By Elgin Tolliver /
My old friend Leo used to pilot Beechcraft Barons south of the border on behalf of those who like special ingredients in their lemon pound cake. I don’t think I’m speculating wildly when I say that, if offered, he didn’t turn down a shot at viewing the cosmos through an altered lens. But that was two lifetimes ago, if not three. I therefore don’t know what to make of the tale he told en route to a recent round of golf.
I swung by his digs in Riverside, a tree-lined Wichita district tucked between the Arkansas to the west and the Little Arkansas to the east. I grew up on Spaulding and know the area well. The waterways and ample cover, in conjunction with civilization’s discarded foodstuffs, create an environment in which assorted varmints make themselves at home. A mountain lion was caught on camera a couple summers back, strolling down a Riverside alley.
“You couldn’t have asked for a later tee time?” Leo said. “I like to sleep on Saturdays. You know how early they get up in the aircraft industry.”
I’d arrived at nine a.m.
“It’s the dead of night, I come out of the house during the week,” Leo said. “My alarm goes off, it’s a complete shock.”
“Ex Air Force guys work in management,” I said. “They get up early.”
“I started the Chrysler a while back,” Leo said, “I’m going down Perry when I notice Vinnie’s best gal Gladys in the passenger seat.”
“All right. My other one, the Mercury Grand Marquis, with the electrical issue. It’s parked behind the house. Never moves.”
“Noticed it sits back there.”
“Vinnie’s a raccoon, comes over, gets underneath it. Right about dark.”
“Final prep before hunting down that day old McDonald’s biscuit,” I said.
“Neighbors out back play their stereo too loud. Vinnie and Gladys don’t like it.”
“What’d she want?”
“Out.” Leo produced a cigar, one of those all-day suckers. “At the first stop sign she crawled across my lap. I opened the door and let her out.” He put the cigar in his mouth. “Startled me, though.”
“How’d she get in?”
“Night before when I pulled in the driveway, I got a call. Forgot to close the windows. There’s an Elm hangs down over that part of the yard. They must’ve trapezed in.”
“Gotcha.” I thought about it. “Wait—they?”
“I’m on Franklin by now,” Leo said. “I look in the rearview mirror, Vinnie’s in back with a derringer.”
Vinnie says to stay on Franklin: they’re headed to the park. Leo pulls in, shuts off the Chrysler, and walks as directed by Vinnie, who follows with the derringer.
At the base of a hollowed-out Cottonwood, he hollers for Horace. Leo hears Horace rattling around. Then Horace emerges. Super cool. A Beatnik raccoon with gangster tendencies.
He lights a cigarette. “Howcome you moved your dumpster?”
“I had varmints bumping the window,” Leo says. “Climb the steps and onto the ledge. They parachute in from there.”
“Lookit, I don’t mind you purposely put it where we can’t get in,” Horace says. “But you gotta help us out. Think of all them bugs we eat, never get in your house.”
“What do you want?”
“Every night, a hot dog and beer for me and Vinnie.”
Vinnie lowers the derringer. “And now? You can go.”
I found a parking spot at MacDonald Golf Course. Leo and I started putting on our golf shoes, getting the clubs out of the trunk, etc.
“What about their best gal Gladys?” I said. “No hot dog and beer for her?”
“You’d have to ask Horace.”
I thought it through. “Sounds like a weird dream… or maybe a psychedelic flashback?”
“All I can tell you, every night before bed I put hot dogs and beer on the ledge,” Leo said. He flicked a tobacco flake from his lip. “And when I leave for work in the morning, they’re always gone.”