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Happy Birthday, sillymagpie!!!

I just finished re-reading Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart; a guy at work got a copy for his birthday and asked me if I'd read it, and I replied that it had been a long time. I didn't really realize HOW long, I told him, until I dug out my copy -- it's a First Edition. And his eyes got big and round and said he'd seen First Editions selling for $800 on eBay. I myself found it selling for around $350, but I think I'll keep my copy... The dust cover is even in good condition.

There hasn't been any mail delivery for two days. This is strange and somewhat troubling.


Chapter Two


"Your bill is seriously overdue, Miss Michaels," said the front desk clerk as Bonnie hurried
through the lobby. "I do hate to bring it up with any of our long-term residents, but you are on a
weekly lease."

"I know, I know," said Bonnie, trying not to let the catch in her voice be heard. "I'll pay you
tonight, I promise."

She had to come up with something. Anything at all. Even if she had to try to get into a
poker game and risk what meager savings she had left, she had to come up with some money
tonight or everything was over. Bonnie had no idea what she could do other than be a man's
mistress, but she was afraid it would involve walking the streets in something less than what she
was wearing now.

She'd avoided the Sands since the night she'd gone dancing with the Texan, and thus
avoided running into him again. But surely he was gone by now, along with his birthday, back to
his home and family. The Sands was the showplace of Vegas these days, and that had to be
where she could find a real benefactor, someone who would take care of her the only way she
knew how to be taken care of. But the moment she reached the poker room, she saw Sean
Patrick was still in town. And the moment he saw her, he threw in his cards. Bonnie turned and
started away, but somehow he managed to catch up with her.

"Hey. Where've you been?" he asked, pulling her up short with a hand on her arm. "I've
been looking for you."

"Why?" she asked, startled.

"I was worried about you." He frowned a little, his hand moving to her shoulder. "Look,
honey, you've been really shy about telling me anything about yourself, but folks talk."

"Talk? You mean that blowhard the other night?" she snapped, feeling the blood rushing to
her face. Damn him!

"Well, what he said led me to ask around a little," he admitted, and to her surprise, he
blushed. "You were the mistress of one Robert Blake Samuels. He took care of you. He passed
away a few months ago and you've been trolling the casinos since looking for another Bob
Samuels to take his place. Am I right so far?"

Bonnie, miserable, nodded. "Yes," she hissed. "Yes. I need a new benefactor. So leave me
alone and let me get on with it before I get myself kicked out of my motel."

He frowned again, the slight crease reappearing between his eyes. "What's wrong with me?
Why aren't I a prospect?"

"You're just a boy," she said, then gently touched his arm. "A very nice boy, but just a boy.
I like you, I really do. But I can't expect a nice boy to be jaded enough to want to set up a
mistress in another town."

"I'm older than I look, Bonnie," said Sean Patrick. He guided her out of the flow of foot
traffic in the casino and bent over her, his eyes intense. "I'm rich, and I'm finding I rather like
traveling to Las Vegas. It would do me a world of good to have someone waiting here for me
when I come."

Bonnie stared up at him, incredulous. "This is ridiculous. What happens when you get
married and start a family? The men I look for already have finished with all that. They just
want something apart from their family, and I provide that. I set them up a very nice second
household."

His eyes narrowed. "How do you know what I want?" he asked. "Give me a shot. I'm a
little on the eccentric side. You never can tell." He bent down close to her and breathed on her
neck, his breath oddly cool but extremely pleasant, as he whispered, "I'm told I'm pretty decent
in bed, too."

Bonnie looked at him. He was blushing again, his face dark red, but his eyes were snapping
with mischief and merriment. He certainly was attractive. "Oh, really," she replied, not taking
his bait.

"You want proof?" He gripped her chin in his long fingers, tilting her head to his. She
didn't pull away when he kissed her. This time it wasn't brief. His lips were insistent,
demanding, and hers parted beneath them, allowing him to brush the inside of her mouth with his
tongue. He bent her back, over his arm, intensifying the contact, the long fingers of one hand
tangling in her carefully crafted hairstyle while the other arm supported her, keeping her from
falling helplessly to the ground. The noise of the casino faded from her ears and an intense
buzzing filled them.

She wanted it to last forever. But all too soon, his lips left hers. "Why not me?" he repeated
in a hoarse voice.

Bonnie shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. No, no, no, no. There were far too
many problems with trying to be a mistress to a young man. "I'm flattered," she managed to
stammer, "But seriously. You're not the type I'm looking for. I need someone stable." She
wiggled away from Sean Patrick and hurried off before she looked at him again, desperate to put
some distance between herself and temptation.

Bonnie shifted her attention to visiting businessmen, trying to gauge the difference between
men who were there for a real business trip who would appreciate someone to hostess his
meetings as opposed to a mobster who would rather not have any witnesses at all. By sheer luck
she met a group of Japanese men, one of whom, Hayao Nakamura, was delighted to chat with her
about the Geisha ways and how much he missed them when he came to America. Bonnie wasn't
sure she knew all the finer aspects of being a Japanese man's "geisha," but it certainly sounded
intriguing, and it was a lot closer to what she was looking for than being some man's hooker.

But all Hayao was willing to pay for was a nice evening, a bath, a massage, and a meal. He
wasn't interested in setting her up a household, and the very idea shocked him. Bonnie gathered
that geisha had their own houses and took care of their own bills. She was back at the drawing
board, no closer to her goals than she had been before. Still, it gave her an idea.

She pawned a few things with the hopes that she could rent a nice hotel room for a while and
there host a man or two, to make herself seem less desperate and more appealing. When she
went to her motel room, it was with the idea that she might possibly skip out on the bill, praying
to herself that they hadn't already locked her out. Unfortunately, the night clerk was at the desk,
and he saw her come in. "Really, Ted," she said, lifting her hands, "I have the money. I'll get
caught up, honest."

He waved at her. "Oh, your bill's been paid," he said.

Bonnie stopped dead. "What?"

"Your bill's been paid, up through next week," he replied.

"Um..." Bonnie swallowed. "Okay," she said, frowning. Should she ask who paid it, or did
she want to know? "Ah, good," she covered. "I was hoping that went through."

Ted smiled at her and nodded, going back to his work. Bonnie continued through and to her
room, musing. She didn't have to hurry to pack, now, if she was okay through the week. Still, a
few of her nicer things and she'd head to the Flamingo or the Dunes, to set herself up a room
where she could entertain a gentleman and hope beyond hope she could find one who both suited
her and whom she suited, as well.

Five days passed, five frustrating days where she entertained several different gentlemen with
varying levels of success. The problem, as her girlfriend Jeanette told her, was that things were
simply different now than they'd been in her mother's time, and men just didn't DO that like they
used to. But Bonnie knew that couldn't be the truth; men and sex would always go along
together, hand-in-glove, tighter than a hangman's noose. Sex and comfort were ambrosia for the
male animal, and even when she couldn't get them to consider the added bother of setting up a
second household. Every excuse in the world came up from "too expensive, too much trouble"
to "what if my wife found out?" That had never bothered Bobby.

Sometimes she really missed Bobby. He'd not been the best lover in the world, but he'd
always been fun and he'd really taken good care of her. Sometimes she secretly suspected his
wife had found out about them and killed him, and the fantasy often gave her a few hours of
entertainment, although she knew he'd died at his country club, on the golf course, of a simple
heart attack. That he'd been surrounded by his buddies who'd tried and failed to revive him
scotched her grim notions of a wifely murder, still, thinking of the former Mrs. Samuels as a
Black Widow soothed her spirits somewhat, especially the hurt when she found that Bobby had
left nothing to provide for her.

She'd been charging everything to her room and was dreading the day she'd have to check
out or at least come clean about what little money she had. Of course, worst came to worst,
she'd take a job as a waitress. She could make out pretty well on tips, according to Jeanette, and
it would be "a sight more respectable than what you're doing." Bonnie wondered if they were
hiring anywhere. The Dunes wouldn't be a bad place to work. The costumes were cute. Could
she even get hired, with her complete lack of work experience?

She drew a deep breath to gather up her courage and walked up to the front desk, putting on
her best smile as she said, "Could I check on the status of my bill?" she asked as angelically as
she could, "I've been charging several meals to the room and I wanted to make sure I didn't
overdo it."

"Certainly," said the clerk.

She gave him her name and room number and waited a moment as he checked the records,
flipping through the cards and receipts in her file. "According to this, Miss Michaels, your bill is
currently paid in full."

Bonnie blinked. "Ah. Well, that's good, then," she said, keeping her smile plastered on her
face. "Thank you so much."

"Any time."

In a daze, Bonnie walked through the casino. What in the world was going on? If she had a
benefactor already, where was he? She hadn't seen anyone watching her, and she assumed that
anyone who was willing to put down that kind of money for her would make himself known.
Wouldn't he? For a moment, she thought about Sean Patrick, with his earnest expression, but
she hadn't seen him since that night he'd kissed her so intensely and she'd run away from him
after very definitely putting him down. By now he most certainly had gone home. In a few
months he'd have forgotten about her. And she would either have a new benefactor or maybe
she would be wandering through the casinos with a tray saying, "Drinks? Drinks?" as she passed
between the glassy-eyed players at the tables and slot machines.

Maybe there were worse fates. Momma would be disappointed in her. But wasn't a waitress
an honorable profession? There was nothing wrong with her choice, with her decision to follow
Momma's path. It was just as honorable, in its own way, and it was just a moralistic, judgmental
society that made it "wrong."

Bonnie waited at the steak house, where she was going to meet and entertain a man she'd
met at the craps table. He'd won a great deal but bet without care, he dressed well and had gold
jewelry, so he was a man with money. He'd declared Bonnie his good luck charm and had
accepted heartily when she'd asked him to dinner. While a public location wasn't the best place
to show off her hostessing skills, it was a good place to shine as a companion, where she
wouldn't have to worry about serving as well.

She smiled when she saw him sauntering through the restaurant toward her. "Hello,
Richard," she said, rising.

"Sit down, down, girl," he said in his jovial manner. "Call me Dick. The whole world
does." He gripped both her hands and kissed them. "How is my little good luck charm?" he
asked.

"Delightful, now that you're here."

That made him laugh. "You are one lyin' woman," he said, "but I like it. I like it a lot."

He wasn't much of a conversationalist. He could talk endlessly about fishing, about craps,
and about the merits of 'good American beer' over 'that Communist crap,' but he wasn't much of
a reader, other than fishing magazines or the Reader's Digest. "I like the jokes," he said, waving
away her comment about the New Yorker. Bonnie never had thought of herself as an extremely
literate person, but compared to this man, she suddenly felt as urbane and witty as Dick Cavett.
Boredom was making her head spin. Could she deal with his man for a whole weekend every
month for essentially the rest of her life? Oh, dear Lord, please, no. She kept the smile plastered
to her face, her eyes on his as though she were drinking in every word, when all that was going
through her mind was how to escape this one. It was the first time she'd really gotten a solid bite
in weeks, and God knew she needed him, yet she couldn't even imagine spending any of her life
with him. He was boring and boorish and so deeply conservative she could feel her ears burning
at his stunning racism, lack of compassion for anyone or anything, his views on women's rights,
and his almost casually vulgar tongue.

"You're such a fun fellow," she said, instead, when he told a joke that made her ears burn
like fire with savage embarrassment. For a brief moment, she thought of polite Sean Patrick,
who apologized after saying 'hell.' Then she lifted her wineglass to her lips. Maybe she could
get drunk, then the rest of the night might go by a little easier.

"Well, thank you, Lucky," he said with another hearty laugh. He was what they called a
good man, a midwestern upright fellow who probably sat on his church board and ran successful
businesses, a conservative right-wing war supporter who undoubtedly voted for Nixon and
Goldwater. One thing Bonnie did not want to get him on was politics, but on the other hand, it
was that sort of decent upright man who ended up taking mistresses. At least, that was what
Momma always said.

"So where's that waiter?" said Dick, leering a little at her before looking around. "We got
some business here tonight, don't we, Lucky? Hey, there! Check, please. Check!"

The waiter hurried over. "Pardon me, sir. Your bill's already been paid."

"What?" Bonnie said it at the same time as Dick, only he sounded annoyed while she felt a
huge surge of relief. That meant her mystery benefactor was still out there somewhere, keeping
an eye on her. A man like Dick wouldn't appreciate someone paying his tab, she could tell that.
"Who paid it?"

"The gentleman over there," the waiter turned, pointing to the corner, but the table there was
empty. "At least, he was sitting there. He said he was a friend."

"What did he look like?" asked Bonnie.

The waiter shrugged. "Tall, I think, kinda skinny. Wearing a cowboy suit, like Roy Rogers
or something," he said.

Bonnie managed to not squeal. Sean Patrick was still in town, and he had to be the one
who'd been taking care of her. He was trying to prove he was a good choice as benefactor, bless
his heart. Silly boy. "Thank you," she said to the waiter.

"Thank you?" blustered Dick. "I ain't havin' some guy pay for my dinner. I gotta know
who's payin' my bills. You know this fella, Lucky?"

"I think so," she said without changing her expression. "Sounds like a friend of mine. He
was probably just doing something nice for me."

"No one buys my dinner without givin' me his hand, little lady. Where is this friend of
yours?"

"I don't know," said Bonnie, looking around. "I haven't seen him in a while. Don't worry
about it, Dick. I'm sure he doesn't expect anything in return."

It didn't relax him. If anything, Dick grew more and more agitated as they walked through
the casino toward the elevators. Finally, he turned to her. "I don't know that I'm up for this,
Lucky," he said. "I think I'm gonna call it a night."

Bonnie was torn between elation and annoyance. She started to protest, but then nodded.
"All right, Dick. Maybe some other time."

"Thanks for a nice meal, Lucky. And thank that friend of yours, too." His gaze was
suddenly very keen, as though he'd picked up something Bonnie herself wasn't aware of, but he
chucked her the chin, said goodnight, and left her at her door.

Bonnie sighed, her shoulders drooping. She hadn't wanted Dick, but he was a good prospect,
damn it. She couldn't just let her "mystery benefactor" chase off every man she tried to get close
to. Certainly that had to have been his plan, he must have known the sort of man Dick was, who
wouldn't accept a free meal from another man. Bonnie knew that testosterone dance, she'd seen
men squabble over who would pick up the check before. She paused with her key in her hand,
then turned, shoved it back in her purse, and marched back toward the elevators.

Finding him should be easy. A man like him stood out in a crowd. Not only was he a head
taller than most people, his flashy clothes were memorable. She described him to a cashier at the
cage and was rewarded with, "Oh, yes. Mr. O'Connor was here earlier. I'd try the poker room."

In the poker room, "Mr. O'Connor? Yes, he was here. You might look in the buffet."

At the buffet, "Ask someone to check the men's lounge for you."

And at the door of the men's lounge, "I don't know if he's still here. He may have gone back
to the Sands."

Everyone knew him by description and most of them by name. They all liked him, and some
even viewed her with suspicion for daring to be looking for him, as though they wanted to protect
him from her. But she knew he had to be around, because no matter where she sat down to eat,
her bill was paid. Her hotel room stayed current. And one evening, just before she was
scheduled to talk to another inviting prospect, five dozen red roses arrived at her hotel room, with
a card which read, "I hear you're looking for me. Sands, Suite 175." It was impossible to
explain to Roger Fitzsimmons, billionaire, where all the roses had come from without sounding
insane, or as though she were, indeed, fishing for prospects, and he didn't stay very long.

Furious, she marched across the street and up the block to the Sands Hotel.




I need to wrap up sillymagpie's birthday presents. At least, the ones that are here (again with the troubling lack of mail).

My back hurts. Not sure why.

I finally did it! : Adopt one today!


Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
tiirz
Jul. 25th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
I still have to wrap presents too! Did Steve's gift ever turn up?

I need to go check out chapter one, since I've not been keeping up with LJ...
wildrider
Jul. 25th, 2009 04:33 am (UTC)
No, it has not (ordered at the same time as Maggie's, because, as you may recall, it was a timing/money problem...). I thought they'd get here by now. *grumble* Fortunately for Maggie, we had some cash this time and she'll at least have something to open! (Oddly enough, we have a Christmas present for you guys that I was tempted to give him so he'd have something to open, but while it's for both of you, I think it's more yours... *g*)

sillymagpie
Jul. 25th, 2009 06:13 am (UTC)
Thanks for the birthday wishes! I should reread Bridge of Birds. I also need to find my copy of The Time-Traveler's Wife to loan to my sister. She read it in the hospital, but thanks to the morphine and other drugs, doesn't really remember it. She wants to reread it before the movie comes out in August.

Could you tag chapters with a "novel" tag or something so I can go back and read them? I meant to read the first one, but got distracted. (Oh, look, cows!)
wildrider
Jul. 26th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
I adored Bridge of Birds all over again!

Sure, good idea.

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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