Cedar Branch had a long-standing rule about BBQ grills on the balconies of The Tower apartments, a rule created by an incident five years prior to Jack Goslin moving in. On the sixth floor facing the tranquil emerald gulf, a retired couple was enjoying the evening cooking chicken on a newly acquired stainless steel grill. The gentleman opened the lid to inspect the meat, and their curious two-year-old Persian cat leaped on the grill, catching the hair of its tail on fire. At the same time the cat suddenly combusted, the lady opened the door to the balcony, allowing the fire ball to run inside, catching the curtains, couch, a vase of silk flowers, and unpaid tax documents on the table on fire. After an hour of extinguishing the flames, the couple was left with ruined furniture, burnt chicken, unreadable taxes, and a bald cat—thus generating almost instantly the “No BBQ grill” rule.
In the midst of a welcome cool front, though, the residents of CBC were out enjoying an evening without the brutal heat that the South was so notorious for developing. On the fifth floor of the Tower apartments, Karl lifted the top off the grill to inspect the filets wrapped with bacon slowly cooking on Jack’s new grill. Picking up a pair of cooking tongs, he gently lifted one of the pieces of meat and examined the bottom. “You keep opening the top, they’ll never get done,” Jack said, walking back out on his balcony with a refilled glass of bourbon.
“Your fire is too hot! They’re gonna burn,” Karl groaned.
“If you’re looking, then you’re not cooking! The fire is fine.”
Karl mumbled a few words, then made it over to the rocking chair he had claimed weeks earlier when Jack moved in. The sound of the construction work from below started to die down as the time neared 6:00 p.m. and quitting time. Jack leaned over the railing and watched a few young men roll up a couple of orange extension cords while others locked down their tool boxes and work areas. Pulling his attention back to the grill, he saw Karl lifting the lid again.
“You are as nosey as the Stevens Sisters.”
Karl closed the lid with an indignant “I am not! Your fire is too hot.” Pouting, he made his way back to his rocking chair.
Jack sat down next to him. “You are like the wife I never had,” he chuckled while taking a sip from his 1792 Ridgemont Reserve bourbon.
“Huh. You drink too damn much to be married to me,” Karl said under his breath.
“I’d drink more if we were married,” Jack answered even more quietly.
“What?” Karl asked.
A commotion broke out under their balcony, causing both men to exit their chairs and lean over the railing in time to see half a dozen construction workers standing below the third balcony with arms outstretched to catch the cold beer cans being tossed down. The Stevens Sisters had moved from one side of the apartments to the other, giving them a front row to the Gulf of Mexico. “Hey, Rutherfurd!” Violet looked up, yelling at the two older men, “you on fire up there, or did you finally decide to burn that painting you made last week?”
Karl rolled his eyes. “Good Lord! It’s like Mardi Gras meets redneck central around here!”
The six construction workers cheered and waved to the Stevens Sisters as they made their way to their trucks with half-a-dozen cold beers. Beyond the construction and across the highway, the waves crashed on the white sandy beaches of southern Alabama, occupied at this end of the day by only a few people taking their strolls and awaiting the sunset.
“Hey Goslin! You want a beer?” Violet shouted up toward the two men.
“Just poured a glass,” Jack held out his bourbon. “Do you want some Mardi Gras beads?” he shouted back, looking at Karl and adding to his earlier comment.
“Hell, yea!” Violet shouted back and grabbed the bottom of her shirt to pull up, knowing what it meant to ask for beads on a parade route during Mardi Gras.
June grabbed her hand, “Violet, nobody wants to see your girls. Jack probably doesn’t have any beads.”
“Yea, you’re probably right. Plus who am I kidding—there’s no way in hell they would be able to see the girls from above me, they’ve been hanging around my waist for 15 years!” Violet walked back into their apartment.
The men settled back in the rocking chairs awaiting the filets and an evening that promised a colorful sunset. “Well, I’ll hand it to those workers; they finished the bridge in record time,” Jack said, pointing at the new bridge that crossed the highway from CBC to the beach.
“It’s only one lane. And now that we can have golf carts, it’s just going to cause a traffic jam to get to and from the beach!” Karl griped.
“Are you and Betty going to buy that four-seater?” Jack asked.
“Now why in the hell would I buy a four-seater golf cart? I’m not running a taxi service.”
“In case I need a ride.”
“Drive your own damn golf cart.”
Jack laughed at his comment as a strong knock came from his door. “Betty?” Jack asked.
“No, she’s down at the art center with Kat.”
Jack walked through his apartment and set his glass down on the counter top before opening the door. “Jack, you know the rules,” Derrick said, leaning on the door frame as Jack opened the door.
“I’ve got you a steak on the grill, had them flown in from New York,” Jack replied, stepping out of the way to allow Derrick to walk in.
“Cooking me a steak is not going to undo the rules.”
“Maybe for tonight; I’ll get rid of it tomorrow.”
Derrick followed Jack to the balcony, adding a “Hello, Mr. Rutherfurd.”
“Have you bought that girl a ring yet?” Jack asked.
Something caught Jack’s eyes beyond the conversation, and as he focused on what was flying from the Tower Apartments, a loud explosion echoed from below, and the object flying out from the building disappeared in an orange dust cloud. Karl spit out his drink. “Good Lord, what in the hell was that?”
A voice shouted from below them, “Pull!”
The three men witnessed another clay target leave the Stevens sisters’ balcony, followed by another explosion from the shotgun barrel following its clay target. People on the beach ran for cover, a man riding his bicycle ran into a sign, and a flock of sea gulls scattered for their lives. “Pull!” Violet shouted again, followed by another shotgun blast.
“Keep my steak warm—I’ll be right back,” Derrick said, dashing out of Jack’s apartment on his way to the third floor.
“I swear, those damn hillbillies will be the death of us!” Karl grumbled, holding his chest.