Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rex Backs Off

It was a Tuesday and things were quiet, inauspicious.  The bar was empty save himself.  Jazz music played softly, the water fountain trickled, glasses clinked inside the dishwasher amid the whoosh of the jets.  A low hum came from the refrigerators.

He was cutting limes, having filled the trays with cherries, olives and pickled onions.  The small tables had been lined up just so, candles lit, the floors mopped, the toilets checked for supplies.  Laughter drifted up the staircase from some of the early diners in the restaurant downstairs.  He could just make out the sounds of some traffic on the street out front.

He'd done many things, and would go on to do many more, but his skill set was particularly well-suited to running this "quiet little jazz-age cocktail salon".  His intense attention to detail served well in dressing the place nightly, in ensuring supplies were backed up, the decor constantly refreshed and the surfaces spotless.  His photographic memory worked well in remembering who ordered what no matter where their incessant mingling took them (and in collecting from them if they headed for the door).  His deep-rooted empathy meant the tellers of tales of heartbreak left knowing he'd remember their plight and would be looking out for their interests upon their next visit.  His gift of the gab kept the girls entertained and hopeful, the lads knowing they had a place to 'shoot the shit'.

His partners were better at leading the parade, at being the ringmasters, wearing the lampshades and joining the teeming throngs of 20-something lasses gyrating atop the pool table and bar-top late at night.  He was good at staying in constant contact with Adamo at the front door, minding the backed-up toilets, keeping an eye on the back door traffic and ensuring that no one did themselves grievous injury.

Truth be told, this was the most satisfying job he'd ever had.  The years working his way up as a corporate exec, the media business he continued to run, haltingly, with another partner during the daytime, the low-pressure unionized grocery clerk work that had put him through university, a myriad of jobs on the global road plus many summer jobs, none compared to making people happy, helping them both let loose and connect snugly -- facilitated by the various ways and means he and his bar partners had devised to ensure mayhem ensued, their special concoctions lubricating the slide to frivolity.  They were broke, but they certainly were having a good time! 

Still, there was something profound missing.  A platform, a base.  Roots beneath this tree of current complacent contentment.  Not money (though that would have helped), but a feeling of being needed, of 'mattering' outside of being a key-master in their little world of drunken bliss.  He discounted it when asked, waxing philosophical about being the lone wolf destined to roam alone (the black hole left by "The One's" check-out still sapping him, though Maltese-snippets plagued his waking thoughts less and less), but Rex had tired of the years of innumerable conquests and longed for a mate, a puppy-producer, a companion to share the long winter nights with, holed up in his cozy den.

Winston, one of their regulars, popped in for a quick martini classic with a twist on his way out of the office, still in uniform: a slick suit and patent leather shoes.  As usual, Winston wanted a sober recounting of hi-jink highlights from the weekend prior (the most unlikely couplings and most ribald mash-ups) and a prediction of what his fate may hold in the evenings ahead.  As always -- though Winston never tired of hearing it repeated -- he told him with sincerity and conviction that THIS would be the week it would happen for Winston.  Love was coming down the pipeline and Winston would assuredly be at the gushing end of that tube, finding himself awash in a potent shower of unrestrained feminine lust and deep emotional neediness.

Winston patted his moist brow with with a bar napkin (thoughts of women made him sweat), set his jaw and nodded earnestly, as he always did.  "OK, I think you're right!  I'm going to approach things with a positive attitude this week," he announced with obvious determination.

"That's what it's all about, Winston, positive attitude, being open and getting them to talk about themselves!"  Winston NEVER, ever, let women talk about themselves, he spent every available moment of open air time filling it with a non-stop barrage of information about himself, his mother, his job, his aspirations, his travels, his car and his boat. 

"So what's happening this week?  With Andy away (his principal 'master of ceremonies' partner), you going to need a new waitress?  'Cause I have a candidate!  Hot, European!  She's tall and pretty and smart and she wears a leather biker jacket.  Blonde!  Did I tell you she's tall?  I met her on the weekend down at my club.   I think she's smart, too.  She'd really make an excellent waitress.  I gave her a ride home.  I know where she lives.  In residence, nearby.  She's an exchange student at the university.  You should interview her!"

Winston paused, looking for all the world like a Miniature Doberman Pinscher cranked up on PCP-laced cocaine. 

Drying beer glasses, he put one on the shelf and picked up another out of the machine, pursed his lips and knit his brows thoughtfully.  What he was thinking was that he didn't trust horny little Winston's judgment of attractive women any more than he'd trust a starving man's claims that a stale, mouldy crust was the best bread he'd ever tasted, but he did need the extra staff, and if she did happen to be hot, all the better for business.

"You know, Winston," he said, looking at his new recruiter seriously, "I think I'll take you up on that offer." He twisted to turn up the music a bit, then back to find Winston gone.   There was a clatter of footsteps down the stairs and the front door slammed shut.  "Enthusiastic little fucker" he said under his breath and went back to his anal-retentive preparations.

Another regular came in and was joined minutes later by friends, seating themselves round the bar.  Pleasantries exchanged, he put their drinks in front of them, bantered about their last visit, reminded them what had actually transpired, then went down to the basement to get ice from the machine and returned, topping up glasses.

He'd forgotten all about Winston the sudden sound of a speedy ascent up the stairs brought him back to mind as he burst through the door, came around to the opening in the bar, leaned in and hissed "She's HERE!"  On cue a statuesque young blonde walked through the door, up the few steps from the landing and stood for a moment taking in the largely empty space.  As promised she was wearing a black leather biker jacket, plus a pair of high-heeled boots and some very tight jeans.  She was almost six feet in the boots, carried herself like a runway model and exuded an air of mild amusement.  Her profile seared itself onto the back of his retina as she turned and he caught a glimpse of her make-up free face and startling blue orbs. 

His apron came off in a flourish and was thrust into Winston's chest.  "Winston, my man, you just made Deputy Bartender.  These people need a refill."

He pushed past the startled Winston whose face lit up like a coke addict left alone in an evidence locker.  As he rounded the corner of the bar he heard Winston's excitedly yelping:  "I'm Winston, your bartender!  What can I get for you?  I've memorized 128 cocktail recipes from a book my uncle gave me..."

He no longer cared what "Winston, Your Bartender" was about to do to his establishment's 'cred,' he was busy.  No, not just with: "Hi, I'm one of the owners here and you must be?"  He was busy with an internal battle, a wrestling match was taking place inside his head, and Rex was currently out in front. 

Usually, when it came to dealing with this kind of thing, he just let Rex have his lead.  Rex was pretty good at what he did and, being honest with himself, he was crap at it.  Left on his own he'd start talking about war in the developing world, the mating habits of zebra fish, or why women got fat more easily than men.  Unless the girl at hand had a lifelong subscription to Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, or at least Psychology Today, his eyes were likely to glaze over as his brain took a walk down 'how soon will this be over' lane.  In THIS case, however, he had a feeling that Rex was going to ruin things if he demonstrated his usual prowess too soon.

"It's really so nice to meet you and Winston told me he thought you'd be an ideal candidate for this job we have open..."  Rex, showing his teeth in a winning smile, already had her above one elbow as he steered her to a empty bar stool at the far end of the bar.  A male customer was coming round the far side of the bar and clearly heading for the seat, but Rex fixed him with a look than had caused the guy to first look up, then up and away, shifting course and dodging around them as though he'd been bird watching and had just spied a rare red-crested warbler.

The internal debate continued with the canine getting a stern dressing down, but holding his ground, his eyes moving down and over her long legs and hindquarters as she jacked herself up onto the proffered bar stool.

"Rex, I'm serious, L-A-T-E-R!  Let me handle this, boy!  I've got it, really!  Reeeeex!"

Rex recognized a Golden Retriever when he saw one, even in a leather jacket, and he hadn't been all that close to one in a long time, a couple of lovely Golden Labs, an Irish Setter, but not a Retriever!  He paused, sniffed, and looked down at her boots again, wondering what they'd look like on those long legs without the pants, or panties, on.  She could still wear the jacket -- for awhile -- he was thinking...

But knowing he'd never live it down if he screwed this one up, Rex grudgingly backed off, lingering in the background, his snout lifting now and then, trying to catch a whiff of where things were heading.

Continued in the post above...  (You KNOW it didn't end there!)

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