Excerpt: “Brook Trout Blues”

Robert J. Romano "Brook Trout Blues"I had leaned the broom against the wall and was walking toward the men’s room when the roadhouse door swung open. Arthur Wentworth strolled inside hand in hand with Raisa MacDougall, middle daughter of Finley and Beldora. Behind Arthur and Raisa strode Whitney Parker with his wife of only a few years, Raisa’s older sister, Sophia. Whit was wearing his deputy’s uniform under a yellow rain slicker that fell to his ankles, and when he tipped his cap in my direction, I nodded in reply. As Betty walked toward them, the two couples slid into chairs around a table a few feet from the bar.

“What can I get for you kids?” Weariness had crept into her voice.

By the time I returned from the men’s room, the two couples were drinking beer, the guys from bottles, the girls from glasses, as they looked up at the flat-screen T.V., where David Letterman was concluding his monologue.

A few years earlier, like Paul on the road to Damascus, the older of the two Wentworth brothers had seen the light, but it was a fist to the head rather than a bolt from heaven that set the former hooligan straight. After receiving a well-deserved beating at the hands of a former member of the Army’s Special Forces, whose skills ranged from carrying out dark ops to creating exquisite floral arrangements. Art and his younger brother, Alvin, now lived behind the flower shop deeded to them by the same man who had knocked sense into the two boys.

While Arthur and Alvin Wentworth were struggling to find salvation, Raisa MacDougall was choking on the desert dust of Afghanistan, where she spent an extended tour of duty with her National Guard unit, transferring to Iraq before returning home only a few months earlier. Although it appeared that the veteran and the former skinhead had little in common, I was the last to question why a woman chose to love a man.

“You ready to go?” I had resumed my seat beside Rusty, who raised his head and was running his fingers through a thick mop of disheveled red hair. Before he could answer, the late-night host concluded his remarks by announcing that my daughter was to be among his guests for that evening.

Arthur and Raisa immediately rose from their table and pressed in on one side of me while Whitney and his wife did the same on the other.

An hour later, rather than lying warm and comfortable beside Bailey, I found myself still seated at the bar, with Letterman’s late-night program drawing to a close. After a commercial about some Star Trek-like device that appeared to do everything except beam its purchaser up to the Enterprise, my daughter walked onto the set, where she took her seat between the Late Show’s host and a British movie star. Dressed in a shiny suit and thin tie, his hair greased back on his head, the actor reminded me of a lizard I once saw in the desert outside Las Vegas. I expected his tongue to dart out each time he spoke.
My leg ached more than usual and the pain in my lower back was acting up. Behind me, other residents of the little town had appeared, texted by the two young couples, whose thumbs had not stopped tapping across the keys of their smartphones since hearing the talk show host announce my daughter’s name at the beginning of the program.

“I never realized that living in the woods could be so much fun.” Letterman smiled into the camera as the studio audience chuckled.

I hadn’t seen Prudence since January, when she left to promote the book. On screen, her hair curled down over her shoulders like a series of swollen riffles after a rainstorm. Wearing a short black dress, black heels and sheer stockings, she looked more mature than I remembered.

“For me it’s a story about the resiliency of people living in small towns across America,” Prudence replied.

“You go, girl,” Sophia shouted.

Whitney looked at me from over Rusty’s shoulder, but when I looked back, he turned his face away. Like Raisa MacDougall, the young deputy was also a veteran of the Afghanistan war, abandoning his position as the youngest of Rangeley’s three-and-a-half-man police force and enlisting in the Marines days after 9/11. But unlike Raisa, Whit had spent time at Walter Reed before returning to friends and family.

“Some people say that the lead character in your novels is based upon your father.” The talk show host raised a copy of the book I had written forty years earlier.

“For those of you who don’t know, Prudence’s father was an icon to those growing up in the seventies.”

I could see the gap in the talk show host’s teeth when he turned from my daughter to the camera.

Rusty, who had been staring at the wet ring left by the bottom of his mug, raised an eyebrow in my direction. He knew about the novel I’d written under the pen name Stephen Rocco, but most everyone else around town had either forgotten about my past or simply knew me as a fishing guide.

“Not really, Dave. The characters in my book are composites of people I’ve known, combined with those from my imagination.”

“But your father does live in the town depicted in your novel?”

I hissed a curse as the talk show host tapped the eraser tip of a pencil against the top of his desk.

My daughter looked uncomfortable, hesitating for a moment before answering yes to the question.

“Well, before we say goodnight for the evening, I understand you have an announcement to make.”

Turning from Letterman, my daughter stared into the camera.

“I’m pleased to announce that Lions Gate Films will be making a movie based upon my two books. Filming should begin sometime this summer.”

The small gathering that crowded around the television above the bar broke into applause. Ollie Stubbs, sleep still in his eyes, clapped me on the shoulder, Merle Lansing shaking my hand.

Rusty, who had remained seated beside me, pushed his mug toward Betty Leonard and muttered, “I’ll have another.” Pointing to me, he said, “And pour one for the icon.”