mortimer felt something in the shadows behind the refrigerator in the corner of the diner….
cary grant threw his arm around mortimer's shoulder.
"come on, pal, let's get out of here. i know where the real action is."
suddenly mortimer was outside, back on the endless red sands of mars , with cary grant at his side.
they were both wearing only loincloths. mortimer had a short sword in one hand and a shield in the other.
cary grant carried a long trident and a net.
a city of glass towers glittered in the distance, silver and blue.
a wind sprang up and the swirling sand made a long tunnel they were walking through.
at the end of the tunnel mortimer could see one of the green moons which was also a throne….
on the towering emerald throne sat a queen. the two queens from the diner - jennifer goldberg from sixth grade and the reporter miss flanagan - had morphed into a single empress.
her skin shifted from spider black to rose red and back again, and her hair was flaming snow.
her eyes were twin universes devouring galaxies like snowflakes…
she looked mortimer straight in the eyes.
she spoke in the voice of mortimer's favorite actress, simone simon…
"what have we here," she intoned , "but the two greatest gladiators of the galaxy,
car-el and mort-el." she paused. "which, i wonder, shall be my champion?"
for the first time mortimer noticed two figures, one on each side of the empress.
on her left, in the dress of a roman centurion, with her pudgy arms folded belligerently across her chest, stood mrs mconigle, the principal from mortimer's old school, which he had said goodbye to after the sixth grade.
on the empress's right, in a high backed upholstered chair, slouched basil rathbone, or maybe it was john carradine, in the black suit and hat and string tie of an old west card sharp.
at a nod from the empress mrs mcgonigle threw back a purple curtain.
and there was the city… the moonlit city of blue and silver glass towers…
and in the center of the city was the auditorium… vast and empty, except for two gladiators in the center of the red and green and golden sands on the floor of the arena…
stan and bosco!
mortimer looked around. cary grant had disappeared. now the empress was talking directly only to himself, mortimer…
"know, mort-el, that when you have proven yourself worthy of being my champion, the universe will then be ours, yours and mine, to roam at will, plucking empires like flowers and tossing them beneath the giddily spinning wheels of our chariots, as we climb ever higher the summits of love…. speak, mort-el, does this not please you?
"uh… yeah, i guess so…" mortimer stammered.
"and on the summit of the summit, when we have conquered all, then, if you are worthy , you will taste the greatest treasure of all… the lips of an empress. are you ready?"
"um… i guess."
basil rathbone/john carradine laughed. "i think he means he's as ready as he's going to be."
mrs mcgonigle pointed to the glowing sands of the arena, where stan and bosco waited, with swords at their sides . "then go to it, big fellow. strut your stuff. shake the walls."
now stan and bosco were right in front of him. stan's eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. but bosco looked at him with his big sad eyes like he did when his walks were over and he had to go back into the apartment on bleecker st before the ice cream man got him.
"but that's my friend," said mortimer, "and my dog."
"your dog!" cried the empress. "your dog! what manner of dog are you, then, that you spit on the embraces of an empress!"
mortimer looked down. he was back in his elevator operator's uniform. the sword in his right hand had turned into a slowly melting fudgesicle and the shield in his left hand had turned into the menu at buck's diner on thompson st.
mortimer was terrified. he didn't want to drip fudgesicle all over himself in front of simone simon…
mort, mort! wake up!"
mortimer opened his eyes. he was on his stool in front of the elevator leaning back against the wall and jackson was standing over him.
"you awake?" jackson asked him.
"yeah, i'm awake." he pulled himself upright. he had completely forgotten the dream and everything in it. "sorry. what time is it?"
"hey, it's only quarter of four. but i'll take over, you can go. i mean, i know i've been late enough times."
mortimer rubbed his eyes. there was something he had to remember. "did you see anybody," he asked jackson. "did you see miss wilde?"
"the actress? no, i didn't see nobody. except roland. i came in the front door. it's almost four in the morning."
"o k." mortimer would have liked to stick around a little longer. but jackson might get curious, or suspicious, if he didn't take his offer to relieve him early.
where was miss wilde? with stan gone, did he really have to tell her he was gone?
he decided to take a quick look in the prince hal room.
he started to move away. "thanks, jackson, i'll make it up to you."
jackson laughed. "you already have, man. a hundred times."
flossie yawned. rude, but she couldn't help herself. she didn't give up easy, but she knew when she was beat. there was no way she was going to get anything out of hyacinth wilde.
where did she ever get the idea that she could? the broad was an actress. it wasn't the acting on stage that made her so tough. getting ahead on broadway, her whole life was playing games.
so was the whole night a waste? it looked like it. damn, she was tired. and drunk. at least her dearest friend in the world hyacinth had been paying for the drinks after the first one.
now even hyacinth seemed ready to call it a night. she had stopped chattering and was staring down into her highball glass.
flossie put her pack of lucky strikes into her purse. through the cigarette haze she could see that the prince hal room was finally starting to empty out.
the door from the corridor to the front desk opened and someone entered.
it was just mortimer, the little elevator operator.
and here, pushing past the people starting to leave through the back door to the parking lot, came another hardy pilgrim looking for a drink just before closing time.