Don’t get me started.
I’ve written about Casalago before, our family retreat at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. Casalago truly is a family affair, involving four of our five offspring and their spouses. Add to that the assorted offspring of our offspring and the full house starts popping at its seams. When we bought Casalago thirteen years ago, it needed extensive remodeling to accommodate our needs. Mission accomplished five months later, with a spiral staircase leading to the reconfigured lower level that would provide ample sleeping accommodations and plenty of privacy.
But wait, what about the crappy entry from the carport. I pushed for an enclosure that soon became a reality otherwise known as The Sunroom, even though it contained more pine than windows. Several years later we added a third well to the dock. Hey, we’re on the lake. It’s all about the water. Several years after that we extended The Sunroom, opening it up to the carport we’d decided to enclose, making the improved area our new living room and the former living room a dining area with extra seating. Plenty of space, we were set. For a while, that is, until little kids worked their way into young adults and stumbling over full-size bodies at rest here and there presented a constant hazard.
All of which brings us to the spring of 2014. And yes, another project, starting with the galley kitchen. Except the galley kitchen will be transformed into a breakfast counter and pantry leading to … ta-da … the new addition! Yes, a full-service kitchen with lots of amenities plus another bedroom and bath. And on the lower level we’ll have a bonus room that can double for extra sleeping.
My thanks to Son P. His extensive background in architecture and construction has brought past Casalago projects to fruition. No doubt this latest project will go just as well. And if all goes as planned, maybe we can have the lower patio screened-in. My special project, a quiet area for writing, perhaps another story set in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks—something on the order of “The Big Shot,” a portion of which I’ve included here.
On a Friday evening in late June, Lester Best eased his customized SUV across the wooden slats of a swinging bridge spanning the Auglaize Creek in the heart of Missouri’s Ozarks. He kicked up white gravel for another two miles before realizing he’d gone too far. Going too far best defined Les Best, that and an absurd name he regretted not having changed early in his career. Les turned around and retraced his powdery route until he found the campground entrance to the state park at Kaiser. He rattled along under the dense shade of canopied trees, dodging deep ruts and cruising past a hodgepodge of trailers and pop-up campers. After reaching the lakefront area jammed with more weekenders, he selected one of the few remaining primitive sites. No electricity, no water, and no flush toilet: the perfect retreat for a deadbeat fugitive nursing a matching set of splinted forefingers.
Les staked his tent as far away as possible from his nearest neighbors, two wannabe hill people who strolled over long enough for first-name introductions before returning to their beer and makeshift setup. Will, whose white beard overlapped his bib overalls, pressed a harmonica to his lips and played a haunting rendition of Ruby for his own Ruby. She wore yards of calico, chain-smoked, and complained non-stop from an aluminum lawn chair straining under her massive weight. After thirty minutes of the audio assault, Les stifled his urge to suggest that Will muzzle both Rubies, opting instead to utilize the earplugs he’d brought from his Lower East Side apartment.
Although Les Best lived and breathed New York, he’d grown up in Missouri, first in foster care and later on a boys’ ranch designed for discards and the wayward. Les qualified as both, then and now. His temporary return to the Show Me State was not out of nostalgia but to avoid settling a debt of ninety thousand dollars he’d incurred through a series of risky ventures. Joey Plastic, the New York mobster who held the note, had arranged for the dislocation of Les’s forefingers to induce an initial interest payment of five thousand bucks, but Les figured the bastard would never extend his pursuit into the fly-over boonies of mid-America. On that Les Best would’ve bet his mother’s life, if he’d ever had a mother. Still, he must’ve since his many enemies and few friends usually referred to him as ‘that sonofabitch’.
That night Les conked out in the back of his SUV. The next morning found him on the pea gravel beach, pushing a rented johnboat into the Grand Glaize Arm of Lake of the Ozarks. Splinters erect, he paddled from one cove to another until he located the ideal fishing spot, one deserted and edged with brush. By ten o’clock, water smooth as glass reflected the cocky blue of a clear sky and Les hadn’t caught a single crappie. At noon he peeled off his sweat-drenched shirt, dropped his knit shorts, and mooned a parade of skiers and speedboats stirring up the wake. “You can all go to hell!” he yelled, before sending his pricey rod and reel to sleep with the fishes.
Back at camp two Generation Xers had squeezed in between his site and the wannabes, who were making honeymoon racket in their tent—a conjured image amusing enough to make Les forget the fishing gear he regretted sinking. To the X couple, he returned an obligatory wave and howdy that seasoned campers felt compelled to offer each other. Still, he kept his distance, watching the Xers struggle with the pegs and canvas of new equipment. At last they stood back, arm in arm, to admire their saggy abode. It burped once and collapsed into a heap. Male X pushed back his red-orange feather cut and appealed to Les.
“What do you say, mister. How ‘bout some help?”
What the hell, Missouri know-it-alls, even those partially disabled, were supposed to be accommodating. Les ambled over. He offered a few practical suggestions and within five minutes the tent stood erect and operational. The sun-deprived stranger stuck out a soft hand accustomed to professional manicures.
“Much obliged. Sorry about those bum fingers,” X said with a grin of orthodontically enhanced teeth. “I’m Josh. Over there’s Betty Sue.”
Betty Sue, as in leggy and trim, nodded from a distance.
“No problem. Call me … Les.” Their encounter should’ve ended on the handshake but that’s when Les noticed Josh’s tattooed wrist: a pissing gargoyle with folded wings. As in the official logo for heavy metal’s Grotes and Gargs. As in Josh Nolan, lead drummer. The revelation prompted a closer look at Betty Sue, as in trying to fade into the background. No make-up, blonde pigtails, tee shirt and khaki shorts: typical back-to-nature but this chick was no typical camper. Les Best, master of deception, could spot a plain-Jane disguise in the most unlikely of locales.
Les didn’t linger with the Xers but Betty Sue hadn’t fooled him. That face and that body belonged to none other than Ivy Sinclair, last year’s nobody who shot up to become this year’s hottest glitz and glamour TV diva. When it suited Ivy Sinclair, the twenty-something preened for tinsel town’s red carpet. But when she wasn’t hustling the public, she kept her private life way too private: another ploy to fuel the fires of her clamoring fans. And before this weekend Josh Nolan had been nothing more than an unconfirmed rumor. Now the oblivious, sexy twosome belonged to Les, exclusively.
Never in a million years could he have plotted a better scenario: Les Best, New York paparazzo of uncensored privacy, tenting in Missouri next to La-La Land’s newest duo. Les had escaped from New York with his only cameras not in hock: the miniature spy and a Panasonic with 600mm zoom lens. From campsite to wooded area to man-made beach, he devoted every waking moment to cursing his splints and plying his craft. Ivy and Josh kissing, Ivy and Josh necking, Ivy and Josh rolling around—the usual predictable stuff. His best shot thus far: Ivy in a modest bikini, her trademark tattoo peeking out the underside. Nice, too nice: translation, boring.
End of excerpt.
“The Big Shot” is one of twelve stories from A Collection of Givers and Takers.
This anthology is available at Amazon and elsewhere.
“The Big Shot” was first published in the 2007 Horror Anthology Damned in Dixie and later in the 2010 Winter issue of Allegory Ezine.