Fiction Saturday – The Henway Chronicles – Finale
If you want to see somebody who is anybody at Wilma’s All-Nite Café (Just a knife’s throw from the Embarcadero.) you’ll have to wait until the Moon is high and the Moral Threshold is low.
It was close to 3 AM when I brought Hank O’Hare into Wilma’s. I didn’t need to help him find the door this time. Ever since he got his new eyeglasses from the Optometrist Hank had been like a kid in a Candy Shop. In fact, he told me that he had stopped into a Candy Shop just to enjoy the view. He could see the shapes and colors clearly for the first time since he’d lost his real specs and started buying replacements at the Dollar Store.
I was bringing Hank there to have a face-to-face with Lech Ontario to end their decades long feud over a cow. I figured Ontario would be there, if Wilma hadn’t thrown him out with the trash.
When we got to Wilma’s I held the door for Hank so he could go in first – for two reasons – (A) So he could look at the joint clearly for the first time in years, and (B) Just in case somebody who might be holding a grudge against me wouldn’t have a clear shot. I still have a scar on my head from being winged by a salt shaker attack – and that was from Wilma.
I don’t think Hank was expecting my little surprise, but seated in the back booth, by the aging Wurlitzer, was Lech Ontario and Daisy Cutter, his moll.
When Hank pushed open the door he didn’t see those two in the back. His now sharpened vision did pick up a bottle of Tabasco Sauce headed our way. He deflected it like he was swatting away a hockey puck. The man still had the reflexes of a school of fish.
Tabasco? I guess that meant that Wilma was really angry because I hadn’t been in for a few days…er…nights. Letting hank be first through the door was one of my better ideas of late.
“Nice save, Hank.”
“Thanks, Sonny Boy. In school I was the equipment manager for the Girl’s Field Hockey Team at St. Magda’s of Budapest Academy in Berkeley. Why, I remember this one away game to Bodega Bay, birds everywhere….”
“Later, Hank. Look at the couple in the back booth.”
Hank squinted and pushed his glasses back up his nose.
“Who are they? Well, forget him, but who’s the Chickie?”
“Her name is daisy, but the man – do you recognize him?”
Hank squinted again, then stopped walking and looked back at me with a fierce light in his eyes. “Could you get Wilma to turn off that light? It’s right in my eyes something fierce.” I put my imported Fedora on his head to shade his eyes. He looked at the man again.
“Well, I’ll be a baboon’s brother-in-law. Is that who I think it is?”
Hank started walking again, picking up his pace. I hurried to keep up. I didn’t need any trouble inside Wilma’s.
When he got to the booth Hank took off my hat and shuffled his feet nervously as he said, “Are you Paul Lynde? Could I please have your autograph, Mr. Lynde?
Ontario looked at Hank and then at me.
“Yeah, maybe so. No, Hank, this isn’t Paul Lynde. Paul Lynde is dead anyway.”
“You sure, Laddie? I always liked him. He had nice shirts.”
“I’m positive, hank. This here is your old, one-time friend, Lech Ontario. Please sit down, Hank. We all need to talk.” Hank sat down across from Ontario, adjusting his glasses and scowling.
“Now skootch over, Hank, so I can sit down too.” I needed to explain to Hank what was happening.
“Hank, I was talking to Ontario here a few days…er…nights ago and he told me about Bessie.” Hank was glaring at his old foe.
“Yeah, Bessie,” hissed Hank. “She was mine, you…you cattle rustler.”
Ontario shook his head. “Hank, I never rustled no cow. She wanted to be with me. I treated her better.”
Daisy Cutter put down her fork and jumped into the conversation.
“Jeez, you guys, this is starting to sound really creepy. It was a cow, fer cryin’ out loud.”
In unison, both old men replied, “Shut up and eat your roast beef.”
Daisy’s lips curled into a sneer as she leaned close to hank. “Listen, Four Eyes – I have to take it from him, but I do NOT have to take that kind of talk from you.” With that, she dumped the rest of her food into Hank’s lap. He looked down at his trousers, then back at Daisy. “Au jus – just the way I like it – usually.”
It took Hank four napkins to clean his glasses. He was out of practice.
“Can we get back to the whole thing about the cow, please,” I asked. “You both wanted the cow…>”
“Bessie,” they both added.
“Bessie, OK. Couldn’t you both share her? Like a joint custody or something? Alternate weeks with hank and then the same with Lech?”
“I prefer you to call me ‘Ontario,’ or ‘Master Criminal Ontario.’”
“OK – ‘Ontario,’ what about sharing Bessie?”
Hank looked at me and said, “Are you nuts? We’re talking about a cow here not the Bobbsey Twins. Besides, have you ever tried to move a cow on Public Transportation?”
“It ain’t easy or appreciated, let me tell you,” said Daisy. Nobody wanted to pursue that.
“OK,” I said. “That was my one and only idea. I’m done.”
“The n let me explain this,” said Ontario. “Back in the day, times were tough. I had nine brothers and sisters. Hank had just one sister – I forget her name.”
“Frangipani,” said Hank. She was adopted.
“Yeah, that was it. ‘Fran’ we called her – a nice kid.
“Anyway, I had all those brothers and sisters and I thought we could sure use Bessie more than Hank.”
“I had big plans for Bessie, you Cow-Napper!”
“Yeah, some ‘big plans’ – Hank wanted to teach Bessie to dance and go on the stage with her. ‘Bessie the dancing Cow – and Cowboy Hank.’”
Hank nodded. “Yup, we could have been big. She could already Foxtrot pretty good and I was teaching her the Tango. We could have been somebody – instead of a bum which is what I am.”
“That’s from a movie, Hank,” I told him.
“Really, Henway? I thought it sounded familiar.”
“May I continue?” said Ontario.
“Please do,” added Daisy.
“So…As I was trying to say,” continued Ontario.
I took Bessie out of her stall at the Cow Palace. I had to move fast. That rodeo was going to leave town the next day. I took Bessie, and instead of turning her into a Vaudeville act I turned her into Steaks, Roasts, and enough Burgers to feed my family for the whole winter.”
“And Hank – you never knew what happened to Bessie,” I asked him.
“No. I knew that he had her butchered, but what really charred me was that he never even gave me a Pot Roast, or some Nuggets.”
“Cows don’t have Nuggets, Hank,” I told him.
“Neither do chickens,” chimed in Daisy.
Without missing a beat, Hank reached across the table and flipped the plateful of cake into Daisy’s lap. He had a big grin on his face. “I’ve always wanted to do that to somebody,” he said.
Then Daisy threw her milkshake at Hank. He retaliated by squeezing the red plastic ketchup bottle on her hair. It splashed onto Ontario who grabbed the mustard, squirting it all over me, Hank, and Daisy.
Seeing the commotion, Wilma came running with a fire extinguisher and covered all us in foam – just before she threw us all out of the Café.
I never did help Hank and Ontario resolve their ill feelings toward one another. Perhaps I never will. Not long after that night at Wilma’s I heard that Lech Ontario had been arrested again. This time it was for trying to take a horse onto the subway train to San Jose. He didn’t get too far – the horse got skittish trying to go through the turnstile, bolted, and ended up killing a mime who was trying to hide behind an invisible wall. None of the hundreds of people standing nearby would admit to seeing a thing.
What became of Hank? Ever since he got his glasses adjusted again it has been all uphill for him. He and Daisy ran off to Reno and got married. Hank has been teaching her to Tango.
And me? After a few days of hanging out at the IHOP Wilma let me come back to my usual seat at the counter. I’ve been eating a lot of German Chocolate Cake lately. I’m beginning to like it.
All I’m waiting for now is another adventure in the middle of the night – another chapter in, “The Henway Chronicles.”