through the cigarette haze flossie could see that the prince hal room was finally starting to empty out...
and here, pushing past the people starting to leave through the back door to the parking lot, came ...
it was … oh no!
it was jasper mccarthy.
jasper mccarthy. the new reporter that max, the managing editor, had hired for the federal-democrat as a favor to jasper's uncle fred mccarthy, max's old friend from their days in the abraham lincoln brigade.
would he see flossie sitting at a table over in the corner, and partially hidden by hyacinth?
flossie's experience was that people like jasper always found you. they had a sixth sense, like homing pigeons. or cats and dogs that you read about in the readers digest, who got lost on family vacations and then they traveled five hundred miles on their own to find their way home.
but jasper headed straight to the bar, without even looking around the room.
the room was really starting to empty now. it looked like the band had packed up - had the bandleader announced that they were playing their last number? they might have. flossie had not been paying the strictest attention.
the only people left at the bar were the house detective nolan talking to a big redfaced guy who looked like a traveling salesman or a high school football coach - he was talking to nolan like he was trying sell him something.
and a young woman sitting by herself on the other side of the bar with her back to flossie. why didn't she turn around, she looked kind of cute.
and mortimer, who had just arrived.
and jasper, who took a stool two down from mortimer. good luck, mortimer, thought flossie. well, he said he liked to talk to people.
raoul, with a glance at the clock, came over to the seated jasper.
"excellent timing, sir. it is two minutes to closing time. what will you have?"
"two minutes, eh? i should have time for at least three doubles." jasper looked over at mortimer so see if he showed any appreciation for this amusing comment, but mortimer's attention seemed elsewhere.
"a double what, sir? scotch? i would be happy to serve you a double something but with my careful attention to detail i might not have time before closing to prepare a second one. also, here at the prince hal room, we don't like to have to perform first aid on choking patrons, though of course we make every effort to do so if it becomes absolutely necessary."
jasper hesitated. "that's quite a speech. i bet you were class valedictorian in your high school in harrisburg pennsylvania before you came to the big city to pursue your career in the dawwwnce."
"what would you like , sir? the clock is ticking. a double scotch?"
"no, rye. i guess you haven't been a bartender very long if you can't tell a rye man from a scotch man."
"certainly, sir. on the rocks?"
"good god, do i look like a man who would drink rye on the rocks? of course not. and make it old overholt, if you have it."
"i believe we do, sir, though it might take a few moments to find it."
"do what you must, do what do you must." jasper sighed, and slouched against the bar.
jasper was twenty-three years old, but had - and cultivated - the mannerisms of a drunkard two or three times his age.
raoul went down the bar in search of the old overholt and jasper looked over at mortimer.
"you know, in theodore dreiser's day, and ring lardner's day, bartenders were bartenders. they were workmen worthy of their hire, and took pride in their profession."
mortimer looked up from his glass of ginger ale. "that sounds about right."
"and it was a profession. a profession as honorable as being a surgeon or a lawyer. or even the publisher of a newspaper. if i may say so."
"now they are all act-ors, or dawwncers in the balll-ay. or else one of these artists who sell paintings that look like a cow kicked a can of paint over on its way to the slaughterhouse."
"um - i don't know that raoul is any of those things," mortimer answered. "you'd have to ask him."
"raoul! what kind of name is that for a bartender? did h l mencken ever have a pint drawn by a bartender named raoul?"
"i think it's kind of a classy name."
raoul reappeared with the bottle of old overholt, and jasper watched him attentively as he poured the double.
jasper seized the glass and tried to throw it down in one swallow, but gagged slightly and it took a second toss to get it all down.
gasping, he slapped the glass back on the bar. "i guess i have time for another."
raoul stared at him. "one more, sir, and then it will be closing. one more, and you can take your time savoring it."
"pooh." jasper looked over at mortimer. "sounds like a damned doctor, doesn't he?
when all the bartenders are doctors, what happens to the doctors, hey? i ask you."
he pushed the empty glass toward raoul and raoul slowly poured another double.
jasper waved the glass at mortimer, spilling a couple of drops. "to your good health, sir."
"thank you," mortimer answered.
"even though i'm not a damned doctor. no, not a doctor at all."
"i'm not a doctor either," mortimer told him. the whole time jasper had been talking, mortimer had been keeping one eye on hyacinth, over at the table in the corner with flossie . they did not seem to be talking much - they both looked half asleep or dead drunk. maybe hyacinth was so far gone she would not even understand him if he gave her the message that stan had left the hotel.
"but i bet i can tell you what you are," jasper was saying to him.
"you are a high school science teacher - or high school math teacher - from new jersey. southern new jersey. a northern new jerseyite would hold his glass higher off the bar."
mortimer looked down at his shirt. he didn't remember changing out of his elevator operator's uniform and he hadn't. the hotel logo was plainly visible on his left side. but maybe his arm was in the way and the guy couldn't see it.
"i never been to new jersey in my life. and i only got to sixth grade in school."
"really? i'm not usually that wrong. let me try again - "
"i'm an elevator operator. here in the hotel. i just got off and that's why i'm drinking this free ginger ale." mortimer dropped his arm to his side so jasper could see the logo on his shirt.
jasper stared straight ahead for a few seconds. then he said, "tell me, sir, do you know the definition of art?"
"no," mortimer answered, "like i said, i never got past the sixth grade."
"and you, my good man," jasper asked raoul, "do you know the definition of art?"
"no, sir, why don't you tell us."
"taste is - i mean art is - art is the discrimination of proper placement. yes. the discrimination of proper placement." jasper picked up his drink and raised it to his lips.
then he started coughing violently.
mortimer jumped up off his stool. raoul shook his head, then started out from behind the bar .
nolan and mack treacher, at the other end of the bar, looked over at the coughing jasper. with a sigh, nolan got up.