Three

Three

Steve Biersdorf

Three

The Three Little Pigs Reimagined

The three little pigs enjoying an elegant repast on the waterfront, quiet water reflecting neon from high-rise resorts. Sequestered at a table with a Lazy Susan, each partaking of the abundance by turns, washed down with a discriminating Pouilly-Fuissé with white flower accents.

If we’ve decided on Heritage Park, and if we’re going to build, as it seems we’d prefer to, I propose that we build with straw bale, chicken coop wire mesh and drywall,” announced the first little pig, a bloodletting corporate accountant by trade.

“But why?” asked the second little pig, a high-powered pharmaceutical sales executive. “Between the three of us we can afford the finest materials, when straw bale, chicken coop wire mesh and drywall are a pittance. Why scrimp?”

“And would it be up to code, this straw bale and drywall, according to the Building Code Commission?” wondered the third little pig, the entrepreneur of the three, owner of three hamburger, chicken sandwich and fried-foods franchises not esteemed for their nutritional advocacy.

“You mean for wolf season,” rejoined the first little pig.

“Yes, precisely. It has to be a consideration,” echoed the second little pig.

“My friend, is that all the credit you’d give me? Would I really overlook such a significant detail? Moi? With my PhD in minutiae?”

“The Building Code Commission would have no issue with straw bale and chicken coup wire construction?” the third little pig wondering skeptically, or for reassurance.

“None whatsoever,” said the first little pig. “And anyway, it’s common knowledge windows and doors are your stalwarts in a wolf attack, and not your walls.”

“Something of a cliché, that,” said the second little pig. “Nevertheless, if we’re going to conserve on the walls, perhaps we should spend like Jesuits on the windows and doors, then.”

“Perhaps we should,” piped the third little pig.

“I just thought that since we’ve compromised by buying more expensive land nearer the water...”

“But not on the water, as some of us would have preferred,” the second little pig reminding the first.

“...we counter this immoderation by building more economically. The floorplan is unchanged. I can assure you straw bale walls are at least as energy efficient.”

“Thank you as always for volunteering to be our fiscal conscience,” chided the third little pig.

“Do forgive me, dear friends, it’s ingrained. I don’t suppose I was born this way, so I’ll blame my vocation. But if we’re being candid, I provide the necessary ballast for your profligate impulses.”

“To which of us do you refer?” The second little pig wondering.

“Does it matter?”

The three well-fed friends chortled good-naturedly.

“We can all agree on that,” said the second little pig, “especially you,” referring to the third little pig, the entrepreneur, provoking another round of pig-cackle.

“Since you brought it up, has anyone heard reports of the coming wolf season? Who besides me finds it disconcerting that this information has become so scarce? In years past there were forecasts made widely known heading into wolf season, with detailed predictions about how many attacks there were likely to be and magnitude of each,” commented the first little pig.

“Wolf season reports originate from the federal government and are disseminated to local news outlets, as I understand it. With little or no information originating from the source, the local news affiliates are helpless.”

“Hopeless, you meant to say,” the third little pig to the second.

“Yes, you’re right, quite hopeless.”

“Where government is concerned, we’ve all been proponents of less is more, but you wonder at what point less is no longer more, but only less.”

“Indeed.”

“Well said.”

***

If not for the second little pig working away at the kitchen island, it might have been an ordinary evening at Casa Three Little Pigs. The second little pig wasn’t one to bring zir work home, though with increasing responsibility zie was left with no alternative. Scrutinizing a list of physicians and their sales of prescribed opioids zie’d supplied to them, attempting to determine which physicians merited invitations to the annual magnum opus at the Maui Ocean Club. Based almost entirely on their gross sales, volume and not per capita, pro rata or pro forma, discriminating against physicians with modest practices, or, depending on one’s bent, incentivizing them. The annual corporate conclave being well worth the extra effort, the obscene bonuses, gourmet dining, golf outings, poolside soirees, the scandalous after-hours pursuits; egregious, in a word, if a single word could suffice.

The third little pig was last to arrive home, helping zirself to a beverage from the stainless steel refrigerator, setting the beverage on the granite countertop and popping its top, the cap falling to the ceramic tile floor, landing there with a bounce, the third little pig bending with a grunt to pick up the offending cap and tossing it in the garbage pail beneath the sink.

“Burning the midnight oil, are we?” asked the third little pig of the second.

“I’ve got to finalize my list of docs to bring to Maui. The home office grows impatient.”

“No doubt they’re anxious to reward their more lucrative drug dealers before the competition muscles in,” said the third little pig. The first little pig, nearby in the great room watching TV, pig-cackling.

“Precisely,” said the second little pig with an introspective smile. “And how was your day, friend? Still doing your part to boost the country’s heretofore unparalleled obesity rate?” The first little pig pig-cackling again.

“And how about you, friend?” The third little pig, addressing the first little pig enjoying the barbs. “Downsize any departments lately, skewing the work-life balances of the remaining employees, condemning them to ineffectiveness by being woefully understaffed?”

“Try not to be too harsh with our friend, zie does have a handsome salary to justify,” said the second little pig to the third, both cackling, the first little pig joining in, good sport that zie was.

Some silence then, before the ribbing banked too steeply into a passive-aggressive turn. The third little pig sat on the other end of the sofa from the first little pig. In the windows a bright flash of lightning, illuminating early night, the distant rumble of thunder.

“There’s a thunderstorm watch,” commented the first little pig.

“Watch or warning?”

“If you can see lightning, does it matter?”

“Any wolf reports?” wondered the second little pig.

“Any wolves on the move?” wondered the third little pig.

“Not that we’re worried,” hastened the second little pig, “with our custom mahogany pivot door and floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall.”

“Quite so,” agreed the first little pig.

“A pragmatic extravagance, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron,” chirped the third little pig.

***

Until moving in together, the three friends might not have been as familiar as they believed themselves to be with one another’s idiosyncrasies, e.g. the second little pig’s hypersensibility to appearances. Something was always lacking as far as zie was concerned, judging their property as others living around them might, flaws magnified to the nth degree. The grass was too long, or too dry, or too weedy; their Canary Island Date Palm, the most expensive palm tree on the street, badly needed pruning; the exterior paint was already beginning to fade. To keep up appearances, where there were expenses the second little pig was prepared to bear the brunt. What zie wouldn’t do was settle for lackluster.

“It’s not that I mind coming out of pocket where required, but it would be nice to have some help,” zie remarked.

“Frankly, I don’t think the grass needs mowing as often as you,” the first little pig proffered. “There are times where you think the lawn looks dreadful and to me it looks perfectly fine.”

“You were adamant about not hiring a lawn service,” the second little pig replied. “Compare our lawn or landscaping with our neighbors, who’ve had their properties professionally landscaped and contract with lawncare services to maintain them.”

“I should have thought the Canary Island Date Palm would suffice. It’s the most expensive tree in the neighborhood. I was in favor of the Areca palm, and I don’t think you were in disagreement there,” the first little pig said to the third, hoping to enlist zir support.

“I don’t know why we don’t have a screened-in pool,” said the third little pig. “We’ve yard enough. If the desire is to keep up with the Joneses,” zie said, addressing the second little pig, “all other properties this close to the water have screened-in pools. Without one we’re second rate. The value of our property drags down those of our neighbors. Our fellow homeowner’s association members.”

Frustrated with the filibustering whenever zie broached the subject, the second little pig hired a lawn service on referral from their neighbors the Cheevers, with their house on the water. The other two little pigs weren’t opposed to the idea nor were they advocates, or not openly, if the second little pig was willing to hoof the bill.

***

The third little pig continued to bring up the idea of a screened-in pool addition, judicious as to when or where, over shared meals and drinks, on festive occasions when spirits were high and backslapping collegiality at the fore. Zir appeal to the first little pig, with impatient glances at the second little pig, wondering why it wasn’t the two of them quoruming their miserly mate. If the third little pig had been a better negotiator, zie might have offered some quid pro quo to secure the second little pig’s backing, as in helping with the landscaping service. Absent any incentive, the second little pig coopting inertia so no decision would be rendered, unless the third little pig wanted to finance the addition sans assistance, as zie had the landscaping maintenance.

This had become the new normal for their treatment of matters domestique; in the absence of earnest debate or compromise, when there wasn’t unanimity, the proposition was abandoned. The second little pig would have supported the screened-in pool addition, enthusiastically if not for the landscaping betrayal, and the two friends may well have cornered their friend the bean-counting frugalitarian. Instead, they were the unfortunates on their block, a drag on property values with their straw bale walls and lack of a swimming pool.

But then an aggressive E. coli strain discovered at several chain franchises sidetracked the third little pig. Though the outbreak happened in another part of the state, the branding repercussions were universally felt. The state media held to the debacle like pit bull on chew toy, calling into question the chain’s hygiene protocols and lack of adherence to federal meat inspection guidelines. Gross receipts at the three little pig’s stores were halved. At meals the third little pig offered little, gazing off in the distance or glumly considering the fare at hoof.

“A fine example of why it’s prudent to live beneath your means,” the first little pig insisting to the second little pig, triumphantly almost, or vindicated, contemplation of a pool addition shelved with existential problems to confront.

It may have been a case of familiarity breeding contempt, or overfamiliarity if there’s a difference. To the second little pig the first little pig had become a wellspring of resentment. Sales of prescribed opioids were better than ever, and the second little pig could afford a place of zir own, with manicured lawn, sculpted hedges, screened-in pool, and as many Canary Island Date Palms as the acreage could accommodate. As desirous of the freedom to spend extravagantly on appearance as zie was, zie dreaded the thought of living alone, of coming home to an empty house, of dining solo, depressing to contemplate, even crushingly sad, with the third little pig in time of need a convenient excuse to scuttle the notion. Putting aside their differences, petty disagreements in the grander scheme, two of the three little pigs rallying their companion the third.

“Allow for some distance between when this outbreak occurred and its resolution, and they will move on,” the second little pig counseled the third. “Never forget how breezily indifferent the masses are toward crises they’re unaffected by.”

“Precisely,” chimed in the first little pig, “and since no one’s been poisoned by tainted food in these parts, it isn’t their problem, is it? Or yours.”

***

Wolf season began inauspiciously, a mild attack to the east, nowhere near the three little pigs and never threatening to be, then a second mild attack equally far removed to the west. A more pessimistic prognosticator might note that where the three little pigs lived was equidistant from the two attacks on either side, or flank, and so the odds might favor a centered attack on the third go ‘round, if a third go ‘round was scheduled. The three friends stocked up on provisions as they did at the beginning of every summer, at the outset of wolf season, as both superstition and practicality; plenty of bottled water and canned goods and toilet paper rolls by the dozen, no commodity so precious as toilet paper in times of crisis.

“Should we buy a generator?” wondered the second little pig, neither of zir friends responding. “You know, for if the power goes out? Hello? Am I talking to myself?”

“How much are they?” wondered the first little pig. The second little pig rolling zir eyes, the third little pig with a trace smile at their friend the pinchfist. Business had improved for the third little pig, if still off from the previous year, though zie was still less than engaged, leaving the first and second little pigs stalemated whenever action was warranted. The second little pig discovering the limits of zir empathy were quantifiable, rapidly losing patience with the third little pig for abstaining on important decisions. The generator was practical and relatively inexpensive, as had been the professional landscaper. Their property was immaculate, lawn cut like a fairway, the Canary Island Date Palm smartly pruned and majestic, thanks to the second little pig, not that expressed gratitude was an expectation.

The wolf was Iliad. At first Iliad appeared to be coming nowhere near, but then the prognosticators envisioned a more westerly approach, increasingly with each update. The prognosticators were normally accurate about approximating a wolf’s path, but for whatever reason they were increasingly erratic with regard to Iliad, perhaps because the federal authorities were underfunded and foundational information was either scant or untimely. When it was all but too late, the three friends realized the snarling and gnashing Iliad was making straight for them.

Well provisioned and hunkered down, at the last minute the municipal authorities recommending evacuation, the three friends holding forth. Soon Iliad was huffing and puffing with a hundred and forty MPH gusts, custom mahogany pivot door and floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall groaning in situ, the straw bale walls around the door quaking and finally buckling, the roof supported by the walls collapsing, sounds like explosions, the three terrified little pigs holed up in the bathroom off the kitchen, debris smashing into the bathroom door as though Iliad was hurling heavy objects at the barricade.

After the interminable tumultuous racquet an ominous silence ensuing, the illusion of almost meditative stillness surrounding piles of wreckage. Pushing hard against the bathroom door, wedged shut by debris, the three friends each throwing a shoulder into it and emerging with grunting effort. The front of their house looked like a bomb had detonated, crumbled plaster everywhere, straw poking out of chicken coup wire cages or scattered about like the interior of a barn. The custom mahogany pivot door standing proudly in its frame, as with the floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall. Around the door and windows was open air to manicured lawn or sculpted hedge, the lawn strewn with dismembered reddish green fronds of their prized Canary Island Date Palm, though holding its spine against the force of Iliad not much more than a fat, spikey protrusion.

They ventured outside, looking up and down the street, plenty of branches and fronds scattered about, every other house no worse for the reckoning; no structural damage of note visible to the eye.

***

The three stunned friends sitting side by side at a local saloon. Not talking, staring ahead with cocktails at the nearby, sitting this way for long moments, the second little pig disrupting their glum meditation, turning to the first little pig between them.

“So straw bale, huh?”

The first little pig looked down at zir cocktail.

“Inevitably, you get what you pay for,” said the third little pig. “I’m grateful we weren’t injured.”

“We paid for cheap and flimsy and so we got cheap and flimsy, and now we’re homeless,” lamented the second little pig.

The first little pig held up a hoof in surrender.

“We’re insured.”

“What are we insured for, though? The cost of another straw bale house?”

“That being the case,” said the third little pig, “we’re making up the difference. Even if I have to take out a second mortgage on one of my stores for my share, and even if the odds are infinitesimal of another direct attack, we are not-not-not cheaping out again.”

“Amen,” said the second little pig, emphatically.

The two friends staring fixatedly at the first little pig, waiting for concession.

“Amen,” the first little pig said quietly. The second little pig held up zir glass, clinking glasses with the other two little pigs, a mute toast to their communal resolve.

“I’ll have another, please, barkeep. And by the way,” said the second little pig, thrusting a hoof in the direction of the first little pig, “zie’s buying.”

***

The first and second little pigs were combing through the aftermath rubble of Iliad’s savagery. Salvaging what was salvageable, inventorying damaged or destroyed items, meticulously photographing everything; shattered vases and crystal, felled floor lamps, broken book shelves, damaged titles, compromised appliances, battered furniture, mildewed carpet. Neither noticed the officious-looking swine enter the yard, a large specimen, hairy and spotted, glasses perched on snout, holding a clipboard, pen at the ready, waiting patiently to be noticed.

“Ahoy,” said the first little pig after a time. “Can we help you?”

“We’d invite you in,” said the second little pig, “but as you can see, there really is no in.”

“What is the expression? Al fresco?” said the officious-looking swine with an amiable chuckle.

The two little pigs came out into the yard.

“Hello and greetings. I’m with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

“You’re with FEMA?”

“Yes, that’s right, FEMA.”

“You don’t say,” said the second little pig. “You’re here already? It hasn’t been a week. Quite ungovernment-like, if I may.”

“Yes, thank you, we’re endeavoring to be more proactive, what with midterm elections fast upon us,” answered the officious-looking swine.

“Whatever the reason,” said the first little pig. “We won’t question your motives. What can we do for you? Or perhaps I should ask, what can you do for us?”

“Are you familiar with Individual Disaster Assistance? I’m here to facilitate your claim should you have one, and I would think you would since most do.”

“Absolutely,” from the second little pig.

“Please elaborate,” from the first.

“This area qualifies for disaster assistance. We, FEMA, can provide you with financial assistance for immediate disaster-related expenses such as out-of-pocket costs, as well as expenses your insurance ultimately won’t cover, or to supplement you if your claim is delayed, as they so often are. With the idea, or goal, of returning you to your normal lives, to some semblance of normalcy, as expeditiously as can be managed.”

“What are some of the immediate expenses this Individual Disaster Assistance covers?”

“Clean-up items, for instance. Damage to essential vehicles. Reimbursement for temporary accommodations. Immediate repairs of things that can’t wait, like a leaky gas main or corrupted pipes.”

The first and second little pigs were longtime friends, so no affirming looks were needed, no code words or whispered exchanges or precluding asides. They were typical in this regard: If the government wanted to throw money at them, whether or not they needed it, who were they to refuse? The government was like the parent of entitled children. If the government didn’t provide satisfactorily, or to the extent its citizenry was accustomed to, the citizenry would be quick to aver. If, on the other hand, the government did provide, unnecessarily or gratuitously, there would be no gratitude expressed, or remembrance of past good deeds when future needs arose. The government could only be noticed for its failures, its accomplishments condemned to anonymity.

“What do you need from us to expedite this process?”

“Photo identifications for starters. Are you two the sole occupants?”

“There’s a third.”

“Unless zie’s due to arrive soon, no matter. We can move forward with the initial claim with just the two of you. I’ll need copies of your auto insurance policies, homeowners, oh, and proof of ownership, a title or deed.”

“We built this house.”

“A title then. As I’m sure there’s no functioning copier at the moment I’ll just photograph what I need,” said the officious-looking swine, brandishing zir phone.

None of these items seemed unreasonable or out of the ordinary. It was the abruptness of the request, sensitive information sought at first blush, the officious-looking swine expecting these things. Pressing to close as it were, giving off the stench of importunity.

“Do you have any credentials, then?” asked the first little pig. “Strictly as a formality. A business card, perhaps?”

“Come to think of it, you haven’t bothered to give us your name, or your title or position with FEMA, and here you are asking us to turn over sensitive information,” said the second little pig. “Come now.”

“Apologies. If I can be accused of overzealousness, it’s only because I care about what I do, and I count myself as fortunate in that regard. Your home has been taken from you through no fault of your own, your castle, your dream house, residue of all you’ve accomplished, because of this random wolf attack. You deserve better, and I’m committed to seeing that you get what you deserve,” said the officious-looking swine, patting pockets, pretending to be looking for a card.

“I’ll just come right out with it, then. Are you attempting to defraud us? After a natural disaster has destroyed our home? Identity theft, is that?” The first little pig asked.

“Oh, my goodness, it’s just that I’m not the most organized, or diplomatic. Socially awkward, it can be said.”

‘I don’t think so, I don’t think so at all. What’s your angle?” The second little pig wondering.

“Oh, no, no. How could I possibly be scamming you? How could I possibly? I’m trying to be of assistance. FEMA, at FEMA we’re trying to turn over a new leaf, alter public perception. I’m sure you’re familiar with the disappointments.”

“You haven’t told us your name, or produced a business card or any credentials. You’re not even a clever con artist. A clever con artist would have counterfeit credentials at the ready.”

The officious-looking swine sighed, and zir demeanor changed. The officious-looking swine rising up, coming forward. Zie was significantly larger than the two little pigs.

“Well, so what of it? So what if I borrow your identities, and someone charges a few hundred dollars on your credit cards before you’re the wiser? You’re well-to-do, you can easily afford it. It’s a victimless crime. Consider it a charitable contribution if you like.”

“What we can afford is beside the point. How we spend what’s rightfully ours isn’t any business of yours, nor are you entitled to any of it,” thundered the second little pig. “You aren’t entitled to our money because we have more of it than you. What a preposterous assertion. Earn your own keep and find a way to do it honestly. Be on your way before the police come along, con artist.”

“Yes, please do, cozener!”

“Bilker!”

***

The three friends checked into an Extended Stay. By virtue of having secured the homeowners insurance, the first little pig was charged with tracking their claim, which involved a detailed report, inspections, repeated interaction with claims adjusters, and challenging evasiveness about when they could expect the proceeds. As for how much they might be getting, the first little pig was given a range by the adjuster. The first little pig wondered if they could expect the higher or lower end of this range. Before zie was given an answer, the claims adjuster was reassigned, and the replacement claims adjuster was then reassigned as well, what with the rash of wolf attacks and many new claims to process. The first little pig posing the same questions to the third claims adjuster, how much, and when? When, and how much?

Zir two friends were not pleased with the range the first little pig was given. The second little pig felt the first little pig should tend to these difficulties alone as it was the first little pig’s responsibility for their current predicament, and the second little pig had undertaken rebuild logistics and was preoccupied as such, obtaining estimates and combing through them. With the custom mahogany pivot door and floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall still in place, their new home would be constructed around these cornerstones with walls of oak and maple, sturdier by far than straw bale, chicken coup wire mesh and dry wall, and more expensive. They had anticipated the added expense of a materials upgrade, in all practicality an expense they should have shouldered from the outset.

The second little pig showed zir two friends the cost estimate, expecting them to be pleased. Yes, it was more, but not exorbitantly so.

“What about the Canary Island Date Palm,” asked the first little pig, “we’re not replacing it, are we? If we do, it’s more out-of-pocket, on top of making up the difference between straw bale and wood. Unless the insurance covers it, which I would have to look into.”

“The Canary Island Date Palm will replenish splendidly, thank you, and can I tell you why?” asked the second little pig, not waiting for an answer. “Because we’re getting what we paid for.”

“And we paid a lot,” noted the first little pig.

“Yes, and we also paid a lot for the custom mahogany pivot door and floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall, and look at what’s standing and what isn’t,” chimed in the third little pig.

“We’re in agreement then?” asked the second little pig. “Onward with oak and maple.”

“Agreed,” said zir two friends in unison.

Processing the claim took exponentially longer than what was necessary or convenient. Like something waterlogged and deprived of most but not quite all of its buoyancy, the final amount was much closer to the murky bottom of the range than its airy surface. Apparently straw bale was considered by the claims underwriters to be more valuable as livestock forage than building material.

“We might as well have been living outdoors with just the custom mahogany pivot door and the floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall and the palm tree,” lamented the third little pig.

They had the home the second little pig had wanted, more worthy of their enclave if omission of a screened-in pool could be overlooked. The maple and oak were splendorous, the smell of fresh-cut wood a comforting olfactory reminiscence of simpler ways.

Before settling back into their routines, the three friends with a self-congratulatory celebration. The second little pig proposing a toast, wine glasses hoisted: “To resiliency, good fortune, and getting what you pay for.”

“Here, here,” from the third little pig, the first little pig with the candlelit smile of the sufficiently chagrined, consoled with the efficacy of the final result, the clink of the glasses meeting over the evening’s bounty.

***

As yet remote to civilization, newly-christened Beowulf creating a disturbance of substantial proportion. Not so much cutting a wide swath as moving like a blade held to flame and passed through a stick of room-temperature margarin; compelling waves that might’ve engulfed a five-story walkup, relocating objects on the ocean floor hundreds of feet below the surface, projectile rain lashing horizontally, brown sea and bird-less sky in its wake.

The three friends refused to believe they could be ambushed again, even as it appeared possible or likely Beowulf might veer their way. Had they not assumed their rightful places as entitlement’s beneficiaries, impervious to common misfortune, uncommonly immune to travails bourgeois? Surely Iliad had been an anomaly, or excessive penance if one ascribed to moral equivalencies.

Beowulf had grown mightier as it steamed along, fueled by an amplitude of globally warmed seawater, prognosticators referring to Beowulf as apocalyptic. But hadn’t they all been? Didn’t every wolf attack portend devastation as never before, compulsively obsessed as Pigdom was with the occasion of its end times? To such an extent that the apocalypse genre had become a billion-dollar fascination? Weren’t wolf attacks the best way to attract an outsized number of viewers to local news affiliates, for their round-the-clock updates? Numbers that translated into increased advertising revenues, as redundant and lacking in substance as the updates were? Who could fault them for their hyperbole? Euphemism wouldn’t do for attracting an influx of viewers who typically ignored their local affiliates under ordinary circumstance.

As Beowulf began huffing but not yet puffing, the municipal authority calling for evacuation, the three friends deliberated over micro beers, alcohol to keep the occasion as sanguine as possible, if communing to decide whether it was necessary to flee for their lives could be an informality.

“The wood is strong. The structure is sound,” insisted the second little pig, pacing as zir two friends sat on either side of the sofa.

“If media reports are to be believed, Beowulf promises devastation on par with what Iliad wrought, an experience I’m not anxious to relive,” the first little pig ventured. The second little pig sensed schadenfreude from the first little pig. A second devastation would blunt the magnitude of the first, taking some of the onus away from his straw bale and chicken coup wire mesh faux pas.

“I have to agree. Evacuation is practical. We have to trust our local authorities are looking out for us. Remaining here, riding out the storm, won’t save our home. Staying here only puts us in harm’s way. I’m not entirely convinced we don’t suffer residual effects from the last attack, degrees of PTSD.”

The second little pig continued to pace, swilling beer between thoughts, then, “ultimately we can each do what we prefer. We’re individuals. If you two prefer to evacuate, what’s to stop you? If my preference is to remain, then remain I shall.”

The first little pig exhaled audibly through zir snout.

“We really should return to functioning as a collective, where if there’s not unanimous consent then quorum dictates. It’s how we used to decide everything. We’re three individuals with three different perspectives. Let us all gain the benefit of our shared insights. We’re not always going to agree, but that shouldn’t prevent us from moving forward collectively,” said the first little pig.

“Easy for you to say,” said the second little pig. “You’re in the majority in this instance.”

“I was in the minority when we picked out wood for our walls this time and went along with the quorum. For as much flak as I’ve taken for picking out straw bale and chicken coup wire mesh, no one actively voiced opposition to it,” answered the first little pig.

“Being a little revisionist, aren’t we? It was questioned. And as for ‘picking out’ straw bale, ‘insisted’ is more apt. And you voiced no opposition to oak and maple, as I recall.”

“If we’re to stay together and function as a collective, a triad, compromise is the only way. Belonging to the triad entitles us to three times the resources,” offered the third little pig.

“Three legs to stand on instead of one,” echoed the first little pig.

“As unwieldy as a tripod can be, a better foundation than a single leg,” conceded the second little pig.

“But isn’t the unwieldiness what keeps things interesting?” asked the third little pig, assuming the contrarian’s role. “Isn’t balance illusory? Then again, who am I telling? You’ve made a fortune from unwieldy, haven’t you? For you, balance would be catastrophic if it were achievable without medication.”

“And because we are three legs of the same tripod, friend, you have also benefitted, just the same as I have from you poisoning the masses,” retorted the second little pig, “or you,” gesturing with hoof at the first little pig, “zealously maintaining the status quo.”

***

Beowulf huffed and puffed and blew down the house of maple and oak, with the exception of the custom mahogany pivot door and the double-hung, floor-to-ceiling window wall, the Canary Island Date Palm stripped of its extremities, its willowy fronds strewn up and down the block like organic remnants of a Mardi Gras celebration.

Having been through it before, one might think the three friends would be better compassed to navigate the bureaucracy cluttering their return to normalcy. Their familiarity with these difficulties only made them easier to dread. Because zie had been peripherally involved before, zir decision-making less susceptible to second-guessing where the other two had failed, the third little pig waddled into the void. Zie consulted with the other two when left with no alternative, as with the inane claims process, fraught with delays and misquotes and error-prone reports and lowball offers as that undertaking portended.

With the other two reticent to propose building materials, the third little pig decided on masonry in some form, finally settling on brick; solid, firm, and ostensibly wolf-proof construction. The third little pig was especially pleased when the rebuild estimate was around the same as the maple and oak house it was replacing. The second little pig questioned the third little pig’s selection of contractor, insisting the maple and oak house contractor had come in under budget and met every deadline, beginning construction before the claim had been processed, thereby meriting a second opportunity. The third little pig privately wondered why the second little pig would be partial to the maple and oak house contractor absent monetary incentive.

The third little pig couldn’t resist feelings of superiority toward zir two bon amies. Zie was zir own boss, the other two worked for others, were beholden to others for their livelihoods. Successful entrepreneurs such as zie knew how to get things done. It may have been this smugness that led to certain, shall we say, oversights in the restoration of their cherished home. Overlooking potential pitfalls that the other two little pigs might have anticipated, had the third little pig chosen to confer with them, rather than trusting implicitly in zir own decision-making prowess.

One oversight might have been not training a more discerning eye to the contractor. Because the second little pig had questioned the third little pig’s selection the third little pig stood fast, refusing to accept that zie could make an error in judgment. Because the contractor was receiving agreed upon compensation for the job, it behooved contractor to cut costs wherever possible. Not being scrutinized, some of these shortcuts might have resulted in inferior workmanship, or the use of less expensive, substandard materials, potentially fraudulent actions if the contractor hadn’t the foresight to delineate the fine print accordingly. Most of the contractual language was standard, an unassuming word added or omitted being the difference between actionable and unactionable. Not having a real estate attorney bless the contract’s verbiage another of those pesky oversights.

Though obscured or inconsequential any of this was during those halcyon weeks and months between Beowulf and Emperor Dominus. The three friends deciding to build back better, adding the screened-in pool at last. Besides being an ideal gathering place, the screened-in pool addition was tacit admission to the Heritage Park glitterati, their neighbors grateful for the boost in aggregate property values, the three little pigs entertaining on occasion to fully ingratiate themselves. The second little pig’s mimosas were a celebration, fresh-squeezed Cara Cara navel oranges and Louis Roederer Cristal 2012, fabulously delicious and the centerpiece of Sunday brunch gatherings at the three friends’ new pool.

Engaging in the usual nanobabble as the dwellers of Heritage Park became acquainted, plaudits to the hosts for their forthrightness and resiliency, their affluent neighbors complimentary of the pool addition and its horticulture, fawning in particular over the long-admired Canary Island Date Palm, much to the second little pig’s delight. If you looked on the bright side, they were told by more than one neighbor, and more than once by the same neighbor, how great were the odds of a third devastating wolf attack? The third little pig with a smug smile, not worrying the odds with their new brick fortress.

Before they knew one another well enough to dish, the back and forth at these gatherings centered on acquisitions, a familiar pastime to all. Net worth, annual earnings, investment returns, these weren’t discussed with anything more than the most esoteric reference, ostensibly in the name of decorum. Informing of recent acquisitions was how one displayed one’s iridescent feathers.

The Sylvesters, with their house on the water, overlords of a storage unit empire, were openly envied for their interest in a small island in the Bahamas. We own an island they announced of a particular Sunday. The Sylvesters were principal investors, partners in the ownership of this strip of tropical tangle on an overgrown sandbar rising ocean levels would inevitably consume. They’d yet to build, hadn’t surveyed the property, claiming to be spooked by the recent escalation of wolf attacks. The Sylvesters traveled to their island by seaplane and roughed it, supplementing what they brought with prawns netted from the sea, fish plucked from the surf, and fruit picked from the few sour orange and scarlet plum trees growing wild there.

The Cheevers had the biggest and most esteemed vessel moored at the end of a long dock behind their Italianate waterfront villa. The Cheevers were founders of a payday lender storefront franchising network, amassing a fortune from issuing high-interest loans and peddling information obtained from each loan applicant to any and all comers, and many comers there were. With their considerable earnings and their deep-sea fishing avidity, the Cheevers procured a forty-one-foot Carolina Edition with a main cabin/salon, stateroom and galley resplendent with teak and holly, a head with an onboard shower, all powered by twin Cummins Engine 715HP diesels.

While the second little pig was enraptured with the attention, the affinity for zir mimosas, appreciation of zir landscaping eye, and the third little pig exuding an air of magnanimity, as though his perspicacity allowed for all this, the infatuation with unbridled spending prickled the first little pig. Not that zie didn’t enjoy the finer things as well as anyone, just not with the same freedom from restraint. Earning potential and access to capital aside, restraint was what separated those who borrowed under only the most favorable conditions, and those who borrowed irrespective of interest rate and ended up paying double or triple the list price.

It was the fascination with overpriced watches that revealed the first little pig’s parsimonious mien to all. They would be gathered closely with their phones, huddled, showing images on their phones to one another, at times tipping their phones sideways, talking in breathless tones. The first little pig wondering what was so compelling.

“Richard Mille,” said Ecclesiastes, a neighbor from several blocks over, they’d met at a homeowner’s association meeting, handing zir phone to the first little pig with a picture of an expensive watch. Ecclesiastes saying for edification, “fifty-thousand dollars,” with dripping admiration.

“If you ask me, fifty thousand dollars for a watch is a monumental waste of money,” scoffed the first little pig, followed by awkward silence, the stillness marking a change in perception like precipitous clouds impeding on a fair day. The second little pig looking on warily, knowing zir friend couldn’t possibly leave it at that.

“I’m curious, Ecclesiastes. If this same watch were three hundred dollars, would you be so taken with it?”

“A preposterous hypothetical.”

“Is it though? After admiring this watch, the first thing you did was check its price, did you not?”

“Guilty as charged. I struggle to see your point.”

“My point is, if you were truly enamored of this watch, it wouldn’t matter how much you had to pay for it. You looked up the price not to see if you could afford it, but to confirm its value. The fifty thousand dollar price tag is the watch’s most salient feature, then, is it not?”

“I admire expensive watches, they’re of the finest craftmanship and worthy of the expense by my estimation.” Zie looked to the second little pig drooping in a chair nearby. “My compliments on your mimosas. Made with Cristal, no? A fact you’ve made known to us, so we appreciate how you’ve lavished on us without regard to personal outlay. How much is Cristal per bottle these days?” Finishing zir flute, and standing. “Which in my view is perfectly acceptable, because without self-indulgence wouldn’t we all quickly perish from the tedium? I’m certain I would.”

“Or is it simply that we suffer from a dearth of imagination?” asked the first little pig, prepared to sit out the soliloquy but unable to restrain zirself.

“I for one can imagine a great deal,” countered Ecclesiastes, “irrespective of price. Good day for now, and thank you as always for your lovely and extravagant hospitality.”

***

The imminence of Emperor Dominus undeniably manifesting itself, the three friends watching the latest prognostication glumly, the third little pig the first to snap out of it.

“No one can gloss over our misadventures with wolf attacks, and perhaps we’ll be spared this time, if luck is at all interested in equity. But here’s what I think,” and here zie clicked off the television, stood, and turned to the other two little pigs. “This house is the result of lessons learned. We’re graduates cum laude from the school of hard knocks where home ownership pertains. This house was made right this time. Rather than concern ourselves with what might or mightn’t happen, let’s assume we’ve learned from our past experiences and make an occasion of it this time around. Why not a road trip to the top-floor Dauphin Restaurant, treating ourselves to a glorious spread to celebrate our ingenuity, afterword repairing to the presidential suite at the Riverfront Plaza. When we return, Emperor Dominus will have come and gone, relegated to the annals of history, and we’ll repair whatever minor damage it may inflict on our Hadrian’s Wall.”

“How delightfully counterintuitive,” piped the second little pig.

“Why not?” agreed the first little pig, always the least enthusiastic of the three when it came to healthy expenditure.

And a glorious night it was. Raining lashing the thick windows, the howling of Emperor Dominus relegated to the banished out of doors, the three friends twenty stories above the fray, gorging themselves to a happily sated torpor. Finishing with an after-meal digestif, an elegant dark rum both distinct and contemporary, when the second little pig had an idea to commemorate the festivities.

“Since we’ve all shared in one another’s successes, why not if each of us disclose the most despicable thing we’ve done in the furtherance of our current professions.”

“Ritual sacrifice to our good fortune?” offered the third little pig.

“Or confession, which mightn’t be a terrible idea,” murmured the first little pig.

The second little pig, hardly waiting for direction, volunteered to be first.

“There’s plenty to choose from, as you might surmise of what I do for a living,” said zie, with a twisted gleam. “But I suppose the most egregious was a physician I continued to fill orders for, brought to the Maui Ocean Club and gave an obscene bonus to...”

“Exactly how obscene?” wondered the first little pig.

“Let’s just say zie could be our next-door neighbor, though not quite enough for the pool addition,” answered the second little pig, “and pay cash.”

“Based solely on the bonus?” wondered the third little pig, looking squeamish.

The second little pig took a tart sip and nodded.

“Zie was known as Dr. Feelgood, in prison now for illegal drug distribution. Rumor has it zie prescribed something like half a million doses of opioids.”

“That should be difficult to top,” opined the third little pig.

“By all means, friend, do your best,” encouraged the second little pig.

The third little pig leaned in, head on hoof, gazing into the candlelit centerpiece reflectively.

“The caloric intake of the items we serve is between six hundred eighty and twelve hundred calories. The average burger has ten grams of sugar, twenty grams of saturated fat, thirteen hundred micrograms of sodium and forty-three grams of carbs, to say nothing of the French fries they inevitably come with. As a conglomerate, we sell two hundred seventy thousand of these burgers an hour, nationwide.”

“So, the worst thing you’ve ever done professionally, then, is an ongoing, daily occurrence,” annotated the second little pig. “Or hourly, I should say.”

“I have recommended laying off over twenty-five hundred employees without severance,” chimed in the first little pig. “My recommendations are universally followed.”

“What is that number if you include those with a severance or forced retirements, I wonder,” conjectured the second little pig.

“And if they weren’t, you’d have been laid off in their stead,” remarked the third little pig.

“Quite so.”

“When you put it that way, there’s almost justification for the worst thing you’ve done,” noted the second little pig to the first.

“Couldn’t that be said for all of us, then?” queried the first little pig. And the three friends hosted their cordial glasses, clinked together over the glowing centerpiece.

“Here’s to almost,” proposed the third little pig.

“And how one puts things,” injected the second.

***

The three little pigs stood on the street before their property, all three in the same pose of hooves on hips, and speechless. In front of them, what was once their home had been flattened, with the notable exception of the custom mahogany pivot door and the floor-to-ceiling, double-hung window wall, the extremity-less Canary Island Date Palm like a bulbous spear thrown down from the heavens. In the context of everything destroyed Emperor Dominus was indiscriminate. The docks along the north shore of the Sound were swept away, only foundational pilings remaining, the Cheevers’ magnificent boat taken on a captainless cruise and beached upon jagged rocks.

The second little pig waded into the debris and picked up a panel blank on one side, a sheeting of faux bricks on the other, each about a third as thick as a real brick but of a seemingly identical texture and coloration.

“In reviewing the homebuilder’s contract, did the fine print say our home was being constructed of brick, or brick veneer?” wondered the first little pig of the third.

“We’re insured,” the third little pig responded meekly.

“Yes, we are,” conceded the first little pig with a sardonic smile, “and come to think of it, I’m thirsty. Shall we?”

“By all means, and guess who’s buying?” the second little pig asking the third.

About the Author

Steve Biersdorf

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I have written professionally as a general assignment reporter, editorial writer, contributing editor and freelance granter writer. One of my editorials was the lead story on the local six o'clock TV news, and I wrote two successful grant proposals to the US Department of Commerce for $634,000 that allowed the organization I worked for at the time to open a branch office in Beijing. I have five fiction short story publishing credits. I am a graduate of Florida State University, English/Creative Writing, and a resident of Florida.