Short Stories

"Pissing Contest"

Lynwood Preston leaned to his left in the barber's chair, to return the silver flask to the right rear pocket of his black polyester sans-a-belt slacks. He was finishing up his point on why there wasn’t no way in hell he was voting for Arthur Tatum in the upcoming election for sheriff. Wasn’t no way in hell, lodge brother or not. It was Sunday after dinner, after morning church, but before evening church. The usual suspects were milling around B.F. Wood’s barber shop. Well, the building belonged to Lynwood, but Mr. Wood was the barber, which is why he was sitting in the old chair, and Lynwood was sitting in the nice one Mr. Wood had installed last year, close to the door, not that Mr. Wood was sore about it. No sir. It appeared that Mr. Preston had finished his pontification on the subject and was opening the floor for rebuttal. He scanned around the room. Mr. Irving McKinney, who had the store next door was looking out the window past Lynwood. Mr. Floyd Thomas, the town’s biggest (only) construction contractor nodded in agreement, his son in law Theodore Post (Married to Floyd’s middle girl, Charlotte) , was noncommittal. Lynwood didn’t care much about Theodore’s opinion. Lynwood’s opinion was that the man was kind of snobby, not to mention a carpetbagger, being from Delaware, or some such place. He also didn’t care for the way the man had corrected him when he called him Teddy, for christsakes it was good enough for a President . No matter, Lynwood didn’t want to upset the little shit. It seem’s that Teddy was in the market for a tractor and Lynwood had a New Holland tractor for sale, on account of some financial difficulties of the man who rented one of his warehouses. This was to store his mail order marital aids, or some such sordid business his wife threw dirty tupperware parties for. The wife who now stood at the top of a cheerleader pyramid of bored trophy wives that sold these 3 times marked up rubber peckers and furry hand cuffs to other bored trophy wives, whose husbands humored them with the indulgence, at least once on their every other Friday night after going to the Sizzler session, though they’d never admit it to their hunting buddies. Lynwood congratulated himself, in his mind, on being the all seeing eye that sees these things play out, that knows the secret thoughts of folks around him. It’s not that he was psychic or any such nonsense, it was just he was smart. It was probably why he was the most successful business man in their little town. All these thoughts he had in the split second it took him to scan his eyes around the room from slack-jawed face to slack-jawed face, there in the little barber shop. Most folks just didn’t understand that his success had little to do with money, or properties he inherited from his late father, who even Lynwood would admit was a lying, cheating, swindling son of a bitch.
Seeing an opening, Mr. Thomas brought up the fact that his son in law, Theodore had in his possession and for sale, a pistol, an old army .45 ACP just like the one Lynwood claimed to have lost at deer camp last year (Floyd, as well as everyone who had heard the story, assumed Lynwood had dropped it trying to wiggle his drunk, fat ass in to the deer stand he would fall asleep in 15 minutes later, but thought better of mentioning it.) Floyd was hoping the introduction of the pistol would reignite the conversation of Theodore purchasing the New Holland tractor Lynwood had offered up last week,  when Theodore had mentioned he was in the market for one. Lynwood shot him a price of $6500, high to be sure, and Theodore had immediately turned him down, and then refused to engage in further conversation, even when prompted with the age old retort of “well what would you give for it?”. Between that, and his insistence on correcting Mr. Preston every time he called him Teddy, even though it was clear to everyone by now that he only did it to get a rise out of Theodore, the situation was getting a bit uncomfortable for Mr. Thomas. There were several county construction contracts coming up, and even though Lynwood didn’t hold any official position with the county, he did carry considerable weight that could influence the awarding of said contracts. His son in law just didn’t understand the delicate dance that was played in doing business down here. How could he, being from Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania or some such place.
Theodore produced the pistol, wrapped in an oiled cloth, from inside of a battered green ammo can and handed it to Lynwood. “What are you asking for it?” Lynwood said while looking down the bore from eject port, having ejected the magazine and locked the slide back. Lynwood was as confident of his knowledge of firearms as he was every subject he considered. “I will take $400 for it Mr. Preston”. Lynwood quickly hit the lever to rack the slide home, shoved the empty magazine in and handed the pistol back to Theodore by the barrel. “No thank you sir.” He could have left it at that, but the fact that Theodore didn’t even give him an opening to dicker really stuck in his craw. “The pistol that was stolen from me was a Colt, and I give $125 for it and it was a sho’ nuff Colt, yours is a Singer, a damn woman’s swing machine, I’ll give you $100 for it.” Theodore looked stunned, but said nothing. He wrapped the pistol back in the cloth, placed it back in the can and walked out to wait in his Father in Law’s truck.
It was a quiet ride back to the Thomas’ house. While Floyd could appreciate Theodore’s position, hell he even  admired his pride, this could be a problem. Business had been falling off across the industry. Clay brothers over in Peterville had gone under last year and two more jack-leg outfits had popped up to fill the void. These outfits hired illegals, and usually didn’t bother with permits. Times being what they were, folks were cutting corners. They just didn’t invest money they didn’t think they could make back in this economy. Better to hold on to it if you got it. Government contracts and big churches were about the only thing keeping legitimate construction companies in business. Lynwood Preston didn’t have final say in any of these things, he carried considerable influence, and was known to be a petty, spiteful man when he felt he had been slighted. He held secrets and was owed favors by those who did have say over these matters. Floyd could just bankroll the purchase of the tractor and subsidize the difference of the pistol, but Theodore was a proud man, and Charlotte would be furious at any perceived interference in their self-reliance. A delicate situation indeed. Dinner conversation was flat, with little being said, other than the required mention of the weather and the mechanics of passing the salt and pepper or the potato salad. Mrs. Thomas and Charlotte both noticed the chill but said nothing. To go plates were made, and goodbyes were said. Charlotte and Theodore made the short ride to their place just down the hill in silence.
Theodore lay in bed with a troubled mind. He had met Charlotte when he was teaching agricultural economics at Mississippi State after a stint in the Peace Corp, just out of The University of Vermont College of Agriculture. Charlotte was a grad assistant in the English department. She came to a holiday faculty mixer with an adjunct professor who got drunk, goosed the wife of a department head, got his bell rung, and was drug half conscious on to the porch to sleep it off. Theodore offered her a ride home, that led to a 4 hour Waffle House conversation, that led to a date, that led to a ring, and moving back to her home town to try his hand at the organic farming methods he was certain would bring profitability back to family farms. It was culture shock for the boy from Vermont. Everybody was nice enough, but he always felt like he was missing something unsaid in the glances and uncomfortable pauses in conversation. He loved her folks, and they loved him. Organic farming was going to be a hard sell. He was hoping to lead by example on the couple of acres Mr. Thomas had given them. He sensed their was some tension in his dealings with Lynwood Preston. There seemed to be some unwritten rules of interaction that he just wan’t picking up on. He didn’t want to be rude, but he didn’t want to be taken advantage of either. He certainly didn’t want to embarrass Charlotte or her family.
Up the hill Floyd was struggling too. He really liked Theodore, but be damned if that boy didn’t seem dense some times. He just didn’t seem to understand the steps of the dance. The things unsaid seemed to escape him. Lynwood Preston was an asshole, but he was a necessary evil to doing business around here. You didn’t need to like him, but you sure as hell didn’t need him out to get you either. Did Theodore even know there was a rift there? Hopefully this could be smoothed out without any hurt feelings. He loved his strong willed daughter, and if she loved Theodore, so did he. 
Monday morning Floyd was in the office by 8. Around 10 he got a call from Lynwood.
“Hey Floyd, tomorrow afternoon me and some of the boys from the barber shop are going to do a little skeet shooting at my place, if you can slip away, you and Teddy, uh, Theodore, ought to come out, Irv said he has a batch of corn ready that’ll put your dick in the dirt. Say about 3 or so."
Floyd hesitated a pregnant second, wondering if it was a trap, but what could he do? 
“Sure Lynwood, that’d be just fine, looking forward to it"
As he hung up the phone, he hoped Theodore could handle a shotgun.
Floyd stopped by Theodore and Charlotte’s place on his way home. He found Theodore sitting on the porch with his computer. He pulled up a chair, and after a little beating around the bush he got to it.
“Lynwood Preston invited us to shoot a little skeet with him and some of the boys tomorrow afternoon at his place. You interested?"
Theodore was more intrigued than interested. He wasn’t clear on the social ramifications of the invitation, and Mr. Thomas wasn’t easy to read on the subject.
“Sure, that sounds fine Floyd. I shot some trap with my Grandfather when I was in high school, that will be fun"
Floyd breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe the boy could handle a shotgun. Maybe this wasn’t a total loss. He looked over at Theodore. He so badly wanted to explain the sensitivity of the situation, but how? It was a kind of a crucible, a balancing act of not showing weakness or giving offense. Some men were masters of this skill, and reaped the rewards, but the bulk were divided between the rude and the weak. The goal was the delicate balance between. Floyd let it go. 
“Come up to the house around 2 tomorrow, ok?"
“Sure thing”, Theodore barely looked up from his computer. Floyd walked back to his truck. Charlotte drove up a few minutes after he left. Theodore helped her get the groceries in the house. He told her about the get together at Lynwood’s tomorrow.
“I don’t think Mr. Preston likes me."
“Why do you think that?"
“I don’t know, something about how he talks to me, tries to call me Teddy. He acts like I’m somehow, I don’t know, less of a man or something."
“Lynwood Preston is a philanderer, a bully and an asshole, just like his Daddy before him. He’s rude, and cruel, and you don’t need him to like you. I guess Daddy needs to stay on his good side, but you don’t have to kiss his ass. Be yourself, if he doesn’t like it, tough shit."
Theodore smiled at his wife, and in a syrupy faux southern accent scolded her, “I do declare that is some ugly talk coming from such a pretty mouth."
She gave him a grin and snapped a dishrag at him, “What are you going to do about it?"

Theodore headed over to his father-in-law’s house the next afternoon. They took shotguns from the cabinet. Floyd pulled a beautiful over under 12 gauge Benelli, with a pheasant hunting scene engraved on it. He handed Theodore an older side by side double barrel Stevens that had belonged to his father. Once again Floyd wanted to explain the delicate dance, and once again, he said nothing. Down the two lane black top and up the half mile gravel drive to the Preston McMansion neither man said anything. 
The barber shop crew stood around a tall table made of two by fours with a 4 inch thick cypress top. The shotguns were broke open an laid side by side like a sale table at a gun show, metal blued and gleaming, wood polished to a deep shine. As advertised there were two mason jars of crystal clear bootleg liquor, although none of these self proclaimed gentlemen would call it something so tawdry. The men nodded to Floyd and Theodore and went back to watching Lynwood Preston, head to toe in brown duck canvas overalls and jacket, move through the shooting stations yelling “PULL!” to Irv’s youngest boy Charlie, whom everybody agreed in hushed tones was “a little touched”. When he missed the last one he admonished the boy that he had pulled late, and naturally it had caught Lynwood off guard, or he certainly would have hit it. 
Lynwood put on a big grin as he approached the table. “Floyd, Mr. Post, glad you could make it!" He extended a hand to Floyd and after an uncomfortable pause, Theodore. The rest of the guys fidgeted a bit. “Mr. Wood, I believe its your turn.”, and the old barber picked up his shotgun and headed for the first station, glad to be away from the strangeness that came over the table when Floyd and Theodore showed up. Lynwood addressed the table.
“Mr. Post came down here to get us all organic farming. Organic, I guess that means all natural cow shit fertilizer and if you get bugs you just ask ‘em real nice to leave"
Some of the fellows made uncomfortable chuckles, the others looked at the ground. Theodore thought about what his wife said, and his father-in laws position. He proceeded catiously.
“It’s true Mr. Preston, I do believe that organic farming methods could be employed here with some success, I have studied the subject pretty extensively, and I’m hoping to test some of my hypothesis on the family land."
“Test my hy-poth-o-sees” Lynwood stretched the word out.
“My my, Mr. Post you sure you want to……"
“It’s Dr."
“Excuse me, you a Dentist, or maybe a fucking proctologist?” Lynwood’s tone had gone from patronizing to downright hostile.
“I have a PhD in Agricultural sciences, Mr. Preston, and that entitles me to the title of Dr., although I don’t feel the need to toss my WEIGHT around in FRIENDLY conversation."
Everyone was silent. Mr. Thomas was in a near panic, but Theodore and Lynwood had locked gazes and were oblivious to the other men, and to Irv’s boy Charlie who had wandered up to see what was going on.
Lynwood regained some of his composure and took on a low, growling tone.
“Don’t think I missed the weight joke, son. What’s got me confused is what a fellow wants to farm like he’s in the stone age needs with a tractor, I mean hell if you’re gonna do that you might as well work mules, or you afraid you might have to put leather to ‘em. Don’t imagine that would do with your libruul upbringing in Rhode Island or wherever the hell it is you are from. How you gonna handle them weeds boy? You gonna hoe that turn row? I give you one season with them soft hand of yours"
“Mr. Preston, I am from Vermont and I have farmed all my life. I notice you don’t seem to have much growing on your place, so I take some exception to your comments. Furthermore, in regards to organic farming, i would like to point out that Amish and Mennonite farmers consistently have the highest crop yields per dollar spent, and they don’t have chemical runoffs spoiling their waters either. How many of the ponds and lakes around here are no longer fit to fish in?"
The other men saw that Theodore clearly had a point but didn’t dare acknowledge it. All eyes turned to Lynwood for his response. The fire and steel in his gaze softened into a petulant grin. Then he did the last thing anyone expected, he reached for his zipper. He unzipped his overalls, fished his pecker out, and began to piss. Everybody stood in shocked silence, as a firehose stream issued from his fly. He wasn’t holding it and it went where it felt like, in a great and seemingly never ending stream. All eyes moved to Theodore for a response, and in an even more shocking turn of events, he followed suit. Now everyone stood in shocked silence while two yellow rivers flowed from the combatants, each one defiantly grinning, eyes locked into each other. The rivulets mingled on the ground and still everyone was silent in their disbelief. The moment seemed to go on forever. Finally, Lynwood Preston erupted into a great belly laugh, gave it a shake and put it away. After a few seconds Theodore did the same. 
“Gawwd damn son, gaaawwd damn, didn’t see that coming!"
Everyone stood in shocked silence, Theodore never unlocked his gaze form Lynwood.
“Tell you, what, you still want that tractor you can have it for $4800 and that pistol, wadda you say"
Theodore extended his hand “You have a deal Mr. Preston."
“Hell son, call me Lynwood, you’re gonna do just fine around here. Irv, how about some of that corn to seal the deal?"
Irv handed the mason jar to Lynwood who took a swig and handed it to Theodore, who did the same. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief, and they started back to shooting. Talk turned to weather, the upcoming Sheriff’s election, and bow season just around the corner. Floyd Thomas couldn’t help but beam with pride every time he looked at his son-in-law. The story would be repeated for years, but never in mixed company.

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