PART III: AFTER // Chapter Nine: How He Got Back Again: 2

After Bertie had performed the services required of him, adequately he hoped, he was allowed to go downstairs out through the rear of the lobby and laze by the swimming pool. So he and Noreen passed the next few hours engaged in equitable small talk and sipping from the drinks that Noreen had thoughtfully brought with them.

Then it was time to return to Noreen’s apartment, dress, go back down to the parking garage via the elevator, and jump into Noreen’s cute little Tesla in order to make it to the Pantages Theater in time for tonight’s triple feature.

Once inside, they gradually made their way to the head of the line, where Noreen displayed her pass to the same oddly-attired young woman manning the ticket booth. She looked at Noreen’s pass without comment, but when she handed Bertie his complimentary ticket, she immediately attempted to engage him in conversation in what he considered to be a rather flirtatious manner. This caused Noreen to grab hold of his arm and cut the young woman off by saying icily, “Don’t bother, sweetie, he’s mine.” The girl looked at Noreen venomously, gave her the finger, and muttered “Bitch” between clenched teeth, to the rather vocal amusement of the assembled crowd in line behind the couple.

As Noreen marched him into the theater, Bertie had a sudden flashback to another theater many years ago when his then new girlfriend Natalie had said much the same thing. Bertie smiled at the remembrance and squeezed Noreen’s arm a little tighter as they made their way down front, found a couple of empty seats, and waited for the program to begin.

After settling themselves, Noreen turned to Bertie and said, “Hope you didn’t mind my cutting her off. I just wanted to save you some embarrassment.”

“No problem,” replied Bertie, “she’s not really my type anyway.” Though he reflected that she could have been under different circumstances.

And so, the evening passed much as the first two had, with wine breaks after each of the first two features. Bertie’s attention was not wholly on the films however, in spite of their being as marvelously original and entertaining as the previous ones had been. His mind understandably drifted towards what would happen between the hours of the fast approaching midnight and the irrevocable four AM deadline. Would Noreen be able to find her way there in time? Would he be able to locate the dark portal in time to go through it? These and many other salient questions raced through his mind as he continued to watch the films side by side with the woman he had known only a few days, but was strangely loathe to part company from.

Then the third feature, an endearingly cute fantasy about altered identities called The Changing Room, came to an end and they once again strolled out of the theater, once again arm in arm. This time they changed their usual routine by crossing the street to the lot where Noreen’s Tesla was parked instead of proceeding down the street to O’Malley’s Cue Bar.

Neither of them had very much to say as Noreen drove them down Hollywood Boulevard to Los Feliz and her luxury apartment building. As on the previous night, she parked in her assigned space and they took the elevator up to her apartment.

Once inside, she gave Bertie a drink and told him to wait in the living room while she went into the bedroom to shower and change her clothes. Within about twenty minutes she returned, wearing not her usual stylish theatergoing attire but a heavy plaid shirt, workman’s dark green heavy twill trousers, and a pair of heavy hiking boots. Drawing on a black leather jacket she said to Bertie, “Come on, it’s already after midnight. Let’s blow this town.”

Feeling somehow like a gangster in a cheap B movie, he drained the last of his drink put the glass down on a handy end table and silently got up and followed her out of the apartment. He looked at her again in wonderment, for this time she appeared to be bigger, more muscular, and heavier than the slim and sexy woman with whom he had had such satisfying sex the previous night, morning, and afternoon. She even for some strange reason looked bigger and stronger than when he had first met her. Must be my eyes, he thought, chalking the whole thing up to stress and the constant application of liberal quantities of alcohol.

Once they had retraced their steps back to the parking garage Noreen led him to a different parking space, in which sat what looked to Bertie like a cross between an SUV and a Hummer. The thing was monstrous. On its front was a symbol of a stylized white diamond inside a five-pointed gold star with a simple word in raised metal set underneath. It took Bertie only a second or two to realize this was the Gemstar PowerVan she had mentioned the evening they had met.

She opened the door for him and indicated that he was to sit in the passenger seat beside her. As he got in he turned around and noticed that the rear of the van was all flat floor space a good ten feet long and packed with various types of equipment, some of which he recognized as automotive accessories and others that gave him no clue whatsoever as to their possible identities.

Turning to Bertie, Noreen gave him a grin and thumbs up and said simply, “Well, you ready?” After he nodded his head somewhat hesitantly she continued, “Well, here we go.” She inserted a key in a slot, turned it, then pushed a large button. Immediately there was a roar such as a huge semi truck might make in an attempt to climb a particularly steep hill. Noticing his discomfiture she grinned again and said, “Powerful, ain’t it?” He could not help but agree.

And then suddenly they were out on the road. Just before entering the Hollywood Freeway, Noreen pulled the van over to the side of the road and said, “Look under your seat and bring out what you find there.”

Uncomprehending but complying, he reached under the seat, bringing out a small but sturdy antique Igloo ice chest which he placed on his lap.

“Go ahead, open it,” she said. He did so and found that on its requisite bed of crushed ice were laid out six small bottles of sparkling water, a large crystal tumbler and, best of all, over three-quarters of a bottle of the Glenfiddich scotch she had plied him with the previous night.

“Wow,” he said reverently as a child who had come downstairs to find a giant Christmas tree with many many presents underneath it. “Is this for me?” he breathed.

“You betcha,” she said in the somewhat mannish way he was becoming not only accustomed to, but rather fond of. “Got to keep your courage up. I want you loose as a goose for what’s going to transpire in a few hours.”

Then as Bertie uncorked the bottle and began to mix himself a stiff drink, she roared out onto the highway without another word and Bertie realized that they were now truly on their way to whatever destiny awaited him.

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