Tuesday, March 5, 2013

99. "Dee-lish"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations by danny delcroix and eddie el greco

*Assistant Professor of American Popular Culture, assistant Bowling Club coach, Olney Community College; editor of Tramp Steamer Bound for Borneo: 37 Previously Uncollected Tales of the South Seas, by Horace P. Sternwall; Olney Community College Press. Order online now and get a free copy of Up the Long Ladder and Down the Short Rope: 365 Inspirational Sonnets by Horace P. Sternwall (Olney Community College Press; paperback; edited by Dan Leo, original illustrations by Eddie El Greco; foreword by Charlie Rose).

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Harold P. Sternhagen (author of A Fine Day For a Lynch Party,  Down Death’s Dark Streets, and Bayou Boy) cleared his throat and then said, or rather almost shouted, as the band was playing very loud, “Excuse me, um, Miss De La Salle?”

Shirley De La Salle looked at him. She’d seen worse, she’d seen lots better. This guy looked like he hadn’t seen daylight in a year. He was thin and his suit was old. A musician? No, he didn’t look hip enough to be a musician.

“You’re excused,” she said, or rather almost shouted, just as Harold had done.

“Um, I, uh —” said the pale thin man. 

But then Shirley noticed his eyes. She knew those eyes. Gage eyes, maryjane eyes. Reefer eyes. What the hell, maybe he was holding — and something better than that skunkweed Tony and the rest of the band smoked.

“Just kidding, fella,” she said. “What’s shakin’, daddy?”

“I, uh, was just wondering if I could, um, buy you a drink. Or —”

“Or what?” said Shirley.

“Or —” Harold realized he was sweating. Like a pig. Did pigs sweat? At any rate, he was sweating, profusely. But wait, was there any other kind of sweating than the profuse kind?

“Yes?” said Shirley. 

“I mean, if you would like another drink,” said Harold. “I wouldn’t want to presume, uh —”

“That I would have more than one drink?” said Shirley.

“Um, well,” said Harold, “it’s just that, you know, I know you probably have to sing again tonight, and —”

“Hey, Raoul!” called Shirley, to the barman, who came over at once. “Raoul, you know this guy?”

“Why, yes, Miss De la Salle, ” said Raoul. “This is Mr. Sternhagen. He’s one of our resident guests, and has been for some several years now.”

“He on the up and up?” asked Shirley.

“I have never known Mr. Sternhagen to behave in an obstreperous fashion,” said Raoul.

“No kidding,” said Shirley. “So I’m not going to regret it if I let him buy me a drink?”

“That’s not for me to say, Miss De La Salle. I can only say that I have never had to remove him from the bar, nor have I ever heard any complaints about him.”

“He’s the quiet type, huh?”

“Mr. Sternhagen is an author, Miss.”

“This guy?”

“Yes, I’ve read quite a few of his novels. I very much enjoyed that last one you gave me, Mr. Sternhagen, Massacre at Cimarron Pass?”

“Oh, thank you, Raoul,” said Harold.

“You got a real gift, Mr. Sternhagen. I would probably read your books even if you didn’t lend them to me to read for free.”

“Well, thank you, again, Raoul, that means a lot to me,” said Harold, who was rapidly gaining his confidence now.

“You can tell you write books for the common man, Mr. Sternhagen. A lot of these writers like to talk about the common man, but then they write books no common man would want to read.”

“Yes, that’s true, Raoul,” said Harold. 

“Your books deal with subjects the common man can identify with. Like cowboys who are out to avenge the gang that killed their ma and pa. Or like guys who get caught in a spiraling vortex of passion and murder. Them kinds of books.”

“Well, the thing is,” said Harold, “that I believe conflict is the basis of all —”

“Or like the plight of a mulatto girl in a small southern town who falls in love with the drunken son of the big plantation owner. What was that one, High Yella Gal?

“Yes, that was it,” said Harold. “You see I wanted to deal with the subject of racial —”

“Hey,” said Shirley, “I hate to interrupt this literary discussion but I do believe somebody mentioned buying somebody a drink.”

“Oh! Sorry,” said Harold, pulling out his old Cub Scout wallet. “What are you drinking?”

Shirley lifted her stemmed and shallow-bowled glass and finished it off. She put the glass back down on the bar and shoved it toward Raoul.

“Same again, Raoul. On Ernie Hemingway here.”

“Champagne cocktail?” said Raoul. “Hold the cherry?”

“Hold the cherry,” said Shirley. “I got to watch my maidenly figure y’know.”

“Ha ha, yes, of course,” said Raoul. “And you, Mr. Sternhagen. The usual, bottle of Rheingold?”

“Why, no,” said Harold. “You know what? I think I’d like to try a champagne cocktail, too.”

“Seriously?” said Raoul.

Raoul said this because in the four years he had known Harold P. Sternhagen he had never known him to order anything but a bottle of Rheingold, unless someone else was buying of course.

“Yes,” said Harold. “I mean, no, I’m actually not kidding. I think I’d like to try a champagne cocktail. I don’t think I’ve ever had one.”

“They’re dee-lish,” said Shirley. “And really good for oiling up the old vocal cords.”

“Excuse me,” said a well-dressed blond man sitting on a stool to Harold’s right. “What is dee-lish?”

“It means scrumptious,” said Shirley.

“I believe it’s an abbreviated or hypocoristic form of the adjective delicious,” said the well-dressed dark-haired man who was sitting to the right of the blond man.

“Ah, yes, I see,” said the blond man. “But I wonder, miss, if by the same process of abbreviation one might say something is ‘scrumpt’?”

“’Scrumpt’?” said Shirley.

“Short for scrumptious,” said the blond man.

“You guys aren’t from around here, are you?” said Shirley.

“We are salesmen from Dubuque, Iowa,” said the dark-haired man.

“First time in the big city?” said Shirley.

“Yes, this is our first time,” said the blond man. 

“Having a ball, are ya, fellas?”

“Oh, yes, indeed,” said the blond man. “You see, almost as soon as we landed here we met some nice people who sold us some shit.”

“Hold on,” said Shirley. “They sold you shit?”

“Yes, indeed,” said the blond man. “Mr. Burgoyne, why don’t you bring out the shit that’s left over?”

“Of course, Mr. O’Toole,” said the dark-haired man, and he reached into the side pocket of his suit jacket and brought out a half-smoked hand-rolled cigarette. He held it up between two fingers. “Shall we light up?”

“Hey, pal,” said Shirley, “put that doobie away, man. This place is cool, but not that cool.”

“But don’t you want to, as they say, get high?” said Mr. Burgoyne.

“Y’know, I like your style, pal,” said Shirley. “What say we grab our drinks and adjourn to the green room. You in, Harold?”

“I, um,” said Harold.

“Come on, Harold, don’t be a square.”

“Well, okay,” said Harold.

“Splendid,” said Mr. O’Toole.

“Splendid indeed,” said Mr. Burgoyne.”

The band continued to play, Tony taking one of his show-offy solos with a big smile on his face and a cigarette between his teeth.


(To be continued, inexorably.)

100. endless night

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