Part Two -Revelations of the Astronaut (I still don't own Northern Exposure or any of its characters.)
"Well, It's like this," Holling began. "That raving lunatic out there used to be my best friend." He paused dramatically. "…Before a woman came between us."
"Wow." said Ed.
"It was winter of 1947. We must have been, oh, nineteen or twenty. We were out in the bush hunting game when a nor'easter hit us; we were snow-blind as all get out. Anyway, we found a house where the folks took us in till the storm passed. The man of the house, Cal was his name, had a lovely daughter named Jeannette. Not as lovely as Shelly of course…" he said, looking over at her. She Blushed and smiled, "…but lovely nonetheless. Suffice it to say we both fell in love with her. But in the end, she chose me, and Jacques, well…" He stared past his captive audience towards the door of the Brick, "he hasn't spoken to me since…"
"Wow." said Ed.
"He always claimed she was the only woman he had ever loved. Always told me I'd pay for stealing her away…" He said. He began taking off his apron and walking out from behind the bar. "I think it's about time we settle this once and for all."
Just then, Jacques himself burst through the door. He was quite short, but wide. He was dressed in bearskins and had fierce facial hair where two intensely black eyes protruded. He scanned the crowd at the bar, and settled on Holling.
"My god," He said, in a rather reverent tone, "Holling Vincoeur, after forty years. You sure got old."
"Hello Jacques." said Holling stiffly. Jacques walked up to the bar, parting its crowd like the red sea.
"We have things to discuss my old friend."
"I know it."
"Then, if you are coward enough to steal the woman I was gonna marry, maybe you too coward to come outside, eh?" said Jacques.
"You know I have never backed down from a fight, Jacques."
Jacques laughed. "This may be the first then, eh?" He said, backing towards the door, then finally turning and going out.
Outside, Jacques' loud ranting had attracted quite a crowd; some of the Bear-Clan were taking wagers on the fight. Maurice Minnifield was pushing his way through the crowd over to Holling, who was being prepped by Ed and Chris. Ed was giving boxing tips he learned from Rocky and Raging Bull. Chris was giving tips he learned when he was in the joint back in West Virginia.
"What in the hell is going on here Holling?" said Maurice, "It looks like a damn circus out here…"
"Hollings gonna fight some guy," Said Ed matter-of-factly. Chris was rubbing Hollings shoulders and pep-talking him. "Although I'm a pacifist at heart, there's something about aberrated group behavior that just tingles the spine. Back to nature man, survival of the fittest..."
"I'm sorry I don't feel your enthusiasm Chris," Said Holling.
"That's perfectly normal, Holling. You know, a wise man once said…" But before he could finish his sentence, Jacques interrupted.
"Time to settle our score, old friend!" He yelled. Behind him, Haydon Keyes was rubbing his shoulders. He had 50 bucks riding on the stocky little Frenchman.
All along Pennsylvania Avenue the crowd gathered. They formed a tight circle to watch the spectacle, but instead of cheering and shouting they stared silently. Holling entered the circle from the Brick side, Jacques from the other. Ed whispered to Chris, "This is just like "Cool Hand Luke" with Paul Newman and Strother Martin. Boy I like that movie."
"Put up yer dukes!" said Jacques," and they both began circling each other, fists up in front of their faces like those old-time bare-fist boxers. The crowd murmured.
"Jacques, I don't want to fight you," said Holling.
"Too bad. You have to," he replied.
"No I don't,"
"Yes you DO!"
They circled each other for a while longer, fists still in the air.
"Why did you steal Jeanette! I was gonna marry her! You know what it's like having your best friend stab you in the back?" He said after a time.
Holling put his fists down for a second, "Oh come off it Jacques. That was forty years ago. Plus she left me two days later to pursue an acting career in Hollywood."
"Don't care," said Jacques. He feigned a small jab at Holling, who put his hands back up. "This
Isn't going to solve anything Jack…"
"Yes it will!"
"No it won't."
A cry from the crowd; Shelly. Well it was more of a squeak. She was used to watching her guys fight, especially Wayne, her ex, but this was different. They weren't even fighting about her, which struck her as kind of a waste. Holling looked over at her; she looked upset. Holling put his hands down. The crowd started grousing.
"I have a wife with child Jacques. I have to think of them," he said. Jacques finally looked over at Shelly, then put his hands down too. Everyone stood around them, there in the middle of the town, and watched quietly. It looked like Jacques was crying. He turned and walked through the crowd and down the street.
"Where you going Jack?' yelled Holling. He just grunted and made a backhand waving gesture.
"Well I'll be damned," said Holling.
The crowd was dispersing. Joel was standing on the street in his Ushanka mouton sheepskin hat, staring down the street at the retreating Frenchman. Maurice sidled over.
"I don't begin to understand this town sometimes," said Joel.
"Sometimes a man needs to settle his debts in life, no matter what strange fashion he chooses to do it in," said Maurice. "Speaking of debts Fleischman, we need to palaver about that little vacation you took last month."
"The one to Anchorage? What about it?"
"Well," he began, taking a notepad out and scribbling on it with, what looked like, a half chewed golf pencil. "You left for 6 days and 11 hours. That puts you in the hole here for, uh, lessee…"
"In the hole? What do you mean in the hole? Are you extending my stay here?" He said. "Maurice, that's unethical. Furthermore…"
"Tell that to the judge son, or to the good people of Alaska who ponied up the dough for your education. Besides, it's only three more weeks, Fleischman. Don't go wetting your knickers."
Maurice put his notepad and his golf pencil away and left. Ruth-Anne, who heard the whole exchange, came over. "He's on your case too, I see." She said.
"I've learned to accept Maurice's eccentricities, but sometimes he takes the cake. Why? What's he got on you?" said Joel.
"He's sore because I've almost got the store paid off in full. He won't accept the last payment. He wants to re-negotiate. Power-mad is what he is."
"Ruth-Anne, welcome to the wonderful world of Maurice Minnifield," he said. Just then Ed showed up, holding a slightly gnarled box. He handed it to Joel.
"Hey! My new microscope!"
Chapter Two Post-Script
Maurice sat at the head of his own table, which spanned 19 or so feet across the darkly wooded room. Bear and Moose heads glared down from their empty eyes to the lone diner, who sipped a 1962 Cabernet and occasionally nibbled on a Coq Au Vin recipe he had gotten from the two "Nancy boys" Ron and Eric. Somehow everything rankled. Here he was, a Korean War veteran, an astronaut, a national hero for crying out loud, and he was alone. Somehow it rankled. Maurice J. Minnifield was not one for self reflection or pontification but he was deeply troubled by this. "Why the hell," he said, "would a man of my stock and breeding, a man of my unlimited resources, intelligence and abilities, end up alone?"
"Because you're an ass," said the man who appeared at the end of the table.
Maurice stared for a few moments, squinted his eyes, Looked at the cup he was drinking from, and finally smelled the bottle from which it came. All were perfectly sound. But still, his damn dead brother sat at the other end.
"Malcolm?" Maurice ventured, 'aren't you dead?"
End of Part Two.
Part three coming soon….