Authors: Graham Masterton
If you have never seen human beings compressed until they are less than an inch thick, it is almost impossible to describe them to you. The most horrible thing is their faces, which look like pink rubber Halloween masks, with scarlet lips, and empty, liquid eyes.
But John and Fionnula's bodies weren't the only remains in the drawer. Underneath them were the crushed remains of several other people, their skin as papery and desiccated as wasps' nests.
I could only guess how Padraic Rossa had persuaded his critics to step into his cupboard. Perhaps he had pretended to be conciliatory, and invited them up to his house to explain the mysteries of Halloween to them. Then perhaps he had suggested that they examine the Celtic incantations at close quarters. Whatever had happened, he had made sure that they, too, had a very bad press.
The Burgers of Calais
never cared for northern parts and I never much cared for eastern parts neither, because I hate the cold and I don't have any time for those bluff, ruddy-faced people who live there, with their rugged, plaid coats and their Timberland boots and their way of whacking you on the back when you least expect it, like whacking you on the back is supposed to be some kind of friendly gesture or something.
I don't like what goes on there, neither. Everybody behaves so cheerful and folksy but believe me that folksiness hides some real grisly secrets that would turn your blood to iced gazpacho.
You can guess, then, that I was distinctly unamused when I was driving back home early last October from Presque Isle, Maine, and my beloved '71 Mercury Marquis dropped her entire engine on the highway like a cow giving birth.
The only reason I had driven all the way to Presque Isle, Maine, was to lay to rest my old Army buddy Dean Brunswick III (may God forgive him for what he did in Colonel Wrightman's cigar box). I couldn't wait to get back south, but now I found myself stuck a half-mile away from Calais, Maine, population 4,003 and one of the most northernmost, easternmost, back-whackingest towns you could ever have waking nightmares about.
Calais is locally pronounced âCAL-us' and believe me a callous is exactly what it is â a hard, corny little spot on the right elbow of America. Especially when you have an engineless, uninsured automobile and a maxed-out Visa card and only $226 in your billfold and no friends or relations back home who can afford to send you more than a cheery hello.
I left my beloved Mercury tilted up on the leafy embankment by the side of US Route One South and walked into town. I never cared a whole lot for walking, mainly because my weight has kind of edged up a little since I left the Army in '86, due to a pathological lack of restraint when it comes to filÃ© gumbo and Cajun spiced chicken with lots of crunchy bits and mustard-barbecued spare ribs and key lime pies. My landlady Rita Personage says that when she first saw me she thought that Orson Welles had risen from the dead, and I must say I do have quite a line in flappy, white, double-breasted sport coats, not to mention a few wide-brimmed white hats. Though, not all of those are in prime condition since I lost my job with the Louisiana Restaurant Association, which was a heinous political fix involving some of the shadier elements in the East Baton Rouge catering community and also possibly the fact that I was on the less balletic side of 290 pounds.
It was a piercing bright day. The sky was blue like ink and the trees were all turning gold and red and crispy brown. Calais is one of those neat New England towns with white clapboard houses and churches with spires and cheery people waving to each other as they drive up and down the streets at two and a half miles per hour.
By the time I reached North and Main I was sweating like a cheese and severely in need of a beer. There was a
whip, whip, whoop
behind me and it was a police patrol car. I stopped and the officer put down his window. He had mirror sunglasses and a sandy moustache that looked as if he kept his nail brush on his upper lip. And freckles. You know the type.
âWasn't speeding, was I, officer?'
He took off his sunglasses. He didn't smile. He didn't even blink. He said, âYou look like a man with a problem, sir.'
âI know. I've been on Redu-Quick for over six months now and I haven't lost a pound.'
That really cracked him up, not. âYou in need of some assistance?' he asked me.
âWell, my car suffered a minor mechanical fault a ways back there and I was going into town to see if I could get anybody to fix it.'
âThat your clapped-out, saddle-bronze Marquis out on Route One?'
âThat's the one. Nothing that a few minutes in the crusher couldn't solve.'
âWant to show me some ID?'
âSure.' I handed him my driver's license and my identity card from the restaurant association. He peered at them, and for some reason actually
âJohn Henry Dauphin, Choctaw Drive, East Baton Rouge. You're a long way from home, Mr Dauphin.'
âI've just buried one of my old Army buddies up in Presque Isle.'
all the way up here?'
âSure, it's only one thousand nine hundred and sixty miles. It's a pretty fascinating drive, if you don't have any drying paint that needs watching.'
âLouisiana Restaurant AssociationÂ .Â .Â . that's who you work for?'
âThat's right,' I lied. Well, he didn't have to know that I was out of a job. âI'm a restaurant hygiene consultant. Hey â bet you never guessed that I was in the food business.'
âOKÂ .Â .Â . the best thing you can do is call into Lyle's Autos down at the other end of Main Street, get your vehicle towed off the highway as soon as possible. If you require a place to stay I can recommend the Calais Motor Inn.'
âThank you. I may stay for a while. Looks like a nice town. VeryÂ .Â .Â . well swept.'
âIt is,' he said, as if he were warning me to make sure that it stayed that way. He handed back my ID and drove off at the mandatory snail's pace.
Lyle's Autos was actually run by a stocky man called Nils Guttormsen. He had a gray crew-cut and a permanently surprised face like a chipmunk going through the sound barrier backward. He charged me a mere sixty-five dollars for towing my car into his workshop, which was only slightly more than a quarter of everything I had in the world, and he estimated that he could put the engine back into it for less than $785, which was about $784 more than it was actually worth.
âHow long will it take, Nils?'
âWell, John, you need it urgent?'
âNot really, NilsÂ .Â .Â . I thought I might stick around town for a while. So â you know â why don't you take your own sweet time?'
âOK, John. I have to get transmission parts from Bangor. I could have it ready, say Tuesday?'
âGood deal, Nils. Take longer if you want. Make it the Tuesday after next. Or even the Tuesday after that.'
âYou'll be wanting a car while I'm working on yours, John.'
âWill I, Nils? No, I don't think so. I could use some exercise, believe me.'
âIt's entirely up to you, John. But I've got a couple of nifty Toyotas to rent if you change your mind. They look small but there's plenty of room in them. Big enough to carry a sofa.'
âThanks for the compliment, Nils.'
I hefted my battered old suitcase to the Calais Motor Inn, changing hands every few yards all the way down Main Street. Fortunately the desk accepted my Visa impression without even the hint of hysterical laughter. The Calais Motor Inn was a plain, comfortable motel, with plaid carpets and a shiny bar with tinkly music where I did justice to three bottles of chilled Molson's and a ham and Swiss-cheese triple-decker sandwich on rye with coleslaw and straw fried potatoes, and two helpings of cookie-crunch ice cream to keep my energy levels up.
The waitress was a pretty, snubby-nose woman with cropped blonde hair and a kind of a Swedish look about her.
âHad enough?' she asked me.
âEnough of what? Cookie-crunch ice cream or Calais in general?'
âMy name's Velma,' she said.
âJohn,' I replied, and bobbed up from my leatherette seat to shake her hand.
âJust passing through, John?' she asked me.
âI don't know, VelmaÂ .Â .Â . I was thinking of sticking around for a while. Where would somebody like me find themselves a job? And don't say the circus.'
âIs that what you do, John?' she asked me.
âWhat do you mean, Velma?'
âMake jokes about yourself before anybody gets them in?'
âOf course not. Didn't you know that all fat guys have to be funny by federal statute? No, I'm a realist. I know what my relationship is with food and I've learned to live with it.'
âYou're a good-looking guy, John, you know that?'
âYou can't fool me, Velma. All fat people look the same. If fat people could run faster, they'd all be bank robbers, because nobody can tell them apart.'
âWell, John, if you want a job you can try the want ads in the local paper,
The Quoddy Whirlpool
âThe bay here is called the Passamaquoddy, and out by Eastport we've got the Old Sow Whirlpool, which is the biggest whirlpool in the Western hemisphere.'
âI see. Thanks for the warning.'
âYou should take a drive around the Quoddy LoopÂ .Â .Â . it's beautiful. Fishing quays, lighthouses, lakes. Some good restaurants, too.'
âMy car's in the shop right now, Velma. Nothing too serious. Engine fell out.'
âYou're welcome to borrow mine, John. It's only a Volkswagen but I don't hardly ever use it.'
I looked up at her and narrowed my eyes. Down in Baton Rouge the folks slide around on a snail's trail of courtesy and Southern charm, but I can't imagine any one of them offering a total stranger the use of their car, especially a total stranger who was liable to ruin the suspension just by sitting in the driver's seat.
âThat's very gracious of you, Velma.'
The Quoddy Whirlpool.
If you were going into hospital for a heart bypass they could give you that paper instead of a general anesthetic. Under âHelp Wanted' somebody was advertising for a âtalented' screen-door repair person and somebody else needed an experienced leaf-blower mechanic and somebody else was looking for a twice-weekly dog-walker for their Presa Canario. Since I happened to know that Presa Canarios stand two feet tall and weigh almost as much as I do, and that two of them notoriously ripped an innocent woman in San Francisco into bloody shreds, I was not wholly motivated to apply for the last of those positions.
In the end I went to the Maine Job Service on Beech Street. A bald guy in a green, zip-up, hand-knitted cardigan sat behind a desk with photographs of his toothy wife on it (presumably the perpetrator of the green, zip-up, hand-knitted cardigan) while I had to hold my hand up all the time to stop the sun from shining in my eyes.
âSoÂ .Â .Â . what is your field of expertise, Mr Dauphin?'
âOh, please, call me John. I'm a restaurant hygienist. I have an FSIS qualification from Baton Rouge University and nine years' experience working for the Louisiana Restaurant Association.'
âWhat brings you up to Calais, Maine, John?'
âI just felt it was time for a radical change of location.' I squinted at the nameplate on his desk. âMartin.'
âI'm afraid I don't have anything available on quite your level of expertise, John. But I do have one or two catering opportunities.'
âWhat exactly kind of catering opportunities, Martin?'
âVittles need a cleanerÂ .Â .Â . that's an excellent restaurant, Vittles, one of the premier eateries in town. It's situated in the Calais Motor Inn.'
âAh.' As a guest of the Calais Motor Inn, I couldn't exactly see myself eating dinner in the restaurant and then carrying my own dishes into the kitchen and washing them up.
âThen Tony's have an opportunity for a breakfast chef.'
âTony's Gourmet Burgers on North Street.'
âI see. What do they pay?'
âThey pay more than Burger King or McDonald's. They have outlets all over Maine and New Brunswick, but they're more of a family business. More of a
restaurant, if you know what I mean. I always take my own family to eat there.'
âAnd is that all you have?'
âI have plenty of opportunities in fishing and associated trades. Do you have any expertise with drift nets?'
âDrift nets? Are you kidding? I spent my whole childhood trawling for pilchards off the coast of Greenland.'
Martin looked across his desk at me, sitting there with my hand raised like I needed to go to the bathroom. When he spoke his voice was very biscuity and dry. âWhy don't you call round at Tony's, John? See if you like the look of it. I'll give Mr Le Renges a call, tell him you're on your way.'
Tony's Gourmet Burgers was one block away from Burger King and two blocks away from McDonald's, on a straight, tree-lined street where the 4x4s rolled past at two and a half miles per hour and everybody waved to each other and whacked each other on the back whenever they could get near enough and you felt like a hidden orchestra was going to strike up the theme to
All the same, Tony's was quite a handsome-looking restaurant with a brick front and brass carriage-lamps outside with flickering artificial flames. A chalkboard proudly proclaimed that this was âthe home of wholesome, hearty food, lovingly prepared in our own kitchens by people who really care.' Inside it was fitted out with dark wood paneling and tables with green, checkered cloths and gilt-framed engravings of whitetail deer, black bear and moose. It was crowded with cheery-looking families, and you certainly couldn't fault it for ambience. Smart, but homely, with none of that wipe-clean feeling you get at McDonald's.