1st, 1974. 12:45 PM
When I walked into O’Donahue’s Donald Neitz was seated
at the bar. His lanky frame was leaning over a steaming bowl of Irish stew,
and he chuckled to himself after every slurped spoonful. I took the stool
next to him, and it was several seconds before he noticed me.
“Oh, hi Sammy,” he said, wiping his lips
with the cloth napkin that hung by a corner from his buttoned-up shirt
“Hey, Donald,” I said. “Ready to hit the
“Sure thing, Randy’s gonna drive me to the
airport after our meeting. Nothing wrong, is there?”
“Not at all,” I told him. “I just have a
couple things to talk about, haven’t really had the chance to have a
sit-down with you or Randy, but I wanted to make sure I touched base before
I headed back.”
“You got to try this stew,” he said
laughing though his recommendation wasn’t the least bit funny. Then he
abruptly changed the subject. “It’s that lady who was dressed like a
witch. That’s what you want to talk about, isn’t it?” For the first time
since I’d known Donald, his tone was serious.
“Celia Andrews,” was all I said.
Donald pushed away his now empty bowl and
once again wiped the corners of his mouth before yanking the napkin from his
collar. “When Toby talked about the blonde with the curly hair at the
meeting the other day, I just couldn’t believe it. And then when he said
her name, it was like, wow, I’d met that same girl.”
“I know,” I said. “I got that from your
reaction. Did you know you were dancing with her the other night?”
“Not until you fell and her wig came off.”
His laughter returned with the memory of the debacle Grace had caused.
Since a man never likes to relive fallown down on a dance floor, I decided
to brush that part aside and get straight to the point.
“When you met her on your route she didn’t
get a bead from you, did she.” It wasn’t a question. I knew that if she had
her attention would have been elsewhere during the Christmas party.
“No, she didn’t, come to think of it.” His
eyebrows came together as he sucked at his teeth, now in deep thought.
“Which was strange, because the first time I saw her she seemed to be in
dire need of some beads, considering it was…”
“Her niece’s birthday. Yeah, I know.” I
said, finishing his sentence. “What I’m curious about is why she
didn’t leave with anything.”
Donald chortled and ran a finger under his
tight collar while deciding where to start his tale. Before he could,
however, Randy Tutler came into the bar and sat next to me. He was dressed
flashy, as usual. The colors in his plaid leisure suit were so bright, and
contrasting that the pattern fooled the eye into seeing it vibrate against
the lime green, double-knit background.
And it didn’t go at all with his alligator
“How’s it going, fellas?” He asked. Before
we could answer he yelled to Ryan O’Donahue who was (as always) tending the
bar. “Give me what Sammy’s havin’, would ya?” Then he turned to me. “What
are you havin’, Sammy?”
“A cola,” I replied.
“Make it a cola, then,” he said to
O’Donahue, but then an idea seemed to float into his head from somewhere,
and he slapped the bar hard as he looked at me. “Say, you called this
little meeting, right Sammy?”
“Yeah, I just have a few questions for the
both of you.”
“So this is like official business or
something, right?” He absent-mindedly fidgeted with one of his gold chains.
“I guess, kind of, yeah.”
“So is it on the company’s tab is what I’m
driving at, Sammy.”
“Barkeep. Scotch up, and double it.”
I wasn’t sure which annoyed me more, the
fact that Randy ordered an expensive drink only because he’d cajoled me into
paying for it, or that he used the word ‘barkeep’ when he fully knew Ryan
O’Donahue’s name. Before I could decide, he tapped me on the shoulder and
pointed in the opposite direction.
“Sammy, check her out.” I followed his
stare to a far corner booth, where a rather unimpressive-looking woman was
sipping tea and reading a newspaper. She seemed content not to be
bothered. “Let’s make this quick, I think she wants some company.”
“Donald was just telling me about his first
run-in with Celia Andrews.”
Randy stared at me blankly.
“The woman dressed as a witch from the
other night,” I explained.
“Oh, yeah, I remember. Man, was she a
looker.” Randy shook his head as he bit his bottom lip.
“So you’d also had a run-in with her
before?” I asked.
“Hmm? No, never saw her before in my
“Well hold on then, I’ll get back to you in
She was a real looker? I thought.
She had her face painted green, and a big rubber nose glued to her face.
It was quite astounding just how unappealing Randy could be.
“So, anyway, Donald.”
“I really don’t know what to
say. I was in a restaurant, saw this pretty lady who looked kind of down,
and she gave me the story that, apparently, you already know. Then I went
to my car, brought back my display case, she didn’t find anything she liked,
and then, well, she left.”
“What I’m wondering is, how come she didn’t
find what she was looking for? Why didn’t she leave with what she wanted?”
“Hey, Sammy, you got the wrong
idea.” Donald was becoming unnecessarily defensive. “My case is in perfect
order. I displayed all the newest beads properly. There wasn’t a speck of
dust on any of the merchandise, and none of the silver beads were
“That’s not what I mean,” I said trying to
calm him down. “She didn’t find what she was looking for because she was
after a very specific bead. If it wasn’t in your case, where was it?”
“Well how would I know? There’s billions
of kinds of beads. If she didn’t find one in particular, well how would I
know which one it was?”
“I’m not talking about a
specific style of bead. I’m talking about one bead in particular.” I looked
over at Randy; I wanted him to hear what I was about to say to Donald so
that I wouldn’t have to repeat myself. It’s a good thing I did, because
Randy was winking and smiling to the woman in the back booth as she totally
“Randy, this concerns you,” I said.
“Alright,” he sipped his free drink. “I’m
leaving town this afternoon, anyway. I guess it wouldn’t be fair to break
her heart. So what’s up?”
“I was just telling Donald that in his
display case, probably when it was first given to him, there was a certain
bead, unusual and extremely unique. When our Miss Celia Andrews was bead
shopping, she was looking for that one bead in Donald’s case, and eventually
I’m sure she’ll track you down, Randy, and she’ll be looking for that odd
bead you have.” I was pretty sure they were both following me. “So,
Donald, Celia was looking for a bead that wasn’t in your case. Do you know
which one it is? Had you sold it, perhaps? If so, do you remember who
“Oh, yeah, the funny bead, sure, yeah.”
Donald began laughing again, his Adam’s apple bouncing up and down on the
hollow of his neck like a kid on a pogo stick. I wanted him to continue,
but he didn’t.
“So you know which bead I’m talking about?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“And it’s not in your case?”
“Nope, nope. Not in my case.”
Randy was getting bored with the
conversation. He slid off his barstool and put a hand on my shoulder.
“Look, Sammy, she looks awful lonely. When you get done with Donald here,
just yell over, okay?”
“Sit down,” I told him. “This will just
take a second. Okay, Donald. Had you sold the bead?”
“No, didn’t sell it. Can’t think of anyone
that would have wanted to buy it, but I just didn’t have the heart to throw
it out. It kind of grew on me, you know?”
“So where is it?”
Donald once again hooked a finger under his
shirt, but this time it wasn’t just a nervous gesture. From his collar he
pulled a slim, silver chain, to which he had attached his bizarre bead.
It was in the shape of a quarter moon.
Yellow paint, which had undoubtedly been applied decades ago, had started to
chip, revealing a deep, solid black undeneath, the kind of black that
prevents light from reflecting, giving an eerie feeling of nothingness. It
kind of looked like a very small, very bruised, very haunted banana.
“Okay, Donald,” I said, after examining the
bead for almost a minute. “I can say with a certain degree of confidence
that this is the bead that Celia Andrews was after.”
“Huh. Well what do you know? I’m really
sorry, Sammy. Truly I am. If she just would have described it, well, I
would have given it to her right then and there. Probably wouldn’t have
charged, even. Would have just handed it over.”
“That’s okay, Donald, you did good. The
thing is, I believe there are two people after these odd beads, and they’re
working together. A friend of mine in Cincinnati, who I sold a bunch of
beads to, just had her shop burglarized. Are all these things connected?
Probably not. But if they are, well, I want to make sure I don’t put you
guys in danger when you’re out on the road. So would it be okay, Donald, if
I took this bead off your hands?”
His head wobbled in a way that I took to be
an affirmative nod.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” I said, taking
the bead off the chain, and handing the strand of silver back to him. Then
I turned to Randy. He started explaining himself before I could say a word.
“Hey, Sammy, if you’re going to ask me
about one woman I may have met on the road, I probably won’t be a
whole lotta help to you..”
“You just said a second ago you’d never
seen this Celia person.”
“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I don’t
know. I mean, sure, Donald here, the other guys, even you, Sammy, you meet
one beautiful girl on the road, she’s gonna stick to your brain, you know?
But with me, blondes, brunettes, redheads, short hair, long hair, I just
can’t keep them all straight.”
I knew Randy could go on bragging about
women all day, so I turned the conversation to beads.
“Okay, Randy, what about a strange bead in
your case? Does that ring a bell?”
“Sure maybe, yeah, I guess.” He sounded
suspicious of me, and I didn’t like it.
“Is it still there?”
“Could be, why?”
“Because it if it is I’d like to see it”
He paused for a few seconds before
“Alright, come on. It’s out in the car.”
He gulped down the rest of his scotch
before waving an unreturned goodbye to the woman in the booth.
“Grab your stuff, beanpole,” he said to
Donald. “It’s about time we headed to the airport, anyway.”
1st, 1974. 12:45 PM
The 1973 El Dorado convertible Randy rented for his
stay in Seattle was, I’d heard, less ostentatious than his own car -- though
I did have a hard time trying to wrap my brain around that concept.
The outside was all white enamel and
chrome, the inside a mixture of red leather and faux zebra skin. On the
dashboard was a plastic hula dancer standing about eight inches high to whom
Randy had given the rather un-Hawaiian-sounding moniker “Roxie.” She wasn’t
part of the rental, but Randy’s personal possession. She was mounted to the
dashboard by a suction cup, which allowed her to be moved easily from car to
car, and also allowed Randy to enjoy her spring-induced dance – which could
be smooth or erratic depending on the road – no matter what vehicle he was
After he opened the cavernous trunk, Donald
put in his luggage and display case while Randy took his case out.
“Alright, Sherlock,” he said to me. “Let’s
see how long it takes you to spot this mystery bead.”
It didn’t take long. Sitting on the far
left, upper tier in the center section, amidst a few glass pendants, was a
yellowed crystal with what looked like a smear of brown, dried blood
suspended within it.
It was exceedingly unattractive.
I picked it up, and held it to the sun. The
play of light that even the most dull and listless crystals were able to
muster was noticeably absent from this atrocity. With the semi-translucence
of the bead, and the dozens – if not hundreds – of facets, its dullness
seemed impossible. It was a very, very dreary bead.
“You don’t mind if I take this, do you?” I
asked as I put the bead in my pocket. I’d assumed the question was
rhetorical, but Randy didn’t see it that way.
“Listen, Sammy, if these beads are worth
something here, shouldn’t I be, you know, compensated for handing it
“Randy, it’s not that valuable, trust me.
Part of the reason I’m taking it is to look out for you.”
“What’s the other part?”
I don’t like to argue with anyone, and I
don’t even like speaking to Randy, so having a disagreement with him was not
something I relished. Donald came to my rescue.
“Technically speaking, Randy,” Donald
said. “That’s not your bead, it’s Sam’s; his company, his inventory. If
you want to buy it, though, I’m sure Sam would give you a good price.
“Sure. Let’s say 25 bucks?” I took the
bead from my pocket and offered it to Randy.
“For that?” He said, his eyes bugging out.
“You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding! I wouldn’t give you five for that.”
Then something behind me grabbed his attention, and all thoughts of the bead
left him. “Oh, Sammy, turn around, check out what’s walkin’ into
O’Donahue’s. What a sweetie! And she’s giving us the eye!”
I didn’t bother to look, of course.
“You guys have a safe trip now, you hear?”
I said, shaking Donald’s hand while Randy ignored us both. Apparently the
woman who had entered the bar was no longer in Randy’s view a second or so
later, because he started paying attention to me again.
“Alright, Sammy.” He shook my hand. “If
anything weird happens, should I call the office and tell them to give you a
message?” His laughter was too loud and too forced. I didn’t like being
made fun of.
“Come to think of it, Randy,” I said
straight-faced, “that would be a good idea. Same with you, Donald.”
“Sure thing, Sam,” he said before getting
into the car.
The big white boat of a car pulled out into
the street, and I watched it disappear around the second corner before I
headed back into O’Donahue’s to finish my cola.
1st, 1974. 12:50 PM
I checked my watch as I sat down at the bar. I had
about a half hour before I had to leave, so I ordered another cola and the
stew Donald had recommended.
I took the beads from my pocket and laid
them out on a square bar napkin. There were three: Donald’s ghostly banana
bead, Randy’s yellow, dried blood-filled crystal, and the one Grace had
She told me that right away, from the first
time she’d opened her display case, she’d found the bead disturbing so she
put it in her change purse so it wouldn’t frighten any customers. When I
asked her why she didn’t just throw it away, she told me that was a very
good question, and one to which she didn’t have an answer.
Grace’s bead looked like a primitive
arrowhead; or maybe it actually was a primitive arrowhead and not a bead at
all. It was made of flint, and the surface was rough from the poundings of
a bigger, harder rock that had been used to carve it into its current
shape. But in the center, in relief, was an image of what I can only
describe as a demon’s head, done with such precision and craftsmanship that
it betrayed having had been carved using primal techniques.
The demon had twirling, ram-like horns and
from their centers sprang horrible pointed ears. Its mouth was open in an
eternal, tortured scream, and the sharp fangs and pointed tongue were so
finely carved they could easily be seen without a magnifying glass.
I tried to figure out just what these beads
had in common that made them so desirable. I had no doubt they weren’t made
by the same person, and I guessed that they weren’t made at the same time,
or in the same part of the world.
I turned them over and compared them,
letting my brain wander over the details as I waited for my stew. There
were seven salespeople, so I found it safe to assume there were seven
beads. One was around a waitress’s neck in Nastoria, Ohio; there was no
paper trail connecting Annie to it, so I wasn’t too worried about her
safety. Three of the beads were in the possession of Celia and her cohort,
and three were in my possession. If someone is looking for all seven
beads, I thought, they still have less than half of what they need.
Then everything went black.
Two hands, soft as velvet covered my eyes
and I heard a playful giggle. The perfume on the wrists could not be
“Sarah.” I said, and turned. She was even
more beautiful than the last time I saw her, in Bali, so long ago.
“How long have you been here?” I asked,
because I could think of nothing else to say.
“I came in when you were in the parking lot
with your friends. I didn’t want to bother you since it looked like very
important business.” Her voice was musical, with a slight bit of mockery in
the last three words.
I wanted to lean forward and kiss her, but
I thought maybe after so long it wouldn’t be appropriate. While I was
deciding what else I should do, or say, I suddenly found the point was moot.
I was kissing her anyway.
..................to be continued
© 2006 Brightlings
Beads and M. Robert Todd