Photo by: Melissa Olson with Jeff Shelby looking on lovingly
Did you know I was in the Twin Cities over the weekend? Yeah, I didn’t promote that very well. I was feeling pretty crappy leading up to it and just didn’t have the energy for a lot of hype. But I had fun and got to hang out with a lot of great people including my hosts Dan and Kate Malmon. The trip was capped by my reading at the Bent Brewstillery for the Noir at the Bar: Twin Cities which was awesome.
I’ve been trying to get to Minnesota for years, and it’s just never worked out so this was a treat. I don’t generally like reading from my work because with a lot of dialogue and action scenes it doesn’t lend itself to good readings. In honor of the event and finally making it to the state though, I wrote something specifically for this event that features Dominick Prince, the main character of my two novels out right now. You missed a great event if you weren’t there, but I thought I’d post the story here for you to read and at least get a little taste of the fun.
HOT DISH HOOLIGANS
By Bryon Quertermous
Minnesota is different.
Picking out what to wear is usually the hardest part of readings for me; I always feel like a goofy stooge showing up in jeans and a t-shirt, but I feel like a traveling gavel salesman if I wear a sport coat.
Minnesota requires me to bring a hotdish.
Whatever the hell that is.
We’re also having the reading at a supper club.
Whatever the hell that is.
Then there’s the flight.
From Detroit to Minneapolis, with three different connections and no checked luggage, cost me almost $800.
But really, the hardest part of all was trying not to think about the note someone had left for me at the hotel.
It was a handwritten note on hotel stationary that said:
Looking forward to your reading. If you use the word of the day, we’ll kill you. – The Hotdish Hooligans.
I really wanted it to be a joke, and if I knew these people better I would immediately assume it was a joke. But I was still getting to know the crime fiction community. Everyone told me how special it was and how welcoming it was, but I’d also heard sarcasm and dark humor were rampant and I’ve never had a very well-tuned sarcasm detector. So I needed to treat the note seriously. Not seriously enough to go to the cops of course, they’d laugh me out of town, but seriously enough to protect myself.
Initially I thought about packing a gun or a knife, but that seemed like a good way to get myself stabbed or shot with my own goods so I passed. While researching what in the hell a hotdish was though, I found out that they were best served in a heavy glass casserole dish. Part of the reading included holding your hotdish up and explaining the recipe and what it had to do with crime. That seemed like a perfect way to protect myself and make for an interesting introduction.
My hotel had a small kitchen with a stove and was a few blocks away from a Target where I was able to buy a bag of frozen tater tots, some ground beef, a giant bottle of hot sauce, cream of mushroom soup and a Pyrex glass baking dish.
I didn’t care how the thing tasted when I was done cooking it, I just wanted to make sure it hurt if I had to I hit someone with it.
When I showed up to the reading, I was surprised how many people were there. On the outside Mama Jake’s Supper Club looked like a haunted motel and on the inside it looked like a hipster food service genius had decorated a restaurant with crap he found from my grandma’s trailer home. I was standing on a platform in the main dining room with polka instruments lying behind me. My hands trembled as I held the hotdish up and told my story about the note.
“I cut my finger with the knife they had in the hotel kitchen and I think maybe a piece of me fell in the mix before I baked it. But a cannibal casserole seems perfect for this crowd, right?”
Not even nervous laughter.
I scanned the crowd while I babbled through the rest of my introduction looking for anyone who could be one of the hooligans. Two characters jumped out at me. One guy was stocky with shifty eyes and wearing one of those weird hats without a top like my dad’s douchy friends wear on the golf course and the other guy sitting a few seats away from him was on the shorter side wearing some kind of Minnesota soccer shirt. That guy was bouncing with a nervous energy that weirded me out and he had a nauseated look on his face that made me suspect he was up to something he might regret.
Eventually I started reading and occasionally looked up from my paper to see if any of the words I used were setting anyone off, but noone seemed to be paying any attention to what I was saying. For once that was a relief. I was getting into a rhythm with the story and really started enjoying myself when the guy with the topless hat stood up.
This was it.
I took a natural pause in the story and waited to see if he would really come for me. But he turned away from me and headed to the back toward the bathroom. I let out a deep breath and continued reading. The story was supposed to be funny but no one was laughing. It was almost over though. One more dialogue exchange and then the stinger paragraph at the end.
And then the guy in the soccer shirt stood up. The other guy must have been a decoy so I’d let my guard down. I grabbed my hotdish and tried my best to hold it naturally and make it a part of the story as the guy in the soccer shirt headed my way.
This was it.
I didn’t know what the word of the day was and I suspected it didn’t even matter. This was all a big joke I bet. Or a gag. For a brief second I actually thought about looking up over my head to see if there were any buckets of pig’s blood ready to dump on me.
I kept reading. He kept walking, no one paying attention to him.
Then I saw a knife. It was a switchblade like I’d seen in any number of gang movies from the 50s or stage versions of West Side Story. But I wasn’t going to get out of this with a dance off.
I gripped the hotdish tightly in my hands and rolled my wrists around trying to find the best grip for swinging it at my approaching enemy. I’d survived a lifetime worth of violence in the last year and I sure as hell wasn’t going to go down in a fucking supper club in Minnesota holding a glass bowl of offbrand beef and hot sauce covered in frozen tater tots.
Oh god. The smell.
I flashed back to my hotel room and the first time I pulled the dish from the oven. It smelled like a rancid grease fire mixed with rotten vegetables.
I choked back a burp and kept reading. One more sentence left.
And then I barfed. All over the microphone. All over the stage. And all over the guy in the soccer shirt who was still coming at me with the knife in his hand.
A knife that turned out to be fake as a matter of fact.
A fact I didn’t find out until I clobbered him in the head with my hotdish and sent both of us to the ground splashing in fresh, hot vomit. The microphone stand was the last thing to fall on top of me and it was still live so I said, with as much dignity as I could muster, “My name is Dominick Prince and that’s my time.”