Points of Departure, Chapter 3

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he two men–one clad in a green so dark as to be nearly black, the other in mail–soon came to a larger village than that they had left. There, they were able to find horses that were broken to the saddle, and they rode thence to a small town. The distinction lay, really, in the fact that it boasted a cooper, a miller, a blacksmith, and tanner. It also had a bridge over a smallish river–not one that could not be forded, but it was far easier to ride dryshod than to put up with soaked clothing and horses irritated from carrying riders clad in it.

There was also a minor lord–or the home of one, rather. When the green-clad and mail-clad man approached it, they were greeted by a young woman in rough homespun. She curtsied deeply when she saw them; the mail bespoke a warrior, deference to whom by the unarmed is usually prudent, and the green-clad man’s attire was rich and fine, such that he was assumed to be a mighty lord in his own right. And so she addressed them, saying “Milord, Sir Knight, please do come in and be welcome. The lady of the home has bidden me show all courtesy to those of rank and esteem, and so you seem to me to be. Therefore, please do come you in, and eat, and drink, and take your ease. The lady shall attend upon you presently, I am certain.”

The green-clad man gave a perfunctory nod and swept past the young woman. The mail-clad man was more courteous, saying “God’s peace be upon this place and all within! But tell me, who is the lady of this house, and who the lord, and whither has the lord gone?”

“Oh, Sir Knight, as to the last, I am sure that you know, for I am certain that you did yourself stand in the battle between the two kings that was not long ago. It is thence that the lord of this house went, called once more to fight for the king to whom he had sworn, although he was in the fullness of age and past it. Sir Gwion was he called, and long had he been the lord of this land, given title to it after good and diligent service with the old king. And the Lady Maelis is his wife, wedded to him eight years gone, now, and their one child a daughter in the convent until she should be wedded, herself.”

“Thank you” replied the mail-clad man, and he went inside in the wake of the green-clad. He found the latter seared high at the table in what seemed the primary hall of the house, eating good bread with butter and honey and drinking wine. A place was set a seat below him on the same side, and the mail-clad man seated himself there at the green-clad man’s gesture. As he did, the latter said “Had the servingwoman anything of worth to note?”

The mail-clad man nodded. “Sir Gwion, an older man, is–was, probably–lord of this house. Maelis is his wife and here. They have a daughter who dwells in a convent until she is to be wedded.”

“Ah.” The green-clad man returned to his meal. Around a mouthful of bread, he said “Did you know Gwion?”

The mail-clad man, himself eating, said “No. But there were many arrayed, as I know you saw–at least, there were until the fighting began, and with each moment there were fewer present. It is possible that I was to fight alongside him, but I recall no man so named as Gwion.”

“I am saddened to hear that I will hear no news of my husband” came another voice, a woman’s voice, low but clear with youth. And its owner proceeded to the table where the green-clad man still sat and from which the mail-clad man stood, asking “Are you the Lady Maelis, then?”

She nodded as she approached a seat at the right hand of the obvious lord’s chair. Its back was not so high as the high seat, but it was still higher than any of the others at the table. Indeed, where the mail-clad man sat had no back at all. The green-clad man slowly rose to his feet and sketched something like a bow. “Milady” he said, somewhat flatly, and he looked at her openly. The mail-clad man, for his part, bowed deeply and remained bowed long. “God’s peace upon you” he said.

“And on you, as well,” she replied as she seated herself. The men sat shortly after, and the green-clad man resumed eating as Maelis asked “Since you know no man named Sir Gwion, I shall not ask you after my lord husband, although I worry that you are come from the battle but he is not come back to me. But then, you also say that you were to fight alongside him, perhaps. Shall I take it to mean that you did not fight against the young king?”

The mail-clad man nodded. “It is as you say. I did not fight against the young king.”

The green-clad man interjected. “He fulfilled the word of God, instead, if it is your concern that he has turned recreant. And in doing so, he found himself in mortal peril, from which I delivered him. So now he follows me, blessed to that task and the fulfillment of it. So you may be at ease, Lady Maelis, that your husband did not fall because he was surrounded by cowards who betrayed him. If fall he did, it was bravely, and it is no shame to him–and it should not be sorrow to you if he did, for is it not a worthy thing to die in defense of lord and land, or of friends?”

“Yet it were better had he lived and returned to his land and those who have loved him these years long.” Maelis gave a clipped reply, and the mail-clad man sighed deeply.

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 2

Continued from the previous post, here.

t was not long before the two men–one clad in a green so dark it was nearly black, the other, following behind, in mail and–happened across one of the many villages that dotted Logres. There was no shortage of such places, small gatherings of farmers centered around a water-driven mill and a small chapel, with perhaps one or two craftspeople in the mix and occasional visits from itinerant traders or knights going about their lords’ business. It was for the last that the men were taken–and rightly, for though they were both afoot, the mail-clad man was clearly a knight, and the green-clad seemed somehow…greater. Certainly, they attracted attention; the children of the village stopped and stared, as had the farmers in their fields and the craftsmen in their shops, and the village priest–a rotund young man in plain robes–came out of the chapel to greet them, saying “God’s peace on you!” as they drew near.

The green-clad man gave a small snort of laughter at the welcome, but he nonetheless advanced. “Thank you for the kind words, Brother. And how fare you on this day?”

“Well, God be praised! We were worried when we saw so many men ride through, all in armor and shining, but they passed us by with little comment. They drank the beer that we had, and they ate of what food we had, and many of them heard Mass with me. Never, indeed, have I preached to so many at once, but they were reverential–even as the knights should be! And I see that you have such a man with you, too! How went the work to which you were bound, Sir Knight?”

The mail-clad man, hearing himself addressed, started a bit. “It went otherwise than might be hoped, Father.”

The green-clad man interjected. “He was struck and struck back, although neither he nor his foe slew the other. And I healed him of his wound.”

The priest smiled. “Then it is a good thing you have done for the kingdom, strengthening the knights that they might do as they are sworn! And you, Sir Knight, must do much to repay the debt you owe to the man who has saved you! For is it not in such a way that knights are bound, to give to them from whom they receive? I have never heard that the knights of Logres who would be of good worship act otherwise.”

The mail-clad man bowed his head. “It is as you say, Father. And I pray you will bless me, that I may the more fully walk with the Lord in doing so.”

“Of course, Sir Knight!” Then the priest made the knight to follow him into the chapel, and he made him to kneel. And when he had knelt and stood his sword before him, placing his hands upon it and bowing his head, the priest did pray mightily, calling for the Lord Jesus to watch over his steps and guide his hand, that he could in due time repay that he owed and would need no rest from it. And all this the green-clad man heard, and he smiled in his heart, for he knew that the priest could not but speak truly–and more than he could know.

When the priest had finished and the mail-clad man had stood again, the green-clad man suggested that they eat. The priest agreed to this, and he hosted them in his own small parsonage, where there was much of ale and much of good brown bread, and there was butter and honey to spread upon it. And when the priest had given thanks and the mail-clad man, and they had supped, then the priest asked the other two whither they were bound. “For I have seen no knights save you return, and I cannot help but think that there are not so many roads back to the throne as that, that the knights may have gone another way than that from which they came.”

The mail-clad man began to answer, but the green-clad one stopped him, saying “Neither he nor I saw how all departed, but it is the case that we saw many leave the fields of battle, and they left by the dolorous way. They may well sit in feasts and glory, but they do not in the halls that they left before coming here.”

The priest bowed his head. “Then I shall pray for their souls, and my congregation shall do the same, and by our prayers perhaps we will ease their times in purgation and speed their entry into the greatest halls where the greatest king sits.”

The mail-clad man said “God send it so,” and the priest nodded thereto. And the next morning, after they had slept and the mail-clad man had heard Mass–“Where is your green-clad companion?” “I know not, God help me.”–the man in green and the man in mail bade the priest and the village and its people farewell. “For methinks matters will be much changed in days to come, with so many now gone away that once were here. Look that you be ready for the changes that will come,” said the green-clad man.

“Can you not stay here?” asked the priest. “For if things will be as you say they will, then a fighting man of faith would find much to do, and a healer would have a home and happy.”

The mail-clad man looked to the green-clad, and the latter said “That may not be, for we must be elsewhere. Or I must away, and the knight must with me–as you yourself said and blessed him that he might do the more fully and strongly.”

“So I did, so I did. And since you will not stay, then to you I say, God be with you and make both straight and easy the paths before you, now and in all the days of your lives!”

“Thank you, Father,” said the mail-clad man, and he followed the green-clad man away from the village, walking towards the rising sun.

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 1

And ſoo they mette as theyr poyntemente was & ſo they were agreyd & accorded thorouly / And wyn was ſette and they dranke / Ryght ſoo came an adder oute of a lytel hethe buſſhe & hyt ſtonge a knyght on the foot / & when the knyght felte hym ſtongen he looked doun and ſawe the adder / & than he drewe his ſwerde to ſtrike the adder / & thought of none other harme / And whan the hooſt on bothe partyes ſaw that ſwerde drawen than they blewe beamous trumpetes and hornes and ſhouted grymly And ſo bothe hooſtes dreſſed hem to gyders…

~Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

𝔗he din rose of horns blowing and drums rolling, of horses neighing and pawing at the ground, of knights of Logres calling to their squires for spears and swords and the last pieces of armor that they had hoped not to have to don. Two crowned kings raced back to their own armies–formerly one army–seeking the protection of the men that they led, and the eyes that were not on the last tasks of arming and drawing up for battle were riveted upon them. They did not see a single man, sword still in hand and mail upon his shoulders, staggering back from the line that was rapidly forming. He had been on its edge, close enough for the glint of his steel to be seen when he had swung it both too early and too late, and now he limped away. With each step, his leg dragged more and more. His knee began to buckle under him, accepting less and less of the weight of bone and sinew and muscle and the steel they held with each jerking motion.

At last, his leg would bear him no longer. His vision began to blur, and the man lowered himself down to rest against a tree-trunk, looking on as two ribbons of steel and bright cloth merged and became one, dying itself red and cutting itself away. The screams of horses meeting the points of spears and the edges of swords, the bellows of a few men trying in vain to make sense of the melee, calls of horns beginning and ending abruptly reached him–as did another sound, that of the rustling of leaves as a weight settled down beside him.

“It is a rather splendid thing, isn’t it?”

The mail-clad man turned his head, doing so with some difficulty. Beside him sat a slender man, clad in a dark green that bordered on black, a neatly trimmed dark beard and moustache hiding his cheeks and chin and upper lip from view; his head was bald and pale, and his eyebrows were dark and bushy. They loomed over dark eyes that looked out over the shrinking armies and growing piles of bodies on the field nearby, smiling at the increasing murder that formed above them as crows came, called by the clangor of conflict.

The mail-clad man rasped out “Who are you?”

The green-clad man glanced at the other, moving his eyes but not his head. “Strange that you should ask me that. Should not a knight announce himself when he comes into another’s lands and home?”

The mail-clad man nodded weakly. “You have the right of it, truly.” He coughed.

The other man smiled. “But I do know who you are. You are the man who broke the truce. You have made what would have been a tense but stable truce between two into,” and he waved his hand at the battle that still raged on. “You have brought about the end of Logres. And I thank you for it.”

The mail-clad man coughed again, hacking out the word “Why?”

“Why did you do it? For that, you will have to seek elsewhere.”

“No.” More coughing. “Why–why do–you thank–me?”

“Know you not why? Ah, but the adder! The venom is having its effect on you, certainly.” The green-clad man leaned in. “And I have a cure for it, if you would have it. I know your kind do not abstain from such things. Do not many of your fellowship–former members, most of them, now–wear a green girdle? Do they not for that the king’s nephew or brother–it is hard to know which, anymore–took up once?”

The mail-clad man nodded again. “It is…as you say.”

A smile from the green-clad man. “Will you then accept my aid? Will you do as was done before, and act to save yourself from what has befallen you?”

Another nod.

“I am pleased to hear it.” The green-clad man held a small clay bottle. “Drink of this, then. It will end the work of the poison in you.”

Hands shaking, the mail-clad man reached for the botte. The green-clad man took the stopper from it, and the mail-clad man drank. After a halting swallow, he took another, more strongly. A third, and he set the bottle down. “It tastes as water.”

The green-clad man shrugged. “It is not wine, and it is not meant to be. Now, come away. Your battle is not there. Already, with one stroke of the sword, you have slain as few before you have. It is a worthy deed for a knight, is it not? To fell all the fellowship of Logres–save only a handful, perhaps. Who can claim the same? And how many have tried to do so?” He stood and offered his hand to the mail-clad man.

The latter took it, and he came to his feet with seemingly little effort. “That was a powerful medicine, friend. You must be a mighty physician.”

Another shrug. “I have my ways. And you and I must be on them.”

The mail-clad man shook his head. “I cannot.” He gestured at the fight that still continued, although with far fewer than had begun it. “I must go to them. I am sworn to my king.”

“Nothing you can do will save him.”

“Then I will avenge him.”

“It will do him no good. Nor you. But you have accepted my aid in the hour of your utmost need. Will you demur now? Will you throw away that which you have bought from me? Think you that you can do so? No. You will come with me, and we will leave these to do as they must.”

“Again, I say that I will not away hence.”

“Yet, again, I say that you will.” The green-clad man stared at the mail-clad, and the latter met his gaze. The dark eyes seemed to widen, dilating past where the irises should be, past even the lids, opening into abyssal, fuliginous pools. “You will come with me.”

The mail-clad man found that he could not resist. As the green-clad man walked away, the mail-clad man followed. Behind them, the battle raged on, dwindling in size as fewer still stood to fight.

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Class Report: ENGL 227.61205, 11 March 2017

After addressing questions from and concerns about the previous class meeting, discussion reviewed assigned readings and focused extensively on concerns of usage and style. Register and comma use attracted particular attention, by student attestation.

Students are reminded of the following assignments’ due dates:

  • Week 2 Discussion (online before 0059 on 12 March 2017)
  • Quiz (online before 0059 on 12 March 2017)
  • Week 3 Discussion (online before 0059 on 19 March 2017)
  • Routine Message (online before 0059 on 19 March 2017)

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Rm. 106 of the DeVry San Antonio campus. The class roster listed 11 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Of them, seven attended, verified by direct question. Student participation was good. One student attended office hours.

Class Reports: ENGL 1302, Sections 02 and 03–10 March 2017

After treating concerns from the last class meeting and before, including quiz answers, discussion asked after progress on the essay in progress, the DrEss. It returned then to Everyman to round out the week.

Students should begin reading the assigned selections from Malory.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • DrEss FV (online before 2355 on 12 March 2017)
  • PrEss RV (online before class begins on 31 March 2017)
  • PrEss FV (online before class begins on 12 April 2017)

Information about other assignments remains in development.

Section 02 met as scheduled, at 1000, in Weir 111. The class roster listed 17 students enrolled, a decline of one since the last class meeting. Eleven attended, verified informally. Student participation was good. Three students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Section 03 met as scheduled, at 1100, in Weir 111. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Thirteen attended, verified informally. Student participation was good. One student from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

A Bit More about Pronghorn

So Asa Pemewan has a job, and things are possibly looking up for him. For now, he can stay there and as he is. The Pronghorn Project will not be ending here, or I hope it will not, but for now, it is in a good place to leave off, and I have some other ideas I’d like to try out for a while. Look for a new project starting next week!

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll continue to do so as I look at trying my hand at a few other things, and, as ever, if you’d like to support my artistic endeavors, I welcome it; click here.

Pronghorn, Chapter 46: After the Night

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

At length, Asa’s workday ended, and he headed back to his parents’ home. As he got into his car, he noticed that he smelled of grease from meat and melted cheese, of flour and yeast, and of the sweat that standing close to ovens that belch their febrile breath into the open air without ceasing will pull from flesh. I guess it’ll be something I get used to, he thought as he started the vehicle and headed out.

The night was dark. Recovery from the Tuesday Storm was still ongoing, and some parts of town still did not have power. Overhanging clouds suggested humidity, but no rain was called for–and none in town complained about it. Pronghorn Creek still flowed faster than its wont, and the ponds that served as small reservoirs against the town’s most dire needs–and as fishing spots in and out of season–yet churned turgidly. For now, at least, there was water enough and more.

The drive home was quiet. A few people were out on the roads, heading home from bars or, like Asa, from service jobs only now ending for the day. Perhaps one or two were out getting a last-minute bite to eat, whether prepared at a fast-food place still open or to be prepared at home once gotten from the grocery store. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies patrolled, of course, but Asa knew that they would be doing so, and he kept his teal hatchback well below the posted speed limits as he wove through the series of turns that took him back to the house where his parents lived.

When he arrived there, he found the porch-light on, and he saw the glow of a lamp left lit in the living room. No shadows moved against the glow, but as Asa left his car and shut the door, approaching the house, he heard motion within it. The shift of floorboards told him somebody else was awake, so he did not make the effort to step quietly he otherwise would have.

He keyed the door, opened it, and found his father settling back into his chair with a beer in hand. He looked up at Asa and asked “How’d it go?”

Asa closed the door behind him and settled on the living room couch. “Pretty well. Brought home a little bit of cash in addition to what I earned on payroll. I also ran into a few interesting people–although that wasn’t always so good. One smelled like a distillery; another kept losing his pants. That kind of thing.”

“If nothing else, y’ get around a bit. And a paycheck’s good.” Asa’s father pulled at his beer. “So, y’ get any fancy discounts or anything?”

“I get one meal on shift, personal pizza or the equivalent. Theoretically, I get half off if I actually order, but I don’t think I’m going to want to do that much.”

“Yeah, but y’r mom and I might. Can we use y’r discount?”

Asa shrugged. “I’m not sure on that point. I want to think so, but I can’t swear to it. And it’s probably not the kind of thing I can ask yet. I go back in tomorrow, and I should be on the regular schedule next week, but I’m worried about staying on it. I haven’t got as much built up as I’d like to have, and I’ve not got a lot of other prospects for work, so I don’t want to take a chance on screwing this up.”

Asa’s father nodded. “I can understand that.” He took another pull from his beer. “But y’ve always worried more about screwing up than y’ve thought about how to do well, y’know. It’s like y’r so afraid of being wrong that y’ don’t try to be more right.”

Asa’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure I follow.”

Asa’s father set down his beer. “It’s like this, Asa. Most kids’ll go out, run around, jump off stuff, fall flat on their faces, cry a bit, and then jump again–and maybe make it the second time. Y’d take a run, then pull up short, gauge the distance, and decide that y’d rather not take the chance of falling than take the chance of making the jump. It’s part of why y’ did so well in school, y’know. Y’ got really good at doing what y’ were told. But there’s more that needs done than that, and that’s where y’ falter. Y’ think about what y’ve got to lose, and that’s a good thing–if y’ also look at what y’ can get if y’ make it.

“Now, y’r right that a pizza’s not a thing to take a risk over, and y’r right that y’ can’t afford to take on a lot of risk right now. But even when y’ could, y’ didn’t. Like with that one school y’ could’ve gone to. But y’ didn’t, said that moving’d be too hard. And now? Now y’r delivering pizza–which is good work, but to do it after how many years of going to school? It’s gotta hurt y’, son. And I hate seeing y’ hurt, y’know. Always have.”

Asa hung his head. “You’re right. I have always been more worried about the consequences of screwing up than about the benefits of doing well. And, at this point, I don’t know how to get out of it. Honestly, I feel like my time to take risks has passed, like if I tried it now, I’d look more a fool than I can stand. I mean, if a younger person takes a risk and fails, we chalk it up to youth. Someone my age does, he’s an idiot and deserves to suffer.”

He lapsed into silence. His father said nothing. They sat together quietly for quite some time.

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Class Reports: ENGL 1302, Sections 02 and 03–8 March 2017

After treating concerns from the last class meeting and before, discussion asked after progress on the essay in progress, the DrEss. It returned then to Everyman before adjourning in favor of a quiz.

Students are reminded of the following due dates:

  • DrEss FV (online before 2355 on 12 March 2017–the date has been adjusted)
  • PrEss RV (online before class begins on 31 March 2017)
  • PrEss FV (online before class begins on 12 April 2017)

Information about other assignments remains in development.

Section 02 met as scheduled, at 1000, in Weir 111. The class roster listed 18 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Fifteen attended, verified via quiz. Student participation was reasonably good. Four students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Section 03 met as scheduled, at 1100, in Weir 111. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting. Seventeen attended, verified via quiz. Student participation was somewhat distracted. Four students from the class attended office hours since the previous class meeting.

Pronghorn, Chapter 45: Running into the Night

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan continued to make deliveries under Manny’s tutelage through the evening. The senior driver allowed Asa to take roughly half of the orders to the doors and to keep roughly half of the tip money that resulted–close to fifty dollars, all told. When Asa asked him why he would give up on the money, Manny laughed and replied “It’s how it’s done, Newbie. It’s how I was trained. You ever train anyone on this, you do the same thing for ’em. Pay it forward, right?”

Asa could only nod at the comment. That, and think about the differences between the work done at the restaurant and the work he had done–and would probably still need to do–elsewhere. Because part-time work isn’t enough, even if it is decent work. I need more.

Asa and Manny did not only have delivery work to do, though. As predicted, cleaning the restaurant bathrooms fell to Asa–listed as “Newbie” on the chore board in accord with what had been explained as traditional. The work was not wholly unfamiliar to Asa; he had lived in apartments before, and he had generally kept his places clean. But the kinds of things that get left behind in restaurant restrooms–feces smeared on seats and walls, urine sprayed about, a splash of vomit, blood and bandages and pads and tampons that did not quite make it into the garbage can–were in excess of Asa’s experience. Gagging and retching took up time that could have been otherwise spent, and he was glad to wash his hands and get back on the road for deliveries when they came.

Too, Asa began to meet other coworkers as they came in for their spans of hours. Felicia continued to ooze disdain for him–and for the other workers in the store. Asa noticed that few spoke with or to her during the evening. He also noticed that Manny was shown a fair degree of deference, even by Jennifer, and that one of the cooks, a wiry, one-eyed man named Robert–never “Bob,” but only “Robert”–was given a wide berth. “Not because he’s mean, mind,” Manny said as he and Asa made another deliver, “but because he moves so damned fast and has bony elbows. And there was the one time with Dan Jackson.”

“What was that?”

“Punk newbie a few years back. Thought he was hot shit because he had a fancy car, didn’t think he needed to know things other than driving. Now, Robert’s head cook; he says do, you get it done. Jennifer doesn’t argue with him, you see, and even the higher-ups know he knows what he’s doing better than they do. But Jackass–Jackson–doesn’t do when Robert says to do. And Robert’s cutting produce at the time, chopping onions or peppers, I forget which. Anyway, Robert aims his eye at Jackass, but Jackass doesn’t care, just flops his ass down. So Robert throws his knife at him, lands it in the wall right above his head. And I mean like a quarter-inch above his head.

“Now, you’ve seen the knives on the make table, right? Got an eight-inch knife and a ten-inch knife. Robert’s got a cleaver squirreled away somewhere. None of the rest of us can find the damned thing. I think he sleeps with it or something. Anyway, the ten-inch knife’s the one that sticks in above Jackass’s head, quivering in the wall. And then the damned cleaver comes out, and Robert’s still cutting the produce, looks at Jackass and says do again.

“That time, Jackass did. I think he needed new pants, too.”

Asa looked agog at Manny. “How’s he still working?”

Manny chuckled. “I think he saw some stuff overseas. He doesn’t talk about it much, though. Don’t ask him, neither. I get the impression that he’d not approve.”

There were other drivers, too. Dan Jackson was long gone, of course, but there were Paul Keane–a taller, younger man, but reasonably humble–and Gerald Smitherson–a smart-alecky twenty-something who walked with a swagger when he wasn’t where Robert could see him. He’d proven worse than Felicia for disdain; while she seemed to spread her annoyance indiscriminately–and was at least a good worker–he made a point of poking at Asa.

“I know Aunt Olive didn’t think you were worth hiring. Not that I’d work at the Chandlery. Everybody in the family knows that’s where we put the rejects–which makes it great for Olive. But you couldn’t even get on there” came one tirade, and Asa shook his head as he walked away from Gerald. It only prompted a “Just keep walking, Newb. I don’t know why you’d come back here, either.”

“Don’t let it get to you” said Manny later on another run. “Gerald’s following Jackass–but he knows to do when Robert says to do. Never do know where the hell that cleaver is.”

“Why does Jennifer keep him on?” Asa asked his tutor.

“Robert? Because he’s damned good at the job.”

“No. Gerald.”

“Oh, that. Yeah. Well, he’s a Smitherson. You’re from here. You know what it means.”

Asa sighed heavily. “Yeah. I do.” It means that he can do more or less what he wants, and nobody’ll do a damned thing–except the head of the family. But who that is with Bartholomew gone isn’t clear. “He’s going to get worse, isn’t he?”

“Probably. It’ll take some time before someone comes out on top of things out there. And maybe the Hochstedlers and Zapatas’ll get involved, too. Hell, they’re all cousins or closer, anyway. It makes sense they’d be up in each others’ business.

“But don’t worry. Someone’ll pop up, keep the rest in line. You’ll be okay that long.”

Asa thought I wish I was that confident.

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Pronghorn, Chapter 44: Still Running

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Asa Pemewan and Manny Davis returned to the restaurant, and Asa put the pizza bag back in place while Manny cashed in the order. Asa picked up an already-bagged order, noting what the ticket inside said and looking at the map to find its location. The delivery would be a bit shorter than the last one, because it was closer, just across from Pronghorn Community College. Asa noted as much to Manny, eliciting a “Damn. ‘Nother no-tipper, probably.”

As they got back into Manny’s car, Asa asked “Why do you say so?”

“Probably a resident college kid. College kids’re broke. Broke folk don’t tip so much. Pain in the ass, really.”

“Ah.” Asa thought back to his own college days, both undergraduate and graduate. Many times, he had ordered pizza, had it sent to his dorm room or the apartments he had shared with people. He could not recall whether or not he had given the delivery people a little more than they asked for for the pizzas and wings and sodas he had bought, and the inability to remember shamed him. I suppose I have it coming, then, if I don’t get any tips. Not that I am today, anyway.

The drive was brief, as Asa had expected. Turning into the apartment complex whence the order had come was a bit more of a challenge, though; cars came just quickly enough in succession that Manny could not safely cross the oncoming lanes. The wealth of profanity that escaped his lips betrayed his ongoing frustration with them–and with the line of traffic that began to stack behind him. “Damned problem with signs. No regularity.”

Horns began to honk behind the car, and Manny saw a gap approach. “Hold on” he said, and he whipped his car across the lane of oncoming traffic. A cacophony of horns followed him, but he brought the car into the parking lot safely, slowing sharply to find the building. “This one’s good. Signs for what apartments’re where’re clear. It ain’t always so. Got another one, other side of town, can’t hardly see the address, let along the apartment numbers. Ah, here,” said Manny, and he stopped the car, turned on the hazard lights, and parked. “We’ll only be a minute, Newbie, so we’ll leave the car here–flashers on, keys in pocket. Don’t want the damned thing stolen.”

Asa nodded and levered himself out of the car, following Manny up a flight of rickety stairs to the assigned apartment. “You do it” said Manny, urging Asa forward.

Asa took a deep breath, glanced at the door to find no doorbell, and knocked.

From within, “Who is it?”

Asa replied “Pizza delivery.”

“Just a second. Need my pants.”

A minute passed, then another, and the door opened. A shirtless man holding up the waist of a pair of pants too big for him looked out at Asa and asked “What was the total?” From behind him came a reek of something burning, smoke and skunk. Asa looked at the ticket and said “$18.77.”

“Cool. Just a second.” The shirtless man turned away, rummaging around on what looked to be a nearby table, and as he did, Asa could see that all he was wearing was the oversized pants. But the man turned back to Asa quickly, a picture of Grant extended. “Yeah, keep it man.”

Asa handed over the pizza, his eyes wide and mouth open. Manny put in “Thank you, sir, and have a nice day!” He also guided Asa away from the door, starting him back to the car.

Once inside it, Manny turned to Asa and asked “The hell was that?”

“He gave me a $50 for a $20 order.”

“Yes? That’s a good thing!”

“But he was stoned, Manny. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

“Ain’t your problem, Newbie. Your job is to get the order out and bring the money back.” The car started and started moving. “Idiots off their nut wanna give you more than they owe, that’s on them. You ain’t their protector.”

“I know, but I feel bad.”

“Then donate the tip to charity. But don’t stand there looking like an idiot until you do. It’s bad for business.”

“Wait, I’m keeping the tip?”

“You made the delivery. Feels nice, doesn’t it, having money all of a sudden. Hell, that’d cover your tab at the bar tonight.”

“I hadn’t planned on going to a bar tonight.”

“Heh.” Manny turned through the roundabout in front of the college. “Not a surprise, somehow.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Newbie, I don’t know if it’s first-day jitters or what, but you seem like you’ve got a stick wedged up and turned sideways. You need to relax, or you’re gonna give yourself an aneurysm. And if you do it in my car, it’ll piss me off.”

“I’ll try not to have an aneurysm in your car, Manny. And maybe I’m a bit uptight. Even so, I can’t afford to go out tonight. Hell, I don’t know that I can afford to go out anytime in the next month. I’m not on a job because I want to have to work, you know; I’ve got bills and debts and such to last for years.”

“Yeah? So do the rest of us. We still go out.”

“Also, I’ve done bars. I can’t hear a damned thing in them, and if I’m going to sit and drink and not talk to anybody, I’m going to do it where I’ve got a toilet I can trust not to give me crab lice.”

Manny was silent for a moment. “I give you the last bit. Having a good pisser’s good. Which reminds me, there’s a chore-board in the back of the store. We all get one. Newbie usually has to clean the toilets. Just so you know.”

They turned back into the restaurant’s parking lot.

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