that, I'm going to give you another cup of coffee, on the house.  Just for being so cute, John John."

As she reached for the pot, John could just picture his father opening the morning paper to the scream of the headlines: "Local Boy Picks Up Hooker!" they read.  "'I didn't know she was a whore,' lad insists.  'I thought she was just being friendly!'"

She filled his cup, and John jumped back sharply.  "Owww!"

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said.  "Is it hot?  I'm so clumsy.  Here, let me get you..."

"No, no, that's all right.  Really.  Besides, I've gotta go.  I've just my uncle...pull in that net.  He's waiting for me.  Right now.  Right down...over somewhere, err...somewhere else.  Thanks, anyway.  Really."

"Well..." the goddess said, looking very confused.  "Okay, but at least let me give you a go-cup."

Oh, my God.  Did she say D-cup?

"It'll help keep you warm.  Here," she said.  She filled a plastic cup with java and handed it to him.

"Ohhh.  Oh, thanks.  Thanks a lot.  Really.  Sorry I've gotta run and all, but, well, you know."

"If you get cold later, come on back, John John.  It gets lonely in here sometimes."

"Yeah.  Yeah, I'll do that.  If I can.  I'll definitely do that."

John slipped off the stool and slid out the door, failing to notice the sun breaking over the lake.  He scurried back to the rocks where his uncle was waiting, watching, tugging at the net to see if he could feel any activity.

Jesus Christ, John!  What the fuck is the matter with you?  Two women in two years, and they're both fucking hookers?  What the fuck is the matter with you?  What the goddam fuck is the matter with you?

John worked quickly, quietly, helping his uncle pull up the net, then letting it slide back down into the frigid abyss after they'd removed the handful or two of fish they'd brought up, wriggling like wild to get free.  He wiped his hands and wrapped them around the go-cup, then took a sip as he watched the fish swirling around inside a bucket.

"You were gone for quite a while," John's uncle said matter-of-factly.  "Must have been one helluva pee."

Pee!  Ohmawgahd.  I forgot to pee!

John looked again at the wriggling fish and instinctively crossed one leg over the other.

"Say, how long do you think we'll be out here?  I mean, the fishing seems a bit slow.  Maybe..."

His uncle waved him off.  "Nahh.  It always starts out this way.  Usually they really start to run after the sun's been up an hour or two.  So far it's been only--" he hesitated as he checked his watch--"twenty minutes.  Let's give it another couple hours, anyway."

A couple hours!  John knew he couldn't wait that long.  He was straining now.  A couple more hours and he'd explode!

"I thought maybe Old Man Feeney's niece come down to work in her uncle's shop.  She does that sometimes toward the end of summer.  Likes to make a little money for school, although I can't picture the old coot paying her anything to make it worth her while."

John paused.  "His niece?"

"Yeah."  John's uncle pulled an orange from a sack he'd brought along with him and began carving into it with a small pocket knife.  "Goes to school at the University of Minnesota or someplace like that.  Straight-A student.  You know, Dean's List and all that kinda shit.  She's studying to be a doctor or a lawyer or something, I forget.  Old Man Feeney near as talked my head off about her last time I come out to the lake.  Saying how proud everyone in the family was of her.  Claimed she's quite a looker, too.  Although I can't see how anyone related to that old buzzard could look like a damn."

John's mind raced.  "A doctor?"

His uncle nodded.  "Doctor or lawyer or something like that."  He popped a slice of orange into his mouth and extended his hand to John.

John shook his head.  "Say, it's the darnedest thing."

His uncle looked up.  "What?"

"All this coffee I've been drinking, I'll be damned if I don't have to take another pee."

His uncle shook his head.  "Kids.  I swear, when I was your age, I didn't pee but once a ..."

"Yeah, well, I won't be long.  Then we'll check the net again, huh?  See if they're running yet."

John peered back over his shoulder.  The sun had begun warming the early morning air to where it was finally bearable.  The wind had died down, too--as much as you could expect this time of year right off the lake.  As he thought about his uncle's words, he felt his legs involuntarily pick up their pace.  He felt, too, the sudden release he would know, felt the easing strain on his bladder, pictured himself before the porcelain god, listening to the stream working its way up and down against the back wall of the urinal.  He quickened his pace again, knowing that he would make it just in time.

He bounded up the steps to the shop, pausing just long enough to push his hands through his hair.  He would walk in and use the john and then come out and do some heavy-duty schmoozing.  He couldn't believe he'd been so dumb.  He couldn't believe he'd let his imagination run away with him that way.  That whole Vegas thing, that whole episode ... What's past is past, he thought.  Jesus, John, you've got to quit worrying.  You've got to get hold of yourself.

John opened the shop to the door and glanced around for Old Man Feeney's niece.  She was nowhere in sight.  Must have stepped out a minute.  He angled his way across the floor and stopped before the doorway leading to the bathroom.  Just in time, he thought as he grabbed for the knob.

Suddenly the door flew open and standing there before him was Old Man Feeney, himself.  The old geezer took one long, squinting look at John, and John at him, at the broom in his hands, at the stubble on the old man's face and the queer look in his eyes. 

"Excuse me," John said.

The old man's eyes exploded.  "Excuse you?  Excuse you?  Ain't you the son-of-a-bitch what's been putting the make on my niece?  Ain't you the good-for-nothing two-timing little bastard what's got the hots for my little Mary Lou?"

John shook his head.  "I..."

The old man suddenly exploded toward him, swinging the broom in wide arcs like a palace guard wielding a scimitar.

"Go on, don't lie to me, you rotten little punk!  Why, I'll teach you to go causing trouble.  I'll teach you to go bothering innocent young girls when all they want is a little peace and quiet.  Go on, now!  Mister punk!  Go on, now, and get your skinny ass the hell outa my place.  Now!"

"Hey!" John cried as the broom caught him flush against his ribs.  Another blow struck him on the arm, and a third missed his head by inches.

"Jesus Christ, are you nuts?"

"Go on, I'll show you who's nuts.  Git the hell outa here, now.  Git the hell outa my shop, before I really lose my temper!"

John grabbed the door knob and rushed across the threshold just as he felt the old man's boot skim past his ass.  As he emerged in the sunlight, the door slammed shut so hard, the glass rattled.  John looked back inside the shop, where Old Man Feeney was still ranting and raving, swinging the broom above his head like a lariat and shouting at no one in particular and at everyone in general at one and the same time.

For a moment, he couldn't believe what had happened.  He couldn't believe the old man had mistaken him for somebody else.  He couldn't believe ... Shit!  He couldn't believe he'd probably never see Mary Lou Feeney again.  Shit!  And she's gonna be a doctor!

John took one last look over his shoulder as he walked down the steps to the pavement, then stopped to look out over the lake.  The waves were rolling in gently, now, their early morning thunder all but quashed.  They lapped lightly at the shore, sheeting up and over the rocks and moving the sand and small pebbles first in and then out, again, as they receded back into the lake, only to be replaced by a new ebb and flow.

John looked out over the waves, over the steady in-and-out motion of the water, and wished he had someplace to pee.

- BACK -

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