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Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 1 A Keg of Cherry Wheat by Jerry Bryson “He’s pissed, Lucky.” “Why? He said he liked the Christmas present I gave him at the office party.” “That wasn’t exactly what he said,” corrected me. Johnny “He said he never had a hundred percent Especially one with hand-painted polyester tie before. spaghetti on it.” “Well, he still laughed. He didn’t seem mad. And the idea was to bring a gag gift, right?” “I don't think they meant that kind of gag, Lucky. You gotta watch Montaldo. You haven’t been here long. He can see He Things exaggerate themselves in his mind. the simplest innocent remark as a major affront. never acts mad. He doesn’t seem mad. Then one day he Maybe months does something he considers getting even. later.” I let the matter drop. seem mad at all. As I said, Montaldo didn’t I was new in the Sacramento office of He Holbrook exports and Montaldo helped me get settled. recommended a realtor who found me a very good house for the money. He showed me the ropes at the office and took Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 2 me to meet his clients. biggest accounts. after work. I even took over one of his We often went out for a beer or two Montaldo and I shared a passion for microbrews. would hit Dabney’s Pub a couple of times a week. We Dabney specialized in microbrews generally, and the various brands of Cherry Wheat, in particular. One evening, Dabney came over with samples of a recent delivery from a brewery in Colorado. “Velor’s,” Dabney said. He had brought Montaldo “They make and me each a half-pint mug, on the house. some good stuff.” Montaldo took a taste. “Really fine,” I agreed after just a sip. while, without saying much. We sat and drank for a After a few of the Velor’s, Montaldo said, “Have you ever had Kastelbein’s, Lucky?” I hadn’t. Hadn’t even heard of them, in fact. Montaldo was glad to enlighten me. “They’re in Michigan. die for.” They make a Cherry Wheat to He paused and chuckled about something he chose not to explain. “They claim to use a secret kind of filter, or something. Anyway, it really brings out the cherries. Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 3 “Sounds interesting,” I said. has any?” “He doesn’t. Can’t get it. “Wonder if Dabney They say it doesn’t But travel well, and that they can’t ship it this far. I got a keg while I was in Dearborn. That’s why I drove Wouldn’t let me the rental car back instead of flying. check the keg on the plane.” “So you have the keg, now?” its effect. The Velor’s had taken My conclusion at the time seemed to me a stunning flash of logic inspired by the very gods. “Indeed I have. Care to try some over at my place?” I would have accepted, but my watch told me Colonel Butch was barking over his feeding dish by now. “Tomorrow, then?” “Sure,” I said as we left the bar. “I’ll go home after work, feed Colonel Butch and then get over to your place about seven? Oh, I leave for Cancun the morning after, so I need to make sure the neighbor kid is still going to watch him while I’m gone.” Montaldo closed his eyes and smiled, as if thanking some unseen spirit. dwell on the thought. “Ah, yes, Cancun.” He seemed to The trip was to meet some of the It was the account I had backers of one of our clients. Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 4 taken over from Montaldo. to Cancun. Otherwise, he would be going “I hope you don’t have hard feelings about the McMurdoch account,” I said. it over...” “It wasn’t my idea to take “Oh no, I understand Holbrook’s reasoning,” Montaldo assured me, account anyway. my job for me. “Seven sounds good. See you at the office in the “we had all but lost the McMurdoch To tell the truth, you may have saved morning, and then at my place at seven.” “He sure sounds friendly, after you stole the McMurdoch account from him.” Johnny seemed concerned. “I didn’t steal the McMurdoch account,” I protested, “We had as good as lost the account, anyway. saved it for us. personally. him.” “Wasn’t much else he could have said at that point, was there?” Johnny let the matter drop, and so did I. Holbrook I just And old K.J. Holbrook thanked me Even Montaldo said I saved his job for I was going to be out of the office for a week. has sending me to Cancun to meet with McMurdoch’s people and finalize our working agreement. I wasn’t too Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 5 worried about Montaldo’s feelings because he said he didn’t care to travel, anyway. It turned out the neighbor kid hadn’t asked his parents’ permission to watch Colonel Butch while I was gone. I had to discuss that with him and his parents. Once they agreed, I had to get Colonel Butch’s food and favorite toys packed up and in the possession of the kid’s mother. Colonel Butch would stay in his kennel, except when the kid took him out for exercise. I got to Montaldo’s house a bit late. all the better for waiting, right?” “Ah, but it’s Like the good host he was, Montaldo waved off my apology for being late. He was dressed in work clothes, like a bricklayer, but with the spaghetti polyester tie I had given him. perfect host. “It’s just a project I work on in the evenings,” he explained, “The keg’s in the cellar, downstairs.” Montaldo’s house was Spanish Modern, I guess you’d call it. I think I’d heard Montaldo say it had been But the cellar was obviously much The built in the 1950’s. older. The walls were local stone, laid with mortar When Montaldo turned on that was starting to crumble. the light, I saw a couple of tree roots poking through the outer walls. Other walls made the same way Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 6 crisscrossed the cellar and divided it into cell-like parts. “They were supporting walls for the original house,” Montaldo said, years ago. “It fell in a big quake about a hundred The new place has steel beams and doesn’t But they left them anyway. This is need the walls. going to be my beer and wine cellar and the walls will help organize the place. end.” My first keg is at the other He picked up a flashlight. With it we lit our way into the dank cellar, down the stairs and along the aisle between what I had begun to think of as cells, to the particular cell that had the keg of Cherry Wheat. There was the smell of fresh mortar among the other scents. “That’s my project, Montaldo said, “Shoring up the walls. mortar.” Got a special,--heh, heh--quick-setting He shined the light on a pallet of bricks and a trough of mortar across the isle from the cell with the keg. I took that as a gentle hint from Montaldo not I was sure to use up his whole evening with my visit. he wanted to work on his project. Besides, he knew I was leaving for Cancun on the morning flight. Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 7 I had planned to go home early, anyway. I wanted some extra sleep before the trip and I needed to make sure Colonel Butch was settled down in his Kennel. The keg occupied one of the three chairs in its cell. Montaldo and I settled into the other two. He set the flashlight on the floor and produced a couple of mugs from a little cabinet beside the keg, filled them, and handed one to me. Yes, it was a stellar brew. About We traded office gossip for a couple of mugs. then, I noticed the chains anchored to the wall. “The first house on this site was a Spanish Manor in the old days,” Montaldo explained. “Heh, heh... They He had very different labor relations back then.” raised his mug to one of the chains. still had the bracelets on the ends. quite usable. I noticed they They were still Montaldo launched into a history of the site. He discoursed enthusiastically while we each drank three more mugs. bracelets. “They must have chaffed a lot,” I said. “Only if the person struggled against them,” he said, “here, I’ll show you. Put this on.” The topic settled onto the chains and Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 8 I put my hand though the cuff, as directed. I don’t think I would have let him do that if I hadn’t had all those Cherry Wheats. As soon as my hand was in the cuff, Montaldo locked it around my wrist and let out a scream of diabolical triumph. what he had in mind. “Hey, neat trick, Montaldo. me loose?” But he only let out another shrieking howl of a laugh. “Let you loose? Let you loose to take my trip Now how about letting Only then did I begin to suspect to Cancun?” More of his crazy laughter. mixing mortar. “Aw, come on, Montaldo, I gotta get the dog to his sitter! I got a plane to catch in the morning.” Then I realized he was “Oh, the plane will fly just fine without you, I’m sure. You might as well have given the dog to the kid. I guess he’ll keep him when you don’t come back, anyway, don’t you?” “Montaldo, just what do you think you’re doing?” He knew very well what he was doing. bricks across the cell door. He was laying I tried to think of something to say to make him stop. Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 9 I tried joking with him. “You know,” I said, “those It’s not brick don’t really match the original stone. very appealing.” “But nobody will see it but you and me, and you don’t really care, now do you?” He had a point. And my humor was not going to take it from him. half the night. We argued through At last Montaldo kept laying bricks. he finished the last course of masonry, leaving me in the dark. I supposed I at least wouldn’t die of thirst, not soon, anyway. I could at least reach the keg. I wondered how long the remaining Cherry Wheat would last. A couple of weeks, perhaps? A month? I calculated I could make the brew last until I died from starvation or exposure to the dankness of the cellar. I sipped. I had no idea of the time. only when I became unbearably thirsty. to die drunk. Family honor, perhaps. I took a sip I didn’t want I thought I drank slowly enough to remain sober. people. But so would most I woke up, or came to, with Colonel Butch licking my face. There were flashlights, and the glint of police badges. Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 10 “Hang in there, buddy, we’ll get you loose in no time. Robins, go get a hacksaw.” It took me a minute to realize I was being rescued. “How... How did you find me?” Butch’s ears with my free hand. “You’ve been here for three days,” the cop said, “Somebody at your work needed a question answered, and called your hotel in Cancun, and found you hadn’t shown up. Then your friend Johnny noticed Montaldo was We found out you didn’t I scratched Colonel missing, too, and called us. get on your flight. person to see you. The kid next door was the last When we went to talk to him, your dog got loose and brought us here.” “But how did Colonel Butch get to me? walled me in.” “Huh? walled you in? I don’t think so. There’s new Montaldo brick on the cell across the aisle, but not the one where you are.” The cop realized what had happened before I did. “Atchison, you better go get a sledge hammer,” he said. “Huh? Why?” several of the cops asked at once. “For Montaldo. He walled up the wrong door. He must The cop shook be trapped in that cell across the aisle.” Bryson/ A Keg of Cherry Wheat/ p. 11 his head, “He must have been crazy to make that kind of mistake--or drunk.” They took me to the hospital to get checked out. While I was there, a cop came to take my statement. told me they had found Montaldo dead. “He died?” I was surprised. “Of what, thirst? He But it wasn’t that long, was it? Just a couple of days?” It “He choked on that godawfull tie he was wearing. had a spaghetti design on it, you know,” the cop said. “What’d he do, hang himself?” “No, sir, We think he tried to eat it.” With apologies to Edgar-- this was a Poe imitation.
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