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THE BEST KIND OF RELATIONS % upon his return to the Manse, Constable Elman napped. When he got up at 4:30 pm, he checked his email and was thrown for a loop by a message from Delphina. She wrote: “I don’t know what you done but thank you thank you thank you. I got a check from Critter in the mail today.” She went on to say that she was in a “chat” with Billy. A check and a chat! Howard had no idea how to process this information , so he grabbed a beer and walked over to Cooty’s cabin and was surprised to find the centenarian wearing a new outfit—some kind bathrobe and a plain round hat. Luci explained, “Birch thinks Cooty looks like the Bruegel the Elder’s self-portrait, so we dressed him like Bruegel the Elder. At Cooty’s insistence we made a modification to the hat so it resembles the cap of an acorn,” Howard nodded as if he knew what she was talking about. “I’ll leave you gentleman to your private conversation,” Luci said. “Private? Cooty’s going to tell you everything anyway—right?” Howard said. Luci giggled and left the cabin, returned with two bowls of stew, and departed for good. Her last words were, “Cooty, show Howard your fan mail.” “Oh, yeah, I forgot there for minute. Look at this, Howie.” Cooty lifted a paper lying in a hand-carved wood tray on top of the footlocker. Howard put his reading glasses on and frowned at the paper, his lips moving. “Dear Mr. Patterson, the article about you in The Keene Sentinel made my Flipboard. Congratulations on turning one hundred years old. I would like to visit you, taste your stew, and listen to your advice.” It was signed Tahoka Texas McCloud. You heard that McCloud name before. The tv program? 147 No, it was somebody you know, but not personally. It’ll come to me. Doubt it, brother, doubt it. “This McCloud character show up?” Howard asked. “Not yet, but I’ll be ready with the advice.” Cooty Patterson never actually gave advice, nor did he ever seem to know what was really going on in a conversation, but he had a knack for saying the right thing to stimulate the minds of his friends. Howard , Latour, and Birch—all visited Cooty when they were confused, depressed, or just needed to talk. Latour called him his muse; Birch his therapist; Howard his instigator. Cooty’s face was clean, and his teeth had been professionally whitened . His blue eyes seemed to glow. “Are you wearing contact lenses?” Howard asked. “Yeah, Luci got ’em for me.” “They work okay?” “A little too good. Without the fuzz, everything is scary.” Howard sat down, and between slugs of beer and spooners of stew he told the old man most everything about his investigation thus far, except for the Billy part, ending with the message from Delphina. “I know Critter,” Howard said. “No way is he paying alimony. So, who is—I wonder.” “Wondering is the finest thing a person can do.” “Cooty, you like the questions, me I like the answers.” Cooty began to tremble. Howard knew something totally unexpected would come next. Cooty struggled to his feet, walked a couple steps to his crooked window, and said, “Snow.” “Just a flurry or two. Won’t amount to much, I imagine.” “When I was a kid in Lowell, I used to stand outside in the snow and stick out my tongue to catch the snowflakes. I could never break the habit.” “Okay, I get it.” Howard got the centenarian’s coat and cane, helped him on with his galoshes, and held onto his arm to keep him vertical as they shuffled out the door of the cabin. For a moment Howard forgot his troubles and took in the view. Just a dusting of snow. The old apple tree beside 148 the stew pot still held three punky apples. Cooty stuck out his tongue. Eventually, a snowflake or two kissed it. They went back inside. Cooty was so fatigued now that Howard helped him to his bed. “You want to take your acorn hat off?” Howard asked. “No, it covers the holes they drilled.” Howard didn’t know what to make of that information, so he nodded with an accompanying uh-huh, and changed the subject. “You like the taste of the snow, the feel?” Howard said. “I like the religion.” “You...


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MARC Record
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