John and Rodney finish their leisurely Sunday breakfast, freeing up a table for the churchgoers flooding into Skeeters after services. They exchange pleasantries and handshakes with the folks lined up waiting as they head out into the morning.
"Cecil," John nods to a man on his way into the restaurant. Cecil turns to watch him guide Rodney toward the truck with a proprietary hand on one shoulder.
"Who's that man with John?" Cecil asks as he bellies up to the counter, while his friends are gruffing their hellos through mouthfuls of eggs and coffee.
"That's Doctor McKay," Miss Melanie says as she buses John and Rodney's table. "He's Mayor Sheppard's gentlemen friend." She pauses to smile sweetly at Christopher Stonewall, who flinches and covers his ear protectively. Turning back, she adds, "He's some sort of... Skeeter, what was it again? Astronautasist or something?"
"Astrophysicist, Momma," Skeeter corrects while deftly refilling coffees for the group at the counter.
"Whatever." She waves an airy hand. "John just calls him an egghead." That sets the cluster at the counter laughing, catching the attention of the nearby tables.
Stern-looking farmer Jeff Hammond looks up from his grits, "I hear tell he's some sort of crazy man. No, really. Have you seen how many crates of stuff he's had delivered? Or what he's done to his garage?" At his friends’ skeptical faces, he adds, "Listen... I was drivin' by one afternoon and I saw him standing in his driveway, shaking his fist and yelling, ‘I'll get you!’ at the sky. I'm telling you - the man's mad."
"Like a mad scientist?" Melanie asks.
Johnny Montgomery, who inherited the Citrus Hill General Store from his parents in 1975 and has been running it ever since (and who'll talk your ear off about 'the evil empire' - Wal-Mart - if he sees you with one of their shopping bags), narrows his eyes thoughtfully. "Hammond? Just what were you doing snooping around McKay's garage?" he asks, cutting through the chatter about mad scientists and evil geniuses.
Hammond protests indignantly, "I did no such thing."
Everyone at the counter turns knowing looks on him. Caught out, he grudgingly admits, "I gave my nephew ten bucks to look around for me."
"Oh, yes. Because bribing a twelve-year-old to break and enter is so much more dignified," Clarice Murray opines. Her observation, delivered in a voice husky from years of smoking, cracks the cronies up again.
After a beat, someone timidly asks, "So - what did he find?"
"Well," Jeff reports, "The windows were mostly blacked out, but he found a piece of paper from Las Vegas. You know Area 51 is out that way, right? I think he's building a death ray or something."
(There had been a piece of paper from Las Vegas. It started life as an insert in a magazine and ended up leaning against the rental’s foundation, with Rodney's scribbles covering one side. If Rodney could remember to keep paper with him at all times, he’d have a way to jot down the brilliant ideas that come while performing mundane tasks like taking out the garbage. John had come to recognize the look, and made sure to always have a pad of paper and a pen handy. Sadly, if John had to reach into his work attire to retrieve them, all of Rodney’s brilliant thoughts were lost since John in his jumpsuit gave him different ideas. Dirty, dirty ideas. John never complained.)
"Oh, bull pucky," Clarice declares. "I say he's makin' a Frankenstein monster. You know, raisin' the dead."
"Why on earth would you think that?" Johnny asks.
"Duh. He’s a doctor."
"Well, that's just freaky as all getout." Johnny pulls at his lower lip and pictures his parents shambling into the store, looking for his mom’s favorite rye bread.
"You're both wrong," George Two Feather, the full-blooded Cherokee who runs the one of the few local tourist traps, interjects. "McKay's good with computers. He's writing software for SETI."
"Settee?" Jeff asks.
"You know, those people looking for alien intelligence. Billy Ray installed a high speed internet line at his house that was billed to some space agency."
"You're all full of it," Larry at the end of the bar calls. "He's makin' a giant robot. Has to be, with all that stuff he got shipped to him." He sees his daughter walk in and waves her over. "Hey, sugar," he says, pulling her into a hug.
"That would be cool," Johnny says. "With, you know, laser beam eyes."
"Oh, who needs a robot with laser beam eyes?" Jeff objects. "A giant robot with flamethrowers for hands? Now, that would be awesome."
"What could you do with a robot that didn't have hands?" Clarice demands. "A giant buzz-saw that comes out of his chest - that would be useful."
"And nunchucks," George offers.
"A ninja robot," Jeff says, and everyone around nods their head in agreement.
"What are you old farts all talking about?" Laura Cadman asks as she pulls away from her father, Larry.
"That mad scientist that Mayor Sheppard's dating," Johnny explains.
"Mad scientist?" Laura asks. "Daddy..." she says accusingly.
"Hey, don't look at me," Larry protests. "Hammond started it!"
"Started what?" she asks.
"Well, girlie," Jeff starts (Laura rolls her eyes at the moniker she only allows because he's known her since she was an baby). "I saw Doctor McKay out in his driveway, shaking his fist at the sky and yelling that he was gonna ‘get it’ and that it would be sorry."
"You mean your guinea fowl?" Laura asks. At Jeff's befuddled look, she elaborates, "You know those birds roam all over the countryside. Well, one of the hens likes to roost in the tree above McKay's driveway, and just loves to dump all over his car."
"How can you know that?" Larry wonders.
"Because John was laughing over Rodney’s tirade about there being no car wash in town to get the bird crap off his car.”
"So he's not a mad scientist?" Melanie asks as she hands Laura a cup of coffee.
"Naah. More like an angry scientist," she says with a smile. "And a giant pain in my ass!"
“Sorry, Dad. Giant pain in my backside.”