Dinner at Carl’s
Freddy Flowers sat at his desk at the main farm, busy over papers and bills.
Classical music played
from the speakers positioned in the corner of his office.
When the business was
finished, Freddy grabbed the squirt bottle on the edge of
his desk and began to
spray his beautiful children—as he called them—humming
to Mozart and admiring
the greenery that turned his office into a jungle. Three
knocks came at the door.
A well-built man with an obvious hairpiece entered. Stubble covered his
leather-tanned face and
his eyes seemed to pierce through everything they looked
at. They were the
brightest blue Freddy had ever seen.
“Oh yes. John Smith I presume?”
Max nodded, looking over his shoulder at the strange plants that
“Don’t worry, they’re harmless. Unlike other creatures that inhabit this
hole we call a planet.
Max sat, looked around, and pulled at his clothing as if it itched. It was
apparent that he was
afraid of something more than exotic plants.
“There is nothing to worry about, Mr. Smith. The only law around here is
I. Nothing happens in
this town without my approval. The only thing you need to
worry yourself about is
work.” The Flower could see the tension drain from John
Smith as he spoke the
reassuring words. “And work, you will have plenty of.”
The Flower stood from his chair and reached out his hand. “I’m Freddy
Flowers and I’m glad to
have you on board.” Freddy glanced down at John’s
forearm as they shook.
They both sat again. “That’s a brilliant tattoo you have there, something
that fits well with our
Max pulled down his sleeve to cover the picture on his arm. He gave a
laugh, something that
was forced instead of flowing naturally. Freddy thought it
was the sound of a man
who hadn’t laughed much. “It’s from another life,” Max
said. “Something I want
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to pry, only to compliment. Let’s get down to
business shall we?”
The Flower pulled out several photographs, pictures of the inside and
outside of what the
warehouse that housed Extravaganza used to look like, and also
stills of the
half-blackened mess that remained.
“Dogey said that you’re one of the best carpenters he’s ever seen. Is that
true, Mr. Smith?”
“I worked more with crafting furniture and the artwork on such fixtures,”
“But can you fix my beautiful building?”
Max paused. “I can. But I’ll need a lot of men and a lot of lumber.”
“Man power is not a problem, dear Mr. Smith. This town is crawling with
low life gutter-dwellers
that will work for as little as the scraps from my plate. Tell
me what you need.”
Freddy and Max worked out the fine points of the arrangement. An
arrangement Max found,
that would bring him more money than any other of his
countless jobs had
through the years. A purely cash salary, and when the
warehouse was complete,
Freddy promised more work, maybe even a partnership
in a furniture business.
Freddy also provided for Max’s housing, at an apartment
complex he owned on the
East Side of town next to a church on a corner
frequented by hookers.
“You can go to hell and heaven without walking more than
fifty feet,” The Flower
Supper was at 6:00. We met at Roman’s and all walked over together. As
reluctant as I was to
put anything in my mouth that Carl considered fine dining, I
was starving. My
increased workouts burned the calories quicker than usual, and
my stomach was like a
bottomless pit. It also helped that when we opened the door
a rush of warm aroma hit
us in the face, something you smelled as a kid at
grandma’s house after a
long day of riding bikes and playing ball.
It was the same pea-green, dimly lit living room. What sounded like some
kind of Buddhist
chanting came from the tape deck in Carl’s radio. The sound of
the low humming monks
was accompanied only by something simmering in a pot
around the corner in the
kitchen. Our host was nowhere to be found.
Exhausted of all other possibilities, the three of us walked down the
basement stairs. I could
see all the junk as we descended, the boxes of papers or
whatever they were and
the bicycle and countless other pieces of crap. I could
hear something before
Carl came into view, a low hissing or buzzing, air being let
out of a tire maybe. My
mind wandered into a thousand different scenarios before
I reached the bottom.
I knew Carl was very odd. In fact I had no doubt the man walked a daily
tight rope, balancing
his life between sanity and schizophrenia, with his
cockamamie stories of
aliens and full moons, his paranoid theories of the
government, the visiting
crack whores, and his cunning charm that wooed the
geniuses and teenage hot
bodies alike. None of it was adequate preparation for the
sight before me.
I told you briefly—the day Brunno shit his pants—of the weird looking box
in the middle of Carl’s
basement, a structure with four legs underneath and several
inside of it. The buzzing noise was apparent now, hundreds
and hundreds of small
bees, trapped in some sort of man-made beehive. Carl was
It was over the beehive box that he stood now, shirtless, with his back
turned to us. Carl slid
open a small window on the top of it, an entrance just big
enough to get a hand
into. With the whipping finesse of a frog’s tongue, he
reached in, held his
hand open for several seconds, and with two fingers snatched
out of the air one of
the gold and black insects by its wings. He began to lift the
the bulging vein in his own neck.
“Carl!” Heather pleaded.
Heather’s scream did not detour our gray-haired host. There was no
hesitation of movement
towards the vein as he spoke. “No worries my dear, Carl
has done this many
times.” A second later the stinger poked into his neck. The
bee’s abdomen shuddered
as it pumped its venom. Carl made only one sound, not
a wince of pain as I
imagined, but a sigh of relief, that of a heroin addict finally
getting his fix. The
other bees flew to the top of the cage as if they were worried
about their brother.
Roman explained to me later that when bees sting they admit a
stimulates the others for attack.
There was no brigade of bomber bees, on account of the screen. And now
Carl turned to us with a
wide smile. As if the events up to now weren’t enough, I
noticed Carl’s chest.
On his torso were three wide scars, black gashes that started where his neck
met his left shoulder,
and traveled diagonally down his stomach to his right hip.
My imagination warped me
through space and time, and suddenly I was in a
Vietnam jungle watching
as a seven foot gray alien slashed Carl with its three
because the Colonel would not give up his weapon and go
with the creature.
Another flash, and I was back in Carl’s basement watching as he
buttoned up his shirt.
My knees weakened a bit but I managed to stay on my feet.
“I hope your appetites are hearty. I made enough to feed the third
He could’ve have fed me rat poison and I wouldn’t have known the
difference. My brain was
still deciding whether it was in Collingston or
Cambodia, and my
appetite was still on overdrive. Heather must have been as
thunderstruck as myself,
because she hadn’t spoken a word either. Roman, of
course, was not
shocked—he’d probably been to stranger events in his journeys
into book land.
Carl placed a bowl of some kind of stew in front of me. It was gray and
slimy but smelled
wonderful. There was at least the familiar sight of a carrot and a
floating on the top. I took a cautious half-spoonful. The stew
was creamy and the
meatballs better than any I’d ever tasted. They were kinda
hard on the outside, but
once bitten into the juice was very tasty. There was some
kind of skin floating in
there as well, the texture was tough like cooked cabbage
but it tasted good. I
decided after the first bite it was delicious, and before I knew
it three large bowls
worth were in my stomach. Carl offered homemade bread on
several occasions, but I
declined claiming I needed room for more of the stew.
I sometimes felt that Heather thought of food as she did everything else,
like it was a
competition. Like she couldn’t let the food beat her. It must have
been one of those times,
because her bowl emptied and refilled more quickly and
more frequently than
mine. I had seen her eat two super burgers at Better Burgers
one time after a
basketball game, but I think she had that beat.
Roman chewed at his nonchalant pace, like the food was more of a
nuisance than anything
else. He was probably deciphering how much energy could
be converted from the
caloric intake of the stew or some shit. He did though shake
his head in satisfaction
a couple of times.
Carl put a fourth bowl in front of me, but I had to at least take a break. I
thought it a good time
to ask about the stupid ideas whirling around in my head.
“So what’s up with the bees Carl?”
“I have to house ’em in the basement on account of the goddamn cold.”
“No, I mean stingin’ yourself with ‘em. Does it keep the aliens away or
no, only medicine, guy. They keep Carl in control over his broken
down body. I got the
shakes not long after I turned seventy, and the bees cure me.”
“Shakes?” I asked again.
what do you call it, uh...Perkinsons?”
“Parkinson’s disease?” Heather joined in.
Heather looked at Roman who seemed not even to be listening. Or maybe
he had already heard the
story. “So you’re telling me,” Heather began, “that you
have Parkinson’s disease
and that by stinging yourself with bees you don’t have
any symptoms at all.
You’re not on any medicine? I mean drugs.”
drugs. Just a goddamn way to keep you sick and line the pockets of
some bastard sitting in
an office. Fuck the drug companies I say.”
Heather just shook her head.
“So where’d you get this remedy from, some healer in Zimbabwe or
what?” I said laughing.
“Not Zimbabwe. A lot closer than that mind ya. My neighbor.” Carl
looked to his right. He
looked at Roman.
Me and Heather stared at Roman as well, our silence urging him into an
explanation. “It’s not
that big a deal. People have been using venom therapy for
centuries. I read a
couple of books on the subject and when Carl refused any
medication, I suggested
the bees. Holistic healers use snake, spider, scorpion, and
even jellyfish venom. I
thought bees might be our safest route. Synapses that are
not working correctly or
not at all in the brain, seem to fire up again when the
venom makes its way
through the blood stream. Sometimes nature has the answer
before science does.”
I could tell Heather was becoming flustered. “You don’t really believe that
some little bee venom is
a cure for an illness that modern medicine spends millions
of dollars and countless
hours on every year?”
Roman chuckled a little and kissed her on the cheek—a response I saw
more and more these days
to Heather’s intellectual challenges and her need to
compete with him. To
Roman it was just a way to disarm her. I think it only made
her madder, but in a
good way. “I don’t know that it’s a cure,” Roman said with a
laugh in his voice. “I
do know the day after he started the therapy his symptoms
stopped and haven’t
“To the bees,” Carl raised his mug of beer and chugged it down.
Heather was out of
“To the bees,” I said raising my glass of milk.
“To the bees,” Roman said with his ginger ale.
Heather finally lifted her glass. She spoke softly. “To the bees.”
The conversation was enough of a break to recharge my hunger, and the
fourth bowl went down
like the ones before it. I crushed one of the meatballs in
my teeth and the juice
squirted down my throat, like I just ate a cooked grape. It
was at the moment that
my curiosity returned. It was delicious yes, but for the life
of me I couldn’t place
what exactly it was.
“So what kinda stew is this anyway?”
Carl lit his pipe, an act that took several seconds when you counted in the
puffing and re-lighting.
“Mountain oyster,” he responded.
Mountain oyster stew. Don’t think I’ve ever heard of it. Come to
think of it, how the
hell are there oysters in the mountains?”
“There aren’t any oysters in the mountains,” Heather answered for me. She
had a look of fright, an
expression that said we had just done—or eaten—
Carl looked at me through the smoke with a shocked expression that I’d
never heard of mountain
oysters. “Pig jewels if it does ya.”
“Pig jewels?” I asked in denial.
Heather covered her mouth with both hands and mumbled. “I’m going to
“Hog testicles,” Roman interjected.
I looked down at my bowl and shook my head. It now occurred to me what
the rubbery cabbage
thing in my bowl was and why it was so chewy. I had just
eaten four bowls of pig
scrotum soup. For some reason my stomach didn’t heave
and I had no urge to
puke. What filled me was anger.
“How in the hell do you have people over and feed them pig balls without
even tellin’ ’em? That’s
“Do you like hot dogs guy?”
“Well I once made my living working in a factory that wrapped dogs. And
I tell ya not one scrap
of pig ball nor mice terd lying on the floor was denied
processing. You’ve put
far worse in your belly than the sack of a hog. My
grandmammy passed this
recipe down to mama. Back then we could only afford
the cheapest parts of
the animal, but she turned something ugly into something
good for the soul. Now I
say to ya, hot dogs or Carl’s delicious stew?” Carl toked
on his pipe, with that
smug look of his.
I didn’t answer his question. “Ya know you sit there like some kind of
philosopher with your
gray beard and pipe, thinking you’ve got it all figured out,
but the truth is you’re
just an old man that drinks too much and fucks too many
“Tony that’s enough,” Roman said.
“No it’s not and I’m not done yet. You and the bees in your basement, and
the green tea, and the
off the wall stories about aliens tryin’ to take ya. All of this
shit so you can impress
us and maybe have a friend or two. You’re nothing
special, just plain ole
crazy. You’re just fuckin’ crazy.”
“Tony.” Roman stood up.
“Let him be. Let him be.” Carl took the pipe out of his mouth and set it on
the table. “Ah, maybe
you’re right guy. Carl does drink too much and have the
company of whores from
time to time. I tell ya though, I have no reason to lie
about the rest of it,
there’s plenty of ’em down at the Tavern that listen to Carl’s
stories without him
havin’ to have ’em over for dinner. The truth is, I see you, and
your friend, and the
pretty lady as partners. Many apologies guy, if I’ve made
offense. I’m just trying
to make up for lost time, I am.”
What the fuck was I doing? Ripping Carl because he was a bit off. I’d had
a stressful day at
school and just needed to vent I guess. Frenchy with his rolling J
and limp handshake kept
playing over in my head. “Look, Carl, I’m sorry. I was
way out of line and you,
of all people, don’t deserve to hear any of those things. I
had a bad day and I’m
just taking it out on you.”
“No worries my friend. Carl has seen enough bad days to know what you
speak of. But it sounds
like your anger comes because of a woman.”
I didn’t respond or even
look up, but I could feel both Roman and Heather
staring a hole through
We cleaned up the kitchen. Carl washed. Heather dried. Me and Roman
cleaned the table off
and brought them the dishes. I felt so bad about goin’ off on
Carl, I was about to do
the unthinkable: I asked if he ever came across the aliens
His hands froze immediately in the soapy water. After a second or two, he
regained himself and
gazed out the window just above his sink, like he could see
the ET’s out in the
yard. It was the same gaze Roman had when he told of his
parents, the Pentochs,
and Agent Johnson.
“Only once more, and that time they weren’t after Carl. After the service I
got a job working
security for one of the government labs. Not hard work after ya
been through a war. They
had a goddamn fence like Fort Knox, with security gates
and armed men. My job
was to just walk the halls and make sure nobody was in
there that ought not to
be. On one of my rounds I tuned the corner and there it was,
halfway down the
hallway, just standing there lookin’ the other way. Same seven
feet tall. Same slimy
gray skin. I just froze. My heart flippin’ a mile a second.
Then he turned to his
left and opened one of the lab doors. I walked down the hall,
shaking like a damn wet
dog, and peeked around the doorway. The thing was
holdin’ a scientist with
one arm and with the other...”
Carl wiped his face with his sudsy hand, like he almost couldn’t finish the
“With the other he did what?” Heather asked.
The look on Roman’s face was one I’d never seen. It was almost like he’d
been there too and was
remembering. It was beginning to freak me out a little.
“With the other hand he had the doctor’s face. Those damn long fingers
and nails covered it
like he was going to squeeze his head in. The lights in the lab
and the hallway started
flickering. There was an awful loud humming sound, not
in my ears, but in my
head. The doctor just laid there, like he was passed out from
the drink, and all of a
sudden.” Carl stopped and swallowed hard. “Electrical
energy or I don’t know
what started flying around the alien’s head. Some sort of
bright yellow or blue
waves circled around the thing’s head and then down his arm,
and out those sharp
nails into the good doctor’s head. He shook like he was being
electrocuted, but it
wouldn’t have taken that long to kill him as this went. I wish I
would’ve pulled my gun
and shot the bastard right there. But I never even took it
out of the holster. It
stopped after a minute or so. The lights came on. The
creature leaned the
doctor over a chair and then turned and looked at me. He was
smiling I tell ya, even
though he had no mouth. And poof, just like in the jungle,
evaporated into thin
air. I woke the doctor, saw he was not injured on his body,
but his mind; he
gibbered away, asking me if I saw the angels and telling me what
they told him.”
“What did they tell him?” I asked.
“That the machine they left inside of his head would finally bring peace to
“What was the doctor’s name?”
“Doctor Jesup,” Carl answered.
“Dr. Sebastian Jesup,” Roman added.
We finished the cleaning, and the clearing of our minds. I apologized to
Carl for the twentieth
time, and now the three of us found ourselves in Roman’s
front room. The janitor
was visibly shaken by the conversation at Carl’s and he
paced the room—as much
as Roman could do such a thing I guess—trying to
digest Carl’s story with
the potent acid in his mind.
“So you’re tellin’ me this alien shit is for real?” I asked.
Before Roman could answer Heather shot another question at him. “How’d
you know the doctor’s
Roman stopped walking laps around the room and looked at us. I’m not
calling him a liar, but
Roman’s brain chose his words very carefully. He answered
Heather first of course.
“I came across a document during my stay with NN.
Somebody made a mistake
and put it with the codes I was supposed to be
breaking. I ran out of
codes, so naturally I opened the file. It was schematics for
some type of machine,
accompanied by a profile of Dr. Jesup and his work. The
doctor claimed that
angels came down from heaven and gave him the blueprints for
the device. It was quite
similar to Carl’s story of an alien downloading it to his
“So this alien shit is for real?” I asked again.
“Jesup put the plans down on paper. Halfway through the blueprints Jesup
got scared, nobody
really knows why, and ran. The NN still hasn’t found him.
That’s also part of the
reason Johnson won’t leave me alone. He knows I saw the
“What field was Jesup in?” Heather asked.
“They want him to build a bomb?”
“No it wasn’t a bomb, it was beyond anything I’d ever seen. I’m still not
sure what it was or what
Something told me that Roman knew exactly what the machine did. But I
didn’t pursue the issue.
“Goddamn it, so you’re sayin’ there really is aliens?”
“All that I know is that there is a Doctor Jesup and that the government
wants him because of his
knowledge of how to construct this machine. What the
doctor and Carl saw that
night is up for interpretation.”
is all above me man. I’m goin’ home. You comin’?” I said to
Heather. “Of course
Despite the evening’s events she had her arms around him and her mouth
on his before I even got out the