Naming Rights

Claude’s voice punctured the early morning stillness of the camp some three miles out of town where the hippies lived idealistic, communal lives, at least on weekends. “Meeting!” he shouted with an exuberance unbecoming seven in the morning, even among people who hadn’t inhaled any quantity of mind-altering substances the night before.

As such, the reaction was less than he might have hoped.

Mary, who had been sleeping near what had been a bonfire the night before, managed to haul her frame into a sitting position and, squinting because the overcast filtered through the forest canopy was still too bright for her, grumpily demand an explanation for this intrusion.

Declan, who had dropped unconscious on the other side of the bonfire, made a sound that combined coughing fit with the first line of “Danny Boy.” He didn’t appear to regain consciousness, but in his sleepy haze he did manage to reach behind his back and grab a sizable rock that he must have been sleeping on, and chuck it in Claude’s general direction.

His aim wasn’t good; the projectile actually hit Louise’s tent, which was a good thirty feet away. More accurately, it hit the entrance to Louise’s tent, as it was unzipping and Louise was poking her head out. So, to improve the precision of the description a third and final time, the rock actually conked Louise on the forehead. This unfortunate miss would be enough to disqualify Declan from the Unconsciousness Olympics.

Louise took the early morning bump as well as possible and ignored the rock. She even managed to ask, “What is it, Claude?” in an even and nearly kind voice.

Wayne was not so polite, even though he was normally the early riser of the group. He poked his head out of the window of his cabin on the edge of the camp and cried, “You can’t call a meeting, it has to form organically!” Wayne slammed the window for dramatic effect, although he reopened it automatically. One of the drawbacks to the camp’s cabins is how quickly they trap heat. They also artificially separate their inhabitants from Mother Earth, although many of the hippies considered that a satisfactory sacrifice for the comfort of a mattress.

“I have something that I would like to tell you all,” Claude said, although it was to himself because after the flurry of initial reaction the camp had collectively lost consciousness again.

But Claude knew better than to give up. He had been a corporate morale officer for seven years, so he’d amassed a vast collection of motivational posters that told him that. He began traveling from person to cabin to tent to Winnebago, waking each of the camp’s denizens in turn.

The process took more than an hour, and the twenty or so people who gathered around the fire pit shared a decidedly surly disposition. Wayne still insisted that the meeting was inherently illegitimate, and a fair number of the rest of the camp agreed. “I am here under protest,” he announced. “If I had my parking permit, I would burn it.”

Claude spoke with a reasonable facsimile of contrition. “Begging your understanding, brother, but I feel that what I have to say is important.” Wayne gestured him on, not supportively but willing to get it over with.

“I just received word that my company has accepted a proposal to purchase naming rights for our camp.” He punctuated this with a giddy squeak that had been trying to escape for the last hour.

Camp reaction was less than Claude might have hoped. “Why would we want to sell out like that,” Mary demanded.

“Because, next week we’ll be taking delivery of a—“ Claude paused between each word for effect, “—twelve person hot tub.”

The camp’s eyes turned as one toward the bare spot near the entry gate that was just crying out to be filled.

“About damn time,” Wayne declared.

*****

This was a hoot to write. I’ve had the idea of an unusual naming rights deal for a while (I keep a file of brainstormed story/pastiche topics) but haven’t been sure exactly how to make it happen. I think this one turned out quite well, at least for a first draft.

It will be part of Clean Hippie Murders, obviously early on as the murder victim is still alive here. Also obviously: The hippies in this story aren’t really hippies in any real sense of the world; they’re people who have decided to pick and choose elements of the lifestyle to accept when convenient. Is that why they’re getting murdered? Read on to find out…

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