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Ed Peaco fiction

Monte is Summoned to Building One

by Ed Peaco



Monte Thompson was trying to walk quickly from the parking lot to the heavy doors of Building One. He was hoping to stay ahead of the big boss, who Monte felt closing in on him. Derick Blockmenn, the Principal Partner and CEO of DataProbing Network, was someone to avoid. However, Monte had to be careful on his titanium hip, installed six months ago, and which had been causing as much pain as the human hip that had seemed to slowly disintegrate. In recent years, he hiked Mount Washington with three buddies, ran a half-marathon, and slogged through a mud-obstacle course. A year ago, he hit 55, and AARP ratcheted up its barrage of mail and pressure to enroll, but what was worse in that year was a boatload of torture in the left part of the pelvis. Complaining to himself, he denigrated the surgery as an old-man’s thing, but it had to be done. Rehab had been extended with physical therapy sessions, three per week. But there was more than just the physical pain. He had been taking off numerous half-days to visit neuro specialists and to take a battery of tests and an MRI to determine what was making his thinking so sluggish.

Today was one of those days when he had to slip away for a follow-up appointment at the big hospital downtown. The neurologist wanted to show Monte the findings of the MRI from a few weeks ago. Monte hoped he could dodge Blockmenn.

Entering DataProbing’s front lobby, Monte heard some banging behind him. It was Blockmenn, shoving the hydraulic mechanism of the front door, barging through the entryway, shouldering the door as if he were a linebacker, causing a metal-on-metal screech, muttering obscenities down the main hall. Monte ducked into the men’s room, hoping that hanging out there for a few minutes would be sufficient to shake the boss. Monte came to Building One rarely, to check if any of his mail was lingering at the front desk, and for the occasional staff meeting. This morning, looking this way and that, he thought the coast was clear, but he was wrong. Gangly and clumsy, with long, springy hair, graying and unruly—a twisted Einstein—Blockmenn almost knocked down Monte at the men’s room door.

“Hang on a minute,” Blockmenn said.

Then, while urinating, Blockmenn told Monte, “Get with Buster about the Natural Deep pitch. We need audio, video, text, today!” Monte wondered what Natural Deep was. Blockmenn told Monte to call Buster King, Monte’s supervisor, the hefty put-upon Managing Partner, and have him provide details. Blockmenn’s request threw Monte; he paused to gather his words. Buster was a prickly manager who tried to conceal his girth with billowy shirts. Standing by the sink, Monte phoned Buster, but the call went to voicemail, which made Blockmenn stomp away, fuming.

The DPN campus was composed of three small buildings, spread apart along a spacious greenway, with a wooded area beyond. Building One contained administration. Building Two quartered the specialists and investigators. The communication services were housed, including Monte’s team, in Building Three. “Blockhead,” as the staff called Blockmenn behind his back, could blow at any moment, for any reason. Longstanding employees said he had trouble with anger, pharmaceuticals, and substances, precipitating meltdowns and blowups, including one featuring fisticuffs with Buster and another with an investigator. A visit to Blockmenn’s office could be frightful, with swords and firearms mounted on the walls. From time to time, Monte thought about how he’d avoid those outbursts, or worse, an assault. He often cringed at the mismatch between the helping function of the organization and its dreadful creator. Like a terrible jingle that he couldn’t get out of his mind, Monte couldn’t stand the pretentious phrases of the mission statement, the fatuous boilerplate. What a load of crap!

DataProbing Network: a platform for those who need investigative solutions for casualties of catastrophic events, fraud, crime, and corruption. When government and law enforcement can’t or won’t help, DPN can perform functions tailored for the client, including investigators, litigators, scientists and communications experts, providing data-visualization tools, research resources, and voiceover video.

Eventually, Monte tracked down Buster in a meeting in which Blockmenn was ripping Buster a new one over the latest disaster. Monte listened briefly in the doorway. He learned a few things: Natural Deep was a natural gas producer. One of its offshore platforms in the North Sea had recently exploded. Blockmenn was livid about an investigator’s blunders that could lose the Natural Deep account.

“We have to be the first to know about shit like this, and know everything about it,” Blockmenn said. “Get off your lard-ass, Buster. If something blows up or somebody gets screwed, we need to be on it immediately!”

And Blockmenn to Monte: “Crap out all the appropriate proposals by the end of the day. Show them what we can do before somebody else does. Don’t waste time!”

Monte understood that this would not be a good day for slipping away for a doctor’s appointment. He shuffled back to Building Three and set aside the typical office morning chat, except for one dumb-ass Blockhead story: “I had a standing meeting in the men’s room with Blockhead!” Everybody had a good laugh, then Monte described the heap of work that had been dumped in their laps: the Natural Deep account. It was a setback for everyone and meant long hours ahead.

Monte took a moment to think about his own personal setbacks. His declining health and mental issues had recently caused the loss of a sweetie who had soured on him—one in a short list of sweeties following his divorce, including the dazzling Natalie, with whom he fumbled as she gave up on him. More important, he had trouble communicating at work: increasing forgetfulness, slow on the uptake, not finding the right words, all of which required co-workers to repeat discussions. Physically, his hip was flaring up with spiky shoots of pain, which required another visit to the physical therapist and the surgeon’s physician assistant. There would be no more running or hiking for a while, and not much walking, either. Just a mess all around.

He tried to recall when his mental fog started. It might have been with the hip replacement, or even before. Long after the anesthesia should have lifted, his head was still muddled. He went to a rehab place for ten days, then spent two weeks rehabbing and working from home, with the help of his nephew, Cable, who had plenty of time to help his uncle, as he’d been laid off from his job when the bar where he worked closed. Cable welcomed the cash Monte gave him to help with chores around the house, although Monte sensed Cable, who lived in a nearby remodeled barn, wasn’t really up to playing full-time nurse. Then again, Cable was the one who insisted Monte get a referral for a full neurological work-up, including an MRI for cognitive impairment.

—   —   —

Monte had arranged the time of the doctor’s appointment closer to lunch in hopes that his absence might not be noticed. He and Cable met the neurologist in her office to discuss the findings from the MRI. During a few minutes of pleasantries and questioning, the neurologist was looking at her screen. Then Cable piped up. “Sometimes when he talks, he sounds loopy, but not from those pills, because he won’t use them.”

“Loopy?” Monte asked.

“And a couple of times, he didn’t know where he was,” Cable said.

Grinding his teeth, Monte told Cable, “Hey, could you stop talking?”

She shot a glance toward Monte. “So, the report,” she said. “There’s no stroke, no tumor; but the scan detected mild atrophy of the brain.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Monte said.

“Well, few very small foci of increased T2 signal in the bilateral subcortical white matter. …”

“What?” Monte lost her; nothing made sense, even after two attempts.

“You have mild cognitive impairment,” she said. “You might have early-onset dementia. The anesthesia from the hip replacement surgery some months ago may have accelerated cognitive decline. Tests show word loss and halted speech suggesting a progressive trajectory.”

“Meaning it gets worse, right?”

“Yes, you may eventually lose speech entirely.”

“Oh, that sucks!”

“There are many kinds of dementia, and there is no cure. Sorry to say.”

“Sorry to what?” Monte asked.

“I’ll set you up for a PET scan. It’ll show more about what your brain is doing.”

Cable tried to calm him down, but Monte got worked up when he heard sorry to say.  Then he stood up and walked out, reeling from the doctor’s words.

—   —   —

Back at DPN and eating lunch at his desk, Monte took a moment to calm down and count his blessings, such as they were. At least he worked in Building Three, as far from Blockmenn as possible. His team was talented and energetic. The three people in the media studio were versed in writing, editing, and producing. Each had a specialty: Michael (words), Charity (visuals), and Monte (audio) including voiceover for video. He was known for his gentle vocal tone, even when describing the worst explosions, natural disasters, and massacres around the world. Ironic that his diagnosis would affect his speech.

He and his team thought of the people in Building One as super-conservative and themselves as embracing a lefty fellowship. If anybody needed anything, Tori, the sharp-witted courier, would provide it. Tall and thin, she often speed-walked from building to building, pulling a red wagon filled with everything from printer cartridges to Earl Grey green tea. The best perk was the bucolic feel of Building Three, ensconced near trees and bathed in green space. Monte had always enjoyed walking around the grounds and into the woods on his lunch hour. A few years back, he hooked rope ladders over a weighty branch of a big oak and climbed just for fun. That was before the hip problems arose.

Michael, back from lunch, stopped at Monte’s desk. “I heard about fireworks at Building One today. Could it spread here?”

“You mean Blockhead might come to Building Three with a flamethrower? Not likely,” Monte said. “Blockhead likes to push around the sycophants in Building One.”

“I’ve been thinking about—this might seem silly—but, what about an escape plan?” Charity said. “Do we have one?”

“Like a secret passageway, a false wall?” Michael said as he chuckled.

The concerns of his co-workers, in lieu of that morning’s eruption, seemed to make sense. “Maybe we should think about that,” Monte said.

Tori interrupted this conversation with her daily visit to Building Three. She stopped, as usual, at Monte’s desk to tease him about his work. “Here you are: The Michael Bublé of Bloodbaths, The Pavarotti of Panic, The Sinatra of Sorrow.”

“Thank you very much. Just trying to make terrible events a little bit more pleasant,” he said with a little bow, while trying to get back to work.

Reflecting on the appointment with the neurologist, Monte knew he’d been lethargic and forgetful since coming back from his hip replacement surgery. He spent much more time in the sound booth than he would have before the surgery. Colleagues had to address him more than once to get his attention. He had trouble pulling words out of his mouth. Moreover, he noticed that people were seeing him speaking off a script, and when the discussion went beyond the script, he went silent as he worked through a speech block. It was scary. What was happening? Dementia, more goddamn dementia! What were his co-workers thinking? He worked through dinner and into the night, eventually collapsing for a few hours of sleep on a couch in the studio. Still he wasn’t done.

The next morning, seeking coffee, he already felt fried. Buster tromped into the studio, elbows out, standing over the three co-workers. With a loud sigh, he said, “We lost the Natural Deep project. You guys were too slow yesterday. The big guy is not happy.”

The threesome looked at each other, making grave faces. Buster conveyed again how disappointed Mr. Blockmenn was and described other work coming up.

Then Buster pulled Monte aside to ask him about his health and questioned the quality of his work. This was the first time anything like that had happened to Monte—ever. Both men remained silent for a short time.

“So, you’re the leader in Building Three. We need you, but, what’s up?” Buster asked.

“I’ve had some pain with the hip, and I don’t get enough sleep.”

“What can we do to get you back into the swing of things?”

“It’s up to me.”

“Yeah, but think about what’s going on with you. I don’t know what it is, but it might be more than just sleep. I’ve heard stuff about you, like, you’re not all there. We need you to be on top of things, all the time. Do you grasp what I’m saying?”

“Give me a little time to get myself into shape.”

“I’ll be checking in from time to time.”

No way was Monte going to use the word dementia, or mention his visit to the neurologist. How long could he fake being fully functional? Occasionally, he looked at a word and couldn’t pronounce it, or it made no sense unless he focused on it for a while. His work pace had been slowing down, and he knew that Buster and Blockmenn had become aware of it.

—   —   —

A few weeks later, Blockmenn summoned Monte to his office in Building One on a Monday morning. Monte arrived early. Blockmenn was not in his office. His longstanding admin, Victoria Deutsch, with ash-blonde helmet hair and extensive makeup, extended a hand toward a chair for Monte. “Feel at home, this is an amicable settlement,” she said.

“What settlement?”

“Didn’t he say?”

Suddenly, Blockmenn surged into the office and dropped loudly into his chair.

Victoria gave Blockmenn a stern-mother stare. “Be civil,” she told him. “Apparently, we have to start from the beginning.”

“Make it quick,” Blockmenn said.

Monte sat across from the Principal Partner, who began pushing papers into a single pile. Victoria presented a packet of termination and compensation documents.

She said, “Mr. Thompson, we know about the issues you’re confronting—”

What she said made Monte flinch. He wanted to eke out a few months more. Stuff gets around. Who blabbed? Who cares? Nobody had to tell anybody. The issues showed up every time he opened his mouth.

“—and we want to help you in any way we can,” Victoria said. “We will extend to you twenty-six weeks of severance compensation and health insurance.”

Monte felt like he was wandering in a thick fog. There was a lot of talking from Victoria that he seemed to hear from a distance. He wasn’t surprised, but he felt a little queasy. Victoria proceeded with the exit protocol. She described each document and showed the stickers pointing where Monte was to sign. The process became lengthy as Victoria recited various paragraphs that she seemed to think important.

“Thanks for the generous payout, Derick,” Monte said. “Could be worse!”

“Whaddaya mean? You want more?”

“I meant to say—”

“I don’t want to know what you meant,” Blockmenn said, fidgeting with pens and a stapler. He opened a drawer and brought out three handguns, fondling each, one by one, somewhat like he was strangely washing up with a big bar of soap. Then he placed the guns across his leather desk pad. “Which gun would you want to have?” Blockmenn asked.

“Now Mr. Blockmenn, not that,” Victoria said, with a withering gaze, as if she’d seen this routine before.

Monte recoiled. “What the hell?”

“Oh, Monte will like it.”

Monte certainly never had anything to say to Blockmenn, even on a good day, which was almost never. What a ridiculous exit interview!

So Monte responded first with a smirk, then pointed to the more compact piece. “If I must, this one, but—”

“The Smith & Wesson Governor,” Blockmenn said. “Excellent choice.” He picked up the Governor in both hands and raised it a few inches as if it were a large piece of gold.

“This one looks like the gun that Dick Tracy used from comic books and funny pages I read as a kid,” Monte said, then he snorted, which escalated to a nervous cackle. Monte was surprised with his outburst; he was scared and boiling mad. If only he could find Blockmenn without firearms, I would beat him to a pulp. Monte listened to the thumping of his charging heart, like it might explode at any moment.

“What’s so funny?” Blockmenn lurched up from his desk. “Do you think this is silly? It’s a matter of death or life.”

“Come on, Derick. What would I do with a gun? This is weird!”

In a spark of rage, Blockmenn swiped the weapon off the desk and to the floor, where it crashed with a sharp smack, spinning like a top on the ceramic tile. Seething, Blockmenn threw his head back petulantly. The gun lay spinning on the floor. Victoria sat there like nothing had happened.

Bug-eyed, mouth agape, Monte shot out of his chair, which fell back to the floor. “What’s this all about? Butterfingers! Screw you!” The gun spun slowly to a halt. Monte looked down and found that the barrel was pointed at his feet.

Victoria stooped to collect it. “Be careful, Mr. Blockmenn.”

“I’m fine,” said the CEO. “Take care of these papers. Show me where I sign. Be sure he signs the non-disclosure.” Blockmenn grabbed some documents from the desk and others from the floor, and stalked out.

Victoria leaned to Monte, close to his ear, whispering. “You deserve a reason for Mr. Blockmenn’s demeanor. He is a gifted leader, but he has challenges. He sees things. He hears things. He has treatment, but he doesn’t take heed. Today, he went off his meds, and he has upped his vodka intake. Don’t worry. Everything will be all right in the end.”

—   —   —

Blockmenn had designated Buster to escort Monte off the premises, but Buster was pulled away to deal with the current Blockhead tantrum, allowing Monte to hobble back across the green space to Building Three. He was eager to tell everybody about the disturbance that Blockmenn fomented.

 “I was summoned to Building One today, and the place was totally toxic. More bizarre behavior from Blockhead—he’s barking up and down through the corridors, he’s pulling a full-blown roid rage. He pulled out three handguns for me to examine. When he left his office, I saw he had another piece in a shoulder holster. He is absolutely unhinged!”

“Creepy, but we all know that he experiments with all kinds of alcohol, drugs, and pills. He’ll make mush of his brain if he keeps going this way,” Tori said.

“Oh, and so why was I summoned to Blockhead’s office? He fired me. This is my last day at DPN.”

Hubbub broke out as people wanted to know when, how and why; it went on for a while, requiring Monte to provide answers: Any feelers yet? Where ya looking? Try the local broadcast outlets? Great voice for radio. You’ve got connections.

“You guys know why I’m leaving, right?”

“You’re lucky,” Tori said. “You’re getting out of here.”

“Not exactly lucky,” he said, after which he looked for some way to get away from the crowd. He thought Buster would have already kicked him off the premises, but he wasn’t around. Monte went to the basement to find his plastic storage tub. He scrounged about in the tub, finding a few obsolete devices, old manuals, and binders, the rope ladders that he had stopped using, and a full set of clothes for back when he used to bike to work. He lugged all of it upstairs, where he unloaded the printed material into the recycling bin, and dumped the rest in a trash can. He kept the clothing.

He steered Tori into an empty hall. “So, I want to tell you, but you probably had some notion,” he said. “It may be early-onset dementia. Brain power just gets less and less.”

“Some of us were thinking—”

“If I’m lucky, the disease will go slow,” Monte said.

“—I wanted to say something.”

“Dementia comes gift-wrapped in many ways. Google it,” Monte said.

She briefly covered her mouth. She said, “Sorry.”

“You can tell anybody,” he said. “Tell them I said you could. I don’t want to talk about it. Maybe later.”

He spent a few minutes with Michael and Charity showing them around the soundproof booth used for making audio tracks, extolling the quality of the end result, better than your own voice. In the bottom drawer of his desk he found a dusty Doctors Without Borders tote bag, and he stuffed it with the clothes and a few books. As he packed, the idea of leaving felt better and better.

A squawk from the intercom startled the people of Building Three. The intercom was ancient and hardly ever used. The sound was loud and distorted. It was Buster. He was blurting hysterically. “Blockmenn’s on a rampage. This is real. He’s going after Monte. Active shooter alert! Active shooter alert! I couldn’t stop him. Go, go, go right now!”

Monte yelled through the halls of Building Three, “Let’s get out of here! Run to the woods!” He limped as rapidly as he could toward the trash can to retrieve the rope ladders. “Don’t go to your cars. The parking lot is next to Building One. Toward Blocker. I mean Blockhead. Who wants to run for the fence? I’m going now.” He pocketed his phone, gathered his rope ladders, hollered, “Last chance!” Then he went toward the trees. Five co-workers—Tori, Michael, Charity, and two others whose names he couldn’t remember—followed Monte’s limp-shuffle adrenaline-fueled gait across the green space into the brush. Some of the group were frantically texting and calling 911. He trudged through the prickers, the saplings, the big sycamores, and the downed-and-rotting trunks. Now he was hurting. He kept looking behind to make sure the others knew where he was. The escapees sped up when they heard a short spattering of gunshots. Monte stumbled upon two homeless men camped out with blue tarps and sleeping bags. He invited them to come along to avoid the crazy guy with guns, but they were only startled, and waved Monte away.

At last, the fence came into view. Monte hooked the first ladder over the top of the fence on the DPN side, then awkwardly climbed half way up, feeling something like a butcher knife jabbing into his thigh. He paused, then took it slow, placing the second ladder on the other side, and went over to check that the ladder was properly placed. Oh, throbbing pain! He waited for the pain to subside a bit, and he found a way to pull himself up mostly by his arms. He went back over to the DPN side to help those who needed it. Tori had trouble trudging in her sandals, and she was apprehensive about the ladders, but she managed to get over. One of the guys whose name Monte couldn’t remember, a hefty fellow, decided not to attempt the ropes. Michael said he had something like these ladders on his bunk bed growing up, and he hastened up, over and down. Charity, looking jittery, threw her pumps over the fence, and took the steps quickly. Monte followed.

“We made it!” Monte said. “So far, anyway.” He collected the rope ladders and carried them under each arm.

Charity looked around at the scrub trees and high grass lining the road, then she declared, “Whoa, we’re in the boonies. I’ve never been on this edge of town.”

“Me, neither,” Monte said. “When you enter DPN, you’re still in the city. But over the fence, we’re really out there.”

“I’ve been beamed up to another planet,” she said.

Wincing with every other step, Monte led the crew down a gravel road toward what he hoped was a main road.

“Hey, we have to keep moving,” Monte said. “We need to get far enough away so we can’t be seen.”

“Why are you toting those ladders?” Michael asked Monte.

“They’re souvenirs.”

“For crying out loud. I’ll carry them,” Michael said.

Monte fell back from the group, and they went around a bend. He slowed down, looked back where they had walked, then looked ahead. He didn’t see anybody. Panic set in.

—   —   —

Well, shit, let them go wherever they’re going, but I’m gonna sit here and feel each throb. Too loud to think. Am I thinking?

Can’t process. Getting canned: that calls for an up yours! Psycho Baby playing with guns, shit for brains. Those gunshots: that demands a full-throttle mother fucker!

Spent my best years in pig slop—that boilerplate, the pretentious crap that I wrote!

Blockhead, why didn’t you fire me long ago?

Early on: Got divorced. Then there was Natalie. Wow Natalie! Posted to Dublin. Could have followed her out of bumfuck DPN. What a sledge head I was!

Im the blockhead!

No more hikes, no more races.

Gimmy a wheelchair and fuck yourself.

Surgery stupor, now dementia, what’s next?

Aphasia, my sweetie till death?

Won’t see the guys anymore. No trails. No mountains.

No woman would mess with this mess of me.

Losing everything!

Oh, what’s this? Something’s wrong. What’s happening?

Where am I?

—   —   —

As the first one to notice Monte was nowhere in sight, Michael back tracked and found Monte on the shoulder of the road, panting, howling in a gutteral basso profundo.

“What’s wrong?” Michael asked.

“I’m kinda messed up,” Monte said. “Really lost. Scary.”

Michael pulled him up to sit and put an arm around Monte. “You OK?” Michael asked.

Monte looked around and saw the ladders. He said, “Oh, ladders. Yeah, yeah, ladders.” He didn’t want to stand up yet. Something had hit him like that wigged-out feeling from that anesthetic. “When I saw the ladders, I knew everything again—weird.”

Tori held his hand. “How do you feel? What do you need? You can’t help it, right? It’s that dementia, right? Sorry. I gotta shut up.”

“I think it was that I didn’t see you guys,” Monte said. “I was nowhere. Not sure where I was.”

“I don’t know either,” Charity said. She gave her water bottle to Monte.

“It’s a different not-knowing,” he said. “It’s not, it’s different—I can’t find the word. Sorry.”

“Hell, no. Don’t be sorry. You saved us from that madman,” Michael said. “You’re our hero!”

As Michael and Tori helped Monte get on his feet, Charity went ahead to a Smarty-Mart store. The others arrived in a few minutes. She bought bottled water for everybody. They sat on plastic chairs and called family and friends to say they were OK.

“Oh, my brain let me have that word. No, it went away. No, yes, I got it: embarrassing. A different kind of not-knowing.”

—   —   —

Monte wanted Cable to stay with him that night. Next morning, Monte’s phone was crammed with calls and texts with concerns for his wellbeing and news of what happened at DataProbing Network. Buster’s voice message: Blockhead went just-a-stumblin’, the Governor in one hand, bottle of Grey Goose in the other. I called the cops. They came in five minutes. When Blockhead heard the sirens, that was when he tried to blow his fuckin’ head off, but he botched the job. Nobody else got hurt.

—   —   —

Two days later, Tori came to Monte’s house and sat outside with iced coffee.

“I’m not going back,” Tori said.

“We’re still alive!”

“Another thing. I have a business proposition for you,” Tori said.

“Oh, really? I have no money to invest.”

Tori laughed. “Just saying, I’m gonna be a personal shopper—woo-hoo!”

“Cable gets my groceries.”

 “You’ll need more help than that. Come on, you could be my first client.”

“Not sure I’m ready for that,” Monte said.

“You can function almost all the time, except for when you can’t.”

“I’m going back to the neuro doc to have a PET scan,” he said. “That’s supposed to be the be-all, end-all for the diagnosis.”

“Then what?”

“Just carry on until I can’t, whenever that is.”



BIO

Ed Peaco is enamored with the short story. Many of his stories involve love (or like), blundering and redemption. He held editing posts at a newspaper for 27 years. In the next decade and continuing, as a freelancer, he’s writing about local music; and editing books, magazines and articles. The villain in this story, “Monte is Summoned to Building One,” is modeled on an eruptive boss. Peaco quit quickly, but Monte kept working too long. Peaco lives in Springfield, MO.





The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk 

By Ed Peaco


According to Amazon, the score of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring cost $14.93 in paperback. This discovery delighted guitarist Franko Tucker, a self-branded prog-punk musician who was hipped to Stravinsky by Hermes Agee, a young Franko fan and fellow guitarist, though classically trained. From their friendship, they decided to make a punk version of The Rite of Spring for Franko’s band, Franko and the Futile. Franko had just turned 30 and wondering what he’d accomplished in life, and he realized he needed Hermy’s conservatory expertise to pull it off.

Franko, a tattooed stick figure of a man whose main nutrition came from bar food or what could be eaten quickly from a can, was squabbling with The Futile over whether to work up The Rite of Spring or play covers of songs people liked and knew. The Futile (prematurely balding drummer Merk Moskwa with his fedora, and Fletcher Harrington on bass with a heavy keychain slung over his hip) weren’t getting how cool The Rite of Spring could be. Franko settled the matter when Hermy, back from Berklee for the summer, insisted on Stravinsky and insisted to be there to avoid total collapse.

Hermy, currently wearing a man bun and a vintage sport jacket with elbow patches, had enlisted two players from his former high-school group, the Teen Strings, to make the effort sound more or less like Stravinsky. He demonstrated on his tablet with a music keyboard.

While Hermy was a necessity, Franko sometimes found him arrogant, an egghead type, irksome. However, he worked well with The Futile. They came around when Hermy told them their roles would be mostly the same — Fletch’s fuzz-bass throb, Merk’s double-bass kick-drum machine-gun approach. Better for The Futile, Hermy wrote a couple of raucous punk pieces for them — “Punk Prelude” and “Pots and Pans” — despite his mother’s preference that he stay on a strictly classical path.

Franko sported a colorful sleeve of tattoos on one arm, a scene of slithering creatures emerging from jungle greenery. He had a good fan base, at least in the sprawling city of Bristol Springs, Missouri. But some of his old friends from high school were the kind of folks he’d now normally avoid, as they were excelling in their careers and starting families.

He made an exception for Olivia Ellis, who he remembered from concert band.

One day, in Walmart, he was wearing his LeBron James number 23 jersey and shorts. He thought he spotted her in Produce, but he could have been wrong. He remembered Olivia as a gangly girl with long, shiny dark hair, strong minded, prickly, with few friends. He recalled she was married to a guy named Bob. But 12 years later, she looked filled-out, curvy. Her hair was short now, with a long shock that fell over her right eye. He had to say hello.

“Wow, you’ve put on a whole lot of ink since I saw you last — maybe since school?” she said.

“It’s on my fingering arm, to keep peoples’ eyes on me,” he said. “I’m making enough cash with my music these days: casinos, private parties, exhibition halls.” Thankfully, he wouldn’t have to talk about meeting quotas in call centers or busting down boxes at loading docks.

“Cool,” Olivia said. She talked about her work in real estate. “Did you know I’m working on a new development on the Central Square? Didn’t you say you lived there, on the west side of the square?”

“Yes, I heard something about that.” He had received numerous booklets and updates in the mail about the project, and consistently ignored them.

“The plans are for mixed use. You might end up where you are, but nicer — elevator, no more stairs.”

“How’s Bob?”

“Who, Shithead? His real name can’t be used,” she said with a clenched fist.

“I get the gist.”

“No, you don’t,” she said with piercing, dark eyes. “There’s more. I got a great attorney and the house.” Then Olivia launched into a story of being screwed at the real estate office where she worked. “I coddled a bunch of investors over a month or more,” she said. “I wiped their asses! Then the boss took me off the project. I don’t care anymore.”

They made plans for lunch after he returned from a two-week mini-tour of Russellville, St. Joseph, Ottumwa, Marshalltown, Kirksville and La Crosse.

MONDAY

After the overnight haul from La Crosse, the first thing Franko did was hit Aunt Millie’s for a pancake breakfast. Then he went to his fourth-floor walkup, but he found that fencing, blockades and huge wrecking machines were in place.

He bawled like a cow as he remembered he forgot about the demolition. He fell to his knees and bawled again, loud enough to be heard on the other side of the square. Franko had meant to look at the information before he left for the mini-tour, but as usual, he blew it off.

Now he was panicking, sweating in his armpits and crotch. He thought about Olivia Ellis. He couldn’t find her phone number at first, then he found it in his contacts.

Thankfully, she picked up. He tried to speak to her, but he was slobbering: “Help. I fucked up! Really fucked! Forgot. What to do, help me, help me. Help!”

“What’s going on?” she asked, trying to extract what Franko’s trouble was. He hadn’t removed his belongings from his studio apartment. “Stay where you are. I’ll meet you there. Franko, just breathe.”

When she arrived downtown, people were standing around, watching the setup for tear-down activities.

“All of this probably happened a day or two after the band headed out on the tour,” he said.

“Did you really leave all your shit in the building and go away for two weeks?”

“’Fraid so, but I did have some stuff with me.”

She swept into action, grabbed some city official in a suit, tie and orange plastic hard hat. He said they had a lost-and-found in the Public Works building, just a few blocks off the square. The plastic-hard-hat fellow told Franko to go there immediately.

“Could I take a quick look in my place before everything falls apart?” Franko asked.

The hard-hat’s reply: “No.”

At Public Works, Franko was grateful to find some of his belongings: boxed-up documents, a plastic tub including random things like dishes and a few books, a skateboard, spare guitar and keyboard, but not his laptop. He felt foolish but pleased to be with Olivia. He asked about his ancient MacBook laptop, but it was not among his effects.

Franko thanked the official and stood awkwardly, then skulked away. He returned to the square, where the crowd had expanded. Olivia drove home in her 370Z two-seater. She promised to return shortly with her spacious Chrysler 300 she kept for tooling around with clients. Well-to-do people in the crowd were cheering, and a few activists flew black flags indicating contempt over the destruction of longstanding structures.

Franko felt like flying a black flag, too, but he spent time avoiding people he recognized. After a time of sinking hope, Olivia returned. They filled the back seat and the trunk with Franko’s diminished chattel. He asked about the two upscale rides. “They’re used. You know, impression is everything in the real estate game,” she said.

—   —   —

Franko’s items actually amounted to a fairly substantial heap. They unloaded his crap into a spare room at the back part of her house, where Olivia made a place for Franko to work and sleep until he could find a place of his own.

“Have you checked with your insurance people?” Olivia asked.

“Who?” he asked, “No,” not wanting to admit he thought renter’s insurance was a big waste.

“You might get a check for some of your losses.”

Franko said, “My laptop is all I really want. It has all my music — all the tracks for The Rite of Spring. I had to break down and redo what Stravinsky did. I thought I was being brilliant by leaving the laptop behind so it wouldn’t be lost on the tour.”

“Have you heard of a memory stick, or even better: the Cloud?” He sat on an ottoman and hung his head between his knees. “I have a Mac. It’s got GarageBand. Use mine,” she said.

“Will I bother you staying here?”

“No, nice to have you here instead of Shithead.”

After dinner, Hermy came over to Olivia’s place to work on The Rite of Spring with Franko. Hermy plugged in and messed around with some intricate chord changes for a few minutes and immediately blew Franko’s mind.

“You have more talent in one broken fingernail than all the gray matter in my little tiny cranium,” Franko said.

“Have you actually looked at what Igor did?”

“Yes, that’s why I’m freaking out. I’m inputting chunks of The Rite of Spring in ways that will make sense for a six-piece. Franko and The Futile is just a simple garage band. What did I get myself into? Can we loop some of this?”

“No, folks will think it’s canned, and they’ll be right. We’ll just have to do the best we can.”

“One bar of 3/4, next one bar of 5/4, to a bar of 7/4, and, for a breather, three bars of 6/4, and back to 5/4. That’s why I’m getting ready for these screwy rhythms. And that’s why Merk and Fletch need something they can handle. Igor has made it really hard.”

Franko cued the second “episode” of The Rite of Spring on Spotify, then he gyrated and lurched from the abrupt directions of the piece. “We need a different title: The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk. Or both!

By now it was midnight, and Olivia was sleeping. Franko and Hermy decided to take a walk around the block. It was a mild evening. Halfway around, Franko was bathed in a sweet scent of something. He advanced toward the scent; he didn’t really know where it came from — flowering shrubs? He stepped onto the springy grass, seeking a more intense aroma.

“Hey, you better stay off people’s lawns. They don’t like that,” Hermy said.

At that moment, Franko detonated a ringing alarm, along with several flashes from the front-door area. A clumsily moving figure dashed out with a huge flashlight. The alarm stopped. The scowling man’s unruly hair became gauzy in the back-lit spotlight.

Franko, remaining stone-cadaverous still, saw that the approaching figure was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. The garment slunk at an angle, with one side drooping. Then a big dog, growling and barking, appeared beside the man.

“Good morning, gentlemen. I’m Pleetus Ambercrombie,” he said, glaring at Franko. “And who, the fuck, are you?”

Then another fellow emerged from a home across the street and moved toward the others.

Pleetus looked over at the emerging neighbor. “Take it easy, Gibby,” Pleetus said. “I got Adolf here. He’s got a good bark that makes folks take notice.”

“But you might want to straighten up your britches,” Gibby told Pleetus. “These guys don’t look like much of a threat to me.”

Franko attempted to engage Pleetus, but the scruffy homeowner put his hand up like a traffic cop giving the stop signal.

“No trespassing,” Pleetus said.

Franko noticed that Pleetus had a chin beard about eight inches long, decorated with short stacks of beads.

Glaring at Franko, Pleetus thrust his hand into the pocket in the drooping side of his pajama bottoms and said, “Don’t approach me.”

Franko backed up. “Sorry, I just wanted to smell the shrubs. We’re just out for a walk. I’m staying around the corner.”

Pleetus busted out in an eruption of chuckling. “You’re a shrub smeller, ay?”

The big dog closed in on Franko, who tried to move away. It was making a muttering sound and did a half-circle to get behind Franko. Adolf was busy: nuzzling, growling and nipping. Then Franko felt something. “Hey, that dog bit me! Call him off!”

Pleetus said, “Adolf won’t hurt you. Nothing to worry about.” Gibby looked on, eyes darting from Pleetus to the two interlopers. “Go back to your house, Gibby,” Pleetus said. Then he focused on Franko and patted the drooping pocket of his pajamas. Pleetus called the dog, and it reluctantly returned to his master.

Franko pulled out his phone shakily and made a call. Luckily, Olivia picked up.

“Who’s yer callin’?” Pleetus asked.

“Our friend Olivia. She lives around the block,” Franko said.

“Oh, L’il’ Olive Oyl,” Pleetus said. “Just keep in mind, I got access.”

“To what?” Franko asked.

“I got access to use a firearm. Don’t approach me. Just think about what ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ means to you in your situation.” Pleetus patted his bulky pajama pocket, causing the bottoms to droop to his knees before he could hoist them up.

Franko had a little nervous titter over that, and Hermy whispered to him to shut up.

A vehicle arrived and parked two houses down the street. Olivia emerged. “Hey, I’m looking at you. Yes, you, Pleetus, the Barney Fife bum-fuck of the block,” she said. “You know the police have blown you off.”

“No trespassing,” Pleetus said.

“You are a pathetic old man. Just go back to bed with your dog,” Olivia said, as Adolf resumed barking.

Olivia corralled Franko and Hermy and brought them away from the fray. As they packed themselves into the 370Z, she explained that people have door-bell cameras for security. “I wish I’d told you all of this before I fell asleep,” she said. “Pleetus’s system is on a really sensitive trigger, and the lens is really powerful. He’s known as a local nut job.”

TUESDAY

Franko stayed up that night, recreating the score on Olivia’s Mac. While taking a break, he found old-west memes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the neighborhood website, portraying Olivia, Hermy and Franko as bandits. He recognized the photos all doctored up. Damn, the geezer had pretty good social-media skills, Franko thought.

When he woke up, Olivia was out. He hoped she wouldn’t see the pictures yet. Each mugshot was cast as an old-time sepia frame. Wording at the top of the image was One Way or Another, probably because Pleetus had enough social-media savvy not to use Dead or Alive.

Later in the morning, the two other perpetrator/victims of Pleetus’s digital onslaught found out. Hermy phoned Franko to whine about his mother’s nagging him for staying out late.

Olivia texted to Franko, “messed up last night. shudda stayed away”

Franko: “gonna blow over”

Olivia: “pleetus can be toxic”

Merk and Fletcher found out, too, and they thought the photos were fantastic. The only thing they didn’t like was that they weren’t included.

—   —   —

That evening at rehearsal, Hermy focused on the business of The Futile not being able to deal with five, seven, and such. “Not judging, just sayin’.”

Franko nodded toward The Futile and said, “Listen up.”

Hermy introduced Brianna and Bethany, twins from the Teen Strings, and handed out some sheets. “They’re known as The B’s.”

“Who’s who?” Merk asked.

“It’s easy to tell them apart,” Hermy said. “Bri plays the violin and has one side of her head shaved. Beth plays cello and has really long hair.” Then he launched into some notes. “The B’s will play the main dance melodies — ”

“ — if you can call them melodies with those brutal changing time signatures,” Bri said. “I had to add 13 new time sigs into my software. I haven’t feared time so dreadfully.”

“I wrote a short piece in four that will sound Rite of Spring-ish, or call it something else. It’s something you guys can riff on when we need it. Everything will be integrated,” Hermy said.

“Hold up,” Beth said. “This is the coolest — the really bitchin’est stuff — we’ll play until college. Hey, Bri, are you saying we should water down this stuff just for convenience?”

Bri swiveled toward her sister: “It’s a score for a ballet. How can dancers step to all this tangled rhythm? Some of that pounding at the end could just as well be in three or four.”

“Igor didn’t want to make it easy, but we can if we want to,” Hermy said. “Franko and The Futile will play over the B’s in 4/4 or just go orgasmic.”

“Or like a three-year-old?” Fletcher asked.

“Same for me?” Merk asked. “Noise ahoy! That’s ‘Pots and Pans,’ right?”

“Let’s carve out a chunk of the score so each player gets a solo. Do whatever we can,” Beth said. “There’s a lot of momentous shit for all of us.”

“I’ll point when we want explosives,” Hermy said. “Then I’ll give the throat-cut sign to back off. Don’t worry, Bri, the strings will be amped up just like everything else.”

“Hey, Hermy,” Beth said. “If it’s OK with you, let the B’s name thing go by the wayside? This will be our first professional gig.”

“So, how do you want to be called?” Hermy asked.

“By our names.”

FRIDAY: THE SHOW

Franko had two T-shirts for gigs, the prog choice, showing Frank Zappa’s album, “Hot Rats”; or the punk selection with a smiling skeleton holding a cocktail with “Holiday in Cambodia” by the Dead Kennedys. Zappa was the choice for his prog show of all prog shows.

The B’s showed up at the Error Code Bar, each wearing a Teen Strings hoodie.

Before set-up, Franko wanted to give a pep talk, but he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. Instead, he just chatted with Merk and Fletcher, while the B’s whispered between themselves about Hermy.

Merk interrupted the B’s, seeking another review of who’s who. Then Hermy went over some rough places and how he’ll cue them. The two string players tuned up, then they switched instruments and tuned again.

The B’s had a good laugh while others were confused, not getting the twins’ humor.

It was hit time, but few people were in the place yet. Two tables were occupied by girlfriends and the father of the B’s. Hoping to lure sidewalk traffic, Franko kept the front door open and continued to call for numerous unnecessary sound checks. After a while, the musicians got bored with the sound checks and dispersed.

Bri played magic tricks to pass the time. Beth fidgeted through all the sound checks and chewed gum to bother her sister. They decided to lose the hoodies; they’d be too hot on stage.

The open door brought in a few people. However, the tactic lured a police officer in as well. In a professional tone, the officer told Mike, the proprietor, that the loud music coming out of the open door was disturbing the patrons of the restaurant next door who were dining al fresco.

Mike told Franko, “Never prop the front door open ever again, and never do anything that would cause a cop to enter the building.”

Then eight young women barged in and told Franko, who was sitting on a bar stool, that they were on a bachelorette scavenger hunt. They assumed Franko was the owner. After a little banter with the women, he sent them to Mike. They had a large list, including something soft and something hard — “Could be from the same guy,” said the ring leader. After this quip, massive merriment burst out among the squad. Mike poured complimentary shots of cheap vodka all around and handed out beer coasters as business cards. Franko wished he were the owner and could have poured free shots for eight women.

The scavengers left after a disorderly chat with Mike, and in a short time, the room was beginning to fill up. The band assembled again. Olivia arrived and hopped onto the stage and collared Franko. “Hey, remember, if you make anything from your show, it goes to mortgage and food.”

Once Franko sent Olivia off the stage and the musicians assembled, they made a last and genuine sound check. He greeted the crowd, which was big for Franko and The Futile. They began to play The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk, with a two-part overture, “Pots and Pans” melting into the “Prelude to The Punk of Spring,” both by the trio of The Futile. Then the strings and Hermy executed some Stravinsky time fracturing.

Twenty minutes or so into the performance, in Episode Four, “Spring Rounds,” Franko thought he was seeing something around the front door. As people were moving toward the stage, he could make out an elderly bearded fellow wearing a black full-dress tailcoat tux and a stovetop hat. He was speaking into a bullhorn and scurrying table to table. During a quiet passage, the bullhorn overtook the music.

Franko thought it was some kind of fire alarm or tornado thing. He couldn’t hear the music. The bullhorn sounded like puking in his head. Then he could hear, and he heard words:

“Stop! You must stop!”

“You’re destroying America!”

“Degenerate music! Europe syrup!”

The crowd booed the intruder, but Franko still didn’t know what was up. He turned to the band and called for more “Pots and Pans.” Then he jumped off the stage, where he could more clearly hear the spew of the bullhorn.

“Degenerate intellectuals!”

“Horseface cosmopolitan!”

“A total botch-job sleaze!”

Franko realized that the asshole with the bullhorn was none other than Pleetus and his intricate chin beard. Adolph the dog was by his side.

Franko found a security guy. “Where were you?” Franko asked. “He needs to leave!”

“I thought it was part of the show. Sorry, boss.”

“The dog goes too,” Franko said.

“Dog? I thought it was one of them comfort critters. We’ll get it, chief.”

Bereft of his bullhorn, Pleetus could still bellow. On his trip toward the sidewalk, he had one more chant: “No trespassing!”

Franko hopped back on stage for the end of “Pots and Pans.” The crowd cheered.

The string players launched into the last episode of “Part 1, The Adoration of the Earth,” which sounded like a different kind of chaos. A ferocious, extended roar came from the audience. The plan was to have an intermission, but they played through instead.

After the show, Franko said, “It seemed to go really well until Pleetus got in the way. Even when he pulled out the bullhorn, it was OK. Did you see him getting the boot?”

“We couldn’t see it,” Hermy said. “I think the audience thought he was part of the show!”

Olivia came up to compliment the band. Franko said he couldn’t find her until he came down to deal with the mess that Pleetus was making.

“I was sitting with the B’s father, and we were comforting Adolf. He was whimpering under the table because the music was so loud, poor thing,” Olivia said.

“Anyway, ‘Pots and Pans’ was fun, the ‘Prelude’ sounded like a real tune, I mean something better than the stuff I write. And the actual Igor parts blew my mind,” Franko said.

“For me, the douche with the bullhorn was the height of my evening,” Merk said.

“Hell no!” Hermy said. “The B’s were killin’ it.”

“Joke!” Merk said. “You B’s were great!”

Beth was about to say something, but Bri hushed her sister. “Don’t get worked up about people calling us B’s. Come on, just be cool. We got our names in the flier.” Bri approached Hermy, cuffed him on the upper arm and congratulated him on his solo: “The shit!”

Beth did a curtsy before Fletcher and said, “The first distorted electric-bass solo on a piece by Igor Stravinsky. Well done!”

“It wasn’t distorted, it was fuzzed. I like the ZVex fuzz pedal,” Fletcher said. 

“Well, oh, anyway, Igor should be here.”

Merk caught Fletcher and asked him, “Hey, about what Franko calls us, ‘The Futile.’ We aren’t futile anymore. How about ‘Franko and the Funktones’?”

“No, we must own our futility!” Fletcher shouted.

“Well, I’m not going on tour being called futile,” Merk said.

NEXT MONDAY

Franko never read the paper except when somebody tells him he’s in it. This time, Merk was the one to tell him. The fussy performing arts freelancer really slammed The Punk of Spring or The Rite of Punk. They got a good laugh.

Desecration of a hallowed imperative of the canon, not to be smeared with excrement by barbarians. “Pots and Pans”? Disgusting!

Hermy wrote in a text: “kinda like Pleetus, different POV”

Fletch weighed in: “excrement, cool!”

Normally, Franko ignored phone calls from people he didn’t know. A few minutes later, he listened to the voicemail. It was Jane Zhah, the music director of the Bristol Springs Symphony. He thought, another nasty review? I’m up for it! Franko immediately called back.

Zhah said she was in the Error Code Bar for The Punk of Spring or the Rite of Punk. After Franko’s sputtering, Zhah told Franko the symphony is always looking for innovative music from local and regional composers whose work could be arranged for the whole orchestra.

“We have a ‘Best of Bristol Springs’ evening every season. This process would require a great deal of work for you and your ensemble, me, and our concertmaster. I hadn’t made up my mind about next season,” she said, “but after last Friday night, I’m all in for The Punk of Spring or the Rite of Punk. How about you?”

—   —   —

Olivia, at her cubical, called Franko, still energized by his conversation with Jane Zhah. Olivia asked him to come downtown for lunch. “Pleetus is parked next to the office. He has a huge banner on the side of his pickup with our faces like those Instagrams. Everybody in the office can see it.” She sounded a little jittery.

When Franko showed up at the restaurant, he found her, elbows on the table, head in her hands. “Everybody in the office was looking out the big windows, snickering, shooting weird glances at me. I just want to unload a lot of crap from certain people making my life miserable.”

After a few minutes, she stood up and led the way out, emphasizing her need for a drink. “What’s this, a liquid lunch?” Franko asked. When they sat down at a nearby bar, Franko saw that Olivia was trying not to cry, and he decided not to hug her or touch her hand.

They cozied into a booth, and she ordered a double of Maker’s Mark. She was furious, tearing up a cocktail napkin into little balls.

“My boss fired me with a text. It said he couldn’t have bad publicity, ‘people like you here.’ Can you believe it?”

“You’ll be OK. You always wanted to be your own boss.” Franko was doing his level best not to look happy or say anything about the symphony thing.

“I would have laughed except for the humiliation, but instead I almost lost it,” she said.

He asked for a club soda with lime, and the server asked Olivia if she wanted another. Franko was surprised that she was already ready for another.

“One thing, maybe a strange thing to say: Wish my picture on the banner wasn’t so bad,” she said.

“It’s OK.”

“No, it really sucks!” She laughed.

After a third and a fourth and maybe more, Franko suggested they leave. He was concerned about what she might do next.

She said, “Well, what the fuck, screw them all!”

Later, back at the house, she calmed down. He insisted that she drink some water and eat something. Her mood soured even more.

“Mr. Franko Tucker, what did you do this fine day?” she said with a sneer.

“I ran into some friction with The Futile. They were disappointed that they didn’t get their pictures up on the banner. But I like mine.”

“You like it, do ya? I’m the only one who’s getting crapped on for this. All because of you!”

“How’s that?”

“Think about it,” she said, throwing Franko’s favorite coffee mug across the room, making a gash in the wall and scattering pieces on the floor. “I got fired, terminated, dumped — do you understand any one of those?”

“OK, OK, OK. My bad.” He moved toward her in hopes that he could prevent her from destroying something else.

Sitting on the carpet, she pulled her knees up to her chin. She said, “One good thing: You’ve been in the house for a whole week and you haven’t screamed and threatened me yet. That’s 1,000 percent better than Shithead.”

“I know it was all my fault. What can I do for you?”

“When I get some clients, you can clean homes before I put them on the market,” she said. “And sorry I smashed that mug. Oh, and Public Works found your laptop.”

SIX WEEKS LATER

Franko got busy that Thursday morning when he heard Olivia pounding stakes for a real-estate sign: Open House: Sunday 2-4. He started in the master bathroom where he expected the worst scum. It was his first cleaning job. The tub looked OK, basic white, but with every squirt of chlorine-based cleaner and each swipe of the non-abrasive scour pad, the tub got more gleaming than before. One problem about this project was that the vicious fumes irritated his eyes and throat. It wasn’t all that bad, but his fingers, palms and wrists were on fire. He wondered how his new side job would affect his guitar work.

At least he could listen to The Rite of Spring on Spotify blaring from his phone.

Franko was still working on the tub as his stomach suggested lunchtime. Thankfully, Olivia arrived just then with sandwiches. His hands had turned a rosy brilliancy.

“No gloves, no knee pads, no safety glasses?” she said. “I told you to go to Harbor Freight and get some gear. I even gave you cash to do that!”

“I didn’t think I needed gear, but I guess so.”

“Yeah, your hands are melting!”

“Not really.”

She scrounged through her bag. “Here, it’s shea butter. Spread some on and work it in.”

“Nice,” he said, but he didn’t like the smell of women’s stuff on him.

They went to the store and Olivia outfitted Franko with a pair of PVC-coated rubber gloves and construction-grade knee pads with foam padding.

“You’re treating me like a kid,” he said.

“No, I’m treating you like an adult, which you do not do for yourself,” she said. “Do you still have those five twenties?” Olivia selected the gear and placed it on the checkout counter, and Franko delivered the cash.

Back at the house, she gave Franko a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew for the afternoon. Hermy dropped in to see the place and to see what Franko was doing. Olivia gave Hermy a tour that wrapped up in the master bathroom.

“Franko’s working hard, and so am I,” she said. “I got my LLC from the state and the crap from the IRS. I sold the 370Z. Boo-hoo! But I needed quick cash.”

Hermy announced to Olivia that they were doing The Punk of Spring project again in the fall and next year with the symphony.

“Yeah, that’s all I hear from Franko,” she said.

Franko had little to say. For the first time, he had a chance to simply enjoy her presence. Her shampoo or cologne reminded him of the scent of the shrubs on Pleetus’s lawn. The association made him feel good and bad at the same time. He understood this mess had been the best thing that ever happened and the worst, tied up in a series of unlikely events.

She said she’d be visiting a few people who might want to list their homes with her. She told Franko his job was to finish cleaning the house by the end of the next afternoon, in time for the open house.

After Olivia left, Hermy sat down. They jawed about music and women, and Hermy complained about his mom.

“True, but you’re suffering from whiny-baby syndrome,” Franko said. “And you’ll be going back to school soon.”

“And isn’t it bliss without any crap from Pleetus since the show — nothing!” Hermy said.

While Franko finished the bathroom, Hermy remarked on Olivia’s beauty and her excellent lawn signs that made her look even better. “She looks like Kylie Jenner.”

“Really?” Franko said: “No, she’s older and she’s an actual person.” Then he wandered into daydreaming. He took pride in not doing something stupid, such as making a move on her. He felt like he was somehow being a grown-up, and it felt weird.

When Olivia returned, she was at first annoyed to see Hermy still there, but she eased up when she saw that Franko had made progress. “So, you really do have some useful skills — beyond the guitar,” she said.

“That wasn’t very nice, but I can live with that,” Franko said. “What about Hermy: Shouldn’t he be held accountable, too? He was there at the beginning of the whole Pleetus episode.”

“You, Hermy: You’re just an accessory,” she said. Then she turned her attention back to Franko with a guarded frown. “You’re the guy doing community service.”


BIO

Ed Peaco wrote numerous short stories in the ’80s, ’90s and early aughts. Then he took a different path as a writer for the regional newspaper where he lives, focusing on local music. This story fuses his interests in short fiction and music. He continues to write short fiction where he lives in Springfield, Missouri.
A few notes —
• Another story by Peaco is scheduled to be published in 2021: “Additional Guests” in The MacGuffin.
• “Systematic Desensitization”: Alabama Literary Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1991; and Santa Fe Writers Project fiction contest, 2002, posting among the best 65 entries
• “The Precarious Limb”: River Oak Review, Winter 2000-Spring ’01; and a reading of the piece, June 2002, Evanston (Ill.) Public Library
• Book reviews for the Antioch Review, 1996-2004




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