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Holding the glass up to the light and peering through the amber liquid, Cynthia thought she saw dust swirling in the bottom and said as much to her friend seated on the barstool next her.
“Unfiltered,” Cheryl replied. The crowded, noisy room nearly drowned out the terse response. “Trendy.” She swallowed a mouthful, “Believe it or not, supposed to be that way.”
Cynthia sniffed the rim, did not find the yeasty odor offensive. She tilted the drink toward her lips but paused before sipping and took one more close squint at the liquid’s surface. Where draught met glass was a thin thread of white foam.
Cynthia at last tasted the ale and a cold tingle of effervescence trilled down her throat with the reminiscence of champagne. A different kind of bubbly, she thought. Beer isn’t just for red-necks any more.
At the same time, Cheryl set her half-full pint on the counter and leaned back to take in the other patrons and their mutual surroundings. She watched fascinated as Cynthia went through her sniffing and squinting motions and smiled at the thought that her friend had never been in a brew pub.
In Southern California where Cynthia grew up there were bars and restaurants but nobody concocted their own beverages on the premises from scratch. Except maybe root beer stands. Would that be the same thing? She’d have to think about that.
“Really, Cyn, I wasn’t all that thrilled my first time either. It’s like sex: You gotta get into it slowly. Hey. Whatdya think of the guy with the wide tie?”
Cynthia followed where Cheryl’s eyes led, then took the first turn in their naming game. “I don’t think that’s quiet the same as big feet, big dick. He’s more like Mister Polar Bear.”
In mid-sip, Cheryl snorted a laugh into her glass. “Right. Cold and not very cuddly. Doesn’t clip his toenails and keeps out of the sun. Polar Beer. Got a gut on him. Not my type either.”
The fellow must have realized he was the object of their attention because he looked appraisingly in their direction. Both quickly averted their eyes.
It was Cynthia’s turn to pick someone out. Her eyes settled on a table across the room occupied by four men wearing similar dark suits.
“Quick, I’ve just spotted the Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan.”
“Really!? Where? Ooooh. Gotcha.” Cheryl was fast to follow a lead. “Real swordsmen. Think they carry daggers? Not allowed to count briefcases.”
“Checked at the door. No weapons inside the saloon.”
Cynthia took a big sip, set the glass down, leaned over and nudged her companion: “Q-tips at four o’clock,” she said surreptitiously. “Don’t let ’em see you. Probably can’t get it up.”
Abruptly, Cheryl changed the subject. “So tell me about HIM, Cyn. What’s he like? Is he a Polar Beer or dashing like our Musketeers over there?”
Cynthia took another gulp of her drink before she replied. “I really don’t know. Tonight’s our first date. Met him at work, third floor, he’s an analyst. The psychiatric kind, not computer. We’re getting together in, um. . . “ she did not wear a watch, so she grabbed Cheryl’s wrist, “an hour at Dante’s. For dinner. He says it’s a nice place, quiet, a few blocks from here. You been there? I haven’t.”
“Once with Manny. The Wharf Rat. Remember him? Expensive restaurants and cheap hotels. That was Manny’s style. The dipstick was married if you recall.”
Cynthia nodded. “I remember. Well, I hope Roy’s telling the truth he’s single. A nice guy. I call him Mister Nice because he’s so darn polite. Actually, I’ve been hoping he’d invite me out for weeks.”
“Tsk, tsk. You ought to learn not to play where you earn your pay. Not good to date guys in the office.”
“I know, but it’s not really the office. And I really really really wanted to go out with him. We’d see each other in the elevator and I knew he was just getting up the nerve to ask. Joan in bookkeeping said he talked about me to her once, but that was months ago. Anyway, he finally introduced himself last week and said he lives in the Richmond and doesn’t have a car so yesterday when he asked me to dinner I said sure, but let’s meet somewhere near the office and he suggested Dante’s.”
At that juncture in their conversation the bartender stepped up and said, “Pardon me ladies. Those two gentlemen at the table over there would like to buy you both a drink.”
Mildly amused, Cheryl looked in the direction indicated, saw two men with upraised glasses hailing and smiling. They had not yet been selected in the name game. Cheryl must have liked what she saw because she lifted her nearly empty container and finished it off with a nod.
Cynthia, meanwhile, had not turned her head and said in a low hiss, a scolding tone of voice: “Cheryl! You cannot do this to me! I have to be some place and I don’t want to get involved in a conversation with someone I don’t know. I don’t have time to talk to a couple of Bozos.”
Too late, the damage had been done and two dark beers appeared on the counter in front of them. The men at the table rose and advanced toward the bar. Cheryl giggled as one sidled up on her side and the other took a position next to Cynthia.
“They call it Swamp Water but it tastes like Tupelo honey,” the taller of the two said by way of introduction. “Me, I’m Ed Thompson. This here’s Jimmy, or James Moody if you prefer. And you ladies are named . . . ?”