Read an Excerpt
I WOULDN’T SET foot in Mugs Ahoy unless it was a matter of life and death. But finding my so-called advertising manager, Ed Bronsky, came close.
Ed is not given to hanging out in bars. Strong drink has a way of cheering him up—and Ed prefers walking on the gloomy side of life. But I knew he had to clear an ad for Mugs Ahoy’s promotional tie-in with Alpine’s Loggerama Days. Deadline was upon us, and so were the media representatives from the new Safeway that was opening west of the shopping mall. Ed had stood up the reps, and as editor and publisher of The Alpine Advocate, I had a right to be annoyed. I left the Safeway people in the capable hands of our office manager, Ginny Burmeister, while I ran the full block up to Pine Street to haul Ed back to the newspaper.
If they ever sweep the floor at Mugs Ahoy, they’ll probably find a couple of patrons who have been lying there since the first Loggerama in 1946. The tavern is littered with bottle caps, peanut shells, cigarette butts, and crumpled napkins. At high noon on a summer day, the place is mercifully dark. No wonder the dart board with the curling edges looks otherwise unused; between the murky light and the bleary eyes, I doubt that most patrons can find it.
Ed was at the bar, drinking coffee and exchanging glum comments with the owner, Abe Loomis. A half-dozen other customers were hoisting glasses of beer and watching a soap opera. Their faces looked jaundiced; the air smelled stale. I began to feel as depressed as Ed.
Across the bar, Abe Loomis nudged Ed and nodded at me. “Mrs. Lord. The boss.” He mouthed the words, and looked as if he were announcing somebody’s imminent death.
Ed swiveled his bulk slowly on the stool and peered at me through the gloom. “Hi, Emma. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Ed’s about as wide as he is square, but even sitting down he’s taller than I am, and he weighs twice as much. As ever, when I upbraid my lugubrious ad manager, I feel like a gnat attacking a hippopotamus. This time around, I also felt a little foolish, since everyone in the tavern had turned curious, if befuddled, eyes away from the TV and onto me. After two years of small-town life, I’m getting used to being observed at close quarters.
“Ed,” I began, trying to keep the exasperation out of my voice, “the Safeway reps are—”
Ed didn’t exactly spring from the bar stool, but he landed with a thud that made the ancient floorboards creak. “Damn,” he breathed, brushing crumbs off his plaid sport jacket, “I forgot! Sorry, Emma. I’ll run right over there.” He started to lumber toward the door, but stopped midway and turned back. “You don’t suppose they want color, do you?” He asked the question as if it were immoral. Before I could answer, he waved a pudgy hand at Abe Loomis. “Oh, go ahead and check out that ad for Abe, will you? I didn’t quite get around to it.” Ed Bronsky creaked and squeaked his way out of Mugs Ahoy.
Gingerly, I sat down on the bar stool next to the one Ed had vacated. “Okay, Abe,” I sighed, “let me have a look.” Ed wasn’t merely lazy, he seemed to have an aversion to selling advertising. If he hadn’t been employed long before my tenure as owner of The Advocate, I would have gotten rid of him—or so I often told myself. The truth was I didn’t have the heart to fire him.
Abe Loomis, a skinny man with deep-set eyes of no particular color, reached under the bar and produced a mock-up, two columns by six inches deep, featuring a busty blonde from Ed’s clip art files. I winced at the illustration, then tried to concentrate on the copy.
Mugs Ahoy proudly presents its
First Annual Boom & Bust
Wet T-shirt Contest and Chug-A-Lug Night
In honor of Alpine’s Loggerama Days
Friday, July 31
Come meet Alpine’s most up-front females!
Cheer them on with your favorite brew!
Listen up as a titter runs through the crowd!
Make this year’s Loggerama a week to remember!
I’m all for equal rights, though I consider myself more of a humanist than a feminist. However, I am definitely a supporter of good taste. Even though Alpine may not be Seattle, and the First Amendment gives Abe the right to say what he wishes, I had to balk.
“Uh, Abe …” I pointed to the ad, careful not to let it get doused with coffee, beer, or God only knew what other liquid that might be stagnating on the bar at Mugs Ahoy. “I think this needs a little work.”
Abe’s eyes seemed to sink even deeper into his skull. “Like what?” he asked in a surprised voice.
“Like shorter,” I suggested. “Or maybe more informative. Here, let’s take out a couple of lines and put in something about the contest itself.” I gave Abe what I hoped was an engaging smile. “Eligibility, for instance.”
“You mean measurements?” inquired Abe, emptying Ed’s coffee mug onto what appeared to be the floor.
I tried to avoid gnashing my teeth. “I was thinking more of age, maybe geography. You know, if they have to live within the city limits.”
Abe furrowed his long forehead at the mock-up. For the next ten minutes, we rewrote the ad. He surrendered the two most offensive lines, while I let the artwork pass. As long as there were wet T-shirts and women willing to fill them, there really wasn’t any other way to picture the contest.
“It should be a big year for Alpine,” he said when we’d finally come to an agreement. “Especially with Dani Marsh coming back to be Loggerama queen and ride the donkey engine in the parade down Front Street.”
“Right,” I said, tucking the ad under my arm and slipping off the stool. “It was lucky for Alpine that her new movie is being shot on location at Mount Baldy.”
“Lucky, my butt!” The hoarse female voice shot out of a darkened corner near the ancient jukebox. I turned, trying to recognize the figure sitting at the small round table. Although Alpine is made up of only four thousand persons and my job brings me into contact with the public, I still don’t know half the population on sight. Abe, however, has owned Mugs Ahoy for over twenty years. He gazed at the woman with the indulgent expression typical of his trade.
“Aw, Patti, don’t be so hard on the kid. She’s made a name for herself, put Alpine on the map in Hollywood. You know darned well you’ll be glad to see your daughter when she gets here.”
“You’re full of it, Abe,” retorted Patti, shaking off the restraining effort of her companion, a lean, sinewy man in a red plaid flannel shirt. “I never want to see the little tramp again.” She stubbed out her cigarette and got to her feet. “Come on, Jack, let’s get out of here.”
Patti and a man I recognized as owning a logging company, but whose full name eluded me, stalked out of the tavern. The remaining customers watched with interest while Abe made a pass at the bar with a dishrag.
I took a couple of steps back toward Abe. “That’s Dani’s mother?”
Abe looked up, grimacing. “Patti and Dani never got along. Patti thought Dani was a wild one.” He rubbed his long jaw. “Case of heredity, if you ask me.”
My cotton blouse was beginning to stick to my skin; it hadn’t rained in over a month. Even the beer out of the tap looked warm. I needed to get outside. “Thanks, Abe,” I said, waving the mock-up of his ad.
“Sure.” He nodded absently, then lifted his head. “Say—who’s your entry?”
I stopped on the threshold. “For what?”
He pointed to the banner that drooped over the bar. “The wet T-shirt contest. Most of the merchants are finding somebody to wear a shirt with their business’ name on it. Then the girls can ride in the parade. Who you got from the paper?”
I made a real effort not to burst out laughing. The contest was serious business to Abe Loomis. My regular staff consisted of Ed Bronsky; Ginny Burmeister; Vida Runkel, the House and Home editor; and Carla Steinmetz, my solitary reporter. The idea of any of The Advocate’s female staff taking part in a wet T-shirt contest was laughable. Except maybe for Carla. It was hard to tell what Carla would do, except that she’d probably get it wrong the first time.
“I’ll see,” I said, trying to keep a straight face. “Maybe I’ll ask Vida.”
I’d expected Abe to guffaw at the image of my strapping sixtyish House and Home editor posing in a wet T-shirt, but Abe merely inclined his head. “She’s a buxom one, all right.”
“Right,” I said, suddenly a little breathless, and scooted out the door.
“You what!” screeched Vida, rocketing back in her chair and snapping off her tortoiseshell glasses. Her summer straw hat flew off, landing in the wastebasket.
“I didn’t really,” I protested. “I was joking. But I thought I’d better tell you because I’m not sure how much of a sense of humor Abe Loomis has.”
“Abe!” Vida rubbed frantically at her eyes, a gesture that always indicated she was annoyed or upset. “That man’s dumb as a bag of dirt. If half this town weren’t fueled by beer, he’d have been out of business a long time ago.” She stopped trying to gouge out her eyeballs and glanced down at a half-dozen sheets of paper on her desk. “The whole thing is so silly. Vulgar, too. Here,” she said, pushing the papers at me, “this is the background piece I just finished on Her Majesty, Queen Dani. Somebody called while you were out and said she and her entourage would be in around noon tomorrow. Do you want me or Carla to take pictures?”
I flipped through the story, noting the results of Vida’s usual two-fingered, rapid-fire method of typing. Maybe it was time again to try to talk her into a word processor. I looked at the battered upright on the little table next to her desk and decided the right moment was probably a long way off, unless I smashed the typewriter with a sledgehammer. “If Dani and company don’t get here until tomorrow noon, we won’t have enough time to get a picture in Wednesday’s edition. Let’s just go with the studio head shot and run some new photos next week.”