For those of you who are keeping track, I am nearing the end of my 69 drinks. It doesn’t seem so if you add up all the drinks recorded on these pages, but I’ve actually had more than I have listed here. Most of them were uninspiring, in either a good or bad way, just drinks that you might encounter in any regular foray into any regular bar. There have been few revelations: I still loathe tequila and choking those five varieties down was a test of my resolve and honesty, but I did it. Would I lie to you? The scotches all went down easily, ditto most of the bourbons except those that were too sweet. Does anyone still drink Southern Comfort? Disgusting. The specialty drinks – Becherovka, Green Chartreuse, Fireball, others – were equally disgusting.
Over the last year the Lead Penny has gone through some major changes – moving three buildings north on Churton Street being the main one, but it has remained the fabulous friendly bar it has always been. The wait-staff is efficient, patient, knowledgeable, good-natured and good-looking, man and woman alike. Even when the place was jammed they had time to discuss with me what drinks were still undrunk and what strategy would be employed that afternoon or evening. The chicken wings are always good and the rest of the food is well-cooked and innovative. Here’s a tip, the plain black beans are maybe the best I’ve ever eaten.
This is beginning to sound like I’m saying goodbye before walking into the ocean with stones in my pocket, but I just want to make sure I say my thank-yous before this last bit of action. I don’t think they’re going to let me have my laptop in jail, so no more blog if they put me in the pokey, or maybe some rookie cop will shoot me mistaking a 73-year-old, portly old man digging a hole at night in a graveyard for a cat burglar.
I put Sherry into the car and gave her a kiss goodbye. “I don’t know where you’ve been going at night recently,” she said to me, “you can explain it all when I get back.”
“It’s time you read my blog,” I said. “It will explain everything.” She backed out of the driveway, gave me a wave and headed north.
I packed my shovel in my backpack, added a few other supplies, and read my book until midnight and it was time to go. I was dressed for it: black jeans, black T-shirt, sneakers in case I needed to make a run for it, nothing special, this is what I wear every day; in the colder months the black T-shirt is long sleeved.
The weather was good, as if making up for the Florence disaster: warm without a hint of rain. The sky was clear and the moon was showing at about a quarter, which the Internet tells me is called either a waxing or waning crescent moon. I stood by the car looking up at the sky for a few minutes, telling myself I could just walk back inside and go to bed, but that barely-heard weeping was still there, grating against my nerves, and I thought it would always be there if I didn’t try to do something about it. I opened the car door and put a piece of dull silver duct tape over the button that turned on the overhead light. I waited a minute to see if it would pull off, but it held. Good old duct tape, the cat burglar’s friend. I climbed into the car, put my pack on the passenger seat and pulled out for the short drive to the parking lot near the graveyard.
I sat in the car in the lot, near but not quite right next to the row of cars that I assumed belonged to the patrons in the Nash Street Tavern. I went over the plan again, though I wasn’t sure if I was still trying to talk myself into it or out of it. While I sat, I sipped from a pewter flask of George Dickel bourbon that I had prepared earlier. It held a bit more than 6 ounces, and I was careful to leave a couple of ounces in the bottom. I screwed on the cap and ran my thumb over the letters engraved on the front. I had the flask engraved when I was working on my first blog, thethrillerguy; the message was one I used to flog my readers with at the time: Sit down; Shut up; Get to work. Good advice, then and now. Get to work.
I put the flask in the pack, it clanked against the shovel; I made a mental note to be careful about that. The light stayed off when I opened the door. Yes! I was sure no one saw me when I cut across the parking lot and into the trees at the far end. I would wait there until the bar crowd came out. I was afraid that if I stayed in the car I would drink the rest of the whiskey and fall asleep.
Eventually the bar doors opened and the patrons began to straggle out and across the street to their cars. They got in and in a couple of minutes the last one pulled out of the lot.
This, I reasoned, would be my most dangerous few minutes. I didn’t want to try and creep into the graveyard by cutting through a small forest and a large backyard, which I think would have been possible but would leave me open to barking dogs, if there were any, or irate neighbors with shotguns. I walked out of my little woods, into the street, onto the sidewalk in front of the one house between the lot and the graveyard, strolled up the sidewalk like I was an honest citizen out for a late night stroll with a shovel in my backpack, made it by the house (no lights were showing) and into the graveyard.
I was glad that I had done my reconnaissance days earlier, because it was darker than I thought it would be. What are the clichés? Darker than a well-digger’s ass? Darker than the inside of a cat? Even though I knew it was there, I still tripped over the low fence that surrounded the three lonely gravestones. I stumbled but didn’t go down, clutching the backpack to my chest so the flask didn’t clank. I slowed my breathing and skirted the fence, moving off into an even darker patch of shadow, feeling my way into the copse I had scouted earlier. I stopped again and waited, giving myself five minutes (I assume it was five minutes, it felt like half an hour) for my eyes to completely adjust to what dim light there was from the moon (not much) and the streetlight on the edge of the graveyard (still not much.)
When I decided I was never going to see much of anything anyway and I should just get on with it, I swung the pack off my back, unzipped it and removed the shovel. I put the pack on the ground and pried the shovel blade from where it was bent back against the handle and muscled it into position. It made a click that was loud enough to freeze my blood but after standing rock-still for a minute I decided no one could have heard it unless they were a few feet from where I was hidden.
I knelt down and felt around at my feet. I was in the very center of the grove (luck) where the ground was fairly free of brush or tree growth. I put the shovel into digging position, got my foot on it and pressed down. It sunk into the earth like the proverbial hot knife through butter; I was amazed at how much easier it was than trying to dig in the hard red clay of my front yard. The blade sunk in up to the haft, I scooped up as much as it would hold and dumped it several feet off to the right. I stopped and listened: nothing. Not even crickets. I went back to it. There was only the soft sound of the shovel doing its work. Every once in awhile I flinched at the metallic click when the blade hit a stone.
Here’s what I was thinking, both then and back when I was planning this first part of my three-part strategy. First of all, I had no idea how many bones were under the house, or what volume they would take up once I had gathered them together. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to have an entire skeleton on my hands. If that turned out to be the case, I’d have to rethink the whole thing. So I dug until I had a hole that felt like it was at least eight inches deep, maybe a foot in places, over a couple of feet square. It wasn’t hard work, but I was sweating when I decided I was finished. I gathered up some loose sticks and brush and put them over my makeshift grave. It probably wouldn’t disguise the hole completely, but I thought that the chances of anyone stumbling across it were pretty slim. The greater danger was me falling into it in the dark.
I put the shovel in the backpack, took out the flask, and dumped the remaining two ounces of George Dickel on my shoulders and shirtfront. The empty flask went comfortably into my back pocket, and I stepped away from the hole, feeling my way into the small trees until I came across a low bush that kept me from going any further. I knelt down, found an opening where I could stash the backpack and crammed it as far under the bush as I could.
The slow, fumbling trip out of the graveyard was uneventful, meaning I didn’t fall into the hole and there was no one walking their dog to see me. I checked my watch: 1:30 AM. I turned toward home. The walk back would take around 20 minutes.
It was ten minutes before a black and white cop car slid up beside me. I had seen the lights coming as I was walking in the center of the street, and I moved over so the car could pass, which it didn’t. It stopped. I leaned down as the passenger side window whirred open. My heart was pounding, and I kept telling myself: you knew this could happen, follow the plan.
“Good evening,” the cop said. I nodded. “My name is Officer Bradley Warren. You wouldn’t be Mr. Allen Appel, would you?”
For the first time since I began this evening’s caper, I felt a wash of gut-chilling fear flow over my pounding heart. It rocked me back a little so I had to put a hand on the car door to steady myself. “That would be me.” Why was he here? How did he know my name? Had he been looking for me? Visions of Sherry in a car crash flitted through my mind.
“Would that be your car in the parking lot of the Nash Street Tavern?” He was glancing at a little notebook. The page glowed neon green in the illumination from the lights imbedded in dashboard.
“And why are you not driving your car?”
I leaned in close to the window. “Because I’m drunk.”
He mulled that over for a minute. I was hoping the George Dickel fumes both on my breath and from my shirt were wafting through the car to where he was sitting. He gave me a long, appraising cop look, and nodded again.
“OK. Get in the car, I’ll give you a ride home.” I thought about declining, saying I could use the exercise, but when a cop says get in the car you get in the car.
“I live…” I began.
“I know where you live.”
The four-minute ride was accomplished in silence. In the close confines of the patrol car I was aware that I not only smelled like I had been on a two-day bender, but that I had, while I was on that bender, taken a swim in a vat of whiskey. Had I overdone it?
We rolled to a stop in front of the house. The silver metal shingles of the roof made it glow pale in the dim moonlight. There were no lights on in any of the windows.
“Think you can make it inside on your own?” he asked.
I tried to assume a dignified, slightly annoyed though drunken look. ‘I’m sure I’ll be fine, Officer.” I fumbled with the door and couldn’t get it open.
“You’ll pick up your car tomorrow after you’ve slept this off?” he asked. I nodded. “You left it unlocked,” he added. “I got in it when I went through your glove compartment. Do you know your interior light is not functioning?”
Again that wave of fear.
“It must be burnt out.”
He was giving me that cop look again. The kind that loosens your bowels. The one that says he knows there’s something not quite right, but he just can’t quite put his finger on it. He went on. “No, actually, the bulb’s not burnt out, someone has put a piece of duct tape over the switch that turns it on when you open the door. Would that be you, Mr. Appel? And why would you do such a thing?”
I turned to him, giving him the full benefit of my whiskey breath and my innocent expression. “Are you married, Officer?” I asked. He nodded. I looked over at the house.
“So am I. My wife is sleeping soundly inside that house, but she is a light sleeper. She might not hear me drive up, but she could very well see the light from the car when I opened the door. This is not my first late-night trip to a barroom.” I gave him what I thought was a sly, man-to-man look. “Maybe you are married and are saying to yourself, why would she care, but when you’ve been married as long as I have, you’ll understand at this time of the night… ” I glanced at my wristwatch and couldn’t see anything, “… morning, under these circumstances there are some discussions you don’t want to have with your just-woke-up wife.”
We sat there looking at each other. By now my eyes had adjusted to the greenish glow from the dashboard. It cast a ghostly, blurry illumination that looked like what they show in the movies when someone puts on a pair of night vision goggles. He was a lean man, with a hook nose, his ethnicity was unclear in the wash of green, his eyes were dark and suspicious. We stared at each other for several hours. (Several minutes.)
He pushed a button and I heard my door unlock. “Just a second,” he said. He reached up and flipped a switch on his interior light and gave me a condescending smile. When I opened the door the light did not come on. I waved my hand in thanks and turned to the house.
The walk from the patrol car to the front door was at least three or four miles (thirty yards) and I held my breath the entire way. I walked carefully, but not too carefully, I was drunk, remember? I got my key out, opened the door and went inside. Looking back out I could see him, bathed in the ethereal green light. He was writing in his little book. He looked up in my direction, and I felt like he could see me, easily, even though I was in complete darkness, I could feel him look deep inside me, I could hear his words, in my head, in a voice that made my skin crawl, deep down where the little girl wept, the words, knifing into me: “You’re a goddamned liar, Mr. Appel, A goddamned liar. I will CATCH YOU! AND THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY!”
Eventually, he drove away.
This was not part of the plan.