Part II of II, yesterday being Part I. Haven't read it yet? Go ahead. I'll wait right here until you get back...
Liza Bean’s eyes soften with remembrance. “I had been driving a taxi that summer, and you know? I rather liked it. But as one would imagine, hosing vomit off the backseat becomes tedious, eventually, so when a friend of mine – you know Pupples Old Bean, don’t you? – asked me if I was interested in a more refined line of work, I left the cab right where it was.”
Liza sips her drink. “Left ‘er right there on the corner of Washington and Broadway.”
When I don’t know what to say, I feel it wise to say nothing.
Liza Bean takes a cursory stab at a lime wedge, thinks better of it. “The job was to be at a bar over in the warehouse district. The building, of course, I knew. Such an interesting layout. The top of it had, probably a century before, been blown off in some chemical-reaction thing involving fermenting wheat or some such thing.”
Liza cannot resist the pull of the floating limes and fishes one out of her drink, narrows her eyes at it. She squeezes it, just one more time, then takes a vicious little bite out of it.
“I was hired immediately,” she says. “Pupples Old Bean’s roommate Pork Muscle J. Hamfat was in charge of hiring, and he owed me one.”
I blink ponderously in an attempt to clear the gin from my mind. “Why?”
Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, smiles vaguely. “Now, now,” she murmurs. “Another story for another time.”
I nod. An amiable drinker, this is perfectly acceptable to me.
“It was a beautiful place. Cut-glass chandeliers, diamond-tufted upholstered booths in blood-red leather, dark wood and dim lights. And the cats? Sleek, elegant felines from the best families – and the worst.”
Liza Bean sips at her drink, leans forward. “Tell me, Pearl. Have you been to a cat bar?”
The delay between my brain and my tongue is such that Liza beats me to the answer. “Of course you haven’t. Very few people have. It’s all very hush-hush, you know.”
“Ah,” I say.
“Yes." She smiles as one would at a dimwitted but well-meaning child. "‘Ah’, as you so succinctly put it.” She sips her drink thoughtfully. “The thing one must remember about a cat bar is that manners are the key to a roomful of cats behaving themselves. One’s clothing, one’s demeanor, one’s choice of words is paramount.” A woman with two full sleeves of tattoos passes by our table, and Liza Bean raises her little, striped chin at her, a show of acknowledgment. “Without manners, it all comes apart very quickly.”
There is silence at the booth as we reflect upon this.
“The place was called The Nip and The Saucer,” she continues. “I remember the night distinctly. Boo K and the Squirt Tones were playing, a “down-home jukin’” kind of band, as they say, and I was working the front door.”
It is at this point that I notice the room has gone dark. It could just be the gin talking, but suddenly, we are the only booth in the place. I blink solemnly into the cat’s face.
“Working the door at The Nip and The Saucer is a delicate thing." she says. "You must understand this. Much is communicated through nuance, through the tilt of one’s head, the open eye.”
Liza Bean bends slightly, wraps her tiny black lips around her straw, sips her drink. “The clientele were primarily well-to-do, the well-loved and the well-groomed. It wasn’t a cheap place to spend the evening, and this was by design.
“On the night in question, a couple comes through. Long-hairs, all fluff and gem-studded collars. I don’t fully recall his collar – I think it was lapis lazuli – but her’s was a beautiful sterling silver and pearl combination that hung just so.”
“On anyone else, it would’ve been too much, but on a white Persian, it was perfection.” Liza finishes her drink as her next appears, and another pair of crisp bills migrates from her paw to the waitress’s hand.
“With a background in gems and pearls, one feels a duty to comment. With so many forgeries and” – and here she shudders delicately – “dollar-store items available, it’s only right that the genuine article be remarked upon.”
“That’s a beautiful collar,” I say to her. “Such beautifully matched pearls.”
“Oh?” she says to me, “You know something of pearls, then?”
“I nod. ‘I spent some time in the Philippines and am familiar with the desirable qualities in the pearl’, I say. ‘Those are the most exquisite natural pearls I have seen in some time.’”
“The Tom she had come in with, a black Persian with the bright blue eyes of a rented devil, laughed in an unbecoming and rather, I thought, rude manner.”
“Clearly’,” he says to me, “You need to go back to the Philippines and reacquaint yourself, then, because those are not real.”
“I still bristle, thinking of his tone in addressing me. One could not but think “New Money”. ‘My apologies, sir,’ I say to him, ‘It is possible that I am mistaken.”
“The black Tom – a cat that I can assure you easily out-weighed me – placed his paws on the posts holding up the red velvet ropes.”
“I reject your apology,” he purrs darkly. “And I’ll have you know I purchased this set myself!”
“I’m not doubting you, sir,” I say, “and I meant no offense.”
“This is hardly the service one expects at The Nip and The Saucer,” he says to me, ruffled, his voice rising officiously. “I’m out of town for extended periods – all over Asia! – and when I come home, and prepared to spend good money, I expect my wife and I be treated with the dignity we deserve!”
Liza Bean stirs her drink, her extended claws moving the ice cubes in a clockwise fashion. “He gave me the story – I scarce remember it all – about how the real ones were in the safe at home, how in the city, of course, one prudently wears the imitation set. Still, I was convinced that I was right.
“And therein lay my downfall.”
Liza Bean sips her drink, looks down into it. “Curiosity killed the cat,” she murmurs.
She raises her head, eyes gleaming. “I watched them, you know, that couple, and it wasn’t long before I realized that the moggy with the pearls was surreptitiously watching the Siamese from across the bar. Their eyes met, repeatedly. At one point, the Siamese raised his glass, almost imperceptibly, to her. It was then that she began to caress her pearls.
“My brain was seized with it. I had to know for sure. And when her husband went to the bathroom, I walked over to her, lifted my paw. ‘Do you mind?’” I asked, and ran my first claw along the pearls. They were rough, as I knew they would be. The pearls were real.
“And that’s when I looked into her eyes -- and saw fear. I turned to the Siamese across the bar – and saw fear mixed with love.
"I turned back to her. “Do you,” I whispered to the beautiful white Persian, “happen to have two strands of real pearls?”
Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, smiles at me ruefully. "I thought she'd faint."
“The real pearls the Tom had brought to her from his last business trip might be in the safe at home, but the pearls around her neck that night were also real -- not from her husband but from her lover, the Siamese."
Liza Bean sighs, leans back in the booth. “The Tom returned from the bathroom before I could return to the door. Taking the look on his wife’s face to mean I had been harassing her, he called the manager over. Unwilling to divulge her secret and having no reason to offer for having abandoned my post, I was let go on the spot.”
Liza Bean finishes her drink as another appears.
“Anyway,” she says, slipping the waitress a couple dollars, “I can still spot a real pearl.”