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Authors: Jim Newell

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Never Use a Chicken and Other Stories

BOOK: Never Use a Chicken and Other Stories
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Never Use a Chicken
and Other Stories

By Jim Newell

Copyright 2010 by Jim Newell

Cover Copyright 2010 by Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing

The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold, reproduced or transmitted by any means in any form or given away to other people without specific permission from the author and/or publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.

http://www.untreedreads.com

Never Use a Chicken
and Other Stories

By Jim Newell

’Til the Fat Lady Sings

There is nothing in medical literature to prove that human vocal cords are affected by fatty tissue on other parts of the body. Nevertheless, it is an anatomical fact. Fat females shriek. It is true. Ask Danny Callaghan. He knows. He is an expert. Not only does Danny have a mother who is a fat lady, but he also has several aunts, some of them his mother’s sisters and some of them his father’s sisters and all of them fat ladies. All of them shriek. Danny’s permanent part-time job completes his expert knowledge of fat ladies and their vocal cords. Danny is a stagehand at the local opera house.

In a small city like the one where Danny Callaghan’s family have lived since his mother was only pleasingly plump, there is no call for a union to represent the stagehands at the opera house—the Civic Theatre, to give it the official name. The building is not used more than once a week except at Christmas when the local Rotary club puts on its annual concert, which runs for three nights and a Saturday matinee. The opera house committee has no need to hire permanent stage people to run the curtain, turn on the lights or whatever. Danny and his friend Mike have done those jobs for three years, ever since Danny began high school and Mike was repeating Grade Eight for the second time.

In his three years at the opera house, Danny Callaghan has watched a good many fat ladies perform on the stage. Most of them sang, but sometimes they played the piano. One even played, if you could call what she did “played,” a violin. Music is not one of Danny’s strong enthusiasms unless you count heavy metal rock bands as music, which Danny does and many fat ladies including his mother do not. When you think about it, the sounds they both make are not that much different. Only the rhythm and the words vary. Fat ladies shriek German and Italian words, which nobody can translate, and rock bands have singers who don’t shriek any words that are recognizable except “Yah! Yah! Yah!” Not that Danny ever made the connection. He didn’t care. He was after the money.

Money comes in various denominations: tens, twenties, fifties, hundreds, hotel keys, car keys, credit cards. The latter three are not money to begin with but if you know how, you can turn them into tens, twenties, fifties and hundreds. Danny knew the trick. It really is not that difficult. You just have to look scrubbed, have blond hair kept shiny clean and styled with a cowlick, and remember to smile and say, “Yes, M’am” regularly. That way fat ladies trust you. When they trust you, they give you their purses to mind for them while they are performing, or they will tell you not to let anyone go into the dressing room while they are on stage because there are too many valuable things lying around to let strangers get into. For your pains they give you five dollars which isn’t money, but they think it is. The purses and dressing rooms then become money.

Danny Callaghan has a girlfriend, which is why he needs money. She is definitely not fat, which is one reason why Danny enjoys having her for a girlfriend. She doesn’t shriek; she giggles. She calls him “Dannn-eee,” which makes him feel good. Her name is Kim but everybody including Danny calls her Kimmy. She spells it
Kymi
, but nobody else does because they either cannot remember or they are teachers who cannot believe that those letters arranged in that order can make a name the way she pronounces it. She writes it with a little heart over the “i.” Having Kymi as a girlfriend costs Danny a good deal of money so he needs to have a permanent part-time job like the one at the opera house.

Late in May a phone call to Danny’s house alerted him to go to work for a concert the following Friday evening. His mother answered the phone and shrieked up the stairwell to give him the message. He was listening to his favorite rock band at its usual high volume through earphones that he constantly wore, and almost missed hearing her shriek except that the recording came to an end just at just the right moment. He called Mike and they reported to the opera house on Friday for instructions.

The concert performer was to be a Madame Luchinko, according to the program lying on the desk by the curtain switch. She was apparently a singer of international reputation, appearing under the sponsorship of a local women’s group, and the concert was supposed to raise money for one of their special projects. Madame Luchinko had had an open date on her very busy schedule and had graciously agreed to be of assistance to this very worthy cause. That’s what the program said. She was also fat, very fat. Her picture hinted at her size and her presence—shortly after seven o’clock confirmed the fact. She swept into the dressing room, shrouded in some kind of pale blue tent, manufactured in the Far East by the look of it. Madame was shrieking at her accompanist to do something about the absolutely abominable stage lighting. The accompanist was not fat. He was tall, skinny, bald and snarly. He obviously did not appreciate having two teenage boys as his stage crew and he did not enjoy having fat Madame Luchinko giving him orders. Danny agreed to fix the lights and went outside to have a cigarette and call Kymi from the phone booth. As he was hanging up, Mike came out to ask about the stage lights.

“What’re we gonna do about them?”

“Nothin’. Why should we? If he says anything, tell him we already fixed them. He won’t know. Won’t care either, I bet. Did you get a load of the size of the old lady?”

“Yeah.” Mike was not impressed. “This’ll be some kind of concert. S’pose we’ll make anything on it?”

“Dunno. Keep your eyes open.”

Madame Luchinko emerged from her dressing room at eight o’clock, changed in color from blue to pink. The tent had become a different shape of tent but still a tent nonetheless. It was just manufactured, Danny thought, by a different tentmaker. She swept by Mike who was standing at the top of the steps leading to the dressing room area and paused by Danny at the curtain desk. She beamed a stage smile upon him.

“You look like a lovely young man,” she said. Her exaggerated stage whisper was to prevent the audience on the other side of the curtain from hearing her. In fact they were making so much noise out there nobody could have heard her had she shrieked. “Be sure to guard the dressing room. I wouldn’t want anyone to walk away with all my worldly wealth.”

Madame Luchinko’s stage whisper laugh was a sort of strangled whoop and was not even accompanied by a five dollar bill. She turned away to peek through the side of the curtain. She nodded to her accompanist and stage whispered at him.

“Play loud or we’ll both be in trouble.”

The accompanist didn’t say anything, just pulled at his shirt cuffs and signaled to Danny to open the curtain. After the first number, Danny was ready to make some money. This was going to be a short evening by his reckoning so he would have to be quick. He knew the concert would be short because of the sweat. His mother would have said “perspiration.” Madame Luchinko must have poured a couple of jars of baby powder down the front of that pink tent but she couldn’t reach the back, and after the first number, she was wearing a dress which was a much darker pink in back than in front, beginning between the shoulder blades. As long as she didn’t turn her back to the audience but just bowed and backed off into the wings so that the curtain closed in front of her, she would be all right. As for her singing, the people in the audience obviously judged her by her publicity and applauded wildly for the loudest shrieks Danny had heard offered in his entire three years at the opera house.

After that first noisy applause and with his estimate of the sweat-clock timing his activities, Danny beckoned to Mike and said, “You got it? I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

A quick search of the dressing room turned up the motel key, and Danny headed for the motel, about four blocks away. He was driving his sister’s Honda, borrowed for the evening. Kymi worked in the coffee shop at the motel on Friday evenings and she would be watching for him. In less than ten minutes he had let himself into the room while Kymi stood watch outside in the hall. What a mess of clothes and stuff! Danny ignored it all and headed for the briefcase standing by itself on the dresser. He rummaged quickly through its papers where he found an envelope of newspaper clippings. He almost tossed the envelope aside before a headline caught his eye. He scanned the clippings, the grin on his face getting wider by the clipping. Then he stuffed the papers in his shirt, slammed the briefcase shut and ran from the room, waving to Kymi as he left. He was backstage again just as the curtain was closing for the intermission.

“I hope it was worthwhile.” Mike had a pained look. “This has gotta be the worst one ever.”

“Yeah. I could hear her all the way over at the motel.”

“Really?”

“Nah. But darn near.”

Danny walked Mike over to the steps. He took out his wallet and handed over two twenties. “Look, we aren’t gonna get much off this old dame. Why don’t you take this for your share and split? I can handle the rest of the concert and you’ve suffered enough.”

“Sounds good.” Mike grinned. “I don’t have to be pushed to leave this one. She’s awful!”

He was gone. About that time, two of the ladies from the sponsoring committee appeared in the dressing room doorway. They were obviously leaving, and Danny knew they had been paying Madame Luchinko her fee for the concert. Everybody was smiles and “Darlings,” the whole air of friendliness so sweet that the place almost reeked. Danny waited until the ladies were gone and then went down the steps to the dressing room and knocked. When Madame opened the door, he stood back a step or two and waved the clippings. He tossed a couple on the table. Each one was a report on the death of Madame Luchinko six months previously in Paris. She snatched them up and looked at the first paragraph of each. Her mouth opened and closed twice before any sound came.

“Where did you get those?” Madame Luchinko’s voice was a hiss. She carefully did not shriek. Even though it destroyed his theory of vocal cords and fatty tissues, Danny had known she would not shriek. “How did you get those?”

Danny tossed the motel room key over her shoulder to the accompanist who had risen from the chair where he had been sprawled. With Madame Luchinko’s considerable bulk between them, there was no way the man could get past and Danny felt quite safe.

“What did they pay you?” Danny asked the singer. “Three thousand?” She stared without speaking. The mirror showed the sweat was increasing the deeper pink at the back of her dress. In fairness, the May evening was very warm, but that was not the primary cause of the sudden increase in perspiration. “Come on,” Danny said, “I haven’t got all night. How much?”

“How much do you want, you little scum?”

“I’m not greedy. Give me two thousand and you can have most of these papers. The rest are mine. For insurance.”

“Two thousand!” The voice was dangerously near to a shriek. “Never!”

“That leaves you five Cs each. Otherwise nothing. You have one minute, and then you’re done.”

Madame lost about fifty pounds in the next twenty seconds. She shot over her shoulder at the thin accompanist, “Pay the kid. He can hurt us.”

* * *

Danny bought a paper next morning as he was leaving the bank. The story was on the front page, lower left, with a photo of Madame Luchinko. “International Singer Unable To Complete Concert” read the headline. The story indicated that heat had forced Madame Luchinko to stop at the intermission. She had been very remorseful. The women’s committee was grateful nobody had asked for a return of the admission fee. The concert had been for a worthy cause.

He read what the paper’s music critic had written: “..a pity to miss the last half of the concert after the first half had been so promising. Seldom have we been privileged....”

Danny stopped reading. “Wonderful,” he thought, “what a little nerve can do. Imagine posing as an internationally known singer who had been dead for two years. Shows what a knowledgeable concert audience we have in this town. “Seldom have we been privileged to come that close to a fraud case at the opera house,” he grinned to himself.

A car horn blew. Mike waved as he drove by. Danny waved back.

BOOK: Never Use a Chicken and Other Stories
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