The Ruby Marie
My cell rang.
I pulled it out of my pocket, looked at the name and let it go into voicemail.
“Please God, just let me listen to this message.”
All I have to do is look at a call and my phone dials the number.
I got to the part where I had to type in my secret password.
My secret password is so secret that I have a hard time remembering it.
But that morning I tried my birth date.
I listened to the recording.
“Millie, I want to thank you for saving my life last night,” I heard Big D. say in his slow and easy voice, right out of the deep dark yonder. “You have no idea what I might have done if you hadn’t come along. Someday I would like to buy you a cup of coffee. God Bless you.”
“See,” I thought as Louisa and I walked through the parking lot of the Hotel Ruby Marie to the Come Back Inn. “Sometimes the stupidest things that I do work out for the best.”
But I was going to catch hell for it.
That was okay.
Because in the end, the son of Big Don hadn’t killed me.
I was very appreciative of that.
And I was also really hungry for the complimentary breakfast that came with our stay.
It had been a long day and even longer night.
After having watched my grandsons play soccer under a blanket on a cold Saturday afternoon in April of 2016, I’d hopped in the car with my sister Louisa, to meet some of our girlfriends for a one night stay in the city we’d grown up.
It was going to be a quick break from the monotony.
A short time to live a little.
A brief time to laugh a lot.
It was gray and it was drizzly as she parked the car.
The cold and damp was all the way to my bones.
It felt good to get inside the historical building and check into our room.
“Wow this place is really cool!” said Louisa.
“Look at this bathroom, Millie.”
“Don’t be alarmed,” I said. “But we’ve got company.”
“Look over there.”
Our friends had been in Madison since the morning and they’d already been to the Farmer’s Market and now they were hanging out at The Crystal Corner.
It wouldn’t have been that far of a walk.
Had it been a nice day.
The drizzle turned to a cool mist as we made our way there on the old cracked and narrow sidewalks.
Jerry Garcia was all tangled up in blues when we opened the door.
We slid in beside the other four and spent that gray afternoon, doing a variety of very fun activities.
We ordered drinks, ate greasy food, mingled, pushed buttons on juke boxes, laughed, danced, discussed the fungus on our flocks, went to Bernie’s Rock Shop and we went horse back riding.
We met a mad kisser.
She took a break and snapped our picture in a bathroom.
And then we ditched the crazy girl and her crazy lips and went out for dinner, where we ran into this old timer playing a saxophone with all he had.
He stole my heart.
He also stole my cell phone power.
He played a long time.
And I videoed a documentary that he starred in.
We headed back to The Hotel Ruby, to see a band.
What happened next was all Louisa’s fault.
She nudges me on the sidewalk. “Let’s go in there.”
I stopped and looked at the door.
How many years had it been since we’d been inthis place?
I shook my head.
“No, we should stick together.”
“We are sticking together. You and me. Come on.”
And we veered in through the door unnoticed by the girls in front of us and we traveled back in time.
Back to a day when we were adults, only because our driver’s license said we were.
“Where are you?” came a text.
“Be right there,” I wrote back. “Just having one here at The Cardinal. Where are you guys?”
“At Ruby Marie.”
When Louisa and I arrived at The Ruby Marie, none of our friends were in sight.
And then Louisa says, “Let’s go up to our room for a minute.”
We took the elevator upstairs.
Now here is the thing about Louisa.
Louisa likes to go to bed when she is tired.
She was tired.
“But, it’s only ten o’clock,” I said.
“Exactly,” she said.
Sons du les bitches.
She was putting her pajamas on.
“Well, I’m going downstairs. They should be back there by now.”
“Okay,” she says, hopping into the bed. “Have fun.”
The elevator doors opened.
I stepped into the bar on the ground floor.
Not one friend.
Not one band.
“Where are you guys?”
And then I thought.
“Maybe Claudette had said there’s a band next door. Could that be what I heard?”
I walked outside.
I could go right.
Or I could go left.
I chose right and began walking down the abandoned sidewalk.
“There must be a bar down here,” I thought looking for any sign of life in every window.
I was getting further and further away from The Hotel Ruby Marie.
“Turn around you idiot,” I heard that know-it-all voice in my head when I came to the end of the long block.
“Do not cross that street”
I heeded the warning.
And that is when I ran into him.
It was on my way back.
He was very tall and very dark.
He was standing in front of a door looking at it.
Next to the door was a window.
There were a couple of guys on the other side of that window tuning guitars.
But that guy was just standing and staring at that door.
I got in line behind him.
He didn’t move.
He seemed mesmerized with that door.
“Are you going in?” I finally broke the silence.
He turned around real slow and deliberate and he sized me up and down.
“They won’t let me in,” he said in a voice that came from the deep, dark, yonder.
“I don’t have any money.”
“There’s a cover?”
“What?” he says.
“We have to pay to get in?”
He just looked at me.
His eyebrows had turned into a capital question mark.
I glanced over at the people tuning their guitars. They didn’t seem to be much of a band.
The door this man was standing in front of was a wooden door. Like a wooden door that would open to a flight of stairs leading to an upstairs apartment.
That is when I realized that I was all alone in the city. I was talking to a complete stranger who just told me that he had no money. A stranger who could pick me up with one arm if he so desired.
Millie Noe could disappear, even with her yellow leather jacket and her orange tennis shoes.
I glanced in both directions.
Black and quiet, one way.
Abandoned sidewalk, the other.
“If there’s no band, then why do you need money?” I said, knowing the answer.
“Drugs,” he heaved.
“Oh. Well, that sucks. Come on. I’ll buy you a beer.”
“Come with me,” I said and I started toward The Ruby Marie at a decent clip.
And then we were side by side.
“Yeah. I lost track of my girlfriends, but they should be there by now,” I said. “And don’t worry about those drugs. You can just hang out with us.”
The stranger nodded and answered yes and no, whenever I took a breath.
But my friends were still not there.
“Where are you guys?”
I hit send.
And then my screen went black.
So I bought the guy a pint of beer.
He picked it up, tilted his head back and drained the entire glass.
“Why’d you do that?”
“I need to get high,” he answered.
“Oh. Then you’re going to need another one. Do you want a shot too?”
He broke out a grin.
“You’re alright,” he said.
And he slammed another beer.
And he drank that shot.
And then another of each.
He was hard to keep up with.
And then he began to relax a little.
“I’m Big D, Son of Big Don,” he told me.
I’m not exactly sure, but I think that I told him my entire life story.
Right in his ear.
His head was bent down as he sat crouched on a stool and I stood next to him.
And I can really talk.
For a long time.
My sweet Sven has issued more than one gag warning.
And then Big D. began to talk.
“I’ve done bad things,” he says.
“So who hasn’t?”
“I have demons,” he said.
“Well you seem real nice to me.”
“I’m not,” he said. “You have no idea.”
“Don’t worry about your past. Focus on the here and now and the future.”
Like Barry White.
“I will try that,” he said.
It was getting really late.
“I have to get going,” I said. “But let’s keep in touch.”
“I really need money.”
“Here. Take what I have left,” I said. And I gave him whatever was in the bottom of my purse.
“Don’t spend that on drugs,” I said.
“I’m going to,” he said.
And then he walked out the door with a slight limp that I hadn’t noticed until that moment.
I could barely operate the elevator buttons. But I got to our room on the third floor and I woke up Louisa trying to get my pajamas over my head.
“Oh my God, Millie,” I heard her say. “What are you doing?”
And then we laughed for a very long time.
“Where the hell was everybody?” says Angelique over all the clanking silverware at the breakfast table we were crowded around.
“I went to bed,” says Claudette.
“I went to bed too,” says Julia.
“Me too,” says Louisa. “I was out at ten.”
“I was at the shitty band with you,” says Shirlee-Bunny.”
“That’s why I went to bed,” says Claudette. “The band sucked.”
“You went to bed because you had to go to bed,” says Julia.
“I was out walking the streets alone in the dark and I met a man trying to buy drugs,” I said. “And where the hell was the band?”
“The band was right here.”
“Right here? At the Come Back Inn?”
“Yes. How many times did we say, the band is playing right next to the Hotel?”
And then I got the lecture of a lifetime as I ate the best complimentary breakfast I have ever had, with an exquisite amount of exquisitely done hash browns, and eggs Benedict smashed over the top of them, all the while all the texts from the night before came beeping into my newly charged cell phone.
“Louisa, can you leave a tip for me?” I said. “I don’t have any money.”
“All you had to do was turn left Millie. We were right here.”
“Ya. Next time I will take a left,” I said, and took a sip of coffee.
“How old was he?”
“I don’t know. Maybe forty.”
“Was he good looking?”
Between you and me, I’m glad I took that right.
I’m still friends with Big D.
The Son of Big Don.