Authors: Michael J. Nelson
onty sprinted down Washington Avenue and arrived at the Wick 'R Baskit with just three minutes to spare. Though he'd been there nearly a year, he had no desire to get on the bad side of his store manager, Jessica, who at nineteen was as hardened by life as any veteran unpromoted slaughterhouse worker. Ponty hung up his jacket and began assembling soap-based gift baskets, and, hearing him, Jessica came in from the front of the store.
“Big day,” she said. “Big, big day. I hope you're pumped and ready to assemble truckloads of gift baskets.”
Ponty, who had spent a full sixty-one years on earth never having felt any emotions at all about any gift baskets, ever, pretended that he was. “Are you kidding?” he said. “This is going to be an eighty-seven-gift-basket day or I'll eat a eucalyptus wreath whole.”
Jessica frowned at him.
“I mean it,” he said, and for a moment he actually believed that he had nothing to lose by eating a eucalyptus wreath whole.
Thirty-four soap-based gift baskets into his day, Jessica came in from the front of the store, her attitude more clipped than usual, something Ponty hadn't imagined was possible.
“There's . . . ah, someone here to see you,” she announced with irritation. “She said she wants to âtalk,' to you, but I don't want her here in the back. I suggest you go to the bench by the Sox It to Me.”
Ponty entered the front of the store for the first time in months and was even more overwhelmed by soap, candle, and
potpourri stench than he was while leaning his face over baskets of the stuff all day. He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
“Ponty,” said Sandi.
“Sandi,” said Ponty. They hugged awkwardly, and Ponty blushed.
“Sorry,” he said, “my boss says we have to go sit by the Sox It to Me.”
They crossed the mall in silence, and Ponty wordlessly offered her a seat at a bench opposite the sock store.
“Oh, Ponty,” said Sandi once they'd sat down.
“Sandi,” said Ponty.
“The Wick 'R Baskit?”
“I get an employee discount on tea candles,” he said, then coughed lightly into his hand.
“You keep disappearing on me,” she said, looking him up and down. “I like your little beard and mustache thing. Real?”
“Yes. Disguise, you know, so kids don't chase me down the street like the Elephant Man.”
“I've called you so many times.”
“The phone is at the end of the hall, and Mr. Panniermeyer usually gets it first. He doesn't even give me my messages because he thinks I'm evil.”
“Are you really that broke that you have to live there?”
“Lots of lawsuits. My Wick 'R Baskit check is garnisheed pretty heavily every week. Maybe that's why Jessica doesn't like me,” he mused, looking back in the direction of the store.
“When they pulled you out of there, after Herzog and Bromstad had come out looking so bad, I thought you were dead for sure.”
“No. No. Cold. But not dead,” he said, looking down.
“Do you see Jack much?”
“Oh, yeah. Now and again. Going to see him this weekend, in fact. He's doing a showcase at the Theater of the Broken Mind. After this I think he's going out to L.A. for good.”
Sandi laughed. “I don't hear much from his good buddy King Leo.”
“No, that ended pretty quickly. King Leo became Darren Johnson again. Jack says he's in L.A., producing.”
“Oh, I'd like to see Jack again,” Sandi said fondly. “Are you writing?”
“Me? No. Well, just code numbers on the side of the gift baskets.”
“Things are still pretty happening up in Holey, Ponty. Lots of young people up there. They think the whole thing is very cool. Gerry, he's making money hand over fist. You should come up sometime. Ralph misses you. Dying to go hunting with you. And, of course, needs to pass on his walleye secrets to someone, and you know he doesn't get along with Chet.”
“Ah, well, say hi to him, will you? And now I'll take my leave, for if I don't get back soon, Jessica will have
hunted and killed.”
Sandi put a hand on his, and he did not withdraw it. “Come on up to Holey and help us work the Taconite. We've got a deal with the Bugling Mooseâwe're putting in a bar there at the main building. We need a good man.”
“Ha,” he snorted. “I'll let you know if I can think of anyone.”
“Think about it, Ponty. You'll have plenty of time to write. Think about it, and then come up,” she said. Ponty promised to think about it, said good-bye, and went back to his powerfully malodorous job at the Wick 'R Baskit.
He was able to assemble more than ninety gift baskets on his shift, so when he got back to his rented room on Walker Street, he was even more tired than usual. Just as he reached the second floor, the phone at the end of the hall rang, and Ponty was in a position to answer it before Mr. Panniermeyer could even get his gray, cranky body out the door.
“I've got it, Mr. Panniermeyer,” Ponty announced to the man's skull as it poked out of its room.
“Unggrh,” said Mr. Panniermeyer. “Hello?” Ponty said into the greasy phone.
“Hey, you big Feeb! I finally got you.”
“Hey, little Feeb. How are you, brother?”
“I'm good. How about you? The dust settling?”
“It still feels somewhat dusty, I must confess.”
“So? You coming out here? That was a heck of a winter you had.”
“They're all bad.”
“So come out. We've got the pool. Nice little place picked out for you. Come on, big bro.”
Freeloading off my little brother or winding down my life making stinky gift baskets for a bitter teen. I can do more with myself than that,
Maybe not a whole lot more, but something.
He thought of turkey hunting and how much he'd loved it and how there just had to be a book in there. With the proper research and some fieldwork with Ralph, he was sure he could get something out of it. He could not deny that he'd been playing with a titleâ
Bald, Fat, Wattled, and Proud: The History of the Wild Turkey in America
. It sounded like a winner.
“No. No, Thaddeus. Why don't you come and visit me? I
think I'm going to live up in Holey. I'm going to hunt a little. Do a bit of fishing. Run a little bar up there. You bring the family. Come up there.”
“Hey, that sounds like heaven! I'll see what I've got this summer.”
“Yeah. Do that, brother. Meet me up in Holey.”
“I'll see what I can do. And hey, you watch your step up there, okay?”
MICHAEL J. NELSON
, an actor and a writer, served as head writer and on-air host of the Peabody Awardâwinning television series
Mystery Science Theater 3000
. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, writer-performer Bridget Jones, and their two children. Information on Mike's other projects can be found at
Discover great authors, exclusive offers, and more at
Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese
Mike Nelson's Mind Over Matters
MIKE NELSON'S DEATH RAT
! Copyright Â© 2003 by Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Nelson, Michael J.
Mike Nelson's death rat! : a novel / Michael J. Nelson.â1st ed.
p.Â Â Â Â cm.
EPub Edition March 2016 ISBN 9780062561923
1. Minneapolis (Minn.)âFiction. 2. PeriodicalsâPublishingâFiction. I. Title: Death rat! II. Title.
PS3614.E447 D43Â Â Â Â 2003
813'.6âdc21Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2002027323
03Â Â 04Â Â 05Â Â 06Â Â 07Â Â Â Â
Â Â Â Â 10Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
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