I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around to find that the hand belongs to Harry Hearsay.
“Next time you creep up on me like that you’ll get a sock on the jaw, hand knitted” I tell him.
“Didn’t mean to startle you. I got some news”.
He sits down next to me. We’re in a bar. Can’t say which one. Sometimes it’s best to keep quiet about certain things.
He orders a drink. That much I can reveal.
It’s a bottle of blue moon.
Maybe I’ve said too much.
“You remember that dame from Lucky’s Casino you were making inquiries about?” He says.
“I just asked if you knew her name, that’s all. I’m not looking to marry her.”
“Well I’m talking to the guy who runs the casino. I casually mention the dame in question. I say to him ‘you know the red-haired broad who works the bar, I forget her name’ I click my fingers a few times to make it look like I’m trying to jog my memory. ‘Oh yeah’, he says. So I’m thinking he’s about to tell me her handle when he says, ‘yeah the red-haired broad that works the bar. What about her?’ I have to think quick. I tell him she sure knows how to mix a drink and mix it good, then I pick up my hat and leave the joint quick so I don’t arouse suspicion.”
“That’s pretty smart. Good job.” I tell him, but he keeps on talking.
“I decide to go back in there the following night. Maybe one of the regulars knows her. I get talking to a few of them, make like I’m interested in their gambling tales and country music. After a couple beers I mention the red-haired broad, just slip her into the conversation like it’s no big deal……..”
I stop listening to him at this point. I get distracted by a guy who walks into the bar wearing a beard. The only guys who wear beards are sailors and drunks. And this guy is no sailor. He staggers up to the counter, right next to me, signals to the bartender and takes off his hat.
“Pardon me ma’am, could you tell me if I’ve been in this joint before?”
The bartender takes a good look at him and says:
“Ain’t never seen you before.”
“Give me a double scotch” he says, and sits down next to me.
Looks like the poor sucker is banned from so many bars he’s lost track.
I avoid making eye contact with him and turn my head back around to give my full attention to Harry Hearsay.
“Don’t you think that’s kinda screwy?” he says.
“Screwy, kooky, maybe. Or maybe the dame has no name.”
He lays his beer down on the counter, it lands with a thud.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking” he says. “It’s the only thing that makes any kinda sense. Somebody at Lucky’s Casino would have to know her name. How many barkeeps have red hair?”
“Was she working there the night you went in?” I ask.
“Yeah. And nobody used her name. They just said ‘bartender’ or whistled”.
“So why didn’t you just go up and ask her for her name?”
The look on Harry Hearsay’s face tells me this is something that hasn’t occurred to him. There’s a pause in the conversation, just enough time for the guy with the beard to chime in.
“I know the dame’s name. She kicked me outa the joint one time just for being a little tipsy at the craps table. Strong as a horse. Picked me up and threw me out the door like a dude. I’m Billy The Bard, by the way” he says as he reaches out his arm to shake hands.
I notice the owner of the bar coming out from the back room. He seems kinda agitated about something.
“And what’s the name of the dame in question?” Harry Hearsay asks.
“The name of the dame in question is……..”
“Billy The Bard!” yells the proprietor as he leaps out from behind the bar. Glasses and bottles fly off the counter. I’m already holding my bourbon tight just in case of this very circumstance, or something similar.
“Didn’t I tell you to never come in here again? You’re Barred Billy!”
He grabs him by the lapels and lifts him, with the bar stool still attached to his rear end, dragging both him and the stool across the wooden floor toward the exit. The bar stool is professionally removed from all parts of Billy The Bard. A door swings open, then slams shut. A light city breeze sweeps thru the saloon for a brief moment. Then stops.
There’s nothing like a dame for making a guy wind up in the kind of place nobody needs to wind up in. Her name was Ella. She said she hated it. Yeah, she even hated her own name.
She’d left stuff lying around in every corner of my brain, like torn and tangled clothes strewn across the floor of some seedy motel room. How did it ever come to this?
The thought of her wasting away with some useless punk that she fools herself is all she deserves in her life is just about too much to take. I set about fixing to forget her. Delete a memory here, blur a fantasy there. I’d tried to help her through a rough time, that’s all. But I guess some things can’t be fixed. Sometimes you only end up breaking yourself trying.
And that’s how I found myself on a deserted highway, driving ’round and ’round in some kind of circular meaninglessness. An endless string of roundabouts. One following the other, stuck together for no good reason. The waking dream of some deranged clown with too much time on his hands. It got so I couldn’t even be sure that I hadn’t just been circling the same roundabout the whole time. Maybe I’d always been here. I decided to do something unexpected. I took a left turn down a street that looked like it went nowhere. Maybe nowhere was where I wanted to be. A sign said: Welcome to the City of Daventry – Don’t Stay Too Long.
I park my Buick outside a bar that looks like a church and walk on in. The dame behind the bar is maybe 22, a little plump in a welcoming kind of way. I sit at the bar with an old friend, Jim Beam, trying to re-decorate my mind. I get to the part where I’m thinking about how nobody talks to anybody anymore when I notice the dame at the other end of the bar is looking at me and kind of smiling. Jet black hair, pretty, also a little plump but in a comforting kind of way. Like one of those soft pillows that remember who you are. She’s telling her boyfriend that I look familiar as she points a knowing finger and looks my way. I check behind me, nobody there. Not this time. She walks over and introduces herself, says her names Dolly. I’m about to tell her mine when she saves me the trouble and says “Luigi…” Then she pauses, narrows her eyes, and, keeping them fixed on me, drags a finger across her lip before pointing it vaguely at me, her eyes opening wide, and she says out loud like she’s pulling the name out of a hat – “O’REILLY!”
Turns out she thinks she used to know me back when we were both at school. I tell her I don’t remember going to school. She asks me why I’m talking weird. I tell her I think it’s weird that somebody’s talking to me. She says yeah, people don’t talk anymore. I tell her the world’s full of people who can’t talk and wish they could. She tells me her boyfriend is always telling her to stop talking. I think about telling her to tell her boyfriend to get a cat, but take a slug of bourbon instead.
She says she’s got a tattoo of Woody Allen on her foot. I ask if I can see it. She takes off a shoe and shows it to me. Her boyfriend walks over and tells her she’s drunk and talking too much. She tells him, in a soft voice, to go screw himself. He thinks for a moment, walks away, clenches a fist and grinds some teeth.
I ask Dolly if she has tattoos of any other comedy heroes anyplace else , or is that a private matter if you what I mean. She leans in, smiling, and starts to whisper that she’s got Buster Keaton on her…….
Her boyfriend walks back in, gets up close and tells her to go screw herself too. He says it louder than her, so I guess he wins. He walks away again, this time with the air of a man who knows the taste of victory.
I slip silently back into my thoughts and spend maybe ten minutes moving things around in there when Dolly starts telling me she’s ugly. Fat, dumb and ugly. Ugly, dumb and fat. (She tries to say fumbgly but the liquor’s beginning to take a toll so she quits after fumbbbb) I tell her she’s crazy to think like that. What is it with pretty dames thinking they’re worthless and winding up with guys that treat them like dirt, making them feel……
She isn’t listening. She’s looking at the door. Some schmuck with a torn plastic bag full of fish hooks and chicken bones has walked into the barroom and I guess Dolly has taken a shine to him. He yells at the plump and welcoming dame behind the bar to give him a drink. He doesn’t say please and he doesn’t wear a hat.