The night after Al’s conversation with Rick concerning his bar tab, Simona, Rick and Wanda arrived at The Last Resort at about 9:00 to find the place packed with hip-looking thrill seekers. Rick was dressed as Al had requested, in “starving artist splendor”—black turtleneck shirt, faded blue jeans, and a light tan corduroy jacket with dark brown elbow patches. This last complemented his long sandy-colored hair which fell in ringlets down his back. He had even trimmed his beard and mustache for the occasion.
“What’s the mystery?” Wanda asked Rick. “You wouldn’t tell us anything on the way down.”
“I don’t know myself,” admitted Rick as they entered the bar through the swinging wooden saloon doors. “But I think it must be something about my bar tab.”
“So, Al noticed your bar tab, did he?” asked Wanda bitterly. “That’s just great! Now we’ll be eighty-sixed out of the last bar in town that’ll give us credit. What did Duckworth say about this? I thought you were pretty tight with him.”
“BJ wasn’t there. It looks like Al’s really taken over the place. But you know Al. He’s a righteous dude. I don’t think it’s anything bad. He’s up to something.”
“Yeah, Al’s always up to something,” remarked Simona with noticeable irritation. Her manner this evening was completely different from her usual sparkling, party-girl personality. In fact, she had had to be persuaded to come down to the bar tonight with Rick and Wanda. She unceremoniously plumped herself down on a barstool and complained, “Seems like we’re always wasting our time in this crummy joint—at least since the Great Al started working here. What’s the attraction, anyway? It’s just another bar.”
“What’s eating you tonight, Simona?” Rick asked in a worried voice, as they found an empty booth and sat down. “You didn’t say a word on the way down here and now all you can do is badmouth Al. I thought you liked the guy.”
“That’s just the trouble. He’s a guy! I guess I’ve had too much of guys lately.” She turned away pensively. “Just get me a drink, will you, Rick?”
“Sure. Campari and soda as usual?”
“No, scotch and soda tonight. I may as well tie one on for a change!”
“Scotch—you?” asked Wanda incredulously. “Now I know there’s something wrong. You never drink the hard stuff. Come on, tell Wanda all about it,” she coaxed, putting her arm around Simona’s shoulders while Rick went to the bar to get the drinks.”
“Oh, Wanda!” said Simona, snuffling a bit. “I guess I might as well tell you. I just had a big fight with Tim this morning. I went over to his place—you know, that cute little cottage he rents over on South Van Ness. Well, I went over there—he gave me a key to the place and I go over to clean up and do the dishes every once in a while—you know how men are! I went over there at about eleven in the morning because he was supposed to be at work then. He has a part-time messenger job to supplement his theater income—what little of it there is! So I opened the door with my key and there he was—at that time of the morning!—sitting in front of the TV in his underwear, watching cartoons and drinking tequila out of the bottle. The place was absolutely filthy, looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in months, and I’d just been there last week! There was dirty laundry all over the living room, crusty dishes molding in the sink, and he’s just sitting there, getting drunk!” Simona paused and gestured in a hopeless fashion. “So, you know, naturally I asked him what was going on, was he sick or something, and do you know what he said to me? This guy I’ve been dating more or less exclusively for the last three years? He tells me, ‘None of your business—I just didn’t feel like working today.’ He didn’t feel like it! This guy who only a little over a week ago hits me up for a hundred bucks for his rent—well, I guess I kinda lost it. I said a few choice things to him, threw his keys at him and stormed out. It really pissed me off, you know? But I’ve been feeling really bad about it ever since, for some reason. So that’s why,” she concluded, blowing her nose on the bar napkin Wanda offered her, “I guess I haven’t been in the best of moods today.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” Wanda patted her on the shoulder. “He’ll get over it. I bet he calls you tomorrow to apologize.”
“I hope so. But I’m not going to hold my breath.”
Rick, meanwhile, was standing at the bar with several other customers who were all waiting their turn to order drinks. When Al finally saw him he said only, “Ah, there you are, Rick. You remember our little talk last night?” Rick nodded. He filled Rick’s drink order quickly, saying, “Take the drinks over to the two ladies and then come right back.”
Rick did as he was told, setting the drinks down in front of Simona and Wanda. Wanda was still consoling Simona so they barely noticed when Rick immediately went back toward the bar. When he arrived, Al greeted him with a conspiratorial grin. “Now just listen to what I say and follow my lead. Do you understand?” Rick nodded again.
Al quickly reached under the bar, brought out the gong and struck it a hard blow with the felt-tipped hammer. He then jumped up onto the bar and watched in satisfaction as a hush fell over the room and many of the patrons nervously checked their watches to see if they were really out of it and it was already time for last call.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” began Al in a loud professional voice. “In keeping with our policy here at The Last Resort of attempting to bring you the best in drinks, good times and culture, we have a special treat for you tonight. Here with us is the famous native California sculptor, Mr. Richard Hedges.” He pointed to Rick who looked around, blinking and grinning stupidly. “Mr. Hedges,” Al continued in the same tone, “is beginning a lengthy and important project called, what was it again, Mr. Hedges?” Al leaned down and put his ear to Rick’s mouth and then straightened up again. “Ah, yes, a very exciting project called ‘Portraits of the Present’—a series of sculptures, busts in bronze—of ordinary California men and women just like yourselves. And here’s the best part,” he paused tantalizingly in the manner of a carnival barker. “Since this is one of Mr. Hedges very favorite night clubs in the Bay Area…” There were loud shouts and applause from his audience. “He has decided to give you, our fine customers, first choice at being so honored. For the incredibly small sum of two hundred dollars each, Mr. Hedges will sculpt, from any picture of your choice, your likeness in bronze which will become a major part of this important exhibition. Plus, you will be entitled to submit your autobiographical details (twenty-five words or less, please) to be engraved on the base of the sculpture. But that’s not all!” The crowd was now hanging on his every word with breathless anticipation. “The first twelve of you to sign up for this historic event will receive, at no extra cost, a slightly smaller plaster replica of your bust, suitable for displaying in the privacy of your own home, office, or wherever. Please form a line at the bar and have your money ready if you want to take advantage of this fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime offer. No pushing or shoving, please. Oh, and be sure to make out your checks to the artist, Mr. Richard Hedges.”
By the time Al had finished his pitch, the crowd was in a frenzy. There were screams and shouts of “Out of my way!” and “I was here first!” and “Do you take MasterCard?” When the dust had finally settled, Rick was the bewildered possessor of about $3,000.
“I can’t believe this!” he said, counting the proceeds for the third time. “Uh, what do I do now?”
Al motioned him back behind the bar. As they squatted down behind it, Al whispered, “OK, this is the way it is. First, my agent’s fee. I believe ten percent is customary. So you owe me three hundred off the top for my, ah, ‘charity’ programs. Now, that leaves twenty-seven hundred. Let’s say your time and materials cost—what was your high estimate again?—fifty dollars each. So let’s call it an even seven hundred. That leaves two thousand. Your bar tab is rapidly approaching one thousand, so we’ll just split the rest. So just sign all your checks over to The Last Resort.” Rick, still crouched down behind the bar, took a pen from Al and started doing so. When he had finished, Al flipped through them rapidly, counting the take. When he was satisfied, he opened the cash register, put the checks under the drawer, and counted out a sum of money which he handed to a bewildered Rick.
“But, Al,” he said dumbly after he had counted it. “There’s a thousand dollars here, and I didn’t even do anything for it.”
“Don’t worry, you will. When they give you their pictures and bios—if they do—just make them a cheap plaster bust and scratch your name on it. And there you have it—a priceless Hedges original! I think they got off cheap for two hundred.”
Rick returned to the booth in a daze. On his way he was cheered lustily and clapped on the back by a long series of well-wishers. As he rejoined Wanda and Simona, Wanda bowed to him sardonically.
“Well, if it isn’t the great sculptor, Richard Hedges, come to grace our table!”
“You mean the great native California sculptor, Richard Hedges,” grinned Simona, who had recovered her good humor.
“Don’t rub it in, you guys,” said Rick sheepishly. “Did you know—this was all just to pay off my bar tab?”
“Love that Al!” exclaimed Simona and Wanda together and they all three succumbed to a fit of the giggles.
Chapter 19 >>
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022