For Joe Pulver, the real bEast.
Her name was Dame. When she walked into the bar our eyes met through the yellow blue cigarette haze. Taking a seat at the bar she ordered neat bourbon and proceeded to rebuff the advances of the drunks and creeps who were out in force that night. She glanced in my direction once she had deflected the come ons of One Arm Larry, a creeper of no small repute, and I denied myself the guilty pleasure of watching her deal with the flotsam and jetsam of the city. I would play the white night in a crumpled suit and tattered hat.
As I approached the bar she pulled out a cigarette and waited for the light that she knew I would offer.
“Dame” I raised the flame to the Lucky in her lips. “What brings a bad girl like you to a worse dive like this?”
“Oh, you know bEast.” I liked the way she capitalised my name properly. Not many can manage it. “Just looking for the sign, as always.”
“Honey, you know fine well that if any of these clowns had seen the sign they wouldn’t be in here killing their livers with the rat poison they sell over the bar.” I glanced at Mickey the Fish, the proprietor of Cassie’s Club. “No offence meant Mick.”
He looked up from spit cleaning a glass. “None taken beAst.” See what I mean about folk just not getting it right?
I took Dame by the arm. “Look here Dame.” I spun her round on her seat and pointed her to the door. “That’s the door, and me and you are going to be stepping through it right now. Unless you think one of these bums is going to show you the sign?”
Dame spun back to face me and laughed. “Oh, bEast. You do know how to show a gal a good time.”
From there it was easy. It’s rare to find someone who has heard of the Sign, rarer still to find someone so eager to find it. A class act like Dame looking for it was unheard of.
The heat and noise of the city’s night washed over us like a greasy tide. The sound of a thousand car horns sang into the night, each one an exclamation point at the end of the screaming sentence of the city’s nightmare. I hailed a cab and as it drew near Dame stood on her tiptoes and whispered in my ear, “Not quite the yellow I was looking for Daddy-O.”
I gave the driver our destination, and slipped him a fifty when I saw the strange look on his face. There are few moral quandaries General Grant can’t clear up. As he pulled into the river of the night’s traffic I grilled Dame on what she knew of the sign. Where she had heard of it, why she wanted it. I was expecting a classy broad like Dame to have some story to tell, for her to be different to all the others I’ve taken to the sign. Boy was I to be disappointed. Dame was just like the rest. She had read the first act and heard of the second. Had heard the stories of the French artists, of Carl Lee, of Mad Emperor of the Americas. She was a tourist. A classy one but a tourist still and so, like all the others before her, I would send her to meet the King. Let my blade give her a one way ticket to Carcosa.
The cab pulled up outside Barnabe’s Theater on 23rd and Rennies. I stepped out first and walked around to the open the door for Dame. No matter how much she had disappointed me I was still going to play the gentleman for her. The cab sped off leaving us alone in what has always been the only quiet spot in the seething sprawl of the city.
“This is it honey. Barnabe’s Theater. Once home to the world famous Bierce Players and Theatrical Troupe until the great tragedy of 1922. Now just a home to bums, rats, and your path to the yellow sign.”
Dame spun on her heel and took me by the arm. “Lead on Daddy-O, lead on.”
I walked up the short flight of steps and through the doorway into the gloom. Once our eyes adjusted we made our way across the long rotten carpet of the foyer to and into the theater proper. The air in here was cold, icily so, after the summer heat and Dame shivered. She followed as I led her down the wide steps towards the stage. Even in this darkness the presence of the King’s throne was palpable in centre stage.
When we stood directly in front of the stage I pushed Dame before me and slid my blade from my pocket.
“Here’s what you were looking for. Here’s your King, your yellow fucking sign!” I raised the blade above my head but before I could open her flesh a throaty laugh filled the auditorium and the stage lights flickered into a pale half life throwing shadows across the throne and the King. He sat resplendent in yellow upon his throne of broken glass. Smoke spiralled from the cigarette in his hand as he raised it to his lips.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Smoke rose from his yellow-white whiskered mouth as sonorous words punched me in the chest. My blade fell soundlessly to the floor. “You really don’t know who she is? Do you?” The King laughed at this.
“But, I…” the words wouldn’t come to my lips. I looked at Dame who was now standing straight and smiling at me. “I…”
“They may call me Dame Daddy-O, but that’s because I’m a Dame. Not because it’s my name.” With that she slid my blade into my chest once, twice. Before the third stroke I had collapsed bleeding into the filth. That’s how I came to be here, bleeding into the remains of a decades old carpet wondering why I hadn’t realised that any broad that classy would already have seen the sign, would have been one of the court. I really shouldn’t have thought I could do wrong to a Dame in the presence of the King.