Boys’ Night Out

Ever try to slip a werewolf past a condo board?
by Rob Hunter

Boy’s Night Out

“Of course, you are in denial.”

Sally Schofield was new to Sur la Mer and with the soccer mom’s requisite formula family: minivan, flaxen-haired children only moderately overweight, large hairy dog, large hairy husband with pattern baldness. The invitation was for cookies and conversation. It had been Hillary Braunstein’s turn to break the news.

“Did I ever tell you about David, my first husband?” The two women were seated in a suburban kitchen, an American icon. Coffee and cookies and a carafe of freshly cut daisies formed a barricade across the center of a polished granite countertop, defining their spheres. The newcomer was seated near the door—an easy exit.

“Sorry? I didn’t realize you had been married before.” Sally’s cookie was dipped, tentatively, held under the steaming surface, then removed. Well, we’re cutting right to the chase, aren’t we?  thought Sally. The cookie was not eaten, but studied.

No collagen here, thought Hillary Braunstein. Sally’s cookie was held poised at lips too full, too young, too moist and sensuous to be anything but the genuine article.

“He wasn’t...” began Sally. Had David died in the war? Unlikely. The cookie’s fate hinged on Hillary’s answer. The question and the cookie hung between them.

“A gated community like Sur la Mer should be the ideal place to raise a family,” said Hillary.

Evidently whatever had or had not happened to David was on hold for the time being. Hillary’s veering off topic was considered endearing by her friends. “You never know where Hillary is headed next,” they said. Sally found it irritating.

“You know—as far from New York as you can get and still be in it,” said Hillary. “Ocean bathing, surrounded by water on three sides...” She made a needless adjustment to the perfectly arranged daisies. “...and that nonpareil view of the lights on the Verrazano Bridge. At night, of course.”

*  *  *

Five blocks.

The year before their move to Sur la Mer Jim Schofield had leaned into the wind and pulled his chin lower into his coat collar, shoulders hunkered up against a March wind scuddering in from the Jersey piers.

He should have stayed in Wisconsin. It was five cross-town blocks to where he parked his car—five Manhattan cross-town blocks, the better part of a mile—in the rain, sleet, snow and the pounding heat of high August.

An exquisite pain took that moment to drive a rusty cavalry saber into the pit of his stomach. That second martini at Lloyd’s Bar. Or was it the third? He’d have to cut back. Jim gagged at the curb. He bent over with his head between his knees and vomited in cascading waves. He felt immediately better but his eyes were now blinded by tears. He felt for the curbing with his heel but it wasn’t there; he tripped and stumbled. In a yellow arc, a medallioned taxi swerved past in a tight uptown turn, its driver leaning on the horn and screaming curses in a foreign language.

Yeah—from here on out, one drink then home. He should have stayed on the farm in Wisconsin.

*  *  *

Sally Schofield was a pretty blond woman who still looked good in a flowered spring frock. The luxury of bare arms, not a wattle or a saddlebag on her, thought Hillary. Sturdy legs—well shaped, tanned, shaved and moisturized.

“You shave your legs.” It was a statement.

Sally looked surprised and re-crossed her legs, a defensive posture. “You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little antsy. I don’t do interviews well. That’s what this is, isn’t it? An interview, the ice-breaker, the Welcome Wagon?” This was all so very TV-Land—The Andy Griffith Show, Leave It to Beaver. Just like on cable.

“Of course, you are in denial.”

“What?”

Hillary hummed a slight tune as she dithered with the daisy-painted saucers, sugar bowl and creamer that formed the cordon sanitaire between them. She reordered a stack of paper napkins. “We try to keep all this entrenous, strictly between us girls. Lycanthropism has enjoyed a, an, uh... unfavorable public image. Too much goddamned TV. That is why newcomers get the tour and the lecture. You know the drill: peasant cunning on the rampage, ozone filled air from Tesla coils and Van deGraaff generators. Great lolloping hordes of shopkeepers and railway clerks come panting up rocky switchbacks to Doctor Frankenstein’s castle with their pine pitch torches—burn and destroy, kill, ravage, extirpate, their answer to the outré—quivering with dread at anything outside their daily grind.”

*  *  *

Five blocks.

The walk should have helped with the spare tire hung carelessly at his midriff, but the day’s-end Martinis Jim Schofield allowed himself at Lloyd’s negated all the walk’s good work. The homicidal taxi had by now disappeared into the traffic at 42nd Street, its horn a descending Doppler ringing between the walls of buildings. He shuddered as he crossed an empty 39th Street against the light. Behind him the light turned to WALK and the smell of freshly savaged flesh, steaming and bloody, filled his nostrils. A red haze splattered across the insides of his eyes.

Cow slaughtering. Eight-year-old Jim Schofield rolled on the blood-wet ground with the yard dog: any other day a Wisconsin farm boy playing with Ol’ Shep. At one particularly tempting chunk of offal, the yard dog snapped at him. Jim bit the dog’s ear off. Jim spat — dog blood was different, somehow forbidden. He stood to throw up, then scrambled into an empty silo with his trophy as the yard dog whimpered under the swaying corpse of Barbie AB619.

His aunt Irene had stood saucer-eyed, in shock. “Jim... no.” Deep in the hollow, ringing silo they pulled him clawing and howling off the cow’s entrails. After that Jim was watched. The family did not speak of the business of the cow killing ever again.

From an alley stuffed with trash one of the city’s derelicts beckoned to him. This was one of those alleyways of permanent twilight prowled by drunks, junkies, building supers and the homeless. The man was curled up on a ventilation grate, knees under his chin. He looked pretty well beat-up, but then they all did.

Home, he had to get home.

Jim turned to go. Another moan, weaker, brought him back. The guy was hurt, maybe by those gangs of wilding teenagers he had read about. He had to help. He steeled himself to the likelihood of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as he crouched over the man.

The man was having trouble breathing. Jim tore at the man’s clothing, exposing his chest. The man’s throat was russet-ripe, a sun-swollen fruit full to bursting. As the taut skin popped, hot blood burst into Jim’s mouth and dribbled past his lips to cover his face. Where it clotted and dried.

*  *  *

“Penises,” said Hillary Braunstein. “Seal penis bones. David, my first husband, cut and polished them for amulets. In Alaska. The sexually challenged wear them; Sid wears one. He rode away on his motorcycle to homestead in Alaska—David, that is. He left me for subsistence farming and penis polishing. That was 1988. He said he was going for cigarettes.”

“Oh.” Sally’s cookie hovered, unmoving. Sally was silent. The ball was still in Hillary’s court.

“How did you two decide on Sur la Mer?” Hillary asked.

“Oh, I thought you knew. It was your husband, after all.” Sally entered her comfort zone; the cookie was eaten. “Jim met Sid at one of those boys’ sports nights they have after work. It was in a bar... In the city? Sid didn’t tell you? After that it was every month like clockwork for about a year. All Jim could talk about was moving out here.”

*  *  *

Sid Braunstein aimed his remote at a wide screen plasma TV. “You into baseball? I’m a Red Sox nut. Had to sign up for satellite service to get the games.”

The two husbands sat out on the deck in white painted wicker chairs with cushions whose bright oversized daisies echoed the motifs of Hillary’s kitchen. Sid Braunstein was a jovial, hairy man with a tightly packed body, a college jock who hadn’t let himself go in middle age. His paunch looked solid enough to have genuine muscle behind it. Sid worked out. Jim surreptitiously touched the bulge at his own mid-section. Sid noticed.

“Don’t let it get you down. Free weights.”

“Huh?”

“Free weights. I have a mini gym in the garage. And the girls watch our diets. This,” Sid held the bowl of clam dip aloft like a druid holding a chalice high to catch the first rays of a dawning solstice, “is a plenary indulgence. In durance vile here must I wake and weep and all my frowsy couch in sorrow steep, Robert Burns. It’s about getting banished to the outer darkness, as it were... while the girls chat up the neighborhood amenities.”

“Yeah, Burns.” Jim had read Robert Burns in high school.

“Mmmm... don’t know how she does it, Hillary,” said Sid Braunstein. “Armed with but a simple blender and a whack of cream cheese, spices and clams, she can create ambrosia. Help yourself to another beer. We’re not shy here.”

“Uh, yeah...” Jim scoured his memory for Red Sox statistics.

*  *  *

“Jim met your Sid in Manhattan,” said Sally Schofield.

“A sports bar, Lloyd’s on Madison Avenue,” said Hillary. “Sid’s baseball hangout. I know. He was on the way to the train and caught your Jim in an alleyway off 39th Street making a shambles of a homeless man. It was too late for the derelict but Sid got your husband sedated and back to the clinic.” The older woman crossed and then uncrossed her legs. The legs were marvelously long, tanned and slender. “Your Jim wouldn’t remember. None of them do; that’s why the wives have to be in charge.”

Limousine legs, thought Sally, And doesn’t she love to show them off. She blushed at getting caught staring at her hostess’ marvelous legs.

Too young, too pretty, thought Hillary. And dumb as a post. Let’s toss her a bone. “David did come back, eventually, but by then it was too late.” Hillary waited while Sally reflected on this last tidbit.

“Oh...” A neat change of subject. But she was the one who brought it up, the missing first husband, thought Sally.

“I know this because he sent a postcard once. One postcard: ‘Dogs run free, why not we?’”

“There are huge national parks in Alaska,” said Sally.

Maybe not so dumb. “He was tired of feeling confined? He needed room to roam. All this was before Sur la Mer, of course. The mere suggestion of a gated community would have driven him right up the wall.”

She’s doing the legs thing again, thought Sally. She couldn’t pull her eyes away fast enough.

Gotcha, thought Hillary.

*  *  *

“There is a forgetfulness—a mild aphasia, you might call it. The lacunae are sometimes... ahh, embarrassing. Like this?” Sid pulled what might have been a medallion from inside his aloha shirt. A polished disc reflected opalescent gemstone hues. It was fastened around his neck by a leather thong.

“Hmm... nice? What is a lacunae?”

“Sort of like an alcoholic blackout. Not the blackout itself, but the hole where your missing time went. A lacuna, singular—Latin, first declension, assigned gender feminine—appropriate as the girls cover up for us.”

Sid held the dangle in front of Jim’s nose. He gave it a gentle tap so it swung like a pendulum. He’s trying to hypnotize me, thought Jim.

“From the penis bone of a seal.” Sid dropped the amulet back inside his shirt. “David, Hillary’s first husband, made it in Alaska. David made a run for it but he came back. Before he left he bit me. But like I said, he came back. Overland. He must have followed the railroad tracks. There were news reports. His trail pointed right here. Anyone with the brains God gave a tree could have figured things out.” Sid upended his can of beer and reached for a replacement. “Thank God for narrow-minded chauvinism. Nobody would have believed it even if they had caught on. Which they didn’t.” There was a roar from the wide-screen TV. “Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez. The Sox have a decent bullpen at last.”

*  *  *

“David left on a motorcycle; we don’t allow motorcycles here in Sur la Mer. One of the rules. Here, have another.” Hillary pushed the platter of cookies across the center line back to Sally’s side. “We went the Lysistrata route—Aristophanes? Withholding sex, that got their attention. First we tried threats and confrontations about those things they will keep on dragging home to bury in the yard—the boys can’t recall anything of their midnight rambles or so they say. Dear, please don’t let your mouth hang open like that.”

“But... Jim?”

The woman is a born ingénue, thought Hillary. “And the answer was right there all the time. We simply had to get some protection.”

Sally thought of condoms and Allstate, the good hands people. “You already have the gates. What’s left, guard dogs and sentries?”

“From the government. Our husbands were threatened, therefore Section 4—CFR 17.11 could be brought into play.”

“Seventeen-eleven. That’s not the convenience store...”

“No, that’s the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Endangered Species Act of 1973.”

“Oh. Yes...?”

“We are an aging population here in Sur la Mer. You have children,” said Hillary. It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes.”

“In the play, Lysistrata, and it’s a comedy, the women go on a sex strike. They got fed up with their husbands always charging off to war. We supplement the husbands’ treatments with herbs.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Sally had seen a TV report on the perils of self-diagnosis. “There was that diet drug—ephedrine...?”

There was a squeak from the legs of a high-backed colonial reproduction chair as Hillary stood and collected the cookies and the cups. “For thirty years the doctors slapped hormone treatments to women and called it ‘enhancement.’ We pointed this out—their maleness would be ‘enhanced.’ It’s only fair,” said Hillary Braunstein. “And we got the cancer and the strokes. I figure if a woman loves her husband...” She absently dumped the plate of cookies into the garbage disposal. “We don’t compost,” she offered by way of an explanation. “Makes the ground too easy to dig in. I have an herb garden.”

Hillary walked out of the room. They would view the garden.

“Yes, I’d love to,” said Sally.

*  *  *

“Here, help yourself...” Sid Braunstein passed the bowl of clam dip. “Ambrosial. The girls, God bless ‘em,” said Sid. “They have the top hand and they appreciate that. We acquiesce. Since the Lysistrata thing.”

“Lysistrata,” said Jim Schofield.

“Lysistrata. Don’t ask; Hillary will tell Sally and Sally will tell you—that’s how it works. Durance vile on the patio. Heh heh. Beer and chips beats bread and water.”

“Lysistrata. Isn’t that a play by Aristo...”

“Yep. The girls needed a rest. And the hormone treatments did it. No more unchaperoned midnight impromptus; we all get hairy and horny at the same time. Impotence puts a strain on the best of marriages.” Sid gave Jim a nudge with his elbow. “Come home with a wet willie and the girls like to know where it’s been... Heh heh.”

*  *  *

At the back door Hillary slipped into a pair of garden clogs. “Since you are the new girl you get to patrol the wire. Fence maintenance. It’s only three nights a month and not too demanding. Here’s a set of rubber Wellies. I think they’ll fit you, Sally. They were David’s; he had small feet.”

“How did you meet your second husband?”

“We even had a skateboard park built. For the kids?” Hillary had changed the subject. Again. “Turns out we can’t have kids. None of us. Something about the treatments. Oh, you mean Sid. Well, David and I were living in Jersey at the time; Sid was a veterinarian with a midtown clinic. On Madison Avenue. All very upscale and glitzy. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with David. One of them made a chance remark...”

“Is this what all the secrecy is about?”

“My, Sally, but you are  fast on your feet. Excellent. See, David was a werewolf. We have made some, ahh, understandably tentative, feelers to the government as to endangered species status for the husbands. But so far...”

“Then Sid is...?”

“And so is Jim. And that is why you and I are here today going on a tour of my dumb, totally useless herb garden while our husbands swill beer and natter man-talk on the deck. Ow!” A blue spark arced from a wire fence to Hillary Braunstein’s finger. “It’s only 24 volts but still packs a wallop if you forget your rubber Wellies.”

“You have an electrified fence!” Sally was aghast.

“The picket wire. That’s what we call it, from the days when Marshall Dillon gave the trailbosses til sundown to get their unruly cowhands out of Dodge. We do the same only in reverse. The husbands tend to roam.”

“Dodge?”

“Ah, the generational difference. Gunsmoke—an old TV show. Marshall Dillon strung barbed wire around the perimeter of the town. To keep the cows off the streets?” Hillary held a finger poised near the wire. It was strung tight between self-anchoring metal posts and twisted onto yellow plastic insulators. “It shouldn’t be much longer and we can turn the damned thing off.”

“Was. You said David was. And Jim...”

“No, dear, there’s no cure; don’t get your hopes up. Sid put him down. An overdose of morphine, quite painless. David couldn’t change back but David was a rare case. Sid and I had discovered feelings for one another. And David bit him before running away to Alaska, so Sid was a goner. Even with belladonna poultices.”

“Hence the herb garden?”

“Sharp girl. Even with his medical knowledge, Sid was caught short. Belladonna is a specific for werewolf bite. Lacking belladonna, Sid improvised with the available members of the family Deadly Nightshade: potatoes and tomatoes. French fries and ketchup. We were the talk of the Madison Avenue Burger King that night.”

*  *  *

“So just how did you  come to Sur la Mer,” asked Jim Schofield.

“Well, as it happens I’m a veterinarian and Hillary came to see me about David. See, he killed the newspaper delivery boy.”

 Jim froze on the edge his chair. The blue corn taco chip in his hand dripped clam and sour cream dip onto his slacks.

“Strike a nerve, did I? Hey... get a handle on that. Ruin your crease.” Sid pulled a paper serviette from a stack folded into a decorative wire holder. “Any trouble back in Manhattan? Beyond chasing cars and peeing on policemen’s legs?”

As Sid leaned to wipe the fallen splotch of dip from Jim’s pants he spoke urgently as if they might be overheard. “You know the kind; folks usually end up here on the run from some mess they have to get away from. Not the full of the moon, that’s all bullshit. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the moon was closer, much closer to the Earth. And the months were shorter. There is a hormonal rhythm. Antibodies in the blood release a timed catalyst that triggers a hormonal shift. Really fast and nasty. But you would know all about that. That derelict I caught you with in the alley? There, that should do it.” Sid wadded up the napkin and dropped it on the floor. He leaned back and fondled his remote. “Once a month the girls fire up the electric fence and lock the gates.”

*  *  *

A weak arc of crackling blue curved from the fence wire to Hillary’s outstretched finger. “It all depends on where you stand.” She played the spark like a yo-yo, pulling her finger in and out. “There’s a formula—inductive capacitance, something like that. See, no shock.”

“You like touching the fence, don’t you?” said Sally. The electric blue followed Hillary’s finger but never seemed to make contact.

“Like I said, I just moved a little. It’s all in where you put your feet. And the rubber Wellies, too. Give it a try.

“No thanks.”

“Whatever. Being a soccer mom... I almost envy you, Sally: the ballet lessons, soccer practice, fencing, Boy Scouts. When the men developed their—ahh, problem—and we applied hormone treatments, they became sterile and lost all interest in sex, and I mean totally. No more Mom’s Taxi; our kids aged and went off to school. You will have the only children in Sur la Mer. Of course if you get caught outside the wire after curfew, you’ll have to fend for yourself. But it’s only two days each month. And they’re horny as hell.” Hillary smiled a wide, suggestive smile.

*  *  *

Sid reached to scoop up a mighty dollop of clam dip with a taco chip. “Like I might have said, lycanthropism is, or has been for most of us here, transmitted through the bite of an affected individual. I’d say you are a natural.” Sid gave Jim a meaningful look.

“Meaning...?” Jim remembered his aunt’s eyes when they caught up with him in the silo.

“Meaning some folks are born with the talent. We call it a talent. It is, you know, a talent. But there’s nobody to show off for. Neat party trick except you don’t get invited back.” He stuffed the dip-freighted chip into his mouth. A blob clung to his nose. “Yep, you’re a natural.”

Jim uncomfortably shifted his weight on the patio cushion.

“Childhood memories? Got the fidgets?”

“Yes.” Sid appeared happy with that and Jim decided not to belabor the point.

“I envy you. Hormonal,” said Sid Braunstein as he reached for another Coors. “You gotta hand it to them, the girls, they got it all doped out...” Sid was enjoying a mild beer buzz. “...Vatican II, the rhythm system as applied to lycanthropy. Really cool stuff and Hillary figured it all out for herself. Got the idea from the hormone replacement therapies—you know, after the birth control pills scare? I just did the grunt work, contracted with the manufacturing laboratories and all.”

*  *  *

Hillary led Sally down a manicured path of white polished pebbles. “It’s not easy being different. Ever try to slip a werewolf past a condo board? They even hire private eyes; would you believe it? OK, so the men are normal most of the time. And no amount of electrolysis would explain away the—ahh... artifacts. Things they bring home to bury. They’re just like big kids, really. But who knew when they would get all hairy and feral?”

Sally slipped in the oversized rubber boots. “Oops. Sorry.” A wounded mandragora officinarum hung dejectedly where it had been snapped off. White milky sap oozed.

“Careful. This little patch represents two years of work. Oh, yes—the condo boards. After the twelfth try I was ready to chuck it all and buy outright. Always some old bat in a bouffant wig and her pet poodle humping Sid’s pants leg. We formed a non-profit corporation. Investment capital was lean after the dot-com bust and we picked the whole place up for chump change.”

“It must have cost millions.”

“A million-five, actually. Sid was a celebrity veterinarian. He performed surgery on Meg Ryan’s pussy. Twice. That’s one of Sid’s jokes. We had references. There’s nothing a condo board won’t ask; they leave you stripped and drained. One time I said I wanted to grow patio tomatoes on the roof, for emergencies but I didn’t tell them that. Remember the French fries and ketchup? Well, it was like I peed in the communion chalice.”

“Oh, are you Catholics? With a name like Braunstein, I just naturally assumed...” Sally fell silent. The insides of the borrowed boots were sweaty and her face felt flushed.

“Tomato red.”

“Huh?”

“Tomato red is the color I would have turned if I had made a gaffe like that one. You are forgiven; it is really quite attractive on you, Sally. Tomato red, I mean. Tomatoes are called the ‘wolf apple,’ by the way. At least that’s their name in Latin: lycopersicon esculentum—the ‘wolf peach,’ rightly.”

Sally looked at the herb garden. “I don’t see any tomatoes.”

“No, no tomatoes. Ketchup is more concentrated. We buy it by the case at the Pick ‘N’ Pay.”

*  *  *

Clap for the Wolfman; he’s goin’ rate your record high...”  The TV was off and an Oldies’ CD now blared from Sid Braunstein’s patio boom box.

“The Guess Who. A favorite,” said Sid. “Clap — clap for the Wolf-man...” Sid laughed heartily; he did not look like a man who laughed a lot. His eyes bulged and his face turned beet red. “Sorry. Sorree. Woo, hee. Whoop-whoop, hack hack hack.” Spit flew as Sid bent double over the bowl of clam dip. He recovered still choking from the unaccustomed laughing fit. “Snorted... beer... up my nose. Ahh... hmm. Actually, sexually transmitted diseases are not the problem here in Sur la Mer they are out in the normal world—the civilians, we call ‘em. Leptospirosis, distemper and rabies, though...” He grew thoughtful, pulling on his beer. “Gotta lay off the rabbits and the squirrels. Cats, too. Stick to your own kind, that’s my motto. Disease-wise, the baddest actors are always the species jumpers. Gotta keep it in your pants—if you’re wearing any, that is. Pants cramp your style when you’re chasing a cat up a tree.”

Sid beamed. Jim beamed back, this was another laugh line—clap for the wolfman, yuck, yuck. Jim Schofield smiled and felt more at ease. He wondered how Sally’s interview was going. Sid ignored Jim and fiddled with his TV remote. The game was back on again.

*  *  *

Sally and Hillary had reached the garden’s far perimeter where a large cement toad crouched under a spreading ornamental yew tree. The toad was the size of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle fallen on its side.

“Don’t you just love him,” said Hillary. “He has a very knowing look when the light is right.”

“Very... large,” said Sally.

“Big is good,” said Hillary. “He came with the place. And he’s sitting on some of the boys’ more incriminating, ahh... trophies.”

Sally had lagged behind. She was scraping at a suspicious clump adhered to her foot.

“Step in something? Let’s have a look-see.”

Sally held up the afflicted rubber Wellie.

“Nope. Just dog poop,” said Hillary. “Wipe it on the grass. It’s easy to tell the difference when you’ve raked up enough of the stuff—the boys get a high fiber diet. They tend to fat so we watch what we feed them.”

Sally sat on the toad to clean her boots.

“I called up the agricultural extension service. Bet you didn’t know New York City had county agents. Anyway, that is how I met Everett Castelnuovo. There’s something about a man in uniform. He was very attentive. At first I thought he had the hots for me but he smelled a research paper. You know, publish-or-perish, something for a scientific journal. Sur la Mer was going to put him on the map, career-wise.”

“He wore a uniform?”

“Well, a sleeve patch and a twill serge bomber jacket. He was quite handsome, a Mark Trail type filtered through Chiquita Banana what with the bolero and all.”

“Was.”

“He came in over the picket wire on a bad night, intruder-wise. The boys’ night out.”

“Oh.”

“I’m expecting his replacement any day. From the Fish and Wildlife Service, an expert on ‘chemical ecology,’ whatever that is.” Hillary toyed with a sprig of bittersweet nightshade that had been broken off by another misstep. She looked accusingly at Sally and held the wounded herb under her nose. “Solanum dulcamara the potato family, would you believe?”

“You mentioned Lysistrata?” said Sally, trying for a diversion.

“Going without was as hard for us as it was for them. But we were willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Now that we have them back, they are totally limp, but at least we have them home nights. Most nights...”

*  *  *

“Ahh... YES!” A crowd roar issued from the TV’s stereo speakers. Sid looked expectantly at his company.

Jim felt he should contribute something. “Hey... how’s about that Manny Ramirez?”

“37 homers and 104 RBIs last season, but that’s not why we’re here. We are self-policing.” Sid zapped the set with his remote and the screen went black. “This is important. I’m supposed to be vetting you on life in a gated community. You’re here for a reason, you know. In Sur la Mer? Hey, that’s good.”

“Huh?”

“Vetting. I made a pun. I didn’t mean to, veterinarian—my profession and all. Have to tell Hillary about it; she’ll get a chuckle. Basically I’m not a humorous guy.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t...”

“Yes, you would. Baseball and animal autopsies are my areas of competence, period. No standup. Anyway, I thought Hillary was having an affair. Some guy from the government. Now Hillary, I just love her to bits. I was hurt, chagrined, humiliated, all of the above. And I lurked. I caught him coming over the picket wire one night. He was packing a sensitive microphone — you know, the kind with a tripod and a parabolic reflector—a laptop, night vision goggles, the works. I buried him in the mandragora patch. When I was back to normal, I confronted my wife. Boy, did I get an earful! The girls had to dig him up and plant him under the garden toad. Seems I had made a mistake.”

*  *  *

“But here we were talking about having the husbands declared a threatened species...” Hillary had been idly poking with her toe at a mounded planting of atropa belladonna. A human toe was exposed. “Oh, shit. Simply shit!” She knelt and brushed away shredded cedar bark. A severed foot protruded from the mulch. It had been gnawed. Hillary poked the toe and its foot back under cover and patted the shredded bark flat. “Well! I thought he was late returning my call. A steep curve in their learning processes, these government men. Your tax dollars at work. Everett’s replacement, the man from the Fish and Wildlife Service. He brought it on himself—I told him to call first. He should have checked his voice mail.”

Hillary directed Sally’s attention to a particularly attractive grouping of daisy-like flowers. “Arnica montana, of the aster family, actually. The popular name is ‘wolfsbane,’ good for headaches. I think I feel one coming on.”

copyright 2005, 2015 Rob Hunter

Boys’ Night Out was first published in the Summer 2005 On Spec—The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, and chosen for Casserole Diplomacy, On Spec’s 25th anniversary retrospective anthology.

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