1. A Homecoming
(Tuesday, October 9, 1984)
Lauren was bent over one of the round tables in the main room of the bar, sorting through a box of stencil letters, his hands full of rejected ones, looking for an L. “I don’t know how I can spell “Welcome Home Colson an Ellery” when I’m short two L’s, an I can’t find another N and there ain’t an Y to be found here.”
Simon, standing on a chair, was hanging multicolored streamers from the open beams, a dispenser of Scotch tape in his mouth. He paused, took the dispenser out and said “You got another S in there?”
“I got S’s comin out my ass,” Lauren said, discouraged.
“Then instead of ‘Welcome Home Colson an Ellery’ take the letters ya got an make a banner that says “We Missed You!”
Lauren turned, shaking his head. “I just finished tellin ya there ain’t no Y’s in here, Simon, that don’t help.”
“Pookie, don’t spell it out, just use that U settin there. I can see it from here. ‘We Missed and the letter U. An yer done.”
Lauren looked at his watch. “Wayne should be here any minute, an Dupree said he was pickin Sally an the food up at five. That’ll have ta do.”
“Of course it will, Pook, you know they are gonna be all embarrassed an Colson is gonna turn red all the way down to them six pack abs.”
Lauren shot Simon a warning look. “Don’t you go eyein Colson. Every man jack in this bar wants a look at Colson with his shirt off an you know there’s only one man ever gonna see that.”
“Wayne caught em with his shirt off once,” Simon said non-chalantly, reaching up to reattach an errant streamer threatening to come loose from its taped mooring. “He says he nearly came on the spot.”
“That’s cause Wayne stalks Colson, an everybody knows it. He’d take pictures if he had one a them telephoto lenses.”
“Oh – he don’t stalk em.”
“You don’t know Wayne like I do, Simon. He’s called me up dozens a times tellin me about the dreams he had a Colson. Says his bellybutton is like a perfect jewel...”
Simon guffawed. “Lauren ya know he was havin one over on ya, he weren’t never lookin at Colson’s bellybutton an you know it, he was goin for points south.”
Lauren giggled. “Got that right. It sounded romantic though. If Ellery only knew the stories Wayne told me about what he would do with Colson if ever got em alone.”
“He’d probably stick em in a cell with Sammy Lang an his brother.”
Lauren made a pouting face. “There, works out just fine. 'We Missed U.' Short an sweet. I bet Wayne used up all the Y’s spellin his own name for all them birthday parties he had for himself.”
“An the L’s on the birthday parties he had for you. Don’t you be raggin on Wayne now, he’s a sick boy.”
“Who’s raggin on poor sick Wayne?” Standing in the front door of the Red Stallion, sporting a new, sheer tanktop in faux red chain, was Wayne Bryce, former bartender of the Red Stallion and now part time employee of the Tourmaline Post Office.
“Pookie was, he says you got lascivious ideas about Colson’s bellybutton an points south.”
“Well I do, that ain’t no lie,” Wayne said brightly. “What a ya want me ta do? Ellery’ll have my head if ya let me touch the food or drinks cause I’m a leper now, so that’s out.”
Simon tossed him a roll of crepe paper. “Make some more streamers. Like these – mix the black an white an red like that.”
“What on God’s green earth possessed you ta make streamers with black an white an red?”
“Cause black is the color a the Tourmaline Sheriff’s Department an red is for the Red Stallion an no other color is really gonna go with black an red cause it’s too damn dark.”
“Right. Simon you ought ta really stick ta jewelry, yer color sense is sort a off,” Wayne said.
“Come up here an say that Wayne, I could crack yer head like an egg,” Simon said, waving the tape dispenser.
“Jesus H, between you threatenin ta fracture my skull, an Colson threatenin ta warm my ass, an me bein the poster child fer AIDS for the city a Tourmaline I ain’t gonna live out the year,” Wayne pouted, picking up a roll of red crepe paper. “Can’t I just make some red an white or maybe white an black, for contrast?”
“Wayne, just do what Simon asks, he got red white an black all over this side, don’t change things around or people are gonna say it looks stupid.”
“But if I change it now then only half the room will look stupid – his half,” Wayne insisted.
Lauren shook his head, sighing. “Ya know Wayne, just the other night I was tellin Jeremy how much I missed havin you behind the bar. Suddenly I don’t miss you so much no more.”
Wayne stuck out his tongue at Lauren and began to wind crepe paper, not looking back up at Simon.
Dupree backed his car up to the door in back of the Stallion, and Sally climbed out, arms full of a party-sized bowl of fruit, and he opened the door for her. “After you, madame,” he said, bowing slightly, and the diminuitive brunette giggled and tossed her hair back, flattered by the attention of the young detective. He blushed slightly, and opened the door, then returned to the car to get the trays of sandwiches Sally had spent the day preparing.
Lauren hopped down from the table where he had just finished fixing the announcement banner, standing back as Sally came in. “Hey Sweetie-pie!” he called, smiling at her. “Oh my gosh that is a huge bowl, what you got in there?”
“Fruit salad. I know it’s Colson an Ellery’s favorite thing ta eat – Jeremy told me that from when he was over there.”
Wayne walked over, trailing a length of black crepe paper, and peered into the bowl. “Ya should a filled a watermelon with vodka – get Colson drunk as all getout an he’d dance naked fer everybody.”
“Oh, Wayne!” Sally exclaimed, scandalized, almost dropping the bowl, and Dupree, now close behind her, nearly dropped the tray of sandwiches as he reached out to steady her with a free hand.
“Whoa, Nellie, there girl,” Dupree said, gripping her elbow.
“I’m okay, I’m okay, thank you Jeremy.”
Wayne rolled his eyes and gave Lauren a wise nod, dropping his voice and leaning toward him. “Ya notice how he uses any excuse ta touch Sally? An her a newly wedded wife.”
“Uh huh,” Lauren said. “Ya notice how you use any excuse ta gossip about anybody touchin anybody? You are a road hazard, Wayne Bryce, now shut up an roll that crepe paper up, we only got half an hour before people start comin an who knows when Colson an Ellery are gonna come – they might even have dinner before they show up."
“Oh – they couldn’t!” Sally exclaimed. “I got too much food here – if they ain’t gonna eat it’ll never get eaten! Call em an tell em the sink backed up.”
“That won’t get Colson ta come runnin. Tell em Wayne’s makin out with Pete in the Gent’s. That’ll work,” Dupree said, winking at Wayne.
“That’s a good idea,” Simon said, laughing heartily as Wayne’s color darkened.
“I ain’t never made out with Pete in the Gent’s.”
“Except Fridays, Tuesdays, an holidays,” Lauren added.
“Shut up – POOKIE!” Wayne groused.
Wayne looked over his shoulder to see thick-armed figure of Simon looming over him, blond hair cascading over his high forehead, a sober look on his face. “Are you givin my Pookie a hard time, Wayne?”
“Well... no,” Wayne said, lowering his voice.
“You makin fun a my pet name for my sweetheart, Wayne?”
“You want me ta start callin your boyfriend No-Spleen Pete?”
“God no! He’s self conscious as it is!”
“Well then you don’t get ta call Lauren Pookie. That is my name for em. Cause he is my sweetheart an he ain’t yours. An I ain’t afraid ta crack yer head like an egg if ya forget that, Wayne. You’ll be beggin Colson for spankin after I get through with ya.”
“He’s been beggin for that for a long damn while,” Dupree added, heading back out to his car for the sandwiches. “Hey Lauren could ya help me with the rest a this food?”
“Sure enough, Lauren said, giving Wayne a dirty look as he hurried out the door.
Simon patted Wayne gently on the rump. “Now you just run along, maybe ya can clean up in the Gent’s a bit, stay out a trouble while we wait ta open an greet the guests a honor.”
“Fuck you, Simon,” Wayne said, stalking down the hall in the direction of the Gent’s. “Pushy dom alpha male asshole,” he muttered under his breath as he went in.