Bloody River Blues Excerpt

All he wanted was a case of beer.

And it looked like he was going to have to get it himself.

The way Stile explained it, “I can’t hardly get a case of Labatts on the back of a Yamaha.”

“That’s okay,” Pellam said into the cellular phone.

“You want a six-pack, I can handle that. But the rack’s a little loose. Which I guess I owe you. The rack, I mean. Sorry.”

The motorcycle was the film company’s but had been issued to Pellam, who had in turn loaned it to Stile. Stile was a stuntman. Pellam chose not to speculate on what he had been doing when the rack got broken.

“That’s okay,” Pellam said again. “I’ll pick up a case.”

He hung up the phone. He got his brown bomber jacket from the front closet of the Winnebego, trying to remember where he’d seen the discount beverage store. The Riverfront Deli was not far away but the date of his next expense check was and Pellam did not feel inclined to pay $26.50 for a case, even if it had been imported all the way from Canada.

He stepped into the kitchenette of the camper, stirred the chili and put the cornbread in the small oven to heat. He had thought about cooking something else for a change. Nobody seemed to notice that whenever Pellam hosted the poker game, he made chili. Maybe he would serve it on hot dogs, maybe on rice but it was always chili. And oyster crackers. He didn’t know how to cook much else.

He thought about doing without the beer, calling back Stile and saying, yeah, just bring a six pack. But he did the calculation and decided they needed a whole case. There would be four of them playing for six hours and that meant even a case would be stretched pretty thin. He would have to break out the mescal and Wild  as it was.

Pellam stepped outside, locked the camper door and walked along the road paralleling the gray plane of the Missouri River. It was just after dark, an autumn weekday and by rights ought to be rush hour. The road dipped and rose away from him and it was deserted of traffic. He zipped his jacket tight. Pellam was tall and thin. Tonight he wore jeans and a work shirt that had been black and was now mottled gray. His cowboy boots sounded in loud, scraping taps on the wet asphalt. He wished he had worn his Lakers cap or his Stetson; a cold wind, salty-fishy smelling, streamed off the river. His eyes stung, his ears ached.

He walked quickly. He was worried that Danny — the scriptwriter of the movie they were now shooting — would show up early. Pellam had recently left a ten pound catfish in Danny’s hotel room bathtub and the writer had threatened to weld the Winnebego door shut in retaliation.

The fourth of the poker players was a grip from San Diego who looked just like the merchant marine he had once been, complete with tattoo. The fifth was a lawyer in St. Louis, a hawkish man with tight jowls. The film company’s L.A. office had hired him to negotiate property and talent contracts with the locals. He talked nonstop about Washington politics as if he had run for office and been defeated because he was the only honest candidate in the race. His chatter was a pain but he was a hell of a good man to play poker with. He bet big and lost amiably.

Hands in pockets, Pellam turned down Adams Street, away from the river, studying the spooky, abandoned red-brick Maddox Ironworks building.

Thinking, it’s damp, it may rain.

Thinking, would the filming in this damn town go much over schedule?

Would the chili burn, had he turned in down?

Thinking about a case of beer.

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