“Seriously, Benny, it’s the shit! All you have to do is listen to a sermon or two, pretend to sing along with a couple of hymns, and that’s it! Then you eat - as much as you want!”
Benny squinted. He couldn’t remember the younger guy’s name, but it would come to him eventually.
“Much as I want?”
“Much as you want,” the guy nodded.
Benny thought about it a while. He hadn’t had anything to drink since... well, sometime, and though he didn’t actually get hangovers anymore, a little bit of the juice did tend to lubricate the old brain-pan. A thought struck him -- slow and soft, but it was a thought.
“They serve wine with dinner?”
His hopes lifted, the thought a slow-motion impact.
The guy, Dan, or Van, something like that, shook his head, face screwed up with resignation.
“No booze, man, but it’s free food, you know? Just a sermon and a hymn and you eat! And sometimes...”
Van-Dan peered around, then leaned in close, one rheumy eye closed in a wink.
“...sometimes Mrs. Maxwell offers some paid work. Nothing hard. Shovel a hole, hammer a nail, bing-bang-boom and you’re done. Cash at the end of the day, no matter what kind of job you did, ‘swhat I hear. And that my friend can buy you whatever you like. Even--”
The glancing about. The leaning in.
Benny let the idea seep into his brain. Thinking was hard, ‘specially without a little lubrication. It all sounded good, but after bit of pondering he thought he saw a problem.
“Not fair, man.”
Van-Dan’s eyes widened.
“Not fair? What’s not to be fair?”
Benny shook his head for a while.
“Hymns, man. I dunno no hymns.”
“Ain’t that discrimination?”
Van-Dan smiled, then shrugged.
“Just fake it. S’what I do. Move your mouth while they sing -- you don’t have to really sing, you know? Fake the hymns, fake the work, but the food and the money’s real, real, real, man!”
Benny thought for quite a while, but was interrupted by a loud growling. He realized it came from his stomach.
Tequila, he thought. Tequila’s real, real, real!
“Lead on, buddy!” he said.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
The sermon was okay, and when the hymn started up Van-Dan just winked and started moving his mouth. Benny tried to wink back, got confused about the number of eyes involved, blinked for a while, then started mouthing along. His stomach did sing, gurgling incessantly in response to the amazing smells emanating from the kitchen. The food making that scent was well worth Benny’s effort: a thick stew and the freshest bread he’d ever had. He went through the line three times.
“Well now Stanley. Is this a new face you’ve bought to our flock?”
Benny looked up, stew tracing hot lines down his chin to dribble onto the tabletop. The woman, blue pantsuit with a white blouse as spotless as Benny’s topcoat was not, leaned toward them from across the table, palms planted on its top and staring directly at Benny.
“Uh, yes, Mrs. Maxwell,” said Dan-Van. Benny glanced sideways at his new best friend and found him not looking at either Benny or Mrs. Maxwell, but was staring at the far wall as he spoke.
“This is Benny. Benny, this is Mrs. Maxwell … she sort of runs things around here.”
“Yes,” she said, leaning even closer, still staring at Benny. “I do sort of run things. Tell me, Benny, have you ever swung a hammer?¨
Benny thought about this for a while.
“Uh, yeah,” he said, surprised at the thought that surfaced in his muddy brain. Especially without any ‘lubrication’.
“My daughter and I did build a fort for her and her friends when she was younger. Little, I mean. You know. Small.”
“Well that sounds just excellent, Benny,” said Mrs Maxwell. “Excellent!”
Van-Dan’s head had whipped about to face Benny.
“You... you have a daughter?”
“Sure,” Benny said, words coming easily for the moment. “She’s growing up now. High-school. Maybe college, I dunno. Her moms gave up on me a long time ago, but Abby still comes down to visit me every once in a while. Sometimes.”
He looked at Mrs. Maxwell, visions of a tequila bottle floating through his head.
“So. You need me to hammer something?”
“Indeed I do.” She grinned. “Lets get you in the back to meet my boss.”
She waved a hand at Van-Dan.
“Come along, Stanley. We’ll get you your finder’s fee as well.”
They got up and followed the blue pantsuit through a door and into the back of the building. Van-Dan looked at him, then away.
“I never knew you had a kid, man. I feel...”
They passed through into an inner office. Sitting behind the desk was ...something. Benny blinked his eyes, actually doubting, for the first time he could remember, that he needed any more to drink.
It was a squirrel.
Not a squirrel-squirrel, but sort of a man-squirrel. Man-sized and shaped, but with round, black eyes and round, fuzzy ears perched to either side of its head. It was covered with short, gray fur, and behind it, rising higher than its head, was a thick, bushy tail.
“Wha-?” was just about all Benny could say.
“Excellent work, Stanley,” said the squirrel-thing, holding out an envelope in the man’s direction.
“Wait,” Dan-Van said speaking through tears. “Not him -- I didn’t know he had a daughter.”
“But according to your government,” said the squirrel, “he is surplus. That was the deal, Stan. We give you ‘smart phones’, you give us surplus. My people are in need.”
“Stan!” Benny burst out. “That’s your name! Stan!”
He looked at the squirrel.
“Yes,” said the squirrel. “My people are cute. Unfortunately for you, Benny, they are also carnivorous.”
“Can I have my tequila now?” Benny said, as Stan slouched toward the door, sobbing.
Rough hands gripped Benny’s shoulders and propelled him, unprotesting, through the door marked “Livestock”.
Note from the author:
This week I had some difficulty in naming this little tale. I had some last-minute help from one of my Regular Readers, so I'd like to credit Wembley Church with the titling of this week's Friday Fright.
Thank you Wembley! Keep on reading!