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OF COURSE STAN MURCH was the driver, but when it came to just driving around from place to place, that was usually Kelp. Tiny wasnt physically suited to the task, and nobody was eager to see John behind the wheel. So, a little after five that first full day on the job, Thursday, June 16, it was Kelp who slid into the drivers seat of his recently acquired Yukon, with Stan in the copilots seat and John in back; but not back the way hed been back in the monster station wagon. This time, if he wanted, he could lean forward and rest an elbow on top of the front seat and partake in the conversation.

Except, this time, there wasnt any conversation. It was a short run from Halls big white house across the compound past mostly empty buildings, and they all spent that time with their own thoughts, reacting to a full day of more or less honest employment.

For Kelp, the experience had been an eerie one. Hed expected to show up, have to bear with some kind of overbearing guy, and just hunker down and wait for the auto removal. Instead of which, hed been thrown off from the very beginning by the guys decision not to hire him after all.

He couldnt have that; he needed to be here with the crew. So it meant he first had to convince Hall that he really did need a secretary, and then by God act like one, persuade Hall of his value by doing things that Hall would like.

And that led to the second surprise; he didnt find Monroe Hall a bad guy at all. The exact opposite, in fact. Hall was so surprised and pleased and grateful that Kelp was actually going to restore his good nameas though by now Monroe Hall had a good name to restorethat he was like a puppy getting his first bone. His admiration and gratitude were so intense it made Kelp redouble his efforts, reach out to the surrounding community, stay calm and resilient through all the rebuffs from the people he phonedand youd think people working for charities would be more charitable, somehow, but noand actually work to make an opening here and there that a contrite Monroe Hall might somehow someday be able to crawl through.

In fact, by the end of the day, Kelp found himself a little sorry he wouldnt be able to stick around long enough to finish the job. (The finish, of course, the spectacular finish, would be the Monroe Hall Cup, added to some national pro-am golf tourney. Sure he could do it. Every golfer in the country paying his club dues from his corporate account would look at Hall and say, What the hell, forgive and forget. Mighta been me. And it mighta been.)

So Kelp was silent because he didnt have anything negative to say about Monroe Hall, and he had the feeling positive statements about the guy wouldnt go over so well with this crowd. So what he did, he followed the old folk wisdom: If youve got nothing bad to say about someone, dont say anything at all.

The run to the green house where Chester had once lived was a short one, and when they walked in there was a smell in the house that might have meant the furniture was being refinished but was actually Tiny in the kitchen, making everybodys dinner. They all trooped in, to view the unprecedented sight of Tiny in two aprons, overlapping, with a meat cleaver in one hand and a long wooden spoon in the other, with a lot of big pots and pans hissing and snarling on the stove. What he looked mostly like was some darker version of Maurice Sendaks In the Night Kitchen. Soups on at six, he told them.

Looking doubtful, John said, Were having soup?

No, Tiny told him. Its what you say. Soups on. It means food. Dont talk to me now, I dont want no distraction. Ill talk to you when we eat. I got good news and better news.

Kelp said, I figured, if you wanted a ride from the guardshack, youd a called me.

My shift didnt start yet, Tiny said. Thats parta the news. Outa my kitchen.

So they got out of the kitchen, and went to the living room, where Stan said, in a very quiet voice, Suppose we could go out to eat?

No, Kelp said. Nobody refuses Tinys hospitality.

I think Ill take some Pepto-Bismol ahead of time, John decided.

And then it was good. It wasnt your ordinary stuff, but it was good. Real tastes, but not too sweet, not too sour. There was lamb, in chunks; there was bacon, not too crisp; there were home-fried potatoes, with some kind of tasty oil on them; there was swiss chard, boiled up and spread with some kind of sauce that tasted sort of like chutney; there were biscuits, so light and fluffy you had to put butter on them to keep them from floating away. And there was not just beer, but stout, to tie it all together.

There was no talk at the table for quite some time. It was Kelp who first came up for air, saying, Tiny, this is great. What is this? This is great.

Its Tsergovian, Tiny told him. Its from the old country. Its how my people used to eat in the old days, when they had food.

John said, through a full mouth, Then Im surprised they ever left.

Well, there were a lotta days, Tiny said, when they didnt have food. So thats why they come here, before my time. The food wasnt as good over here, but it was around every day.

Stan said, I wouldnt mind this food every day.

Which brings up the question, John said, through another mouthful of food, when do we do what we come here for.

Which is the good news and the better news, Tiny said, I told you I got. I didnt want to disturb you from your eating.

Well, Im done now, Kelp said. Whoo.

Save a little room, Tiny advised him, I got pumpkin pecan pie for dessert.

Everybody moaned, and Kelp said, Tiny. Tell me that isnt the good news.

No, Tiny said. But we gotta eat this pie.

Maybe for breakfast, Stan suggested.

Tiny considered that and, to everyones relief, nodded. That could work, he said. Okay, the news and the news. The good news is, the new hire in security gets the shit detail.

They looked at him. Kelp said, Thats the good news?

The shit detail, Tiny said, is guard duty at the main gate, midnight till eight in the morning. All by myself until six A.M., when a couple day guys show up.

Wait a minute, John said. Youre gonna be alone on the gate all night?

Midnight to six.

Stan said, Then were outa here, and Kelp felt a little pang. Hed thought hed have a few days anyway to get Hall shaped up for his comeback.

But Tiny said, Not right away. Tonight, clear sky, big moon, all the stars. Tomorrow night, heavy cloud cover. No rain, but also no moonlight, no starlight.

John said, So tomorrow night. Good. But first we gotta find the cars.

Thats my better news, Tiny said. While I was down there today, picking out my uniforma very nice brown, a little tight in the shoulders, but for two nights I can live with itI come across a map they got there of the compound. On that map is marked where every one of Halls cars is stashed. And on a big board in the office there are the keys to every one of those buildings, each one with a tag on it, says which building it is. He looked around at them. You sure nobody wants a little pie?

| The Road to Ruin | c