The 20th chapter of A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy) is here, a marker of sorts when writing. How many future chapters are there? The story is far from finished, and I’m dwelling on the Thanksgiving holiday scenes because they reveal character, and an important occurrence is about to happen—stay tuned! In this chapter, someone has the strength to say no to Frederick Waltzcrop, and I have the feeling this will not be taken well down the line. Please read and let me know what you think of this extra-sized chapter. We’ll get back to the Belloon home by the end here. Enjoy.
“Possession’s so boring, a parlor trick. We are all demonic!”—QUEEN STORMAG
Another painting of my father’s for this special Thanksgiving chapter . . . hope you like seeing a bit of his mind painted on canvas.
A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy) — Part 20
With increasing responsibilities, meetings, handholding partisan Chicken Littles, business pressures from almost every town mercantile, appearances (ribbon-cuttings were the least of his duties) Mayor William “Big Bill” Jackson used his dawn pre-opening time at Picasso Joe’s to collect his thoughts. The stress of running a business and fulfilling his political work was beginning to make him antsy. He’d hired two more teenagers from the high school to help in the afternoons and he placed an ad in the locals-only Clamdigger newsletter looking for a phenomenal coffee-shop manager, someone who had never stepped into a Starbucks, an unwritten rule in his interviews. It wasn’t that Big Bill believed Starbucks was evil, either; beyond his wife, he kept his reasons mostly to himself. There were so many coffee shops opening on the island and these forced out others—a good democratic system spurring on competition to make things better. He was lucky Picasso Joe’s had a loyal following. It was Thanksgiving morning, and the shop would stay closed, but Big Bill wanted to check on things, have a moment to breathe. His kids slept. The teenagers, Molly and Kirsten, probably wouldn’t awake until well past noon. Their brother, Ian, would arise early and turn on the parade while eating (and spilling) cereal, Cheerios, his favorite of the boxed cereals he was allowed to eat. Sugar wasn’t welcome in their home, processed or otherwise. Diabetes had hit Jeannette’s family hard, with a father, his parents, and most of her siblings succumbing to a Type 2 diagnosis. Insulin had become a potent word in their home. So far no one had indicators, but Jeannette and Big Bill weren’t taking chances.
Doris was coming over. Big Bill’s sister-in-law, Jeannette’s older sister, lived in La Conner with her husband of twenty years and their own brood, four kids, two boys and two girls. The cousins his children ran with in packs most summers. The nephews and nieces he adored. Being a family man suited him, and not only because this made his political ambitions appear justifiably kosher. I know family. I know families are struggling to put food on the table . . . part of every stump speech. A glossy photo of him, Jeannette, Molly, Kirsten, and Ian grouped in front of the Anacortes Welcome Sign at the entrance to the town appeared in every mailbox flyer. The photo in a nice walnut frame hung on a sidewall of Picasso Joe’s. Pride hung there as well, and when he was alone in his shop, Big Bill stared at the photo, his heart blooming. Doris ruined this moment of reflection, as she ruined most of Big Bill’s thoughtful moments.
The truth is Doris was an untrusting sort, but multiply this a thousand times and no one would approach the level of her paranoia. Hard times were coming. She’d say this all the time. Economically? She predicted the collapse, and would crow about all the fools who didn’t listen to her, who grew afraid and pulled their meager savings out of the stock market and then lost everything. Cooking, sports, television shows, politics, pick any subject, and Doris would tell you what was going to go wrong with it, why she hated this, that, oh, and that!
She refused to call Big Bill Big Bill. She was always official (officious) with William. Had her reasons—a certain envy that would never be revealed as long as Doris lived. Said she loved her sister, Jeannette, more than the moon, and they did laugh a lot, but Big Bill, overhearing their conversations on many occasions, only heard Doris speaking. Jeannette listened, actively listened, something she learned to do well after taking the hospice volunteer training in town. This thought made Big Bill think of his wife as a saint, that he wasn’t good enough for her, and if he wasn’t good enough for her, Doris certainly fell far from the family tree.
The sky glowed sweet orange and the clouds parted. Forecast said a chilly blue this Thanksgiving, a clearing. The loud rap on the front door startled William and he jumped. He probably looked the fool, and was happy no one had caught him in one of those photos of the town’s Mayor spooked. His morning calm interrupted, he walked over to the door where Frederick Waltzcrop awaited, a smile wide across his face. His dome covered by a hat that looked like it belonged a hundred years ago, a small salt-and-pepper feather stuck out from a dark ribbon adorning the brimmed hat, jaunty. Hiding his domed skull, William thought, and he remembered his first late-night meeting with the man. A cat walking over a grave, his own, a black cat hissing, this feline picture flashed in his mind.
“Hello Mr. Jackson,” Waltzcrop said. “I realize you’re not open today but I was hoping to wring a double espresso from you regardless. Your kindness would be most appreciated this Thanksgiving. I’d be entirely in your debt.”
“Come on in. No worries.”
“I didn’t think anyone would be open this morning, but I saw you behind the glass and had to take a chance. You, Sir, are a true gentleman.”
“Well, nice of you to say, but pulling a double shot isn’t too troublesome. I’m officially closed today. Just needed to make sure the place was in good operating order for tomorrow.”
“I haven’t seen you here. Customers must tell you they come here daily. Even though we haven’t seen one another, I have made it a habit to stop by each morning.”
William “Big Bill” Jackson walked behind the counter and flicked a power button on the espresso machine, and said, “It may take a moment to warm up.”
“That’s not a problem. I’ll sit over here in my favorite chair and collect myself. I won’t even take off my coat. I know you need to get on your way. Family right?”
“Yes. The works. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.” Big Bill didn’t know why he was jousting words with Waltzcrop. Making small talk, good customer service, was in his nature. There hadn’t been anyone through his café that had made his intuition ping with misgiving in quite a long time. A few bad teens used to hang out, and he put up with their shenanigans, kicked them out when they became belligerent, and then these same powerless teens grew up, replaced by other island kids. Waltzcrop’s insouciance grated on his nerves; he didn’t exactly know why, and he didn’t want to find out.
Big Bill made the double shot of espresso, served it to Waltzcrop in a short ceramic cup, and bowed away, a slight bow.
“Thank you, Mayor Jackson. Terrific aroma. While it cools, may I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” Big Bill only hesitated a second. Thinking he need never again open his door when the shop was closed.
“Have you ever thought about auditioning for the local theater productions? You have a striking, charismatic air and countenance. I do say you would command any stage.”
Big Bill had what he thought was an epiphany, that he’d figured out why Waltzcrop was setting off his bells and whistles. He wanted something from him. Most people now did. Since he became Mayor, everyone crossed small lines, asked for a tiny bit, a favor, a consult, or some kind of a reckoning.
“Nope. I’ve never been into theater, acting or otherwise.”
“I find that hard to believe. Not even in your early schooling years?”
“Never interested me. I don’t even go. Too big for those miniature seats the theater installed way back when. They want money in their new campaign to upgrade them. Maybe I’ll change my mind when my knees don’t bump up against the heads of those sorry enough to sit in front of me. I can’t even go to the local cinema and watch the movie in any comfort. Don’t get me started on airplanes. Flying coach is abysmal.”
“Well now. You’ve had to train somehow. Giving all those speeches as the town Mayor, up on stages around town, talking to your flock at the Bark In The Park, the opening of boating season.”
“Yes. I was always a good public speaker, but that’s a far cry from acting.”
“I only ask because they are hunting for parts. Formal auditions are early January, and you would be perfect for one particular character, one of the more dynamic in the play.” Waltzcrop took a first sip of his espresso. He then pulled his copy of The Queen’s Idle Fancy out from behind his flowing black coat, open at the middle. He did this with a flourish, awaiting a response.
Big Bill laughed, and said, “You’ve got the wrong guy, Mr. Waltzcrop.”
“Please, again, call me Frederick. Simply humor me and take a look. It’s the Blacksmith’s part, a rich part, one of the town leaders. As you lead this town, he is first among the villagers to combat the queen’s complex machinations. It’s a farce, really, a black comedy, if you will. You’d play the moral man protecting his family, his very soul, from dark forces entering his hamlet.”
Then the two men stared at one another. Silence reigned. Too much quiet, the kind that grows uncomfortable.
“I told you I’m not interested, and I mean that. My life right now is too busy. I’m flattered you think I’d do justice to the part of your blacksmith, and I hope you’ll still frequent my shop when I insist upon you that my answer is no.” William froze from within because he’d lied to this strange, off-putting man in front of him. He never wanted to see him again.
“We’ll see about that. You have a case of stage fright. I’ve seen it before. Did you know that even Clark Gable failed several screen tests before he became one of the most famous of Hollywood actors?”
“I don’t need to be discovered anymore than I already am. Being Mayor is a full time job. That’s why you don’t run into me more here. Listen, I do appreciate your zeal, that you are thinking of your play, but try not to bring it up again.” This time William said this with a harder-edged tone to his voice.
Waltzcrop took the final espresso sip and stood. “I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.” The play clutched in his left hand, he offered his right. William took it and they shook hands.
“No hard feelings,” Waltzcrop said. “What can I do but try. I’m a humble servant to the stage. I’m going to send you a copy despite your protests. Read it. I know you don’t want to be part of the company, but you may like the story of the blacksmith. I see so many parallels now that I’ve been in your presence twice.”
He’d been around pushy people. His sister-in-law’s face popped into his mind. Those who couldn’t take no for an answer, wouldn’t take no, insisted on controlling the people around them, complete strangers. He witnessed this boorishness in the café when someone became irritated by another customer playing his music too loudly so that sound came bursting forth from earphones, when someone was taking too much time on the café’s one computer that was offered by Picasso Joe for a paid rate, which had a half-hour limit. He never learned how to deal with the woefully insistent.
“Have the best Thanksgiving. And, please, no hard feelings. I will be back. Your espresso is like my life’s blood.”
William locked the front door. He watched Waltzcrop walk away, a cane now tapping in front of him. He hadn’t noticed the cane when the man had entered, and the sound bothered him. Everything about Waltzcrop bothered him now. The play. What a lark. Him up on stage. Wait till he told Jeannette.
He looked forward to seeing his wife as he closed up his café, and then began to regret thinking ill of Doris. He must put on a happy face, entertain his kids, his nephews and nieces, and Doris and her husband, Spencer, a man who didn’t have much to say on any occasion. At least they could watch the football game and share a beer. By the time he returned home, Waltzcrop’s visit was a distant memory, and he never once realized Waltzcrop hadn’t paid for his espresso, or offered to pay.
At the Belloon home, Carole called everyone to the table. Her setting, natural, simple, floral, garnered compliments from her guests, and a few iPhones were pulled out for what has become an obligatory round of picture taking, sharing the photos on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram: We’re about to carve into the bird! Look at this monster! I’ll need to diet for a year after this meal! Every second documented. Carole made sure the three children were comfortable in their chairs at their smaller table. She then took her seat opposite her husband. Before picking up the largest and sharpest carving knife, Martin said, “Let’s hold your neighbors’ hands and allow me to say grace.”
To read the next chapter of A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy), simply click HERE for Part 21!
If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. I can’t wait to tell you what’s in the gift box found on the Belloon porch in Part 19—next week! Come see what happens.
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