“Tom, I’d like to buy you a beer.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer, Stranger.”
I yell to our lovely bartender, who is engrossed in whatever is on the tv in the corner, “Tina, can you bring us a couple more beers?”
“They’re on their way.” And, they were, too. That young lady knows how to run a bar. In less than two shakes of a donkey’s tail the young lady has a serious chokehold on a couple of brown, longneck bottles, and is in the process of unceremoniously removing their caps, all the while sauntering in our direction.
The mayor’s wife had just excused herself to make a visit to the powder room, and before she could get halfway to the door Tambourine Tom had floated on down to where his half empty bottle of beer sat. He guzzled what was left of the lukewarm beer when I offered to replace the bottle that sat on the bar in front of him. I might finally have Tom right where I want him, actually sitting still on the stool to my left. He’s going to be there awhile, too—I hope.
Tina sat the two beers in front of us. “Tamby, whose birthday is it this time?”
“It’s my Aunt Rose. She turned 94 last Thursday.”
“Why are you dressed up and celebrating today if her birthday was last week?”
“Well, my lovely tender of the sudsy drink so dear to my heart, I’ve always celebrated her birthday on the Tuesday after her birthday. If her birthday happens to fall on a Tuesday, I celebrate on the next Monday after that day. That doesn’t happen but once every six years, or so. It gets a bit confusing when I throw in Uncle Thor’s birthday. Now, he’s not Irish, but I like celebrating his special day. He’s partial to moonshine, so I like to have a bottle on hand so I can raise a glass to the best damned prospector you’ll ever meet. That’s who I learned my trade from. He and Aunt Rose had a thing going for a while. Until she found out about that German girl in the next town over. That was a month long ruckus packed into one helluva night.
“Say, Stranger. What did you say you do?”
Hard to get a word in when that man’s around. “I didn’t say, but I’ve heard you’re quite some prospector and I was hoping I might learn a bit from you.”
It doesn’t take much to get Tom to talk. “So. You’re a prospector, or wanting to become one? I’m not gonna tell you where to find color, but I can give you a few pointers in your technique if that’s what you want. If you think you’re going to get rich, well don’t, just don’t think like that. Cause it ain’t going to happen. Well, not to just anyone. You might stumble on a nugget or two, but the big strike is just not there anymore. They run out a long time ago.
“You’re not from around here, are you? I didn’t think so. Otherwise you’d know a little something about gold.” Tom grabbed hold of that brown bottle Tina had placed on the bar in front of him. He tipped it up, and in one mighty gulp drained half of the sudsy brew.
I took the moment to stammer, “Actually, I grew up not too far from here.”
“Is that right? Hey, mayor. You want to race to the bottom?”
“Not today, Tom. I think I’m about tapped out. I can’t drink like I used to.”
“How about you, Stranger? Care to race an old, weather beaten prospector?”
“What kind of race are you talking about, Tom?”
“We race to the bottom of the bottle. Hey, Tina. Bring us a couple of bottles. Of the good stuff. There’s been a challenge made. The die is cast. And the race is on?”
“Damn, Harry, did you hear that? A race is on.” Rod scooped up his dice off the bar and dropped them into the cup that sat next to his beer.
“I got a hundred dollars says the stranger beats the hell out of that sawed-off Irishman.” Harry pulls a crisp Franklin from his wallet and slams it on the bar.
Tambourine Tom jumped down from where he sat, ran over to face Harry, and screeched, “Sawed-off Irishman? Why you old goat. I’ll take that bet.” He pulls that wad of cash of his from his left front pocket and peels off a warn $100 bill from the roll, and gently lays it upon the lone greenback that Harry had deposited there.
“Gentlemen. Gentlemen! I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but I’m not racing anybody for anything.”
A collective groan emanated from the small group of men that has now congregated at my end of the bar. It appears that this bunch are gambling men. My guess is that they’d bet on anything: two cockroaches racing across the floor, the turn of a card, the color of a lady’s panties.
“Stranger, you disappoint me. I thought for sure you’d give me a good run for my money.” Tom picks up the money he had just laid on the bar, and adds the bill to the roll in his pocket. A downtrodden Harry does the same, carefully adding the crisp bill to his thin wallet.
“Tom, I’d like to ask you about your sex stones. That, and how you got your name. Oh, and about prospecting. It seems you’re really good at that, and I might be able to learn something from you.” Tambourine Tom is back, perched on the stool beside me.
“Well, Stranger, which is it? You want to know about the stones, the name, or about prospecting?” The little guy has his beer halfway to his mouth when he stops and stares. I turned to see what he was looking at. Standing in the doorway is a very large man dressed in dark blue, a semi-automatic handgun resting comfortably on his right hip. His very presence causes the air to still, and quiet descends upon us.
“Whose mule is this tied out here?”
“Sir, as if you didn’t know, that is Joaquin, and he’s not a mule. Joaquin is a donkey.” Tom sits his beer back on the bar and jumps off his stool. He strides over to where the city policeman stands, and looks up at the man who stands about 13 inches taller than he does.
“Tom, I’ve told you more than once that you can’t have that creature in town.”
“Elliot, you never said anything about I can’t have Joaquin in town. You told me I couldn’t ride him in town. And I didn’t. I walked, and he followed.”
“You can’t tie him up like that to the parking meter.”
“There’s still time left in it, isn’t there?”
“That’s beside the point. Those spots are for cars, not mules. Now take him home.”
“I will not. Nowhere does it say those spots are only for cars. The only sign I’ve ever found, which someone removed, says vehicle parking. And, Joaquin is a damn fine vehicle. He vehicles me everywhere. Except in this town where you won’t allow him to vehicle me, but he stands ready.” Tom pushes past the patrolman who definitely fills the front doorway of the bar, and holds the door open for everyone to see, everyone who wants to see, that is. “What did I tell you? There he stands. The readiest vehicle you ever wanted to see.”
I lean way over, almost falling off the stool, and can just barely make out through the space between the left hip of Officer Elliott and the door a mule tied to a parking meter. This particular meter stands command over the parking space that had been occupied by a red corvette when I first arrived in town.
Tambourine Tom pokes his head back into the bar and sings, “I bid everyone a fond adieu. Alas, I must depart. It has been a pleasant afternoon. May we continue this another day in the very near future.” He turns his nose up at Officer Elliott and calls out to his mule, “Come, Joaquin. Let’s go home where our presence is appreciated.”
As he unties the mule I want to yell out to Tom not to go. There are so many questions I’d like answered and now the man who holds the secrets is leaving. There must be someone in this place that can provide a few of the answers. I turn back towards the bar and motion to Tina. Just one more, right?