She walks out from behind the bar with a pitcher of beer balanced on her head and steps slowly over to the young couple sitting at one of the booths over by the bagatelle table. The guy reaches up and carefully removes the beer from her head, places it on the table and slips her a note. She shimmies back over to the bar, smiling like a crazy person. She tells me the guy always tips her five bucks. Says she’s got a sweet deal going with the cats. She gives them a pitcher of blue moon for four bucks instead of ten, does her beer balancing trick, the guy slips her a tip. So they get a dollar off their bill and she gets to entertain the crowd. Her name’s Rosie, mid 40’s, long blond hair, blue eyes. A former Coney Island beauty queen. Used to put on raunchy shows for the troops, now she serves liquor to the disillusioned, the heart-broken, and the forgotten.
“What if The Snake finds out you’re screwing around with his profits?” I ask.
“Well, you ain’t gonna tell him now are you?” she says, placing her finger on my lips seductively.
“Not me. It’s just that he has a habit of figuring things out. And when he does he can be kinda ruthless. Remember what happened to one-eyed Joe?”
“One eyed”? she says. Her smiling face turning cold with fear. She quickly collects herself.
“He don’t care about this joint. He’s got his other business interests.”
She says business interests like she’s tryna get something out of her mouth that she doesn’t want in there.
“He uses this place as his own personal dive bar. Runs it at a loss. I could say more but I don’t think I oughta.”
I figure I’d better change the subject, and quick. But it turns out I don’t need to. The door creaks open and The Snake walks through it.
“I know somebody’s talking about me, I always know. Ain’t that right Luigi”, he says, grinning like a hyena as he shakes my hand. He turns to Rosie, still holding my hand like it’s the door of a refrigerator that he can’t remember the reason he had for opening.
“Luigi knows I know. But he don’t know what I know and he don’t know about whom”.
Rosie looks confused but being a pro mixes him a cocktail.
“Where’s Kitty” I ask.
“I don’t know” he says. He notices me smirking and straightens up.
“I guess she’s doing her nails or something. Dames huh?”
“Yeah. Dames” I answer.
“Say”, he says, “you remember Billy Twitch?”
I have to reach far back into my brain, past the Wild Turkey years. Out beyond Santa Monica. Across the high plains. The seagull that wanted to play war games with me on Miami Beach. Then I see a nervous looking guy sitting at the bar in some kind of daydream. Billy Twitch.
“Sure. How could I forget him” I say.
“You remember how he got all that inheritance money from an uncle he never even knew he had?”
“Yeah. Walked out of here, said ‘so long suckers’ and never came back. He didn’t even buy me a shot” I say.
“Well”, The Snake says, “looks like he blew all his dough and now he’s just a dumb, poor schmuck again.”
“Not a rich asshole anymore huh. Well ain’t that a doozie. Gambling?”
“No. Not this bird. He had the bright idea of opening a theme park. But not just any theme park.”
He takes another slug.
“So-So Land.” He moved his hand across an imaginary movie screen, highlighting the words as he spoke them like some kinda drunk conductor.
“That’s what he called it. No loud noises. No surprises. No big wheels or rollercoasters, nothing too exciting. Everything in the park was laid out in straight parallel lines. Exactly 100 cracks between the plain concrete slabs along each strip of pavement. All the rides were symmetrical. Problem was, nobody went to it. He kept pouring dough into the deal, telling everyone it was gonna take off and be huge. After a year of losing money he decides to put on live music at the park, try to lure some punters in. Nothing too crazy, just some light jazz. Rhythmically complicated. Give the kids something to count. He got some big names to play there. Johnny Blue played there one time.”
“The blues guy”? I ask.
“No. The jazz guy…. Jazz, blues. What’s the difference. The point is the whole thing was a big flop.”
The Snake walks behind the bar while Rosie’s juggling a couple bagatelle balls to amuse a group of sailors. He picks up a bottle of bourbon, opens it and pours a neat shot.
“Anyway, he’s gonna be here soon. Go easy on him. He’s had a rough ride”.
It’s at this exact moment that Kitty walks in the joint. She looks kinda happy about something.
End of Part 1
“I guess she’s finished doing her nails” I say to The Snake. He turns his head around one hundred and eighty degrees. Now both of us are looking toward the saloon door. Walking a few feet behind Kitty there’s a sheepish schmuck. Head down, hands in pockets, no hat.
The Snake turns his head back around to face me and speaks out of the side of his mouth.
“Remember, no wisecracks, go easy on the kid”
Now he’s giving me a formal invitation.
“Don’t worry”, I tell him, “I don’t know a thing”
“Did he bite?” The Snake says to Kitty in a low voice as she gets up close to him.
“Like a crocodile in a sushi bar” she purrs.
Before I have a chance to figure out what’s going on Billy Twitch is standing in front of me, tryna get to the bar.
“I’d get you a drink but I figure maybe you don’t need a sucker like me offering you a shot when you can buy the joint wholesale” I say to him.
What he says next just about knocks me off the bar stool and kicks me in the head like bad whiskey. He says, in a matter of fact, casual, nothing to see here kinda way;
“Yeah, looks like I’ll be taking over the joint soon”. Bam! Just like that. Then he turns to Rosie and says, “get Luigi a bourbon, he looks a little pale”.
So he didn’t blow all his money. He must have had just enough left over to get screwed by The Snake. I guess I could tell him the place is losing money and fast, but who am I to go around bursting bubbles.
“I hear you opened up a theme park” I say as the bourbon arrives.
“Yeah, that’s right” he says.
“Straight lines, symmetrical rides, everything on time…. No litter, no loud noises, no lines to get in?”.
“You been there?” suddenly he’s interested. His eyes widen and he holds his glass still, mid-slug.
“No.” I tell him. “But I’ve been to Canada.”
“Alright, alright. What did I tell you about wisecracking?” The Snake asks.
“Where did Kitty go?” I answer.
There’s nobody in the joint that doesn’t know where Kitty’s gone. Rosie’s back behind the bar and now Kitty’s taken her place entertaining the group of sailors, ‘cept she isn’t using bagatelle balls.
End of Part 2
One of the sailors is looking at Kitty the way no sailor oughta be looking at a dame who’s strolling out with The Snake. At some point, and that point may come quicker than he bargains for, he’s gonna find himself wishing he wore sun glasses for the occasion.
Luckily for him The Snake doesn’t see him and his lustful glare behind the bulking frame and hat of Billy Twitch and Rosie who now has her arms around Billy Twitch welcoming him back to the neighborhood and kissing him on the left cheek of his dumb face. A casual observer would think the guy had returned from some battle some place far away, but I guess he’s her boss now so she better keep him sweet and hope he doesn’t start checking the levels of the liquor bottles.
“I hear you open up a theme park” she says.
Billy Twitch starts telling her all about it, going into the kind of details a dame like Rosie doesn’t need to hear, and doesn’t care to know. He’s pitching the whole straight parallel lines dodge to her.
“Yeah I saw Rain Man once. Great movie” Rosie says, examining the underside of her finger nails.
At this point The Snake intervenes and makes a suggestion to Rosie that maybe she could think about fixing him a shot of bourbon as his glass seems to be empty. She disappears behind the counter and Billy Twitch bends down to tie his shoe laces, leaving a clear view of the bagatelle table. The sailor with the lustful eye and no sun glasses is now at the point where no excuse or apology will satisfy The Snake. I turn back around to see The Snake checking the horses in a local newspaper. Another lucky escape for the reckless turkey.
Rosie comes back over to schmooze some more with Billy Twitch. I start to feel a little sick and this time it isn’t from the week old fish that they call chicken at the late night chicken ‘n’ other stuff joint.
“So when are you taking over this here establishment?” she asks as she slides a hand around his waist and spreads her smile as wide as her ocean blue eyes.
“Oh that was just a ruse” he answers, laughing.
“A ruse?” she says, her hand drawing back to her protruding chest.
“A jig” he says.
“Yeah I know what a ruse is” she says, sounding just a little duped.
“Just a little flim-flam on Luigi” he says.
I turn around to see The Snake laughing harder than a guy who’s dame is playing bagatelle with a bunch of uninhibited sailors oughta be.
This time The Snake’s gone too far.
“Laugh it up” I tell him.
“That’s swell. Just swell” I add, before I settle in for the killer line.
“So tell me, if Billy Twitch isn’t the new owner of The Hotsy Totsy then just what kind of business was being discussed between Billy Twitch and Kitty while you were sitting in here pouring liquor into your fat grinning face?”
I lean back on my bar stool, waiting for his response. It comes quicker than expected.
“He’s setting up an online dating site for left handed folk” The Snake says, still laughing and unmoved by my incursion.
“You ever considered online dating Luigi?” asks Billy Twitch. I think about taking a pop at both him and The Snake. I set my glass down on the counter and give both of them the look of a man who’s not too happy with the current situation and is thinking about maybe doing something to even out the score. Before I get a chance to stand up I see Kitty walking over, she’s shaking her wrist and blowing some dust off it. I glance over to the bagatelle table. The sailor with the lustful eye and no sun glasses is lying flat out on the bagatelle table, he’s out cold. Two other sailors are leaning over him, slapping his face and pouring water on him.
He’s still out cold.