There was a red Chevrolet parked outside of the Iron Star Bar. The only cars that were ever parked out there were John’s pickup, Marcy’s little Hyundai, and Thomas’ motorcycle. The townsfolk weren’t too keen on Thomas’ motorcycle, because it made a ruckus and he would race it down the highway at night. Nonetheless, they were familiar with it. But that night parked in one of the spots, the spot that was always open, was the little red Chevrolet with a scratch on its side.
Old McGinty lit a cigarette as he stood in the driveway of the motel across the road. It was an old motel. There was a total of 6 rooms (not counting the one reserved for the major and his ‘appointments’). They had blue sheets that he washed every other week and a single lamp on each bedstand. One of the lightbulbs went out a couple nights ago and he still had to get around to fixing it.
He went into the motel’s office and gave a call to Wilma Dainty down the road.
“Wilma, are you going to the bar tonight? There’s a car parked outside.”
Wilma scoffed heavily. “Of course, there is, how else are those farmers supposed to get up there?”
Wilma was a firm believer that she was the smartest person in the room (and perhaps the planet). Being the schoolteacher for the little town, every boy and girl was taught by her. Most got on her good side and came through with a rough knowledge of the world. Then there was Thomas, who discovered 11 different ways to build paper airplanes. When he finally graduated, he shared some choice words with her. Marcy had leaned over to Mr. McGinty and said, “If his father was still alive, that boy would receive the whooping of his life.” The townsfolk weren’t too keen on Thomas’ choices of language.
“There’s a car here I’ve never seen before,” Mr. McGinty explained.
“Well, did Roland finally man up and replace that crappy Volkswagen?”
“It’s a Chevrolet. A red one.”
He heard Wilma gasp over the phone. The townsfolk weren’t too keen on such flamboyance. Thomas had wanted to do a mural on the outside of his barn. No one really cared until he went to buy paint. He was going to buy three neon colors. Three. Neon. They shut that down real quick. Wilma wouldn’t allow anyone driving through the town to see such a monstrosity.
“I’m heading over,” Wilma said, and immediately the line went dead. Wilma lived four houses down the street. Past the Eli’s, the Hudson’s, and the Washington’s. It wasn’t far and Wilma was the speed walker of the town. In less than two minutes she was standing by Mr. McGinty’s side, sizing the car up.
“Reckless hooligans, I bet,” she said.
“I wonder what Dave thinks,” Mr. McGinty considered. Dave was the bartender. Had been for the last 34 years. He didn’t know how to make those fancy drinks rich people are obsessed with these days, but he could carry any conversation. He served drinks like a college student writes a paper an hour before it is due, fast without much regard to thought. If anyone got too drunk, he’d send them over to McGinty’s motel, 20 dollars a night. It was an efficient scheme.
Roland and Margo were Mr. McGinty’s most common customers. Roland would drink too much and fall asleep on the floor, so Dave and Mr. McGinty would carry him to the motel into room 3. Margo would start talking conspiracy stories. Once she started going on about pigeon experiments, they’d know she was too drunk to make it home.
Sometimes Thomas would get drunk. He was an angry sober person and a pissed off drunk one. Last time he got drunk he threw a punch at William (from Chainsville, the town over). The townsfolk weren’t too keen on the way Thomas drinks.
Wilma stomped her way across the street and up the bar’s door. Mr. McGinty quickly followed. She pulled the door open and stepped in, her eyes scanning the bar’s occupants.
In the booth was Roland and his wife. At one of the tables, scarfing down two burgers was Chris, the farmhand on Roland’s farm. At the counter was John, Marcy, and Emma, Marcy’s daughter (she’s 19 so Dave just gives her a glass of Pepsi).
Dave caught Wilma’s eye and nodded towards the bathroom. Wilma huffed loudly. “Get me a drink, Dave.”
He didn’t ask what kind. He never does. He set down a drink for Wilma and a drink of Mr. McGinty. He didn’t ask if Mr. McGinty wanted to drink. He never does. Wilma sat down, looking like a cat about to face a dog with its back arched and its eyes large.
“How are you today?” Dave asked Mr. McGinty.
“Oh, same old, same old.”
The bathroom door opened, and all heads swiveled to look.
A young man stepped out. He was wearing jeans and a button down with brown shoes. He paused, feeling the eyes on him.
Wilma wasted no time. “Is that your car out there?”
She looked him up and down, her eyes tiny lasers analyzing his every flaw.
“Where are you headed?”
He blinked, “the Loubi place.”
Ah. The Loubi place. Everybody in town knew the tragedy of the farm that had once belonged to the Loubi family. The Loubi family included Teri, Emma, Christian, Gina, Max, and their matriarch Annabeth. A little over a year and a half ago the whole farm burned down, house and barn and even the boat shed. Nobody made it out.
Since then it’s sat a scar of scorched earth. Over time the green return little by little and eventually a ‘For Sale’ sign showed up one day. No one wanted to buy land that killed six people. No one in their right mind.
It didn’t occur to anyone until that moment that the ‘For Sale’ signed had disappeared a few days ago.
Wilma seemed lost for words, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
“What’s your name?” Mr. McGinty asked, standing up and approaching them.
“Walsh Simons.” The man held out his hand. Mr. McGinty stared at it for a moment before shaking it. “Nice meeting you,” Walsh said. He stepped around them and headed for the door.
“I assume we’ll be seeing you around?”
“Oh, yes, definitely.” With that he left and a moment later they heard the roar of his car starting up. He was completely unaware of the repugnance he left behind.
Less than five minutes after he left, Thomas’ motorcycle could be heard howling down the street and coming to a stop outside the bar. He came in practically throwing his helmet on the counter and waving to Dave. Dave didn’t ask what he wanted. Didn’t have to.
“Why so gloomy, Miss Dainty?” His voice suggested he didn’t actually care, but Wilma was not about to pass up an opportunity to complain.
“We’ve got a newcomer,” she said, sounding like she was admitting surrender during war.
Thomas raised his eyebrows. He took a sip of the drink as soon as Dave set it in front of him.
“Some hipster bought the Loubi place.”
Thomas paused and then very carefully set the glass down.
“The last thing we need is some newcomer coming in here with his bright red car. I bet he’s going to build something ugly on that land. It’s better off the way it is now,” Wilma was shaking her head and poking her finger at the counter to empathize her words.
Mr. McGinty thought back to when him and a few of the other farmers had climbed on top on his motel roof that night and watched the smoke rise from the Loubi house. “Who knows, maybe he’ll fix it up nice.”
Wilma shot him a look. She turned to Dave for validation.
Dave nodded, “I don’t trust him. He looks like he got all this money from daddy. Hasn’t worked a day in his life.”
Wilma nodded aggressively, “Exactly! Can’t be trusted. We like our town the way it is now. No need for change.”
“God forbid anything happens in the world without your approval, huh, Miss Dainty?” Thomas took a sip of his drink, watching her from the corner of his eye.
She scowled at him. “Laugh all you want. Soon they’ll be building factories and car dealerships and before you know it, you’re out of a job.”
“We need to run him from the land,” Wilma says.
“Way to sound like scooby doo villain,” Thomas interjected.
She ignores him, “We need to make him hate it here.”
“Just be yourself, Miss Dainty.”
Wilma whips her head around and glares at him. “Respect your elders, boy.”
“It’s important to know your limits at your old age,” he retorted.
Mr. McGinty immediately stepped between the two. “Come on now, let’s not fight.”
Thomas nodded and downed his beer. “I have to be going. Good luck with your… pitchforks and torches.” He threw some cash on the bar and left.
“He’s a blight upon this town,” Wilma said.
“He was raised here, Wilma. He’s one of us.”
Wilma shook her head. “Well, we need to make sure another hooligan doesn’t make his home here.”
Wilma created a five-step plan to scare Walsh away.
1. Do not interact. No greetings. No waving. NO friendly interaction.
2. Up the prices. No one wants to live somewhere where bananas are 10 bucks a pound
3. Demand paperwork. For everything. He tries to hire a construction crew. Paperwork. He tries to park his car. Paperwork. Make it a nuisance.
4. Be petty (one of Wilma’s personal talents). Block his car in. Make him give exact change. Forget his name.
5. Scare him away.
It was all rather straightforward. The townsfolk had no problem with it. They weren’t too keen on Walsh.
Step 1 was easy. Most of the townsfolk weren’t too sociable to begin with. Walsh barely got a grunt in response to any question or any attempt to introduce himself. Check
Step 2 went just as smoothly. The look of surprise on Walsh’s face when the local grocery store owner told him the price of bread was priceless. Check.
Step 3 was a little tougher. Walsh was an organized man. He knew what he needed and how it needed to be done. No one could catch him doing anything wrong, building or otherwise. Not quite check.
Step 4 was ongoing. They would ‘accidently’ graze the side of his car with a wheelbarrow. Or the store clerk would drop his food on the ground (he eventually stopped going there). Dave even spilled a full beer on him once. Check.
Walsh’s annoyance was clear but he never said anything or showed any sign of desire to leave.
And that’s where step 5 came in.
It was four months in, and the building at the Loubi place was coming along smoothly despite the townsfolk attempts to delay it. Whatever building he was creating was already starting to come up. The townsfolk weren’t too keen on it.
Walsh didn’t often go to the bar after multiple people had ‘accidently’ spilled drinks on him. But sometimes he seemed willing to risk it. One night he came in, looking tired. He ordered two shots and a beer. Dave wasn’t a fan of people telling him what to do.
Walsh sat at a table on his own, while some of the regulars sat at the bar conversing with Dave. After about an hour all alone, Thomas walked in. He sat at the bar and waited patiently for Dave to finish his conversation and bring him a drink. As soon as Dave set it down, Thomas picked it up and approached Walsh’s table. He pulled the chair opposite of him out. It screeched across the floor.
He sat, set his drink down, and leaned across the table. “Do you want to hear a story, Walsh?”
Walsh glanced at the bar where the regulars watched them with frowns. Considering his treatment from the last four months he was understandably suspicious.
“What’s the story?”
Thomas leaned back and toyed with his glass. “Teri Loubi. The oldest of the Loubi children. She was 22 when she died.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Hmmm. Her and I were… entangled. If you know what I mean,” Thomas winked to empathize his point. Walsh continued to stare at him.
“She told me-“
“Let me guess,” Walsh interrupts, “The place is haunted.”
“No. She told me that her mother wanted to sell it. Teri hated that idea. She wanted to stay. But Annabeth wanted to get her family out of this little dump. She was going to sell to some corporate big-league. Nice piece of land it was, you’ve seen it.”
Walsh nodded incredulously.
“Teri tells me that one night Miss Wilma Dainty comes in like a storm. She’s screaming and hollering. You would think her hair was on fire. She’s telling Annabeth that she can’t sell the land. That they can’t allow some outsiders to come in here with their development plans and the like.
And Annabeth, god rest her soul, tells Miss Dainty ‘you can’t tell me what to do’.”
Thomas took a sip of his drink, “And less than a week later, the whole place burns down, the whole family inside.”
“What are you saying?”
“It’d be a shame after all that time, work, money, and commitment, if the whole thing just burned down.”
“Are you threatening me?”
Thomas leaned forward, grabbing his glass and making some of the beer swish over the edge. “A threat? It’s a warning, Walsh. Lighting isn’t always random. You don’t know the smell of charred flesh like I do.”
Walsh sat back, his eyes wide and his jaw tight.
“Take the loss, yeah? Get out,” Thomas said.
Walsh looked down at his drink. “It’s my father’s money.”
“You got your father’s money and I got my father’s debt.” Thomas clinked his glass against Walsh’s. Walsh had gone pale. He stood. “Hey. Some towns aren’t meant to change. They just fade away.”
Walsh left in a hurry. Step five. Check.
As the red Charlette pulled out, the town was safe, because the towns people weren’t too keen on change.