Tales from The Last Resort // Part 1, Chapter 3

As Al and Wanda made their way back to the empty booth, Rick hesitated for a moment and then said tentatively, “Oh, BJ…”

“I know, I know,” said BJ with a sigh. “Three more beers and put them on your tab. Do you realize that if you ever paid your tab in full I could retire in style?”

“I try, BJ, I really do. But when it comes to money…”

“Never mind, Rick, never mind. There’s more to life than penny-pinching and real friends are hard to come by.” He drew the three beers and set them on the bar in front of Rick. “And that reminds me.” He leaned across the bar and whispered in Rick’s ear, “What do you really know about Al? You said you’d vouch for him but you and I both know you’d vouch for anybody in a jam.” He straightened up again, still speaking in a low voice. “Don’t get me wrong, Al seems like a great person and all, but there’s something about him that bothers me. I can’t put my finger on it. And yet when he’s talking to me it’s like we’ve known each other for years. It’s unsettling. Know what I mean?”

Rick nodded. “Now that you mention it, there does seem to be something strange about him. When we found him wandering around at the edge of the park, naked and all, I just naturally assumed he’d been mugged. So I asked him and he agreed. But you should have seen him, BJ, not a mark on that beautiful bod of his or a hair out of place. And this guy’s got muscles out the ass. How could somebody force him to hand over everything, including his clothes and him not make a move? I mean, I wonder, you know?”

“Hmm,” intoned BJ reflectively. “That is a mystery. Still, for some reason I trust him instinctively. And I believe you do, as well. And that, at least for the present, is good enough for me.”

“Rick!” yelled Wanda from the back booth. “Where’s the beer? Al’s getting thirsty!”

“Al this, Al that,” Rick complained. “It’s been that way ever since we met the guy. It looks like Wanda’s really falling for this mysterious hunk. Coming, Wanda!” he yelled back. “Who was your slave last week?”

Rick took the beers back to the booth and sat down across from Al. Wanda was draped dreamily over Al’s shoulder humming contentedly along with Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” which was playing on the jukebox.

“Wanda, go hustle a buck and play some good tunes on the box. I want to talk to Al for a minute.”

“Oh, guy stuff huh?” said Wanda with a giggle. “OK, but don’t take too long. Me and Al were just starting to get acquainted, weren’t we, honey?”

Al agreed somewhat nervously. “Strangers should always get acquainted. Then they wouldn’t be strangers.”

As Wanda got up and strolled across the room toward the jukebox, Rick took his cue. “Right on, man. Words to live by. So what say you and me get acquainted, Al. Like, what’s your story, anyway? I mean, I’m no mental giant, but some things about you just don’t make sense, bro. Like you coming out of the bushes totally naked and saying you’d been mugged, but there wasn’t a scratch on you. I know ‘cause I looked. And another thing, my van starting up like that, when I swear that not five minutes before we met you it was deader’n Jimi Hendrix. And you getting a free beer and a job from BJ not five minutes after you met him, when he’s got beggars and scam artists comin’ in here all the time. So just who are you, man, and where do you come from?”

At that moment Rick was interrupted by a loud commotion on the other side of the room. They both looked up just in time to see a beer glass shatter against the wall by the jukebox.

“Don’t you ever try that again, you asshole!” they could hear Wanda screaming. “You’ve hit on me once too often! Like they say on TV, no means no, you creep!”

“Aw, c’mon baby, be good to me!” pleaded a large leather-clad biker whose bearded face and large beer gut were pressed hopefully against Wanda’s prominent breasts. “I can do more for you than those two fags you’re sitting with. You oughta try making it with a real man for a change.”

“Get the fuck off me, you big moron!” Wanda tried to push him away, but his sheer bulk was too much for her.

Suddenly Al was standing by her side. “I think the lady wants you to go away,” he said evenly.

“Fuck off, faggot!” snarled the biker, putting his arms around Wanda and roughly pulling her even closer.

Al looked him in the eye. The biker, with an expression of surprise, looked Al in the eye and slowly let his arms fall to his sides, at the same time backing away a few steps. Wanda looked at them both in disbelief and gratefully hurried back to their booth.

“What’s your name, friend?” Al asked conversationally.

“George. They call me Crazy George,” said the biker obediently.

“Well, Crazy George, I don’t think you want to ruin such a nice evening by offending the lady, do you?”

“No, no, of course not. I…I’m sorry if I offended you or the lady.” George was shuffling his feet as if he really wanted to be somewhere else.

“My name is Al. And the next time I see you maybe we’ll have a nice chat. Get acquainted.” He looked at George meaningfully. “But don’t you have to be somewhere about now?”

“Oh yeah, that’s right!” exclaimed George with relief. “I really got to run now. Nice meeting you, Al!” Then he turned and ran out of the bar without saying another word.

“Nice meeting you, George,” said Al thoughtfully as he went back to the booth to rejoin Rick and Wanda.

“Wow, that was so neat!” Wanda was saying to Rick as Al slid in beside her. “I’ve never seen anybody make Crazy George back down like that. He is one mean motherfucker.” She turned to Al and put her arms around his neck. “My hero! How the hell did you do that?”

He gently removed her arms and said distractedly, “George just remembered a previous engagement.”

“You’re lucky he didn’t hurt you,” Rick said in a worried voice.

“Oh, he wouldn’t really hurt me. But some things are even worse,” she said with a shiver.

Just then BJ appeared at their booth. “Al, it’s about time to close up,” he said. “We start by giving last call and kicking out the rowdies, although it seems you’ve started already. What did you do to that guy?”

“Oh, nothing really. I just reminded him of what he was doing and he thought better of it, that’s all.”

“Well, if you can, uh, reason with Crazy George like that, I’m going to have no problem leaving you alone here at night. I’ve had trouble with him before.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Duckworth,” said Al with a smile. “Your bar is safe with me.”

Without further ado, BJ led Al back to the bar, then rummaged through a large box under the beer taps for a few moments. In a few seconds he brought out a brass gong about two feet in diameter. “Gets their attention,” he chuckled. He handed Al a large felt-tipped mallet. “Will you do the honors?”

Al gingerly accepted the mallet from BJ and turned it over in his hand a few times. Then he raised it over his head and firmly struck the gong a single blow. As the reverberations slowly died away, most of the men at the bar were hurriedly downing their drinks and looking expectantly in BJ’s direction.

“Gentlemen!” intoned BJ loudly. “And lady!” He gestured to Wanda who stood up and made a mock curtsy. “Most of you know what the traditional Ringing of the Gong means. Those who don’t, ask your neighbor. But tonight I want to introduce to you a new bartender,” he clapped Al on the shoulder, “who is about to be inducted into the sacred mystery of the Last Call Ritual. His name is Al. Treat him well and he may occasionally treat you.” He turned his head toward Al and addressed him in a softer voice. “Al, it’s time for the Cry of the Wounded Innkeeper.” Before Al could say anything, BJ hurriedly whispered something in his ear.

“What?” inquired Al.

“Just do it,” insisted BJ.

Al shrugged his shoulders and climbed up onto the bar. He looked into the faces of the customers now assembled about three deep around him. They were now all looking expectantly at him. He looked back at BJ, grinned for the first time and said in a loud deep voice, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here! Drink up, people!”

Al jumped down from the bar and watched with approval as the remaining patrons of The Last Resort quickly guzzled the contents of their glasses and staggered out the door into the still-warm night air. 

BJ looked at Al warmly. “Al,” he said, “I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Chapter 4 >>

<< Table of Chapters >>

© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022


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