Episode Sixteen ♦ Daisy 

Anita and George sat in the White Oak Room for the second night waiting for their server to bring their cocktails — a Kentucky Buck for him and for her an Old Fashioned with “only a teaspoon of bourbon for flavor” — and to provide the chef de cuisine’s suggestions for their dining pleasure. Anita found the whole place rather pretentious even if the food was quite good. The dark wood, leather furniture, and antique brass fixtures made the room feel heavy. Neither the white china nor sparkling silver helped lighten the mood.

“So, have you given up searching for Daisy?” Anita asked.

“Something will come up. Someone will walk by. We still have breakfast in the morning. I know Matt was trying to tell us something.”

“Have you tried asking for her?”

He looked at her then past her. “I have and the desk clerk swears she’s never known a Daisy in the many years she’s worked here.”

“Well, there’s your answer then. We have to leave tomorrow. Might as well go to the station and see if we can find a train to Saint Louis.”

She found this new situation unsettling. George had to understand that they would have to rely on their own judgement: UGO wouldn’t be looking out for them indefinitely. “Okay, if Matt and Parker paid for our room and board, then that means we are moving beyond UGO. We need to make some decisions…”

“But maybe UGO made the arrangements. Or maybe they told Matt and Parker to help us.”

“It doesn’t really matter. We just need to decide where we are going and what…” She stopped speaking as a tall, smiling man wearing a white shirt, black pants, and a white apron approached their table.

“Good evening. My name is Tom Buchanan and I will be serving your dinner tonight.” He set their drinks on the table. “For the first course, the chef de cuisine suggests, for Madam, a salad of spring greens with goat cheese and vinaigrette and a light tomato bisque served with broiled cheese toast points for Sir. For the main course she has suggested seitan stir-fried with mixed vegetables and a spicy citrus sauce served with brown rice for Madam. For Sir, she has grilled lamb chops served with a mint chutney, braised new potatoes and root vegetables.”

Anita wondered what would happen if she said she’d prefer a massive steak and French fries but smiled and said, “That sounds lovely.” George just smiled and nodded in acceptance.

“Very good then. I will return momentarily with your first course,” said Tom.

“Let’s just enjoy our evening. Maybe the chef can suggest entertainment opportunities for after dinner,” Anita said with a bit of a sneer.

“Don’t you think that will be a bit odd?”

“What?”

“Wouldn’t one just get it off the Informateur.”

“I guess. Don’t you ask for recommendations from people you know? No one thinks that odd. It’s the asking how to get there that is problematic.”

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“May I bring you anything else tonight?” asked Tom. “We have a lovely selection of liqueurs…”

“No, I’m fine,” said George. “That was delicious!”

“No thank you, but maybe you can tell us a good place for music.” She glanced at George. “Or maybe some theatre? Since we’re just visiting and don’t know the town, it’s hard to choose from so many possibilities.”

Tom thought for a moment. “Well, you can’t miss at the Barrel and Tumbler. It’s always popular and tonight’s their open mic. It’s a favorite with people into traditional music like bluegrass, country, and Celtic. It’s just down Fourth a couple blocks. Are you interested in popular music?”

Anita looked at George’s blank face then back to Tom. “No.”

“There are a number of places along Main and Market where you’ll find all sorts of stuff. I’m not really sure what you’re looking for so let me put it this way. When I finish my shift, I plan to head over to Black Sox in the Portland neighborhood. It’s a jazz club. You can catch the Portland Streetcar on Jefferson and get off at Twenty-Sixth. You can see the sign from the left side of the streetcar. The current group, Storyville Creole Cabaret, is very good.”

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Anita nursed her iced rooibos and passionfruit tea. She had enjoyed the prior duo’s more melodic style and the poetic lyrics had at least been comprehensible, but this group’s driving beat and aggressive, angry sound nagged at a soft spot inside her. Maybe her headache was coming back.

“Do you like this?” George said, a frown contorting his face.

“About as much as you seem to. I’m getting kinda tired. Maybe one more stop and we head back to the inn. Okay?”

“Great. Let’s go.” He pulled out of the booth. She waved off his hand. Help wasn’t needed, at least not yet.

“So, what did you have in mind?” she asked.

“How about we catch the streetcar and go to that place in Portland the waiter told us about? I’m sure he’s done with work by now.”

“Sure. I don’t really care. It’s not like there is anything else to do besides sleep.” They left Dogg’s, a place specializing in classic hip-hop. Anita felt weight melt from her shoulders as they walked free of the thumping bass.

While the exact time was still unclear to her, she guessed it was approaching midnight and well past her bedtime. The streetcars were busy and she was grateful that George was able to navigate the system.

“There it is.” He pointed out the window to a simple white sign with bold, black letters: BLACK SOX. They exited the streetcar and found people milling around on the pavement outside the place.

George opened the door for her. They passed around a wall that screened the room from the door, candles glowed on tables barely piercing the room’s darkness. The place was crowded with couples and small groups engaged in innumerable conversations. They walked along the bar towards the dance floor. Behind it the stage was bathed in a cool, blue light. The stage was home to a grand piano, bass fiddle, drum set, and various empty stands but no band.

She looked around the room but could only find an empty barstool. George offered the seat to her, but she refused it as well as another drink. The bartenders were harried, and he put little effort into gaining one’s attention. She assumed he didn’t want one anyway.

Anita looked around the room at the mixture of unfamiliar faces. People were smiling, chatting, and laughing: the audience ranged from young to old. In Anita’s mind, this bar could have been in Hartfield or any number of cities.

Something caught her eye. A lone man sat at a table near the blue light of the stage. He wore a blue shirt and was waving at someone. She made eye contact, touched George’s arm, and asked, “See that guy sitting alone?” The guy continued waving from across the room.

Touching his forefinger to his chest, the guy nodded, and then George said, “I think he wants us to join him at his table.”

Anita took George by the arm and they started over. As the distance closed she realized he was familiar. “Hey, that’s our waiter from dinner tonight. And isn’t that shirt the same as Matt was wearing?”

Laughing, George leaned into Anita. “Tom Buchanan wearing a daisy-print shirt! That’s got to be the clue.”

Anita glimpsed at George. “Huh?”

“Matt kept saying ‘look for Daisy’ as in daisies. Not a person.”

“Why didn’t he just tell us to find one person out of five hundred thousand wearing the same awful daisy shirt? It would have been a whole lot easier.” She decided to ignore the twinge of guilt she felt for being sarcastic.

Tom stood with outstretched palm. “I’m so glad you found this place. Please join me. The band is really hot tonight. If you want, I know the bartender and can get you a drink.”

“Bourbon on the rocks for me,” said George.

Anita smiled, “I had more than enough tonight with dinner. I’ll just take a water.”

“Sparkling? Mineral?” asked Tom.

“Tap will do just fine.” She smiled as Tom walked towards the bar. They settled into the semi-circular booth. Looking at George she said, “So what’s this about daisies?”

“Daisy was the clue. But like anyone listening to the conversation, we assumed Daisy was a name. It’s not. But it’s really clever. See, Tom and Daisy Buchanan were married at the Seelbach Hotel.”

She looked at George, blinked three times, and let silence express her incomprehension.

He continued, “It’s from a famous book, The Great Gatsby. You must have read it in school.”

“Maybe I did. Name’s kinda familiar,” she said, her attention shifted to Tom returning with the drinks. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to continue to treat you like our waiter.”

“It’s quite all right. As I said, I know the bartender and it’s easier for me to get served when they’re busy between sets.”

“Matt says hi,” George said. “We saw him yesterday. They gave us a ride.”

“How are the hill cousins? I’ll be honest, we’re only related by marriage – well, ex-marriage, if you know what I’m saying.”

Anita said, “How on earth were we supposed to find you?”

“Didn’t you see the daisy on my name badge at work? Well anyway, you found me and I’ve got a message for you.”

Movement on the stage drew the crowd’s attention to the stage as the septet – four women and three men – took their positions in the blue light with the assistance of a couple of stage hands. While some prepared their instruments, a woman stood in the middle of the stage holding a banjo. She started to speak. “For our last set this evening we’re going a bit further back in time. Women finally had the vote and drinking went underground. We’ll start off with ‘Ain’t We Got Fun,’ before our version of ‘The Sheik of Araby’.” The crowd clapped and cheered with knowing approval. “Then we’ll head down Memphis way for ‘Beale Street Blues’ and closing out the night with ‘Three O’Clock in the Morning’. Enjoy! And remember, the Storyville Creole Cabaret will be back here, at Black Sox, at the end summer.” She turned to her compatriots and started counting out a rhythm.

George was very focused on the band. Anita poked him in the side to get his attention. “Didn’t you hear? Tom has a message for us.”

George leaned past her as the group played the melody straight. “What’s the message?”

Tom slipped a piece of folded cardboard across the table. George read it first and then passed it to Anita. She unfolded the thick, cardboard paper which had been cut from a packing container. Hand-printed in block letters it read, “Nick Carraway says Harmonie by the mark.”

George looked at Tom. “Did you read it?”

Tom shook his head.

“...Every morning, every evening, ain’t we got fun?”

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