A heat mirage shimmered over the cobblestones of Stephen Avenue as Bill and Hunter made their way through the crowd of Saturday afternoon shoppers, drinkers, and obnoxious celebrants.
It was Stampede Week 1993 so the crowds were bigger, louder, and drunker than was usual for a downtown summer Saturday, and this did not go over at all well with Bill as they bumped and brushed up against him, getting underfoot, breathing his air. He hated crowds, and this time of year they were especially thick; a dense crush of hot, sweaty humanity in all shapes and sizes, moving slowly like cattle to the slaughter. Hunter was saying something, but he couldn’t hear, with his crowd induced tunnel-vision, and tunnel-hearing. They were a half block from The Bear and Kilt and the crush of humans seemed to be growing larger by the second. Every step forward they took there seemed to be more people in front and around them. Bill felt surrounded, his heart was pounding in his chest and the sweat pouring down his face wasn’t just from the intense, afternoon heat. He was nearly hyperventilating and had to get out of the crowd immediately.
“Bill!” Hunter was standing next to a huge wood carving of a bear with a tattered old kilt staple-gunned to its waist. “Over here!” He called out, opening up the door to the pub.
Bill swung his head around towards the sound of Hunter’s voice, and trundled over to him, bumping a tourist wearing a cheap straw cowboy hat with his black rucksack.
In seconds they were down the stairs, and ensconced in the cool darkness of the pub below. Hunter sneered at the cheap, tacky Stampede decorations that covered the place, from the cheesy, dime-store, wooden corral fencing made from saw-mill seconds that seemed to be attached to every wall, to the red and white balloons emblazoned with the “C and lazy S” logo of the Calgary Stampede on one side, and a cowboy riding a bucking bronco on the other.
“What the fuck was that? I was yelling at you for like an hour!” Hunter grumbled.
Bill and Hunter found a place at the end of the long bar and sat down. Bill hung his rucksack on a hook under the counter and clutched at his chest with his right hand.
“It was the crowd, man. It was too much, my hearts beating like a fucked clock. I need a smoke.”
Bill fiddled with his cigarette pack and fished out the last of his DuMaurier Kings, plugged it into his mouth and quickly lit up. “Smoke” by Crash Vegas was playing on the juke box and rodeo highlights played in silence on the tiny 14” 1970s era Trinitron behind the bar. Bill took a long, calming drag from his smoke, exhaled, then took another.
“That’s worlds better,” he said before calling out to the bartender, “Hey Jason!”
A tall, thickset, thirty-something guy wearing a Dead Milkmen t-shirt and bartender’s apron and jeans turned from the auto glass washer.
“Hey! Bill my man! Howzit hangin’?” Jason the bartender reached out and gave Bill’s mitt a good shake before asking what the boys were drinking.
Bill spoke up, “I shall have a pint of your finest Molson Canadian, and…” He looked over to Hunter.
“’Finest’ and ‘Molson Canadian’ is a bit of an oxymoron, but okay, what about you sir?”
“I’ll have a pint of Alexander Keith’s.” Hunter said after a few second of reading the labels attached to the old fashioned tap handles.
“Right away guys.”
“Oh, and Jason,” Bill called out before the barkeep stepped away, “I’m calling in my favour today, if that’s all right?”
For a second Jason looked thoroughly befuddled, then it came to him and he nodded, “Oh yeah, but,” he tapped the side of his nose, “keep it under your hat!”
“Definitely.” Bill nodded.
Jason grabbed a couple of Imperial sized mugs from the chiller and turned to the old fashioned wooden taps and began slowly pulling the pints.
Hunter turned to Bill, “So these are…?”
Bill smiled mischievously, “Free for those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t.”
“Cool… I’m going for a slash.” Hunter shoved the padded stool back and headed to the gents.
Jason brought the pints over and Bill pulled a fiver from his wallet and asked for some loonies for the jukebox. The barkeep fished the tarnished, gold coloured dollar coins from his apron and slapped them down on the bar-top, spreading them out.”
“No prob. You guys good for now? You need menus?”
Bill shook his head, “No, we’re good for now.”
Hunter stood relieving himself, eyes on the SUNshine “page 3 girl” pictures torn from the local tabloid that were pinned to the corkboard above the urinals. “Becky” (if that indeed was her real name) was dressed in a chequered “western” shirt tied into a knot across her chest showing ample cleavage, and short cut-off jeans that showed off her long, tanned legs, and a feathered “cowgirl” hat. She was allegedly a twenty-one year old Virgo who worked for the cable company, enjoyed swimming, and was looking forward to partying hard at this years Stampede. Hunter finished , shook, zipped up, washed up, and stepped through the door back into the tavern. Instantly he was struck by the noise of the rowdy punters, and awful pop/country music that was now blasting from the jukebox, as well as being temporarily blinded by the bright pot lights that were set up to illuminate the restroom doors.
As he slowly strode back towards the bar, his eyes began to adjust and through the haze of darkness and tobacco smoke Hunter could make out someone sitting next to Bill. It was a girl. As he got closer, he recognized her profile, then her voice. It was his friend Mia.
Mia Jones was a tall girl at 5’9’ with a short ginger fringe, who loved anime and Japanese culture. Hunter met her a while back at a party for one of MacGreggor’s work friends. Hunter had been immediately attracted to her funky wardrobe and alternative good looks. His attraction grew the more he talked to her and he had hoped the attraction was mutual, until she let slip that she was engaged to be married. They exchanged numbers anyway, some unknown force seeming to suggest to the both of them that they should be friends.
“Hmmm… platonic friends with a cute girl eh?” Hunter mused aloud as he folded and put away the piece of paper with the number.
“Well,” she smiled and winked, “not just any cute girl!”
Back in the present, she sat on the padded barstool next to Bill, sexy long legs crossed and smoking a More Menthol, “…I swear the hornet was easily the size of my thumb, and it flew in, buzzing our picnic table once before swooping in again and this time grabbing a piece of chicken, and flying away with it.”
Bill shook his head, “What? Like a leg? That’s ridiculous!”
Mia blew the smoke from her lungs and shook her head, “Not a leg for dogsakes, just a small piece!”
“I don’t believe a godsdamn word of it.” Hunter said, smiling.
Mia turned to the sound of his voice, then smiled jumping up off the barstool, “Hunter!” She gave him a warm hug and a quick peck on the cheek.
“Going awesome, thank you for axing. I just ducked in here to escape the heat for a minute,”
“Yeah, it’s crazy hot out there today.” Hunter said reaching to the bar to grab his pint.
“Yeah, no totally isn’t it? So yeah I ducked in here, where I spotted Mr. Williams sitting here like a lonely puppy!” She reached and ruffled his thick, unkempt shoulder length hair.
Bill twitched slightly. He didn’t like to be touched, especially in public. More especially by people he barely knew.
“So, you sticking around?” Bill asked her, hoping the answer was ‘no.’
“Yeah, no I gotta go, I’m meeting Dave down at the Ship. Oh, did I tell you? Labour Day weekend. Vegas wedding. You two are invited, of course!”
Hunter felt like he just caught a steel toed boot in the gutmeats. He had always secretly hoped Mia’s relationship with Dave would fizzle out eventually.
She looked down at her imitation Tag Heuer, “Oh shit! I gotta go! See you guys later!”
Mia gave Hunter another quick peck on the cheek and waved at Bill before heading quickly up the stairs, towards the exit.
Bill took a sip from his pint, “Man that girl is a real whirlwind! Couldn’t get a word in edgewise!”
“Yeah,” Hunter said quietly, “good ole’ ‘cyclone’ Mia.”
“What’s up with you? Don’t start getting all melancholy on me now! It’s time to get dehydrated!”
“You’re right Bill, chin chin!”
“Up yours Hunter!” They clinked glasses and downed their drinks, bringing them down on the counter a little too hard, “Oh yeah I got us some change,” he flipped a loony towards Hunter, “go pick some songs.”
Hunter caught the dollar coin, and Bill caught the bartender’s attention, “Jason! Same again if you would be so kind!” The bartender nodded and started pouring.
“Going for a slash.” Bill said heading for the gents.
Hunter let out a sigh, then shook his head. He could never afford to go to Vegas for Mia’s wedding, so to him the “invite” was more of a “nonvite.” He glanced up at the solid wooden post on the corner of the bar, the various and many colourful coasters stapled to its surface catching his attention, from Guinness to Coors Light and everything in between. Just then he remembered the dollar coin Bill had given him for music, and he stepped over to the ancient Statesman by Werlitzer and began perusing the song titles. Eventually he ended up with “No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley, “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols, and “Hateful” by The Clash. He returned to his stool and took a sip from his second pint.
“Excuse me,” a gravely voice came from Hunter’s left.
The huge man that stood before him was 6’4” if he was an inch, with a round, ruddy face, stubbly chin, grey streaked light brown hair, his eyes masked behind dark sunglasses. In one huge hand he held what looked like a scotch rocks, in the other a Camel cigarette.
“Your friend there,” the big man said pointing towards the gents with the hand holding the cigarette, “do I know him?”
Hunter wasn’t sure how to answer this, as far as he could tell he had never met this man in his life, and was fairly sure Bill hadn’t either, “Uh… I’m sure I don’t know. Maybe wait and talk to him about it?”
“Don’t mind if I do!” The big man said and sat down on the stool next to Hunter.
Bill was scrubbing his hands with the gooey, pink liquid soap from the rectangular dispenser, rubbing his hands hard, and thoroughly before rinsing them under the steaming hot water from the tap. He grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser and dried his hands before using the same towel to turn off the water. He shuddered thinking about the germs he would catch if he touched the inside door handle, so he grabbed another paper towel and used that to shield his hand from the grubby looking handle before tossing the used towels over his shoulder in the general direction of the rubbish bin.
The angled pot lights blinded him and he cursed under his breath. He knew those damn things were there, yet still forgot to shield his eyes against them upon exit from the loo. Must be the booze addling my mind already, he thought.
Wait! Who the fuck is that sitting in my seat? Bill gnashed his teeth in annoyance and stomped back over to the bar.
Hunter caught Bill’s approach out of the corner of his eye and turned towards him, spinning on his barstool.
“Bill, hey this guy says he knows you?”
The big man turned on his stool and squinted behind his sunglasses, “Do I know you?”
Bill stopped in his tracks, the first thing he noticed was the man’s jeans were tucked into his cowboy boots, but it was Stampede Week and there were hundreds of people walking around like that, but it didn’t matter because he knew who the man was. Recognized him immediately in fact, but his mind could make no sense of it. Why was he here of all places? It seemed absurd! Finally he regained his composure enough to speak.
“No, I don’t think you know me sir, but I certainly know you.” A half smile was cracking his face.
Hunter looked back and forth between the two men, “Well?”
Bill spoke, “You don’t know who this is Hunter?”
Hunter looked at the craggy face of the huge man sat next to him for a moment, then shook his head, “Nope.”
“Does ‘District Attorney Ben Stone’ ring any bells?” Bill said.
“I don’t know who that is.” Hunter shrugged.
“Law & Order?” Bill offered.
“You know I don’t watch it.” Hunter took a sip of ale.
“Hunter,” Bill said, exasperated, “may I introduce you to Mr. Michael Moriarty!”
“Oh, yeah! I recognize him now! The guy from Q-The Winged Serpent!”
Moriarty chucked at that, as if perhaps remembering some amusing moment form the shooting of that B movie classic.
This seemed to deflate Bill somewhat, he shook his head exasperated, “Yeah, Q, of course that would be the reference you would get.” He turned to Michael Moriarty, “Anyway, I’m Bill. Bill Williams.” He reached out and shook hands with the man who was now standing.
“Good to meet you Bill.”
“And this is Joe Hunter.” Bill said, by way of introduction.
They shook hands, Moriarty had a surprisingly soft handshake for such a big man.
“How you been Joe?”
“Oh, you can call me Hunter, everyone does Mr. Moriarty.”
“Come on, we’re all friends here now! Call me Mike.”
Celebrity guest star??? Get out! What could be next??? Check back next month for the thrilling conclusion to Lond Ho Adventures: With Great Anarchy...