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Maybe you're bald, maybe not, maybe you care, likely not; stories here, some funny, some not.

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Stories used for publication of Baldie Stories 1 have been removed from this blog.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Out Of Town - part 4 final

     After five beers no one was very hungry. We all decided to pack up the food to clear space for more beer. Buzz took the lead and began to order pitchers. He gave the crew the rest of the day off and asked me if I’d be needing aspirins for the flight home.
     It turned out that Willie and Chuck were brothers. George was indeed a farmer’s kid, and May was hot to trot. Bob was the serious man in the group, but with a number of beers inside him it wasn’t hard to get some riotous hunting and fishing stories out of him.
     I noticed that the patrons at the other tables were doing all right by themselves; the volume in the Red Pony escalated to a roar. So this, I thought as best I could, was what people in the country did with themselves! Not bad. Not bad at all!
     The three guys from lower management razzed me for being a city boy. I got a kick out of that reversal of paradigm but managed to defend myself and get a few laughs as a self-depreciating wise guy. I told them about some of the lousy things city people did and they told me stories, equally as lousy, about hayseeds.
     It didn’t take long before May and Buzz climbed up onto their chairs and did a little country dance for me. Buzz was drunk and lost his balance. He pivoted off the back of the chair and fell to the ground with a roar of shocked laughter. When he stood up his toupee was covering half his face. I almost died. The rest of the crew blew out a single unified scream of laughter.
     “Well, I’ll be damned!” howled Buzz, adjusting his rug back into place. “I’m maybe having just a bit too much fun here!”
     With that he lost his footing on an overturned bottle and fell to the floor a second time. Everyone around the table squealed with delight as Buzz’s toupee shot straight up into the air and came down, flat, in the center of the table.
     Chuck spit his beer.
     May swayed violently and had to lean against George for support. Willie hacked out one long, rasping roar and crashed, doubled up, over the planked tabletop. The others couldn’t draw a collective breath.
     May lifted the toupee from the center of the table and held it out with two fingers. Her mouth jabbed up and down, there was something she wanted to say but the words were buried under gasps and a few indelicate burps.
     “This here… This - Burp!” May’s eyes went wide. She covered her lips with one finger and fell into tears all over again.
     Someone, I thought, is going to get hurt.
     Buzz stood up and comically groped around his half-bald head with outstretched fingers.  
     “Where the hell’d it git to?” he screeched.
     George fell on the floor.
     May, having finally presented the trophy as the catch of the day, turned to me, with the object still in her outstretched hand.
     “Now, take look here Mister..,” she whimpered, rocking a dangerous angle above the table, “I think it’s bout time that someone’s told you that this here,” she belched loudly, “this right here’s pretty much exactly what you’re in need of!”
     Through my drunkenness I was stung with shock. After hours and hours without the slightest hint or mention about the toupee enigma, May had come out with it.
     George, having just managed to lift himself back into his chair, doubled over once again but this time instead of hitting the floor, rocked his way, chin to knees, out through the swinging doors of the Red Pony.
     May lost complete control of her gyroscope, went limp and crashed against the table, knocking down half the remaining bottles and glasses. Pools of beer washed the floor.
     Buzz lifted May and sat her in her chair. She still had the toupee clenched in her fingers. Buzz grabbed the rug into his fist and held it up in my direction.
     “Now, I’m not being, uh… impolite here…” Buzz slurred, “but what Maybell here’s, uh – well; what she’s say’in is that we all noticed that you… ah, damn!”
     Buzz grinned slyly, held back a laugh and throttled the toupee savagely. I leaned in over the table for the rest of it but Buzz couldn’t get it out.
     Chuck scraped his chair up to the table.
     “What Buzz and May here are trying to say is… well, we been in the meeting all damned day and I guess we notice that you might…”
     “I might what?” I said, drunk and perplexed. May stood up again.
     “What we’re trying to say is that we just can’t figure – just can’t figure out why in the world you’re walking around with that…” she stammered.
     “Don’t say it May! Don’t say it!” shouted George, stumbling back into the bar. “I’m gonna drop dead right here, right now!” he shouted.
     May let out a small shriek and stamped her foot to the interruption but continued;
     “…Why are you walking around with that bald little head of yours when you could look nice and proper with one of these!?”
     She grabbed the toupee out of Buzz’s hand and shook it between her fingers.The whole room fell silent. Patrons at the other tables took a moment to listen. They’d been watching after the bald guy: The only bald guy in the place - hell the whole town - without a rug on his head and they wanted to understand what it was all about.
     Buzz leaned in on the table, woozy but attentive.
     “What she’s saying,” He lifted a glass off the table and took a deep, sloppy swig, “…if you’ll pardon the impropriety, is this” Buzz snatched the toupee from May.
     “You, my man, need this rug here more the hell than I do!”
     The Red Pony exploded.

     Bob, who had been quite reserved, stood up, walked around the table, pulled the toupee from his head and delicately laid it in my lap. He clamped a firm hand on my shoulder, turned, and slowly found his way back to his seat.
     The room cheered. George began pounding on the table with his fist. May followed and then a wave of table pounding filled the room.
     I wanted to die; I didn’t want to be murdered, but I wanted to die. There was no contest; if I didn’t put on the rug, they’d surely bury me behind the lot at the Red Pony. No one would hear from me again.
I lifted a pitcher off the table and drained the contents. Then I lifted the toupee and slowly brought it down on my head.
     One person in the back of the room giggled. I looked at the faces around our table. Every eyebrow was a silent question mark. The laughs seized up and idled.
     Oh God, they’re going to kill me now, I thought.
     May looked at me cross-eyed, fell against me, and reaching up, turned the toupee around on my head.
     George took one look at me, screwed up his face, screamed, and then threw up. The place went wild. Howling laughter tore through the place like a fast fire.
     They wouldn’t let me remove the toupee. I spent the final two hours at the Red Pony with Bob’s toupee on my head, drinking beer out of pitchers. That’s when things got a bit hazy… We danced around the outside of the building - I remember that. For some reason I also remember riding an electric bull, but for the life of me I don’t remember one being in the Red Pony. I think Maybell might have kissed me too.

     I can’t recall if Rudy picked me up at the Red Pony or back at The ArchDyne Group’s office. I was too drunk. I found out later that Bob was there to help Rudy get me back on the plane. I do remember a couple of visits to the airport bathroom and a brief encounter with airport security.
     What I remember clearly is waking up in my seat on the plane as we prepared to land in New York. It took two attendants to bring me around. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what these people were doing in my bedroom. Then I felt my stomach leap.
     When I tried to get up I realized where I was. That’s when I saw the large bottle of aspirins in my lap with a note attached. I had a hard time focusing, but the note read:

City Boy,
Figured you’d probably need these. We all chipped in.
Don’t worry about the fine, that trooper was my cousin,
I’ll take care of it for you.
It was a pleasure to meet you and we look forward to doing
business with your company. Any time you’re in our neck
of the woods, just give us a call and we’ll come pick you up.
May’s saying that you looked awful cute on that electric bull.
I’d have to agree.
Oh, by the way, Bob says this one’s on him. He’s got extras

     My stomach leaped again as I pulled my attention away from the note and tried to draw the whole day in. Where the hell was that electric bull? Which trooper? I didn’t remember any trooper – And just what was Bob going to do?
     Then I remembered: The damned toupee. I put my hand on my head. One of the attendants walked by as I lifted my arm and I caught her with my elbow.
     “Sorry dear,” she said absently.
     Then I felt it. It was still there. It was on my head. I’d flown half way across the country with that thing on my head; they’d left it there. I didn’t have to touch it to know that though - it was in the attendant’s eyes when she turned to see who gave her the bump - It was the same look that I had given to Rudy when I met him at the airport. It was the same look I had when I met Buzz and Bob and George and the rest of the gang:

     It was the look of mild horror.

     The End

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Today is the one year anniversary of the Baldie Blog!
For those of you who have nudged in and scraped around with these
little shorts, I thank you.
And now a brief explaination;
My intention with the blog was to keep the writing going in some small fashion after the birth of our son Mason, going until we pass the critical point (who would have guessed there was no point, just an infinite line?). Many stories were taken out of the original Baldie Stories collection, wiped off and posted, but now, there are more than 35 original stories that have tracked a year filled with both joy and sorrow. Many of the new stories have been stark, terse, and often dark - different from the earlier shorts; my attempt has been to use this blog to experiment with style and voice and theme, an effort has been made to bring the language and style to the narrowest point possible, an effort born after finding that my novel, SuperDuper, had grown to over seven-hundred and forty pages, proving nearly impossible to edit without honing some serious "narrowing" chops.
The darkness comes from illness and death that have surrounded our small nest as well as the plague of desperation that comes with a failed economy and worries about how to realize dreams and a future filled with hope in a society that seems incapable of making even one intelligent decision that wasn't hung with selfishness, ignorance and greed.
But dark days pass and the stories will flourish again, smile again, and find the voice that is now being spoken in the series here - "Out of Town" - the last part to be issued tomorrow, one year from the first day I posted a real story here on Blogspot.
thanks all who have taken the time,

Out Of Town - part 3

     I did my best to pay attention but I spent every other moment scanning the room for the hidden camera. I checked the clock, the phone, the walls, the dropped ceiling, the video display unit, and I scanned suit buttons. There didn’t seem to be a thing out of place. If they were playing with me it was going over well. The whole group occupied themselves perfectly by pushing papers around and filling me in on the joys of, among other things, selling polish.
     They didn’t need the projector.
     And after an hour and a half of mind-splitting monotony the hoax theory seemed to grow more and more plausible. All those rugs flailing around the room like skinned monkeys and not one of them had anything to say about it - It just couldn’t be. It had to be a put on.
     I watched closely for sly signs. I figured they had to be teasing one another somehow. I dropped my pen and quickly hunched under the table to see if they were nudging knees or tapping each other’s shoes in delight.
     They were good, I had to give them that. At one point Bob actually gave his toupee a great big smack and then, with both hands, adjusted it on his head as if it were a football helmet. Then he looked me right in the eye, shrugged, and put on a wry smile. That’s when I figured it was over.
     I laughed. It was a snicker-laugh, a chortle. I looked straight at Bob, hunched my shoulders and lightly mimicked the helmet routine.
     I laughed again.
     Bob had little reaction. He gave a small wince, picked up his pen and turned his attention back to the presentation. But an instant later, almost imperceptibly, he blinked a quick eye my way. It was a game.
     I shook my head slightly and put on a broad smile. Bob caught it and winced again. Buzz, catching the moment, interrupted the presentation.
     “…Have a question for us?”
     “Me? No. A question?” I replied, maintaining the silly grin.
     Chuck was in animated mid-sentence during the interruption and paused. Like dominos, each member of the group turned to face their attention towards me.
     Buzz took a slow breath and said, “Just thought you were trying to get Bob’s attention there for a second.” Then he shot Bob an authoritative look and rested his hand, palm down, on the coffee pot. Bob shrugged and winced a third time.
     “Chuck, you were saying?” said Buzz, pushing forward.
     That’s when I began to think that the hoax angle maybe wasn’t the prize-winning thought of the day.

     All I wanted to do was fly into town, make people smile, take them to lunch and go home. I didn’t bargain for the geek show; I wanted out. There was no way that I could hold a serious conversation with any of these guys, and forget about lunch. I wouldn’t be able to eat. At that point, sitting there in the conference room, I just wanted to go home - hidden camera or no hidden camera.
     I sat there and thought about how to escape. My mind began to wander. Buzz promptly brought me back to reality.
     “So boys, are we ready for lunch?”
     Lunch! I screamed to myself, shocking the last of the circus thought off the bar.
     “Lunch?” I said, perhaps a bit too wide-eyed. I hadn’t prepared. I only had the two votes from Rudy and May. The toupee thing had me so distracted I completely forgot about arranging lunch.
     “Yes lunch.” Said Bob, still visibly questioning my character after the awkward moment earlier. “You do eat lunch?”
     “Ah, lunch. Yes, I do eat lunch...” I rolled open my notebook as casually as possible. What was it? What was it… The Pink Heifer? The Black Cow…
     “I’ve heard the Red Pony is a fine place?” I asked, more than announced.
     “Why sure is!” declared Willie and Chuck in unison. The other men shook their disastrous heads in agreement.
     “Well, lunch is on me today, gentleman. It’s the least I can do for the hospitality you’ve shown me!”

     I was in a terrible bind. There we were, about to go into the public realm - the country circus sideshow and me. I’m not good in the public forum. I choke up, I’m quick to bouts of paranoia – I say and do stupid things. The backs of my knees were already sweating. That spelled trouble. The sweaty knees are just a warning.
     Before I knew it, we were racing down the road in a company van. George had the wheel and he wasn’t kidding about it. I always thought that people in the country took their time about things. George apparently didn’t think so. He had his foot anchored on the gas pedal the whole ride into town. There was no slowing down for curves and I’m guessing that stop signs are optional out here in the sticks. No one else seemed to mind getting flattened against the passenger windows each time George raced around a bend in the road. All I could think of was slamming into a tree at seventy miles an hour - how it would have been a blessing.
The van skidded into the parking lot of the Red Pony. Before any of us even had the doors open four more vans and trucks had skidded up in a similar fashion. Everyone was skidding.
     There was a riot for the door. Men and women of every shape and size clamored along the wide pathway from the parking lot to the restaurant entrance. It seemed the whole town made it to the Red Pony for lunch.
     There were loud greetings, heavy, dusty slaps on backs, walloping handshakes and the hoots and hollers of friends and relations.
     A large man with a cowboy hat, followed by another troupe of local patrons greeted Bob.
     “Beat us this time Bobby-Boy!” He doffed his hat and when he did I was mildly surprised to find an ugly, little toupee beneath it.
     One at a time I scanned the heads of the other patrons. Sure as hell – the whole damned town was covered in rugs. But before I could swallow that beautiful realization I was shoved through the swinging doors into the well-regarded eatery.
     It was a bar; a honky-tonk bar filled with smoke, beer bottles, a working fireplace, old couches and some dusty animal’s heads on the wall. The place was littered with signs for Budweiser Beer and a bunch of wooden tables that had been lacquered too many times. I counted two, no three, dartboards near a kitchen where burgers and ribs were being rocketed out the door by two very good looking waitresses, whom by the way, seemed to have long and natural blond hair. These waitresses were delivering sky-high piles of food and beer to tables filled with loud and animated men and women. All of the men in the place, every last one of them, wore a toupee.
     “I’ll have a Bud,” I remember saying to the waitress.
     Five beers later we were still waiting for our food. Somewhere after the third beer it occurred to me that all the racing in the van had indeed served a purpose; it bought beer time.
     By the time the food came I was laughing with the whole gang. The fact that the whole male population of the town was riddled with toupeetosis went floating to the back of my mind on a wave of cold foam.
     Three of the lower managers were hilarious when drunk. Maybell showed up at the end of the third beer and did her best to catch up. They teased her about her quirky speech and she, in turn, teased them about their own little foibles; but nowhere along the line did anyone mention the rug-jobs.

end of part 3

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Out Of Town - part 2

     “Mr. Roberts,” May sung, “Buzz asked me to send you in. It’s those doors, just around the way.”
     “Thank you May.”
     The doors opened into a very large conference room fitted with a tremendous and frighteningly well-polished mahogany table in the center. A crush of stiff, empty chairs surrounded the table. At the opposite side of the room a single door opened and through it came two large men in dark suits.
     “Welcome Sir, how was the flight?” exclaimed the larger of the two, his bulk pushing chairs, air and a small telephone table into a wake behind him.
     “Oh, it was just fine,” I replied.
     “Please, I’m Buzz Baker and this is my partner, Bob.”
     “Bob Higgins! It’s nice to finally meet you.”
     Buzz and Bob both shook my hand furiously. Their eyes were wide and friendly but it was evident that they were fans of the communal coffee service.
     “Need a refill there?” Buzz asked and without waiting for my reply leaned over the conference table and hit a button on the speakerphone intercom.
     “May! Get George to fill us up a pot and get it in here!” He hit the button again before there was a response. Then he hit it a third time. “And May! See if he can find a little something… You hungry?” he eyed me, “…to put on a tray!”
     As Buzz leaned over the table I notice that the hair on the nape of his neck was incongruous with the hair around his ears and sideburns. I couldn’t take a good look because Bob was beside me. I turned to Bob.
     “It’s a beautiful space.” I said, trying to fill the moment. “How do you keep everything in this place so clean? So polished?” I said, jokingly.
     Bob looked at me blankly. “We sell polish… polish is one of the things we sell…”
     I should have known that. I mean, I really should have known that. I tried to think of a cute response but I looked at Bob and when he suddenly cracked a smile, I noticed that the hair above his forehead didn’t move a speck.
     Buzz and Bob were both wearing rugs. Decent rugs, it seemed, but rugs all the same.
     When you attend a meeting one of the cardinal rules is this: don’t get stuck in your own head. But no one ever told me about getting stuck in a rut of toupees.
     Buzz got on the line again. He barked orders into the speaker. He needed all the files, all the plans and the paperwork for our meeting. He hadn’t put it all together and apologized sincerely, saying that business was booming and there was simply not enough time for anything. We spent a few minutes discussing the pleasantries of small town life and I did my best to get a quiet handle on the nuances of the wigs they both wore: First Rudy, now Buzz and Bob. I didn’t like this hair-thing at all. It made me very uncomfortable.
     A brief moment of salvation came with a knock on the glass doors followed by a young man with a service cart loaded with two large pots of coffee, creamers, sweeteners, cups, saucers and two full trays of pastries served over sugar doilies, wrapped in clear cellophane and tied at the tops with red ribbon.
     “Just set it down here on the table George!” commanded Buzz.
     George approached with the cart and began to set the works down on the conference table. George was tall, awkward, and probably about twenty-five, dressed in clothes that his father must have given him for his first real job off the farm. He said hello to me as he leaned in for a spot to place the pastries. As he did I noticed with horror that he too was wearing a wig. It looked very similar to the job that Rudy had. I wheeled back a few inches and clipped Bob’s toe. I let out a short, incoherent yelp, a little lip fluster.
    “Geezebus!” but I quickly added, “Let me help you with that!!” and I grabbed the tray.
     “Don’t bother the man, George!” snipped Buzz, interrupting another intercom order.
     As George finished up, I apologized to Bob for running over his toe and groped awkwardly after anything in the pastry dish. The single door at the end of the room opened again with two more men behind it. They stepped into the room, each carrying folders and other documents. Buzz waved them in.
     “Willie, Chuck, just set those things down here and pull up a chair,” ordered Bob.
     Willie and Chuck, both in suits and both wearing ragged toupees, sat down across from the three of us who were already working on the pastries.
     “These boys keep our house in order!” said Buzz as he plugged away at the intercom.
     “Glad to meet you!” they exclaimed simultaneously.
     “We’re just about ready here,” said Buzz to Bob. “Just waiting for the lower management to arrive. I figure he’d might as well meet the crew!”
     Willie and Chuck had opened folders between them and were comparing notes on something or another in preparation for our meeting. Their hairpieces were a better quality than George’s but less sporty than Buzz and Bob’s. But it didn’t matter: as they sat there whispering to one another the two piles of hair got caught in a static array. I watched with a cream puff stuck in my mouth as their toupees came to life and tussled like Godzilla and Mothra atop each man’s head. I began to sweat.
     Then I had a terrible thought, but it was too late to even bring it around in my mind.
     The glass doors opened again and five more men in suits entered the room. They were of varying shape and size; all seemed quite cheery and friendly with one another. The group was busy chatting and barely acknowledged our presence until they casually pulled up to the table.
     “Gentlemen!” declared Buzz. “I’d like to introduce you to our New York affiliate, Mr. Roberts!”
     I lifted another cream puff.

     A subtle flash-calm came over the room. It was a short moment, a lapse; that necessary point of adjustment where ears give a moment to surrounding sounds, a primal acuity that allows us to refine our spatial bearing; a page turned against a finger, one throat clearing, a door in the hallway opening or perhaps, closing, the quick sound of a spring flexing under a chair, someone swallowing. Then it was over.
     During that quick moment I had scanned the heads of each additional man. There was no doubt about it; I had to rethink the sweets and the coffee. Something, apparently, was causing an epidemic of baldness followed by a subsequent and horrendous lean toward bad toupees. I removed the cream puff from my mouth and grabbed a napkin. It could be the food. It might be the air, but it could be the food.
     One thing was certain: A room full of men wearing various degrees of despicable toupees had surrounded me.

     Buzz began the meeting, a review on what was going on locally and nationally with the company and whom the major and minor players were; typical rag-tag twitter as an excuse for a meeting.
     “You’ll find this all very interesting…” noted Buzz, “More coffee?”
     “No thanks, Buzz. I got the jitters already.”
     Buzz begun to pass the coffee pot around. The team filled up.
     “Now wait! Damn it… do we need the projector in here for this?” Buzz bellowed.
      That’s when the terrible thought I’d had a moment earlier began trickling through my brain once again. Projector? Film? Camera? I began to sweat.
     This was all some sort of a hoax, that’s what it came down to. One of those hidden camera television hoaxes set up by someone in my firm…

end of part 2

Monday, October 18, 2010

Out Of Town - part 1

     A few years ago I worked for a large company that had business all over the country. My job involved flying into cities all over the map to have meetings with clients and vendors for the sole purpose of buying them lunch and making them smile. We’re here for you, I’d tell them. Whatever you need, we’re here for you.
     I spent hours doing detective work at my desk, figuring out where decent restaurants or cafes might be hidden in the small towns I’d be visiting each week. It’s no easy job. You can’t trust a soul. One person’s gourmet is another’s pig roast: Sam’s Spit, in South Carolina, is not in the Zagat Survey. There’s a good reason for that. So when the clerk at the hotel tells you Sam’s Spit is the jumping joint in town you’d better get a second opinion. Otherwise your client might not smile, and remember: that’s the job.
     Occasionally the job took me to small rural towns nowhere near a city. These visits were the most difficult. Large companies in rural towns typically mean that the company is the town. One way in and one way out - lots of trees and little pavement. Pick your nose in your car half way over Red Farm Hill and they’re already talking about it at the Egg and Basket Dairy three miles down road.
     I arrived in such a town on a scorching day in August a few years ago. The city I flew into had one tall building. One. Before the plane even entered the state I could make it out in from my window seat. I asked the attendant if she’d ever been there before. She had.
     “Lots of parking lots.” She told me.
     “But there’s only one building.” I said, confused.
     “I don’t know, they like parking lots. Building, parking lot, building, parking lot…” she said with a shrug.
     “But there’s only one tall…” I tried.
     “They’ve got lots of space, what do they care?” and she walked away down the aisle assisting people into their upright positions.
     It’s strange how cattle don’t fear low-flying aircraft. You’d figure they’d be flat against the ground, legs splayed, with terror in their eyes each time a jetliner passed six feet above their backs. But they don’t. They don’t even seem to notice. As the jet came howling down over the runway I could see flies square dancing on the rump of a very handsome looking cow in a field below us.
     A man at the exit gate had a sign with my name printed on it. He wore a white suit and hat, with a cream colored tie and shoes. His name, as the pin on his lapel read, was Rudy.
Rudy was a thick man with a cheery eyes and a bad sunburn. When I approached him he fumbled quickly to get the sign under his arm, extended his hand eagerly, and smiled from ear to ear.
     “You must be my man!” he declared.
     “You must be Rudy!” I replied, clamping my hand in his.
     “Yes I am!” he said, tapping his pin. “Got any bags to pick up?”
     “No bags, Rudy.”
     “Fine, fine.” He said, checking his watch.
     “How’s it out there?” I asked.
     “Hotter’n we’re used too.”
     We crossed the main lobby of the airport.
     “Hey Rudy,” I said, tagging behind, “It's very, very clean here in here. No litter, not a spot on the carpet - I don't even see a spec of dust...”
     “That's how we like it here.”
     Rudy whisked me out into the standby parking area. There were at least four standby areas and another four secondary standby areas followed by a series of parking areas – short-term, day, long-term, auxiliary, attendant, and on and on. They were all empty.
     “Rudy,” I shot another stupid question “how is it that there’s so much parking around here?”
     He stopped just in front of his limo. He turned to me and gave me a quizzical look. “Well, I’m not sure about that…” he said slowly, pulling the white hat from his head and scratching behind his ear. “I guess we just got a lot of space sideways is all.”
     “Ah. I see.” I said.
     And I did see: I saw it when he took off the hat. Rudy had a thick, black-haired toupee glued to his head. It shrugged back and forth as he scratched behind his ear. A trickle of sweat ran down the side of his neck. It was damned hot out, he wasn’t kidding about that, and the rug on his head was making him sweat after a minute away from the air conditioning.
     “We’d better get a move on quick. I’m dyin’ out here,” he said, tossing his white hat into the passenger seat while unlocking the rear door.
     I climbed into the back of the car with my briefcase. Rudy locked the doors, started the engine, and flicked on the A.C. to full blast.
     I spent the next forty-five minutes trying to keep my eyes off Rudy’s wrecked head. It wasn’t a comfortable ride. The edges of his toupee flared out around the sides like a tin sign after a gunshot wound. None of it wanted to stay down close to his head. Bits of Rudy’s natural hair edged out beyond the limits, sickly brown brush; I tried to ignore it and watch the beautiful rolling landscape unfold in front of us but I couldn’t help being drawn back to that strange little monster on Rudy’s head.
     Rudy either didn’t notice my staring or didn’t care. He was happy and cordial for the whole drive.
     As we pulled into town I kept my eyes open for a nice place to eat. I also asked Rudy if he knew of any good places this far out of the way. I’d had no luck in the office: it would have to be off the cuff figuring. He filled me in on the local joints. I took notes. He knew quite a bit about the town. Then he told me he was a local. There you go.
     “And here we are, right on time. The ArchDyne Group.”
     The limo came to a gritty stop against a raw gravel drive. The large, two story, concrete building had a large sign above the front entrance. It said: The ArchDyne Group in glowing red letters. It could have been any building in any office park in any town in the country. The name of the company didn’t suggest a thing. It rarely did. They could have sold dental floss or skyrockets. No difference.
     “Thanks Rudy.” I said, stepping out of the car. “Hey, you’re picking me up at seven to take me back to the airport?”
     “That’s right. See you at seven.”
     The whole interior of the building was done in polished black stone with glass doors everywhere. The same stone that covered the floor and the walls of the main entrance also covered a tremendous reception desk. A young woman at the desk wearing a lightweight headset greeted me with a smile.
     “Good morning!” she said cheerfully. “How may I help you today?”
     “Hello,” I replied. “I’m here to see Mr. Baker and Mr. Higgins for an eleven o’clock appointment – I’m Mr. Roberts.”
     “Oh, You’re New York! We’ve been expecting you. Please, you can have a seat while I buzz Buzz and Bob.”
     “Buzz Buzz?”
     She giggled. “Isn’t that just a riot! I forget how funny that sounds. Mr. Baker , Buzz Baker?” she rattled quickly. “Of course his name is Sylvester but we call him Buzz.”
      I smiled, but all I could think was that I’d have to call him Buzz.
     “There’s coffee just around that corner if you’d like…” she noted.
     “Thank you…I’m sorry, what is your name?”
     “May. Short for Maybell,” she said with a scrunched up nose.
     A call came in and May took it. I ducked around the corner for a coffee and returned to find May finishing up her call.
     “Excuse me, May,” I asked, “What’s the best place in town for lunch?”
     “Oh, that’s the Red Pony just down the way.” She answered.
     “Thank you.” I took a seat on a thick leather couch and sunk halfway down into it. Red Pony, Red… Yep. Rudy had it too. One more check and it was smiles, smiles, smiles.

end of part 1