Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Old Farts Club excerpt from "Montana is Burning"

At the 2010 Flathead River Writers Conference, I had a very encouraging talk with Gordon Warnock from Andrea Hurst Literary Management. However, he informed me that my (supposedly) completed novel is about 30,000 words too long for a first-time author. Ouch. So I must say goodbye to some (in my opinion) wonderful chunks of verbiage that develop characterization, establish mood, and plant clues. I need to do those things with greater brevity, it appears. So here's a chapter that's being lopped out:

Ole’s CafĂ©, Kintla, Montana

Saturday – 10:00 a.m. (The morning after a nearby abortion clinic was firebombed)

Surely every coffee shop on the planet has one, a large table where the Old Farts Club gathers each morning to complain about the world going to hell in a hand basket. The round table in Ole's Cafe in Kintla had eight oak chairs.

Ralph Morrissey, the town's funeral director, walked into Ole's and saw several reporters forced to stand at the counter, even though there was still an empty chair at the big table. It was gratifying, he thought, to see that some things in this world could still be depended upon.

He took the vacant seat between banker James Otto and rancher Duke Overbeek. Everybody nodded at the mortician and Otto flipped over a clean cup for him. As usual, at least three different conversations were going on, with some fellows jumping from one to another depending on which topic caught their interest. Morrissey jumped in with the group discussing last night’s firebombing and was immediately interrupted by Huz Brandt, the local accountant.

“You missed a couple great jokes, Digger," Brandt said. "You know what you get when you cross a Mormon with an Indian?"

“A basement full of stolen canned goods," blurted insurance agent Jay Aster.

Despite having heard the joke minutes earlier, the table erupted in laughter. Morrissey, who had both LDS and Native American friends, sat stony-faced. He noticed Bobby Jones looked like he'd gotten a whiff of something rancid.

Jones spoke before Morrissey could think of a comeback. "I heard there's no humor without an element of truth. Maybe we oughta change that to humiliation."

"Lighten up, Bobby," Brandt said. "Don't tell me you didn't bust up some prairie niggers off the Rez when you were carrying a badge down in Missoula."

A muscle twitched on the retired deputy's square jaw. "Naw, I was too busy writing DUI's for members of the Chamber of Commerce."

Brandt's cheeks turned crimson. Everybody at the table knew the CPA had recently picked up his third drunk-driving ticket. They all looked around at nothing in particular, hoping somebody would change the subject before things got even more unpleasant.

Bobby Jones jumped in again to change the subject. "I almost made my first taxi trip yesterday. This college kid got busted at St. Joseph and the Border Patrol confiscated his daddy's Mercedes. He hitched a ride into town, then showed up on my porch with his sad story. 'Just some seeds, Man. Just some seeds,' he says."

"What happened?" Brandt asked. "No money?"

"Naw, he showed me more'n enough for the trip. I told him to come back at six and we'd go to Edgerton after supper. Musta got another ride, because he never showed."

Overbeek leaned forward. "Speaking of no-shows, did you hear Chief Holland ducked out of the limelight and put that new detective in charge of the arson investigation? You know, the religious nut.”

"Paul Longo is his name," Jones said. "I bumped into him at the courthouse last week. Didn't seem like a nut to me."

Huz Brandt sneered. "There's a lot of local boys coulda done the job just as well. They know the valley better than some kid just rolled into town."

"He’s no kid, Huz," Jones laughed. "Trouble is, you think anyone not drawing Social Security is still in diapers. And just because he doesn't swear every fifth word, that doesn't make him a Jesus freak."

"It's all just politics," Overbeek said. "Frye probably hoped Holland would stub his toe on this abortion clinic thing, so Holland put one of the Sheriff’s boys in charge of solving it.”

"Then the Chief’s got the wrong guy," Jones said. "Longo's no politician. Hell, he’s the only one on the force who’s not up to his butt in the election.”

Meanwhile, a discussion across the table about forest fires had evolved into a diatribe against government is general and Congress in particular. Jay Aster, the coffee klatch’s token Democrat, was taking a merciless ribbing from the other men. He turned to Morrissey after a few minutes of this abuse.

"Hey, Digger, I've never seen you this quiet before. Business can't be all that bad, I hear people are just dying to get into your place."

"Oh, I'm busy enough but the cremations are killing my bottom line. The only bright spot is the folks who choose a box-and-burn job are usually cheapskates like you who’d stiff me on the bill anyway."

James Otto, the banker sitting next to him, cleared his throat. “Wake up on the wrong side of the embalming table?”

"I’m fried over those nuts that bombed the clinic," Morrissey said. "What with them and this new militia group people are whispering about, plus the morons we send to the legislature, I'm ashamed to call myself a Montanan."

"Didn't you move here from Oregon?" Brandt needled.

"I'm serious here," Morrissey said. "The more I think about it, the more steamed I get. There's not one Montanan in a thousand who thinks murder is the way to win a political argument."

"Damn right," Overbeek said.

The funeral director brought his fist down on the table, rattling coffee cups and saucers. “The rest of us have to stand up to the pinheads responsible for this terrorist act and let them know we won't tolerate such an outrage.”

“I'm with you a hundred percent so far,” Jones said. "You got something in mind?"

Morrissey stood up. “You bet I do. Come over to the mortuary chapel at one o'clock and bring a couple friends.”

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