The third book in the series A Brewski for the Old Man tells the story of the return to Jacaranda of Ray John Leenders, the man who abused Sherri when she was a child. Back in town he’s living with a woman who has a young daughter. Sherri doesn’t want to get involved; it’s none of her business – except, except – she knows the woman and her daughter and it’s impossible to stay uninvolved.
Targeted Age Group:: 12 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Characters walk around in my head and I either have to give them a home or take massive amounts of drugs. And then there is the news. Did you ever read an article in the paper and wonder what happened next? Or wonder why it came about in the first place? Imagination takes over and I start constructing a story to explain these events. Champagne for Buzzards came about when I saw a television news article about buzzards returning to their natural breeding grounds to find new houses had been built there. Buzzards were sitting on children’s play sets, boats and garden furniture. What if you woke up one morning and saw buzzards sitting on the cab of your red pick-up? What if… words that inspire me.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Hearing voices is what writing is all about. Call it madness or call in inspiration, without those voices there is no book. The best fictional characters are the ones who speak to our hearts as well as our heads, both as readers and writers, the people who walk off the pages and into our lives to stay with us forever. I now know more about my characters than I know about most of the members of my family. Don’t we know more about Scarlet O’Hara, or some other fictional character, than we do about our best friend?
Brian Spears put his right hand up to his right cheek to cover his motioning left forefinger.
“Is that a transvestite?”
I looked down the bar to where he was pointing. “Either trannie or a regular guy who makes really bad clothing choices.”
His voice rose with his eyebrows in outrage. “Do you allow them in here?”
“Honey, I allow you in here, which goes to show how broadminded I am…broad minded and broad assed, although I don’t think the two always go together.”
Three stools away Peter raised his hand. He either wanted permission to leave the room or he was signaling for another drink. Since we were in the Sunset Bar and Grill down in Jacaranda Florida, I was betting it was another scotch he wanted and since I, Sherri Travis, was behind the bar, I went and got him a fresh drink.
Customers were really ticking me off that night. Normally I can put up with any damn thing but at that moment I wished they’d all disappear, which of course would make me do the same. You see, I’d recently acquired the Sunset, or at least the bank and a silent partner, who had way to much too say, allowed me to work here about twelve or fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Nice of them wasn’t it? Anyway, the whole world was bugging me that night.
“You’re starting to sound just like Miss Emma,” Brian told me when I came back to drop off his third and last drink of the night.
“Ah, so my surliness hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
“Not for a moment.”
Memories of Miss Emma brought an answering smile to my face. “Miss Emma hired me when I left Jimmy and came back to Jacaranda to start over. She owned the Sunset then.”
Brian said, “Wasn’t she something?”
I shook my finger under his nose and did a bad imitation of a wonderful old broad. “Be careful, girl. Pay attention and don’t believe everything you hear.” I laughed. “You know how I make a decision these days?”
“I shudder to think,” said Brian, sipping his Grey Goose with lime.
“I ask myself, what would Miss Emma do?”
“Well that should give you lots of scope for mayhem.”
“If you can’t think for yourself, that’s what happens. You turn into someone else.” I glanced down the bar to where she had always perched on the stool furthest from the door, a living Buddha with piercing black eyes. “She could watch the whole room from there and sometimes, when I move quick, I think I catch a glimpse of her still watching the till like a hawk with his eye on a mouse.”
“I thought it was the customers she had her eye on,” Brian said.
“Oh, she watched the customers too, but it was the money that really interested her. By the end of the night she’d know within a buck or two what should be in the till. It certainly discouraged sticky fingers, always a problem when cash is involved, and it’s one of the reasons I slip behind the bar every night and mix a few drinks. Doesn’t hurt to keep a real close eye on things and let the staff know you’re there, just like Miss Emma did.”
Brian added, “That woman knew everything about everyone, knew all their secrets and everything that went on in Jacaranda. She was a great big sponge, taking it all in and not giving anything back until you squeezed her real hard.”
“And good luck to anyone trying that,” I added. “She’d probably bite their arm off.”
“Yeah,” Brian’s blue eyes sparkled. “Miss Emma could be a bit gruff.”
“Gruff? Hell, she was downright caustic,” I corrected. “Like the night a man sat down next to her and politely asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?” Miss Emma gave a gigantic shrug and said, “Smoke? I don’t care if you burn up.”
Brian wheezed with laughter, trying to get words out and pointing at me.
“If you’re trying to tell me I’m beginning to act like her,” I told him, “I already know it.”
Brian nodded madly in agreement.
I sighed. “Yeah, these days I just don’t care if you burn up.”
“Well, it hasn’t been a good year for you.” Brian wiped his face with a pudgy hand. “First we get hit by Hurricane Myrna and then you get kidnapped by a psychopath, bound to take the shine off the apple.”
The summer before, Hurricane Myrna had blown through Cypress Island and almost destroyed the Sunset. The previous owner, the guy who’d bought it from Miss Emma, was in financial trouble and couldn’t find the money to rebuild. So, taking a nice little bit of insurance money I got when my god-awful husband was murdered, this fool rushed in where angels fear to tread and bought the Sunset. Unfortunately, the only thing I knew anything about was serving behind the bar. So there I was, up to my ying yang in debt, learning on the job, and my partner…well that’s another story.
“How you doing, Sherri?” Brian asked and quickly raised his hand up to stop me from telling him I was just fine. “No really, don’t just make a joke, I want to know. Are you able to sleep again?”
“One good thing about the hours I keep, if I don’t stay up worrying about the bailiff visiting, I’m unconscious when I hit the bed.” I wasn’t being entirely honest with Brian. The panic attacks were milder but ghosts and angst crowded the darkness. But the ghosts were my secret, no need to share them with Brian.
Miss Emma had known all about secrets. The day after I started work she knew about Jimmy, knew I’d left him to start a new life on my own and knew it was touch and go if I’d ever break free. Most of it she got from me, not that she ever asked. Actually she never showed much interest but I was compelled to tell her everything just like her customers did.
It always amazes me what people will tell a complete stranger after a little alcohol. Worse than that, it’s shocking what they’ll tell the person behind the bar, someone who actually knows their name and someone they’re going to have to face again. And after a night, or maybe an afternoon of standing with a foot on the brass rail, the next day they can’t meet your eye and treat you with great circumspection. They only return to normal after you win them over, make them think you’ve forgotten everything they said and certainly don’t hold any of it against them. You have to convince them it’s all water down the drain – and it pretty much is.
I knew everyone in Jacaranda, although I didn’t grow up there. We were too poor to live on Cypress Island. Even thirty years ago, working people had all been pushed back inland. I grew up just over the bridge on the mainland in a single wide trailer at the edge of a swamp. But every day, beginning in grade one, I came over the humped back bridge on a yellow school bus, with its roof painted white in an attempt to stop us kids from being fried by the sun, so I knew most of these people real well, except of course the tourists who swarmed down here like a cloud of locusts come November. In May they finally go north and leave us to ourselves again. Actually, they were the freest with secrets ‘cause they’ll never see you again. The things those people get up to. A drink or two and you hear it all. I wonder if psychiatrists have ever considered serving their patients booze? It would work for me. A little liquid truth serum and I turn into a real motor mouth, boring even myself.
But like I was saying, working behind the bar you hear all about people’s secrets. You hear who’s sleeping with whose wife; who’s on the edge of bankruptcy; and know who has the door open and is peeking out of the closet.
“You listen with your deaf ear, you hear?” Miss Emma always advised.
I wish I’d learned to take Miss Emma’s advice. Listening to other people’s troubles and caring, thinking I can actually help, are big failings of mine. I didn’t know it but other people’s secrets were about to drag me under, about to put me in harm’s way.
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