An Original Work of Fiction
David G. Yurth
All Rights Reserved
I could tell we were getting close to Bubba’s by the way the aroma of smoked meat clung to the air. By the time I followed Billy Ray through the door, I was drooling down both sides of my mouth. It must be a primitive thing, drooling. The smell of roasting pork and Louisiana rib sauce trips my olfactory trigger so hard I can barely contain myself. Orgasmic.
At a long planked table clear across the room I saw Renken and a bunch of other guys sitting with their faces buried in their plates. A friend of mine from another lifetime once had a big dog, a German shepherd, I think, named Ben. The gentlest, most cordial of animals. I happened to be out in the back yard one day with Lorin when his neighbor had brought a deer shoulder out of his garage. When he gave the shoulder to Ben, the dog grabbed it in his teeth, stealthed his way into the far corner of the garden, wedged his rump up against both sides of the fence, and wrapped his massive paws around the meat, all the while glaring at us, daring us to make a move. When Lorin started to walk towards him, the dog laid his ears back, barred his fangs and growled deep in this throat. Anyone who was dumb enough to try to take that meat away from him deserved it.
Aborigines, I thought. Primitive mid-brain in total control of the system. Renken looked up at me without lifting his head, just like Ben. I half expected him to growl when I walked over to greet him, but instead he wiped his lips with a paper towel, stood up and gave me a big bear hug. “Damn,” he said, his hands on my shoulders, holding me at arms length. “How long has it been?”
“Since Suzy and the tiny livestock,” I said. He tilted his head back and roared with laughter. He knew all about that episode, thought it was one of the funniest things he had ever done. At the time I was pretty pissed off about it, but after all these years I was willing to credit the humor of it.
“So who’s Suzy?” asked Tom Sawyer, Renken’s side kick and loyal inhouse legal beagle.
“It’s a long story,” he said, which was his way of telling Tommy and everyone else not to go there. Turning to the rest of the guys seated around the table, he said,
“Guys, this is Dave. He’s the guy who’s gonna help us sort things out.” Using his napkin as a pointer, he worked his way around the table making introductions.
“You know James Karl.” who tipped his head and promptly got back to eating.
“.and this is Dr. Bob. Bob Wheelwright.” who rose to shake my hand. “Bob is head shed for clinical trials at the hepatitis Research Center over at Baylor. You guys are gonna get to know each other real well before this is over.”
“.and you know Tom Sawyer.”
“Hi, Tommy,” I said, offering my hand. Tom is a rarity among Texans. Smart, tall, handsome, erudite and very funny. But the thing I like most about him is that as rich and successful as he has become, he is one of the most humble, self-effacing people I have ever met. A true gentleman. Soft spoken, polite, an adroit listener. Which reminded me to ask him why the hell he was still with Renken.
“Howdy,” he said. “Nice to see you again.”
“.and this is Doctor Valeriy Plotnikov, our resident Russian medical doctor and weird science expert. He’s the reason you’re here.”
I bent over the table to shake his hand. “Dobry den’,” I said. “Zdravstvujte.”
“Pozhalujsta,” he said. It’s a pleasure.
Renken sat back down and with his mouth already full of pork ribs, mumbled and pointed towards the buffet lined up against the far wall. I got the idea and walked over to the serving trays. Billy Ray walked behind me.
“It’s an all-you-can-eat thing,” he said. “Take as much as you want but don’t get any of it on you.” Which I thought was particularly interesting coming from such an obviously well-fed guy. It was clear he hadn’t let anything go to waste except perhaps his waist. I watched with fascination as he piled stack after stack of ribs on first one plate and then a second. My eyes must have betrayed my astonishment.
“What!” he said. “A man’s gotta eat, right?”
“Right,” I said lamely. Watching him fill his plate with such gusto reminded me of the little guy in a locker room full of large men who, when presented with a gigantic jock strap, realizes he will never make it in the NFL. I picked out a half slab of ribs, put them on one side of my plate, spooned some wonderful smelling baked beans next to them and put my nose down close to the plate so I could savor the aroma.
“You ain’t never gonna make it at Bubba’s you keep scrimpin’ like that,” he said.
So I dumped another spoonful of baked beans on my plate, wondering what terrible punishment he would inflict on me when he saw I couldn’t eat them all. I carried my plate over to the drink machine, filled a paper cup with ice and poured ice tea into it. When I got back to the table, Renken was mopping the sauce from his face.
“So, how was your flight?”
“You hear about the tornado?”
“No. Hell no. What tornado?”
“The one that ripped up the infield at Hobby about 40 minutes ago.”
He looked at me for a second then turned to James Karl.
“Karl, you hear anything about a tornado this afternoon?”
Billy Ray chimed in as he was sitting down with two full plates, a stack of bread rolls, a huge soft drink and a roll of paper towels. “Damned straight,” he said. “Sucker ripped up the infield one end t’other. Pretty cool.”
“Jesus!” said Renken. “Anybody get hurt?”
“No,” I said, “but I couldn’t believe it. You know those huge windows in the observation area? The ones that look out over the runways? Those things were pumping in and out like a kettle drum.”
“No shit,” said James Karl.
Like that. So what. No big deal. Happens all the time. Nothing to get worked up about. This is Texas, boy. Stuff like that happens all the time. Eat your lunch.
So I started in. I ate in silence for a while, soaking up the conversation and the smells and the ambience of one of my favorite places on the planet. I love listening to Southerners talk. I can taste the cadence and rhythm of their language. It’s a lot like the way they cook and eat their ribs. Slow, rich, tangy and unctuous. Foreigners must go slightly insane trying to make sense of the way Texans talk. I noticed Valeriy, the Russian, listening politely with his head cocked to one side, as if sifting through the sands of the language on one side of his head would make it more understandable. Welcome to Texas, I thought. Damned straight.