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The Nineteenth Hole
There was yet to be any water drawn for the bath that evening; whiskey was of a higher priority than cleanliness. Mr. Johnston was not surprised in the least by this glowing article of truth, for he had been reminded of it daily the past thirty years. In a long career of looking after the Dewberry household, there never once was a day that Master Gerald Dewberry wasn’t properly soused. It would seem unlikely that anyone should exist in such an extended state of blunt drunkenness and not peel over from an exhausted liver, but it had been—and was—so. Yet Mr. Johnston could not find it in himself to complain: the pay concerning a demanding job of playing levelheaded babysitter in a playground worth millions was surely justified. Or at least, that was what he told himself to ensure sanity, else risk a rethinking of life.
Master Dewberry as of late was by no means a spring chicken. On those regrettable days when Mr. Johnston would drag his employer to a doctor’s office, he would stand by as the physician would scold Dewberry on his questionable lifestyle choices—not possessing cognizance of their remarkable endurance to time. The session would inevitably end with sufferable Dewberry shouting nasty curses to the doctor in response to the inconvenient news; they would be booted out the office soon thereafter. But the fact remained thus: Master Dewberry was becoming old and senile and was not helping himself any by numbing his decaying mind.
The duties at the Dewberry mansion were remarkably simple anymore due to the Master’s long-lived apathetic state of being. At one time in the history of the mighty residence, there had been forty-five people on staff—but no more, as Master Dewberry had promptly fired them. He had claimed they were stabbing at a chance to dip into his bank account by demanding they receive a regular paycheck; and as one quickly finds out, to mess with a drunk’s booze fund is an unforgiveable crime. Mr. Johnston, by favoring consequence, was the only employee left and played the part of cook, maid, and groundskeeper with swift execution. Oftentimes he didn’t have to clean the house out of duty—Master Dewberry basked in the den all hours of the day—and was lazily grateful: the Dewberry mansion was comprised of over fifty rooms and would be a lifetime’s backache to clean. For the last ten years in his solitary service, he had taken to serving microwavable TV trays for dinner; as well making sure the Beloved Cabinet wasn’t lacking the company of such fine, hearty fellows as Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan—simple liquor for a simple man. These were all Master Dewberry required to stay out Mr. Johnston’s hair. Otherwise, the desirable Dewberry estate was Mr. Johnston’s to command and enjoy as he wished.
The most wonderful of blessings bestowed upon Mr. Johnston in his profession was the coveted Dewberry golf course—a luscious eighteen-hole establishment that never was deprived its green luminescence due to his pampering. He would spend whole afternoons puttering around on an old kart, sipping at some delightfully bitter lemonade, trying his hand with the clubs, and, when he could think of nothing else to do, mow it with the most religious of devotions. The course was Mr. Johnston’s heartbeat and reason for living: as a widower he had no other earthly object of desire; as a butler, no other pressing chores to attend to. In this endeavor he was
convinced he must sway the “legal” ownership of the place into his favor; therefore, it was essential he give his stinking Master Dewberry a bath.
Of all the assignments Mr. Johnston grieved himself most for going through in his tenure, undoubtedly it would be the task of leading Master Dewberry away from the bottle and to the bathtub that struck him the most awkward, odd, and altogether despicable. The sight of Dewberry’s wrinkled, pale, and liver-spotted prick was a contemptible enough of a sight to instigate harsh gagging; let alone the gnarly, greasy hairs that surrounded the genitalia and plagued the old wino’s body. To see the Master naked was to see Methuselah incarnate: a disgusting, historical crudity. Mr. Johnston was led to believe that it must have been Dewberry’s sheer lack of sex appeal that drove the late Mrs. Dewberry to die of a final, appalled shock when the realization that she had let this abomination enter her body for so many years finally shook her. But speculations, however amusing, were speculations—they didn’t help Mr. Johnston’s cause. He supposed he let the practice of bathing Master Dewberry stay on his itinerary for practical reasons: if not for the obvious elimination of the stench accumulated by a hammered bum, then for a heart-warming case of human decency. Regardless of the conjecture brought up for the reason of cleaning the man, the duty was one of habit—of necessity.
So it was that Mr. Johnston entered Master Dewberry’s den to begin the tedious process. As expected, the Master was sitting at his desk, slouched over in a self-induced, medicated slumber, drained shot glass in hand. The snores being projected from his mouth were vile and ugly on the ears; thereby Mr. Johnston took a sharp, deep breath and bellowed:
“MASTER DEWBERRY, WAKE UP IF YOU PLEASE!”
A honking snort choked up with a sigh—and nothing more. Mr. Johnston pursued verbal awakening again, but with likewise result.
The process of waking the Master was proving unusually difficult. Seizing the shot glass out of Dewberry’s hand, Mr. Johnston surveyed the room for the Beloved Cabinet. Once spotted, Mr. Johnston strode towards it and in one swift motion jerked the door open. Selecting the nearest bottle of Jack, Mr. Johnston poured himself a hearty portion of the whiskey—the liquid lapping over the lip of the glass. Striding back to the Master’s desk, Mr. Johnston sipped a fourth of the whiskey and then splashed the rest of it on his snoozing boss. The result was thankfully immediate.
A pathetic yelp escaped Master Dewberry and he gained composure quickly after the assault. Sitting bolt upright, Dewberry gazed with glazed eyes at Mr. Johnston. He then looked himself over and taking note of his wetter state, mumbled in a jumble, “Whattahappennatome?”
Straightening his tie, Mr. Johnston replied, “It seems as if you have spilt your drink on your person, sir. I believe you were sleeping?”
Master Dewberry’s eyes darted about the room and rested once more on Mr. Johnston in a puzzled expression. “Damn the luck! I don’t recall falling asleep, Charley.”
A silent annoyance staked its flag into Mr. Johnston’s heart; he hated Dewberry’s nickname for him with a passion, though never related it. “Perhaps that would be because you were dreaming, sir.”
“Indeed,” Dewberry agreed. “I sleep so much nowadays with Margie gone.”—he then grinned widely—“I find now in my older age that without anything to hump, all one can do is eat, s*** and sleep.”
Mr. Johnston nodded in spite of the lack of the word, “drink,” in Dewberry’s poorly crafted joke. “Those are remarkable pastimes, sir.”
Dewberry raised a brow. “You’re never one for dirty jokes, Charley! I don’t understand it!”
“Perversion is a trivial commodity only to be exercised on occasion,” Mr. Johnston retorted politely as could be managed.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dewberry sassed, “always the respectable butler persona for you. Do you ever laugh, Charley? Can I ever get a yuk-yuk from you?”
Mr. Johnston considered. “Were you to try my humor on Tuesday, sir, I believe you might be able to procure a chuckle. I find that I’m susceptible to glancing at the more questionable side of the magazine rack when I go to the market.”
Dewberry laughed long and hard. “You’re a riot, Charley! Did you know that? A real class act!”
“I wasn’t aware of such titles, sir.”
“I know you aren’t, Charley,” admitted Dewberry, “but you are one of a kind. Say—what are you doing in here anyhow?”
Mr. Johnston made an obvious gesture to his wristwatch. “It is a quarter past seven, sir. My schedule says that you require a bath?”
“I guess so,” Dewberry said, sniffing his armpits. “I think a good soaking will do wonders for my arthritis.”
“Excellent. Shall we adjourn to the bathroom, sir?”
“Why not? Would you help me up the stairs, Charley?”
It took a great amount of Mr. Johnston’s reserved strength to lug Master Dewberry to the bathroom as it seemed the Master forgot use of his legs and sagging, clung to the butler’s arm. After the journey was complete, Dewberry wasted no time ridding himself of his restricting clothes. Helping the nude form of antiquity that was the Master into the tub, Mr. Johnston said:
“I regret to announce to you, that the plumbing is backed up, sir. I will be bathing you in cold water drawn up from the well tonight. I’m extremely sorry, sir—the news completely left my mind.”
Dewberry waved it off. “It doesn’t matter, Charley. To live in such an old house has its consequences. Do you at least have my candles lit?”
“Not yet. But thank you for reminding me, sir.” And turning to a shelf overhead the tub, Mr. Johnston retrieved a Zippo from his pocket and lit the scented Lavender candlesticks.
“Ah,” whiffed Dewberry, “that is lovely, Charley, thank you.”
The gallon jugs containing the night’s bathwater sat next to the sink. Mr. Johnston retrieved the first two of them and began pouring. The Master made no sign of discomfort or complaint about the temperature of the water. After a few more gallons to sufficiently cover up Dewberry’s knees, Mr. Johnston inquired about the whereabouts of the soap.
“I haven’t moved it, Charley,” the Master chuckled. “Being the proper butler you are, I think you should know that it’s right there with the candles.”
Mr. Johnston looked at the shelf. “Indeed it is, Master Dewberry, forgive me!”
“Eh,” grunted Dewberry, “we all forget things. Just as that repair man forgot to put a filter in the well—this water has a peculiar stench, Charley.”
“Again, sir, my most humble apologies are extended.”
“Don’t fret, Charley! Do you think I could have some of that Irish Spring, now?”
Mr. Johnston smiled curtly. “Of course you can, sir.”
Reaching for the emerald bar of soap, Mr. Johnston instead knocked a candlestick off the shelf. The waxy instrument flipped but for the briefest of moments in the air and sailed en route to the tub.
A roaring, scarlet ball of flame erupted from the inner pits of the four-legged beast. Mr. Johnston flew back, hair and stubble singed. Recovering from his blow, Mr. Johnston stood up quickly to savor the high-pitched squeals of agony and stare at the convulsing, charring figure in the bath. Kicking around the empty jugs, Mr. Johnston picked up the only gas can amongst the litter and then squirted it on the smoldering inferno, sending up crackling bursts. Then, tossing the can aside, Mr. Johnston allowed himself a few giggles before departing.
The dash to the garage was delayed orgasm containing unspeakable tension. Mr. Johnston jumped on his golf kart and sputtered towards the course he had so recently obtained. He drove a long while—past the eighteenth hole—and finally stopped at the border where the woods met the green. Hopping out with shovel crooked in arm, Mr. Johnston scanned the ground quickly for a spot to begin digging. Decision made, he thrust the tool deep into the earth with a resounding thump. He tossed the first clump of dirt, and then dug again. And then he dug again and again for good measure. When sense found him, Mr. Johnston halted to pant and regain breath. His effort had paid off—this would be sufficient.
Heaving himself up, Mr. Johnston climbed out of his large hole and drove off for the Dewberry mansion. If he hurried up and got his work done, there would be a free day tomorrow. He might as well get a few rounds in; if he had heard the weatherman correctly, they were calling for clear skies.