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Problems Aren’t Stop Signs
About the Author: Robert Mangeot lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and cats. His short fiction appears here and there, including ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, MYSTERY WEEKLY MAGAZINE, the MWA anthology ICE COLD, and the Anthony-winning MURDER UNDER THE OAKS. His work has been a Derringer Award finalist. When not writing, he can be found wandering the snack food aisles of America or France.

Jean-Baptiste always said problems weren’t stop signs. “Tori,” he’d said, “the only real problems are the government man and knowing the odds.” Well, I had brains double-barreled and style besides, which was why me and nobody else spotted the real estate opportunity in our corner of Panhandle. Spotted and pounced. But then non-genius intervened, as in the Army Corps of Engineers. They’d seen to it a simple-yet-elegant land flip pinballed down to me at Tate’s Last Gasp Pub and Package readying a skunk ape pitch. Somehow in this world it always fell to me to get every little thing right.

“Remember that go-getter Victoria?” these boys at Tate’s should’ve been saying. They should’ve sung my laurels instead of watching Florida State on prime time invent a new way to lose. These boys should’ve backslapped each other, claim they’d had flirtations and hook-ups with me, the Gossamer girl struck gold. Dream on, boys. I would be living large in Pensacola, a condo with Spanish balconies and a walk-in closet for shoes and a bigger one for my jewelry and beads.

I ordered another Abita. As mayor, I had to push the media angle, spread word about the Wild Man of Gossamer Woods. Except Crevette with The Journal was running behind. What grade of moron kept waiting a lady half his old-fart age and obviously out of his league? Nobody with brains or drive.

Plain fact: God wasn’t making any more Panhandle. By some calculations, God made less Panhandle daily because of rising Gulf water. That was, if you could afford to believe the Corps of Engineers. Less land available should’ve meant top value. Another plain fact. Quick and on creative finance, I’d bought Air Force pine scrub off Perdido Trail the flyboys no longer needed for storing chemicals. Acres I’d been assured the Corps planned buying soon to reconnect various creeks and the Coldwater. Something about drainage.

Eight o’clock. Still no Crevette. Probably he’d stopped off for candy or flowers. He’d been wanting to get with me in the worst way, that’d been clear since he had his sports beat and I was youngest cheerleading captain in school history. He’d better bring orchids for making me sit my hundred-dollar jeans on this fish trap’s filthy plastic.

And I wasn’t blessed with unlimited time. Even money that Jean-Baptiste was still in costume out at my pine stand. You had to stay on J.B., lesson one from twenty-seven years little sistering him. That, and he’d lost a step since near getting fried tapping into his neighbor’s electric. I couldn’t text or phone-track him, either. He refused owning any device traceable by government men. J.B. only agreed to splash around my creek, assorted brush glued over the ghillie suit deal, for a bottle of cask-strength Bacardi. I’d air-boated him and his rum up the channel personally and force-marched him around in the Wild Man’s floppy bear boots.

Florida State down three scores did not help my mood. A simple real estate flip. TV networks based entire binge-watch schedules around that very thing. Yet here I sat, prime land unflipped. Supposedly, the Corps had already nailed down the environmental stuff with the governor’s top people. Then those eggheads with earthmovers canceled the project due to lack of Tallahassee matching funds, zero notice.

Eight-thirty. Crevette must’ve been outside duding himself up for me. Cologne, comb over, the works. I drank more Abita and unbuttoned my blouse a notch.

A breath of stale air helped my thoughts congeal. As dumb a bunch of bastards as was the Corps, the true people who’d left me drowning in land debt and EPA notices was Big Citrus. Last year, those agri-business MBAs managed to forget keeping their trees covered for early frost. Lord, any fool could throw a blanket over a plant. Thanks to dead grapefruit, state tax collections had gone in the toilet, and with them funds for discretionary waterways projects. Big Citrus. They burned me up so bad I’d quit Vitamin C.

Then again, oystering had also tanked. Oil slicks. So really, there was no one to blame but that idiot Crevette. It’d been his not-so-hot tip that had me snatch my now-worthless bend of Air Force scrub. Direct from legislative insiders, he’d sworn. Crevette owed me, and a legit media outlet launching the Wild Man viral made for a start. Since morning I’d texted him teases over strange beastly encounters happening around Gossamer. A huge story, national.

Quarter to nine, and the idiot himself shambled in Tate’s distinctly bouquet-less, cologne-less and sweating. “Hard ride over,” was all he had to say for himself.

This story appears in our SEP2018 Issue
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