I’m late, and I’m always early, and Gae-Lynn is launching a book.

The Barrel Room at Los Pinos Winery, the beautiful venue for Gae-Lynn Woods's book launch.
The Barrel Room at Los Pinos Winery, the beautiful venue for Gae-Lynn Woods’s book launch.

I HAD A PARTY waiting for me.

I don’t go to many parties any more.

This one I didn’t want to miss.

My friend Gae-Lynn Woods was launching her new novel with a big coming out celebration up in Pittsburg, Texas.

She had it scheduled at Los Pinos Winery, which I figured was an appropriate location.

After all, her new novel is a mystery. She calls it A Case of Sour Grapes.

I’m glad it wasn’t titled The Case of a Morbid Morgue. The party might die out early.

Sour Grapes-finalI had my invitation. It came via email.

Saturday, it said.

Four o’clock, it said.

Be there, it said.

Gae-Lynn’s husband, Martyn, would be playing his jazz guitar.

I’ve heard him. He’s good.

Linda couldn’t wait.

She likes jazz.

She likes wine.

She likes mysteries.

She likes the way Gae-Lynn writes.

So here came Saturday, and we were slicked up by two o’clock. We had on our best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.

Is this dress all right? Linda asked.

It’s pure high fashion, I said.

That’s what I thought.

It was the right answer.

That’s what I knew.

So we headed out north from Hideaway Lake with rain clouds hanging black in the sky.

Gae-Lynn Woods
Gae-Lynn Woods

I started early. I’m always early.

My daddy told me years ago: Always leave early, son. That way, you can still fix a flat if you have one and be where you’re going on time.

His words still ring true.

I knew every one of those hundred miles to Pittsburg. I go there often.

Go south on highway 271, then follow the signs to the winery, Gae-Lynn said.

There was one little bitty blue sign on Highway 271.

I would have missed it for sure.

But I was following a pickup truck full of pigs.

We were driving slow.

I saw the sign. It pointed to the right.

I turned. Two miles, the sign said.

I looked at my clock in the car. Three-thirty, it said.

I smiled.

I would be early.

I’m always early.

Forty five minutes slide by, and I’m still driving up and down, back up and usually down a winding, narrow, twisting, little oil road bordered with wildflowers, wild weeds, wild-eyed cattle, and barbed wire fences.

The area’s number one industry, I decide, is building potholes in its roads.

There’s a bunch of them.

I’m lost. I can’t find the winery.

I’m back in the middle of nowhere.

I hear the dueling banjos, and they don’t sound anything at all like jazz.

Cars pass me by coming and going.

I roll down my window and wave for them to stop.

The drivers smile and wave back.

The banjos are dueling, but the people are friendly.

Finally, a pickup stops.

Where is the winery? I ask.

He looks me over.

He knows I’m lost.

He knows I’m late.

I have a two-day’s growth of whiskers on my face.

Follow me, he says.

He leads me to the turn in the road, the one back to the right, the one hidden by weeds, the one with a railroad track and a train barreling hell bent for leather through the pines.

The sign is there all right. It says: Winery.

The arrow has been broken off.

The road twists and turns, stops and starts, threatens to run out every time it curves into the forest, but it finds the winery.

Lots of cars are parked out front.

I’m growling by now.

I’m late.

And I’m always early.

We walk up to one of the most beautiful venues I could possibly imagine for such an august event.

I’m ready for wine.

I’m ready for a book launch.

I’m ready for jazz. I’ll ask if Martyn knows Dueling Banjos.

But there’s no Gae-Lynn.

No books.

No music.

The waitress looks at me funny when I ask where the mystery lady is. I can see it in her eyes. Whatever the hell I’m talking about is all a mystery to her.

I pull out my cell phone and check the email.

I’m at the right place.

I’m on a Saturday just like I’m supposed to be.

But the book launch is scheduled for July 11.

Right day.

Wrong date.

You shouldn’t be upset, Linda tells me.

Why not?

You’re early.

I nod.

I’m always early.

But I’m hardly ever four weeks early.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Secrets of the Dead.

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  • Don Newbury

    Anyone who brags so much about being early deserves the inconveniences you lived through on the wrong Saturday!…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don, as I’ve often said, I stumble across more good stories than the ones I’m looking for because I’m either lost or on the wrong road on the wrong date.

  • Gae-Lynn Woods

    Caleb Pirtle III – I love you and your high fashion wife Linda immensely! Thanks so much for trying so hard. Maxine says she’ll do her best to make the July 11 party extra special for those early arrivals…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      If Maxine shows up, it will be a party to remember. That’s what good books do for wickedly good women.

  • Roger Summers

    Once upon a time a cartoonist
    for a big city daily newspaper in Texas – call him Harold – went to a cartoonists’
    conference in Montreal, Canada.

    Got there, went to see a
    cartoonist who worked at the Montreal daily.

    Montreal cartoonist asked:
    “What are you doing here, Harold?”

    Harold replied, “Came for the
    cartoonists’ convention.”

    Montreal cartoonist asked,
    “Why did you come a week early?”

    Embarrassed, Harold flew home
    to Texas immediately, told his editor – call him Jack – of his mistake.

    Jack the editor told Harold
    the cartoonist he guessed he understood, that people make mistakes, told Harold
    not to mention his mistake to anyone. Just keep it a little secret between the
    two of them.

    A few days later, details of
    Harold the cartoonist’s mistake appeared on the Texas newspaper’s front page in
    its humorist’s column. Call the columnist George.

    Jack the editor, upset,
    called Harold the cartoonist into his office, demanded to know why Harold the
    cartoonist had revealed his mistake.

    “Well, thunder,” Harold the
    cartoonist tried to explain, “I only told George.”

    “Yes,” Jack the editor said, “And
    George only told half a million readers.”

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Great story, Roger, particularly since I knew Harold, Jack, and George, and no column was read more widely than the one written by George.

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