Fair to Middlings: A Bad Novel in 200-Word Chapters (Part 12)

A Tale of the Roaring Presses
Part I2

Possumhaw, Randolph County
The Big Comeback


“Go ahead, eat it,” ordered Bobbie Lee, dolloping more low-fat whipped cream on the special guest’s dessert. She took his fork and cut a corner of the freshly-cooled pie.

“Not until I know who’s in it.” Roy Henry, wired to the antique chair, gazed helplessly at the Borden attic and its current inhabitants. “What happened to that delivery man?”

Mama poured him some cranberry-rose tea. “We helped him get home,” she said sweetly, setting the pot on a doily shaped like a half-eaten skull. She reached over and toyed with his mustache, watching him squirm. “You’re never going home,” she said.

He squinted pleadingly at Bobbie Lee, who shoved a piece of pie in his mouth. Unable to spit it out, the newsman tasted it. And found it very good.

“This is real mincemeat,” he tried to say, behind a second forkful.

Bobbie Lee smiled at Mama. “Family recipe,” she said, cutting her another slice.


Randy dropped the last of the fresh bones into the boiling cauldron of stew. “You gotta be more careful with that skillet,” he said softly, wiping his hands on Cap’s old apron. His fake gold tooth glinted in the fading moonlight. “Somebody’ll miss that cop.”


Cap shivered on the meathook, frost forming in his beard, the dishrag around it, his arms and legs, the freezer wrap around them, and his battered socks, hanging four feet above the pan of bloody marinating fresh meat.

He beamed wistfully. Except for the cold, and the freezer wrap, this was just like ‘Nam.

His beam grew atypically genuine as a strategy came. Yessirree Bob, if he ever got out of here, justice would finally come to Possumhaw and the universe in general.

A very large boot punched through the freezer’s back panel.

Justice had arrived.


Roy Henry finished his tea. “What is this?’ he whispered to Bobbie Sue as Mama left to freshen up. “There’s no meat in that pie. And how’d you escape the feds? And why am I here?”

Bobbie Lee wiped the dessert from his mustache with a moldy napkin. “I talked Mama into having that Thanksgiving dinner she always wanted with my uncle,” she said, nearly choking him. “I set it up in Lizzie’s house – your just desserts, since you killed Mama’s best pie ingredient finder.” She unrolled a very long fuse on the candles and struck a match. “But you already knew that!”


“Now I shall have my revenge on the House of Tayder!” Bobbie Lee said, silencing the baffled newsman with four more napkins. The match fizzled. She fumbled in her voluminous purse and brought out a box of matches. It fell into the gravy fountain. Furious, she fumbled again and eventually found a dilapidated matchbook. It crumbled.

“Pie?” Roy Henry mooed as the desperate character, demented with rage, furiously rubbed two cinnamon sticks together to start a fire.

Mama returned, all smiles. “Guests,” she purred, ushering in a squadron of cops. “Later, Hammy Pie.”

“She’s getting away!” hollered Roy as Sheriff Jimbo tossed the wad of moldy napkins onto the floor near the realistic-looking stuffed cats.

“Got ‘er!” Swampy’s voice rang from the stairwell. There was a scream and a heavy thud.

“I remember Mama,” said Chief Sparky as the sheriff carefully unwired Roy Henry from the chair. “Brought my Taser.”

“Howdy, Roy Henry,” said a sergeant, escorting a heavily shackled Bobbie Lee away.

“You’ll diiiiiieeeee, Haaaaaaam!” the attempted murderess hollered on the way out.

“They found the delivery man,” the sheriff said grimly, helping Roy Henry to his feet. “Boxed to go at the restaurant door. Even left a tip.”


The mayor scanned the crowd. A sizable group of seniors in body casts and wheelchairs, mostly injured during events at this very festival, scanned back. The whistle of the 11:51 Illinois Central in the distance made an overcast day seem even gloomier.

“I’d like to welcome you,” he said, summoning a grin, “to Sick and Tired Day at the Possumhaw Bagoo Festival. A veritable cornucopia of entertainment and delight for the aged and infirm and incapacitated.”

“They said there’d be free prune juice,” complained the coroner, armed with a camera. He chuckled to himself, then winced as he discovered the painkillers for his ribs were finally wearing off.

“And live entertainment,” whined Dirt, wheelchair parked in front of the bandstand.

“Mmmmmgnh!” yelled Earl Boy, hospital gurney parked underneath the mulberry tree where pigeons liked to congregate.

“I’ve got a ukulele!” hollered a voice from the wings.

The crowd cheered, then quickly fell silent as Surly Gribble in full band director regalia approached the microphone.

The mayor frowned. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he addressed the audience, which showed signs of hurling their complimentary colostomy bags at the stage, “Our star attraction …”

“Thanks,” said Roy Henry, strolling onstage and taking the uke.


“Look at meeeeeeeee ….”

There was a clatter of walkers as all the eighty-year-old ladies, save for a furious Eugenia Brewer, rushed the stage as fast as they could.

“What’s he tryin’ to do, get killed?” Happy Dailey Jr., finishing his fourteenth little bottle of elixir samples, stared in disbelief.

“I’ll kill him!” said Sheriff Jimbo, stirring the cauldron of gray bubbling bagoo. A deputy badge rose to the surface, unseen, to sink to the bottom again.

Slade raised a huge hand. “It’s one of his famous foolhardy plans,” he said, finishing his deep-fried bacon cheeseburger with the other. “I read his old articles on microfilm last night.” He grinned. “After the first eleven or twelve, nobody had to hold an Uzi to my head anymore to get me to read the next one.”

“Why’s he wearing a cop uniform?” asked Surly, a desperate look in his eyes.

“Who knows?” said the mayor, glancing guiltily at the old cemetery on the horizon.

Petey snapped a picture. “That’s not Cap,” he muttered into his goatee as the man in the chef’s hat with the fake gold tooth nervously served lemonade near the stage.

Mama rattled her cell bars gleefully. “Hammmmmmmmmy Piiiiiiiieee.”


“He wants a triple Capburger with extra orange slime and a quadruple maple shake,” Erlene said fearfully, watching the uniformed customer holding court on Big Bill’s old stool.

Randy adjusted the bandage over his zigzag scar. “We can’t cook him, we can’t poison him now, not without them finding out what happened to that deputy,” he said, voice rising in frustration. He flipped a couple of burgers and added squares of frozen American cheese. “They’ve got Mama.” A tear rolled into his whiskers. “Can’t even break her out.”

Erlene reached for her skillet. “Think Cap went to the cops?” she asked, studying the newsman’s cranium.

Randy sneered. “Right,” he said. “And I heard from that gorilla over there with no forehead and a gold tooth that Bobbie Lee tried to blow up Roy and Mama at the old Borden place last night.”

Roy Henry turned and smiled at the Tayder family. “Hurry up with my food!” he bellowed good-naturedly. The town’s notables, minus the lawmen and Surly Gribble, of course, had a good laugh over this.

“I’ll show them,” Randy said, hurling onions on the grill. “I’ll show the whole town! I’ll ruin their fun. We’re keeping Ol’ Fatso alive!”


“What the heck?” Roy Henry’s mustache frowned at the plates on the counter.

“Garden salad with fat-free dressing,” said Erlene, fury in her eyes. “Cap added edameemeee, that’s soybeans. It’s good for you.”

Randy nodded from the kitchen.

“Grilled chicken on a low-carb burrito wrap,” Erlene continued, “with mild low-sodium salsa and toe-foo, that’s more soybean.” She pointed to the dessert. “Half a mushmelon, with sugar-free, fat-free blueberry yogurt and fat-free whipped cream.” She smiled, her gaze softening a little. “On the house. Decaf coffee, with sweetener and skim.” Seeing him stare, she added, “You eat like this, do a little more running and you’ll live to be forty-seven.”

“I’m forty-eight,” growled the newsman, reaching for the salad dressing.


“Found him on the meathook,” Slade said, tapping the various frozen carcasses downstairs. “Cow, horse, calf, sheep, pig, sheep, sheep, sheep…”

“Jerry Lee?” asked Sheriff Jimbo, approaching the pie shelves with ever-increasing dread.

“Capper,” Slade said. “Randy got him.”

“They gonna eat him?” asked Greenleigh, wishing he hadn’t watched “Alive.”

“Jerry Lee?” asked Sheriff Jimbo, checking the pies. “Chocolate, chocolate …”

“No,” said Slade. “And we’re trying to catch Randy in the act.”

“Roy’s fearless,” Greenleigh marveled.


“More tofu,” Roy ordered.


Petey emerged from Mama’s upstairs window and quickly shimmied down the huge maple tree, pale as a sheet.

“Not supposed to ask,” Swampy said, lighting another cigarette, “but did you find anything?”

The gonzo photographer nodded, speechless. “I saw,” he began, searching for words while gasping for air, “Don Ho albums!”

Swampy shivered. “Ukelele parts?”

Petey nodded vigorously.

Swampy spat. “Deputy parts?”

Petey shook his head. “There’s a psychotic shrine to Ham Stewart,” he said, wide-eyed. “Just like the one Roy Henry keeps of himself from the old days when he was still a reporter.”

Swampy shook his head. “He’s got to stay off that copy desk.”

Petey huffed into his goatee. “And away from that ukulele.”


“What wonderful antiques,” gushed Sister Missy Sue as Roy Henry moved from appraiser to appraiser, scribbling furiously in his new set of notebooks.

“Why, thank you,” said the coroner with a leer, hobbling toward the vending machine displays.

Grover tapped Roy’s arm. “Jerry Lee dead?” he whispered.

“I dunno,” the newsman whispered back. “I checked the stew.” He shuddered. “It could melt metal.” He waved at an art dealer. “Never knew Rembrandt painted in tempuras,” he said loudly.

He smiled at Grover. “Courage.”


Cap, clean-shaven and in his faded old uniform, finished his fifth Li’lSkeetburger.

“Ain’t half-bad,” he told the scowling, sweaty old man behind the grill.

“Ain’t half good neither,” L’il Skeet growled. “You gonna sit there all day?”

Cap glanced around the otherwise empty beanery. “Waitin’,” he said.

The short-order cook flipped several patties. “Well, I’m not waitin’ no more for dinner,” he said with a sneer. “I’m fixin’ me a triple Li’lskeetburger with frozen cheese and purple slime. Whaddaya think about that?”

“To each his own,” said Cap, finishing his fifth persimmon shake.

The door flew open and a tough-looking gray-haired man with a cigar lumbered in. “Cap Tayder!” he demanded.

Three tougher, older, more menacing-looking men appeared behind him in the doorway. They smiled.

“Li’l Skeet,” said Cap, ushering them over to the counter, “meet my old commando unit.”


“I tell you,” Slade argued behind a mouthful of cotton candy and popcorn as they pushed their way toward the melee, “some other force is at work.”

“What’s he gone and done now?” Sheriff Jimbo asked, spotting Grover with a smashed painting around his neck.

“Someone with microfilm. And a twisted sense of humor! He T.P.’d me! Said you’re next!”


Roy Henry pounded on the plexiglass.

“I only put him in there to shut him up,” argued the dealer. “Key was lost over forty years ago. He can breathe. I think. You’ll have to buy the machine.” He glanced at the Cop-O-Matic. “One-of-a-kind model. Never knew why they only built one.”

“It’s a forgery!” shouted the uniformed newsman, barely audible.

“You’re darn lucky he’s not a real cop,” Sheriff Jimbo said as Slade pounded on the machine with all his strength. “You better pray he doesn’t file charges.”

Slade swore mightily and rubbed his shoulder.

The dealer sneered. “If he’s still alive,” he added.

Grover, free from the painting, pushed the injured man out of the way and dropped coins in the slot. “Paw,” he asked, “what’s a Kennedy half-dollar?”

“Step aside,” ordered Ogee, arriving with help. He pounded inquisitively on the plexiglass. “Stupid Cop wants his uniform back,” he yelled.

“Look out!” hollered Eldred, pushing the mayor out of the way. “It’s a runaway combine!”

The crowd parted just in time for a souped-up farm vehicle to run smack into the vending machine, knocking it backward onto a fairgoer.

“Mnnnghhh,” groaned Earl Boy weakly.

Randy waved and drove away.

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