Chapter 6 – Ghost Man

When I was a kid, I remember being frustrated when I had nothing to do. The onset of this creeping malaise, called boredom, usually started with turning on the TV. If there were no westerns or monster movies playing, watching was quickly abandoned. The next step was to go bother mom. She was the best source of ideas and she even would play or visit with me if possible. Unfortunately, mom being the family CEO, she was often too busy to be bothered and with an apologetic voice (usually) she’d say go out and play with your friends. This started the next phase of curing boredom, canvassing the neighborhood. I started with my favorite buds and went house to house looking for a playmate to brainstorm trouble with. On a rare occasion I’d get to the end of my list and no one was available. Even though I didn’t like him much, in final desperation, I’d even go by Dickie’s house, but he was usually on perpetual restriction anyways.The more things change, the more they stay the same, as I fast forward 50+ years to now, and the cure for boredom still seems to be the same.

 

It was last Tuesday evening around 7:30 and we’d finished a simple supper of tuna sandwiches and chips. The kitchen table had been wiped clean, glasses rinsed and the paper plates thrown away. I sat down in my favorite chair and was pointing and clicking the remote at the TV. Vanna was in the other room getting ready to go over to Marge’s and play bunco. I knew all her plans because earlier I had found a plate of brownies in the frig. When I was caught trying to sample one, I got a cease and desist order with an explanation that they were destined exclusively for the bunco party that evening.

 

 Vanna came into the den all dolled up, straightening her shirt and still installing one earring.  She could see I was sneering at the TV.

 

I growled “Geez-us, there is nothing on TV. All that’s on is re-run after re-run, situational comedies with canned laughs and movies that no one ever watched when they came out the first time. If I ever have to watch another CSI-anywhere I’m going to be sick!”

 

I was pressing on the remote button harder and harder as if that would change the program list, but the unforgiving guide just kept its same monotonous loop. Finally I focused my attention away from the TV and looked at Vanna.

 

“Wow, you look great! You’re looking pretty hot, actually!” I was raising my eyebrows up and down in a strange mating ritual that I already knew from experience, never works. “What’s your hurry? Perhaps you have a little time before you go?”

 

Vanna just rolled her eyes and shook her head and said “Oh please. Why don’t you give your brother a call and get together with him for a drink or some other nonsense.”

 

“Tonight is Tuesday. Jimbo, Good Ken and Bad Ken are all bowling. Stinger is in Houston helping his brother-in-law pour a patio slab. Dobber is working late these days trying to finish up a bunch of spec-houses in Lampasas. Chugger goes to bed at 8:00 PM. But I may just go to The Wet Spot anyway and see what’s happening. I can watch some worthless TV there just as easily.”

 

Vanna came over and gave me a quick kiss goodbye and said “Look Mr. Grumpy, I left two mangled brownies on a plate hidden behind the milk for your dessert. You can go out, clean your guns or straighten out that tackle box you’re always complaining about. But do something and try to get in a better mood. I have to go. Bye.”

 

Per usual, I took the path of least resistance and decided to head over to The Wet Spot. There were very few cars there which was normal for a slow Tuesday. Strangely, it looked like Dobber’s van was parked on the side. He is not usually a week-day drinker. While walking across the parking lot to the door I ran into Uncle Albert. Great, a drinking buddy!

 

When we entered, sure enough everything was pretty much dead. The theme from James Bond was playing which meant Tyree was putting coins from the register in the jukebox. He’s the only one that makes that selection. No one was playing pool or darts. There was some giggling coming from a far table where some kid was chatting up the Dawson girl. I wondered if her dad Cal knew she was out on a Tuesday night. Sure enough, that was Dobber’s van in the parking lot, as there was Ol’ Dobber sitting alone at the bar drinking what looked like a double bourbon and smoking a cigarette. He was still wearing his white coveralls, but like any good sheet-rocker, his clothes were filthy and were only pretending to be white. His cap was gone and he looked like a walking disaster.

 

To top off all this, I had never seen Dobber drink anything but beer before. The hard-stuff gave him too many headaches which he had mentioned more than once. The cigarette was weird too, as we all witnessed his struggle to quit a year or two back. We both walked over to him, one on either side and said “Hey Dobber”. He was noticeably shaken and trembling.

 

There were a couple of empty glasses in front of him. He groggily swung his head side to side and said “Hello Uncle Albert. Hello D.R.”

 

He sounded very different because his nose was clogged up giving him a nasal sound. His nose was also beet red from being blown into a handkerchief too much. His eyes were watery and his face was scratched up.

 

I looked him in the face and recoiled slightly saying “Geez-us, what happened to you? You look like heck.”

 

Albert chimed in “Man o’ man, did you get the license of the truck that flattened you? And what’s that smell?”

 

“Guys, I have never been so scared in my whole life. Someone tried to shoot me tonight.”

 

Both of our jaws just dropped! I said “What! C’mon let’s move this discussion over to the round table.”

 

I asked Tyree to please bring over a pitcher of beer and glasses. We helped Dobber carry his cigarettes, drink, and paper bag of stuff over to the round table. 

 

Dobber sat down in one of the arm chairs which are much more comfortable than bar stools, especially for weary bones. He let out a big sigh and gulped down the last of his drink. “Thanks guys, I had a really bad day. As a matter of fact, I’ve had a really bad week. To top things off, this evening I was shot at. What time do you have?”

 

I glanced at the clock across the room and said “It’s about 8:45”.

 

“Thanks, I still have some time.”

 

“Dobber, talk to us. What ya’ gotten into? What’s going on? Drugs or something?”

 

When I said drugs, Uncle Albert crinkled up his face and gave me a funny look. This was beginning to sound like an intervention.

 

“It all started last week. Like I told you guys, I got that big contract to finish out a block of houses over in Lampasas. They have to be done and well dried in by the end of next week. That’s when the painting crews show up. As luck would have it, I got this horrible cold last week. Marlene has it too. I’ve been working full tilt trying to get my work done, but this cold is killing me. I can’t wear a breathing mask and I was dripping snot into the mud. It’s just awful! I tried taking some cold medicines but they just made me drowsy. Drowsy I just can’t afford right now!”

 

Tyree set down a pitcher and some frosted mugs so Uncle Albert and I filled our glasses. Dobber ordered another Jack Daniels. A double. With the drinks and us talking he was beginning to settle down some. He had our full attention.

 

He continued “I took on this hillbilly kid part-time to beef up my crew.  His name is Zeke and his folks have a farm near Llano. He’s a likable kid and a hard worker. He could see I was suffering and struggling so he says I should go see a guy named Bobcat Bob who sells a guaranteed cold cure. The kid swears it really works and his family has been using it for years. He gave me directions on how to get there. I’m thinking, what the heck, I got nothing to lose. So I decided to go by there this evening after work and buy a bottle.”

 

I was frozen with my mouth dropped open and my beer in mid-lift listening to Dobber’s story. Uncle Albert was now looking at me funny like something was wrong with me too. I didn’t say a word to let on that Bobcat and I had been acquainted. Meanwhile Tyree brought Dobber another bourbon saying that it was on the house, as it looked like he need it. Dobber thanked him and continued.

 

“I got away from work late and Bobcat Bob lives way over by Cherokee. I finally turned off into what I guessed was his place right after dusk. When I got about 100 feet down the road a big something flashed across in front of me in the headlights. I slammed on the brakes right there. I thought I might have caught a glimpse of eyes for an instant too.  I decided to get out of the car for a better look and make sure everything was clear. As you know, a black cow is pretty much invisible at night, even in headlights. That’s when things really got weird.”

 

HeadLights_Eyes_Teeth

Dobber stopped to take a shot of his bourbon. Uncle Albert was looking at us both kind of funny with that serious, stoic look of his. I was remembering how I was told that Bobcat Bob was scary crazy and to only go to see him when there was plenty of daylight left. The gears were clicking in my head, even if only I could hear them.

 

“I was standing there squinting my eyes with only my two headlights lighting the darkness up the road. I tell you fellas, I had the weirdest feeling of my life. I swear there was something stalking me right along the edge of the brush line. I thought I could see something, but as I looked harder nothing was there. The hair on the back of my neck was prickling up like there were eyes on me, but a sudden turn around to look back revealed nothing. Right then I knew I had enough. I was going to jump back into my van and get the heck out of there! That’s when the loud stern voice yelled out of the darkness “Who sent you and what do you want ghost man?” I started babbling “Wha, wha, what…” as I frantically reached for the door handle. That’s when the shot rang out. By the way what time is it?”

 

Dobber pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose. Now both Albert and I were staring at him with our mouths open.  Uncle Albert called out to Tyree “Another bourbon please.” He looked at the clock and said “Its 9:05”.

 

Dobber nodded and sipped the last of his drink while pulling the paper bag over to himself. Then he called out to Tyree “Could you bring a big tablespoon too?”

 

I was quick to ask “What’s with wondering what time it is? And what are you going to do with a tablespoon?”

 

Dobber, now more relaxed but groggy, said “Oh, I need to take a dose of medicine here shortly. Be sure to tell me when it is 9:18.” His shakes had subsided.

 

Tyree set the bourbon and spoon down to which Dobber replied thank you. Tyree just smiled, shook his head and walk back to the bar like this was an everyday request. Dobber pulled out another cigarette which Uncle Albert quickly snatched from his hand along with the rest of the pack and matches. “You don’t need that. I watched and listened to you whine way too long while trying to quit. We ain’t startin’ that up again.”

 

Dobber had drank enough to slip into one of those melancholy drunk moods where you love everybody. “You guys are really good friends. Thanks for being here with me.”

 

“Okay, okay, okay! What happened next? Did you get hit?”

 

Dobber lifted his foot up on to his knee cross legged and said “Lookie here. That bullet took 2 inches off my shoe lace and put a nick in my heel.”

 

Indeed that was what it looked like.

 

“I instantly hit the ground face first and slid sideways underneath my van. There were thorns, ants and goat droppings under there but I didn’t care. I’m pretty sure I was yelling don’t shoot, don’t shoot! There was silence for a while, which I’m sure wasn’t but for a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. Then I heard the voice in the darkness again. “Are you really a ghost man? If so, it won’t bother you a bit if I bounce a few bullet around underneath that van. What do you have to say about that, ghost man?”

 

At that I yelled back “Please don’t, please don’t shoot! I’m only here to buy some medicine!”

 

There was a long period of silence and the voice said “What kind of medicine? Who sent you and why are you dressed like a ghost?”

 

I replied quickly “I need some cold medicine. Zeke sent me. I’m wearing white coveralls because I just came from work. I tape and float sheet rock. I’m not a ghost! I’m not a ghost! Please don’t shoot!”

 

Again there was a long period of silence and the voice said “Zeke Hawkins sent you?”

 

“Yeah, yeah that’s his name. He said you sold a cold cure. I have money!”

 

“Well you should have said something sooner. Come on out from under there, ghost man.”

 

Uncle Albert and I sat back in our chairs after taking in such a story. I said “Well Dobber, you may have a new nickname after this. Ghost man has sort of a nice ring to it, don’t you think Uncle Albert?” We both chuckled, but Dobber did not.

 

Dobber was still occupied with the time. “What time is it?”

 

Another quick glance and I said “Its 9:14. What’s going on with all this time business?”

Dosage Calculator

Dobber continued to explain “As you can imagine, I was reluctant to come out, but Bobcat said that if he wanted to kill me, I’d already be dead. After I came out from under my van, Bobcat Bob turned on all his lights and took me over to his shop. I told him I needed the cure for both me and my wife. He told me the price was $3 per bottle and it would keep indefinitely on the shelf. One bottle is enough for one cure. I gave him $6 and he gave me 3 bottles. One extra for free because he took a shot at me. Then he asked the month, day and year of my birthday and my wife’s too. He took out a round slide ruler looking gadget and started dialing in some numbers and taking some readings. He scribbled some numbers on the back of the instruction sheet he gave me. He said the cure was 100% guaranteed, but you had to take it exactly as he described to work. For me, I have to take 2 tablespoons at 8:33 AM, 1 tablespoon at 3:22 PM and 2 tablespoons at 9:18 PM. My wife was not so lucky. She has to take 1 tablespoon at 10:00 AM, 1 tablespoon at 7:35 PM and 3 tablespoons at 3:03 AM. He said that these dosages and times were determined by our personal arcadia rhythms and were critical for the cure to work. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to take my first dose. It’s pretty close to 9:18 isn’t it?”

 

“Yep, one minute to go.”

Elixier_On_Table

From the sack, Dobber pulled out a water bottle that had been refilled with a brownish looking liquid. As I watched the clock tick-off he poured a spoon full and swallowed it down. Then another. He made a grimace and said “Man that has an oily, nasty taste, but it’ll be worth it if it works. Marlene sure ain’t going to be happy about getting up at 3:03 AM to take her dose of this.”

 

I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I got to the bar I motioned Tyree over and told him to call Marlene to come and get Dobber because he shouldn’t be driving. Tyree said “No problem, I already called her.”

 

When I got back to the table Dobber was face down in folded arms sleeping. Uncle Albert was carefully reading the sheet of instructions that came with the cold cure.

 

Just then Marlene came in the front door. See seemed relieved to see Dobber head down on the table, safe and sound. She walked over to the bar and thanked Tyree. Tyree said “Was nothing ma’am. Dobber can pay up his tab next time.” She said another thank you and walk over to our table.

 

Uncle Albert went on the immediate defensive “Marlene, please don’t be too hard on him.” His angry wife fear was unfounded as she was already very sympathetic.

 

“Yeah, I know. The poor guy is sick, worried and working himself to death. I don’t blame him for going on a bender. I’m not a lot of help to him either with this horrible cold.” Her nose was pretty red too.

 

I chimed in and said “You don’t know the half of it. He has had a really bad day today. I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it later. Here you take this bag of bottles and I’ll get him into your car for you. If you need help tomorrow picking up the van let me know.”

 

“Thank you fellas, we both really appreciate it.”

 

I shook Dobber and he immediately woke up. Surprisingly, he could walk pretty well, so it wasn’t all that hard to get him into the car.

 

When I came back in I sat down with Uncle Albert and poured us both a fresh beer. I made a toast by saying “To Dobber’s quick and complete cure.” Albert smiled and then started to laugh.

 

I began “Wow, if this cold cure really works it could be worth a fortune. Bobcat sells it for a mere $3 and the shelf life is unlimited and it is guaranteed! This arcade rhythm thing sounds like a problem, but I bet some A&M whiz kids could probably fix that glitch in the formula.”

 

At first Uncle Albert started to chuckle. Then he started to laugh.

 

“I’m sure Bobcat Bob told Dobber his calculations were based on circadian rhythms, which are physical and mental changes tied to our 24 hour internal clocks. That has nothing to do with your birthday and all that is hog wash as far as curing a cold. I read the complete instructions, including the guarantee. It said that if you follow his instructions to the letter your cold is guaranteed to be cured within two weeks or your money back. The common cold is a viral infection that only last for 7 to 10 days, max.”

 

I thought about it for a minute and said, “Gee, you’re right. Should we tell them?”

 

Uncle Albert, in his infinite wisdom says “Let me put it to you this way. They both have been sick already for a week, so they should both begin seeing an improvement from taking Bobcat’s elixir in the next few days. If you made Vanna get up at 3:03 AM in the morning to take some horrible concoction every night, would you rather be the hero for helping her get well or fess up and tell her that it was all really just for naught?”

 

Uncle Albert made a good point.

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