Horse Pens 40

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(This story goes out dedicated to my friend Tx Tall Tales. Happy birthday, Triple T. And many more to come.)


“Well my name’s John Lee Pettimore.”

With my head nodding to the music as I sang along with it, I hit the blinker and checked my right-side mirror for any fools too asleep to see my flashing signal. Given the speed I was going, when this big Ford Econoline van–and the trailer I was towing–changed lanes widows and orphans worried. Maybe they should; I was all but half-asleep myself. Only the cool, damp morning air rushing in the window was keeping me awake. That and my singing, which I’ve been told could wake the dead.

“Same as my daddy and his daddy before.”

Down the off ramp into Steele, Alabama, I caught the light exactly right and took the turn at a speed only a might less than what I had been traveling for the last six hours. Taking a long sip of my cold coffee, I followed old memories and not much else towards my destination.

“He’d buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line … there you are, darlin’ come to Papa Dan.”

[Renaissance Faire]

“That damn sign could still be bigger,” I thought as I took a sharp turn and started up that long zigzagging road to the top of Chandler Mountain. “And this damn road still needs to be wider!”

With my windows open and the last lyrics of Steve Earle’s song waking up the sleeping squirrels, I took tight right turn, after tight left turn, powering the old Ford up the hill toward the camp grounds. Behind me I could hear the multiple gallons of icy-cold marinade sloshing in their sealed Rubbermaid’s. I could imagine the hundreds of turkey legs doing some sort of weird jig in those boxes. Dancing like they were still attached to their feathered hips and not floating in my special mixture of apple cider and spices. Feathered bodies that might would have been doing a pretty-damn-fair imitation of drunken line-dancers at Gilley’s, if they were not in my smoke house back home.

Right then left, right then left, higher and higher the road climbed into the growing morning light. I squinted my tired eyes when I cleared the level of the nearby hills and the morning sunshine hit my eyes full on. Another sip of the cold coffee and I tossed the dregs into the grass beside the road. I stuffed the Styrofoam cup into the grey Walmart bag hung between the two van seats and grabbed my shades off the visor.

“Oh, why the fuck does morning have to get here so early.” I mumbled as my van finally leveled out, and I drove the last bit of distance to the gate. The man sitting there looked as sleepy as I did, under his blue and red denim Brave’s cap. He yawned, picked up a clip board and walked out to my window, which was good because I wasn’t going to get out and walk to him. He glanced to the side of the van.

“Papa Dan …?”

“…the Turkey Man. Yep, that’s me. Do you need to see my ID or would a leg do?” I asked with a smile. At his rolled eyes I handed him my driver’s license.

“Dan Hinder.” Well, okay he can read at least. He’s awake enough for that, even if his sense of humor is asleep. He handed it back to me. “Okay, Turkey Man, I have you on my list. Just follow the road down to the right.”

“Thanks, I know the way. Been here before,” I told him as I pushed the plastic card, with my terrible photo, back into my wallet. “Come by later today and try a bite, if you’re still here.”

He nodded, yawned again and headed back to his wooden stool to try and get back to sleep. Looking in my mirrors, I wished him luck in that as I saw the train of lights climbing the hill behind me. Following the graveled path that was pretending to be a road, I rolled down through the gates and across the camp ground, heading towards where I had been set up the year before. Ahead of me my lights began to play across the beautiful sandstone rock formations. Then the large natural amphitheater came into view, and past that I saw where they set up Merchant’s row last year. I was happy to see that I was the first food vendor to arrive–hell, only one other tent was completely up.

I grinned as I recognized another old faire hand. Joe “Cute-Butt,” the sword guy was busy unloading his cloth-wrapped wall hangers and the few leather-encased masterpieces he never managed to sell but always brought, hoping for that sale of a century.

Pulling in across from him, he looked over at me and his shoulders slumped. I grinned as I backed my trailer in underneath the shade of the big oak tree. That century-old leafy monster, and the shade it provided on the hot summer days, was an old and dear friend after the last two faires I’ve attended here. I checked both mirrors frequently till I had the big smoker in almost the same stone tire-divots I had parked it in before.

As I shut off the van, I saw Joe walking towards me shaking his head.

“Nope, nope. Not a chance, turkey man.” Joe pointed up the hill toward the other end of Merchant’s Row. “Pull that thing to another spot. I put on Gaziantep Mutlu Son Escort twenty pounds the last time I was across from your cooker, just from smelling it all day.”

Laughing, I held out my hand to him. “That and the ten damn legs you ate that weekend.”

“Yeah, yeah. All my fault, right. I could have moved at any time.” He helped me unhook the big trailer. “It’s just greed on my part. I mean hungry people need a place to stand and eat.”

“And what better damn place to stand than at a tent with a display of swords.” I smirked, then nodded to the blank area next to him, with four red wooden posts driven into the ground in a square. “Is Galen showing up?”

“That’s the rumor.” He looked off towards the road. “And speak of the druid.”

I looked up to see a white Dodge van, even older than my own, slowly coming down the road.

“There goes my diet.” Joe complained, “Stuck between his spring rolls and your legs.”

He walked off to help the old druid park, never seeing me grinning at what he had said. Unhooking the latches, I opened first one then the other of the hooded doors on the old five-hundred gallon propane tank I used as my grill. The sweet-to-rank smelling remnants of the last weekend’s cooking hit my nose. Old smoke, hints of the spices, and the forever imbedded smell of roasted meat. I savored it the way some savor wine. Walking to the steel box on the back, I opened it and opened the flue on the burner to let it get more air. A turn of a handle, a push of a button and blue gas flames ignited to get the wood going in the smoker. Closing back the lid, I hit the small blower fan I had installed and walked to the van to get the first big Rubbermaid full of brined turkey legs out. I gave Galen a messy-hand wave as I started rolling legs in my spice rub and loading the metal hanging hooks inside my cooker. Already waves of heat and white smoke were billowing through the open doors. The old druid did a belly dancer hip wiggle that made me grin.

With the grill filled, I washed the spices and marinade off my hands and went to get the secret ingredient. Well, as secret as a five gallon bucket full of large chunks of Jack Daniels barrel-wood, soaking in spring water can be anyway. The wet wood reeked of bourbon when I tossed several pieces of it onto the fire. The heat going good, I turned off the gas, closed the damper, and set the counter-weight-driven rotisserie to moving. Looking at the strapped-down bundle on the top of the van, I sighed and went to work on getting the tent down and set up against the side of my van.

“Going to be a long day,” I muttered.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

“Come gnaw on my legs! YOU SIR, want to gnaw on another man’s legs? I know that kind of thing is frowned up in this state, but today, we’ll make an exception.”

Barkering the passersby, I kept my eyes open for “BoBo the Jester” because I swore, if that “fool” blew that damn stupid horn of his behind me again … I was gonna put his spandex-motley-body-suit-wearing-ass into my cooker.

“Miss, yes you, beautiful lady, you. How would you like to take a bite out of a juicy hunk of smoking hot meat?” The faire goer smiled, but shook her head. The two guys behind her, however, did step up to my table and buy legs. I wrapped their food up in aluminum foil and took their cash. “Enjoy, sirs.”

“Come gnaw on my legs!” I yelled again.

“And what if we wanted to gnaw somewhere a bit higher up?” asked a sweetly sensual voice, all purring sex.

“Yes, what about that? Would we find anything … good there to eat,” said a second woman’s voice with a throaty Scottish burr.

“Papa Dan … I’m hungry. Do you have anything a girl can put in her … mouth?” The third voice tried to raise my kilt it was so silky and close to the side of my head. “Something warm, meaty, and spicy?”

Turning to look at the three “kissing wenches” standing behind me. I grinned and slicked down my salt and pepper goatee. All three were in brightly colored bodices, which left little to the imagination from nipple up, and with enough cleavage showing between the three of them to stop a man’s heart. Their plump lips, all in thick coats of lipstick so they left behind souvenirs of their kisses, were perked in flirty smiles at me. One of them, the shortest, had come around my table to deliver her whisper into my ear and she now slipped under my arm.

“Ladies, everything in this tent is spicy and meaty enough to fill a wench’s belly.” I flirted back, and the lady under my arm giggled and put her hand on my ass. Her fingers splayed across the black and green tartan cloth covering my butt. I looked down at her and grinned. “Having fun, little girl?”

“Yes, papa,” she purred.

Oh, god damn … okay, someone get me a defibrillator quickly. And a heavier sporran. This one is in danger of rising. “What can I do you ladies for?” I asked with a grin.

“Well, that would take more than turkey legs,” said the tallest girl with the too-bright red hair. “But we can negotiate that after lunch.”

“Speak for yourself, Loreley. I’m starving enough to trade at that rate,” said the girl under my arm. “Besides, he has a nice ass.”

“Not as nice as Joe’s, though right?” I asked, looking down at her with a smile. She was a sweet-smelling, warmth of plump comfort against my side.

“Well, that goes without saying,” she said, all saucy. “He has the best ass in the business.”

“Papa Dan, let me get a leg and a Diet Coke.” The tallest one, (Loreley?), told me, giving up on her flirty banter.

“Yes, miss.” I looked down at the girl under my arm. “You’re going to have to turn me loose.”

She pouted beautifully, but slipped out from under my arm.

Getting them their food and drinks, I noticed the exchange of looks too late as I handed them their change. So it was a surprise when they caught me with my sporran open as it were. Before I could blink my face was covered with red lipstick kisses. One all-but on my lips.

With a grin the three went skipping off with one of them merrily singing. “Papa Dan is the man, he gives me his meat whenever he can.” The youngest girl looked back at me, took a bite out of the turkey leg in her hand and flipped her skirt showing the bottoms of white-silk pantaloons.

Shaking my head with a grin, I looked around and found Joe and Galen both looking at me with huge smiles on their faces. I shrugged and went back to selling turkey legs. As I did, I couldn’t help but remember how nice it had been to have the girl under my arm. But then came the other thought; she was young enough to be my daughter. I sighed at the too quick passage of time filling my goatee beard with gray hairs.

“Come gnaw on my meat!”

Hearing a horn, I looked around to see the jester BoBo running through the thick crowd at full flight with five costumed people after him. He was laughing and blowing that damn horn of his as he went past my stand.

“Free turkey leg to the man that catches him!” I yelled to his pursuers. I watched their spurred-on efforts to catch the motley fool. “That’ll teach him to blow a horn up my kilt.”

** ** ** ** ** ** **

Sitting down for the first time in hours, I absently listened to the actors running thought their too-often rehearsed parts in the play they were doing nearby. Had I been paying attention I could have heard the same play four times today already. Glancing over, I smiled at the live chess game going on, the kids giving the people running it fits. I laughed seeing one of the children, the bishop I believe, run off the chess board to his mother. I think I could get some of my turkeys to follow directions better.

“I am a dreadful Viking! A warrior of the frozen Northlands!”

Glancing over at the “warrior” a guy in his young twenties, tall certainly, but not at all what I would call dreadful looking. Almost baby-faced. He was speaking to the crowd gathered on the rocks before him to listen. I turned my head towards my smoker, the legs for the dinner crowd were getting close to done. Truthfully some were done, and I had wrapped them in tinfoil to keep them from drying out; now they were just smoking for flavor.

“And this is my battle axe!” said the Viking for the fourth time today. “Isn’t it a beautiful battle axe?”

“Yes, but it looks nothing like my mother!”

I spit tea out my nose as a member of the crowd chimed in unexpectedly. The people in street clothes surrounding her burst out laughing; even some of the actors had a hard time keeping a straight face. The dreadful Viking was biting his bottom lip.

“I’m not supposed to laugh … but damn that was funny.” He cleared his throat and looked at the blonde lady on the boulder, who I noticed was dressed in medieval clothes. “Quiet you, I’m trying to kill this varlet.” He pointed the axe at the man who was his opponent in their play. “And I can’t do that if I’m laughing.”

He snorted, unable to help himself, and the crowd laughed again. “Silence! Now, where was I?” He looked at his fellow players.

“Beautiful battle axe!” called the blonde lady from the boulder to the further delight of the crowd.

“Thank you,” said the Viking politely. “Now hush, I have a varlet to slay.”

“Yes, sir,” she said meekly.

He started to say his line again then stopped and looked at her. His eyes narrow and he lifted the axe threatening for a second. “Don’t call me sir.”

With the actors doing their best through the rest of the play to keep a straight face, they finished their lines. The villainous Viking was killed off, his beautiful battle axe taken as a trophy, and the crowds dispersed to go find other “medieval” adventures. I saw the blonde lady and her husband–also in garb, who, in my opinion, would have made a much better Viking–walked over to where the actors were standing together. It looked as if she was apologizing, but the Viking smiled and shook his head laughing. The blonde lady and her husband drifted away, and the actors then went to go take a break till their next show in an hour or so.

That bit of diverting excitement over, I went back to watching the crowd. Most were shopping for Ren Faire souvenirs now. I saw a couple of somewhat familiar faces, people I had sold food to earlier, among the new people. Tired people, getting ready to leave behind their day in the New Middle Ages. Stopping only long enough to spend the last of their pocket cash on some little item that would keep the memoires of this day alive.

Turkey legs were not on their minds now. I did manage to make a few sales to some of the newcomers, but a lot of them had eaten before they got here. This was a familiar pattern to me so I didn’t fret. Food sales would pick up right before the sun began to sink, people grabbing dinner before they left. Then I could bank the fires for the night, wrap everything in foil and call it a good day of sales. Rest, maybe a little quiet time sharing a drink with some close friends from the Ren Faire circuit, grab some sleep in my tent, and then be up at the butt-crack-of-dawn to do this madness one more time.

There were soft foot steps behind me.

“BoBo, I swear to all that is holy, I will cook your ass in my smoker if you blow that damn horn behind me again.” Turning, I saw, not the expected body-suit-wearing jester, but the young kissing wench from earlier. “Sorry, wasn’t expecting you, hun.”

She smiled. “Nope. Not a skinny guy in a cat suit, just a tired wench looking to rest her feet.” She held up the small igloo cooler she was carrying “Cold beer?”

“Oh, yes please. Since you’re buying … miss?”

“Vickie.” She handed me the cold, wet bottle of beer, but I stopped and looked at the odd tattoo on her wrist.

“A semicolon?” I pointed with the bottle then popped the top. I took a slow sip, letting the malt and hops play on my tongue then swallowed. “What’s that about?”

Vickie rubbed at her wrist for a second, almost as if the ink was itchy. I saw her eyes take on a far off look for a moment, and then when she spoke she sounded almost sad.

“It has to do with suicide prevention. A semicolon means it’s not time for the story to end.” She gave me a sad smile and opened her beer. I noticed when she took a sip the top of the bottle was bright red from lipstick. “It’s to help me remember.”

I nodded and sighed. “Yeah, I’ve got some of that kind of ink myself.”

She smiled. “Oh, you have tattoos, Papa?”

It was a true grin. “Yeah, darlin’ more than a few. Some older than you.”

“Let’s see.”

In the face of her eagerness, I unbuttoned the top three wooden buttons on my shirt and pulled the cloth to the side to show the howling wolf tattooed over my heart.

“Feed the right one?” she read the banner under it. “What?”

I rebuttoned my shirt as I explained. “It’s part of a Cherokee proverb. Inside all of us there are two wolves that battle. One good, one evil. And the one that wins is the one you feed.”

“Profound. When did you get it?” she asked, following my gaze when I looked at the smoker out of habit.

“I woke up in jail one morning, hung over to hell. I was about your age. No damn idea how I got there, what I had done. Where I had been. My knuckles were swollen, my jaw hurt so I knew I had been in a fight. As I was sitting there I got to thinking, what if I had killed someone? I mean I had no memory of why I had been in a fight; what if I had really hurt someone? People had already told me I was wild as hell when drunk. Turns out I had done a few rounds with the bouncer at a damn bar. I had to pay damages, he didn’t press charges. So I walked out. That time.” Absently I placed a pair of fingers over that wolf, rubbing the ink in a way similar to what she had done. “But what about the next time? Or the next? So I settled my dumb ass down after that. Got this to remind me.”

“And I offered you alcohol.” She suddenly looked uncomfortable.

“Oh, I’m no teetotaler, girl. Trust me, this is not even the first beer for today, and you can bet your lipstick it’s not going to be the last one either. Excuse me.” Getting up, I took a customer’s order. He was one of those heading home types, and took four legs with him for dinner. When I was at the smoker hood I noticed Vickie licking her lips. “Hungry again?” I asked.

She nodded, so I pulled her out a turkey leg and brought it over. I waved off the move by her to get money out her pouch.

“You’re buying the drinks, least I can do is get dinner.” Sitting back down, I grinned and took a sip of my beer.

“Thank you. This is so good.”

I nodded, accepting the praise. “A man can be good at no more than four things in his life. Cooking turkey legs to perfection is simply one of my four.”

She looked at me odd then smiled. “And what are the other three?”

I shook my head. “Well, if I told what they are then I couldn’t change what they are when I need to.” I reached over and tapped her beer bottle with mine. “But two of them can only happen in the company of a beautiful woman.” I looked up. “Or three beautiful women. Here come your friends.”

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