Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.”
Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest, “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays, excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale”
Here’s an excerpt from “Wild Turkey“:
“You won’t snooker me twice,” said Chili.
James Riggio gave his mouthful of Copper Bottom ale the attention it deserved before he swallowed and said, “I haven’t snookered you once.”
“Who owns the Hubbub Pub, you or me?” Before James could say word one, Chili bulled on. “And who has the recipe for Hubbub Chili, you or me?”
“Who owns the recipe,” James corrected. “You never even asked me for it until folks started calling you Chili. That’s when you decided you had hindsight squatter’s rights.”
He watched Chili in the mirror that lined the Pub’s long bar. Bone-thin, always moving–even now he polished an already gleaming bar as he complained. A rusty Fu Manchu mustache, hair to match, face almost as red. An added watch-your-step about him tonight. As though what he wanted from James had little to do with what he said.
“You even worked it the same,” Chili said. “Hauling in your damn wild turkey roasts last Christmas the same way you did that first vat of chili–two years ago?”
“About.” A few months after James had looked around Copper Falls, Montana, bagged his deer, tried out the ski hill, and decided to sink his savings into a big old house near Main Street he was restoring by inches, kitchen first. The house was zoned commercial, he could use it for Game Chef, his catering business. James delivered a vat of chili to the Pub Monday and Thursday year round. It paid almost half his mortgage.
“If your customers were satisfied,” he said, “what’s the problem?”
“This Wednesday is the damn problem. Christmas. Everybody knows why young’uns get the turkey legs, they got stronger teeth. Wild turkey is twice as tough. Your roasts–”
Turkey legs boned and rolled like veal, just as tender but–in James’ not so humble opinion–tastier: Chili made that sound like an insult.
James kept his mouth shut, except for sipping ale.
“You won’t snooker me twice,” Chili said again. “I want the recipe up-front, and it belongs to the Hubbub Pub.”
No way in hell would James share a recipe with Chili.
He said mildly, “We thrashed this out before hunting season, Chili. I said I’d show Seth what to do, but he couldn’t write it down. Why the trip down Memory Lane?”
Chili refilled James’ mug and pulled one for himself. A warning all by itself: Chili never drank in his own bar, even after closing.
This time he drained his mug–in swallows, not that fast–avoiding James’ eyes.
James studied him openly now, sipping his ale, running through possibilities. Only one fit.
“Merry hell,” said James. “Seth’s gone.”
Chili pulled himself another mug. “Bull’s-eye.”
“I thought the kitchen ran ragged tonight. You’re telling me Seth walked out on you the Sunday before Christmas? Who hired him away?”
Now that James had reached his real grievance, Chili seemed to go back to normal, turning his mug just to busy his hands.
“Near as I can make out, nobody,” he said. “Seth left here Friday night and hasn’t been seen since.”
As often as James saw Seth in the Hub’s kitchen, it should have been easy to picture him. It wasn’t. Flyaway dun-colored hair tamed by a bandana, gray eyes, stubble, a good half a head shorter than James. Quiet. A watcher. James couldn’t call anything else to mind.
“He didn’t strike me as the kind to walk away,” James said. “I’d never have trusted him with the turkey recipe.”
“Me, neither. Although I guess you wouldn’t know unless a guy, you know, walked away.”
“He live with his parents?” He could be young enough.
“Has a trailer up by the tracks.”
Once Copper Falls had been a railroad stop. Shabby trailers now filled the yards on either side of the abandoned tracks. Squatters.
“You checked?” James asked.
“Since I didn’t take it serious till the middle of lunch today–” Chili sighed. “I drove up about four. His truck wasn’t there. Nobody in his trailer.”
“Seth’s a grown man. The police wouldn’t be interested after only–what, a day and a half?”
“Why I didn’t bother them.”
“They’d just say he’ll turn up. They’re probably right.” James straightened to leave. “There’s always next year.”
Chili’s stare was unpleasant. “You don’t read the paper, James?”
In winter? Between hunting and cooking and skiing, even sleep was an afterthought.
Chili reached under the bar for a section of the Mirror, stared down at it, folded it. Presented it to James. A quarter-page ad. The top line read like always, The Hubbub at the Pub. This time the copy continued: Why cook on Christmas? Game Chef’s famous wild turkey roasts for Christmas dinner. Chef James Riggio guarantees the first hundred servings, after that you’ll have to fight for one.
“So if Seth don’t come back, you’re stuck, boyo,” Chili said with relish. “Same as me.”
“For Christ’s sake, Chili, I have my own customers. Seth is not my problem.”
Chili stabbed the paper with a forefinger. “Maybe you didn’t see where it saysJames Riggio?”
“You never even asked me.”
“This here is Saturday’s paper. It’s in this morning, too. I’m running it right up through Wednesday.”
Or lay there on the air. Redheads liked ultimatums and they didn’t like backing down. Unstable combination. James didn’t need a confrontation with his best customer.
“Worst comes to worst,” he said like surrender, “I might have a few roasts left over from my customers.”
“Worst comes to worst,” Chili said right back, “you cook them roasts in my kitchen, same as Seth would have.”
When James stared without answering, Chili added, “Lots of chili recipes out there, James.”
Not an or, then, an or else: cancel your business and tend to mine, or you’ll have a lot less business to tend.
James thought of his slowly lengthening list of regulars. Christmas would be his biggest day ever. By far. If he cancelled on them without warning, how many would come back? He thought of the Hubbub Pub, packed to the walls seven nights a week with noise to match. Most nights some of that noise was about James’ chili. Steady free good publicity for Game Chef. If the Pub had no wild turkey to serve Christmas Day, Chili would badmouth James every chance he got.
He thought of the Pub’s Seth-less kitchen.
“I’ll take door number three, Chili.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ll find Seth.”