The Great Farini

So very tired. Up since five thirty and didn’t get home from work until after eight tonight. Good news is that only two more days and then on vacation until after labour day.

I’m holding off until the last minute but I will be signing up for the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Competition tomorrow. I like leaving it to the last minute. For some reason, my mind prefers keeping my options open in case something comes up. I’m better at getting things done than I’ve ever been but procrastination is part of my process.

I considered not posting today. I had an excuse in being tired. I knew I had to do something. One day would become two and that would turn into me neglecting this for another six months before being struck with inspiration and start all over again.

Admittedly, I’m rewriting an old story. I still remember it as a great idea but my execution was terrible. I think what I’ve done here is better. I’m learning that less really is more. I’m also learning that 2,500 words is a lot of words when you get rid of the needless ones.

“How’s that one taste?” Linda asked, wiping the wide expanse of the polished black bar around Linus. She wore a short, black skirt with a white work shirt a size too small, high heels and kept her thick auburn hair in a bun.

“You know what, Linda?” Linus asked in turn, spearing an olive from his martini glass. “It tasted like another.”

Before he could chomp down on the three bitter olives from his last drink, she had mixed him up another. He watched diners file in, in pairs and groups, lining up at the stir fry buffet then returning to their tables to slurp down their food. He had thought about it – ordering some food – but he knew he would just pick away, leave it to get cold.

“Thanks, Linda. What do I owe you?”

She looked at him with a hand on her hip, then nodded to the other side of the bar.

“Uh,” he said. “The martinis. What do I owe you for the martinis?”

She shook her head. He noticed her heavy eye shadow and thick eyelashes and liked the way it looked when she closed her eyes and shook her head.

“Nope. No charge. Someone’s already taken care of your tab for the entire night.”

“Bullshit,” he said.

“That guy over there,” she said, nodding in his direction again.

“A guy is paying my tab?”

“You got a problem with that? Half priced martinis around here are still eight bucks each.”

“Where’s that guy again?”

Linda nodded her head in the man’s direction a third time and took care to watch Linus closely as he took his leather sportcoat from his barstool and lumbered over to say thanks. The glassed in restaurant framed the two against the outside, headlights reflecting off polished cars, tail lights shining screams into windshields.

“Thank you, sir,” Linus said.

“My way of saying thanks. Please. Sit down.”

“Thank you, sir,” Linus repeated.

”It’s amazing how you did that tonight,” the man said. “It really is. I saw it and I still don’t quite believe it.”

“It’s amazing how they do that.” Linus pointed to the stir fry chefs on the front line wearing smudged white hats and protected by greasy aprons, wielding spatulas and squirt bottles. “Ever watch them?”

“To make sure they wash their hands?”

“No,no,” Linus said, then took a long drink. “Watch carefull. They don’t forget a thing and never complain. And do it all with a smile. And all his boss gives a shit about is how many meals he turned over every minute for the past month.”

The man shrugged. “So what?”

“What if that’s his only job? What if that’s his third job? What if this isn’t even what he wants to do for a living? He comes here every night and cooks, some customers he’ll see more often than he sees his own grandmother.”

Before the man could speak, Linus called out to Linda. “Could I get a glass of ice water? With a lemon?”

She smiled, let her bar towel fall gently on the bar and prepared his water.

“He’s sweating like a pig,” the man said.

“Yup. I bet he’s hasn’t even had a smoke break.”

Linda brought over a tall, blue plastic ice chip choked glass of water, single wedge of lemon trapped within, red and white straw stabbed through to the bottom. He chugged his last martini, then drew a long draught of water though the straw.

“Gives me hope for the future, you know?” Linus said.

“A fry cook? You seriously think what you did today comes anywhere close to what this guy is schlepping across that grill?”

“I think it’s the same thing.”

“Bullshit.”

“You ever hear of a guy called Willie Hunt?” Linus asked.

“Wha?”

“Willie Hunt. Tightroped across Niagara Falls in the 1800s. Guy would do somersaults on the tightrope, right over The Falls.”

“No shit.”

Linus nodded. “I read about him. Even went to the Guinness Museum, to see real pictures up close, you know. Guy worked with P.T. Barnum.”

“Never heard of him.”

Linus continued. “He didn’t call himself Willie Hunt, though. How could he?”

He sat straight and held out his hand for the man to shake. “Hello. Yes, my name is William Hunt and I was wondering if you would let me do a fucking somersault over Niagara Falls.”

“Why are we talking about Willie Hunt?”

“Not Willie Hunt. The Great Farini. What I’m telling you is that he changed his name. He had to. I bet he figured if he sounded Italian that people would think he really took tightrope walking seriously. This is a guy who did tightrope somersaults and flips and all kinds of shit.”

“You said that already.”

“Did I tell you that the Prince of Wales came to see him once?

“No, you didn’t.”

“To see ole Willie Hunt come to walk across Niagara Falls. But I don’t believe it.”

“Why do you say that?”

“No one watches someone walk a tightrope. They watch to see someone fall off a tightrope. But The Great Farini never fell. The more people thought he would fall, the more people came to watch. Right up to the King of England.”

“You said the Prince of Wales.”

“Whatever. But that’s why I think he stopped.”

“Why do you think he stopped?”

“He got bored.”

“How?”

“You want to know why I think he got bored and went on to cross the Sahara desert on his own two feet?”

“He walked across the Sahara?”

Linus closed his eyes and shook his head to clear it. “Yes, yes. Just another kind of tightrope for him. When you cross the Sahara it’s like crossing the Niagara. You’re still working without a net. You know why I think he got bored?”

“You were getting to that.”

“One time, he brought a metal wash tub out on his tightrope, lowered the tub into the water, brought it back up and washed twelve handkerchiefs. That’s why I think he quit. The whole thing became a chore for him. Nothing special. Nothing different than anyone else washing our dirty underwear.”

Linus waved it all away and downed the last of his water. He smacked his lips and rubbed his eyes, then stood up from his stool and extended his hand.

“You leaving?”

“Gotta fly.”

“You driving?” the man asked.

Linus looked at him. “I’d better. Too fucked up to walk.”

The man just stared and Linus laughed.

“Linda knows to order me a cab once I order my glass of water. I’m off. You know what, though?”

“What?” The maraschino cherries in the man’s whiskey sour had turned into blurry photographs at the bottom of his glass.

“Couldn’t tell you if The Great Farini had any kids. Hmmph. I’ll have to check that.”

The man shook his head. “Why?”

“Why what?” Linus asked, clumsily failing to shuck on his leather sportcoat.

“Why’d you do that?”

“Because they told me I had to do what they said. And I told them I preferred not to. Then I left.”

He walked around the bar, eyes to the ground, smiling, and put one hand to his mouth and rubbed his chin, touching his stubble like considering a shave. Linda rushed out to help with his coat. From behind, she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear while he grinned and adjusted the lapels of his sport coat.

The man watched Linus leave through the double glass doors and get into the passenger side rear of the cab. Linus patted the hand that held the doorframe before getting in. After closing the door twice did the cabbie pass around the front of the car to get in and take Linus home.

Keep Your Mask On

I’m cheating by posting an edited version of an older story instead of writing something completely new. But I am keeping my promise by using the title of the story for the title of the post.

            We woke in a dark, subterranean room with only my phone’s flashlight to see by. Elbert glanced at it bit wisely chose not to complain about me not letting him own his own.

“We’re fucking stupid,” he said instead. “We were tricked into taking off our masks.”

  “Language!” I warned. “Doctor Brown says you have Asperger’s, not Tourette’s.”

            “It’s in context, Dad,” he continued. “And it doesn’t make me wrong.”

“Where’s your sister?” I asked, holding my head.    

I welcomed his focus, because at that moment, I couldn’t concentrate. The last thing I remembered was laughing myself silly and thinking of Skrillex.

            “Bertha didn’t come down with us,” Elbert reminded me and took my phone to examine the cramped, cold and clammy basement room of the Sheepwash County’s Quiescent Cavern and Mineral Museum. “You didn’t have to, either.”

            It took a long time after the divorce for me to find a suitable two-bedroom apartment so I could have my weekends with the two of them. I thought a celebratory road-trip to check out my sister’s food truck would be an exciting adventure, but my Hyundai Accent was awfully quiet on the three-hour drive north to Sheepwash County. Their mother didn’t mind – she took the opportunity to spend the weekend camping with her new boyfriend (she hated going camping when we were married).

            Once we arrived, Bertha leapt at the chance to hang out and help at her Auntie Louise’s Vegan Caravan and I lost Elbert to an eager tour guide.

            Louise, with her new pixie cut of amethyst hair and short, stocky build of a biker queen, saw Elbert escape and pulled me aside.

            “Go with him,” she whispered. “I’ll keep Bertha busy.”

            I remembered following Elbert and his teenaged, Hawaiian shirted, cargo pants wearing, bespectacled, face masked, tour guide down narrow, rickety stairs lined with shelves of rodent skulls and ancient, fossilized teeth under glass, to a basement room, looking for an opportunity to connect with one of my kids.

            “What’s the last thing you remember?” I asked Elbert.

            “I remember everything.”

            “Then remembering the last thing should be easy.”

            He sighed.

“Wint-O-Green Life Savers. Elijah showed how they glowed in the dark when you bit down.”

            That’s when Elijah suggested we remove our masks to see it better.

            “Then he went behind that plexi-glass,” Elbert said. He walked to the back of the small room, my phone’s LED reflecting back a searing white light off the nearly floor length pane of thick, scratched plexi-glass.

            Elbert wanted to imitate how our tour guide shined different wavelengths of ultraviolet light to cause the rocks on the shelves behind the glass to fluoresce different colours, but the flashlights were gone. He did find a waist high cylinder with a knob that looked like it came from a backyard water tap. He turned it on then off.

            “What are you doing?!”

            “Did you hear that hissing? I’m pretty sure that’s gas. Dad, you said you giggled?”

            The glowing rocks reminded me of raves, which now explained why I thought of Skrillex.

            “He showed us how using acid differentiates calcite and quartz. Remember?”

            I recalled how one of the two white crystalline chunks smoked when he dropped liquid from an eyedropper onto them.

            “I admit, it’s a stretch, but he may have extracted diethyl ether from sulphuric acid. This place could buy in bulk and not raise any suspicions. He took a huge risk using it in such a small space.”

            “Acid?”

            “Ether. Laughing gas.”

            That’s why I giggled. “But why?”

            “Who knows? I’m only piecing together how I would have done it.”

            “So, you’re a sociopath now?”

            He ignored me and asked to shine my light at the tank. Our captor had run clear tubing anchored with flimsy hooks pressed into the flaking stone walls from behind the plexi-glass enclosure to middle of the low ceiling. The dark room made the setup invisible. Elbert started to unravel it.

            I tucked my phone in my front pocket and stopped him from trying to lift the heavy cylinder.

            “What are you doing?”

            “Acting fast. If it were me, I’d monitor us with night vision cameras and motion sensors. If we woke up too soon, there wouldn’t be time to come in here to turn the gas back on. He might have a backup plan.”

            “And you plan to knock him out with this?”

            “I need the cylinder closer. Direct the gas at the door hinges. If we compressed the end of the tube with two rocks from the shelf, we could maybe freeze them and knock the door down.”

            “You know MacGyver’s not real, right?”

            “You have any better ideas?”

            I held the phone in my mouth and pointed the LED down to avoid blinding myself as I tilted the cylinder to roll it into position on its edge until the tube reached close enough for us to spray the hinge.

            “Closer, Dad.”

            “Elbert, don’t pull.”

            Just as he did, the tube came free of the cylinder nozzle. I fell backward, my phone crashing on the stone floor as the door opened outward and Elbert fell through it and into the open, ample and tattooed arms of my younger sister.

            “Annie Lou!” He shouted, calling her by the name he used as a kid and hugged her hard.

            She’d stopped the kid from hiding the Hyundai under a pile of brush and made short work of “convincing” him to confess. The museum owners who hired him didn’t question his enthusiasm and were thrilled with his knowledge – there weren’t many teenagers prospecting for tour guide jobs in the small mining town of Sheepwash County – and didn’t figure on him being a budding serial killer. She’d tied him up and used her food truck as a paddy wagon while we waited for the OPP.

            “You picked a helluva way to bond with your son,” Lou observed. “and you shoulda worn your mask.”

            “Yeah, we were fucking stupid.”

            “Dad!” The kids barked. “Language!”