I waded through the crowd and no one else tried to stop me. I pushed the men’s room door open; fortunately one urinal was unoccupied, although guys were using the other two urinals and both stalls, while another two fellows were at the sinks, running water over their combs and combing their hair.
I did what I had to do, sighing with relief, and then I zipped up and flushed.
I’ll admit I did look to see what avenues of escape this men’s room might afford, and there was indeed a double louvered window, but it was about eight feet above the floor, and I couldn’t see myself trying to climb through it in front of all these men. I do have some standards. I walked over, waited patiently for one fellow to put the finishing touches to his hairstyle, then I stepped up, rinsed and dried my hands. I had no comb, but I gave my hair a couple of pats. I felt that I looked no more insane than the average man.
But they were waiting out there for me.
I needed to take a firm hand.
These people didn’t want just me, no, they wanted my last few shreds of sanity, soaked in my life’s blood...
But, I attempted to reason, hadn’t I fought off the blandishments of Jack Scratch? Hadn’t I -- with Dick Ridpath’s stout help -- saved the world from destruction at the claws of Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat Shnooby? Had I not successfully resolved the thorny problem of Clarissa?
Very well, if I had done all of the above, and I was pretty sure I had, then surely I could extricate myself from the clutches of three mere humans like Miss Evans and the DeVores…
“Hey, pal, you finished with the sink?”
This was a fellow standing beside and just a little to the back of me.
“Oh, sorry,” I said, and I stepped aside.
“Lost in thought, huh?”
It seemed to me that he was showing signs of wanting to continue the conversation, so I hurried to the door, and out.
Sure enough they were still there, standing midway between me and Josh. They formed a wedge-shaped phalanx, Miss Evans in her shiny dress a couple of paces closer to me than her minions, with Mr. DeVore to the right and Mrs. Devore to the left. As I walked slowly but purposefully through the crowd and down the bar the three of them held their ground, not advancing, but obviously poised and ready to wheel around the split second I might try to outflank them, or to give rapid pursuit should I turn tail and try to escape through the kitchen.
The surfing song had gone off and now it was a song about wishing to have a hammer.
“Hello, Miss Evans,” I said, as I came up to her.
I attempted to go to her right but Mrs. DeVore slipped directly into my path.
“What’s the big hurry, Arnold?” said Miss Evans. “Have a drink with me.”
“Yeah, have a drink with us, Arnie,” said Mr. DeVore.
Miss Evans stepped between Mrs. DeVore and me. She mouthed the words, “With me.”
“My friend is waiting,” I said.
“That beach bum.”
“He’s my friend.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Miss Evans.”
“Gertrude,” she said.
“Gertrude,” I said.
“Introduce us to your buddy,” said Mr. DeVore.
“I think he’s cute,” said Mrs. DeVore.
Miss Evans pressed herself against me, again.
She mouthed the words, “Introduce me, not these idiots.”
“Miss Evans --”
“Gertrude,” I said.
I was on the verge, the very verge of telling her to leave me the hell alone, that she was driving me crazy, or crazier, and so were the DeVores.
But I lost my nerve.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll introduce you.”
“Us too?” said Mr. DeVore.
“Yes,” I said. “Everyone.”
“Oh, but we’ll frighten him if we all descend upon him at once,” said Miss Evans. “Frank, why don’t you and Gladys --”
“My name’s not Frank,” said Mr. DeVore.
“And my name’s not Gladys,” said Mrs. DeVore.
“Oh yes of course I know that, I call everyone Frank and Gladys, ha ha, listen, you two go back to our booth, I’ll go over to the bar with Arnold and see if I can convince him and his raffish friend to come join us.”
“Are you sure?” said Mr. DeVore.
“Quite sure. Order me another martini. Tell the waitress to make it drier next time. Very dry.”
“Dry,” said Mr. DeVore.
“Just a kiss of vermouth.”
“Right,” he said.
“Please come right back, Gertrude,” said Mrs. DeVore.
“In a jiffy,” said Miss Evans, and putting her arm in mine she pulled me away.
She put her lips near my ear.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll ditch those two.”
We came to where Josh sat. His quart mug of beer was half-empty, and his whiskey glass was completely empty.
A new song had come on the jukebox, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”, and Josh was nodding his head to the music, staring at nothing in particular. As usual, he was smoking a Pall Mall.
“Hello, you,” said Miss Evans.
Josh turned and looked at her.
“Hello,” he said, getting up off his stool.
“So you’re the famous friend of Arnold,” she said.
“I have that privilege.”
“I’m Gertrude,” she said, offering her hand.
“Gertrude,” he said, taking her fingers in his. “Don’t tell me. Evans. Novelist. Age --”
“That will do, thank you,” she said. “But it is so nice to be recognized. And your name is?”
“Jesus,” he said, and he kissed her hand.
She drew her hand away.
“Josh,” I said, quickly. “Josh, Miss Evans. I mean Gertrude.”
“Why did you say Jesus?” she said to him.
“Oh, I meant, uh, ‘Jesus, you’re a very attractive woman.’”
“Oh. Well thank you. Thank you very much indeed. Josh is it?”
“Joshua. Josh. Whatever.”
“I’ll call you Josh.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Evans.”
“Gertrude, please, Joshua. Any friend of Arnold’s.”
“Gertrude, then; may I offer you a drink?”
“Perhaps a martini.”
She slipped onto the empty stool next to Josh’s, the one that was supposed to be mine, with my untouched quart mug of beer in front of it on the bar.
Jesus raised his finger and hey presto the bartender was there.
“A martini for the lady, please,” said Josh.
“Thank you,” said Miss Evans to Josh, and to the bartender she said, “Tanquerary, very cold and very, very dry.” She touched the bartender’s hand. “Like a bone in the desert.”
“Very dry,” said the bartender.
“And another Old Forester for me,” said Josh. “I suppose you may as well make it another double. Oh, and bring me another one of these big boys,” he said, pointing to his quart-size mug, “thank you. Here, sit down, Arnold.”
“No, you sit, Josh,” I said. “I prefer to stand.”
Actually I figured it would be easier for me to make my getaway if I stayed standing.
“Okay,” said Josh, and he sat back down on his stool. “Drink up, Arnold, I’m way ahead of you.”
Using both hands he passed me my full mug of beer, then picked up his own mug again and took a good drink.
“So you like your beer, do you, Josh?” said Miss Evans, standing her purse on the bar top.
“Oh, yes,” said Josh. “Beer, grog, mead...”
She opened the purse, it was hard-looking, shiny and black. She took out a cigarette case, clicked it open, extricated a cigarette and waited for one of us to be a gentleman. I had no lighter but Josh quickly grabbed up his and gave her a light.
The bartender laid a martini down before her and another triple shot of whiskey for Josh. In all my years as a barfly I had never seen a bartender perform his job so quickly.
“I’ll be right back with the beer, sir,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Josh.
Miss Evans raised her glass. Josh put down his beer mug and lifted his whiskey glass.
“To new friends,” said Miss Evans.
They both touched their glasses to my beer mug, and then they touched theirs.
We all drank.
“Oh, good,” said Miss Evans. “Finally a perfect martini. You must have pull around here, Joshua.”
“You might say that,” said Josh.
(Continued here, and ad infinitum if not ad nauseam. Please refer to the right hand column of this site to find a listing of links to many other fine chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “Not just a book but a way of life.” -- Harold Bloom.)