Dooley Downs

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VIII Red’s Recovery Room

VIII Red’s Recovery Room

Tim Dooley adjusted his butt on the barstool. The cushion had long since compressed itself into what felt like a paper-thin wafer. Red should really invest in some upgrades to the furniture, he thought to himself. Still, the fact that it bothered him served as a barometer of his intoxication level. A few more drinks and he would be hard pressed to admit he was even sitting down.

Tim sat in his favorite spot: smack dab in the middle of the massive bar that extended one quarter into the depth of the room and three quarters its length before curving towards the entrance hall to the restrooms. Behind it against the wall towered the standard lighted, mirrored shelving assembly lined with glowing bottles of all shapes and sizes and filled to various levels with colored liquors of diverse types. Tim’s type beckoned before him now on the bar’s worn looking, but highly polished surface: Canadian whiskey, neat, in a large faceted shot glass coupled to one side with a frothy mug of beer that served as the chaser.

Tim licked the tip of his index finger and ran it around the edge of the half-full shot glass, producing a light melodic tone that one would only expect to come from a thin, acoustically shaped glass, such as a wine glass. His thoughts floated on a mild buzz, his first couple of drinks beginning to settle in. This is when he almost felt his best, teetering on the euphoria of a few drinks but still bearing the capacity to think somewhat clearly. But he knew the balance didn’t last. One side had to give and the euphoria always won out.

Half full. Half full. Or half empty? That quandary rumbled around his mind lazily as he picked up the shot glass in his palm and tumbled the whiskey around its interior, watching the liquor’s warm color sparkle and change hue in the temperate lighting of the barroom. He finally settled the matter with all empty as he poured the contents of the shot glass down his throat, relishing the fiery burn. But then his stomach clenched and he felt himself wrestling with an impending gag reflex. Swiftly, he grabbed the mug of beer and drained half of its contents. Setting the mug down carefully, he breathed cautiously, waiting for his stomach to settle and transform into a smooth elation in his mind and body muscles.

Looking up, he caught Red’s eyes quickly looking down and away. He stood behind the bar a seat and a half down, polishing freshly washed glasses. Tim knew Red had been watching him… watching him drink… watching him piss his entire life away one glass at a time. Tim possessed no denials of his behavior or the eventual consequences down the road if he continued in this fashion. It had been five years since Sarah’s death, but it seemed only five days. And it also felt like five hundred years. Time changed when you drank hard; it passed by swiftly, but it also haunted continuously.

Sometimes guilt invaded Tim’s senses, especially when his thoughts were clear. Most of the guilt associated with Sarah’s death had diminished a few years ago as he made peace with what could not be changed. Tim drank before her death, but rarely to excess. He had a great amount of love then, warm companionship from a good and giving family. When Sarah passed away, a gaping sucking hole emerged in his core that he tried to fill with alcohol. Five years later it remained, still gaping and still sucking, if not more so. Now the guilt that insinuated itself upon him was the disturbing and horrible realization that his two lovely children were not enough in his life. He simply felt lost with self-pity that he was an incomplete person.

Peter and Priscilla were the best kids a parent could have: smart, kind, silly… and always wanting to do more than what was asked of them. Tim knew he had let Dooley Downs go to pot. The kids wanted to clean everything, fix the place up. But that reminded Tim too much of Sarah and he found himself discouraging them from tidiness, knowing it was wrong to do so and that Sarah would’ve disapproved. Still, in that respect he felt weak and incapable of honoring Sarah’s memory and influence in the proper fashion. And while he felt this all within himself and otherwise carried on a jovial, positive disposition, he knew the sadness radiated outward like an aura. He was fast becoming a shell of his former self. His children deserved better.

“Red,” he motioned to his shot glass without glancing further at the portly barkeep, “hit me again, please.”

Red cleared his throat, but said nothing as he reached for Tim’s brand of poison, turned and poured, filling the glass almost to the rim. Tim turned away from him as he did so, admiring the old, comfortable dark wood paneling and furniture of the room. The muted lighting lent a soft bronze glow to everything, complementing the velvety sensation the alcohol graced on his skin and in his head. There were no booths in Red’s Recovery Room, only giant shellacked wooden cable spools as tables and a variety of assorted chairs, no two alike. The centerpiece of each table was a small mound of wax topped with a thick candle. The corner of the room furthest away from the bar sported two monumental brown Barcaloungers facing a wall mounted dart board, an old shaded lamp standing between them. Tim relished the place’s eclecticism.

The only other patron of the hour was Harold Cutter, the town drifter. Harold sat at a cable spool, hunched over various scraps of cloth and sheets of paper. He studiously scribbled on them with an assortment of crayon nubs, charcoal bits, and whittled down pencils as he mumbled incoherently, apparently recalling some version of his former successful life. Harold was drawing his maps of the town for sale to tourists, or anyone with the slight bit of interest. By the looks of it, he had quite the production line going. Tim noticed Harold’s shot glass was full, which could only mean he was short on cash, perhaps the reason for the furious creation of map inventory.

“You know, Tim,” Red interrupted, “you can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

“Not tonight, Red… please.” Tim didn’t turn to face the barkeep.

“I meant your bar tab.”

“Of course you did.” Tim smiled. He knew Red was both joking… and not.

“I’m your friend, Tim. We should talk.”

“And I am yours, Red. Just, let’s put it to rest tonight.”

The phone rang over by the bar cash register and Red turned and walked over to answer it. Cindy, his part-time waitress, was hovering over Harold asking him if he was going to order another drink or just occupy a table all night scribbling.

The door to the bar suddenly opened just then and a lady walked in, one of striking attractiveness and uncanny familiarity. Tim’s jaw dropped. He was witnessing a ghost.

™ Ÿ ˜

Peter, Priscilla, Bug, and Doodle stood staring incredulously as Sid pressed in on the wall where the knock issued from behind. A secret panel revealed itself by popping inward and to one side. Stooped over in the passageway beyond stood a balding, pink faced, portly man dressed in rumpled denim clothes, and a worn brown leather bar apron. He mopped the sweat away from his forehead with a white cotton dish towel. Sid beamed at the kids as if introducing one of his new fangled contraptions.

“They never did make these old buildings with the proper ventilation,” Red remarked as he entered the toy store storeroom, breathing heavily as he straightened out his back.

“Of course, it has nothing to do with your girth or the mirth from a couple of tucks of the old sailor sauce, hmmm?” Sid teased. Red shot him a look, but laughed heartily anyway.

“Wow!” Doodle lifted his derby cap off his head with both hands, skipped a jig, and then put it back in place.

“Far out, man,” Bug said, craning his neck to see beyond into the passage as his hair bopped around upon his cranium. “So are there like dungeons and orcs back up in there, or what?”

Red smiled. “You have this confused with a far earlier time, my man. This was known as a “speakeasy” back in the day, 1920’s and 30’s. As to my recollection of history, I do not believe it was ever successfully discovered by the authorities.”

“I believe you are correct there, my cherub-faced friend. As to my understanding on the matter, only you, Tim, myself… and now you kids, are the only citizens of Prudence, and probably the world, that is aware of the secret. And I hope, my age-challenged audience, that you can keep a secret.” Sid peered down at them over his spectacles. They all nodded back vigorously.

“But of course,” Peter nearly bellowed, “that is how you and Dad helped Sid with the robot and other things without people knowing!”

“Slicker than snot!” Red smacked his hands together up and down.

“Cagey, uncanny, and not without the appropriate measure of subterfuge,” Sid remarked rather proudly, though Peter was uncertain that anyone but Red and Sid himself knew quite what he was saying. Still, he admired their cleverness.

“And this, my dear Mr. Dooley, belongs to you.” Red produced a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to Peter. Peter slowly took it and stared at it, uncertain. “Harold Cutter informed me of your plight and then promptly ordered several drinks. Suspicious of his sudden fortune, I pointedly asked him if he took money from you. I would say he fell into a slump of embarrassment over the matter and well he should. It is not proper or polite to take money from kids for favors. He was forthcoming enough to fork over his ill-gotten gain and I was forgiving enough to credit his bar tab. Nothing good could come of dashing all of his hopes for the night. You got your money back, Harold got his bar credit, and now all is right with the world… except for the matter of your father…”

Peter shoved the money in his pocket instead of handing it to his sister like he usually would’ve. “Thank you, Red. And thank you for not being too hard on Harold. He meant well.”

“Yes, well, now let’s move along into my storeroom and talk this over. Sid has work to do.”

“Is Dad here?” Peter hoped almost desperately.

“Come along and we’ll talk,” Red said, a serious cast fell upon his face.

“Bye, kids! Take care and don’t be strangers!” Sid waved them off as they filed into the secret passage way between Red’s Recovery Room and Sid’s Toy Bazaar. Red brought up the rear as Sid closed the panel behind them, plunging them into near darkness.

™ Ÿ ˜

Their eyes soon adjusted to the dim light and Peter saw that the passageway curved a little to the left, where a soft glow emanated. The passage was cramped for the heights of Red and Bug, but the others found the diminished hall quite tolerable. Rounding the curve, the group found themselves emptying into a softly lit stockroom. All of the walls were lined with built-in wooden shelves containing all manner of bottles: beer, spirits, liqueur, and wine, in addition to a variety of jars and cans containing bar condiments such as olives and nuts. Several unopened boxes and crates rested in a group at one side of the room. A giant oak table dominated the room’s center, surrounded by four large, matching chairs.

Beyond the table on the far wall was an iron reinforced door which presumably led to the barroom proper. Peter noticed a smaller latched door set into it, eye-height to an adult and about head-size, as well. Peter wondered if this is how the term “speakeasy” came about during Prohibition, because of little doors such as this. He second guessed this, questioning how talking through a small door on a large door to someone on the other side constituted “speaking easy.” Maybe the term derived from some other act of speaking, such as the person on the other side talking in some lackadaisical fashion in order to convince the rumrunner on the other side that they weren’t an authority figure come to bust them. However, that tactic seemed like it would only go so far before the cops caught on, eventually using the tactic themselves. Peter stowed the idea away, vowing to consult with Priscilla later because apparently she bore some expertise on the subject.

“So where’s your still, Red my man?” Bug asked lightly as they strode into the room and got an eyeful. He leaned his skateboard against one of the table legs. Doodle suddenly realized he left his BMX back at Sid’s Storeroom. He shrugged his shoulders to himself, realizing it could’ve been left in worse places.

“No need for that anymore, my boy,” Red quipped pleasantly enough. “That’s all ancient history. Matter of fact, I’m not quite sure how the proprietors of the time fit one in here. Of course, maybe things were designed a bit differently then.”

“Maybe they kept it in Sid’s storeroom; a lot of room there.”

“Maybe so, it certainly is a point worth pondering over. Come, my friends, have a seat. Go on, I’ll stand. Have some cheese or bread if you are hungry. I’m sure I can rustle up something more, if needed, but mind the wine, okay?”

On the table stood an open bottle of red wine with a woven straw wrapped base, the kind of bottle you might put a candle in after polishing off the contents. Accompanying the bottle was a crystal goblet with a drop of wine left in it and a wooden cutting board carrying a crust of dark bread and a wedge of Swiss cheese, or something similar. The only lighting came from a kerosene lamp hanging from a chain above the table. Peter doubted the wisdom of using a kerosene lamp to light a predominately wooden room filled with bottles of alcohol, but he kept it to himself.

“I think we might be fine, Red, but do you mind if we give my cat Bo Bo a bit of cheese. And perhaps do you have some water. I think we are all rather thirsty.” They all took a seat around the table as Peter removed Bo Bo carefully from his book bag and set him on its surface of the table. Bo Bo sniffed and looked around carefully, but remained where Peter set him. He kept his hurt paw raised slightly.

“Oh, of course, where are my manners. Red pulled several bottles of water from a shelf and deftly maneuvered them into positions around the table. He produced a tin cup and filled it with water, setting it before Bo Bo. After a cautionary sniff, Bo Bo lapped at the liquid greedily. Taking it as a sign, the rest of them opened their bottles of water and did the same. Red poured himself a glass of wine.

“Cat has a bit of a gimp in his paw, has he?” Red inquired.

“Yes,” Priscilla said, “I think he’s alright though,”

“Well, let’s just check this out, shall we?” Red set down his wine goblet and slowly approached Bo Bo. With surprising grace and gentleness, he reached out and massaged the hurt paw. Without breaking his attention to the water, Bo Bo quietly growled.

“I see, little feller, it’s like that is it? Well, the good thing we can be sure is that nothing is broken and he seems to be in general good spirits, as you can see by his making time with that cup of water. But the paw is tender so he might have a slight sprain. Let me wrap that paw up to give him support.”

As they all watched with silent astonishment, Red produced some white gauze wrap from his pocket and did just that, without any objection from Bo Bo. In fact, after he finished, Bo Bo set in to a soft little purr as he gingerly placed his foot on the table.

“All better now, Sir Bo Bo?” Red inquired, a reassuring smile on his face as his eyes twinkled. Peter noticed that Red smiled a lot. Even when his expression changed, when he frowned or furrowed his brow, there glowed a twinkle of a smile in his eyes. Peter found that comforting. Dad used to do that.

“So, dude, you keep a roll of tape in your pocket?” Bug finished the question with a short snort, apparently finding Red a rather amusing, if not quirky character. Peter picked up on the quip and thought that a good deal of people could probably pick out peculiarities about Bug easily enough, starting with his hair, and be just as flippant.

“Not tape, mind you, gauze… surgical grade… or at least first-aid worthy.” Red held up the compact roll as if expecting everyone to marvel at it. They didn’t. Their expressions ranged from thorough confusion to bemusement.

“Dude, no offense,” Bug said, “but isn’t that a tad bit odd?” He let out another little snort, looking at the others for support of his private theory that Red was an oddball. Priscilla, for one, didn’t find Bug’s attitude amusing in the least.

“Bug, you are being a bug.”

“Not at all, dear lady,” Red corrected. “Everyone perceives unfamiliar characteristics in others as quirky or amusing. This roll of gauze, my friends, is a bartender’s best friend. You see, I wrap it around my serving hand’s fingers, the one I hold the glasses with… you know, the glasses with condensation? It gives my fingers traction, so that the slippery glasses full of someone’s favorite beverage do not slip out of my hand. It lends to my expertise as a server of spirits and such. Patrons see that I am a competent server, not a bumbling fool, and therefore they trust me and revisit my fine establishment again… and again.”

“Like Dad,” Peter said solemnly.

“Yes, dear Peter, like your father. I don’t like Tim’s drinking, but he is a very dear friend. And as a friend, there are more important things to consider than how much Tim drinks.” The room fell quiet. Peter wasn’t quite sure if he agreed with that statement, nor was Priscilla. The other two were rather indifferent. They had seen worse things in their families.

“Where is Dad, Red?” Peter almost said it more as a statement than a question. A slight tension bloomed consequently in the subsequent quiet.

Red let out a deep sigh. He reached for the cheese and broke off a hunk. He broke off a smaller piece from that and offered it to Bo Bo, who ate it readily enough as his purr motor increased to full throttle. The rest Red shoved in his mouth, draining his goblet of wine afterward. He looked tired. He looked unsure, as if not knowing how to proceed or break the news.

“I’m not exactly sure,” he finally said.

™ Ÿ ˜

Red told them about Tim coming in early Saturday night, before the usual crowd shuffled in. He spoke of briefly chatting with Tim, well onto his third triple-shot of whisky, and gently badgering him about his newfound five year old unhealthy hobby, as he often did, when the phone had rung. It had been his wife asking what he would like for her to bring by for supper later. She always stopped by around 8PM with a meal, often home cooked, and they ate it here in the storeroom while Cindy tended bar.

“I remember having the craving for Barbara’s beans… there’s really nothing quite like them. It’s actually more of a bean stew or soup, very brothy, but it’s got everything in it to make you warm inside on a cool October night: beans, meat, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and such-n-such. She does something with the balance of cumin and fresh cilantro that gives it such a tang, such an irresistible flavor… it’s really quite addictive. Heh, I can hardly stop eating it.”

“So I’ve noticed,” Bug whispered to Priscilla out of the corner of his mouth.

“What the hell is your problem, you pill?!” Priscilla hissed back, kicking him hard in the shin under the table. Bug writhed in a silent howl causing everyone to wonder just what was going on. Priscilla drew their attention back to Red’s story, “Never mind him, he’s just a nob. Go on Red, I promise he will not interrupt you again with his spazoid antics,”

Peter looked peeved and gave Bug a look. Doodle pinched up his face and directed it towards Bug, as well. Bug crossed his arms on the table and pouted at the loaf of crusty bread, hoping to receive solace. Red waved the whole thing off.

“Ah, it’s my fault for getting off track with Barbara’s beans, and believes you me,” he leaned in with a wink and a grin, “if I had been eating them, you’d all have known by now.”

He sniffed the air quizzically. This broke the tension and they all let loose nervous laughter. Even Bug smiled, though you could tell he felt sore over Priscilla’s verbal and physical scolding. As the laughter died down, he settled back into his pout, hoping to draw some sympathy. Nobody bit.

“So when I turned back to see how Tim was faring,” Red continued, “I saw that he had left the bar and was sitting with a woman at a spool table in the corner nearest the front door. This struck me as quite odd, since I had seen women hit on him before, but he always brushed them off… courteously enough, mind you. Tim had really never gotten over the death… uh, I mean passing of Sarah. Sorry little Dooleys…”

“It’s okay,” Peter said, genuinely enough.

“Yeah, it’s alright, Red,” Priscilla nodded, “go on.”

Red looked at the twins carefully. Then, satisfied with their earnestness, he continued. “Well then, as I was saying, Tim is quite a good looking fellow, so it is no surprise that a woman would be interested in him, but it is a surprise that he would be interested in one, all things considered. She was dressed quite handsomely.”

“You mean she was a man?” Bug asked, with uncharacteristic sincerity. Priscilla gritted her teeth and raised her fist, but quickly softened when she saw Bug wasn’t cracking wise. Bug flinched, clearly gun-shy, then quickly shrugged his shoulders in defense. “What, he said she was handsome! You know, it could’ve been a cross-dresser or something. Now that would be mysterious!”

“Transvestite?” All eyes honed in on what just issued from Doodle’s mouth. It was a fairly sophisticated enough word for their age with obvious adult connotations. He shrugged and smiled in a simile of Bugs recent gesture. The room lay silent for a breath or two.

“No,” Red said, trying to push back the surprise at what kids knew about these days, “she was a lady. I just meant she was dressed up. She wore a tight, sleeveless gold lamay dress and gold high heels with sheer black stockings. And whoa, did she have the body to pull it off!” Red curved his hands in the air to simulate voluptuous curves as he whistled softly in clear admiration, if nothing more. Everyone’s face turned red except for Bug.

“So she was a real looker, eh?”

“Well… I actually didn’t see her face, only a slight profile as she turned towards Tim. But if she wasn’t a beauty, she had everything else going on. Her long, thick red hair was pulled up in a clip that allowed a fair deal of it to cascade back down almost to her neckline. And it looked like she was wearing glasses. Pardon me, but to tell you the truth she kind of reminded me a bit of Sarah, your mom. But, of course it wasn’t.”

“Mom never dressed in gold lamay,” Priscilla said, a bit peeved at the comparison.

“Well no, I don’t mean in that way. I just mean with the hair and the figure… I, well… you know…” It was Red’s turn to glow red with embarrassment.

“It’s okay, Red,” Peter said, anxious to hear the whole story. “Mom was a beautiful person, both inside and out.” He turned and reached for Pricilla’s hand. She scooted her chair over next to his, grasped his hand firmly, and leaned her head on his shoulder. Red looked for the moment to continue and Peter gave him permission with a nod. Bug caught it and quickly spoke first.

“So you didn’t get a look at her?” Bug asked.

“No, not really. I mean, I never really saw her full facial features. I was about to go over and take drink orders so I could catch a gander, but there were patrons at the bar that had just come in and Cindy was already maneuvering over to them for that very purpose. I did keep my eye on them through the night, though. I remember that she ordered white wine, Pinot Grigio to be precise. I think she only drank two glasses that night, but Tim drank up a storm. She must’ve asked him the right questions or made some interesting comments, because it seemed like Tim did all the talking. At one point in the evening, she pulled out a folded piece of paper from her small purse and presented it to him along with a pen. Tim appeared to shy away from it, like he was being asked to write something on it that he didn’t want to… well, no. Not like he didn’t want to but… well, you know when someone wants you to do something that maybe you are good at and you kind of blow it off a little over the flattery of the whole thing?”

“Yeah, like asking a famous basketball player to make a hoop shot,” Bug offered.

“Or asking him to sign an autograph, if you are a fan?” Peter wondered.

“Yes, something like that. But she must’ve laid on the charm, because he gave in and wrote whatever he wrote on that piece of paper. Afterwards, she gently placed her hand over his and leaned in. It was clear that she was thanking him very sincerely.”

“Oh no,” Peter moaned, leaning forward to hold his head with both hands.

“What is it, Peter?” Priscilla said, suddenly worried.

“This,” Peter said. He opened up the flap on his book bag and removed the letter mailed to them prior to Aunt Gretchen’s arrival. He handed it to Red, who started studying it meticulously. Peter closed the book bag, covering it with his arm. He sat back in the chair and waited, looking off at particularly nothing. Priscilla looked confused for a minute, and then nudged him with her elbow. When that elicited no response, she maneuvered her face in front of his, forcing her confusion upon him.

He tried to look away.

She reached for his book bag.

He clamped his arm on it tight.

She tried again.

He popped his eyes open at her and shook his head ‘no’. She retreated, trusting that he knew what he was doing, but she couldn’t understand why he didn’t bring out the letter Dad left for them. She figured he was biding his time for some other opportune moment and decided to not press the issue. Bug and Doodle looked up at the ceiling, pretending not to notice the silent drama between their twin friends. Red noticed nothing, engrossed in the letter. He finally finished with a heavy sigh.

“This ain’t Tim. I can’t believe it is…”

“That’s Dad’s signature,” said Peter, almost challenging Red’s assertion.

“Then it’s a Tim I never knew in my life, and I’ve known him a great deal longer than any of you have been alive.” He dropped the letter in front of Peter, who let it stay where it landed, and reached for the wine to pour another glass for himself.

“Maybe he didn’t know what he was signing,” Peter asserted. Red looked at him, arching his left eyebrow. He worried his bald forehead with one hand as he paced the room and sipped his wine.

“So wait,” Bug interjected into the moment of silence that had descended upon them, “are you saying this hot lady makes the moves on your dad, gets his nog sauced, then puts that pre-written letter from Aunt Gretchen in front of him and woos him into signing it?” Bug gagged on ‘Gretchen’ for effect.

“How else?” It was Peter’s turn to try to arch one of his eyebrows, as Red had done, but merely succeeded in jogging both up and down. Nobody seemed to notice.

“So who is this lady?” asked Priscilla.

“Lawyer?” Doodle offered.

“Hey, yeah,” Bug jumped at the idea. “Aunt Gretchen is so miffed over the results of your custody battle half a year ago that she looks up some fancy broad city lawyer and brings her in to put the squeeze on your dad, but in a sexy way. She asks him to tell her all about himself while she pouts her lips and bats her eyelashes at him. Your dad gets several drinks in him… hell, maybe the lawyer springs for them… he feels good about this broad’s interest in him. He gets to unload a little about his life. Then, near the end of the evening, she mentions that ‘somebody’ told her that he has a funny way of writing his name and she wants to see it. She has a piece of paper and a pen all ready for him…”

“As disgusting as you just made that sound,” Priscilla winced, “it makes a bit of sense. But wouldn’t he have seen the writing on the paper and caught on? Dad was pretty spry, even when drunk.”

“The paper was folded,” Red said, “just like a letter ready for mailing. Besides, it isn’t hard to print the words after he signed his name. Damn! I wish I would’ve been a little more nosey. I wish I had gotten a look at her face. But the customers… I didn’t want to hang over him like a mother hen…”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Red,” Priscilla tried to console him. “You couldn’t have known.”

“Well, wait,” Peter wasn’t prepared to be so quick to dismiss, “didn’t she get up to leave? Didn’t you see her face then? Did Dad leave with her?”

Red clearly looked troubled. “Yes, no, and yes. As I said, it was a busy night: Cindy worked the tables; I worked the bar. I even had to call my wife back to tell her not to bring dinner. Besides, they left early… for Tim, at least. It was around midnight. As you might know, the Recovery Room stays open until two in the AM. Sometimes, like last Saturday, the crowd pushes well into the morning.”

“He just walked out with her?” Peter sounded incredulous.

“I know it’s hard to understand, son. I don’t quite understand it myself. I didn’t hear their conversation. I kept looking up; trying to see what was going on. Then, one time I looked up and she was helping him out the door, both their backs to me.”

“Helping him?” Priscilla asked.

“He was clearly drunk,” Red admitted. “He had his arm around her shoulders and she was kind of propping him up. I called after them, but the noise in the bar was too loud. They didn’t hear me.” He shook his head in disappointment.

“I wonder why he left with her,” Priscilla said to nobody in particular. She stared down at the wood grain of the heavy table. Bo Bo was asleep in front of her, curled up in a ball. She hadn’t noticed when he had moved to that location.

“Simple,” Bug said, propped up now that everyone was buying into his theory, “she asks him if he wants her to take him home… maybe to Dooley Downs; maybe to Lawyer’s Lounge (as in ’her place’). Regardless, it doesn’t matter. He went and she took him. I think we need to find this lawyer lady and put the squeeze on her!” He planted his right fist squarely into his left palm.

“Why would a lawyer do something illegal like that?” Priscilla challenged.

“Money!” Doodle said.

“Yeah,” Bug agreed, “money! Everyone knows that lawyers are crooked shysters! They’ll do anything for money!”

“Your lawyer theory is somewhat plausible,” Red admitted, “but any lawyer will tell you that everything we’ve mused about this woman is pure conjecture. We really don’t know who she is, where she is from, or even what her profession is. She could just as easily be a call girl. It could’ve produced the exact same results. But we have nothing else to go on. We still don’t know where Tim is and all we have is this note signed by him giving Aunt Gretchen permission of custody over you Dooleys.”

“What do we do?” Priscilla worried. A short rap came from the small panel in the door leading to the bar proper. Red walked over to it, flipped a latch and cracked it slightly. A murmur came from the other side. Red grunted and nodded, then closed the small portal and latched it.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Red said while examining his watch. Peter noted that it was an old fashioned Mickey Mouse watch, where Mickey’s arms pointed to the hours and minutes. This brought a heightened level of respect and trust of the barkeep to Peter, for some unexplained reason. He sort of figured that if adults could relate to cartoons, then they were that much closer to being able to relate to kids. “It’s a little past six in the PM. You could stay here tonight… I mean Peter and Priscilla. You boys will have to go home. I can rummage up some blankets and pull out Tim’s old cot. You’ll be safe here… and in the morning I’ll make a few calls and we’ll sort this out. You’ll see.”

“We can’t,” Peter quickly said, to the surprise of everyone. “I mean we can… come back. We have a couple of things to check out. But we’ll be back.” Other than Red, the others kept silent. They didn’t know what else needed to be done, but they knew enough to trust Peter’s instincts. There was something he needed to tell them outside of this room.

Red scanned all of their faces carefully, not fully convinced. He stood on thin ice keeping them here, even more so not calling the authorities. However, Peter was Tim’s son. He already felt he had failed his friend in some way; he didn’t want to fail his friend’s son and daughter. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he just followed his gut.

“Well, okay,” he said. But promise me… Peter, Priscilla… promise me that you will return before ten. Sid’s working late. I’ll tell him to expect you. You can come back the way you came in.”

“Okay,” Peter said, not sure if he was telling Red the truth or not, “I promise.”

“I promise,” Priscilla echoed.

“And you two boys head for home,” Red pointed at Bug and Doodle.

“No sweat, old man,” Bug said.

“Okay,” confirmed Doodle.

Red looked at them all again good and hard. He couldn’t tell if he was making a mistake or not. Only time would tell.

“Red? You there?” Sid’s voice, filled with static and crackles, emanated from a small intercom near the door to the secret passage between Red’s Recovery Room and Sid’s Toy Bazaar, startling everyone but Red. Red walked over to it and depressed the single button below the speaker grill.

“Yeah, Sid, what’s up?” He took his finger off the button and moved his head closer to the speaker.

“There’s this tough looking kid standing out front of my store. One of his hands is all bandaged up. He hasn’t knocked, but he keeps peering through the glass doors like he’s trying to see far into the store. I can’t really tell because it’s starting to get dark outside and I’ve kept my distance, but it looks like Max, the Mayor’s son. He’s kind of creeping me out, mmmhmmm. He’s got that weird little monkey with him, too.”

Red looked at Peter.

“He’s after us,” Peter admitted.

“Why?”

“I’m not sure. I think Aunt Gretchen hired him or something to intimidate us or scare us or something.”

“The hand?”

“He cornered me in the bathroom at Fast Eddie’s Last Gas. Bo Bo did that.”

“Nice job, Bo Bo,” Red mused.

“Red?” came Sid over the intercom.

“You can’t let Max know we’re in here,” Peter said, a nervousness returning to his guts.

“Don’t worry, I won’t. This makes things a little more complicated, but we’ll manage.”

“Red?” Sid again. Red pressed the button to talk.

“Still here, Sid. Look, that kid is trouble, but he can’t know that Peter and his friends entered your store or even came by. Can you figure a way to keep him where he is at for the next few minutes?”

“Oh, mmmhmmm! I’ll get his mind boggling.”

“Oh, and Sid?”

“Mmmhmmm.”

“Keep an eye out for Peter and Priscilla. They’re going to be back by your way sometime before ten. I’m going to let them stay in the storeroom tonight.”

“You got it. Fill me in on the juicy details when whatever is blowing blows over.”

“Will do, buddy. Over and out.” Red turned to his guests. “Time to move out, though I wish you’d change your mind about it and just stay. Regardless, Skeeter and Abe need to scoot along home. I’m going to have to usher you all out the front door. It means people in the bar may see you, may recognize you. It won’t do much for your cover, but if I throw in a round of drinks on the bar, they may just forget you were here altogether. When you exit the bar, you get to where you are going as fast as you can, you hear? I won’t be looking out for you.”

“Got it,” Peter confirmed. “Say Red?”

“Yes.”

“You know Dad’s signature? That fancy way he signed it?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know what all those symbols and stuff mean?”

“He told me once. But that is a story for another time. Let’s go now.”

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