Episode 2: Encounter At Jakes

As I left the Phelps Building the sun smacked me in the face like a gorilla swinging a preheated frying pan. There was no shade to be found in the stone valley between the blank-faced buildings as I beat it up 2nd Avenue. As I crossed 57th Street I thought I was going to leave my shoes behind in the melting asphalt. Halfway up the next block was Jakes.

It was a blessed relief coming out of the murderous day into that cool sanctuary. I left my hat on the rack by the door and tried without success to sop the sweat from my face with an already sodden handkerchief. The bar was quiet despite the row of the usual derelicts and bums lined along the rail. Jake saw me come in and set me up with the usual before I managed to grope my way through the darkness to my stool. “Whadaya say, Charley?” he asked.

“I’ve got to get out of this town,” I said.

“Sure, sure,” said Jake. He went back to spit-shining the glassware with a marginally clean cloth. The booze would kill anything he left behind.

“I mean it, Jake. I just need one score and I’m packing it up. West. I’ll go out to San Fran and set up there. Living’s good out there.”

“You ever been there?”

“Course I’ve been there. You know where else is nice? Seattle. Lots of fine dames in Seattle.”

“I couldn’t live there with all that rain. It’d drive me crazy.”

“You been outside today?”

Jake poured me another. “You ain’t going nowhere. You’re stuck here like the rest of us.”

“Not me, bub. I just need one good one to put a little dough in my pocket and I’ll write you from Frisco.”

“Sure, sure,” said Jake, and he moved to serve one of the stiffs down the bar.

My eyes had adapted enough that I could survey the usual suspects propped against the mahogany bar. About the saddest bunch of rejects and losers you’ll ever see. I don’t know how I ended up there so often. Still, the booze was cheap. There was something different today, however. An odd feeling that didn’t belong, like someone had opened a window in the back room that opened onto a meadow of wildflowers in their riotous color fed by an icy mountain stream. Something that told of another place, beyond the sweaty stink of run-down men in a broken gin-joint somewhere in midtown. The others at the bar were glancing my direction in nervous anticipation. I glared them back into their own drinks.

The scent got stronger. I heard the sound behind me just as I caught motion in the corner of my eye. I spun around, ready for anything.

Anything except what I found there. “Mr. Lowell?” she asked in a soft, breathy voice with just a hint of Kentucky. I sit facing the door, so she must have been there the whole time, in the shadows of one of the dim booths along the back wall.

“That’s right, sister.”

“May I buy you a drink?”

I have a saying. Never say no to anything free. “All right,” I said. I have another saying. Nothing is free. There’d be payback, I knew. Looking at this lady I was willing to pay the price. I had no idea at the time how steep that price would be.

That she was a lady there was no doubt. She had more class in her little finger than all the rest of us in the bar combined. She was dressed in a sleek black number that hugged her graceful contours like a coat of silk paint. Her hair was long and fell in waves as dark as her dress except where they reflected the feeble lights in the bar. She looked at me, one eye lost behind those raven tresses, the other a bottomless pool in the dim light, her eyebrow a perfect dark arch against her porcelain skin. She smelled like wildflowers and money. She smelled like San Francisco. A cigarette hung unlit from her full, deep red lips. I produced a match and did the honors. When I was done I discovered a fresh drink waiting for me. The good stuff.

She breathed a plume of scented tobacco over her shoulder and fixed me with her gaze. “Mr Lowell,” she said, “I need your help.”

Tune in next time for part one of: The Widow’s Tale!

Random stuff

My parents have been married forty-five years. That boggles my mind. It’s longer than I’ve been alive. (Wait for it… wait for it… bingo. You get it.) They’re planning to whoop it up for their 50th, and why the heck not? Turns out there’s an eclipse just then, so the party will be off the shore of China. Count me in! My parents are very good at being married. They’re so good at it that they are constantly working to get better at it. They are the Tony Gwinn of marriage; they take batting practice every day.

Does a one-eyed dog dream in 3-D? Does a blind man dream in color?

My cousin John opined (if you knew John, you would know that ‘declared’ is a more appropriate verb) that the electric guitar is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. It sure made protest music louder. When the man has a microphone, turn up the amps. When the man has a media empire, no amp will be loud enough. The Internet is the next electric guitar. Carry on, Dr. Faustroll! Carry on, Dr. Pants! Médecins Sans Sanités! The fate of the republic rests on your shoulders! Oh, yeah, and I’m a candidate for president. (Note: that was mock French. The actual phrase for sanity is not as graceful.)

I just heard Transvision Vamp on the TV radio. I think that’s the second time I’ve heard them when I wasn’t playing the music myself. It was Baby I Don’t Care (not to be confuesed with the You’re so Square song by some other band), which is an OK tune, but further over on the pop side of the spectrum than the tunes I like the most. If I figure it out, I’ll give you a little slice of the love with a music posting á la Pants. If only learning weren’t such hard work.

I’m thinking that perhaps blasting East to hang with Jesse in his pre-fatherhood, pre-travel days, then working my way back west might make sense.

I am stunned, flummoxed, and amazed that anyone still wants George W. Bush to be president. Are you not poor enough yet? Do you not realize that being in debt is the same as being poor, and that government debt is your debt? Aren’t you tired of the billions and billions he’s spending on his war ending up in the pockets of his buddies? Have you not noticed who benefits from high oil prices?

The Czech Republic has now played hockey for exactly 1/3 of the time they’ve been on the ice. Now they’re going to have to play all 60 minutes to get past Sweden or Finland. At least the ice won’t be the slush pile it was in Prague. Those guys were wading, not skating. With so many NHL players the Czechs should be comfortable on the smaller ice, but they’ve built a team almost exclusively of skaters, and a fast rink can only help them. I really missed the mikes down on the ice while watching the Czechs demolish Germany. None of the voices of the skaters, none of the smack when stick strikes puck, and none of the crashing of skulls into boards after a good check. And, the best sound in hockey, the sound of the puck bouncing off the pipes.

According to Sam-I-Am Lujan, Rio Arriba County is where rookie state troopers are sent. “They’re all rookies. They don’t know crap.”

I still haven’t deleted the epilogue from The Monster Within. It has nothing to do with the rest of the story anymore; there are characters that don’t show up anywhere else, and obviously some history of events that never happened, but I like the way it feels. It’s a nice way to exhale at the end of the run. I guess I’ll discuss it in more detail over at the hut forum so I can put spoilers in.