Ten years later, Cole had gotten all the drinking out of his system, but he was pretty sure he’d never stop hunting. Every year, he got two weeks’ worth of vacation time, and every year, he spent it on a trip to shoot something nasty…usually in the face.
He’d replaced his booze addiction with one for baby back ribs. Though he did he best to not over indulge, he figured the return of his ex-wife allowed for him to have one plate. Maybe a side of grits. And some collard greens. And a loaded baked potato with extra sour cream. Hell, that woman done him wrong. Throw in some buffalo mac n’cheese and extra crispy tater tots.
As Cole sat in his favorite booth at Ruby Sue’s BBQ, he sorted through his mail. Bill. Bill. Bill. Junk mail. A brochure for a travel company that sold big game hunting trips to Africa. Cole was certain he’d never allow booze to touch his lips again, but he was never going to stop hunting. He had two weeks of vacation time coming to him every year and every year, he would invariably find himself traveling to some exotic location with his Angry Barracuda just to think of Old Mongo’s face as he shot some unsuspecting beast. He realized those beasts had not done anything wrong to him but somehow, it made him feel like he was re-taking control of his life.
He found another envelope. This one was from the Global Kids’ Initiative. Cole had long subdued his sadness over the fact that he had yet to become a father by sponsoring a small African child. Every month, Cole mailed his check for thirty-one dollars on time. It was the only bill he looked forward to paying.
Cole opened up the envelope. First, there was a letter from Global Kids’ Initiative:
Thank you for sponsoring an African child through the Global Kids’ Initiative. We appreciate your donations, but did you know there’s no limit on the number of children you can sponsor? Why, for a dollar a day, roughly the same cost as a soda pop, you can sponsor another child through our fine organization.
An eighteen year old waitress stopped by Cole’s table. Her hair was long and black, draped over her shoulders. She wore a standard pink uniform. The moniker on her name tag read, “Mindy.”
“Your diet cola, sir,” Mindy said.
“Thanks,” Cole replied. He allowed the glass of fizzy goodness to sit on the table and bubble for awhile as he read on:
Seriously? You’re going to sit there and toss a bubbly, aspartame laced glass of cold death down your throat while you could be sending your soda money to us, so that we can help another impoverished African child? Have you seen the kids in our commercials? Have you seen how they’ve got distended bellies full of tapeworms and flies buzzing around their heads and vultures swooping overhead just waiting for them to drop so they can pick what little meat they have left on their bones? But oh, sure, sure, just go ahead and drink that soda. We hope you choke on it, you unmitigated pile of iguana shit.
“Wow,” Cole muttered to himself. “They’re getting a little rough with the fundraising pitch lately.”
Cole set the charity letter aside and discovered a form that he could fill out in order to sponsor a second African child. He looked to his soda, then to the form, then to the soda, then to the form.
“Screw it,” Cole said as he took a sip of soda. “I’ve lost too much in this life to miss out on caffeine too. You’ll have to wait until the good people of Sitwell find it in their miserable hearts to give me a raise, Second African Child.”
“Talking to yourself?”
Cole looked up to see Minde holding a plate of Ruby Sue’s best vittles. She plopped it down on the table.
“Yeah,” Cole said. He looked over his plate. So much deliciousness. Cole wasn’t one to overindulge on food on a regular basis, but when he did, he did it right.
“Where’s Ruby Sue?” Cole asked as he looked around. “Been coming around here nearly twenty years and tonight’s the first night I’ve never seen here.”
“Retired,” Mindy said.
“Get out,” Cole said.
Mindy smiled. “I will get right back in there.”
“Don’t tell me they’re closing the place,” Cole said.
“No,” Mindy said.
“Thank God,” Cole said. “If I have to start going to one of those chain restaurants with all the bullshit all over the walls, I’ll just lay down in the middle of the road and wait for a bus to run me over.”
The waitress grinned. Cole knew he was way too old for her, but he enjoyed making a female smile. It’d been a long time since he had done so.
“I’m going to have to tell Cousin Steve how happy he’s made you,” Mindy said.
“Cousin Steve?” Cole asked. The name seemed familiar. He knew deep down somewhere, he knew of a Steve.
“Howdy Chief.” Cole looked up to find himself staring at the establishment’s cook, a bearded man in a hairnet, wearing a pair of glasses and a stained apron.
“I’ll be damned,” Cole said. “You’re Ruby Sue’s little boy.”
“All grown up,” Steve said.
“And running the place?” Cole asked. “Hell, I remember you jumping all over this joint when you were knee high to a dragonfly.”
“Time flies,” Steve said.
“That it does,” Cole said. “That it does. Where’s Ruby Sue off to?”
“Hawaii,” Steve said. “All this month. Caribbean cruise after that. She saved up a bunch so now she’s gonna travel the world. Left the place to me on three conditions.”
“Those are?” Cole asked.
“Gotta keep the same name,” Steve said.
“Yeah,” Cole said. “Ruby Sue’s Barbecue’ sounds better than ‘Steve’s Barbecue.’ No offense.”
“None taken,” Steve said. “I also gotta keep all the jobs in the family, like Cousin Mindy here, or my brother Darnell on the cash register.”
Cole looked over at the cash register. A snaggle-toothed doofus with a crooked nose waved at him.
“That’s Darnell?” Cole asked. “I thought he died when that mule kicked him.”
“Nah,” Steve said. “He just got his teeth, brain, and overall personality messed up. Boy was on his way to being a Rhodes Scholar when that happened too.”
“Such a shame,” Mindy added. “Aunt Ruby warned that boy not to tickle that mule so many times.”
“Third condition is that I got to cook as good as my Momma did,” Steve said.
“Huh,” Cole said. “Now that is a tall order because no one I ever met in my life ever cooked as good as your Momma. You think you’re up to the challenge?”
Steve looked at Cole’s plate. “Only one way to find out.”
“Right,” Cole set. He pulled a rib off the rack and bit into it. The meat was supple and tender, seasoned just right. “Mmm. Boy, I don’t think you got a thing to worry about.”
“Thanks Chief,” Steve said. “Better get back to work.”
“You let me know if you need anything,” Mindy added.
Steve and Mindy went back about their business. Cole enjoyed his meal while he read the latest letter from the African child he was sponsoring. He received a letter from the young lad every month, and he cherished all of them.
“Dear Mr. Cole Sir,
Things are doing very well in my village. The virus outbreak is subdued and the tarantula infestations are down to a minimum. Also, only twelve of the village girls were taken to be sold into the international sex slavery market, which, though terrible, is an improvement over the twenty or so a month that are usually taken. I’m not sure of the cause as to why less girls were kidnapped this month, but what is that American expression? ‘Do not look a gift salamander in the butt hole?’
Yes, very well, moving on then. How are you, Mr. Cole Sir? When last you wrote, you mentioned you were just beginning to get over the loss of your vile ex-wife, the evil Miss Sharon. I do not know this woman but every day I pray that her intestines will be shattered when she is run over by a herd of angry giraffes. You deserve better than this beastly woman sir, and if you keep the faith I am certain that
Speaking of giraffes, more scientists have been coming through this area in the hopes of making giraffes fornicate in order to save their dwindling species. I am sorry to say that I once accidentally walked in on two giraffes while they were doing the despicable deed and I fear I may never be right in the head ever again. At least the giraffes were enjoying themselves. Although, come to think of it, I can’t confirm whether or not they were as their incredibly long necks kept them from ever actually looking at one another.
Mr. Cole sir, I cannot thank you enough for your donation of one dollar a day. With your donations, the nice do-gooder white people who are trying so hard to make penance for the sins of their vile white devil ancestors, are providing me with food and medicine. Today, I got a shot for dysentery and I have been promised a shot for measles tomorrow. So many shots, so little time! Plus, I got to eat nibble one rationed portion of charity cheese. Have you ever eaten a piece of charity cheese, Mr. Cole sir? It was so delicious but my body was so unused to such rich food that I made doodies for days, and days, and days, and days. Months even. In fact, I am doodying right now. I believe that is what you Americans call, “multi-tasking.”
Cole looked up from the letter. He felt bad that he had so much food in front of him while the African child he was sponsoring had so little. However, he didn’t feel bad enough to not dip half a buttermilk biscuit into the barbecue sauce on his plate before shoving it directly into his pie hole.
The letter continued:
“Mr. Cole sir, please let me know if I am out of order in asking you this, and I will give myself a thousand lashes on my foreskin, just as the ruling military junta does every day for failing to show up to inspection on time. I do not mean to show up late, but as you know, I am very slow, as I am malnourished and filled with more diseases than Madonna’s adult diaper. Is that a funny joke, Mr. Cole sir? I do not get it but one of the white devil missionaries told me it was very funny. I hope you laugh for an extended period of time upon reading it, Mr. Cole sir.
If possible, and I know it would be difficult as you are a man who works very hard for your money, but would you consider sponsoring a second African child? I have many friends who are not lucky as me. They have never received any shots, or pieces of charity cheese, or anything. If possible, I would appreciate it and I will say more prayers for you than I do already. If not, I understand and I will continue to love you very much just the same. Also, the white devils told me to tell you that they did not tell me to write this, so they did not tell me to write this, Mr. Cole sir.
Also, I wish you a very happy birthday. I hope this letter arrives in time. Forty years. In my village, a man who has attained forty years of age is considered to be very old and wise, almost a confirmation that magic exists, and that it exists in the form of a man. Rarely do any of us live past forty, between the diseases, the sex slavery, and the non-stop wars. Do not even get me started on the hungry tiger attacks.
I must go now. The military junta has arrived and I must accept the very painful whipping that my testicles are about to receive. I shall get through it though, as your kindness and generosity reminds me there are many good people in the world.
With much love and admiration,
“Oh hell,” Cole said as he uncrumpled the donation form and began filling it out. “You drive a hard bargain, Mutumbo, but you talked me into it.
“Happy Birthday!” shouted two familiar voices.
Cole looked up from the form to find that Rusty and Maude had made themselves at home in his booth.
“What the…how’d you two find me?”
“Please,” Maude said. “You just turned forty, the Mayor went on TV to insult your penis, and your that hose beast of an ex-wife of yours is sniffing around town. We know you too well to not have surmised that you’d be here, stuffing your face and putting yourself on the fast track to diabetes.”
Cole scooped up a heaping helping of collard greens and shoved it into his mouth. “Maybe if you two know me so well, you’d know I’d rather be alone.”
“What?” Rusty asked. “You want us to go back to the station and get bossed around by that skank all night instead? Not on your life.”