It was a beautiful morning. The storm the night before left behind clouds that glowed pale amber in the early sunshine. A light breeze helped to freshen the area and removed the straggling fog that settled down after the rain. Sounds of another day started up in the neighborhood.
However, in one red-bricked townhouse, and in one room in particular, it was curtained quiet. A squat dresser covered with various framed photos took up one corner. A full length mirror stood near next a small bookshelf filled with well-worn soft-cover books of various subjects. The other wall had a glass-inlaid coffee table of antique design and an enormous bed. And on that bed, wrapped in a thick quilted blanket, was Joe Moose, the newest employee at Bar Jocks, clutching a large moose plush, drooling slightly on the pillow.
If one were to take a closer look at the surroundings, the visitor would notice that the blanket and the curtains were embossed with appliquéd kitten images.
Joe turned on his back, his limbs akimbo, and went into an open-mouth snore, loud enough to wake up anyone sleeping in the house. The moose stopped mid-snore, sighed deeply, curled up to the plush, and went back to snoring.
In the distant part of the house, unheard by Joe, a phone rung for a few moments, then a slight beep and a recorded message was heard. The response was this:
“Joe, this is Huxley. When you get this message, call back.”
Huxley, Joe’s boss and owner of Bar Jocks, hung up the phone and looked at Mike, sitting on a bar stool. “What now?”
Mike shrugged. He looked at the bison, then back at Carl, who shrugged back. “We wait.”
Joe, by all signs, was a late riser. Mornings were not his forte, and he usually slept in after ten a.m. But this morning was special. He had a breakfast date.
The alarm on the dresser rang shrilly for several minutes before it was hit by a stuffed moose. Both items fell to the floor; however, that didn’t stop the alarm.
Joe slowly rose up from his bed, barely registering the ringing and instead looking at the clock on the side table. He then stretched, his muscled bulk flexing magnificently, and yawned long and loudly. He stood up, the blanket falling around him, and went to the bathroom to take a shower. As he lathered himself under the hot water spray, he felt the fluff in his mind wash away with the rest of the suds. When he was done, he grabbed a bright yellow towel from a stack and dried himself. He then wrapped the towel around his shoulders and went back to the bedroom to dress.
Fifteen or so minutes later, Joe was downstairs in the kitchen, cooking bacon and putting bread in the toaster. He was turning off the coffee maker when the doorbell rung.
He crossed through the living room and opened the front door. At the step, two figures were there. One was a lithe otter dressed in a silk tie-dye button down and khakis while the other, a winged man taller than the two, was dressed head to toe in black and white stripes. They held cases in both of their hands.
“Hey guys,” Joe said, yawning a bit. He stepped back to let the duo in. “Glad you could make it.”
The otter grinned as they went inside. “I brought over some honey cakes.” He held up a Tupperware container filled with bread. “Gail has some other things.”
“Egg sandwiches,” the other said. He held up a long box stained with moisture. “Fresh from the deli.”
“Awesome!” Joe said before they went to the kitchen, where the other two unloaded their wares and sat down at the table. Joe got the coffee carafe from its place and placed it next to the bacon on the table. Gail opened the box and lifted out a Styrofoam plate laden with sandwiches while the otter took out a few cakes and offered them to everyone. Joe went to the fridge, taking out a pitcher of milk and another of pineapple juice, which he placed near the coffee.
“So,” the otter said, munching on a sandwich, “the rumor mill is agog over a certain moose seen strutting his stuff in a high-end strip bar. Sources also say that he was quite the attraction there.” He raised an eyebrow at Joe, who suddenly was taking an interest in his honey cake. “Don’t tell me you got hired!”
“Trust Frankie to learn the latest,” Gail muttered in his cup of juice.
“It isn’t my fault I saw the photos on Twitter,” Frankie said, pouring coffee and milk together in his mug. “It wasn’t my fault either to see Joe’s rump in a jock, which, I have to say, looked rather fascinating.” He grinned at Joe, who was blushing up a storm. “So, when did they hire you?”
“Yesterday morning,” Joe said. “It was rather…eventful.” He told them about the incident that morning.
“Your boss punched an employee?” Frankie said. “I can imagine the lawsuit that can happen.”
“There’s more,” Joe said. “The guy came in last night while I was over there and tried to beat me up. I knocked him out and had him sent to the police.”
“Is he still there?” Gail asked.
“I guess,” Joe said, taking up some toast and slathering it with butter.
Frankie nodded and changed the subject. “So, how was your first night over there?”
“Interesting, to say the least,” Joe said, munching on the bread. “The ladies loved me, and one guy in particular wanted to have sex with me.” Gail choked on his sandwich, and Joe patted his back a bit. “That’s what I gathered,” he continued. “Him and his husband.” Gail choked again.
“Wow,” Frankie said. “I should go over there and see you in action.” He glanced slyly at Joe. “Perhaps I should ask for a lap dance next time I’m there.” Joe choked on his coffee while Frankie laughed uproariously. “I kid, Joe, I kid.” He paused for effect. “Maybe.”
“You bastard,” Joe said, shaking his head.
Mike looked at the clock and paced around the floor. “When is he going to call back?” he muttered to himself. “We need to talk to him. Maybe I should call him this time?”
Carl shrugged and polished a glass. “He could be sleepin’.”
“It’s nine thirty in the morning!” Mike said, waving his hands about. “He shouldn’t be asleep at this time! Oh, to hell with this.” He went to the bar phone and dialed out a number. He got the machine again. “Joe! It’s Mike! Call back, a-sap!” he yelled into the receiver, and then slammed it down.
“He’s prob’ly sleepin’,” Carl said. Mike glared in response.
“Alright, a-one! A-two!”
Gail put the mouthpiece to his mouth and played a soulful riff on a gleaming saxophone. A bongo beat followed soon after, along with a strumming sound. Joe started to sing about witchy women.
“Alright, stop,” Frankie said a few moments later. He waved a finger about and beat a rhythm on the bongos. “Hm.” He looked at the other two, Moose with a bright blue ukulele and Gail with his sax, and shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll do this one.”
Joe nodded and took up a clipboard and a pencil, where he crossed out a song title. “What about ‘Hotel California’?” he said, reading off the next title on the list. Joe put down the clipboard and played a lingering tune on the uke. “Welcome to the Hotel California,” he sang over the strumming.
“It does well,” Frankie said. He beat in tempo and nodded. “Yeah, I can see where it fits in.”
Gail softly played, supplying an undertone to the song. “I guess it can work.” Joe and Frankie nodded.
Joe strummed a different tune. “I’ve got a party in my head!” he sang out. “Got a party in my head!” Frankie went along with the bongos while Gail tapped his foot. “That’s good also,” Gail said a few moments later.
“Alright, break time,” Joe said, putting down the uke and massaging his hands a bit. “I’ll be right back,” he added, heading to the guest bathroom.
Gail picked up the sax case and opened it, pulling out a small notebook. He started to riffle through the pages. “I had no idea Joe would be working over there,” he said as he scribbled in it.
Frankie smiled. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t expect it either,” he said. “He did say that the boss hired him on the spot.” He thumped on the bongos a bit.
Gail stood up. “I’m going to get another honey cake and some coffee. Give me a moment.”
As he walked out of the living room, Frankie leaned back on his seat. He saw Joe come back. “Gail’s went to get some noms.”
Joe nodded and went up to the otter. He sat down next to him and gave him a hug.
“Hey, what’s that for?” Frankie said.
“Just because,” Joe said. “And for not adding anything concerning Twitter,” he added.
“I see,” Frankie said. “I did read a few tweets about the fight. Nothing in detail,” he continued, “but a few of my co-workers had the phone buzzing.”
Joe glanced over to the door leading to the dining room and leaned closer. “Know anyone by the name of Milhouse?”
“Milhouse,” Frankie repeated slowly, as if he was trying to taste it. “I remember an Alberta Milhouse. One of my superiors. Retired about six years ago. A stately tigress, if I recall.” He shrugged. “Why you ask?”
“Just asking,” Joe said as Gail came back with a small stack of honey cake and a steaming mug of coffee. “You brewed more?” Joe asked Gail.
“Awesome,” Joe said, standing up. “Let me get a cup.”
Frankie stood up. “Extended break time, then!”
“Moosie won’t like this,” Carl said as he saw Mike dig into a duffle bag.
“He won’t know, trust me,” Mike said, unzipping a side zipper and looking into it. “Just trying to find something to…” He trailed off when he pulled out a group of knitting needles and a large skein of bright orange yarn.
“That’s the fifth set we’ve seen,” Samson said, looking at the yarn with raised eyebrows. “Maybe we should call him again.” A few other guys nodded.
Mike put the stuff back in the bag. “There has to be something here to help us out,” he said.
The kitchen door opened, and one of the guys peeked out. “He’s coming?”
“Not yet, Matt,” Mike said. “We’ll let you know when he is.”
“You know,” the ‘roo added as the dragon retreated, “I still have his bike. Let me drop it off.”
“And so, I said to him,” Frankie said as he sipped pineapple juice, “you need to take a vacation, and I gave her tickets to the West Indies.”
“How’s she enjoying it?” Gail said.
“Last I heard, she loves it. She doesn’t want to leave, and I’m willing to give her another week. She hasn’t had a vacation in three years, and I want her to have a really good one.”
Joe yawned in his mug. “I need a nap. I’m not built for mornings.”
“Maybe with this Mike person you were talking about,” Gail said slyly, then laughed softly when he saw Joe blush. “You like him, don’t you?”
Joe shrugged. “He isn’t Mister Bear,” he said and smiled wistfully.
Frankie reached over to rub Joe’s shoulder. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s alright,” Joe said. He took a long draught of coffee. “I miss him sometimes, y’know?”
“How long is he gone this time?” Gail said.
“I don’t know,” Joe said. “He said it might be six months. Maybe more.”
The doorbell rang a few times, and then the doorknocker ratted loudly.
“I’ll get that,” Gail said, putting down the mug and walking to the door. He went to the front door and opened it to see an insanely built grey kangaroo dressed in a white tanktop and shorts. “Yes?”
The ‘roo looked surprised, but recovered with a cough. “I’m looking for Joe. You’re a roommate or something?”
Gail grinned. “I’m not a roommate, but from all the food I’m eating, I should be. Come in.”
“Who is it?” Joe called from the kitchen.
“Finally!” the ‘roo said. He walked past Gail to see Joe sitting at a table with a pot of coffee and assorted food. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with you for hours. I have your bike still.” He then noticed Frankie. “Hello.”
The otter nodded. “Pleased to meet you.” He extended a hand. “Franklyn Morris.”
Mike shook the hand firmly. “Mike Guilotti.”
“Why are you here?” Joe said. “Why were you trying to get in touch with me?” H e waved to an empty seat. “Sit down and help yourself to coffee. Or pineapple juice.”
“And a honey cake,” Frankie added.
“Or an egg sandwich,” Gail said, coming up to the table and pointing to the plate.
Mike smiled broadly. “Thank you!” he said, helping himself to a mug of juice and a sandwich before sitting down. Frankie looked at Joe and raised an eyebrow in question. Joe nodded.
“Joe,” Mike said, “we at Bar Jocks need to talk to you. It is very important that you come before we open so that we can get it straightened out.”
“Paperwork, then?” Frankie said. “What kind? Tax, credit, records, or something else?” Mike looked bewildered.
“Frankie works for the library as a horder,” Joe said, drinking his coffee to cover a smirk.
“The phrase is ‘information technician’, thank you very much,” the otter said primly. “It isn’t my fault I’m in charge of the library archives as well.”
“As I said,” Joe muttered the cup. Frankie glared.
Mike covered a developing smile with a cough. “We just need to talk to you. The bossman’s been trying to do something for you.”
“Records, then,” Frankie said, nodding.
Joe looked at the other two. “If it’s alright with you guys,” he said.
Gail shook his head. “Not a problem. We can come back tomorrow for some more practice.”
“Practice?” Mike said.
“Oh yeah,” Joe said proudly, waving a hand to Frankie and Gail. “We’re a band.”
“Before the Sandwich,” Frankie continued.
“Singing the charms since Eighteen Seventy-Two,” Gail added.
“And that’s all there is to saaaay!” the three sang out in rough harmony. Frankie banged on the table with his fists as if it was his bongos.
Mike grinned toothily. “Oh man,” he said. “I didn’t know that. Sam’s going to go ballistic when he hears that.”
“Samson?” Joe said, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh yeah,” Mike said nodding vigorously. “Apparently, the wife is a fan of the sax player.”
Gail choked on his juice, and Joe reached over to pat his back. “What?!” Gail gasped out.
Frankie raised an eyebrow. “Why is it that Gail’s the heartthrob of the group?”
“No idea,” Mike said before Joe could say anything. He was clearly enjoying himself. “Come on. I’m officially inviting you two.”
“What?” the three said.
Joe peeked through the doors before a hand pushed him inside. “Get in there,” Mike said, loud enough to be heard around the floor. He went after Joe. “I have to let the bossman know you’re here.” He went through the back doors.
“Hey, not bad,” Gail said, coming in and looking at the polished chrome and leather. He waved to Carl, who looked at him and Frankie before focusing on Joe. “Who’s these?”
“Band members,” Frankie said, reaching over to shake the bear’s hand. “We’ve met before, I think.”
Carl nodded. “Som’thin’ about salmon sashimi, right?”
Frankie grimaced at the comment. “I didn’t expect anyone to remember that.”
“You’ve been here before?” Joe said, sitting on a stool. He noticed something on the counter. “Hey, my bag!”
“Only once,” Frankie said. He shrugged apologetically to Carl. “And apparently, it was memorable.”
“They say that the bad moments are often the ones that stick in people’s minds,” Gail said.
“I guess,” Carl said. He turned to find Joe knitting, the moose’s thick fingers nimbly flying across the needles. “You knit?” he said, surprised.
“Learned it from my grandma,” Joe said, looking up but not missing a single stitch. “A wonderful woman.”
“If she learned where you worked,” Gail said, “she’d have a heart attack.” He smiled at Joe’s shock. “I’m not telling, just letting you know.”
“Bastard,” Joe said, shaking his head.
“Now, guys,” Frankie said. He looked at Carl. “So, mind me asking why Joe’s here?”
Suddenly, the lights dimmed. The back doors opened, showing a bevy of guys with Huxley and Mike leading the way. Joe quickly put the knitting away.
“There you are,” Huxley said, coming up to Joe and hugging him tightly. “We were wondering when you were coming.” He focused at the other two. “Who might you be?”
“Friends of Joe,” Gail said.
“Joe’s band,” Frankie clarified. “Mike invited us.”
Huxley raised his eyebrows. “Really?” he asked Joe, who nodded. “Not every day we get to have a live band here.” He let go of Joe and shook the others’ hands. “We have to talk about a session with the local musicians.”
“Really?” Gail said.
Huxley nodded. “But not right now. Instead…” he motioned to the kitchen doors, which opened as a large cart was wheeled out by a kitchen staffer, carrying an assortment of ice cream sandwiches while another one with cups of punch followed. “Time for a welcoming party.”
Everyone took a cup and raised it up. “To Joe, may he never leave,” Huxley said, which was echoed by the rest of the crew before they helped themselves to sandwiches.
Joe smiled. “Thank you guys.” He took a cup and a sandwich, which turned out to be a heavy scoop of ice cream between hand-made gingersnaps.
Frankie tapped the moose on his shoulder. “We have to get going,” he said, his hands filled with punch and sandwich. “We have our stuff still at your home.”
Joe put his cup on the bar counter and took out the house keys. “Just make sure you lock up when you leave. And leave behind some food for lunch.”
“Of course,” Frankie said. He leaned closer. “Do you wish for me to look up Alberta?”
Joe wrestled with indecision before shaking his head. “I was just wondering about something,” he said. “Thanks anyway,”
Gail went up to Joe to take the keys. “Same time tomorrow?”
“Oh sure,” he said. “I’ll see if I can get those sesame rolls you like.” Gail nodded and left.
“In that case,” Frankie said, “I will leave behind the honey cakes.” He grinned, put down his cup, and shook hands with Huxley, who was standing nearby. “A pleasure, sir. Please let Joe know if you want to have a performance here or anywhere else.”
Huxley nodded solemnly. “I will.”
The otter did a funny little bow and walked out the door.
“Nice guys,” the bison said, sitting next to Joe. “You’re okay?”
Joe covered his mouth in mid-yawn, and he nodded. “I just needed a good night’s sleep, that’s all.” He looked around and leaned closer to Huxley. “Anything from the police?”
“Nothing yet,” he said. “I am sure they’ll let us know what will happen.” Joe yawned again. “Maybe we should douse you with some coffee instead of punch.”
Joe shook his head. “I drank two cups of coffee during breakfast.”
“Ye ‘aven’t tried my coffee,” Carl said. He placed a peppermint green demitasse cup next to Joe. “On the ‘ouse,” he said, winking.
Joe looked at the cup. It was filled with a rich dark brown liquid and smelled like chocolate. He took it, and in gulp, drank it.
“Hell!” Huxley said, his eyes wide in amazement. “You weren’t supposed to do that.”
“Hm?” Joe said, quickly feeling the languorous effects. He yawned again. “Dang, that feels nice,” he said. “What did you put in here?” He yawned again before he closed his eyes and fell off the stool with a clatter.
“What did you do?” Mike said, rushing over. He squatted down and softly slapped Joe’s face. “Out cold.” He looked at Carl in amazement. “What happened?”
“Gave ‘im some ‘f my coffee, that’s all,” the bartender said.
“Wow,” Mike said. He got up and looked at the cup. “He drank it all?”
Huxley nodded. “One gulp, too.”
“Oh…” Mike said, lost for words. He rubbed the back of his head. “Uhm…so, what now?”