25

25

Barney was a bastard. He was one of those guys that no one, not even the Barneys of the world, wanted to admit actually existed. Everyone encounters those selfish pricks who think the world revolves around them and who seem to spend all their time spreading misery and discord. We write them off as damaged or disturbed and try to move on. And the people who seem to go out of their way to screw with you can be found here and there, but can generally be cast aside or worked around or even confronted and made at least to conform if not reform.

But literature and history seem to be filled with a sort of unmitigated, despicable ass that one never seems to encounter in real life. Perhaps the Iagos and Mussolinis were just that aberrant, just that rare, that they only cropped up once or twice in a lifetime. Or maybe they were just like Barney: petty, small, inept beyond imagining, brilliant in the smallest and most focused of ways, and continually balanced on the knife edge between massive failure and overwhelming triumph. And throughout the history of humankind they’d mostly eventually encountered someone like Meredith who prevented the kind of heinous outcome so often described in the novels and plays and poems of history.

Barney arrived in Magrath not long after encountering the mayor and some of the city staff at a trade show in Lethbridge. He’d been strolling up and down the aisles and stopped at the Magrath booth to tell all who would listen about his experience in tourist development. As is often the case, the delivery outshone the content, but the Mayor found himself nodding, agreeing and making noises that added to the seeming sincerity of the dialogue. In the meantime Barney was asking questions and making everyone feel that Magrath was one of those rare gems, the next big thing, an undiscovered gold mine that, properly nursed along, would bring riches and prosperity and long life and happiness to anyone and everyone with wit enough to open their eyes and see. And then Barney winked and waved and walked away. Leaving the mayor and his young assistants happier and more positive than they’d been since he’d won his first election.

About three or four weeks later, Barney was fueling up at the Esso on the highway outside of Lethbridge when he heard two old biddies talking about a certain Meredith McGrath and her fortune, and wasn’t it a pity she had no man and wasn’t it a shame the old McGrath place was going to ruin without someone to run it somewhere other than into the ground. Barney had been heading to Great Falls because he’d heard from a friend there that something was brewing and money was looking pretty slim at that point. Better to move on now than be stuck with no prospects.

He had offered to fill the two ladies’ truck with diesel at the pump next to his on the off chance that something might come his way and, as history and fate often provide examples of, something did. He had visited the trade show looking for leads and spreading the gospel according to Barney because hope and and opportunity often travelled side by side. Of course his ideas of opportunity and other people’s was generally not the same thing.

Barney had big appetites and he was always searching for people and things to fill them. And right now it sounded like Magrath was a cornucopia of possibilities. He nodded respectfully to his informants, touched the tip of his forehead in a friendly salute and hopped back in his car to check the map.