October 30th, 1974.  10:30 PM

 

When I made my first trip to Seattle to hear the reading of Great Aunt Helen’s will, I misjudged the amount of money I needed to bring with me.  The point was moot, however, as I brought all the money I had, so even if I’d guessed correctly, I would have had no choice but to arrive a little short.  When asked if there was a place a guy could get a beer on the cheap, a hotel desk clerk directed me to O’Donahue’s Bar and Grille. Though a libation was definitely not in my budget, I felt no guilt in treating myself to one after my long trip.

            There was nothing outstanding about O’Donahue’s; it was dimly lit with lots of cheap stocks of wood stained dark to resemble mahogany and a half dozen or so tables and booths.  I took a seat at the bar and looked around at the various whatnots hanging on the wall.  A bugle had been nailed up next to a black and white photograph of a boxer, his gloves ready to punch and his face looking mean.  Next to it were a few license plates, all from the state of Washington, but with different color schemes indicating various regimes of the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles.

            The bartender – who I later found out was Sean O’Donahue, the grandson of the bar’s founder – appeared to be in his mid to late sixties.  His shoulders were hunched from a lifetime of hard work, and he moved so slowly that I’m sure he must have frustrated the customers who had ordered drinks that involved more than a couple of steps to prepare.   In later visits though, I’d seen him lift a full keg of beer and throw it onto his shoulder with as much ease as a wealthy woman doing the same with the tail of a fox stole.

            Since the pub was rather empty, I got into a conversation with O’Donahue and was as surprised to learn that my great-aunt had been a regular patron there as he was to discover that I was her nephew.  He was saddened to find out she had passed and put a double bourbon in front of me, on the house, as it was her drink of choice.

            It is for those reasons O’Donahue’s became the place for all company social gatherings.  Those and, if I hadn’t chosen a place, it would have been up to Hubie Three to do so.  He would have booked the most boring, stuffy place he could find, and I had no doubt if he was spending my money, he would go out of his way to find a place so hoity-toity and pretentious it would surprise even me.  (Somehow I didn’t think even with a few drinks in them the employees would have had a grand old time dancing to a string quartet.)

            Although I had reserved the back room for the party, I told O’Donahue and his two waitresses to encourage other patrons to head back there and enjoy the live band I’d hired.  I’ve always found that work parties suffer slightly as everyone there is connected by their jobs, not by interest in their co-partiers, so bringing in fresh blood always made them seem to go more smoothly.  My female employees were appreciative because it meant more skirts for Randy Tutler to chase besides theirs.  Tonight’s party was particularly interesting because though a Christmas tree had been trimmed and was flashing, and multi-colored lights had been strung, there were a few Seattle residents who chose to celebrate Halloween a day early and arrived wearing costumes.

            I was in the main room waiting to get O’Donahue’s attention, as I was in need of some towels to wipe up ungraceful Grace’s second spilled drink of the night, when Hubie Three squeezed himself between the bar and me.  His look was more stern and unpleasant than usual.

            “Yeah, Hubie Three?”

            “We need to talk, Sam,” He said.

            “Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t you get your Christmas bonus?  I thought I set it on your desk.  I’ll make sure I give it to you tomorrow.”  I raised a hand to get O’Donahue’s attention, thinking I was making it clear to Hubie Three that our conversation was over.

            “No, I got the check.  I didn’t realize profits were so low this year,” he said, probably not meaning it, but never passing up an opportunity to throw a jibe whenever he could.  “It’s about Bartman and that strange blue bead he sold.”

            For the first time since I’d known him, Hubie Three had my attention.  After hearing Toby’s story at the meeting, and seeing a few of the others reacting to it as they had, I was convinced there was more to the story of the pretty girl with the blond curls.  And with Toby’s description of his odd-looking bead and my “revelation” during my visit with Moondagger, I was quite sure this all had something to do with that hideous brown-gray bead I’d given away in Nastoria, Ohio.  What did Hubie Three know?  

            “More towels?”  O’Donahue asked after working his way to my end of the bar.  (This wasn’t the first time Grace had been to his place.)

            “Yeah,” I answered.  He was a step ahead of me as he instantly handed over three or four towels.  I took Hubie Three by the arm and escorted him over to the quietest corner I could find.

            “Alright, what about Toby and the bead?” I asked.

            He looked around the room and then leaned close.  Speaking quietly, as if we were discussing stolen plans for a Russian submarine, he said,  “I checked his purchase order book.”

            “And?”  What heretofore-unknown information was I about to get? What tidbit of knowledge that would finally connect the dots was Hubie Three about to reveal?

            “He didn’t record it.”

            “And?”  What did this have to do with anything?  I thought.

            “He said he sold that bead for fifty dollars, right?  Well, why didn’t he record it?  He must have pocketed the money.”

            I groaned slightly, disappointed.  .  “So what?”

            “So, that bead was company property, and all monies gained through the sale of company property are to go directly to the company.”

            “Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s a big deal.  If you’re so wrapped up in how much money that style of bead can get us, track down what it was and buy more,” I said.  “I’m heading to the back.  Grace probably needs these more now than she did when I came to get them.”

            In the back room the band was taking a break, and the lower volume of the jukebox was slightly more conducive to conversation.  With Toby’s help Grace had cleaned up some of the mess with a few napkins she found.  After I wiped up the rest with the towels, I asked Toby if he wouldn’t mind moving to an empty booth to talk.  He looked nervous, but I told him not to be, so he followed.

            “I was wondering about that blue bead you were talking about at the meeting,” I said, and he seemed to become even more anxious.

            “Oh, what, did Hubert tell you?  That I forgot to write down the fifty she paid for it?  I put the money in the till; I just forgot to record it.  Honest mistake.”

            “Don’t worry,” I said.  “Yeah, he did mention it, but that’s not what I care about.  I want to know about the woman you sold it to.”

            “Celia?”  He asked.

            “Yeah, Celia Andrews.”

            He chewed on a straw he took from his glass, thinking.  “Well, I was in Spearfish, like I said, talkin’ to this lady…”

            “Did she start the conversation, or did you approach her?”

            “She approached me and just said she was in town by herself and would like some conversation.”

            “Okay.  So at the meeting you said she didn’t even know you sold beads, but she brought them up in conversation.  Is that right?”  I felt like I was putting things together that would clarify everything eventually, but I still wasn’t completely sure where it was all going.

            Toby continued to chew on the straw, thinking.  “Yeah,” he finally said.  “I’m sure of it.  She brought up the beads first.  So I told her I sold ‘em, and she asked if she could see what I had.  This was at a hotel bar, mind you, so I ran up to my room, got my display case, and showed her the beads.”

            “Did she show any interest in anything else?  Or did she hone in on that bead right away?”

            “Funny you should mention that,” he said.  “She seemed to look for a second, and once she found that funny little blue bead, it was like her mind was made up.  She wanted that one and nothing else.  Yeah, I thought that was a bit queer.”

            “Alright,” was the only thing I could think of saying.  I didn’t want to let Toby in on my experience with Celia.  And as for the other salespeople who seemed to react strangely to his tale of the woman, I was planning on having a one-on-one with each of them before we all left Seattle.  “Don’t worry about Hubie,” I told him.  “Remember, I’m the real boss, and if I don’t have a problem with something, then there’s no problem at all.  Okay?”

            Toby seemed relieved.  He took my hand in one of those vise-grip handshakes.  “Merry Christmas to ya, Mr. Louviere.”

            “And a Happy Halloween,” I replied.

            We returned to the table where Grace was sitting.  When the waitress brought her a new drink, I watched it nervously as she tapped her fingers on the table to the beat of the song the band had begun their set with.  The D.A.'s were a 1950’s rock and roll band, named after the popular hairstyle of the time that resembled a duck’s behind (not a group of district attorneys).  As they began a fast-paced rockabilly number, the dance floor filled up quickly.

            “Would you look at Donald,” she said pointing.  “Who would have guessed he would be such a good dancer?”

            Donald Neitz was really cutting a rug, and though his dancing partner didn’t seem too awkward herself, she was having a rough time trying to match his athletic moves.  His thin arms and legs were flailing about, and his Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down to the rhythm.  The woman he was dancing with was part of the Halloween crowd; she was dressed as a witch, complete with green pancake makeup and a false rubber nose.  She also wore a long, black wig and a pointed hat with an oversized brim.  The only non-witch-like thing she had on was several strings of orange and black Mardi Gras beads.  (Being from New Orleans and working in the bead industry, I mentally kicked myself for overlooking such an obvious way to merge yet another holiday into this gathering.)

            “Maybe it’s the root beer talking,” Grace said, to neither Toby nor myself -- yet to both of us at the same time -- “But I sure do feel like dancing.”  Then she sighed, waiting for an invitation onto the floor.

            Toby and I exchanged an uncomfortable glance -- one of us would have to ask her, it was just a matter of who could remain ungentlemanly longer by not saying anything.

            “Hey, hey, lady and gents!” Randy sat down at the table, spreading his arms over the back of Grace’s and my chairs in a move predetermined to further open up his shirt and expose more chest hair.  “I sure can’t wait ‘til they play a slow one, huh?  That little sweetie over there is just begging me to ask her to dance as soon as it starts.”  He pointed to a booth in the corner where a pretty young redheaded girl was sitting with two friends. She was looking over at Randy, but the expression in her eyes was far from one of longing.  “It looks like Donald’s stolen Hubert’s date.”  He guffawed as he nodded towards Donald who was in the middle of swinging the witch around with jitterbug moves.

            Five seconds at the same table with Randy was enough for me to look at any excuse to leave as a viable one.  If I were to dance with Grace, I would also prefer a slower song –getting hurt while dancing up-tempo with her was all but a foregone conclusion.  But it was either that or listen to Randy fawn over his imaginary irresistibility with the opposite sex, so I stood and held my hand out to Grace.  “I can’t guarantee I’m half as good as Donald, but I’d be honored to have this dance.”

            Grace placed one hand in mine while putting the other just below her neck in a display of grateful surprise.  “And with the boss no less,” she said to Toby as she stood.

            Two songs later and Grace had yet to embarrass herself or me.  A couple of times I was lucky to have been on my guard as I reacted quickly enough to pull her from the path of the spinning witch.  However, I must have relaxed a little too much at one point as during a lightning-fast guitar solo, Grace became a little daring and spun out of my grip.  She twirled quickly in a circle with a finger pointed upwards, and as she tried to make her way back to me with poise, she ran into Donald.  Although she didn’t hit him too hard, he was leaning back on one leg at the time, and the motion sent him crashing to the floor with Grace about to follow.  I reacted quickly enough to put my hand on the small of her back and lift her to a standing position, but as this all happened so quickly, I lost my balance.  Instinctively I grabbed for whatever was close by, which happened to be the witch.  My fingers clutched at her wig as I knocked into her and we both fell.  Once on the ground, she was much quicker at getting up than me, and as she stood I was left with the black wig in my grasp.

            I looked up to apologize and was surprised to see a head of blond curls that had sprung to life as if they had never been concealed under a polyester wig for an hour of sweat-inducing dancing.  She must have seen something in my expression, for as her hands went up to her coiled locks, a look of what may have been dread came over her face.  She quickly ran away, like Cinderella hearing the clock beginning to chime at midnight.

            I was fast to my feet, but not fast enough.  She was out of the back room by the time I stood up, and I headed to the entrance.

            As I passed the bar I saw the front door closing (the pneumatic mechanism meant to shut the door slowly was doing its job).  I was frustrated at how slowly I had to move in order to avoid running into the bar patrons, but my annoyance grew when Hubie Three stepped in front of me.  I tried to work my way around him, but he sidestepped and blocked my path.

            “What?” I said, probably a bit ruder than I should have, but I realized he wasn’t about to let me pass.

            “I have something for you,” he said, reaching inside his jacket.  Whatever he was looking for wasn’t there, so again I tried to move around him, and again he moved to block me.  “Hold on.”  He reached into the other side of his jacket.  Nothing.  Then he put his hands in his side pockets and pulled out an envelope.

            “This came for you the other day,” he said.  “In all the excitement at the meeting earlier, I forgot to give it to you.”

            What excitement? I thought, looking at the door that had been closed less than two seconds, but might as well have been forever.  Listening to you talk about beads for three hours?  It wasn’t the beads that were boring; it was the fact that he was the one talking about them.

            He must have sensed my frustration.

            “Well, there’s no need to be rude.  Here.”

            I took the envelope, shoved it into my breast pocket, and made a beeline for the front door.

            Once outside I looked around, but saw nothing.  What was I hoping to see?  A shiny, black Lincoln Continental speeding off?  Strangely enough, yes, but all I saw was a wet street with various cars parked along the curb.

            I went back into the bar and followed the sound of The D.A.’s as they performed a do-whop song that had the ladies screaming – playing their part as adoring teenage fans of a famous rock and roll group.

Donald seemed a bit sullen about having lost his dancing partner, so I apologized for whatever part I’d played in her hasty departure.

The rest of the night went fairly smoothly.

 

October 31st, 1974.  2:30 AM

 

My house is in one of the middle-class suburbs of Seattle.  It’s rather small by most standards – one bedroom, one bath, a lawn large enough to need to be taken care of, but not of adequate size to really enjoy.  But since I spend so much of my time in hotel rooms, as far as I was concerned it was a sprawling estate.

            I took off my jacket as I walked in the door, and as I hung it on the coat rack, in the small draft of air caused by the ruffle of the fabric I caught the slight scent of cigarette smoke from the bar.  However, there was something else in the smell -- something sweet and familiar.

            Perfume.

            I’m not sure if I made the connection right then, but at that instant I remembered the envelope Hubie Three had handed me in O’Donahue’s.  I took it from my pocket. 

            There was no doubt it was the source of the perfume smell, and the handwriting was noticeably feminine.  I immediately tore it open to read a short note on flowery stationary:

 

                        Dear Sam,

                                    Am in the States, hope to see you.

                                               S. Sangrayll.

 

            That’s it.  Nothing else.  I checked the postmark.  It had been mailed almost two weeks prior from the city of Spokane.

 

*   *   *

            A hippie girl who had taken me to meet a mystic; a blond who could have been straight out of a Bogart film; and now my one great love, who I’d met halfway around the world and hadn’t heard from in years, was suddenly very close.

            The women in my life were certainly making things interesting.

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd