Tennessee Waltz

Salutations, grizzled veterans of the great Lucky Charms War of 1824. I am so glad you came!

Today happens to be a holiday; International Play Guitar Hero and Do Nothing Else All Day Day.

Should you find just a little bit of time for something else, Monkey Barn is just blowing up with coolness. Yesterday we tackled the world of probability. Today we jump headlong into who your mate would least let you go out to dinner with. It is quite the argument, so jump in and vote!


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[Continuing from yesterday, we have the first chapter in my novella. I sat down to write this several months after what turned out to be the Prologue with one simple rule: don't think about it, just write. At the beginning I think the story suffers, as the narrator can't quite decide how serious to be, and there are some control issues in the storytelling. However, once the armed robbery happens I think it picks up nicely. I would totally redo the beginning if/when I rewrite this. Interestingly, this is the first time I've actually read the chapter myself.]


THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE ADVENTURES OF FAGIN DUPREE


Read the Prologue


Chapter One - Tennessee Waltz

Fagin Dupree walked out of the Starvin' Marvin with the following items: one 3 oz bag of cheddar-flavored Sun Chips, one box of chocolate-covered doughnuts, one piece of beef jerky, one pack of Extra sugar-free gum; Wintermint, and one bottle of Pepsi; 1 Liter size. For these items, Fagin paid a total of $17.02. Add to that the 30.8 gallons needed to fill Fagin's new black Lincoln Navigator (at $1.72/gallon), and you have quite an expensive pit stop.

Originally, these were the kinds of expenses that would give Fagin fits. He had always been a very frugal man; some would even say cheap. But all that was in the past. The new Fagin spent like he was using House Money. Impulse buys now were common; Fagin no longer squeezed every possible penny out of napkins, coffee filters, and toilet paper (don't ask). No longer did he ask for extra ketchup packets in the drive through, and where before waitresses dreaded serving him, now they fought to do so. (Of course, this had a good bit to do with other factors, but we will get to that.)

Yes, Fagin Dupree seemed like a new man. Take the car, for instance. Two years ago, Fagin bought a 1999 Honda Accord, well taken care of and with low miles. Fagin had planned to drive it for another three or four years at least. However, two weeks ago he had traded it in for the Navigator; brand-spanking new, with all the bells and whistles. The monthly note was high, but Fagin did not blink.

That is because a little over three months ago, something happened to Fagin, something to change his life. Since that time, he had a whole new outlook on things. Fagin Dupree was now officially a Big Thinker, and he did not sweat the small stuff.

This extended to work as well, where Fagin was now assertive about landing the plumb assignments. It was generally acknowledged that Fagin Dupree was the superior Restoration expert in Atlanta—if not the whole Southeast—but a lack of focus, drive, and a complete inability to play office politics had always kept Fagin in the second row.

In the past, it would be Evan Jarret getting the high-profile Vanderbilt assignment, not Fagin. But that was then.

Always a cautious defensive driver, Fagin now drove the Navigator out of the parking lot and onto the access road in a smooth manner. There he aggressively shot up to eighty m.p.h. to merge with the Interstate. There was no real need at this time of night. I-75 was sparsely traveled up to the Tennessee border, but driving at high speeds was another one of life's little joys that Fagin had discovered in the past few weeks, and the Navigator responded like a stallion; itching to go faster. When he really compared the two experiences, Fagin was amazed more people did not do this. Well, in Georgia, he supposed they did.

Fagin set the Cruise at ninety-three and let the miles fly by. Even before, Fagin had always preferred to travel at night. It was more peaceful out here, without all the traffic and the lights: just him under the stars. It was 1:19 now, and he gained an hour, which gave Fagin plenty of time to make his 9:00 meeting in the morning.

The work was a 16th Century fresco the University had somehow obtained. It promised to be a real challenge. Any other time and Fagin would have been ecstatic at the chance to work on a project of this magnitude. But now…it wasn't so much that Fagin no longer enjoyed his work, but since reading those 14 words on that Parchment, he couldn't help but feel that there was more out there for him.

As a kid, Fagin had dreamed of being a big-game hunter or explorer like Alan Quartermain in the books he read. Fagin had also fancied being a spy like James Bond or especially Nick Carter. With Fagin's health, toughness and general disposition, these dreams had always seemed just that; dreams. Now…it felt like every possibility was alive.

***

The meeting was going rather well. There was no question Fagin was the acknowledged expert in any room he happened to be, but sometimes when there were other Art Historians or Restoration consultants Fagin would get tentative. He would find himself unable to articulate and assert his positions with any precision or clarity. It was something he had always hated about himself.

No longer. Imbued with a confidence, poise, and savoir-faire he had never known, Fagin felt at home in seemingly every situation, and nowhere more so than here. The University of Vanderbilt expert—a Mr. Craig Byars—tried to pontificate at length how the Italian artist would have eschewed mercury for local or political reasons. Fagin was not having it.

In emphatic, withering fashion, Fagin not only explained what the politics of the day actually were, but also how ridiculous Byars was for suggesting otherwise. Using the brush-strokes visible on the painting, Fagin ticked off point-by-point how the so-called expert Byars had the fresco dated in the wrong town and decade.

It was a beautiful performance, made more so by the luscious Art Curator on hand, a Miss Stefanie Sanchez. She seemed quite impressed that Fagin took the pompous Craig Byars down several pegs. With a confidence only recently arrived, Fagin followed up his good performance by asking Stefanie to lunch. She acquiesced and Fagin Dupree left the art department of Vanderbilt University whistling.

Getting directions from a flirtatious co-ed (was there any other kind?); Fagin drove several blocks to a flower shop. By the time he found parking, though, Fagin was a bit turned around and ended up wandering down several side streets and back alleys. Fagin thought he was almost there when he came upon a most peculiar sight.

Three men stepped into the alley, each with ski masks over their heads and large bags over their shoulders. Out of instinct Fagin stepped behind garbage dumpster and watched the men unobserved. The men took the ski masks off and put them in a fourth bag. Out of that bag, they took different pairs of pants and shirts. One of the men finished changing first and, throwing the old clothes in the bag, took off down the alley, calling that he would be back with the car in a minute. The other two sat down on crates to wait.

From the opposite end of the alley, Fagin watched this scene unfold with disbelief. Unless he missed his guess, these three men had just robbed somebody, and were now fine-as-you-please getting ready to walk away. Part of Fagin was stupefied they could be that nonchalant about committing so brazen a crime. The other part of him was envious at their cool under fire. Suddenly, inspiration struck, and Fagin had an idea.

Without pausing to consider the ramifications of his chance of success—or even for his own safety—Fagin immediately moved into action. He grabbed a piece of rebar lying against the building and took quick steps toward the two men, who were preoccupied with watching for their compatriot to show up with the car.

Fagin reached the pair unnoticed, and before he could think about all the things that could go wrong, he neatly clipped one of the men in the back of the head. The man went down in a heap, with an audible "thud."

The other turned at the sound, but Fagin was already moving and managed to thump the guy twice before he could get a good view. Fagin was amazed at how calm he was and how normal his breathing. Moving quickly, Fagin drug both prostrate man into a side door of an abandoned store (a defunct Mail & More).

The package store gave Fagin a further idea. He walked back out into the alley and picked up the three large duffle bags. Without looking in them, Fagin slowly and calmly walked out of the alley as if he had all the time in the world. Fagin found his vehicle and got in, cruising slowly down the strip.

Fagin Dupree knew that when one of those package centers went bankrupt, it was usually because another one was close by, and there was just not enough business for two. Sure enough: Fagin saw Mail Boxes Etc. just down the street. He left the car running and went in, asking for a large box. Fagin took the box back out to the Navigator, and proceeded to empty the contents of the three bags.

It turned out to be cash, and lots of it. Fagin did not bother to count it. He went back inside and sealed up the box, addressing it to a post office box in Atlanta he had opened a few weeks ago, on a lark, as spies did, under an assumed name. Fagin paid cash and walked out.

Back in the car, Fagin drove back to the exact same parking lot: and even got the same space. He took the bags back to the alley, and there was no one around.

Fagin hid the bags under some debris, thankful for the cold weather the necessitated his wearing gloves. Then Fagin checked on the two knocked-out guys (they were still unconscious), walked out to the main street, and bought flowers at the shop. Fagin took the flowers back to his car and drove back to the University, where he met Miss Stefanie Sanchez.

Fagin took her to a pancake place that was very crowded with university students and locals. A long line snaked halfway down the block. This worried Fagin not in the least. Holding her hand, Fagin led Stefanie right up to the hostess and said, "This is Dr. Stefanie Sanchez, world-renown Art Historian. She's only able to be here a short while, so I'd appreciate it if I could feed her so she can return to her duties."

The hostess was impressed, and sat them immediately. More importantly, Stefanie was impressed. She was also embarrassed, but definitely impressed.

They had a delightful lunch of both savory and sweet pancakes, filled with a variety of things: apple, crabmeat, cheese and hot peppers (though not all in one pancake; that would be awful). The two talked a bit on art, and then Fagin deftly steered the conversation into other areas where Stefanie had interest: French poetry, Asian politics, the work of Woody Allen, and '80s Pop Culture.

In all subjects, Fagin knew enough to keep up the conversation without showing off, and Stefanie was truly enchanted. They finished their meal and prepared to head back to the university. As they were putting on their coats and walking out, Fagin saw a police officer talking to some of the customers in line. For the fourth time in two hours, inspiration struck him, and Fagin excused himself and went over to the cop.

"Officer, I wonder if I might have a moment of your time."

The cop turned from the people he had been interviewing to look at Fagin. After a measuring glance, he nodded for Fagin to go ahead.

"This is probably silly and not worth your time, but it's been bothering me since it happened, and I'd feel better telling you even if it's nothing rather than keeping it to myself and feeling guilty all day."

The policeman nodded encouragingly, and said, "No, please. Never feel stupid bringing us your concerns. Sometimes that's how we break cases."

"Well, a couple of hours ago I was over on McAdams St. to purchase some flowers…" Fagin turned and pointed at Stefanie, who was holding her bouquet a few feet away. "As I approached the store I saw these three men in the alley-way. They all had huge bags over their shoulders. That would not have caught my attention, but they weird thing: they had ski masks on! I mean, I know the weather's cold, but it just seemed strange."

The cop became very animated at Fagin's last words, and immediately jumped on his radio; squawking to whomever he could hail. The officer was so flustered, though, that it took him about six tries to get anything intelligible out.

When he finally did, the policeman asked Fagin to come and point out the exact spot. By this time, Stefanie had come close enough to hear and she asked, "Fagin, what's going on? Why is everyone so jumpy?"

"Stefanie, dear," Fagin said smoothly, "It seems that while I was procuring your flowers I perhaps witnessed a crime taking place. The police want me to go show them where."

Stefanie's eyes widened in that classic-girl response to danger, and she gripped Fagin's arm. He felt electricity shoot through him. That gave him yet another idea.

"Why don't you come with me while I help the police, and then I'd like to show you something in my hotel room.

Stefanie looked suspicious, but intrigued. "Is it art-related?"

Fagin Dupree flashed that grin he had perfected in the last three months and said wolfishly, "I have no doubt that it will take your breath away."

2 comments:

Koz said...

blah blah blah

lost goddess said...

nice job koz some one had to say it!