“Revenge is not a game, nor does playing
at it have anything to do with gaming.
One cannot wager on revenge. It is an
entirely deadly pursuit.”
William Dean (Old Man) Petersunn
My Model Life
Vegemental Press, Seattle (2001)
He was still shaky. Crossing the BM&P tracks, he stopped at the flashing of the signal and for once, the Drifta idled smoothly, the temperature gauge not shooting up into that mysterious superheated region that had already blown out one turbo. He waited for the lonely diesel engine pulling only a flatcar to pass. On the side of the car were the words “Route of the Puffin” and not “Scenic Route of Revenge.” For this he was thankful. He carefully made a U turn in front of the Clay Baby County Fairgrounds where it was legal. He knew that the police chief, Jim Peterson, would have let him get away with a U anywhere, such was his standing in the community, but he had resolved to be careful around town because the ferocity and number of his enemies made prudence his best course. The other four members of the police force were not his friends, he suspected. Each of them had at one time or another been seen in the Red Ember Lounge at the Hyatt Motor Lodge over in Midden at the “Chief Smoattle Seminars,” events which featured three appearances of the Chief over one weekend and a personal consultation with Shirley (stop-thinking-about-her) Honeyacre herself. He started shaking and it was too hard to drive and he pulled the Drifta over.
Well, he thought desperately, if I do have two heads, if I am mad, if I am doomed to walk the shadowy line between madness and not, then I might at least think of myself as a large madman and therefore, possibly, big enough to take it.
He had taken worse. If Shirley Anne (stop-thinking-about-her) Honeyacre intended to continue to make a fool of him in front of his entire world, she might have another think coming, for instance. This place he had been, this vision he had seen, this additional, yet somehow adjacent, world might give him the power to free himself from the memories of her, to revenge himself upon her, because this was the only thing he could think of that might set him free. Revenge. It seemed an appropriate emotion for a hero. Revenge, he remembered, was what he should be doing about his father’s surely imaginary murder. I am crazy as a loon, he thought. I should check myself into the Split Elms Mental Spa.
Even a man enlarged by a vision, or for that matter, a man who thinks he is going crazy, has to work, he thought, or at the very least has to appear as if he is working. He choked down his chittering feelings and he edged the little car out onto Bulb Street again, realizing that he had been sitting in front of the Mark-It Market for way too long. He wheeled the Drifta around the corner and parked in his designated parking space and squeezed himself out of the little car and climbed the slippery wet cedar steps up to his office where the little sign read “Honeyacre and Associates.” There were no Associates, he thought, there was only Chester, the Honeyacre of the Present, the madman, the coward, the non-hero. He slipped into his office by the back door, wanting to think, wanting actually to lie down and sleep, but very aware that he couldn’t. In some way, his head was still racing out ahead of his body. His chair squeaked as he finally sank down into its comforting well.
“Chester? There’s trouble!” Willi was shouting at him. He jumped. He’d hoped she was out to lunch. Willi was his secretary and she refused to use the intercom between their tiny offices. She just shouted at him and he at her. Chester knew he paid her too little to make her do much of anything she really didn’t want.
“Hi, Willi. Who is it?” he shouted back, hoping his voice was not shaking too greatly.
“Tom Rassmusson. Just pick up the line that’s flashing, for God’s sake! This isn’t good, I can tell,” she yelled.
He had never actually understood why she refused to use the intercom. In one sense, Willi was completely modern (that is, useless) and overpaid and at the same time absolutely archaic and wonderful (and useful) in her own way and therefore dazzingly underpaid. She couldn’t be much more than twenty-five, he guessed. (He guessed because he paid her under the table, with no health benefits and so did not need to know.) If he were to lose her, he would be hurled back at least a century in time and he sometimes thought she had chosen not to use the intercom in order to remind him of this simple fact.
He took a deep breath. He noticed that he felt better. He took another. He picked up the phone and heard Tom Rassmusson announce that Honeyacre and Associates, Public Relations, had lost its biggest account, which was the Beaverteeth-to-Midden Pioneer Parade, because the City of Midden was about to announce that – due to the closure of the Old Midden Road – they were not going to participate in the parade the two cities shared, whose preparations had started a full year ago and whose march was bare weeks away.
“Instead, they’re going to have their own goddamn parade and they’re calling it the City of Achievement Parade and they’ve made a deal with TV without us and that’s it. You go over to Midden and try to salvage something, Chester. I’ve got to call a council meeting. God, it’s too bad, but hell, it’ll be a load off my ass. I’ll be glad to see it gone. Although it’s a shame. Don’t tell anyone.” He hung up.
In a way, he wouldn’t care, Chester thought. He wasn’t Old Beaverteeth. Tom Rassmusson was New Beaverteeth, people who had moved here from Somewhere Else, people who invariably wanted cheap housing, rural charm and who, because they all seemed to have young families to feed, wanted the bucolic life of a Beaverteethian and at the same time wanted to be able to speed out on the new freeway to Midden or Seattle in order to get to work there. New Beaverteethians wanted things run the way they were used to having life run back in Vancouver or Portland or San Francisco, where they all seemed to have come from. First they would remodel the little old farmhouses so they looked like new homes and that would attract others like themselves who could be sold to at a profit which was then used to buy farmland which was then platted and developed and on which were built more strange new homes crowded into every available space, all sold and resold once and again. All this managed to jack real estate prices up to levels that Old Beaverteethians still couldn’t get used to. The New Beaverteethians liked the whole deal. It was a system. They cared only that their children had enough TV channels and Dairy Queens and game platforms and school busses and day-care facilities to amuse them up to the point that they inevitably failed at college and wound up dealing drugs back in the formerly rural places they’d grown up in, to then move back in with their parents as the inevitable process of rehabilitation took place. (Rehabilitation usually meant money spent on court-ordered counseling and drugs and a steady job as a cashier in a burger stand dressed as a beaver while parents wondered why life seemed to be going straight to Hell.) Tom Rassmusson was one of the few New Beaverteethians who had found work in Beaverteeth itself – he was the Mayor – but the parade drove him crazy every year anyway.
If your name was Honeyacre, though, you cared about the parade no matter who might laugh. Only a few families in the town could trace their ancestries back to the Founders and the Honeyacres were first among these. The Honeyacres, rich or poor, Cat or not, were a Founding Family. In part, this designation served to set them off from those latecomers, the industrious beaver-like Petersons and Amundsons and Kleinholtzs of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries who grudgingly followed the Founders west and brought with them the saws and the bulbs and the industry that eventually killed the place. The parade, with its pioneer themes, was a leftover from the Founders and Chester could no more forget it than he could ignore his own name. The Founders were authentic nineteenth century nut cases (that’s what most people thought at the time, and what most scholars think now); utopians, dreamers, builders of a settlement awash from its inception in the inevitable controversy engendered by flaring allegiances to Socialism and finally to something euphemistically called “Free Love.” Over the years, however, the antic memories of the Beaverteeth Colony dimmed and when some New Honeyacres became quite rich and when sheer acreage in hops and crocus bulbs and berry fields began to count for more than history, then the colorful ideals and free-wheeling beliefs that had originally felled the big sticks and let sunlight in along the river drifted out of memory, and a convenient forgetfullness set in, although a hundred years is a very short span of time indeed. Chester’s grandmother Helda had forgotten everything about the past, for instance, and, in the end, only knew that things people held dear, like land or crocus bulbs, had a dangerous power to corrupt and she began to think – as she began to die – that the Honeyacre family was growing too large. After her husband passed on, she decreed that other Honeyacres too would have to go, as if she were commanding relatives of the king to throw themselves upon his flaming pyre. The less fortunate members of the family must be content with their history, which their name allowed them to share, she wrote in her diary. There was the parade, for instance. This they might have for themselves. True to form, (she had been considered quite a mean person all her life) she left most of them nothing, dividing up the Honeyacre family into haves and have-nots with a dead and iron hand. Chester’s father, her son Bud, never recovered, of course. She might have left him a great deal, but she did not. In her diary, she wrote that she saw in him a reversion to the old nut-case Honeyacre type; a mental wanderer and iconoclast, a Believer, a man altogether too unhinged for the careful management of property and men. And besides, way too short. Bud Honeyacre suffered in his own mother’s eyes for being a very small person. His father – Holdern Beam Honeyacre – had been a large and imposing and silent man who wore a big hat and had personally beaten three men from Sumner to a pulp over a debt not paid as recently as 1937. When Helda Honeyacre died, she left virtually all of her’s and Holdern Beam Honeyacre’s money and holdings to her cat. The cat didn’t even have a name. Thus were created what are still called in Beaverteeth the “Cat Honeyacres” and the “Poor Honeyacres.” Chester was a Poor Honeyacre, and unlike many, he had stayed in the town. He was poor in a place where his own name had come to mean wealth itself (unless you thought of wealth as something only Petersunns achieved.) The cat died eventually, as all cats must, and cunningly left most of the wealth to its lawyers, all of whom were named Honeyacre and all of whom built the family fortune up to heights only imagined by one mean old woman.
(Chester remembered the cat from childhood days. It was a big fat old yellow cat. Although he would sometimes dream about the cat, he held it blameless for his fortunes, or their lack. He forgave the cat. The cat’s progeny had not benefitted, but its’ lawyers certainly had.)
Chester Honeyacre was one of the modern, landless Poor Honeyacres. The streets he walked bore his name, but he himself had nothing and no title to it. Indians, he liked to say, had more claim on the Squilimuk Valley than he did, but he meant it as a joke. He had always liked the Indians. There was a Honeyacre Street (it was in fact the main street of the town) intersected by a Potlatch Street and there were two Honeyacre Historic Buildings located on Indian School Way. Although he owned nothing of property in Beaverteeth, he was not actually poor. He had been pretty rich, in fact, before the divorce. And even after his ruination, he had built himself a modest enough existence based on mankind’s need to spend as little as possible in order to publicize and dramatize and sell itself. Beaverteeth, however small, was no different than larger cities, in that all businesses that sell to the public need to celebrate their openings, their sales, their promotions, their coupons, their good works, their smiling employees, and of course their full range of products and services. There was a universal need for golf courses to attract celebrities and for charities to need funding and for people to want to get the news of their activities spread around like bait. And the laws of the Universe, he had found, were as at home in Beaverteeth as they were anywhere else. Beaverteeth University College needed to publicize its athletic teams and its academic excellence to its prospective donors and students and the local restaurants needed to toot their own horns if they were to survive the onslaught of trendiness wafting from the public kitchens of Midden and Seattle and Tacoma. The taverns of Beaverteeth felt fine if their bowling teams had a picture in the paper once a year, and the lumberyards and beauty shops and stationery stores and body shops and boutiques and movie theaters and video rental stores and sporting goods outlets and camera shops all had the same universal need to advertise and publicize themselves cheaply. The parade, certainly, needed publicity. As well, the town council provided a modest retainer in return for his work as Official Town Publicist. It wasn’t much, but it was steady. In truth, most of the business he coveted was in the larger Midden area but there he had found it hard to break in. In Midden, the name Honeyacre was a kind of joke, forever tied to the absurdities of his ex-wife and Chief Smoattle and, of course, the little neighbor town with a funny name. In Beaverteeth, although he had inherited nothing but his name, still that name was all over the land, and in Chester’s world the names on the land meant more than anything. You can’t expect people to know about something that doesn’t have a name, he often said. And in a small town like Beaverteeth, even if the names were wrong, at least everyone knew them.
“Chester,” shouted Willi from the other room. “Why are you so quiet in there? Is something wrong financially? I’m going to have to quit. You won’t be able to pay me anything. You don’t pay me anything as it is.”
She was right. He lifted his head up off his desk where he had been letting it rest on his flattened nose. He yelled at her that everything was fine, not to worry, he was running over to Midden.
“Don’t use the old road, use the freeway! The old road’s closed,” she shouted, but he already knew that. In the little bathroom that hid behind his office, he washed the mud from his face. His clothes were wet and soiled and ruined. He had extras in the office because of late that was where he had been sleeping after drinking too much, but they were hidden from Willi, as were most of his activities. Hoping she would not catch him, he quickly washed and changed. He stared at himself in the little mirror. His eyes burned back at him. He seemed to himself to have a rigid smile plastered on his familiar face. Here is a man who is probably going insane, he thought. If he didn’t have the parade, he would be lost. He had to do something.
His vision – if that was what he could call it – seemed, in his twitching mind, to be linked to the Middenites digging their hole, closing the parade road, edging and infringing on his world, led by their queen, You-Know (Formerly Blah-blah, stop thinking about her) Honeyacre. He closed his eyes, but the little neon dots were waiting for him. He needed to drink. The clock on his desk said that it was late afternoon and he didn’t see how this could be. Where had the time gone? Where were the minutes that once seemed so current? Why was this happening to him? He was too far gone with time for it to become his enemy now, to shift and disappear and hide from him and trick him. Where was his hair, for instance? Once he had been blonde and tall and slim and had caught the pigskin over the middle and had driven convertibles with their tops down in the rain. Once he had planned to ski all year long and never leave the Bugaboos.
Revenge, he thought to himself. Revenge on the City of Midden.
A hero’s revenge.