Tip Up — A Short Story by L.B. Sedlacek
February 25, 2020
Poet, writer, editor and educator L.B. Sedlacek brings us a chilling short story all the way from the American state of North Carolina. Her work of short fiction suffuses elements of “langue” and “parole” throughout a narration that culturally locate readers within a particular fictional world—one that on the surface seems frozen in a state of quotidian unraveling, up until the suspense found in the cold tranquility of its setting creeps up to reveal sinister designs.

There wasn’t much to Wooly Haven and he knew it with his white hair half hidden underneath his red hat with blue ear flaps.  He looked like an old man who didn’t know he was grown up.  He glanced around the room and grinned.  The room was dim and darker than usual from the clouds and rain.

Two men walked in nodding to Wooly.  He held up his hand.  “Food’s good today.  Been out in it?  What’s it like?”

The taller of the two men bundled up his umbrella shoving it in a corner.  He pulled a seat out from the table and threw his coat on the back nodding towards the buffet.  “What’d you eat, Wooly?”

“Fried chicken of course.”

“Yep.  That’s what you always have.  You headed out?  Not much luck today, but we always got tomorrow.”  The big man headed for the buffet table.  Wooly stumbled behind him.

“How’d Norton do?”

“Good, I guess.  We might do better if we had a different location, something more like you got.  Hard to tell.  I think he’d do better if he’d shut up once in a while and quit talking to me on the headset all the time.  Spooks the fish.”

“Guess he’s lonely, Kev.  You two ever thought of sharing a hut?”

Kev scooped up some chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and two rolls filling the plate so high the rolls dangled on top like cherries on a sundae.  “Heck, no.  He’s my brother and I like him but I don’t wanna be cooped up in a hut all day with him.  Would you?”

Wooly shook his head.  “Nah.  Don’t think so.  Got me one of those mini DVD players if I get bored.  Magazines.  You know.”

Norton shuffled over to the buffet and nodded at Wooly and Kev.  He filled his plate with potatoes, green beans and fried chicken, grabbing an iced tea from the bar.

Wooly watched Norton.  He picked at his hat, moving it from side to side and then back on his head so that he was wearing it higher above one ear than the other.  “Hey, they’re out looking for someone.  You heard?”

Kev shook his head.  “Who?”

Wooly bent down.  He whispered, “Think it’s Ted.  Haven’t seen him in a few days.  Might of run out on his wife or something.”

Kev set down his tea.  Norton dropped his plate on the table grimacing towards Wooly. 

“Wooly.”

“Norton.”

Norton and Kev didn’t look much alike or act much alike, but it was obvious they were brothers.  Their hair and eyes were the same color; even their skin tanned a light brown and in comparison making Wooly look like a pasty old ghost.

Kev glanced at Norton, then Wooly, and nodded at Wooly.  He sat at the table shoving a fork into his potatoes.  With his mouth full, he said “You’re right, Wooly.  It’s good today.”

Wooly shrugged his shoulders.  “Ain’t you gonna tell him?”

Norton looked up from his green beans.  “Tell me what?”

“Bout Ted.  He’s missing.  Out there maybe somewhere.  I don’t know.  They’re looking for him.”

“Probably the new owners of his uncle’s old store coming to collect for all those times he took whatever he wanted without paying for it.”

Kev punched Norton in the shoulder.

“Hey!”

Kev and Norton shared the same genes, but Kev was almost twice Norton’s size.  Wooly always said it was their opposite size and stature that made them unwilling to share a hut in the first place because in that cramped space one would probably knock the other into the fishing hole, whether it was on purpose or not.

Wooly adjusted his cap over his ears and grinned.  “Time to get back out there.  Bye.”  He turned around and marched out of the dining hall and didn’t even glance back to see if Norton or even Kev nodded bye, waved or mumbled anything through bites of green beans, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and heart-stopping cold tea. 

Wooly and Kev had been buddies in high school but that changed in their twenties. They were still friends in college, roommates at that, but it was Wooly and Norton who’d decided to go into business together, coming up with an idea one day in the library.  When Norton left their joint venture to start his own company, he used W & Nthat was their creative jab at a business name, to start a new venture.  He forgot he knew Wooly because Norton and Co. was much more lucrative.  But Wooly, clever Wooly, who was clever even though there wasn’t much to him, found a loophole in some paperwork, got a lawyer, proved Norton had used W & N money to start Norton and Co. and soon enough Norton and Co. belonged to Wooly.  He agreed to keep Norton on to run things, with a salary and perks.  With all the profit from Norton and Co., Wooly sold W & N and didn’t work another day after that.  He had never married.  Never had kids.  Was engaged once, but the girl wouldn’t sign a prenuptial agreement not even one drawn in pencil on a napkin, so the wedding was called off.

Wooly then took some of that money he’d saved by not marrying the girl and paid for the assembly of his mobile ice-fishing shelter.  The beauty of the mobile shelter was that it could be moved quick and easy.  The assembly, the cover and the seat were all positionable, pivotal and adjustable for driving the shelter to different spots on the ice, instead of being stuck in one spot.  Wooly’s hut even had skis for better traction, movement and advantageous acquisition of the perfect fishing spot.

Wooly could sit in the same spot for hours. He’d been in the military, served his time, partially because his father made him sign up, but there he’d learned how to be patient and to sit without moving, an acquired skill and one of the few he had. 

He never caught much, never moved much either.  The floor of his fishing hut was made of cement with a room on the side for a small bunk bed that folded into the wall.  Kev would joke that Wooly’s ice fishing hut was like a Motel 6 on skis.  Wooly would just smile and think of Kev and Norton holing up in their barebones versions, more like a tent with sticks, a cement block for a floor and a square hole.  Wooly had a propane heater, a custom-made cover for the ice hole if he didn’t feel like fishing.  He had satellite TV and a phone.  A built in ice box for storing his cold stuff, a bait box, a small cabinet for his fishing gear, jigging rods, tip-ups, skimmer and an ice chisel, and a tall thin closet for extra boots, galoshes, whatever he might want to wear on the ice.  There was also a small round leather seat for sitting or driving the ice hut to a new location.  If he ever wanted to move his hut, that feature alone would be worth the entire $75,000 he’d plunked down for his custom-made model

He stretched and stood undoing the window latch.  The window covering was round and wooden and there was a thick piece of plastic between the opening and the elements.  He peered through the tiny window.  “Ah Kev and Norton at it again.”  He could see Kev and Norton’s huts placed in the middle of the lake about two hundred yards from his hut.  A flash of red and white lights flickered off the lake.  Wooly looked at the sun.  “Nope.”  Wooly stared hard at the lake.  “Nope.”  Wooly squinted and stood on his tip toes and squinted some more.  “Ah.”  A couple of police cars slid to a stop at the edge of the club parking lot.  There was a flurry of movement and a shuffling of hats, snowshoes, mittens and scarves onto a small crowd of policemen.  A smattering of ski poles hit the lakes with about a half dozen cops using pairs to walk across the ice.  Wooly grinned, muttering “If you can’t walk on the ice around here without skis, you shouldn’t be walking on it at all.”

He shook his head and shut the window plopping on the seat.  He pulled at the fishing line.  The outline of a wide thick brown fish glowed through the ice.  He tugged at it hard, finally lifting the fish onto the ice at his feet.  “Oh, boy.  Here’s supper tonight.”

A loud noise startled him.  He jumped almost knocking the fish back into the water.  “What the—?”

He crept over to the window lifting the board back to form a slight crack.  The policemen were banging on Kev’s and Norton’s huts.  They jerked the doors, pulling both little Norton and big Kev out and handcuffing each one.  Wooly shook his head and snickered a little.  He sat back down and stared at the fish.

Wooly always caught good fish in this spot, wouldn’t give up the spot for anything. Everyone tried to persuade or force him to move argued that his hut was mobile and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t moving it and why he always had to have the same spot year after year. After all, he didn’t own the lake.  The last attempt had been a forceful one and even though there were no names used, he knew Kev and Norton were somehow behind it. 

It had been dumb luck or maybe a lucky chance when Wooly had left his hut to go run some errands.  He got a flat tire, and he waited at one of those picnic sheltersjust him, the picnic table, a shelter, and a trash can.  He waited for awhile because in the wilderness, which they weren’t quite in but close enough to, it was a long wait for anything, especially tow trucks.  He walked around a bit and stumbled across the most unlikely thinga rotting corpse.  He couldn’t tell the cause of demise, but it didn’t look like it was an accident, or a natural occurrence.  He couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman, it had rotten up so bad. But the sports coat nearby laying in the tall dead grass gave him an indication.  He’d gone through the wallet in the coat, careful not to touch anything that would leave any fingerprints.  He’d lifted out only two things.  Two receipts.  Clear as daylight.  Made out in crisp letters.  Easy to read.  A partial last name was on the receipts and that’s all he needed.  He slipped the receipts under Kev and Norton’s huts phoning in an anonymous tip about where to find the body, suggesting it might even be missing Ted, muttering that he’d run out on his wife and no one had seen him and it could possibly be him rotting away in the ditch. 

Wooly squinted at the faint outlines of Kev and Norton’s huts, quiet and dark, shut down, boarded up by the policemen.  He didn’t know if Kev or Norton was responsible for the body in the ditch, but figured they weren’t.

Wooly listened to the faint echo of sirens and fixed up his fish in the cooler, closing up the fishing hole for the night.  It would be awhile before Kev and Norton tried to take over his spot again, they would be busy with other things Wooly felt sure of it.

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About the Contributor

<a href="https://www.inversejournal.com/author/lbsedlacek/" target="_self">L.B. Sedlacek</a>

L.B. Sedlacek

L.B. Sedlacek’s latest poetry books are "The Architect of French Fries" (published by Presa Press) and "Words and Bones" (published by Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in publications such as "Pure Francis," "The Broad River Review," "Third Wednesday," and "Mastodon Dentist." Her short fiction has been published in such places as "October Hill" and "The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature." She teaches poetry at local elementary and middle schools, publishes a free resource for poets "The Poetry Market Ezine," and was Poetry Editor for "ESC! Magazine." LB also enjoys swimming, reading, playing ukulele, and volunteering for her local humane society.
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