Running the Bulls

Running the Bulls by Cathie Pelletier

Book: Running the Bulls by Cathie Pelletier Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cathie Pelletier
dump. Tobacco smoke twenty years old was now embedded in the tattered carpeting, which had so many small, black craters burned into it by careless cigarettes that at first Howard thought the round spots a part of the original design. As he waited for the receptionist to appear from wherever the hell she was, he glanced around the front lobby. Two artificial indoor trees stood faded and haggard in their plastic pots. A coffee urn sat on a table in one corner, beneath a sign that said Help Yourself Complimentary Breakfast, 7 to 9 a.m.
    In its heyday, the Holiday Inn had been a magnificent idea when it arrived in town, flaunting itself like some big-city showgirl. It had its very own lounge, one that sported plush sofas and chairs, and was considered a fine place for white-collar folks to gather for a happy hour drink. Many of the teachers from Bixley Community College, as well as from the high school, could be seen there often, munching on microwave egg rolls and little weenies floating in some sort of reddish sauce. And, of course, listening to Larry “Mr. Mellow” Ferguson play the piano and sing songs by everyone from Sinatra to Captain & Tennille and John Denver. At least, it used to be like that. But these days Larry was belting out “Like a Virgin” by Madonna; and a couple of Waspish and horrible renditions of rap songs; and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” the Guns N’ Roses version. “Hey, at least it was originally by Dylan,” Larry always leaned into the microphone and informed his small crowd of listeners when the manager wasn’t around. This manager, a tense young woman sent by the home office to save what was left of the floundering establishment, was perpetually on the cusp of firing Larry Ferguson, or Mr. Time Warp, as she had personally nicknamed him. Wally, the bartender, had shared this tidbit with the regulars who sat at his bar. “She told Larry he has to catch up with the times,” Wally whispered to Howard and Pete, during one happy hour a few days earlier when the two had stopped in for a cold one after a game of golf. “Or Larry’s ass is spring grass.” It seemed as if everyone was whispering at the Holiday Inn now, as if in fear that the very rafters—probably rotted to the core with years of steam from countless weenies—would come crashing down on their heads otherwise. But Larry himself had been confessing the problem to his audience. On those Friday and Saturday nights when the tables would be a third full, and the piano man perspiring more than ever, he would lean close to the microphone. “If I don’t bring in a younger crowd,” Larry would whisper to his retired and semiretired listeners, the sweat beading up on his brow and catching the bluish spotlight that seemed to come from some hole in the roof, “my ass is spring grass.” Then, peering over his shoulder for Eva Braun, his own nickname for the manager, he’d defy her by launching into “Crocodile Rock,” in honor of the good ole days. This always brought Ellen and Howard and the other schoolteachers to their feet. You could jive to Elton John, just as if he were Bill Haley, and Larry Ferguson knew it.
    The Holiday Inn had been a part of Howard’s life for a long time. Once a year, for years, Howie and Ellen had penned a song request on a napkin and then asked the waitress to take it up to Larry. And once a year, for years, Larry had feigned surprise at reading the request. “Let’s see,” Larry would say, the sweat beads on his forehead shaping themselves into a thin, blue-gemmed tiara under the spotlight. “This is another anniversary night for Howard and Ellen Woods. Now, what could they possibly want to hear?” Then, he would pretend to read on the napkin: “Somebody please help me, I’m trapped! And it’s signed, Howard Woods!” The crowd would snicker in appreciation, and Howard would wave

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