Some time ago, I was picking up a friend of mine from a strip club after closing time.
Actually, it wasn’t as sordid as it sounds. She worked there.
Anyway, I was running late. I did not, contrary to whatever slander you might have heard, get lost. I didn’t. Not even a little. But I did get slightly bewildered, having only driven there once before.
I had been feeling quite chipper when I’d first headed out to pick up my friend from her place of employment. I had been there before, I’d reasoned, and it was on a major street downtown. How hard could finding it again be? And, on the way home, good conversation was assured. But as time went on, I realized that the streets had no interest in cooperating with my quest whatsoever. Quite the contrary, the blasphemous things seemed to enjoy capering about whenever they weren’t in direct sight. Navigation through traditional means was clearly impossible.
I sought a native guide for directions hoping to get there quickly, as opposed to meandering through a maze of one-way streets around the Liberty Memorial all night. This was not a safety concern for me, despite the neighborhood and the hour. For one thing, I can see in the dark quite well. It’s light that gives me trouble. For another, I have found that most would-be muggers tend to lose interest in me quite quickly. The exact reason for this remains undetermined.
Finally, I got a call from her on my cellular phone. She’d had to leave her place of employment so they could lock up, and she would meet me at the bar next door.
At the time of this writing Missouri is, as it was then, a ‘juice-bar’ state. This means that alcohol is generally forbidden in any gentleman’s club where ladies dance in the nude. The establishment where my friend worked got around this by having a bar nearby, owned by the same persons as owned the club. Having the club’s hand-stamp was good for the entire night, regardless of how many times one might leave and return. This way clientele could impede their visual and motor skills as much as they might desire, and harass the help at two places of business for the price of one. But this also meant that my friend was still under the roof of her employer, just one that closed later. Well, a little later.
My heart was still troubled, however. It was a tavern, regardless of how noble the intentions behind it might have been. And that was certainly no place for a lady.
Now I was truly concerned.
Finally, after some minutes of searching around and cursing Thomas Edison for inventing those damned electric lights, I found a prospective guide and asked him for directions. He agreed, so long as I gave him a ride as far along the street as I was already going. I unlocked the door for the gentleman in question – so called because he resembled gentry, if only in that he was drunk as a lord – cracked open the windows, and drove him on a few blocks to help him out of the cold and me towards a friend in need. Alas, the night had not been a good one for this weary traveler, and as we drove he told me his mournful tale.
It seemed, first of all, that he had been in a bar all night. I admitted silently that this went a long way in explaining his slurred speech, and the impression when he entered that someone had set fire to a brewery. He had been there at the behest of a friend of his who - for reasons that I’m sure I will never understand - had left him there without warning to fend for himself. They had spent the entire night drinking beer as though it was ginger ale and trying to get what he referred to as “bitches.” This constituted, I was assured, his and his friend’s idea of a good time. Except of course that they didn’t get any of the “bitches” at all. As he recounted the tale he became more frustrated at the memory, even as he wondered out loud if there might be any gin left in the bottle at home.
He asked me if I didn’t know what he meant, and after a moment I assured him that he’d made himself quite clear.
He asked me didn’t I know what his experience was like from my own life, and I assured him that yes, I’ve had disappointing evenings myself.
I asked him if he had any idea why the so-called “bitches” didn’t want to go home with him, and he had no idea. He was genuinely mystified, and I let it drop. It would have been futile to press the matter.
I drove him a little farther than I’d agreed, and dropped him off. As I drove away, I wondered idly if he’d actually make it home before passing out. Ultimately, I decided that it probably didn’t matter. Anyone finding him would inhale and draw the logical conclusion that he’d already been killed and looted somewhere else, probably long ago. My obligation to him, if such there had been, was finished.
My obligation to my friend, however, remained. And time was running out.
My passenger’s narrative had called to mind my understanding of speakeasies and the like, and the remaining smell of yellow beer and second-hand smoke reminded me as I drove that someone else’s well-being was on the line.
Bars have always been strange, arcane places to me. Bizarre realms of light and mirrors, filled with poisonous smoke. Self-deluded psychopaths, spending top dollar to lower their already questionable inhibitions and IQs. All so they can have an excuse to cut loose whatever terrible demons might lurk inside their crunchy outer candy shell. Businessmen here for the convention, college athletes home from the game, elderly men living in fear of their receding hairlines with nothing left to lose. The image haunted me, like the purgatory scene from Archie and Mehitabel.
I am not so great a fool as to enter such a powder-keg on purpose. I know life can be cheap to those types. Yet, because of my carelessness, a friend of mine was held there. Trapped like a 17th century beaver, only without the hat.
If I was lucky, I’d get her out of that terrible place before she had to kill more than a half-dozen. More than that, and even her friendship with the bartenders wouldn’t help to hide the bodies. She’d be on her own, a stranger in an unholy land, with only her wits and her readiness to tear out another human being’s larynx with her tongue to sustain her.
Shuddering, I drove faster.
I found the place as they were closing, no doubt mopping up the last of the eyeballs. Fortunately she looked none the worse for wear, and had no open wounds showing. She flashed me a forgiving smile as she entered the car, but I felt I owed her, at the very least, an apology. I had dropped the ball. I knew it. And it had been she who had paid whatever terrible price had been called due. It was a meek, penitent Coyote that opened the door for her, and drove her home, saying:
“I’m truly, truly sorry I’m so late. Please forgive me. You know I would never have intentionally left you there in that den of iniquity. I had meant to pick you up at the titty bar . . .”