Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
Stella’s by Starlight
Earl pushed the piano stool back, rose, and counted the steps to the back of the bar. It was time to sort the marbles. Stub had come up with the idea to use different-sized marbles to indicate to him which beers to pour. When they got sticky with use, Stub soaked them in a bowl of soapy water. Earl dried and separated them into small glass bowls that Stella kept on a tray near the beer taps.
He turned the radio on as he worked. The Hit Parade had just started with Vaughn Monroe crooning Let’s Get Lost. Earl sang along, memorizing the lyrics and the notes, which is why he did not hear the front door open. He was clueless as to who was now sitting at the bar.
Elroy sat at the bar, his ferret eyes taking in everything. He reached over the bar for a glass and poured himself a beer. He plucked a hand full of maraschino cherries from a bar bucket, popped one in his mouth, and than began to flick them one at a time at Earl’s back. A Colt .38 Super Pistol with nine rounds lay on the bar, cocked and ready.
The door to the kitchen opened.
Stub came out of the kitchen with half a ham and cheese sandwich in hand, the other half stuffed in his mouth. What he saw scared the hell out of him. He chewed and swallowed as best he could, but was unable to swallow enough in time to give Earl a warning.
Elroy was itching to use his new toy. He had expected Stella to come through the door and was somewhat disappointed, but it did not matter. He was here on an agenda, business was business. “Earl, my man, long time no see.”
Earl didn’t recognize the voice, but the Woodpecker laugh that followed he had heard before.
Elroy reached for and aimed the pistol as he gave his trademark Woodpecker laugh. “Guess who?” The bar resonated from the explosive blast at close quarters. Stub took the round in the chest, not far from the heart, and was flung backwards through the swinging kitchen door.
Stella screamed from somewhere behind the man he had just shot. “Oh baby, come to Papa, we’ve got some unfinished business, you and me,” Elroy cackled.
Earl dropped the bowl of soapy marbles, the bowl shattering as his hands flew up to his ears as he stumbled back, his hearing temporarily deafened by the blast. His feet rolled on the marbles and he fell.
“I knew we had something in common there, partner. It appears you’ve lost your marbles.” Elroy brought the gun up and held it steady as Stella appeared at the door.
Her mind couldn’t quite fathom what was happening. As soon as Stubs had taken his sandwich out of the kitchen, he was catapulted backwards through the door and now lay on the floor with a large crimson stain spreading on the front of his shirt. She knew that she should try to help him but was gripped with only one terrified thought: Elroy... how? Earl? Please, God, not Earl!
Elroy pulled the trigger again. “That’s all folks,” he screamed out in his cartoon voice. The woodpecker laugh followed long and cynical as a bottle of Scotch exploded two feet from Stella’s head, a shard of glass suddenly drawing a red line across her cheek.
As Stella saw Earl go down, she reached out for him in terror and panic. A third shot shattered a row of bottles, the debris and liquid raining down on Earl as he tried to roll into a protective ball. The nearby radio was playing Peg of My Heart by the Three Suns.
“Stella... tsk... tsk... Stella,” Elroy chuckled, “I’m hurt. Is that any way to greet an old flame?”
Stella’s ears were ringing, and smoke from the pistol swirled through the air, stinging her eyes. She could see Earl’s mouth open and close, but there was no cry of terror. She could only read his lips as he cried out her name. The shrill ring in her ears cleared. “My God,” she mumbled beneath her breath as she stared at Elroy in disbelief, “I thought you were dead.”
“Not quite, sweetheart.” His sudden laugh brought shivers. “As you can see I’m very much alive.” The gun swung towards her as he pulled the trigger, and for that brief second she thought she was dead. She turned as if she already felt the impact and saw Stub, who had somehow struggled to his feet, take the bullet in his right shoulder. As limp as a Raggedy Ann doll, he collapsed, blocking the kitchen door and any retreat.
“No!!!” Helpless to do anything for Stub, she turned back towards Elroy. A shrill wail and cattle bells was all she could hear. He was saying something, but she couldn’t hear a word.
“I came for my mo-ney.” The word was pronounced with a smacked lips into two distinct syllables.
Earl found it hard to focus. His mind wanted to spiral back to the painful memories of the explosions aboard his ship in the Murmansk Sea. He shook his head and tried to focus; the nightmare at hand demanded his full attention. He heard the word “money,” and now knew where Stella had gotten the money to buy the bar. He did not need to see what had happened to Stub to know that Elroy planned to kill them both. He needed to focus, to overcome the helpless terror that tore at his heart.
Peg of my heart, I love you.
Don’t let us part, I love you.
I always knew it would be you,
Peg of my heart...
Elroy motioned with the pistol for Stella to come to him. She backed away. “I said come here. Don’t make me ask twice. That will really piss me off.” He pointed the gun down towards Earl and started to pull the hammer back. No, I may need you for a couple of minutes more, he thought and pointed the barrel back at Stella. “I said I came for my money.”
Since I heard your lilting laughter,
It’s your Irish heart I’m after.
It’s your Irish heart I’m after,
Peg of my heart.
Earl sang softly, slowly folding the layers of darkness until he sensed everything immediately around him. Stub moaned and moved just enough that Earl knew that he was still alive. For how long? A serious clock began ticking inside his head.
Earl searched with his mind to remember the exact placement of everything behind the bar: marbles, broken glass, lemons under the bar in a plastic container, and a slicing knife. He prayed that Elroy could not see much of him from where he was standing.
Since I heard your lilting laughter
It’s your Irish heart I’m after.
It’s your Irish heart I’m after...
He sang a little louder as he reached out for the knife, rolling marbles as quietly as possible across the floor towards the service entrance to the bar.
Peg of my heart,
Peg of my heart,
Peg of my heart...
Stella tried not to glance down for fear that it would draw Elroy’s attention to Earl. She saw the marbles roll and the knife as Earl slid it in his sleeve. As much as she wanted to run, she knew that she had to draw Elroy behind the bar. It was their only chance.
Peg of my heart
Peg of my heart!
“Shut the hell up!” Elroy screamed. BLAM! Another row of bottles exploded, raining glass and booze down on Earl, the booze stinging the scar tissue beneath his dark glasses. As he covered his head with his hands, the knife slipped from his sleeve.
Fearing the worst, Stella moved quickly to the edge of the bar immediately across from Elroy. Her left foot kicked the knife back beneath Earl. She had just put herself in the worst possible place, within arm’s length of a maniac who seriously wanted her dead.
She needed to make Elroy angry, so mad that he would more want to hurt her than kill her. At least for the moment. She remembered his attempted assault in the elevator and had a good idea which of his buttons to push. If she was wrong, she wouldn’t get another chance. If she was wrong, he would kill Earl just to spite her, and she could not live with that.
“The money is gone, you impotent sonofabitch.” She spit in his face, than waved her hand wildly pointing. “It’s all here, in the bar. I used the money to buy it. So you’re left with nothing. Nothing.” She leaned forward, exposing her cleavage just enough to taunt him. “Nothing.”
Elroy’s hand shook as he pointed the pistol’s barrel straight across the bar into her face. She could tell that he ached to pull the trigger.
Earl slid like an eel through sea grass across the floor, careful not to cause the glass to tinkle. How many marbles were on the floor he didn’t know; he moved as many as he could in front of him. His hand held the knife closed in his fist. He could feel the sharp sting of liquor as he cut himself, holding the blade too tightly. Still he moved forward singing only to himself, “O Peg of my heart...”
“You haven’t got the balls,” Stella swore as she stared directly into the gun barrel. Her heart was thundering in her chest so hard she thought she might pass out.
Elroy lowered the gun just a little as he wiped the spittle from his face with his other hand. “Then I’ll take what’s mine another way.” He let out a Woodpecker cackle as he bolted towards the bar service entry.
Ivory Burch had frozen just outside the door when he heard the first shot.
He set his bag down and peered through the window. He knew immediately that Stella and Earl were in grave danger. He couldn’t just rush in. Nevertheless, he slowly and quietly began to edge the door open.
Elroy was fast.
Earl readied the knife.
Elroy’s cackle was cut short as he tumbled to the floor. It wasn’t the marbles that brought him down, it was Ivory pounding his fist into Elroy’s head.
Stella had forgotten that Ivory was coming in. Now here he was, strong as a bull, a miracle out of nowhere, and more than an even match for Elroy.
Elroy had no idea who was on him or where he had come from. Whoever it was, he was strong and was beginning to get a choke-hold on him. In another moment he’d lose the gun. He twisted his wrist around just enough to get off what he hoped was a gut shot at his assailant.
Ivory lost his advantage as the bullet slammed into his wooden prosthetic, splintering off a section below the knee. The impact felt as if it had been torn free along with the scar tissue at the end of his stub. Until that moment he had a strong hold on Elroy’s neck and was able to twist Elroy’s arm back far enough to dislodge the gun. They fumbled for the gun.
Ivory saw Earl and rolled back, shouting, “Earl, now! I’m clear. He’s at your 2100 — nine o’clock.”
Earl lashed out with the knife, too late. Elroy seized it, rolled, and took aim at Earl’s throat. It was the roll that gave Ivory his chance.
Elroy’s scream became a sudden empty gasp as Ivory brought what was left of his artificial knee up hard into Elroy’s groin. That was all it took.
Earl froze, not knowing which way to crawl.
Ivory now had Elroy pinned.
Elroy, helpless with pain, stopped struggling. “I’ve got him, Earl,” Ivory said. He secured the gun and held it point-blank to Elroy’s nose. “Stella call the cops. Earl, are you okay?”
Earl nodded. “I’ve had better days.”
“If you’re good, see if there is any life left in that poor fella blocking the door. Watch out for the glass.” Ivory never took his eyes off Elroy.
Earl rose, got his balance, and followed the edge of the bar until he reached Stella, who needed him to pass before she could get to the phone. She took his face in her hands. “I’m all right,” he said as his free hand traced her cheek and caught a fading tear.
“Police,” Stella said into the phone as she looked over at Earl who was kneeling beside Stub. “I need to report a murder.”
“Not yet,” she heard Earl say. “Stub is still breathing. He’s going to need an ambulance right away.” She listened for a moment to the officer on the other end of the line. “Yes, the attacker’s name is Elroy Hawks. We have his gun pointed at him, where it can’t miss. He’s not going anywhere, but I suggest you get here before one of us uses that gun.”
Earl was sitting out of harm’s way at the piano when the police came and took Elroy away in handcuffs. Stub was loaded into an ambulance. Ivory was talking quietly to an officer who was taking notes on everything that had happened.
Earl was tempted to play something on the piano but continued to hold Stella’s hand. “This here is a day to remember,” he said. He turned on the piano stool towards where she was sitting next to him.
“Yes, it is,” she said, still trying to grasp everything that had just happened.
“No, not that,” he said as he found her face with his free hand. “This.” He brought his fingers to her lips, found them, then brought his to hers for a long, lingering kiss. “Stella, will you marry me?”
Ivory stopped talking mid-sentence with the officer and turned towards the piano. “Well, I’ll be damned...”
Stella kissed Earl, her tears falling on his cheeks.
The officer let out a low pleasant whistle.
Earl held her kiss, slipped his hand from hers, and turned back towards the piano. This time he sang the song as he never had before:
That great symphonic theme,
That’s Stella by starlight.
And not a dream,
My heart and I agree.
She’s everything on this earth to me.
Stella said yes.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith