Edward lived sanely amidst wide flat lawns and shady trees for the two decades since he had last seen his brother, Shambeaux Watkins, businessman. Edward lived with a wife named June and a son named Timothy, aged sixteen, and the three maintained a life of functional haircuts, coffee tables, and Sunday dinners at home. It was during one such Sunday dinner that the door opened to reveal Shambeaux, a bloated and grey-haired Shambeaux, a wasted Shambeaux. He carried cardboard luggage. Edward, June, and Timothy sat at the table—Shambeaux had opened the door himself, and had not knocked. He hanged his flattened panama hat on the interior doorknob, trudged loudly to the table, and started filling a plate with mashed potatoes and porkchops.
Edward was watching patiently. “Shambeaux. How nice to see you.”
“Edweahd.” Shambeaux was organizing his porkchops as a crude fort, into which he shoveled the potatoes.
Edward paused, then continued. “I wish you would have informed us you were coming. We could have prepared something.”
Shambeaux closed the fort's doors, and placed his now overfull plate down on the table. He eyed it with suspicion, first with the left eye and then with the right. He finally sat down, and patted away the sweat on his brow. In doing so, he used June's napkin, not disturbing the two florid handkerchiefs tucked into the front two pockets of his white suit jacket. On his shoulder danced epaulets of every color.
Edward never knew Shambeaux during his own boyhood. Shambeaux was roughly twenty-six years older than he, and reportedly lived several counties away. Edward only met his brother for the first time soon after turning sixteen—before this, he was under the impression that Shambeaux was a fiction invented by his parents, a stocky red-haired bogeyman that existed only to keep a child in fear of gaucheness and excess.
But Edward's son Timothy, looking up cautiously from his plate, saw his Uncle as a figure of immense solidity indeed, the bags under Shambeaux's eyes and the slender white combovers as symbols of big-city life, evoking thin wisps of backroom cigar smoke and fledgling riverflows of money. Shambeaux had been mentioned in this house, and in this house, if absolutely nowhere else, Shambeaux had the reputation as a businessman of unequaled skill and guile.
Shambeaux stopped his ineffectual chewing of a porkchop bone to speak to Edward. “I've come for the boy. For the business.”
“Timothy's not going anywhere, Shambeaux.”
“The boy. I need the boy.”
Edward sat erect with an unshackled calmmess, a nearly reckless calmness. “Timothy is busy with his studies. He has no time for business, Shambeaux.”
Shambeaux looked up at June, then Edward, and then June, and then Timothy, and then Edward and June again, and then Timothy again, and—without warning—smiled. Unlike a customary smile, serving as an open demonstration of all of one's God-given enamel, Shambeaux's smile was only a vague rumor of teeth, shielded first by heavy, lumsome lips, and then by vigorous rolls of empurpled gums. Shambeaux lowered his voice to a phlegmmy whisper. “That's for the boy to decide.”
Timothy's first day working for Shambeaux took place at the city's only park, where Shambeaux sat on the city's only park bench, writing sporadically upon a notepad and falling asleep every few minutes. Timothy sat next to Shambeaux atop a crate, which Shambeaux entrusted him to drag about, but never look inside. It was heavy, and bristled with splinters. There was room for Timothy on the bench, but it was important that the safety of the crate be ensured, and so he sat atop the crate's splinters.
The bench was made of iron, and was overwrought. The park was roughly the size of three Persian rugs. It had no trees, and no wind. One squirrel lay nearby, overfed, dormant.
Shambeaux's notepad filled fitfully with possible possible names for his newest venture: “Mad Mikey's Pizza for Less” (crossed-out); “Mad Mikey's Naughty Wake-Up Calls” (crossed-out); “Mad Mikey's Barnyard Capers” (crossed-out, and crossed-out again, and then erased completely). In the bottom-right corner of the paper was drawn an approximation of a cow, with a jar of capers hanging around her neck. The cow looked neither pleased nor displeased.
Timothy grew anxious, both in a lust for money, and a desire to impress his Uncle. “Why ‘Mad Mikey'?” he asked, making a complicated and sophisticated motion with his eyebrows that he equated with business savvy.
Shambeaux spit into Timothy's face.
“You know nothing about business,” Shambeaux said. “Now go on and wipe off your face.”
Timothy nodded, and walked towards the park's lavatory. He dragged the crate behind him.
Every day for forty days was as the first. Days in the park, as Shambeaux wrote in his notepad and Timothy watched the squirrel. Nights were spent in a motel. Shambeaux slept in the bed and Timothy slept in an improvised hammock, which elevated him to a height just inches lower than the ceiling, where he slept in almost adequate safety and almost adequate comfort.
Days at the park were humid and sun-filled, owing to the absence of trees and wind.
Semi-regularly, Timothy was ordered to City Hall to obtain paperwork for Shambeaux's gradually coalescing business plans. The paperwork Shambeaux wanted was redundant and contradictory—Timothy obtained paperwork for renovating a corporation-owned garage, paperwork for holding a government-sponsored garage sale, and paperwork for expanding power to a non-profit television station. Timothy made the trip twice a week, and gathered forty to fifty sheets of paper each time, papers of pink and yellow and blue.
Timothy was impressed by City Hall, a one-story structure of burgundy-painted walls and sensible carpeting. The hallways were well-labeled, and there was even a station where Timothy could drop off the crate while he conferred with bureaucrats. On a Tuesday, while crossing the hallway, Timothy saw the Mayor. He was a middle-aged and thick-bearded man who wore a well-fitting suit with a red necktie. He was famous in town for his dulcimer-playing, which he did annually at the County Fair. Timothy was overjoyed upon seeing him.
Shambeaux Watkins, businessman, was asleep on the bench when Timothy returned that day with the latest ream. “Uncle.” Timothy pulled on Shambeaux's lapel.
Sleeping, Shambeaux's face was that of a crumpled crabshell. Tributaries of drool joined into mighty rivers, and flowed away from the wide and broken face. “Uncle.” Timothy pulled on Shambeaux's lapel again, and then tugged his under-lapel. “Uncle. Uncle, wake up.”
He awoke in three stages, first quickly and then slowly, and then quickly again. His eyes fluttered slowly and clumsily. “Whuttabout that now?”
“Uncle. I got your papers, and I think I'm going to see my mom and dad right now. I'll be back in an hour.”
Shambeaux almost stood up. Apoplectic, he grabbed Timothy's shoulder with both hands at once. “No, my boy.” His stare was even and not muddled. “We came to that agreement, my boy. You help me with my business, and once we find success, you can make your choice again.”
Timothy shook his head and smiled. “Uncle, I'm going to see my mom and dad for just an hour.”
Shambeaux's lips smiled hideously. “A promise, boy! A man who does not keep a promise is worse than a child. And a child who does not keep a promise is worse than that.” His eyes were hate. Shambeaux stared with these hate-eyes until suddenly he slept, violently. Timothy was suddenly alone.
The sixteen-year old paced about, and considered walking home. He smiled and had a dialogue with himself. He shook his head and occasionally laughed. How ridiculous it was, he thought, for him to be chained to his Uncle, and for no reason. He was nearly an adult. Of course he would go back and see his parents. Of course he would. Of COURSE he would. He chuckled and smiled knowingly to his imaginary audience.
Then Timothy stopped smiling. He gathered the papers, which were in no danger of blowing away (the park had no wind), placed them under a small rock, and watched the squirrel while he sat upon the crate.
That was when the relationship between Shambeaux and Timothy became strained.
It was on the fortieth day that Shambeaux instructed a relocation to City Hall. At the base of the steps to the building, a steps of three steps, the crate was dragged. Shambeaux, with a swift animal-like motion, ripped off the nailed lid, spilling its contents down the sidewalk. The contents were two dingy-looking suits of blue-and-white stripes, one cane, one chair, and one straw hat.
The suits were ill-fitting. Now dressed, Shambeaux sat in the chair tapping a rhythm on the sidewalk in time to an invisible melody. Timothy looked on. Shambeaux tapped, and winced, and tapped, with an unseen concentration. Within two minutes, crowds of townspeople were drawn to the steps. They were drawn in short staggers, as liquid sucked through a straw by a man with weak lungs. Within forty minutes, Shambeaux and Timothy were among people.
It was then that Shambeaux threw off his straw hat, high. It flew. It fell. He caught it, tapped his cane, and opened his mouth in song.
His mouth unveiled full, round, gleaming teeth and a delicate and tragic falsetto. Shambeaux sang a song of Ancients. He sang with a voice as thin and minty as dental floss. He sang for many minutes.
It became apparent that he was singing about the Mayor, with righteous hatred. He sang about corruption and government, and about life. His song said a little about everything, and too much about nothing.
Responding to unsaid cues, Timothy started pulling a few items that clung about the bottom of the opened crate; he tossed them blindly and synchronously with Shambeaux's song. A large bronze statue of the Mayor; dulcimers; confetti; colorful balloons, lighter than air.
The song went on for forty minutes, as the crowd knitted ever tighter and knitted ever rapt. It told stories of the Mayor as captain of a small boat, adrift and weak at sea, a story of betrayal and weakness and sin. It was the story of Man, and when Shambeaux finished, everybody had heard everything that they needed to know.
Shambeaux snapped closed his mouth, and he glared at Timothy. Shambeaux hit Timothy in the legs with the cane. Timothy sprung forward, knelt, and yelled, “Mad Mikey's Bead Repair! We'll fix your beads in a jiffy!”
Beads were tossed through the air like javelins of snot, landing at Shambeaux and Timothy's feet. Each bead to repair meant money. And money meant more money. And more money meant success. This is how Timothy became a businessman.