Drumbeat - Erica
Drumbeat - Erica
T HE SUBJECT began running out of steam at a bar on West Houston Street called the Emu. It was after two in the morning, and he was pretty drunk. The piece of beatnik fluff that had been attached to his arm all night seemed even drunker. Maybe supporting her weight as they drifted from joint to joint on MacDougal and Bleecker Streets had finally got him down.
I followed them into the Emu. It was a narrow, cheerless room with sawdust on the floor, wood plank tables on one side, a long bar on the other, and autographed pictures of not-quite-celebrities festooning the walls with all the attention to artistic display that mug-shots get in the post office. But the stale air was warm, and that must have meant a lot to the drifters still leaning on the Emu bar and sitting at the plank tables. It was cold outside and getting colder. I thought it might snow before morning.
The subject, whose name was Ahmed Shiraz, arranged himself and the girl on a pair of stools at the bar. I peeled off my trenchcoat and draped it, and me, on a couple of chairs at a table behind them. I wished Shiraz would bed the girl down somewhere so I could call it a night.
"It's going round and round," the girl said.
"What is?" Shiraz asked her without much interest.
She giggled. "Everything, man."
Shiraz said a four-letter word distinctly.
The girl giggled again. "Are you trying to be philosophical or something?" She had a little trouble with the word philosophical.
Shiraz yawned at his reflection in the back-bar mirror. The yawn went away and his reflection smiled back at him. He was a guy who liked his face. After all it had earned him a few million bucks.
I wondered if anyone would try to beat it to a pulp before the night was over.
The barman minced over to them. He was a skinny flit with big soft watery eyes and a duty white jacket. "Why, you're Ahmed Shiraz," he said. "I see all your pictures. I think you're a marvelous actor."
"Actually I stink," Shiraz said. "It's just I got sex appeal."
"Well, I can certainly see that ," the barman said.
The girl said, "Hey, you really are an actor. I kind of thought you were putting me on."
The watery-eyed barman glared at her.
"It's just I don't go to the movies much if at all," she said. "I don't believe in them."
"You don't have to believe or disbelieve," Shiraz said. "They're not a religion."
The girl laughed. It was no giggle this time. She pulled Shiraz's arm against her breast and snuggled up to him. She was wearing a green loden coat, the kind with toggles instead of buttons. All the toggles were undone. Under the coat she wore a black turtleneck sweater and tight black stretch pants. Her tennis sneakers were worn and dirty, showing grubby ankles. She wasn't wearing any socks despite the February cold. Her long black hair hung in a ponytail. She had high cheekbones and was wearing dark glasses. Despite the beatnik getup, she was a good-looking dame.
Shiraz ordered two gimlets. They had been drinking them all over the Village.
A waiter came to my table listlessly, his space-shoes shuffling on the sawdust. I asked for a beer. He went away and brought it and went away again.
A few people wandered out of the Emu and a few, more or less just like them, wandered in.
I left my beer and my coat and went down the length of the bar to the phone booth. A dime and four rings got me Harry Kretschmer, who worked for a small New York agency and was doing some work on the side for me. I could see Shiraz and the girl from inside the phone booth, not that they looked like they'd be going anywhere for a while. Shiraz had ordered another round of gimlets.
Harry Kretschmer made a middle-of-the-night noise.
"This is Drum," I said. "If you snap into it you can take over. A bar on West Houston called the Emu."