Now this all happened way back when, in the days when bootleggers and bank robbers were all the role models a growing boy needed. Back then there was a young feller in these parts name of Darcy Brown, and he was strapping big, tall and lanky and loose as a willow tree. He was likeable enough, though; had a heart on him that stretched from sun-up to midnight and filled all the sky inbetween. Couldn’t nobody say nothing bad about Darcy, nor would anybody ever have wanted to, he was just that nice. And work, hooee! he could work. He could wear through a pair of new denims in just one day, he worked so hard. He was prime number-one grade A good old boy, and everybody knew it. So when he come of age and got to looking round at the girls, it wasn’t terrible long before he found one looking back.
She was a sweet little thing named Sadie Doogle, one of them farm-raised Doogles from down Terrapin way, just as cute as the first bloom off a crabapple. She turned up one wild night down at the Smokehouse, a night when the fiddles caught fire and whirled up devils of sawdust. She had sassy red hair that flew all over, and she could dance any ordinary man into a puddle of bony mash. Darcy Brown wasn’t no way ordinary, but still he got one look at that girl and knew he was in a mess of trouble.
Now Sadie took a liking to Darcy right off too, no problem there. Trouble was, she’d come to the fiddling that night with another boy, a bit of a fancy pants known abouts as Buzz Booker. Buzz was come down to the holler for a bit of slumming from his own stomping grounds over by Nobby Hill, where he’d done spent a whole lot of money getting Sadie dressed and trained up proper to take home to his folks. He only agreed to come to the Smokehouse that night because he figured that once Sadie had her chance to compare him to the local boys, why then she’d see what a good catch he was and forget all her backwoods ways. That was his plan anyway, but it all fell apart when she got her a gander at Darcy doing his jig to the old Wildwood Flower. A few shots of strawberry moonshine, and Buzz Booker and all his nobs might as well of been on the moon’s behind end for all she cared. Next thing he knew, Sadie and Darcy was dancing themselves a cozy little corner in the middle of the room.
Anybody with a half a pair of eyeballs could see from the gitgo that them two were right for each other, and the Good Lord Harry help anyone who got in their way. But that Buzz had a bit of a blind spot, and he was bounden and determined that if nothing else that girl was going home with him that night. So he bided his time, waiting along the wall until Darcy went off for a minute, then he reminded Sadie who her dad was expecting to be bringing her home. Sadie just laughed and allowed as to how her pa had probably drunk hisself to sleep already, and even if he hadn’t he wouldn’t remember who all she left the house with. Well now, that shot that rich boy down in a mighty bad way, and he was fit to get even somehow or other.
The night went on, wild as all get-out, with Darcy and Sadie both of them just a-gettin it while Buzz sulked at a back table with a bag of roasted peanuts for company. Everybody was either dancing or watching Sadie and Darcy, and even them that was dancing circled around them two like haloes on a foxfire. Darcy had done took his shirt off, he was that hot, and sweat was still rolling off him. He was wearing one of those sleeveless undershirts, and let me tell you all the women in that place had their eyes on him. So did Buzz, and finally once when Darcy got turned with his back to him, Buzz saw his chance.
See, there wasn’t much at all Buzz was good for, but he did have him a talent: the man coud flip peanuts off his thumb and catch them in his mouth or land them just about anywhere he wanted. That he was mighty good at. Well, when Darcy got to dancing so wild with his back turned to Buzz, his shirt rode up and his pants slid down, and that rich boy found hisself looking at a buttcrack that just begged for somebody with his particular gift to come along and pop something into it. Yessir, Darcy bounced this a way and Darcy bounced that a way, but pretty soon Buzz had the rhythm of it, and he set him a peanut down on his thumbnail, holding it out till everybody had seen him, and then, with a slight leading of his target, he shot it up in the air ever so pretty and it dropped just as nice as you please smack down into the dark between Darcy’s cheeks.
Well sir, that just broke everybody up. The music stopped dead as the band fell apart all over the stage, and everybody was either rolling on the floor or grabbing at tables to keep upright. Everybody, that is, except Darcy, who had no idea what was going on but could see they were all laughing and pointing at him. Even Sadie, who had done a dosie-do around to his side when Buzz let loose, was sprawled all over a rail across the front of the stage, screeching like a bobcat with ticklebugs. And poor Darcy just standing there with his mouth open and his eyes all confused just made them laugh that much harder, and try as they might couldn’t nobody stop long enough to tell him nothing. The upshot of it all being that Darcy slowly backed out the door, and then ran for his truck and flew down Old Sawmill Road like half the furies in hell was on him already and the other half closing fast. And of course everyone back at the Smokehouse was still howling, the last thing they saw of him being them big round scared eyes slipping back in the shadows behind the door.
Darcy got home, still shaking and sweaty, and took to hisself a bottle of corn hooch and swallowed durn near a third of it in one big slug, then figgered to crawl into bed with the rest and drink his way to sleep. It was in the process of getting undressed that he found the peanut in his drawers, and it didn’t take him but just a moment then to cipher out what all the fuss back at the Smokehouse was about. He climbed back into his truck, the shine by now rattling away in his head, cranked it up, and was well out of the state by morning, rolling along the interstate headed for sunny California.
The truck finally give out somewhere around Bakersfield, and Darcy sold it to a junkyard for just enough money to put him up in a fancy hotel for a couple of days. Now when the hotel manager saw Darcy moping around the poolside in his raggedy old jeans, he took a notion to throw him out, sending one of his security men down to do the deed. Darcy still had enough whiskey and heartache in him to pick that feller up and give him a good dunking, then chase him out of the water and clear across the parking lot. There was a whole mess of rich folks around the pool, and when they saw how Darcy run that boy off they took a shine to him right away. One good old boy in particular took Darcy downtown, dressed him up in some right spiffy clothes, greased up his hair, and took him up along the coat to work on his yachtboat.
Darcy liked working on the boat just fine, especially when his boss held these wild parties and all Darcy had to do to make big money was just stand around and look mean. And he liked too going out to sea, where they’d stop sometimes at islands and places so pretty his big old heart would swell up just looking at them. But all good things got to come to an end, and one day out in the Gulf a hurricane swamped the boat, and Darcy woke up from a hard night to find hisself adrift in the wide open sea with nothing but a plank and a hangover. He washed up on a tiny island with plenty of wild game and fruit and fresh water, and was a year or two living the life of Riley there all by his lonesome. It was in the first year, maybe four or five months after he washed up, that Darcy found the old ship slumped over on its side just under the water in a lagoon. It was all full up with gold coins and gaudy jewels and all kinds of silverware and whatnot, enough that it kept Darcy busy for a season or two just hauling it all up on the beach, fighting off sharks and big old eels, like they had some use for it. Anyways, when finally a ship came along and picked him off the island, he brought just enough of the treasure with him to buy a boat and go back after the rest.
With all his newfound money, he bought hisself his own yachtboat and went to sailing from here to there, country after country, learning the ways of country folks all over. It wasn’t too long either before he married him a right pretty girl and they had them some right pretty kids. And all the while Darcy was putting all his extra money in the stock market, letting it grow more money just like he’d put it in the ground with a load of fertilizer. Then one day this slick feller came to him with a plan to take some of that money and make a movie about his days on the island, and Darcy thought that sounded like a right nice notion. So that old boy went out and hired up a mess of writers and directors and caterers and actors and special effects people, and pretty soon they ran through all Darcy’s set aside money like chiggers through old underdrawers, and still didn’t have no movie to show for it. Next thing that happened was that the bottom fell out of all Darcy’s stocks when his broker bet it all on some newfangled washable paper hankies what never quite caught on. So there Darcy was, just as broke as when he first left home—well heck, even broker, seeing as how he didn’t have no truck to sell this time. He still had his family though, that is, until his wife’s father hired a dandy smooth lawyer who not only got her the fastest divorce in all Mexico, but also got everything else Darcy had clear down to his dog plus custody plus a minor fortune in alimony. So Darcy did the onliest thing he could do: he got in touch with an oil baron friend of his in Arabia and took a job as the sheik’s bodyguard. It didn’t pay much, but it got him out to where even that lawyer couldn’t get at him.
Things went just fine for a couple of years there. Darcy worked his way up through the ranks and the harem to become one of the sheik’s trusted lieutenants, lording it over a company of soldiers whose job it was to ride the fences around the sheik’s oil fields and fight off the neighbors. Darcy and his troops lots of times found themselves facing overwhelming odds as the whooping sons of the desert came crashing over the dunes, their scimitars just a-blazin, but his boys always came out bloodied and triumphant. Until one day, that is, when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a thousand yodeling banshees rising up out of the very sand itself. Darcy’s entire squad was slayed to a man right there on the spot, all except Darcy, who put up such a scrap as to win over the hard hearts of his foes. They took him prisoner and dragged him off to their sultan’s palace, where they threw him into a dungeon and left him to rot.
Lying there bleeding from his wounds and with rats snatching nibbles from his toes, Darcy overheard some of his guards talking about a plan the sultan had to attack his rebellious sheik’s palace with a huge army. With Darcy out of the way, there was a much better chance of routing the sheik’s troops and then prying him up out of his underground bunker once the palace was taken. Darcy listened closely to everything they said, going over the plans again and again in his mind until he had them committed to memory, then he killed the guard who brought his food, changed clothes with him, and slipped out the back gate of the palace.
It took him almost a week to make his way back across the desert to the sheik’s oasis, fighting lions and ghouls and bandits, thirst and hunger, and all the time the sun boiling his brains in their own stew, but he made it all the same, just barely alive. His captors hadn’t even bothered chasing after him, so sure they were that the desert would do him in. Immediately he was taken to the sheik, where he spelled out the sultan’s plans word for word, just as the guards had told them to each other. The sheik ordered the palace evacuated, sending everybody but himself and Darcy on a train to his summer home in Damascus. Then the two of them hunkered down in a room under a false floor in the minaret and waited for the sultan’s attack.
They didn’t wait long. On the morning of the second day, the desert sun rose through a storm of dust rising from the hooves of a thousand horses. The sultan’s army swooped down on the palace screaming for blood, but all they found were a few camels and some plenty upset goats bawling in the streets. They went everywhere, kicking over booths in the market, ripping tapestries off the walls, diving into wells wet and dry, looking for the entrance to the bunker. At last the sultan himself came inside the walls, terrifying in his majesty, swords gleaming around him on a thousand arms, riding a foaming blue roan with its teeth filed to fangs. He burst through the doors of the throne room, jumped from his steed, strode over to the throne, and with one little kick of a leopard-skin boot upended the throne and its pedestal to reveal the stairs beneath. He ordered his troops to search every tunnel, to leave no hidden doorways or secret passages unexplored.
It was then, when Darcy and the sheik saw the sultan enter the throne room, that they came out of the minaret wearing the burnooses, cloaks, and boots of the lowest rank of soldiers. They made their way across the courtyard, shouting that they had a message for the sultan, ran up the palace steps, and were stopped in the entryway by a burly guard with one eye and a necklace of dried ears. If they had a message for the sultan, they would have to go through him to deliver it, he told them.
Darcy must have agreed with him, cause he upped with his sword from out of nowhere and split the poor boy smack up the middle. Then the sheik took a key out of his pinky ring and slipped it into a little hole at the base of a torch-holder beside the door, turned it, and yanked the torch down hard. There come such a rumbling and groaning as could be heard clear to the Red Sea, and next thing anybody knew the whole marble ceiling of the throne room came crashing down, squishing the throne and the sultan flatter than Imogene’s biscuits and trapping those men in the tunnels under about half a mountain of solid hard stone. Now that was a neat little trick.
Darcy and the sheik together soon made short work of the few troops left, them that didn’t surrender. The sheik then had hisself declared the new sultan, and he was all set to make Darcy the new sheik, but Darcy was gotten a mite homesick by that time and told his boss that really all he wanted to do was go back and visit the home folks a free man. So the sheik ended up paying off Darcy’s ex instead, which actually cost him more but he didn’t mind none.
Darcy sailed off for America in a new boat, putting in finally at Charleston and first thing going into town and buying him a bunch of flannel shirts and a couple pairs of jeans, then heading off to the car store and getting a beat-up old truck wouldn’t nobody down home notice. He drove for two days, stopping at little motels and eating at truck stops and suchlike where nobody paid strangers much mind, and he kept his eyes and ears open so as to learn how to blend in quiet-like, and he only had to kill two men along the way. Finally he made it past Nobby Hill and through Terrapin, where not much of nothing had changed, and come a Thursday evening he was going down Old Sawmill Road on his way to the Smokehouse.
It was still the same old place he remembered, only now there was a jukebox instead of a band and the stage had these poles all over it for girls to dance on. But Thursday was family night, so the stage only had a few extra tables set on it with little candles for a more romantical ambience.
Darcy took a seat in the downstage section, set well back in the shadows where he could watch everything and not be seen watching. He ordered a huge meal of chicken pot pie and a monster burrito, washing some of the burrito down with a pitcher of iced tea, then sat there and let the rest get cold while he watched and listened.
He listened hard, hoping to catch some news about Sadie, and watched even harder, hoping to see her before she saw him, but it seemed all anybody had to talk about was television shows and Paris somebody. He searched every girl who came in, giving them the lookover from head to toe, hoping to see one flip her hip the way he remembered Sadie doing, or toss her hair just right to show a glint of red, but no, the evening wore along and there was no Sadie nowhere in sight. Darcy was just about to give up altogether when this little slip of a girl, maybe nine or ten, somewhere around there, came bouncing up to the table beside his and whined at her mother. “Mamaa,” says she, “they got a machine up there that’ll tell my fortune for a quarter, but I got to punch in my birthday. So what day was it I was borned?”
“Why child, you know perfectly well better than to ask that,” says her ma back to her, all exasperated. “You was born the night Darcy Brown got a goober in his drawers, and so we ain’t never needed to know the date. Your birthday comes on Gooberfest.”
When he heard that, Darcy Brown got up from his table and paid his bill, leaving a generous tip, got back in his truck, and drove nonstop back to Charleston a sad and broken man. He set sail for all seven seas, and only the Good Lord knows what happened to him. But if you ever get down to the Smokehouse around about late November, when the peanuts are free and everybody takes turns flipping them at the girls, well, that’s Gooberfest. And all over town mothers are putting their babies to sleep with the story of how Sadie Doogle kicked Buzz Booker clear across the Smokehouse and off the porch and then went out into the wide world hunting for that boy Darcy, and whether she found him or not, she ain’t never been back to tell.
Another Southern Fried Fairy Tale, this one an adaptation from a story in the Thousand and One Nights (Sir Richard Burton’s translation) “The Night Abu Hasan Broke Wind.”