Friday, February 12, 2016

Free Excerpt from The Living Wills (Lorne Greene)

Lorne Greene would have been 101 years old today. Why am I featuring an excerpt of our novel "The Living Wills" on Lorne Greene's birthday? Because, in a way, Greene helped launch this book. The following chapter is Chapter 6 in the final version of the co-written novel (with Brendan Sullivan), but it was the first one written. I wrote it and sent it to Brendan, and he wrote another chapter and sent it back to me, and we improvised the rest of plot line of the book around those two chapters, essentially. The Living Wills came out in November of was the first release by Eckhartz Press.



Delmar Dunwoody was in a hurry. He was always in a hurry. His customers were spread all over town, and Delmar was an old school salesman. As long as he made the effort to meet everyone face to face, instead of relying on the phone or e-mail, Delmar was confident he had a leg up on the younger guys. He always remembered what Oscar Case, his boss and bowling buddy, told him his first day at BM&P Toilets; “You’re not selling port-a-potties, Delmar, you’re selling yourself.”

He pulled into a parking space in front of a fancy frou-frou coffee shop called Al Cappacino’s. He could see through the display window that there were at least three people in line waiting for their vanilla mocha three scoop espresso whatevers, and all he wanted was an extra-large cup of coffee. Oh well. He could drive a few blocks to the next coffee shop, Common Grounds, or he could just suck it up and wait in line.

Delmar muttered to himself as he pulled the keys out of the ignition. He was still mad his neighborhood 7-11 had installed that damn security camera. That’s where he had gotten his coffee for the past ten years, but ever since that camera was installed, he couldn’t avoid looking up at the black and white monitor when he paid. There was only one thing on that monitor as far as Delmar was concerned--his huuuuuge bald spot. He would never get another cup of coffee from that place. What full-haired jerk came up with the idea to use that camera angle on the customers anyway? There’s a reason God lets most men experience male pattern baldness from back to front. It’s not right to rub your face in it.

Luckily, Al Cappacino’s didn’t have a camera. That fact alone granted them the first shot at Delmar’s business. The line moved pretty quickly too. Another feature in their favor.

“I’ll have a large cup of coffee, Gina,” he said to the cashier when he got to the front of the line. Delmar always read the name tag and always used the name; another pearl of wisdom courtesy of Oscar Case.

“Should I leave some room for milk?” she asked.

“Nope,” he said. “I like my coffee black like my...”

“Women?” Gina finished the sentence for him. She wasn’t smiling.

“I was going to say heart,” he deadpanned. Not even a flicker of a reaction from Gina. She was busy pouring his coffee.

“That’s a joke,” Delmar offered.

“I know.”

Delmar gave her his warmest sales smile. “Can I ask you a personal question, Gina?”


“Who is the most famous person you’ve ever served here?”

That was one of his standard conversation starters. Just about everyone loved telling stories about their brushes with greatness. Delmar would drift off during some of the tales (he still couldn’t believe his customer in Berwyn considered the weatherman from Channel 2 a “famous” person), but for the most part they were pretty interesting stories.

“Lorne Greene,” Gina said.

He didn’t say anything at first because he was waiting for Gina to crack a smile. Gina wasn’t the smiling type.

“That’ll be $2,” she said. She slid the cup of coffee across the counter.

“How long have you worked here?”

“Six months,” she said.

“And you served Lorne Greene here?” he asked doubtfully. He was giving her his absolute best ‘you’re messin’ with me, right?’ smile.

Gina simply nodded.

“When?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t remember exactly,” she said.

“How old are you?”


“Do you even know who Lorne Greene is?” he asked. He had never seen anyone who didn’t smile back at his ‘you’re messin’ with me, right?’ smile. Was this woman made out of stone?

“Of course, I know,” Gina replied. “Gigantic wide face, almost square shaped. Dimpled chin, white hair. Deep, sexy, authoritative voice.”

“You’re talking about Ben Cartwright?” he asked.

“I know who Lorne Greene is,” she said. “Ponderosa ranch. Adam, Hoss, Little Joe.”

Delmar kept waiting for a smile to betray her. Nothing.

“Two bucks for the coffee,” she said. “There are people in line behind you.”

“I think Lorne Greene has been dead for years,” Delmar said, as he handed over the money. “Like maybe longer than you’ve been alive.”

“Well then his ghost likes Grande Lattes,” she answered.

Delmar stepped to the side and very slowly walked to the door, shaking his head in disbelief. There was no possible way this girl had served a cup of coffee to Lorne Greene. She was completely full of it. On the other hand, who could keep a straight face while confronting the ‘you’re messin with me, right?’ smile? And if you’re going to lie about who you served, what normal 25-year-old would choose Lorne Greene?

He sat in his car, and tried to clear his head of this nonsense. He had about a thirty minute drive to get in the right mindset for his next client, the Taste of Hickory Hills. He checked his little notepad.

It read: “Jim Remak, Hickory Hills Sanitation. 3 kids. Oldest son plays baseball.”

He turned the key into the ignition and the engine purred, but Delmar couldn’t manage to put the car in reverse. He was staring at the girl behind the counter, clearly visible through two heavy-duty pains of glass, his windshield and her large display window. She was almost a head taller than the other girl working there. A delicious raven haired Amazon.

He turned off the car. Screw it. He had to get a closer look at her. The little bell rang when he re-entered.

“Maybe you were thinking of Shecky Green,” Delmar offered from the doorway. “He’s originally from Chicago, and I’m pretty sure he’s still alive.”

She poked her head around the first customer in line. “Nope. It was definitely Lorne Greene.”

“He’s dead.”

The first lady in line nodded in agreement with Delmar. “He’s right. He died a long time ago.”

“He showed me his driver’s license,” Gina said, holding her ground. “It said ‘Lorne Greene.’”

“What state was the driver’s license from?” Delmar asked. He walked back to the front of the line to continue the questioning.


“A-HA!” he screamed. He pointed at her. “Gotcha! Lorne Greene was a Canadian.”

Gina calmly put one finger in the air. “Was Canadian. Past tense. He’s naturalized.”

Still no smile.

Delmar looked at the other people in line. They were all actively involved in the conversation now, eagerly lapping up every word.

“Do any of you have a Blackberry?” Delmar asked. He was looking at the young metro-sexual at the back of the line, with his Mark Shale suit and his hundred dollar shoes. If any of these fancy coffee drinkers had a Blackberry it would be that guy. He shook his head apologetically.

“Sorry, not me.”

No one else had one either. It would have only taken a thirty second trip to Google to prove the year Lorne Greene died.

“Do you have any other witnesses?” Delmar asked. Now he was talking to her like she was a suspect, and he was a police detective. The others in line turned to see Gina’s reaction.

“Jose was here too,” she said. She screamed across the room. “Hey Jose.”

Jose was picking up the stray half-filled cups of coffee that people had left behind on the little planks of wood this place called “tables.” He looked up to see what she wanted.

“Remember that day Lorne Greene came in here?” she asked.

He nodded and smiled before returning to work.


The people in line were not convinced. Delmar spoke on their behalf.

“Hey Jose!”

He looked up again.

“Remember when Queen Elizabeth and her court were in here that one day?”

He nodded and smiled before returning to work.

“That’s what I thought,” Delmar said. His co-conspirators in line were openly smiling at him now. They had her. “Would you like to take this opportunity to revise your original remarks, Gina? If that’s really your name.”

“No I wouldn’t,” she said.

She crossed her arms in front of her. This girl had it all. A young beautiful face and the driest sense of humor he had ever witnessed. This was the ultimate challenge. He couldn’t help but smile. A real smile. Just for a second, a brief glimmer of a moment, he thought he saw the corner of her mouth turn upward ever so slightly, before returning to the original stone-faced expression.

“Well,” Delmar said, “next time he stops by, make sure you have someone take a picture or something, OK?”

“Jose will do it!” she screamed across the room. Jose looked up, nodded and smiled.

As Delmar pulled out of the parking lot, he recalibrated his brain. Jim Remak in Hickory Hills was probably itching to bitch about the stench in the latest batch of port-a-potties. Delmar had told those guys in the warehouse not to scrimp on the odor-cakes, but times were tough, and Old Man Sullivan was probably making them cut corners. Time to stop by Enchanted Pastries and pick up some frosted cookies. Another pearl of wisdom from Oscar Case: a box of frosted cookies has never failed to blunt customer complaints. You just have to make sure you show them the box before they start screaming.

Delmar looked in the rear-view mirror before he turned right on Addison, and got one more glimpse of the coffee shop. If they didn’t install one of those bald-cams, or replace the dead-panning barista, they had themselves a new regular customer.