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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Fifteen

Monday and Tuesday evenings at Queequeg’s were usually slow enough that only one bartender was needed. Since the evening bartender was taking an extended weekend, Allen had decided to put Diana on the evening shift and work the day shift himself. Diana was happy enough for the change of pace, especially since it was a short shift. She didn’t go on until 4:30, and she could safely count on being out the door by 10:30. Since there wasn’t much of a crowd on Monday nights she was able to spend most of the time cleaning the mirror behind the bar and the shelves as well. She was as meticulous as ever, taking all the bottles off and wiping them clean of dust that never stops accumulating.

Pete walked in at about 9:00. Up until then it had been an entirely different crowd in the bar, and almost nobody had sat at the counter all evening. She so much associated Pete with the day shift that she couldn’t hold back her surprise when he strolled in through the front door.

“Haven’t seen me for what, a whole week now?” said Pete, craning his upper body backwards as if taking offense when he saw the look on her face.

“No, it’s not that at all,” said Diana, recovering. “I’m just not used to seeing you at 9:00 at night. You’re messing with the usual pattern, Pete.”

“Oh, hell,” he said groaning his way onto the barstool. Which was strange, because Pete usually didn’t sit while he drank his beer. He had a habit of picking up the first stool by the well and moving it to one of the stand-up tables just behind him. “I’m not going to sit there fer long and drink beers in front of Allen. Told me he switched you to the night shift this week, and I told him I’d try back later. Din even bother finishing my beer.”

“Nothing like loyalty,” said Diana. It was odd to see Pete even a little drunk. Or very drunk and hiding it well, if the groan had been any indication.

“You okay with another there, Pete?” she said, with as much solicitation in her voice as she could manage.

“I’m okay if you’re okay,” answered Pete.

That was a little strange. It was amusing of course, to hear the old psychobabble bandied about, but Pete had said it with a little bit of an edge. She stood still for a moment to think about whether she should serve him or not. Even when, after a minute, she decided to serve him after all, she was glad she’d hesitated. She took her time getting the beer, taking an extra minute to wash her hands and examining the pint jar for no reason at all before filling it. She hoped that it would put him back on his guard a little more, both because he’d obviously had enough to drink already, and because she couldn’t let him get away with using that tone in his voice.

He sat up a little straighter and began to look a little more alert. By the time she returned with his lager he had pulled out a cigarette and was fumbling with a match. After he’d fanned out the flame (which took him an extra wave because the first one had been so slow), Pete sighed and leaned into his drink.

“You see that out there?” he asked, turning maybe a quarter of the way around on the stool and waving his arm the rest of the way, smoke trailing up from between his fingers. “The red one?”

“What, the Mustang?” said Diana.

“Thats right, a Muss-tang,” said Pete. “Vintage ‘65. Bought it lass week. Traded in the rig, the rig I’ve drivin’ for the lass twenty years t’ the same job. Never missed a day.”

“Lotta miles you’ve racked up there.” said Diana, “You deserve a new car.”

“Yep. You can bury me in that Mustang. Like the ‘65 I had thirty years ago. Never should have got rid of it.”

“So buyer’s remorse is a kind of habit for you and cars, huh Pete?”

“That’s right,” said Pete, laughing and recovering a little. “But this is a good car,” he added, so that she would know he wasn’t too remorseful.

Jeb came into the bar from the side entrance and sat at the other end of the bar, placing a manila envelope on the counter next to him.

“Well now, I’ve got all my regulars showing up tonight. How are you doing, Jeb?”

Jeb smiled a little meekly and answered with a simple hello as Diana poured his favorite, Slug Bait, into a pint jar.

“You know Pete don’t you? Pete was just telling me that he bought a new car.”

Jeb said hello to Pete as he took the first sip of his beer, while Pete nodded almost imperceptibly from his stool. Jeb wasn’t sure if the older man’s eyes were shut or if he was squinting, but it was obvious that he was a little miffed that the party had been expanded. Jeb understood that of course – he knew that he’d begrudge another patron if he’d had the bar and Diana to himself. So he respectfully remained silent while Pete slowly began talking again.

Took it down to the track this afternoon for a little off-site betting. Won a little change on Picture Perfect in the ninth. Wasn’t a mustang though. . . “

Jeb laughed at this, remembering how Pete liked to talk about horses, especially one named Solomon’s Mine that he’d won a couple of grand with a few years before. It was funny how stories like that came up over and over again. He thought about opening up the envelope but then decided against it. Pete looked as if he was intent on staying for a while, so Jeb decided he might as well leave then and there.

“Brought in some reading material for you, Diana. Yours to keep, and I hope you enjoy it.”

“Thanks much, Jeb, that’s nice of you.”

Pete continued across the bar. “Maybe I shoulda just bought a boat,” he said, “I’ve always wanted to live on a boat.”

“Bye Di,” said Jeb, waving to Pete as well, who didn’t seem to notice, and left through the same side door by which he’d entered just a minutes before.

As Jeb was leaving Brian came in wearing his usual blue jacket and took his place at the bar. He also had some packages – DVDs, actually – and placed them on top of the manila envelope. One was in a clear, generic cover, but the other was a factory labeled plastic box featuring Julie Andrews twirling around with outstretched arms at the top of a mountain somewhere near the Swiss border.

This was an aspect of a practice that had become fairly common (though certainly illegal) at Videosyncracy. One of the returning customers had talked the clerks into discreetly pulling old covers of first run movies out of the trash in order to hide the more compromising material he had purchased in cash. Cash left no paper trail, DVDs left no trace on the computer. Customers certainly could have the original box if they so desired, of course, but the buyer who actually wanted to walk out of the store carrying a lurid cover for Then She Blew Me or The XXX Men was something of a rarity, and Brian had been in the store often enough to be someone whose preferences the discerning clerk was sure to look out for.

After Diana had placed his beer in front of him and returned to the other end of the bar, Brian took a sip of his beer and then turned his attention to the manila envelope on the bar. Diana was beginning to clean up the well and was busy listening to Pete. Without much in the way of hesitation Brian pulled out the envelope from underneath the short stack of DVDs and found that it had been sealed only by means of the metal wings through the hole in the center of the flap. This made it an easy matter for Brian to open, and by standing the package up in his lap was able to prop the envelope up and look down to see what was contained within. It appeared to be a pamphlet of some kind, and he discreetly emptied the envelope into his lap so as to be able to take a longer look.

It was a small book, and was roughly the dimensions of a government issue pamphlet, like those obtained for the purpose of taking a test for a Food Handler’s Permit, or a Driver’s Manual. It had a brown cover made of heavy construction paper and bore the title Under the Overpass. Below that it read ‘poems by Jeb O’Brian,’ in a somewhat smaller font. Inside, the first page merely repeated the title. He fanned through the short volume quickly. There seemed to be a lot of short poems – a lot of pages that were very nearly blank. Brian looked up briefly to see that Diana had gone around the corner to put something away. Pete seemed to be dozing above his beer, his ever so slightly nodding head held up by his left hand, his eyes almost closed. For some reason the book had sent a shiver up Brian’s back, and he decided it definitely needed a more careful look. Without finishing his beer he left the envelope on the stool beside him and the DVDs on the counter, and turning quickly to the door by which he had entered just a minutes before, he left.

He made it home in less than five minutes, probably even more quickly than he would have with the DVDs. This was something new, after all, and of course the book had been left by the guy with the red hair. Whom he had seen leaving the bar just as he was about to enter. Whom he had seen from his desk for the first time just a little over a month before. Who now seemed to pop up whenever he turned a corner. When he got home he threw his coat on top of one chair and settled into another while opening up the book in front of him. He turned again to the title page and noticed some fine print at the bottom. www.ndrthvrpss.blogspot.com: if it were hypertext, he would just click and begin reading. But this was a book, so in the good old-fashioned manner of millennia long gone by, he simply turned the page.

Comments

  1. Good poems, although I didn't really understand them, or Jeb.

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