“I’ve done LSD at least twenty three times,” Jack Shelton said, lining up two fingers on one hand and three on the other. The numbers were backwards for those paying attention.
“No,” David interrupted. “No way. I’ve been with you almost every time, and I’ve only done it maybe eleven.”
Jack Shelton scoffed. “I’m telling you, dude. I know I’m at twenty. At least.”
He went on to list his experiences, keeping his fingers up and ticking them off one by one. David counted right along with him.
“Stop. No,” David interrupted again after the fourth item, leaving Jack Shelton’s remaining middle finger standing. “I was there for that one, too. Palmer freaked out and forgot who he was.”
“That’s right! You were there!”
“I was the one who talked to the cops,” David continued. “They were too busy trying to wrestle Palmer’s naked ass into the cruiser to notice how slow I was moving.” He mimed slow motion running. Jack Shelton followed suit.
“Wow,” Mercer said. He had been a mere spectator until then.
“Yeah, man,” Jack Shelton said. “It was intense.”
“It was an awkward situation,” Sandy said. She pronounced it “situ-A-shun,” continuing a game from a previous convers-A-shun in which they used a Jamaican accent on all words ending in –ation.
“There were lots of complic-A-shuns,” Mercer riffed.
“Nice!” David cried.
“No hesit-A-shun there,” Jack Shelton said. “I’m impressed.”
“Me-ow,” Kevin heckled from between the lawn chairs. David absently tossed a hand down to the cat. It purred.
“Oh, god,” Jack Shelton said. “Not this asshole again.”
“He’s alright,” David said.
“Kevin’s a cutie,” Sandy gushed, then made the ch-ch-ch sound and offered her hand.
“Meow,” Kevin said appreciatively and pranced forward. “Meow,” he said again when her fingertips found that special spot on his neck.
“Nah, bruh,” Jack Shelton said. “That cat is wack.”
“Word?” Mercer asked with a smirk.
“For real, man.” Jack Shelton said. “I stayed on the couch for a few nights once, and this little fucker sat on the coffee table, meowing at me like it was the end of the damn world or something.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I swear, dude, he was telling me his whole life story.”
“Chapters one through nine,” David said.
“These two don’t hear it anymore,” Jack Shelton continued. “They think I’m crazy.”
“He’s not that bad,” Sandy said in baby-talk. She scratched an upturned Kevin’s belly.
“Meow,” the animal purred.
“You hear that, right?” Jack Shelton asked Mercer.
“Sandy’s creeper voice? Yeah,” Mercer said.
“Hey!” Sandy complained in that same baby voice.
Mercer made a face at her.
“Meow,” Kevin said, coming to her defense.
Mercer nodded. “I mean, he meows, yeah.”
“Meow?” Kevin asked.
“Right, see? It’s, like, a lot, right?” Jack Shelton insisted. He was on the edge of his seat, his gaze boring into Mercer’s.
Mercer laughed and gave up. “I guess, man. I haven’t really noticed it.”
“I told you!” David blurted. “I told you you were the only one!”
“Man, whatever,” Jack Shelton said, throwing his arms. “He ain’t been around long enough.”
“He’s been here for two weeks!” David said. “You were only here for four freaking days.”
“And I was going to stay a a few days longer, but I couldn’t handle that.” He emphasized with a finger angrily flicked toward the cat.
“Just wait, my friend,” Jack Shelton directed at Mercer. “You’ll see.”
They all laughed.
“That’s not ominous at all,” Mercer said.
“What up, cracker?” Barry Estevez greeted Mercer when he answered the phone.
“Wheat Bread! Como est-ass,” Mercer replied in a deeply southern accent.
Barry was half Mexican and didn’t know Spanish.
“I’m in Nebraska,” Barry said.
“Why?” Mercer asked, offended by his friend’s statement.
“I’m the Great American Cheese Monger, my friend,” Barry answered wistfully.
“Oh, riiight,” Mercer said.
“Yeah, I’m on the road for the next 6 weeks straight.”
“It’s killing me,” Barry admitted.
“Your liver?” Mercer asked.
Barry laughed. “The really good whiskey here is ridiculously cheap, man,” he said, helpless. “I got a bottle of McGingerRabbit 15 year for eight bucks a shot.”
“No kidding?” Mercer said, amused that his friend still thought he cared about fancy booze.
“The strip clubs are pretty decent, too.” Barry said, sounding sleazy.
“You get another pair of panties?” Mercer asked, genuinely curious.
Barry laughed. “Nah, but it was dollar dance day on my only day off.”
“Gross,” Mercer chuckled.
“She wasn’t bad man,” Barry insisted. “She was blonde and cute. She was a little old-“
Mercer interrupted, “I’m picturing that joint across from the brewery in Jacksonville in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I ever tell you about that?”
“Maybe?” Barry indulged him.
“The one where the chick was both the bartender and the dancer? And the music kept skipping in the middle of her routine?”
Barry insisted, “It wasn’t like that, man. It was more upscale.”
“I don’t care!” Mercer replied. “That shit bums me out. What else is up? Anything new?”
“I got a new old Super Nintendo?” he said.
Mercer egged him on, and the conversation descended into who would win in a fight, King Koopa or Godzilla.
“Definitely Koopa,” Mercer said.
“It’s fucking Godzilla! There’s no way!”
“Koopa wins,” Mercer stated like there was nothing he could do about it. “He’s got those fuckin’ flying ships with those cannons and shit. Godzilla has, what, a mean roar and a big-ass tail?”
“Have you even seen those movies? I can’t believe what I’m hearing!”
“I’m usually here,” Mercer said warmly, “so if you have any questions or need anything, feel free to give me a holler.”
“Will do,” the customer said as the door closed behind them.
Mercer’s smile fell with a roll of his eyes. He went back to his desk and stared at his showroom. It was early afternoon on a Wednesday, and it was a miracle he’d seen anyone at all. He looked at his daily checklist: Windows. Vacuum. Straighten Pillows. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. He looked around again, gave a small sneer, and began checking boxes. With the only chore he’d do that day accomplished, he pushed the clipboard aside and pulled out his sketchpad.
He was still working on the infamous and deadly Pecking Order, but something was feeling off. On a lark, he sketched another figure, a companion to the Abominable Bird Man. An Igor to this Dr. Frankenstein. A cat’s shape appeared, under which he wrote, “Captain Meowsington. Ability: Driving his enemies MAD with the power of his MEOWS!”
The Gesticulator, Meowsington’s nemesis, was busy trying to capture the evildoer with a giant ball of orange yarn. Unfortunately, Negative Initial Reaction Man doubted the plan, and while The Gesticulator was busy explaining how it would all work, his wild gestures left them both trapped in the thread, completely vulnerable to pouncing!