Lester strolled into Buster’s Lounge, flipped his stetson onto the hatrack, and slid his umbrella into the can.
Inside the vestibule, his pals Melvin and Cap played darts with a picture of Senator Harry Reed.
Lester greeted them and walked into the dining room, where Mauri and Tish sat at a corner table. He smiled and sauntered over.
“Hi, guys. What’s cooking?”
“The meal would be much improved with sawdust,” said Tish.
Lester smiled and nodded. “Buster broke out the army surplus, eh?”
Mauri cut vigorously at some flounder. “She’s exaggerating. Join us.”
“Don’t mind if I do.” Lester sat.
Mauri waved his knife in the air. “Waiter! Bring Lester some flounder.”
“Extra sawdust,” said Lester.
Tish ran a finger over her wine glass rim, a swig of red left in the bottom. “We’re going to see you at our Saturday bash, aren’t we? You always lift it up.”
“Oh.” Lester blew through his lips. “I’m flattered, but Old Pasty can’t seem to get his house in order, so I’m stuck babysitting his niece and nephews Saturday.” He pulled a cloth napkin and rolled the silver into his palm, laying it down and stuffing the napkin’s corner down his shirt. “Can you imagine me babysitting?”
“Call Child Services,” said Tish.
“Hush, you,” said Mauri. “Pasty—he’s that tall skinny friend of yours, isn’t he? Pastor or Pastel…?”
“Pastimore, yes. His confidence makes Napoleon Dynamite look like Tony Robbins.”
The waiter set a plate of flounder, au gratin potatoes, and honey-glazed fried kale in front of Lester. He started in.
“And how have the ripples of the Butterfly Effect managed to agitate your serenity?” asked Mauri.
Tish emptied her wine glass. “What he means is—how did Pasty’s impotence thrust the kids upon you.”
“Oh, hell.” Lester chewed and swallowed. “It’s the same old thing. His fiancé, Misha, was going to watch them, but Pasty’s mother wants nothing to do with her. A little thing like that, and they feel compelled to spend the weekend with them and give them a home-cooked dinner this Friday.”
“His mother’s a chef,” said Tish.
“Yes. That’s quite the point.”
Mauri pushed his plate away. “Isn’t that a little like trying to win over a poet with ‘roses are red, violets are blue?’”
“Oh.” Lester set his plate on top of Mauri’s. “I see what you mean.”
“You want us to give a whack at it?” asked Tish.
“Sure,” said Mauri. “Bring him by coffee at Trina’s later.”
After he left, Lester ran Pasty down at the driving range and dragged him to Trina’s Cafe.
“I’ve made inquiries,” said Tish. “You know the raceway—?”
“On the West side of town,” said Mauri.
“Yeah. Sure,” said Pasty.
“I want you to beg your father to go with you and watch some races,” said Tish.
“Mom will hate that.”
“Quite the point,” said Mauri. “But take it one step further. While your father is there, tell him you’re going to buy a car to race yourself.”
“They’ll go ballistic,” said Lester. “You don’t know these people.”
“Just do it,” said Tish.
“Now,” said Mauri.
Lester sipped his latte. “That was kind of abrupt.”
“Necessary,” said Tish.
Misha set an Earl Grey tea on the table and sat next to Lester.
“Hey, we were just talking about you,” said Lester.
“Tish called me.”
“Yes, my dear, and listen closely.” Tish leaned in. “Saturday, when Pasty’s parents bring up racing—and they inevitably will, you’re going to give Pasty an ultimatum. Either he gives up racing, or the wedding is off.”
“Ooooh, you devil,” said Lester. “That just might work.”
Lester left the cafe expecting success.
Come Saturday morning, he took the kids to breakfast at Busters. The older boy and girl, maybe six and seven, had sandy brown hair, and the young four-year-old was a towhead. They slammed down piles of eggs, bacon, and cheese with coffee. “Clean your plates so we can smoke cigarettes and drink beer in the lounge.”
Pasty strutted in with a big smile on his face.
“Aha!” said Lester. “I trust all is well, then?”
“You bet it is!” said Pasty. “I’m going to be a racer, Lester. I’ve never been this excited about anything.”
“You should have seen me,” said Pasty. “I stood up to my parents and to Misha. I’m a free man now—and I’m going to race cars.”
“Oh, Pasty.” Lester dropped a piece of bacon. “You didn’t.”
“I did.” He scooped some eggs and bacon into a to-go box. “Come on, kids. Lets go to the speedway.”
Left on his own, Lester scoffed. “You think you know someone.”
The bash later that day was exhilarating fun. All of Lester’s favorite people were there, and he filled his next two weeks with activities. Mauri and Tish were surrounded with guests, but Lester eventually found a moment to speak with them.
“It was a complete fiasco,” he said.
Tish fiddled with her pearls. “Well, Lester dear, it may not have worked out the way we planned—”
Mauri chuckled. “But it certainly worked out for the better.”
“How so?” asked Lester.
“Dear boy,” said Mauri. “We wanted you at the bash. If Pasty would have been sensible, they’d have left in peace, accomplishment in hand, and they’d have gotten the kids from you.”
Tish shrugged. “As it turns out, we got the kids taken care of, and we saved Misha from a flake.”
“I suppose you did,” said Lester.
“It worked out fine,” said Mauri.
Lester shook his head. “Why do I get the feeling we’re fiddling with nobs at a nuclear power plant whenever I’m around you?” He chuckled. “Truly amazing.”