Monday, October 8, 2012
In rat form, Louie crept up to the fence surrounding the back yard of Gil’s apartment building and sniffed around until he found a crack wide enough to peer through. His eyes got huge. Boil my tail in a crock pot, he thought, it’s true.
“I can smell you, you know,” Gil said without looking up from his work. “The spell gives me squirrel senses even when I’m human. If you’re going to watch, you might as well get your ass in here before somebody sees you and gets curious.”
Finding a hole big enough for his fat rat body was harder, but the fence had a loose board at one of its corners that Louie was able to squeeze past. He shifted so he could laugh at the sight of Gil, with an artist’s brush in his hand and smears of oil paint on his fingers, standing before an easel with a half-finished landscape on it.
“Wouldja look at you,” Louie guffawed, “all Vincent van Goghy and shit. You ain’t gonna cut your ear off, are ya?"
“I might cut off yours,” Gil warned. “Okay, you had your laugh. You want to leave now?”
“I didn’t know you was a artist.”
“Some guy on a talk show said painting’s good therapy. Lets you work out frustration through creativity.” Gil dabbed a glob of green on the canvas and scowled at the result. “Was he wrong.”
Louie sobered at once. “You got problems? Anything you need to talk about?”
“I turn into a squirrel when the full moon rises. What do you think?”
“Is that all. Hey, could be worse. You could be a skunk. Or a rat.” Louie waddled over to inspect Gil’s efforts. “Now that ain’t half bad. Looks a little rushed, though.”
“It’s supposed to be the lake as seen from the overlook, except Hancock’s thugs chased me off. Goddamn mutts. No appreciation for art.”
“Uh-huh. So, izzit working? The therapy stuff.”
“Some. Now I’m mad at painting instead of mad at my life.”
“Huh. Guess that’s progress. You coming into work tonight or what?”
Gil sighed at his efforts, and set down his brush. “Yeah. Six-thirty?”
“Make it seven. So’s you got time to wash your hands.” Louie couldn't resist a parting shot. "Being as how this is you, shouldn't you be painting pichers of Planters Peanuts jars or something?"
He shifted and ducked out past the loose board, just ahead of a fat, hurled tube of yellow ochre.
# # #
A string of colorful Jersey curses prompted Gil to stick his nose, albeit gingerly, into the kitchen at Rattigan’s. “Problems, boss?”
“Yeah, you could say that.” Louie upended a crate of tomatoes on the stainless prep table. Every single one sported blotches, wrinkles, and holes. “The hell that son of a cockroach trying to pull? Just because I’m a rat don’t mean I serve crap to my customers. We got a rep to maintain.”
“You want me to run to the supermarket?”
“No, I’ll do it. Maybe that Digger wolf’s got some fresh stuff left over. Then me’n Mr. Produce Man is gonna have a talk. See that Micki starts the prep when she gets in, okay?” Louie stormed out without waiting for an answer, muttering dire promises that made Gil grateful he wasn’t their produce supplier.
Gil picked up a pungent tomato. It squished in his hand and he hadn’t even squeezed it. He grimaced at the juice in his palm. When he looked up, a bare wall met his eyes. Bare as an untouched canvas.
Gil stared at the wall. Then at the tomato in his hand. Then at the wall again. Slowly, an evil smile stretched his lips.
# # #
Louie stopped dead, his stare trained on the results of Gil’s “creativity.” “Gil! What the hell?”
“I’ll clean it up, I swear. Just let me … ” Gil picked out a particularly soggy tomato, took careful aim, and let fly. It made a satisfyingly loud splat against the wall. “Beautiful!” Gil exclaimed. “Jackson Pollock would be proud.”
“Only ‘cause he ain’t got tomato all over his wall.” Louie looked at Gil. “You do look happier.”
“I feel great. This art therapy stuff really works. Look at how pretty it’s dripping.”
“Right down to the floor, you mean.”
“Yeah. Lemme get some rags and cleaner.”
Louie looked at the prep table and its rotten produce thoughtfully. “We got any of them tomatoes left?”
“Half the crate. I’m a minimalist. Why?"
“I think we can turn a profit on this shit after all. Where’s that paper the meat comes wrapped in?”
# # #
Rattigan’s Tuesday Night Tomato Toss turned out to be a rousing success. Customers happily forked over $5 for five tomatoes to splatter on the butcher paper taped to the wall by the bar. Gil got a little splattered as well, but the hefty tips made up for it.
“And here’s your cut.” Louie counted a pile of bills into Gil’s hand. “For the idea. I called our punkass produce guy and told him to swing by here any time he’s got rotten tomatoes on his hands. Long as he don’t expect me to cook with ‘em.”
“Y’know, we could try cake, too. The bakery throws stuff out every night, and some of it’s gooey. The raccoons by the dumpster’ll be pissed at us, but screw them.”
“It’s a thought. Maybe once a month we can do this, long as it pays off.” He regarded Gil carefully. “You okay now?”
“I’m fine. Not a care in the world.”
“Good. Now that you’re happy again and all, you can empty out the grease traps. Don’t forget to check behind the grill for spatters. I don’t want no roaches in my kitchen.”
“You know,” Gil said, “I think I may have one tomato left … ”