Deft Beck: Author
Here are excerpts from my novel, "Slagtand's Pub".
I hope you enjoy it.
The airport taxi pulled up to a large, polished gate. The driver leaned out of his seat and pressed a button on the wall, whereupon the gates clicked and slowly began to open.
I felt frigid as I exited the taxi and into the night air of the Irish countryside. It was definitely much different than my home climate; then again, technically I was returning home. Thanking the driver, he left me with my bags at the front door of the manor.
I looked straight ahead at the door, with a large brass knocker, straight out of what I imagined to be an old -fashioned businessman's fantasy of the perfect estate. I put my clammy right hand on the knocker and slammed it three times.
After a few minutes, the door opened to reveal my younger stepbrother.
“Chinua! Glad to see you.”
LiCour reached out to me, and hugged me warmly, catching me off guard. He released his hold and reached for my bags.
“It's fine, I've got them.”
“No! I insist.”
I heard a beeping sound behind me and out comes the slim figure of my older sister Martine, kissing whom I presumed to be her boyfriend on the cheek before sauntering up the steps. As she walked up, Li raised his eyebrows and offered up a comment.
“It's like a family reunion! Just for a reason this time.”
His remark reminded me of the past Christmas, when I was last up in Ireland, but that was when my oldest brother appeared to be making acquaintances with the toilet bowl for most of the night, with Martine observing occasionally, rolling her eyes each time she passed by the room. You'd think a pub owner could hold his alcohol, and that's not the only way that Benton doesn't take after Dad.
“Hello, you two...”
She walked up to me and gave me a light hug, bringing her heavy suitcase up with a single, awkward motion, triggering Li to hoist it up and bring it inside. I held the door for the two as I grabbed my suitcase and slammed the heavy door behind me.
We entered the manor foyer, Li hoisting the bags up on his back and heading up the grand staircase.. Martine following behind him. She looked behind briefly, lifting up her outspread left hand daintily in my direction.
“We'll be right back, okay?”
“Okay,” I responded, watching as the two disappeared up the spiral staircase.
I was left alone in the room for a moment, I placed my hands in my pockets in an attempt to keep them warm, even inside. Must cost a fortune to keep this gargantuan place heated. Might as well check the finances while I'm here.
I heard footsteps from my left, and into the room arrived a large figure in a faded purple sweater, sweatpants and house slippers. His pale skin contrasted with his pitch-black curled hair, lying in masses upon his head, with dark sunglasses obscuring his eyes.
He was slightly shorter than me, and still rotund as ever, as he had been for as long as I knew him, which wasn't long at all. This whole ordeal still felt sort of surreal to me, being plucked from an entirely different continent in order to see my father and what he called my siblings. It hardly served as a substitute for the real thing, which was lost forever, for all accounts.
“Ello, Chinua.” He extended his large hand in my direction, which I shook with a strong grip, outstripping his by many degrees. He drew it back to his side.
“Benton, what's the meaning of this? Is something wrong?”
“It's Dad. Didn't you know? I thought I posted you.”
“You posted something that important?! You should've called, for Christ's...” I brought my hand outspread to my chest, in outrage, before letting out a frustrated grunt and looking to the family seal on the floor, a gigantic bear with teeth agape, standing regally, as if to be the King of Bears or something equally dated and strange.
“Thought I sent it out with the right address, maybe the mail's strange where you live.” Benton tilted his head, appearing sorry, making sure his sunglasses didn't expose him to light.
In the interval, I gave him a glare that made him visibly uncomfortable.
“W-well, it's all over now. You could see him if you want to.”
I followed him towards the small door that led into the basement.
The basement was a new sight; I last saw it many moons ago; Benton had apparently gotten it finished. After we descended the stairs, I saw a collection of many items that belonged to Dad, some I had never seen before.
The largest of the items threw me off for a second, being an oversized moose off in a raised platform with other animals, frozen in time. For a moment, I almost feared that Benton had gotten himself into another strange business endeavor.
“Don't worry, he won't bite! HA!” He swung his hand and hit an antler, letting out a slight yelp, before bringing his hand back down and shaking it in the air several times. Thankfully, this was clearly not where Dad was being kept.
Unfortunately, the coffin was placed in the center of the room.
“Why here?” I asked my brother, who was bringing a single black curl out from in front of his face absentmindedly. He snapped to attention.
“Well, um, I really couldn've placed it anyw'ere people could'a seen it, as you know I'm very frequently busy with parties—social functions, you know. I just don' wan' anyone to have this in their way or annithin'. Y'know what I mean, Chin?”
I had nothing to say in response, instead focusing on taking a look at my stepfather. I unhooked the clasps to the coffin and slid the lid off.
It wasn't decay that disturbed me, as I flew in overday as soon as I heard, but it was just how unhappy Dad looked. His grey, curled locks lay upon his head, eyelids closed, lips pursed downward, like Dracula. His resting clothes, at least for now, included his favorite scarlet robe, which I almost always saw him wearing when I visited. It made my heart sink that I had to see him like this.
Immediately after I saw the body, I turned to Benton, who had an indifferent look on his face, arms straight down at his sides.
“Y'sure he isn't...” I paused, waiting for my brother's response.
“Wha'kinna question's that?” He threw his arms outward. “A'course he's dead! Don't you think y'could rec'nize a dead body?”
I stared at him in contempt, leaving us to chew on the silence until Martine and Li descended the stairs. Martine let out a slight gasp, before coming to the foot of the coffin and leaning on her knees to get a closer look at Dad's face. She turned her head towards Benton, breathing quickly.
“I'm sure. We're having the will read tomorrow night.”
With that settled, she took a moment to let the news sink in, before getting up, looking visibly shaken. She didn't cry, but she took Li's hand, unaffected, leading him up the stairs. Benton and I were left in the basement, heads hanging down, contemplating what was to come.
After a few seconds, Benton raised his head, stuttering before finally speaking.
“Y-y-y'care for some...”
I looked in his direction, throwing him off guard, causing him to start wringing his hands.
“Y'know, you'd like something to drink before you go off to bed? Y'know....”
“Okay.” I conceded.
Together, we closed the top of the coffin, shielding Dad from further decay. We then headed up the stairs, taking a last glance at the coffin for the night.
I let the four Slagtands into the parlor, holding the door as they stepped inside, escaping the cold of the winter night and into a room that smelled strongly of pumpkins.
“Make yourself at home,” I recall Master saying this to every single one of his clients, and I figured that I may as well continue the tradition.
“Thank you,” Benton muttered, stopping a few steps short of the door, which I closed with an inadvertent slam, surprising me slightly, but not bothering Benton or the rest of the Slagtands very much.
Benton Slagtand had on a thick scarf today, colored deep plum, like a snake snug around his neck. He took it off, turned slightly to face the coat rack and wrapped it several times about a rung of the rack. He then raised his arms high and struggled to pull off his outer jacket, revealing a green sweater, reminding me of that blur I thought I saw through the window of the pub the other night.
The young woman, whom I presumed to be Martine, removed her faded red scarf and placed it on the rung below Benton's. She was dressed lightly, but very...stylishly, for lack of a better word. She moved herself off to the side, brushing her sweater off with both of her hands, glancing about the parlour with an interested expression.
“You have a lovely practice.”
I felt a surge of sudden surprise. “Well-um-no, I'm sorry, madame, but I am not Richter. You see--”
“Oh! I'm sorry. My name is Martine, Martine Slagtand. Pleased to meet you, Mr....”
“Kraspen. Richter's assistant.”
I reached my hand out, and she lightly shook it, again stating how she was pleased to meet me, before returning it to her side, continuing to glance about the room. To Martine's side, slightly behind her, a young man stood with hands in his jacket. I reached out to him, and he introduced himself.
“LiCour.” His grip was stronger than I expected, though matching mine.
He returned to the front of the fireplace, warming his hands. The room remained silent but for Benton's muttering as he disrobed, staring at the pictures of pumpkins on the walls.
As he was removing his layers, his acquaintance, dressed in a collared black shirt —I'd never seen him before-- just stood off to the side, taking in the parlor's various decorations. The man looked particularly interested in the mantlepiece, where the fireplace crackled below. The light of its flames reflected in the man's dark skin, almost matching that of the fireplace's logs.
He moved over to get a better look at the photographs, picking up one in his right hand to get a closer look, Martine and LiCour also leaning in to catch a look. By the way that he raised his brow, and by the aged bronze of the frame's back, I knew that he was looking at the one of Master and--what I presumed to be--his colleagues. While I have never more than dusted the pictures, the gambit of black-and-white photographs implied that he used to have quite a colorful life.
“Y'like that one? Hah, you know what's funny?” I put my hand out and put on a slight smile. “I never really could figure out with who Mas—I mean Richter was standing with there! D'y'know?”
“I wouldn't know,” replied the man, in his raspy voice, far from anything I would've expected . It sounded...unearthly, if that's an apt descriptor. With his other hand, he extended it in my direction.
“M'name's Chinua Slagtand, pleased to meet you...” We shook hands, his grip exceeding mine, despite my expectations for a man of his figure.
“W-we-well, I'm Kraspen, Richter's assistant,” I stuttered out a response. “I'll be helping you with these affairs, I'm so terribly sorry, but Mas—RITCHTER, Richter's in a sorry state--”
I felt a twinge of embarrassment. “Oh, oh my God, I'm so sorry, this isn't the time. Follow me down the hall into his office. So sorry.”
The man placed the photo down just as Benton had finished readying himself. With that in mind, I led the group down the hall to the short door at the end, each one of us having to bend over slightly to enter the room.
We filed into the room, Benton making his seat in front of the desk. It was then that I felt a twinge of sudden realization. Unfortunately, there only were two chairs in Master's office, one for the client and one for Richter, so I felt despaired for a second, turning towards the other three Slagtands suddenly.
“I'll get you--”
“S'fine.” Chinua cut me off, raising his open hand toward me. He lounged in the corner, against the large armoire where Master kept his papers. Martine stood with her arms folded to the right of Benton, while LiCour
I headed toward the desk and made my seat in Master's office chair, taken off guard for a second by my knees hitting the underside of the desk with a thump. Amidst the sudden pain, I lowered the seat to a comfortable level and looked at the folder on the desk, containing the elder Slagtand's will. The two looked at me, one set of eyes determined and the other full of detachment from the scenario.
I felt that then was a better time than ever to start.
“Well...this is sort of awkward, but this document, in reality, from what I've discerned, is actually very brief.”
Benton and Martine's eyes both widened, seldom blinking, as Chinua's and LiCour's failed to contract, blinking several times, the latter's not even paying attention to the reading.
“Well,” I continued, “There are not a terrible lot of direct statements. Here, I'll read:
“It pains me to think of my own death, after all these years. It's been a long time coming, and I've clearly gotten Death's goat one too many times. Now, it's finally time to face the music, and I regretfully cannot bring my cello into the afterlife.”
I paused for a second, LiCour letting out a chuckle, Benton glaring at him, while the rest of the family paid rapt attention to my words. I took a breath and continued.
“The first son borne of my own blood, Benton, exhibiting great spirit in continuing the family affairs, shall inherit all that stands within the grounds of my estate, continuing my legacy.”
“As for Martine and LiCour, I trust in your abilities to continue reaping the profits of the family's various investments, with no further interference upon my part. Martine, you are a shimmering, dazzling flower, the likes of which Paris has never seen before, as was your mother. LiCour, I believe, as long as you follow your heart, you will find your way.”
LiCour looked up suddenly, his eyes full of hope, before looking to his siblings. Benton looked anxious, Martine clutching a handkerchief she produced from her handbag, her eyes beginning to water. There was only a small amount left to read.
“My adopted son Chinua, with his solemn patience and calm mind, shall inherit all rights to the family business, on the grounds that no man shall ever infringe upon it again. Do not worry if you feel daunted, for you have the wisdom of generations before to guide you.”
“Any and all ghosts from my past, literal or otherwise, shall receive no consideration in this will, as I trust in my family's abilities to handle such complications.”
“It is with these words that I execute my final will and testament.
From now and beyond,
Benvolio Victor Slagtand II”
I removed the paper from my field of vision, looking up for a moment to gauge their reactions.
Benton was lurched forward in his seat, his face contorted itself into a look that can only be described as disappointment incarnate. His mouth was agape, displaying his stunted incisors to the room. He clutched his hands into the seat like claws, turning and scowling at Chinua, no longer disaffected but surprised, as if his father had finally laid the issue to rest with his passing.
Meanwhile, Li and Martine were looking at themselves in similar, but less pronounced disbelief. If anything, I'd conclude that they heard exactly what they predicted. It's rare to have such assurance, it isn't comfortable, but it works out mostly fine for those it affects.
The room was quiet. After a full minute, Martine reared her head up, deciding to conclude the meeting.
“Thank you, Kraspen. We'll be off now, the night is young, isn't that right, Benton?”
Benton did not respond, standing up suddenly, fuming as he exited the room. LiCour followed suit, with Martine leading behind, closing the door behind them. I was left with Chinua, glancing off to the side, dejectedly. I tried to cheer him up.
“Well, I'll be the first, but not likely last person to say congratulations, Chinua. From what I've heard, The pub's been a mainstay of this town, and...that's all I've heard, to be honest.”
He looks over at me, lifting his eyebrows and opening his eyes wide.
He goes over to me to shake my hand again, feeling that strong grip, before leaving me alone in Master's office.
For a moment there, you would've thought that I just performed a seance.