ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Mrs. Marcelle Eulinger stood amid the maize of a dozen pet carriers and cages at 2 p.m. in the Deerhead Tavern, mopping back her short black hair while smiling gratefully with white-toothed grin set in perfect complexion at the men around her.
The carriers and cages were full of all colors of kittens-black, white, gray and orange, Siamese pattern, striped and calico.
“You are such dear men, so honest and, well, true, to bring me kittens, all of them at only $5 each when I’ve confessed your local price is way below what I’m used to. I paid $50 each for cats where I lived in California, and I feel I have to let you know, that was very low there because it was from an individual instead of a pet store.”
Charmin’ Carmen rubbed a finger under one high cheekbone, and pulled off his cowboy hat to rasp, “And we’re only too glad to help you, Mrs. Eulinger. You choose your kittens, then ol’ Doc here will help us carry them next door to his place for distemper shots.”
Beside Carmen, Doc Frenchie stood stoically with his fingers hooked in his pockets, his broad pit-marked face looking straight ahead, his hat still on his head.
“You know, I’m just glad I’ve moved to this town,” said Mrs. Eulinger. “Everything is so reasonable here. I feel like I’m taking advantage of people. The bungalow I bought over on West Street-you may know it, the Smith place. Where I came from it would have been worth $300,000. They had it advertised for $80,000, and I just snapped it up before anyone else could get it.”
Cough, hack-“You paid $80,000 for that old…,” said Charmin’ Carmen. “Lordy, lordy, I had a couple of other places I could have showed you. No matter. Yes, ma’am, we’re just full of bargains here, ain’t that right, Doc?”
Doc Frenchie looked almost sadly at Marcelle Eulinger as she sat down in front of them, crossing her tanned legs below her crisp white shorts as the first kitten was lifted into her lap.
“Ma’am,” he said, frowning his wide thin lips into a stretch. “You know it always pays to shop around.”
Johnny Beauregard spoke up. “Mrs. Eulinger, that calico baby is one of the kittens I brought. Don’t you think she’s a good’un? Well worth $5, ain’t she?”
“What do you think, Doc?” she asked, turning her brown eyes upward to smile again. “You’re the veterinarian. You want to take this kitten, and look at her, too. Isn’t she sweet?”
“Truth is, ma’am, I’m not much for cats,” Doc said looking toward the ceiling and removing his Stetson to brush back his thin hair. “It’s not that I hate them like some would tell you. I like animals or I wouldn’t have become an animal doctor. I just like to see a cat out in the barn, not sleeping with people. Truth is, just handling them today, my sinuses are swelling a little. I think it’s just pretty, though-I mean nice or whatever-that you like cats. I guess I’m just saying I’m not much of cat man, more of a horse and cow man, ma’am.”
“Come on, Doc,” said Johnny. “We all know how you hate a darned cat. He don’t even want to work on ’em, ma’am. Old Carmen got him to help get these cats. You ought to get another vet to work on ’em.”
“Shut up, Johnny. You’re always yappin’ when you ought to shut up. I said I would work on Mrs. Eulinger’s kittens, so I will. Give them all their shots for you, ma’am.”
“Doctor, that’s so sweet. It’s fine that you’re such an honest, upstanding man.”
“He’s honest all right, Mrs. Eulinger,” said Carmen. “Does all my work, and never overcharged me. And believe me, there’s folks who would like to get to a poor, honest, hard-workin’ horse trader.”
“I know I would,” said Donnie Dector. “Mrs. Eulinger, just take a look at those black kittens I brought you.”
“Now, now, boys,” said Carmen. “I know they’s all fine kittens, but everybody knows there ain’t no finer bred-up cat than a Siamese, and looky there, ma’am, I brought you at least three-quarter bred Siamese kittens.”
“It’s so hard to pick,” said Marcelle Eulinger. “There must be more than 50 kittens here. I know I want these here-and oh, look at those white blue-eyed ones. Doc, are you sure you can’t help me out? Are there any health tips to watch for? I’d really just like to take all of them.”
“Mrs. Eulinger,” said Doc, his sunburned face turning a much heavier shade of red that spread down his neck in a blush, “I think I can help you. Just leave the kittens for a minute, and come over to that corner table with me to talk. Boys, you all just stay over here away from us while we talk.”
“What about our cat deal?” asked Carmen. “Don’t you think we need to get this all taken care of?”
“Yeah,” said Johnny. “These kittens are pretty young, Doc. We need them to get loaded up soon so they can go to Mrs. Eulinger’s to rest.”
“We’ll get her kittens taken care of so she can load them up in just a little bit, boys,” said Doc. “I just need to give her some cat advice.”
“You know, she’s a good lookin’ woman,” said Carmen, nodding to the corner where Doc seemed to be speaking intensively to Mrs. Eulinger, gesturing with his hands for emphasis.
“Yeah, and she’s a rich one too,” said Johnny. “I hope that old cat hater ain’t talking her out of our deal. By now I’d like to sell cats once in my life.”
They looked back at the corner where by now Marcelle Eulinger was leaning forward, gesturing with her hands, talking back to Doc, who was sitting up rigidly looking at her. Suddenly, the big red face of old somber Doc Frenchie split open in a big wide grin, and he was talking back to her without bothering to return to a frown.
“Look at that,” said Johnny. “I don’t know how, but I’m afraid that sour old sodbuster’s spoiling it for us. I don’t like seeing him grinning. She’s chuckling too, I believe. Why did he have to take her over there?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said Charmin’ Carmen. “I ain’t feelin’ anything, and I tell you I usually got the sixth-sense instinct for these deals. Only time I ever lost my sense recently was when Hard Luck Pete came to visit, but even then I ended up gettin’ rid of those darned Doobey brothers. Sssh. Here they come, here they come.”
Marcelle Eulinger stood smiling, her head barely coming up to the top of Doc Frenchie’s chest, while he held up his hands.
“OK, boys,” said Doc Frenchie. “Mrs. Eulinger is taking all these kittens-just get a count on them. Looks like 50-some head at the agreed-on trade price of $5 a head. After they’re counted, just get them all over to my office where you can all help hold them while I give them shots.
“Marcelle will watch the count while I slip into the restroom to wash off a little,” he added smiling at the woman again.
“Marcelle,” Carmen whispered into Johnny’s ear. “Did I hear Ol’ Doc call that little lady Marcelle- her first name, not ma’am or Mrs. Eulinger?”
“You sure did, Carmen. I heard it too. Marcelle is darn sure what he called her, Marcelle no mistakin’ it. Hey, hold on there, Donnie. That’s my cage of kittens. I want to be in on countin’em.”
“Hmm, you check the count on my kittens, OK, Johnny. Ol’ Carmen here needs to slip into the restroom a minute myself, got to check up on that Ol’ Doc.”
Doc Frenchie had obviously just scrubbed his face, and his hat was laid to the side while he slicked down his thin sandy strands of hair with moisture. “Hmmp,” he said, seeing Carmen come in the door. But then he smiled again despite himself.
“What’d you just do out there, you old coyote?” Carmen asked.
“I spilled the beans on you boys. Told Marcelle she was being taken advantage of because she could watch the papers for all the free kittens she would ever need in this area. Told her she needed to watch her step in moving to a new area because she way overpaid for that cruddy old bungalow house. Told her you’re an old scoundrel, and the only honest things she got from you was the price of the Doobey brothers because that’s what geese really bring here, and you didn’t know she was rich and naive yet.”
“Naah, you didn’t tell her that did you? Jeez, that’s terrible.”
“Yeah, but she said she liked you all anyway. Said she’d been havin’ fun watchin’ true aboriginal fellows. Said she’d knowed that she probably was being taken advantage of somehow, but it was fun anyway. She knows what you are, Carmen, and she still enjoys you. Quite a lady, that. Said she appreciated my honesty, and she thought I was a well-educated attractive fellow.”
“Naah, she didn’t tell you that, did she?”
“Sure did, then she asked me over to supper.”
“Doc, no, you can’t go. You’re the naive one. She’s probably figured you’re a single fellow. Doc, I hate to tell you now, but that lady’s a widow.”
“I know,” Doc said, smiling again. “She’s a good talker, too, and she’s got a shed out back where all the kittens can stay.”
“But you can’t be interested in her. Pretty woman like that ought to be able to see you’re gettin’ kind of old. You must have blindsided her with all that honesty.”
Old Doc Frenchie smiled so broadly that Carmen guessed it must have been the first time he ever saw his teeth exposed like that-pretty good teeth, too, except for the gold-capped one.
“I told her, Carmen. Told her I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore. Told her I was 55 years old.”
“And it didn’t make any difference? Gawd, Doc, I hate to say it, but you ain’t very pretty. That good lookin’ woman didn’t think it made any difference you’re such an old goat?”
“Naah, she was honest with me too, Carmen. Women like her got their own market specialties a clod like you don’t know nothin’ about. She’ll be 60 next month.”