THE BOOK CLUB
“Halloween is over, thank goodness. Having to sit in a dark house half the night just to keep greedy little kids away is not my idea of a holiday.”
“I appreciate your frustration, Mr. Bingham, but I believe I asked what you thought about Captain Bill’s wild stories and songs.”
I settled back then to consider it. You see, this was the second meeting of the book club and, while I was glad for a night out, I couldn’t make heads nor tails of Bill nor Dr. Livesey nor why in the world anyone would give a motel the name of a person. I mean, for Pete’s sake, call it by a number. There’s nothing wrong with numbers. Or directions, like Eastside something or other. Or even the name of a street or a town. But a person?
Sally cleared her throat.
“What, for instance, do you think of the song that goes ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest’?”
Well now, we were finally getting somewhere.
“That’s my favorite so far. I ‘specially like the part about the rum,” I answered knowledgeably.
“You fool, that’s the only song so far,” spouted Sweet Beat.
“Ah! Kevin. How astute of you to note that it is the only song to which the author gives words. Yet, Mr. Bingham, you’re right as well. There are more songs noted in the first chapter. We just aren’t made privy to their lyrics.”
I caught Sally somewhere between a smile and a frown. I think now, years later, what I would say was that a look of apprehension crossed her face, but only for a millisecond; like the ember of a lakeside bonfire landing on the water and quenched the minute it hits. Then, however, I was too busy with what I regarded as my triumph.
I looked condescendingly toward Sweet Beat, he smirked my way, Sniff licked her finger to turn the pages of her book as though she was searching for something, and Julie and Ashley alternately crossed and uncrossed their legs and looked around the room. There wasn’t much to look at: just the sixteen of us scrunched up next to each other in this one little living room and the leftovers on the snack table along the wall. That was really why most of us came, I figured. There’s nothing like free food.
That first meeting, in fact, had been all about food: who was willing to bring something and when. We considered this carefully as we munched on blonde brownies and drank RC cola. After that Sally told us we’d be discussing Treasure Island, passed out books she must’ve gotten from Salvation Armies all over the city, and told us more than any of us wanted to know about the guy who wrote it. After a few snide comments and one or two polite questions from the group, Sally said she’d read aloud the evening’s chapters to anyone who came for snacks in order to refresh our memories. Yeah, right. I, for one, know that Sweet Beat couldn’t read a stop sign much less a book. I guess he lucked out.
“I don’t like he stayed without payin’.”
I started, since the comment came like a shot out of nowhere. It was only Ashley.
“Tell us why, Ashley,” Sally encouraged her.
“I, I just don’t. He like as promised he’d pay, but he didn’t.”
“He didn’t no such thing,” Bud said quietly but with an intensity that made me scared.
Ashley eyed him for a minute, then slumped back in her chair.
“Maybe he didn’t say no such thing, but he made ‘em think he would,” she muttered under her breath.
Sally ran her thumb back and forth across her fingernail for a few minutes.
“I suppose,” she said, “what we’re examining here is whether Captain Bill is a man of truth. The question then becomes not whether he paid, but whether implying something is the same as saying something outright. Can one be accused of lying, of not meeting his obligations when he hasn’t said something, but has rather behaved in a way that said it?”
That was really too much for me. I got up for some more weenies in barbecue sauce. I could feel Sniff raise her eyebrows at me clear across the room.
to be continued . . .