Forged in Fear: Trouble begets trouble ...
FORGED IN FEAR
I was talking with my favorite customer, Myrtle Ledford, when the bell over the door jangled. I looked up to see a most peculiar little man sporting a pencil mustache and a fedora. Didn’t look like my usual customer. He closed the door behind him and searched furtively with beady eyes. Then he spotted what he came for, and it wasn’t piccalilli.
Nigel had just come from the back with a large wheel of Parmesan we’d planned to cut into wedges. Fedora met him at the cheese counter.
I saw Nigel blanch and knew something was wrong. Very wrong.
Nigel jerked his head toward the back in a most unNigel-like way, as though he’d been watching too many film noir. But of course he hadn’t been watching them—he’d been living them during those years before we'd met. Now I could only stand by and watch as he reclaimed that way of life.
“What is it honey?” Myrtle asked.
I shuddered. “Oh, just one of those twists that life throws at you when you think everything is going swimmingly.”
She chuckled at my old-fashioned word. “Well, be grateful you had a stretch of swimmingly. Can’t say I remember one.”
Myrtle’s life had included more setbacks than seemed fair. (I know, I know, life isn’t fair.) First there was Roy, her husband, going “up the river for moonshine,” and Myrtle following him to a small apartment near the Ohio federal penitentiary. Throughout their hardscrabble lives they’d dealt with poverty, the death of a child, and too many sorrows to recount. That day, Roy was in the hospital following his second heart attack, and Myrtle had stopped by on her way to visit him to pick up some of his favorite foods. As she hoisted her bag of groceries, I tossed in some Scottish oatmeal cookies I knew he liked.
“On the house. And please tell Roy I look forward to seeing him back at the store.”
“More like on the bench out front,” Myrtle said with mock irritation. Yes, Roy was of that generation of men who let women folk do all the shopping and cleaning and birthing and, well, you name it. But she seemed to love him dearly, and I hoped they’d still have times together that did go swimmingly.
When she left, I walked to the back, where I saw Nigel outside, alone, and smoking! I’d never seen him smoke before, even years ago when he was under house arrest.
I joined him and asked for a cigarette. "I've quit," I added.
"Me, too," he said. I wasn't sure who was kidding who. Whom. Whatever.
After he lit my cigarette, I asked, “Who was that funny looking guy?”
“Oh, just some bloke I shared a drink with.”
“What’s his name?”
“Er, uh, one of those double names so popular in these parts. I believe he said Johnny Ray.”
I knew he was stalling. “Making friends, eh? Though he doesn’t seem like your type.”
“Well, you know how it is, not too many of my type, as you put it, round here.”
“Plenty with your heritage, but you’re right. I’m glad you’re settling in and meeting some people.” As he started to say something, I interrupted. “Hey wait a minute, where’d you get a drink around here?” I knew our dry county didn't have much to offer in that department.
“Oh, there are ways. And places.”
“So how long do you plan to lay low in Timbuktu?”
“Oh, who knows? You’re not trying to get rid of me, are you? I’m rather enjoying myself, and I believe sales are up since a dashing bloke from the Old Country started selling cheeses and wines—and some lagers.”
I had to laugh. Now that Nigel was staying out at Abit’s, I could truly appreciate having him around. Just when I needed some extra help.
We’d finished chiseling that Parmesan into small pieces when Abit came to pick him up. He walked in with questions of his own. “Who was that guy with the lousy muffler, Nigel? It sounded like a tractor pull from inside the house.” He was smiling so I knew he was just giving Nigel a hard time.
“That would likely have been Johnny Ray, right Nigel?” I added, piling on.
Nigel looked so flustered Abit and I both dropped the teasing. Something was going on that didn’t feel right. I thought Nigel was on the lam, laying low. But trouble begets trouble, and we had no shortage of that in Laurel Falls.
Look for Chapter Seven in a couple of weeks.