He's thirsty and broke and the devil is a beautiful woman.



That summer the rains came late to the 'Groves. When the storms finally arrived, it was as a brooding force of darkness that seemed to hang on the far horizon beyond Drab Mountain for days at a time; ever threatening to breathe life back into the parched valley below, always denying to do the same. Then, on a late summer day of no particular distinction, the turbulent thunderheads flowed over the ridged peaks, and poured down inch after inch of lovely, cool precipitation. That summer the mayor came out into the streets and did a little dance to give thanks for this first seasonal shower of sustenance from the heavens.

Last year an early freeze had killed hundreds of young trees, and this year an acute lack of water had turned the entire valley into a giant cradle box of kindling. Mayor Thomas Bradly had watched helplessly as his endeavors declined one by one through the months of summer. His insurance business had taken a turn for the worst directly after the freeze. Most farmers felt his policies were a luxury at best, and his premiums were often the first item deleted from a strapped budget. Bradly had spent most of this spring rebuilding his business, making new contacts, renewing old, spreading his messages of doom and fear to entice potential clients to buy, buy, buy before it was too late.

But they hadn't been buying. Add to that the fact his orchard was about three shades away from giving up the ghost, and it was easy to see why there was more than just ordinary relief in Bradly's madness as he jigged in the street.

As the downfall became a downpour, Bradly only laughed and loosened his tie. A few of the hairdressers from Myra's Boutique, next door to his own office, had come to their window to watch the showers. They pointed at their fat, balding mayor as he danced his merry jig, and shook their heads shyly when he motioned for them to join him.

A passing motorist honked as he drove around the square from the direction of the courthouse. It was William Latee, his long, thin face hanging in the open driver side window, his skinny arm almost dragging his fingers to the ground as he slowed to a stop. "Some rain, ain't it?" he called out hoarsely to his long time friend, who seemed to have gone truly insane.

Bradly stopped dancing and wiped a thick sheen of cool moisture from his brow. "Finest damned rain I've ever seen! Wish it'd rain like this forever!"

"Watch what you wish for, Tom Bradly, you might just get it!" Latee laughed and pulled his arm inside the window as his ancient, battered sedan began to roll away on protesting springs. "'Bye now! Gotta get out to them trees and see they're gettin' all o' this they can get!"

Bradly motioned Latee away and turned back to his office, pulling his shirt out of his bulging waistband as he walked. God it was good to hear the sound of a those thick drops pelting the hot concrete. A smell peculiar to steaming pavement wafted up to the mayor's nostrils humidly.

One of the hairdressers, her name was Tinsel, she was from far away Bald Rock, stuck her head out of the boutique doorway and exclaimed, "You're gonna catch your death out there, sugar! And what would the 'Groves do without its chubby little mayor?"

Bradly could hear the other girls laughing from within the tiny beauty parlor. He liked to think he was important, so due his proper respect as mayor, and hoped others thought so as well. Ordinarily their jibes might have rankled him, . Not today, though, not after his rain dance. Nothing could upset him this afternoon, not the tainted slut next door, not the dead trees surrounding his unpainted, unfinished house, not even his unpleasant wife.

Today he would celebrate the good fortune of the gods. Once through the doorway and cramped foyer of his humble place of business, Bradly went straight to his desk, opened the bottom right drawer, and rooted around among some old premium and mortality tables until he found a bottle. Jack Daniels, he sighed gratefully, easing into his limping rolling chair, you are my only reliable friend.

He didn't bother with a glass, but unscrewed the lid and took a long pull straight from the bottle. Shuddering, he bunched up his face, tossed back his head, shut his eyes, and waited for his initial nausea to be replaced with the warm feel of alcohol burning in his gut.

Somebody cleared their throat nearby. The mayor sat forward, choking, and almost dropped the fifth of whiskey as he fumbled to replace its cap.

A tall, thin man was sitting across from Bradly's desk in a tiny, uncomfortable chair placed there for his clients. It was uncomfortable because Bradly didn't want his customers to be so relaxed while he made his pitch that they fell asleep, and being uncomfortable always seemed to make the deal go faster, one way or the other.

Now, face to face with his first live customer in a week, here he was swilling whiskey like a street bum. Before the salesman could offer an apology, however, the tall, thin stranger proffered a hand and said, "May I? Jack Daniels happens to be my favorite drink." The man's smile was thin and weak. He reminded Bradly of a mortician.

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