Gordon Fraser’s book, “Song of the Spirit River,” was published in September 2016. The short stories in the book flow along like the Rouge River, meandering through stories of the people who first settled in the region — into the world today. The quiet of the bush and the roar of the river are reflected in Mr. Fraser’s stories, as the people of the community experienced joys and sorrows. Mr. Fraser wanted to share his book with people during this uncertain time, we will be bringing you chapters of his book for free, here on The Review’s website.
Copies of this book are available from The Review. Email: [email protected] to pre-pay for your copy and arrange for safe pick-up at The Review.
And now: here is the last chapter of “Song of the Spirit River.”
The Devil and Barry Water
I was sitting on my porch one sunny summer afternoon, on the old farm I bought in what they now call Grenville-sur-la-Rouge Township in western Quebec.
A nice old place, but the land has not been turned in a long time. Never mattered much to me, for I just bought the property as a getaway. My grandparents had lived around here back in the early part of the 1900’s so there is a bit of family connection; never thought too much about it.
Anyway, I was just sitting there, thinking I should be doing something other than sitting but it was such a fine afternoon; the kind of day to sit and think and watch the clouds go by.
There are not too many cars driving by my old farm, and that is one of the main reasons I got it. Besides, the roads are so bad that pretty well the only folk on this stretch are locals. Not many of them either: Old Charlie lives down aways. And Jerome’s laneway is about half a mile before mine.
So I was sitting thinking about all the work I wasn’t going to do when a car pulled into my drive. The lane is long, and sometimes tourists just use it as a place to turn around when they are lost. But this car didn’t turn; it just came up my long driveway, slow and easy.
I was thinking to myself, “Here’s another lost soul. Tell the good folk how to get back to civilization. Then go back to watching the clouds,” though there were few.
A really nice black BMW seven series pulled up in front of my porch and shut off the engine. First I was feeling kind of sorry for some city slicker lost up here, fearing his nice car would fall into a pothole.
The door opened and a well-dressed man stepped out looking like he had just come off a relaxing Caribbean cruise then checked out my old farm.
I immediately thought it must be a municipal inspector of some kind. There are lots of them around and that’s the type of vehicle they drive.
But he did not hold up a badge or start taking pictures, so I relaxed a bit. When he closed the car door and came towards my steps I went back to the lost tourist idea, for he seemed friendly; not like those inspectors.
“Barry Water is my name,” he said.
“Just took a drive up the laneway to see how the old place looks. Don’t mean to bother you, son. Only stay a minute.”
So while he stood and checked out the brush and trees, I was looking him over. His face looked like the man on a Mexican beer commercial; all tanned with a beard well trimmed and bright eyed.
I pretty sure he was not an inspector of any kind by now, and he seemed to be familiar with the surroundings so not a lost tourist either.
“Got relatives around here?” I asked. “Know the country a bit?”
“Used to live here,” he replied.
“Know the country well. No farms left like in my day, but the hills are the same and I thought I’d come and see. While I’m in the neighbourhood.”
I like to learn about folk in these hills. I know my grandparents had a farm somewhere long ago, but I miss some of the older names, and I thought to myself, “Here is a chance to learn, pick his brains before he heads off.”
So I asked, “When were you here? You had a spot somewhere around?”
Barry Water walked away from his shiny BMW to stand at the bottom of my porch. From close up, his eyes were blue and had what looked like a permanent bit of smile. Nice looking man and relaxed.
“I lived in this very house,” he said.
“Moved out in the summer of ’12. Before that, I lived in a cabin back up in the hills aways.”
When he said ’12, I was thinking either he had his dates mixed up or maybe I should be calling one of those municipal inspectors; for this was 2016 and when I bought the place it had been abandoned and run down.
So I asked him while he stood there looking like he was a taking a walk down memory lane, “You moved out not long before I got here in ’15.”
Barry looked at me with his twinkling eyes, and walked up the steps and put out his hand.
“Bartholomew H. Water”, he said and put out a tanned hand to shake.
“To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?”
“Gord Fraser.” I said.
“Pleased to meet you, Bartholomew.”
“Call me Barry. Always liked that name better.”
Barry was still looking around, though he was relaxed and not like the kind of man who would be confused, so I said. “Take a chair for a minute, Barry? Take a load off?”
So Barry Water and I sat and looked at the clouds for a while, and I figured it was a good time to set his dates straight so I said. “The place must have been a bit run down when you were here Barry?”
We were both looking over towards the shiny seven series.
Barry glanced at me with an odd look but changed the subject.
“You have any relatives around, Gord? What brought you here?”
I told him that my grandparents had a farm not far away. Nothing left of the farm now, but there are a couple of lots divided and houses there, I told him. It got me thinking of my grandparents.
Arthur Fraser was my grandfather’s name, though my dad had moved to the city and I grew up there. Never knew my grandparents well – not sure why.
That was partly what got me interested in buying a place back here, to see a little bit of the old country.
But while sitting on the porch watching clouds with Barry Water, I thought to myself, “Water is a familiar name, somehow.” And in thinking, it occurred to me that my grandmother’s maiden name was Water, I said to Barry.
“Just wanted a place out of the way, so to speak. Some good spot to sit and think, like today.
“Never knew my grandparents much, though now that you mention the name, Water was my grandmother’s name before she married, Grandma Sarah I think but I’m not certain.”
Barry Water stopped staring off into the distance to look at me, then stared over the farm for a while before he said.
“Important to know where you come from, Gord. I think of all the people who once lived around here every time I come back. But I don’t come around as often as I used to.”
I looked at Barry Water as he took off his panama hat and laid it on the table between us. He certainly did not look like a nut case, sitting there in a light summer jacket that probably cost more than my truck.
Certainly no glazed-over eyes with him. No sir. His eyes looked like they’d seen some things. Full head of dark hair too; kind of hard to tell if he was 60 or 35. Barry did not look like the kind of man who would live in a dump.
So I took the subject back to when I moved in and how the roof had leaked in places. Someone had taken the banister and the iron floor grates.
“Must have been in rough shape when you moved out in ’12.” I said to Barry Water.
Barry studied me for a moment then said, “Actually it was in fine shape when I decided to move around a bit, see the world.
“Better let you get on with your day, Gord Fraser, but it is still a nice place to sit. And a fine day for sitting.”
He was about to get up and put on his panama hat that probably cost more than my garage, when he settled back a bit.
“You said your grandmother’s name was Water. Do you know what her first name was? I kind of like to keep track of my relatives, though most are gone now. Wouldn’t have been Sarah Jane, was it?”
Sarah was her first name, that I knew, and Water is an unusual name in these parts, so I gave up on the mixed up dates for a time.
Barry Water did not look any older than me and maybe younger, so I asked him, if he had a moment – we could see if there was a family connection.
It was nice on the porch, so Barry settled back into his seat and looked me over long and hard. He set the panama back on the table and said.
“Gord, if your grandmother’s maiden name was Sarah Jane Water, then that would make us relations.
“The last of mine around here maybe, and it is curious that you took the place. But no matter.
“The way I see it, Gord, is we got two choices on what to do with the rest of this afternoon. I go and do something else for awhile, let you get on with your day; or we can sit a spell and I’ll sort out some dates and tell a story. We are kin and it’s all history now.
It was a nice sunny day and there were not many clouds to watch. Barry still reminded me of that commercial for Mexican beer, of which I had a few bottles inside, so I asked if he would like one and he said yes.
“It’s a bit of long tale, Gord,” he said.
I told him there was no place to go in a hurry and he agreed. Barry asked me if I minded if he smoked and I said no. As he reached into the breast pocket of that nice jacket he asked, “You smoke Gord? Enjoy a cigar now and then?”
I remembered a cigar I smoked when I was a kid. Made me turn green, literally, and since then I have puffed on a few. I know a little bit about cigars and even bought one for fifty American on a trip to the Dominican one time.
“Want to try one of these?” Barry Water asked as he pulled out two strange-looking cigars marked King of Denmark.
“Some people don’t like the odd colour.” Barry said. “But they are a decent smoke.
“If you would prefer, I got a box of Gurka Blacks in the car. And I think I have one Maya left.”
He handed me a thick cigar, all spotted like it had mould.
“Like I said, Gord. Got a Maya or a Gurka. Like one of those?”
I was not thinking of the spots on the cigar. I was considering the price. King of Denmark sells for $4,500 for a single cigar.
A box of Gurka Black will set you back twenty grand. Maya cigars are a legend; or almost.
So I took that King and made like I knew all about them and he handed me a silver cigar nipper. We fired up together and sat back to watch the clouds.
“Think I always liked a good smoke,” said Barry Water as he took a big puff.
I took just a taste as I told him of my first ‘gar’.
He agreed that strong tobacco can do that and explained about some different strains, then said.
“Gord, Water is a good name and an old one but for me, it was a bit of a nuisance. Not the Water name as such, but my first names; Bartholomew Holden Water. Barry for short.
“When I was a lad, the other boys would tease me saying. ‘Ha, ha. There goes Barely Holding Water’, and I was skinny and couldn’t fight too well so I took it.”
“Some of the girls would joke, ‘Don’t go out with him. Barry can’t hold his water,’ . . . that kind of stuff.”
“I always figured I’d show them who’s who. Barry holds his water pretty good these days.”
Barry took a swig of his beer. “Not in a hurry, Gord? Nice afternoon to sit and talk.”
I was not in a hurry and that King was starting to taste good. Barry continued.
“I was not very lucky back in those days, Gord. I wanted to be an explorer or something then, but I had no money for that.
“My first job was in a legal office, writing up contracts. I liked that and had a good feel for a pen. That all ended when the lawyer absconded with the trust fund.
I found out about a man who had a farm for sale cheap. That’s how I got here.”
Barry took a puff.
“Turned out the soil was mostly sand and worn out by the time I arrived but all my savings were in this place and I had no choice.
“This house was not here then though. The only house on the place was that old cabin I mentioned before, just over there. Grown up in trees now.”
Even after half a beer and three hits on that cigar, I still could not make sense out of the timeline. He was talking about having moved in here four years past, let alone that a cabin could be overgrown in that time period. 2012 to 2015?
I told Barry I was a little confused on exactly when he had lived here. He said he left in ’12.
“1912, Gord. Not 2012. I pulled out to see the world 104 years ago this day. Never looked back.”
I took a double look at the cigar Barry H. Water had given me. Thinking to stub it out, try this later on when I was alone.
But Barry said, “Like I said, Gord. It’s a bit of a tale.”
So we decided that the Kings were a good smoke and Barry Water went on.
“Seemed back then I was always on the wrong side of the fight.”
I asked him which fight he was speaking of and Barry said the fight between the Devil and the Lord.
I took a second double look at the cigar as Barry continued.
“It was a different time and a different place back in the new century . . . 1900’s, Gord. I mean people did not live in towns so much then and there were folk all round these hills.
“Nice farms in Avoca, and up on the Harrington line. Pointe-au-Chene was getting a new asbestos mine. Calumet was booming with the sawmill and the new power company. Grenville had a train station and the Kilmar mine was feeding a refractory at Marelan.
“But as the people came in the great fight began. You see, the Devil would run around building taverns and the Lord would follow building churches. They fought it out all over the country, but here it was rough.
“I wouldn’t have known much about all that except the Devil explained it to me one night.
“He told me that when the new big church opened in Hawkesbury on a Sunday morning, hardly any of the local men were there to see. Seems the devil had a new place opening the night before in Grenville and half of Hawkesbury had not got home till four a.m.
“Guess the Lord got real mad at the devil that day and appeared in a blaze of light right over the devil’s tavern. Of course there was nobody there to see cause it was the middle of the afternoon and the place did not open until it was dark enough you could see the red light.
“But the Lord didn’t know that so when he appeared in a great flash, it didn’t quite come out as planned. The Lord thundered out, ‘Devil, keep your pigpens shut’!
“The Devil ignored him and just kept sweeping the sawdust off the floor; getting ready for opening happy hour. Eventually after a bunch of flashes, the Lord had to give it up because he was running out of energy and no one was paying any never mind.
“Before he took off for heaven, the Lord gave a last attempt and knocked on the tavern door. When the devil opened it to toss the sawdust, the Lord thundered, ‘Devil! Keep your pigpens closed’!
“Devil just threw the old sawdust on the street and said to the lord, ‘Keep your pigs at home. They mess up my floors’.
‘Want one for the road, Lord’? Devil asked, and when the Lord shook his head, the devil went back to work.
“Of course the Lord won some rounds, too, like when he started the temperance society to fight the Devil’s drink and the Devil’s dance, and got the women to try and keep the men at home.
“Didn’t bother the Devil too much. He opened a new tavern in Pointe-au-Chene; right by the mine entry. Then built Harry’s Whorehouse up along the Rouge the next fall.
“The devil told me some stories. Not a bad guy once you get to know him.
“Still got time, Gord? These cigars last pretty well and I have a bit of my favourite ‘whiskey blanc’ in the car. Kind of fun now, remembering those days.
“I have not seen the Devil in a while. Miss those conversations.”
I had mostly forgotten about what started this story but it sounded interesting. My King was still about half; Barry’s was three quarters gone.
“The neighbours up here were all part of the great fight, Gord. Even your granddad Arthur.”
I asked how.
“Well, when the crops were good, they praised the Lord. When things went bad, they cursed the Devil and they went round and round.
“The Lord would preach that a life full of troubles here was a small price to pay for eternity in heaven.
“The Devil, he was always trying to promote dancing and drinking; and Harry’s Whorehouse for he had a lot of time invested in that project.”
Barry Water smiled at old memories and asked if my cigar was good. It was and getting better.
“Nice afternoon to sit and reminisce,” he said and I agreed.
“I moved up here to the old cabin in 1890 with a horse, and a wagon, some farming tools and buckwheat seed. Worked like a madman.
“Got a good crop too. A whole wagon load of sacks, full of buckwheat.
“I took that wagon-load of buckwheat down to Calumet, but on the way, a wheel broke. So I rode the horse to Calumet to get the wheel fixed. When I got back, my wagon was missing so there I was with a wheel and no wagon.
“Next year, I decided to try corn, figuring to sell that by the cob. It grew well here, except the weeds grew well too and I was constantly picking.
“Just when those cobs were all ripe and juicy, the raccoons showed up and ate almost every kernel.
“The man who was to buy my corn saw that and said he had just the solution for my troubles. A ‘coon hound’ he called it. Big hairy beast.
“This man said that coon hounds could catch a coon faster than spit. He didn’t tell me how much coon hounds ate.
“So I fed that coon hound, Fang, and next spring I planted another batch of corn over in that field.”
Barry Water pointed a tanned finger at where a young forest was growing. “Yep. Right there was my cornfield. Still got time, Gord?”
I like stories and sometimes even take notes. Not today, though. Too much trouble.
Our beers were near done but I had no more. Barry asked if I was using the old well for water and I said yes.
“Wouldn’t mind a bit of that if it’s not too much trouble, Gord. It’s good water.”
So I went off to get some and when I returned with a pitcher and two glasses, Barry was coming back up the steps with a silver flask in his hand.
I poured us out each a glass and set them on the table between. Barry opened up the flask and said.
“Tastes even better with a touch of this, Gord. My special. Made my first batch in the old cabin. Got it much better now. Like a touch in your water, Gord?’
So he poured about one finger’s worth in our glasses.
“Got to remember to always put this stuff in water, not the other way around. Dangerous. And don’t smoke if you’re drinking it straight.
“Take a taste, Gord.”
I sipped very lightly, then a little more but there was no flavour. Just like plain water, so I said such to Barry Water.
“Even right out of the flask it has no taste, Gord. Just a hair under two hundred proof. A special blend, Water’s water, I call it.
So we settled back for some Water’s water and he carried on about coon hounds.
“That Fang dog just about ate me out of house and home by the next fall. But I was ready for them racoons when they showed up.
“Heard them crunching and munching and Fang had his hair all up and growling. So I waited until it seemed there must be the whole gang of coons in my corn field and then I sikked Fang on them.
“Fang, he took off into the cornfield and I never saw him again. Heard a man over in Rawcliff had one just like him later on.
“Anyway, the coons finished off my corn and that’s when I started cursing the Devil.
“I got me a pipe and some tobacco and some whiskey blanc, and I sat at my table and cursed him up and down. I had a couple of choice words for the Lord that night too.
“In the middle of a blue streak of curses, there in my kitchen appeared the Devil. Kind of red coloured, with little horns and a weird smile. Had a tail sticking out from under his jacket.
“Didn’t see where he came from, but there he was and he says to me. ‘Don’t get so worked up Barry. I’m just doing my job. If you want to get mad at somebody, blame the Lord. He is always holding the good stuff off till tomorrow. Not like me’.
“Just then a little shiny butterfly or something landed on my shoulder. ‘Can’t trust that guy’, the little voice says. ‘He always has some trick up his sleeve’.
“The Devil did have some big sleeves on his coat, but he kind of kept his arms folded behind his back. ‘Barry’, the Devil said’. Make you a deal’.
“The little voice said, ‘Don’t listen to him, Barry’. But the devil just smiled and went on.
“‘Here’s the deal, Barry. You get the good times now and the grief later. What do you think? Nice things and good booze. Deal for you Barry. Have to give me an answer quick cause Harry is next in line’.
The little shiny butterfly whispered so the Devil would not hear. ‘Forget the nice things of earth, Barry, just a few tough years and then it’s paradise straight through’.
“I asked the Devil how much time I got for paradise here and hell later. ‘Twenty years’, said the Devil. ‘No holds barred’.
“So I asked the butterfly how his deal went and he said it could not tell me without looking at the book, and that was somewhere else. ‘Have to get back to you on that one. But not to worry, paradise was guaranteed’.
“Put that in writing? I asked that little angel and he said no.
“I asked the same question to the Devil and the Devil said no problem, and whipped out a piece of parchment and a pen.
“I took some business courses back in school Gord. One of the lessons was it is better to have 10 per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing. And here I was, with the smiling Devil on one side and a cute little angel on the other.
“One would put it in writing here and now; the other had to go back to the office and get some details. Didn’t seem much a question which was better, so I told the butterfly his terms were poor and he needed a better sales pitch, then sat down at the table to make a deal.
“The Devil started to write but his hand was a little shaky, so he says, ‘Want to do the writing, Barry’? and I did and I wrote. ‘The Devil, being the party of the first part. And Bartholomew Holden Water being the party of the second part do hereby agree…
“The Devil was getting itchy while I wrote in all the fine print. He had a couple of freebee souls waiting up in Harrington if he could make it by midnight.
“So we signed, the Devil and me with the butterfly as witness, on the front and initialled the back: Twenty years of uninterrupted happiness after which the Devil would have me to fill one of his vacancies in hell. How could I lose?
“The Devil gave me an evil kind of grin and I grinned back just before he disappeared into an old stump. Which is where he must have come from in the first place. The shiny little angel just kind of fluttered off.”
Barry asked me how I liked Water’s water and I said it tasted just like water. He offered some more. This time he just tossed a splash in my glass. Barry did the same with his, then we watched a cloud.
“They used to grow tobacco up here in those days, Gord. Not much for quality like this.” Barry said.
“After the Devil left, I was still wondering how the deal would go down. Tobacco seemed like a start because you can plant 40 acres of the stuff on two thimbles of seed. No need for a wagon.
Hard to start, though, so I went to a farm near St. Jerome where Mr. Quesnel was growing some high grade.
“The farmers up here would start early in the year with those tiny seeds and do all kinds of things before planting. Me, I just went out to my field on a breezy day and tossed those seeds to the wind and lo and behold, rows came up straight as arrows.
“Life got real easy and for a while I kind of went overboard with a new drying shed, this house, and a fancy new wagon with two spare wheels. Since I like the whiskey blanc, I got me the finest of distillers – cost a fortune.
“Devil showed up one night, complaining of the bills and all the trouble it took to get that tobacco seed going and into straight lines.
“I took out the contract and showed him section C, sub-section 4, paragraph 8, line 17, which clearly stated that all bills were to be sent to hell.
“Devil said he thought he was starting to need glasses and looked a little closer at the fine print. Sure enough, there it was and he headed off to study up on distilling.
“I am not a greedy man, Gord. All I ever really wanted was a good smoke and fine whiskey and get around a bit. Do some exploring.
“The Devil sent somebody to pick my crop for me and paid me double the price. As was outlined in the contract in paragraph L, section 11, subsection 18, line 32.
I spent a lot of my time working on tobacco strains and making good whiskey. Keeping one step ahead of the Devil. Went to Cuba and Africa. Even went to see how the Mayans had done it.
“While I was with the Mayans, I studied up a bit on a drink they make out of a cactus; not much for alcohol but what a kick. I brought some of that joy juice back here with me.
“When my birthday came around that year I looked in the mirror and noticed a little gray. I immediately reminded the Devil of paragraph D, section 2, sub-section 18, line 13, which clearly stated that I was not to age during the life of this contract.
“Devil had brought a set of reading glasses when he came because he said he did not think that was included. After looking at that small print with glasses, he seemed to turn a little pink; like he was reading it for the first time. He quit before he got done the second page.
“I let him off easy because a little grey looks good. But I reminded him of the paragraph which had to do with wrinkles.
“Headed right back down that tree stump with not so much as a fare thee well.
“I did not see him much after that except when he showed up to complain about my travel expenses. I took the contract out and was about to show him paragraph M when he said never mind.
“Devil started going on about how the print was too fine and I told him he should have brought a bigger parchment then he asked me if I knew how much good parchment cost these days.
“He went back down that stump hole complaining about the cost of heat in hell and how he was having a hard time getting the respect he deserved.”
Barry and me, we watched a cloud go by and by now he was finished his King and mine was just lying in the ashtray on the table.
“How’s your water doing, Gord? Like a drop more?’
I said I was doing fine but Barry he asked to be excused for a moment and went down the steps to his Beamer. He came back with a tobacco pouch and two old-fashioned pipes. Like you see in a museum, made of clay with curved stems.
Barry Water opened up the pouch and pulled out some cut-up tobacco, a dark pink colour.
“My own special strain of tobacco, Gord. Made this one up myself while waiting for the contract to come to terms.”
Barry stuffed the two pipes and set one in the ashtray.
“I’ll leave that pipe with you, Gord. Try it out sometime but be careful. It is a tad strong. Sweet but strong.”
Barry fired up on his pipe and a contented look came over him. Like what a cat looks like after it ate a mouse.
“You know how time flies, Gord. Them 20 years just kind of flew by. Life was easy for me. Couldn’t make a mistake if I tried; and I did try.
“Almost blew this place up finding out what happens when you double distil.
“Travelled a lot then, too, exploring and checking out the beaches, that type of thing. To keep the Devil from complaining too much, I skipped the five-star places and travelled first-class instead of private.
“I brought tobacco seed back from where ever I found good smoke and blended all those strains to make what I have in this pouch. Rose de Quesnel, I call it.
“Like I said, Gord. It is powerful smoke.” We both glanced down at that pipe in the ashtray looking like some museum piece.
“No more smoke for me today, Barry,” I told him. “Tastes real smooth but I have a few bad memories of tobacco.”
“The Devil has a few himself now, Gord.” Barry took another pull on his pipe and went back to memory lane.
“Twenty years to the minute the Devil came out of that stump. But now he had to walk farther because I was living here and not in the old cabin.
“He came right into the kitchen and told me his troubles were finished but mine were about to begin and said to pack a toothbrush.
“I told the Devil I’d get my toothbrush in a minute but in the meantime he could review Section Y, sub-section 17, paragraph 6, line 33 which clearly stated that we were to share one drink and one pipe at the mentioned kitchen table before we headed off.
“I laid out two pipes, just like these Gord, and I poured two shot glasses of my special Water’s water. Triple-distilled with some of that Mayan joy juice for flavour. It adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the brew.
“So I sat at one side of the table and the Devil sat on the other. He was real happy that the payments for my contract were almost finished and he chugged that Water’s water back as if it was tequila.
“This was Devil’s night to party so I asked him if he would like a second to wash down the first. He dropped that quicker than the first and I let the vapours go away before we lit the pipes.
“One for the Gipper, I told the Devil, but he did not know who the Gipper was. I volunteered to tell him but he said no. Only a couple of puffs and we were off to his place, he said.
“So the Devil, he took one long draw on my Rose de Quesnel, inhaled it too, and the strangest thing happened. Guess that Mayan joy juice was kicking in; his eyes crossed, then the Devil’s pupils got real big.
“Then the Devil started to turn a weird shade of orange. Poor old guy just headed straight back to his hollow stump. Never bothered to sign off on the non-completion part; section A, sub-section 3, paragraph 6, which said that if the conditions of Section Y, sub-section 9, were not completed . . .
“When Devil showed up the next night looking like one of those Kermit the Frog dolls kids play with these days and wanted me to go with him, I reminded him of the aforementioned sections and paragraphs and he said he’d have to come back to go over that.
“Devil came back a two nights later looking a little better and telling me of all the strange things that happened in hell after he left my house; wanting to have a good look at that contract he had signed. He brought three-power reading glasses this time.
“He sat at my kitchen table and read for about an hour and a half and grumbled about my small handwriting.
“After reading and checking one side against the other, Devil said to me. ‘Straight up, Barry. How much will it cost me to get out of this deal?’
“I told him I could write us up a contract. The Devil was a little leery of that idea and preferred we work something out on a handshake. I reminded him that contracts were his idea in the first place.
“We sat and he told of how things were not so good for him as they had been 20 years ago. The spot market for souls was down to a dime a dozen, and the futures were heading south.
“I reminded him of the section which dealt with financial responsibilities of the party of the first part and the Devil groaned.
“ ‘Damn details, he said’, and I agreed, but contracts are contracts. So we worked out a payment schedule for the old guy and set only main parts of the original contract.
“I let the Devil off easy since the default section meant he would have had to pay me double. I wrote just a few words on a large piece of parchment. The Devil didn’t want any small print.
“I get medical, dental; travel expenses paid and all the smoke I want. Make my own whiskey blanc so the bar bill is pretty small.
“Well, Gord. Best be on my way. Got a thing or two to do before me and the Devil meet tonight over at the old hollow stump. He’s coming to give me a forward on the next five years expenses, estimated, of course, with inflation running high and the Canadian dollar down . . .
“Got to run,” Barry Water said as he put on his panama. “Got to go get ready for the Devil. He won’t touch my Rose, but he like a good cigar now and then.
Barry stood up and stretched. The sun was getting low and there were still no clouds to watch. Before Barry started down my steps he said.
“I always like to have something special when we meet. The Devil got peeved at me when he found out about the Mayan joy juice in his whiskey. Went on about informed consent and I told him that was not in our contract. So he brings his own bottle now.
“While I was in Santa Marta this spring, enjoying their mountains, I had the boys roll me up some of their smokables inside good tobacco leaf.
“Curious to find out how the old guy likes the mix. Course I don’t intend to tell him unless he asks. We agreed no more Maya joy juice but didn’t say anything about cigars.
“Got a couple rolled up in the car, Gord. Like one?”
I said no, thanks, because Jerome down the road grows some stuff that will make an elephant fly.
Barry asked if I would introduce him to Jerome, next time around. Maybe trade with Jerome for some good cigars.
I told Barry Water that Jerome would probably go for that deal.
Barry said that would give us an opportunity to sit and have a beer, or some Water’s water. He could give me an update on how the Columbian went over with the Devil.
Bartholomew Holden Water was just about to get in his seven series when he stopped, grabbed something under the seat and came back up the steps lively as a butterfly.
He handed me a little pouch of his Rose de Quesnel and a silver flask, then said, “This here is my private smoke, Gord. One puff equals two of these here cigars. And a flask of my finest triple-distilled Water’s water. Complete with Maya joy juice.
“In case the Devil shows up. He doesn’t even want to see that stuff. Makes him turn orange just to look.”
Barry turned his Beamer around and as he was driving out, he rolled down the window.
“By the way, Gord. If you see some strange happenings over at the old cabin tonight it is probably just the Devil. That Columbian seems to make time go real slow.
“Next meeting maybe, I can show you a video or two of the old guy in slow-mo. I keep one of them cell phones with me and a picture is worth a thousand words, they say.
“Devil’s reputation might fall apart if pictures hit Twitter of him trying to figure a way down a hollow stump.
“Nothing in our contract that says no pictures.
“Got to run, Gord. Meet you again.”
Nice guy, that Barry Water. But never make a contract with him. Even the Devil got lost in the fine print.