Grunion heard the soundcheck by three-fourths of the original REO Speedwagon at a distance, and thought about his father.
Walt “Moss” Bunker wouldn’t have approved of the bill for the City of Largo’s 7th Annual Rockin’ Ribz. Too many power ballads, too few yellowing spousal abuse reports, too little facial hair. If Charlie Daniels wasn’t playin’, he wasn’t stayin’. The King wouldn’t have approved of the liquid morning heat, either; five a.m. would’ve seen him checking his wood and racks, threatening his second with the old balls-in-a-vice, perhaps a free trip to a world-of-hurt, or maybe even some regret-for-having-ever-been-born, and storming back to his trailer, the scant remaining inches of liquor dancing as the bottle banged against his hip.
Grunion had sunglasses and Wellbutrin and a mental state that could only be described as the opposite of hangover, so he checked his prep list again. REO Speedwagon unplugged their stuff. A drawled entreaty for the members of Steelheart to report to the stage went out over the P.A.
“Mornin’, Stick.” He put the clipboard aside, checked the temperature of the thermometer jutting from the sauce vat, and generally attempted to ignore the presence of Arnold Strick, a man so thin you couldn’t credit him with a shadow.
“Back in the game?”
“So it would seem.”
He reviewed quantities of roasted garlic, of ground cayenne pepper, of raw diced onion. Again. Steelheart began to mount an admirable argument in favor of deafness. It got hotter and wetter.
“I, um … ”
“Yes, Stick?” Grunion pulled a goofy little pot from under the portable metal cutting table, lifted the lid, did something more than smell its contents – reveled in them, maybe.
“I just wanted to tell you everybody here is glad to see you out here, contest aside, and everything.” Strick practically danced in his discomfort. “You know, it takes a – what’s that?”
Grunion was ladling sauce from the vat into the little crockery, being very careful, just a little liquid.
“Family recipe, Stick. What were you saying?”
Strick bounced back and forth.
“It’s just … it’s just good to have a Bunker back on the circuit.”
“I appreciate it.” Grunion knocked a wooden spatula around the inside of the little pot.
“I think ole Moss is right here, right now.”
“I agree, Stick. Thank you.” Grunion assayed the viscosity of the pot’s contents. Strick finished his shuck and jive.
“Well, then, I’ll get back to my pigs.”
The skinny man jigged away. Steelheart quit murdering the air. Grunion turned from the serving table, opened the smoker, and began basting his racks with the ashes of The King.