Wayne Michael DeHart (July, 2021)
Roger Kabb acquired 51% ownership of the Duck Inn & Cabins in Lake Delford, FL, in the summer of 1989, after incessant urging from his live-in companion and business advisor, Madelyn “Mae” King, who took ownership of the remaining 49%, despite the fact that the transaction was fully funded by Roger. The large main building was the former home to a struggling family-style restaurant flanked by a couple of private dining/meeting rooms sometimes used for weddings and private parties. The rear half of the structure housed the kitchen area and a spacious bar. (Roger once asked a neighbor what the difference was between a beer joint and an elephant’s fart, and when the guy shrugged his shoulders, Roger said one’s a bar room and the other’s a BAROOOOM! Getting no response, Roger slapped him on the back, saying, “It’s a joke, man, dontcha get it?”) The main dining room provided a wide entryway into the bar, which also had a separate back entrance.
A dozen small kitchenette cabins stood quietly aloof in a semi-circle at the rear of the property.
The brick main structure and the wood cabins had sat vacant for almost seven years at the time Mae laid Roger’s money down, but the property had been maintained surprisingly well by Ted & Fred’s Handyman Services, an often unreliable operation run by the unpredictable and unmotivated Myers Brothers. The two slack-offs, monikered by Lake Delfordites as “Shifty” & “Shady “, were somehow able to secure a loan to purchase it on the cheap at auction after Hank Hatter Jr., the former owner and noted kibitzer and gadfly, died mysteriously and inexplicably from a brutal blend of toxins traced to his butter bowl. The brothers, who had frequented the bar and gone to Vegas twice with Hank shortly before his demise, jumped at the opportunity to cash in on his misfortune with dreams of making a killing on the resale.
A saucy, sassy, stylish Florida State grad, Mae King, 36 at the time and topped with strikingly-scarlet tresses, was intelligent, shrewd, and manipulative in financial and personal affairs. She had discreetly engaged in off-the-wall, off-and-on dalliances with both Ted and Fred Myers, mindless but muscular men of similar age, before Mae met the much older, semi-sophisticated, plain-featured, physically stout and financially stouter Roger Kabb. She soon became intrigued by his submissive acquiescence, his passive yet pleasant demeanor, his genuine sincerity and his casual generosity. In the end, he was just a goofy old good guy who made her laugh, frequently and with ease, an accomplishment that other men rarely were able to achieve. (Make no mistake – she had laughed AT many men, but silently and with spite.) Her wish was his command, and the go-along-to-get-along guy, flattered to the max by her attentiveness, responded to her every suggestion, request, and demand with “Roger that”.
It was reported that Fred Myers got off-the-charts drunk on New Year’s Eve, 1988, and drove his ‘84 Dodge Daytona Turbo into an overpass bridge support on I-4 at 84 MPH, just outside of Daytona Beach. A fiery explosion followed and after the flames were extinguished, the charred car and driver were both declared deceased. The remains of the badly-burned body were cremated (Ted negotiated a 50% discount because Fred was already half-baked upon delivery) and his ashes strewn unceremoniously into the sea by his sibling from the end of the Daytona Beach Pier. No services, no eulogy, no tears. When Mae heard about Fred’s inescapable but flashy departure from Handyman Services, she told Ted that Fred would have appreciated the irony of totaling his Daytona after totaling himself IN Daytona. “Too soon for jokes, Mae, too soon. But I sure could use some consoling later tonight, if you can get away from Roger Rabbit.”
Roger Kabb had delighted in purchasing a hard-to-find, low-mileage 1984 VW Alpine white Rabbit Convertible from a barmaid named Binky after seeing a Disney movie not long before Fred’s demise. He thought buying the thing as a weekend getaway car was a hip move for a guy his age (“Just call me Roger Rabbit!”), but Mae considered it a frivolous waste of money and scolded Roger, telling him that such folly was indefensible and beneath his dignity. Later, during one of the occasional aforementioned dalliances Mae indulged in whenever Roger rubbed her the wrong way, she almost split a gut after hearing herself tell Ted that the tacky little car was beneath Roger at the very moment she herself was beneath Ted. Unable to rise to the occasion, his mood shattered by her spontaneous fit of laughter, Ted was confused, clueless and downright offended. Figurative imagery was not his strong suit. “Mae” oui.
Though she had declined Ted’s invitation the night after Fred’s passing (at 84 mph, he likely passed plenty of others before he passed himself), Mae very much wanted to indulge him after enticing Roger into a promise to make a white knight offer for the former Duck Inn. She was cleverly using her leverage, her visage, and her cleavage to negotiate a favorable deal with Ted on Roger’s behalf, and with Roger on Ted’s behalf. The note on the property was coming due July 1, and Ted minus Fred had sunk deep into debt. With foreclosure inevitable, and nary an offer in sight, Ted was desperate to sell to avoid bankruptcy. Mae badly wanted to reopen the place with the distinctive aura of her own flair and taste, thus she cooed and wooed Ted into Roger-like submission. The two men disliked each other, so Mae kept them apart and, with the bank’s approval, put the deal together herself, stimulating both men to sign off on it just in time, on June 30, 1989, each in large part to gain further favor with the somewhat mae-gnificent Madelyn King.
As they prepared the property for a new beginning, Roger and Mae briefly sparred over a new name. Roger wanted “The Jolly Roger” or “Kabb Inn’s Kabins”. Apparently, judging by Mae’s eyeball-rolling, head-shaking reaction, both were off the table before even getting on. She axed the former with “It’s not a pirate’s life for me, matey”, but even while gently dismissing the latter option as “a tad too cute”, she did like the play on his name and literally patted him on the belly, which was always a winning play for her. She proposed the simple and concise, “The Kabb Inn,” thus subtly and subconsciously incorporating the presence of the rustic cabins into the name. He dutifully consented after a few minutes of brooding in the bathroom, his go-to place for working things out. Crestfallen after still another surrender to Mae, he abruptly left and absentmindedly hopped around the driveway, Rabbit hunting. She reminded him that it was in the garage, then quickly took charge of preparing the newly-named inn for its Grand Opening on Labor Day weekend. One of the side rooms was being converted into a dance floor with a small stage on the far end for special events, no small task in such a short window of time. The calendar turned as Mae worked her butt to the bone, while Roger reluctantly retreated into the shadows.
Meanwhile, back at Ted’s double-wide at Tara ‘n Tino’s MH Park, the amorous action was absent. The added favor with Mae that he expected to gain by accepting Roger’s lowball offer was lost in time, suspended in space. The truth was she had always preferred her dalliances with younger sibling Fred over those with Ted, and now with the property deal done (and Fred more than well done), she had neither the time nor the inclination to return his calls, much less come calling. Ted started drinking heavily like Fred used to do, and as a result, both he and his struggling business continued to hurl. He often stared into the mirror, which in his case was much like staring into the void, and cursed his lot in life. “Freakin’ Roger Rabbit. Freakin’ Mae King. Freakin’ Kabb Inn.” And then he’d drink some more.
The Grand Opening was a huge success with the locals, and the tourists soon showed up as well. It became Lake Delford’s mae-n gathering place, where townsfolk enjoyed sittin’ and bullshittin’, i.e., gabbin’ at the Kabb Inn – “goin’ gabbin’ tonight, Luther, there’s TV dinners and pistachio puddin’ in the fridge. Don’t wait up.” Ms. King worked tirelessly and hired excellent staff while Roger drove aimlessly around town with his top down, honking his horn and waving at old couples and single ladies. As planned, Ms. Mae soon became the ever-present face of the establishment. While sometimes guilty of getting carried away with all the attention she mustered hot-dogging for the guys in the bar, she relished her role and regaled in it. There were frequent vacancies at the small, nondescript cabins during the relentless Florida summers but her marketing skills always resulted in them being sold out for the entire Winter season at very profitable rates. Screened porches, gas grills, clean linens and proximity to the Interstate sat just fine with the snowbirds migrating down from D.C. and points north.
The place turned a profit by the end of the second year, and Mae King cashed in. The former princess of persuasion vaingloriously promoted and immersed herself in the dual sobriquets of Red Queen of the Inn and Blue Belle of the Bar. Roger begrudgingly faded more and more into the background, a minimized and emasculated man, while Ted drank, spouted jabberwocky, and cussed his neighbors, their kids and their kittens, leading to aggressive admonishments from testy Tara and shaky threats of eviction from timid Tino. Ted missed misbehaving with his brother, felt cheated with the sale price and subsequent success of the Inn, and often fantasized that if Roger was out of the picture, he and Mae could somehow pair up again and he might even become co-owner, and change the name to MaeTed (“Mated”) Manor. Ted thus had a vision, he just needed a plan … and maybe one more beer.
Upon reaching the age of 70 on March 15th, 1992, Roger Kabb decided to officially retire from doing nothing and pursue the aspirations included in what he called his “free man’s bucket list”. “Free man” was a jab at the controlling Keeper of his Inn, Head of his Household, and Ruler of his Realm, though he wisely excluded that part when explaining the rationale behind his game plan. When he carried on about it, the guys in the back bar razzed him and rode him. He persisted, and insisted it might catch on someday. Mae patted him, on the head this time, and said, “Really, sweetie, that stuff’s out of your comfort zone. You don’t know jack nickels about chasing rabbits, much less chasing dreams. Stay home and write stories about going to the places and doing the things on that campy, lowbrow , kitschy list of yours, because your porch light is fading and your headlights are flickering. You’re incapable of traveling alone these days. I might give it a bit of a go in a few years (she choked on those words) because you’ve been good to me, but I’m engaged to the inn right now, so no can do.”
Belittled, patronized, and long since tired of gathering dust on Her Mae-jesty’s Machiavellian mantelpiece, Roger sold his share of The Kabb Inn to her at a conciliatory price with the one condition that the name remain unchanged. She had no problem with that because the locals all referred to it as “Mae’s Place” anyway. She gave him a cashier’s check for both the Inn and the house, then casually but callously wished him well. Her last words to him were fatefully flippant, telling him to “shoot me a postcard now and then”. He saw her flippancy by flipping her off and raised her one, smugly bidding her an overdue adieu and a silent Eff You. The forsaken Mr. Kabb then loaded up the Rabbit and hit the highway, never to be seen again. A barmaid not named Binky once asked if anyone at the Inn had heard from “the bucket guy” but everyone just figured that he kicked it before reaching Kentucky. They named a triple-shot after him – the “Roger That” – at the lady’s tongue in cheek request. Sold well for several years out there at Mae King’s place.
Ted Myers probably should have buried the hatchet with Roger and rode shotgun with him on the latter’s way out of town, doubling as his wingman and bucket list buddy. After numerous unsuccessful and downright humiliating attempts to lure Mae back in, he had abandoned the smoldering embers of his business, sold his double-wide and left for parts unknown. Tara and Tino and the kids and kittens at the Park could finally rest in peace, thankfully while still above ground.
As for Mae, was it mentioned that she was intelligent, shrewd, and manipulative in financial and personal affairs? Her assets continued to grow, and were now impressive by any measure. She was sole owner of the Inn, owned her own home, had beaucoup bucks and a bountiful bustline that lasciviously lured in a wide array of unsuspecting, upscale gentleman callers. They bought her this and that and some of those, but it was never enough. Next man up! She was the pearl in her own oyster and she filleted her own fish. When she walked into the restaurant, or entered the bar, or strolled past the cabins, she did so to cheers of “Maaaae”. She felt like Norm in that TV show. Life had dealt her a great set of . . . cards, and she played them well. Subliminal Poker was indeed the name of her game. Rephrasing Kenny Rogers, she knew when to hold men and knew when to fold men. She never walked away from the game, but she always cashed in her chips, this lady in red.
1998 had reached its expiration date and 1999 was bidding to burst in with a bang. The Queen of the Inn had the final festive touches in place for a high-spirited New Year’s Eve celebration. All of the cabins were booked, the pantry and bar were well stocked and Roger That’s would go for half price all night. Still fabulous at 45, an energetic and enterprising Mae looked as good as ever. The cards kept coming, and after a Royal Flush, the lady was prepped to party, psyched to the max with Aces and Jacks. And those six-inch blue stilettos paired with that dazzling red dress laid out on her bed, well, ding, dong, the Belle would gong tonight.
But somewhere in the back of her mind, an unsettling tingling arose. What the hell was that? It was like there was an incoherent intrusion trying to find a nesting place. She shook it off, but it kept coming back as the dinner hour drew near.
In town to find some noisemakers, i.e., a half-dozen guys from the Elks Club, she ran into the soft-spoken but sulky and sullen Carrie Butler, who quickly reminded Mae that it was the tenth anniversary of the day her fiancé, ne’er-do-well Harry Howe, a drifter who was fresh out of the lower ranks of the Navy and a relative newcomer to Lake Delford, had vanished on the night of his bachelor party over in Daytona Beach. Carrie never got to marry Harry, and never got over it. She was convinced he got cold feet or hooked up with a “hookah” or some such thing and had gone back home to Jersey. Mae had forgotten the story, probably because it was overshadowed in town by the violent death of Fred Myers and the quirky death of a beloved old lady on that very same night. Mae made the mistake of recalling Fred’s demise out loud, and Carrie exploded in resounding rage. “Fred Myers? That rat turd pig went to the strip joint with the guys. Knowing what a Lothario he was, he’s probably the one that talked my man into running for the hills. Fred effin’ Myers. Glad he fried. Bet he cried. Hope he suffered before he died. Well, gotta get home before the drunks come out. Have a nice New Year’s, Mae.” Whoaaaa, reckoned Ms. King ( stunned that Carrie knew what a Lothario was, and now second-guessing her own past dalliances with a rat turd pig), didn’t see that one coming, but she’d make a good offset to the Elks Club guys tonight. Hope she shows up and we can get someone to yell “Fred Myers” at the stroke of midnight. She’d blow a fuse and do the Wham Bam Slam right into 1999!
Surprisingly though, Mae immediately regretted those thoughts, rued her rudeness, repented, and at least pretended to ask the universe for forgiveness. Just minutes later, however, she was bored already with the reverence thing and regretted feeling regret in the first place. Freakin’ Sad Sack Carrie Butler – oh, please, woman, get a grip. Then, with her stylishly-tousled, blue-streaked hair extensions (to match her stilettos) swaggering seductively in the light December wind, the Lady headed home to put on the daring red dress that was destined to turn heads and tempt fate.
Hours later, the evening was going wonderfully well at The Kabb Inn. The food was great, the bar patrons were boisterous but well-behaved, and Mae had red velvet whoopie pies delivered to the guests in the cabins. The band played, songs were sung, the dancers swayed, bells were rung, everyone stayed, and all felt young. The Red Queen of the front & The Blue Belle of the back exuded euphoria and ecstasy. She commanded the room, a rose in full bloom. Blitzed, bombed, bawdy and ballsy, she was making out at the Kabb Inn as the countdown to midnight began. As it got louder and the big ball on the five television screens was starting to drop – “EIGHT, SEVEN,” – that tingling in the back of Mae’s mind not only returned, but did so with a vengeance in the form of a thundering flashes of crimson lightning that teed her up and drove her into the rough. Aptly, “FORE” was likely the last word she heard, as that’s where the counting stopped on a dime at that moment in time.
The sound of gunshots cut through the countdown and chaos quickly ensued. Two hooded figures were seen running brazenly out the back door, but not a soul gave immediate chase. Both wore full-face Mardi Gras style masks, which were part of the New Year’s Eve tradition at the Kabb, thus no one could describe them, a hurdle heightened with everyone at the former Duck Inn duckin’ for cover in the panic and hysteria that rippled through the rooms. Finally, as the immediate shock of the moment subsided, Tara and a few manly men stepped up and ran outside in blind pursuit, but all they saw were red taillights fading into the distance. 9-1-1 calls were placed and the pursuers clumsily piled into a car and a truck and raced into the darkness, but alas, the perps and the taillights had merged into the murky night.
Back at the Kabb Inn, shrieks and cries melded with stunned silence and sobs. Few saw the ball drop and no one cared. The scene was horrific, the patrons horrified. The boozed-up band, in the spirit of the Titanic’s musicians, ignored the clamor and continued to play “Auld Lang Syne,” but no cups o’ kindness were raised in good cheer. The organist hauled ass when he heard someone scream “call the police”. Old habits die hard too.
Word spread fast. At a little past 6:30 AM, almost an hour before sunrise, locals gathered at the Breakfast Barn downtown. An Orlando television station was going live to a news conference taking place in Marion County. Officials announced the 3:20 AM capture of two male suspects and an ongoing hunt for a third. “Police believe that each of the three men fired one shot into the back of the head of Madelyn King, 45, of Lake Delford, killing her instantly. Ms. King is the owner of The Kabb Inn down there in friendly Lake Delford, where the tragic event took place during a large gathering of some sort last night. The two captured men have been identified as brothers Theodore Myers, 48, and Frederick Myers, 44, both of Smyrna, up in Tennessee, not to be confused with New Smyrna Beach over near Daytona.
Sobs of anguish and gasps of disbelief ricocheted off the plastered dry walls of the eatery.
The Myers brothers arrest aside, it was suddenly clear to the sharper tools in the Barn why Harry Howe had never come home to marry Carrie Butler. Dang. (But on the upside, as a Navy man, Harry must have felt right at home riding the waves once again as he was scattered into the Atlantic.)
The official wasn’t done: “The suspects’ sedan popped a tire near that big dairy farm, you know the one, hopped off the roadway, and burrowed into a deep manure pit, where our officers found them knee-deep in dung, laughing like fools and jabbering like drunken idiots, which they apparently are. They offered little information about the third man, who they say approached them at a Nashville strip club and offered a big wad, which we think means a lot of money, to join him in what seemed to them a harebrained plot to kill Ms. King right in front of her cohorts, which is not a dirty word. Saying their lives sucked anyway so why not, they described that man, who goes by the dumbass aliases of Jolly Roger and Roger Rabbit, as a pasty-skinned, hairy-eared, goofy old guy from Loo-a-ville. That’s in Kentucky, ya know. The alleged assailants insist that the two handguns now in police custody were each fired only once into the victim, who was struck by three bullets. They said that the driver, the Jolly Rabbit guy, felt sick and pulled his car over on State Road 40, east yonder of Ocala, right near where the Hasty Freeze used to be before an alligator bit that little kid. He left the keys, grabbed a gun from that console thing between the seats, and made a weakened getaway into the woods near Mill Dam Lake. The public is cautioned that he is said to be off-kilter and batshit crazy, excuse my French, and is definitely armed and presumed dangerous. We have that entire area surrounded and believe his arrest is a-comin’. We’ll let y’all know
what’s what when it’s all figured out.”
And now it was also very clear why no one had received word of Roger Kabb’s assumed demise somewhere on the Road to Nowhere, a.k.a Bucket List Boulevard. (No sirree, naysayers at the Inn, the bucket guy had definitely NOT “kicked it before reaching Kentucky”.)
As the group struggled to digest and make sense of the report, an entirely different goofy old guy entered and saw the bewildered, shocked expressions, the anger and tears of people he had known for years. He heard someone murmur, “I can’t believe she was murdered like that, it’s so awful.” “What? A woman was murdered, right here in Lake Delford?”, he asked in disbelief. Silent nods confirmed the news. “Who was she?” Folks looked away. Seemed no one wanted to break the heart of the kindly old fellow. “Speak up, people, who was she? Tell me.”
Three women hemmed and one man, well, he hawed.
Finally, a well-ordered waitress gently pulled him close and tipped him off. “They all know that you knew her well, Mr. Wright. I’m sorry to tell you that “she” was … Mae King, out at the Kabb Inn.”
(Though truly saddened by the news, he fondly recalled the time that he and the late Mrs. Wright were caught making out at the cabin at Camp Hickey the summer before the war, when they were both fifteen, even though they knew in their hearts they were dancing to the beat of Satan’s drum. He forced himself to suppress a smile, not wanting to appear disrespectful seeing how Ms. King was probably being dissected in a lab right about then. The latter image brought a welcome tear to his eye, and the waitress pressed the old-timer’s head to her bosom to comfort him. “Dang, girlie”, he thought, “how am I supposed to look sad with those things in my face?” He bit his lip real hard so he wouldn’t laugh but it got impaled on his tooth and caused him to begin crying full-out sloppy tears. Perfect. But he was now certain he was going to hell when his ticker took a breather, though that thought was assuaged somewhat by the prospects of seeing the Mrs. again. Mr. Wright may have been a tad old, you see, but even though he was already projecting about his last ride on the bus, unlike poor Madelyn, he wasn’t dead yet.)
As dawn flickered through the Ocala National Forest, an exhausted Roger Kabb, after frequent stops to pee and sit a bit, heard the sounds of bullhorns and barking K-9’s getting nearer to his final resting place on a decaying pine log. Swarms of deeply disturbed fire ants had emerged from opposite ends of the log and merged into one agitated army, surreptitiously surrounding him. The agitated insects then blew their cover, incessantly invading his space, catching his eye. He stared down at the frenzied freaks and whispered “What are you bozos lookin’ at? SHOOT ME a postcard, she said. Well, I met her halfway on that one, didn’t I. Her call. Three strikes and no balls and she’s out. Game over. So you deviant miscreants can just bite me.” And they did.
Undeterred, he pulled a pen and a faded, folded paper from his shirt pocket, spread the coffee-stained sheet open, scrawled a shaky check mark into one of the last two boxes he had added only six weeks earlier, crumpled the paper into a clump, and tossed it five feet forward, where it was certain to be discovered, scrutinized, analyzed and interpreted by some arrogant young know-it-all forensics dweeb. “You can analyze the crap out of this but you still won’t know jack nickels, son, about this Free Man’s Bucket List of mine. Just you wait though, sometime soon, everyone will. People will talk about it, share it, maybe make one of their own,” he mused, amused. Despite the anguish of ants gnawing at his ankles and Johnny Law closing in on him, he inhaled a deep dose of brisk morning air, held it, savored it, then surrendered it, fittingly setting it free.
He hummed a few bars of Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit,” grimaced, then grinned like the Cheshire Cat as he recalled the two lines that summed up the last chapter of his life. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure if he could quote them to the surging, six-legged, sadistic stingers due to copyright laws, which bummed him out. Checkmated, he wished for words of his own, but none came.
After retrospectively peering through his looking glass from his vantage point, and assuming the unhinged Roger’s posthumous blessing, the writer offers the following lines to succinctly summarize the subject and substance of the story as set forth this day herein:
“Ding, Dong, the Queen’s Inn Red . . . King’s cold and dead . . . her wily head, filled with lead . . . daring dress matched the shade she bled . . . engaged to the Inn but left unwed . . . reached for the stars, but saw them instead . . . the White Knight upped and fled . . . twitched like a rabbit down the road ahead . . . his headlights dimmed and his mind just sped . . . his last list lost, overlooked, unread . . . Fred returned and was declared undead . . . he and Ted were jailed and pled, wet the bed with their watershed, overwrought and underfed . . . three dull needles hung by a thread . . . each wrapped tight in the spite she spread . . bringing up the rear while the cold Miss led . . . she did herself in with the shit she shed . . . none could remember what the dormouse said . . . Hatter 1’s too Mad to ease their dread . . . Hatter 2’s underground from laced cornbread . . . the ’84 Turbo’s cheap retread, slid in the rain like a downhill sled . . . it’s Howe he descended from a-hole to a-shred . . . all checked out with the Grace of Zed . . . and Carrie wrote a book that the whole town read.”
The jig was up, the chips were down, her hare left home, his rabbit left town. In full view of the cops and the dogs that were almost upon him, this Kabb was out of gas as he raised the gun to the rising sun with just enough breath, strength, tenacity and time to finish that final countdown from where it left off at the Inn that bore his name – “THREE, TWO, ONE . . .
He got it, alright. But it was no joke.
Maybe Mae had been right.
Maybe he should have stayed home and written stories.
Like this one.
The inside scoop, filling in the blanks, the rest of the story! The light fluff first, then the heavy stuff.
12:02 AM, January 1, 1999 at The Kabb Inn, Lake Delford, FL:
7:08 AM, January 1, 1999, off SR 40, southeast of Silver Springs, Ocala National Forest, FL: