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
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
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
I groaned slightly, disappointed. . “So
“So, that bead was company property, and
all monies gained through the sale of company property are to go directly to
“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
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
“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
“Did she start the conversation, or did you
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Am in the States, hope to see you.
That’s it. Nothing else. I checked the
postmark. It had been mailed almost two weeks prior from the city of
* * *
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