"How many times have I told you, lock up your pills. Chessy could eat one by mistake." Olympia rattled the vial at Walt, who didn't flinch. "I don't have time to pill him; you do it before he has lunch. Chessy, dear, Mommy will be back on Monday."
Under an oil painting of himself as Best in Show, the old cat -- luxuriously furred, in the Siamese color point pattern - -lay limp in the divan's sag. He blinked his wan, blue eyes as she stroked his head.
"And don't forget to take your Statin!"
"I won't," said Walt.
"That's the trouble with you: you're always so damn agreeable." And lean Mrs. Blanken rolled her titanium suitcase out the door.
Castlewood Cheshire of Dempsey yawned, and scratched deep into the divan's puce velvet. Walt fetched a cigar from behind his collection of National Geographic, and stood on the terrace, blowing rings at pigeons.
"The Big Time, only hours away," he muttered. "Mommy has made pets of us both. The change will do us good." He flipped his stub away, and a pigeon snatched it, let it fall. "Chess, it's time for your pill," he wheedled, stepping back inside. Chess squinted at the asthma pill he tucked into his mouth -- and spat it across the rug. The man pleaded softly while the cat spat more pills or dribbled them foaming. Wrapped in a bathmat, Chess hissed hysterically, theatrically.
"I'm just too decent." Walt gave up. "That's why I retired from Diddle & Squatt. Well, I'm not gonna take my Statin." Loaded into his show-time carrier, Chess yowled all the way down to the Mercedes -- 'til parked next to the driver's seat.
The retired tax attorney hummed tunelessly as they left behind the ravines of Manhattan. He wrinkled his nose at the refinery stench around Elizabeth, New Jersey. Heading south, the traffic seemed light, the driving easy; and with the pleasure of a martyr picking at his wounds he began:
"Mommy should like her bond conference. Phoenix is so dry." Chess blinked his eyes behind his barred gate as Walt swung onto the Garden State Parkway. "Am I having my midlife crisis? It's late, at 56. Bet I live long as Dad: a happy vegetable, with such a rosy color, to the end. You'd have liked him, Chess." The old cat flicked his ears.
"Now you got an honest deal: we feed you, and you purr. You made us pots of money too, fathering 800 kittens. She got you fixed when you retired, so you wouldn't spray anymore ... She kicked me out of our bedroom, years ago -- needed her sleep to trade her damn bonds. Now she complains if I forget to scrub my stain off the shower." Chess groaned.
"So I always kept a little pot of money offshore. I wanted to run off to Costa Rica with my secretary. We lost our nerve, and just as well: they kidnap rich Americans there.
"When I retired I brought my stash home, and now we're gonna spend it ... That fling with Marge was my only affair, and I waited till Winnie and Ginnie were at college. Chess, I've tried to be good for so long -- and where has it stranded me?
"Have to make a little detour; won't take long."
Walt almost didn't recognize the lakeside house near Asbury Park: the paint -- sky blue when his girls were young -- peeling gray, the driveway eroded.
"They're not taking care of the old place," he mourned.
Two small girls tumbled out the side door, shrieking and laughing; chased by a roly-poly man and a Dalmatian pup. They all went dancing around the weedy lawn.
"Look at that," Walt marvelled. "If I hadn't been so busy when my girls were young ..." He started the car, pulled away. Ginnie never called, and Winnie -- who sometimes did -- lived in San Francisco.
"Life was better when I carried the family. When Olympia went back to work, she promoted herself; she pushed ahead. I'm too soft-spoken, I guess; I only made partner in a growth year, nobody's enemy.
"I was a good technician, courteous to the IRS. I always built multiple fall-back positions, and I think my partners respected my neutrality. I sure could cover up their tax mistakes -- and they made them every year.
"No good at bringing in business ... I never screamed or threw things, though. My secretaries all loved me, Chess; they did.
"Do I miss my career? Those paper corporations, nested in their offshore trusts ... We'd veil their ownership, to limit the burden on the income stream. Yes, there was a gaming aspect; and tax planning's a game of skill; but you always wind up playing the audit lottery.
"Oh the roll of chance, the role of skill, the toll of nature and free will ... Now I'm soft in the middle, tired and bald, the consort of a victorious queen. We're safe for the rest of her life, Chess. How degrading."
He got back on the turnpike, burdened here by buses of grey heads. "Is it fun to blow your savings on the slots?" Chess shifted in his carrier. At last the towering casinos loomed above the marshy plain ...
The Babylon Resort didn't take buses. I'm what you want, Walt smiled up at the pretty receptionist in pearls. I drove up in a silver Mercedes, with burl walnut interior trim.
On one side of the immense, tiered lobby, children clamored for camel rides in a sandy reserve; on the other, dwarf horses grazed on a grassy knoll. The din of the hidden gaming floor made a rush hour without horns. A dwarf horse neighed, and Chess meowed back piercingly.
"Take it easy," Walt soothed. "I'm gonna buy you a lobster tail."
Reached by private elevator, blue sphinxes flanked the Tower of Babel's Nebuchadnezzar Penthouse Suite. Walt admired its live palms, the bar shaped like a step-pyramid and (in the bathroom) scale replica of the Ishtar Gate. The wrap-around terrace opened views that made Atlantic City almost beautiful.
In a corner stood a golden hookah; he wondered if it worked. "Saddam would have loved this joint," he told the glossy brunette who'd guided him from the lobby. Smiling fixedly, she demonstrated how to program his rooms. He could make their curtains open and close; and the master bed rotate under its golden canopy; his vast, sunken bath could spray its fountains to a lightshow and/or music. When he couldn't follow her explanations, she handed him a phone book manual, and pointed out the button for his private concierge.
"Where are my Hanging Gardens?" he joked.
"Downstairs, sir, behind the camels." And she handed him two tickets for the Johnny Mathis show, in the Ziggurat Room.
"Please just add any cat damage to my bill," Walt offered suavely. Already Chess had pulled a tassel from his litter's canopy. Walt tipped the brunette twenty dollars, and then added ten; but her smile didn't change. She wished him good luck at his gaming and bowed herself out.
"Guess nobody orders this suite to sit at the slots alone," he mused. "And even the Babylon's mostly slots." Yawning, Chess stretched himself high. "Are we having fun? Have a barf on the rug. We could trash this place, like the rock stars do." But he was a tidy and considerate man.
He ordered dinner in, and the cat ate his fill, who'd never been hand-fed lobster morsels. Soon Chess fell asleep and dreamed of soft-sided Persians with twinkling eyes. Meanwhile, Walt took a hasty shower; after gaming maybe he'd soak in his pond. Could he ask his concierge to send up a pretty woman?
As he tried on his pinched tuxedo, a spiteful button popped off. Packed into his dress pants, he gasped for air. He studied himself in the palatial dressing room's mirrored walls, which failed to transform this paunchy, bag-eyed penguin into an Arab prince.
"You never have to fuss," he scolded Chess, who was sitting up to lick his whiskers. "Mommy brushes you every day. The trouble with you Persians is overdomestication." Chess had a knot in his ruff already; Olympia would have kittens.
Walt decided on a navy sportscoat, with the flannel pants he'd worn in the car. He helped Chess into his casual carrier, which looked like a nylon bag, except for the window you opened by rolling up a flap.
"I promised Mommy I wouldn't leave you alone. Too bad I'm honorable. You'd be happier here; you could watch a porno film."
They took their elevator back to the lobby and crossed a glittering arcade, where Walt admired a taxi-sized Harley: "If I win big, I'll buy this babe, with all the gear you get to wear." People were eying him; he dropped his voice: "We're supposed to recycle our winnings here, and go home loaded with gear."
Next he stood on line to change his secret stash into oversize chips, which the cashier counted into a plastic box labelled "Babylon Resort."
When a burly guard asked Walt what was in his bag, "My lucky cat," he replied. "And we're on our way to play real bac, not the piddling stuff." When Walt handed her a hundred dollar chip, she waved them along. "See that?" he muttered. "Whatever we want. This isn't real life anymore."
Chess meowed. Crowds meant a show; but he hadn't been brushed or powdered; and where was Mommy?
"See, no windows," Walt enthused. "We're supposed to lose track of the time." Most players in the maze of slots seemed old ladies in wigs, he noted with distaste. When a shapely body wiggled past in a belly-dancing outfit, he followed -- and lost her in the crowd.
Two aisles away a slot paid off, with a "ding-ding-ding" and flashing lights, and a wonderful clatter of streaming chips. Somebody must be happy ... Plaintively, Chess meowed.
"I'll find you a non-smoking game," Walt vowed.
This bustling floor made him think of the department store where he'd sold men's ties, before law school. What you see is the sales floor, like a trading floor -- not the offices and enforcement around the perimeter.
Never happy at Bend & Mashem, Olympia displayed a marble-slabbed desk and a rare Persian rug; but he'd been content at Diddle & Squatt with a ficus over the loveseat where he seated clients in trouble with IRS. The tree soothed their nerves, but when he retired his wife didn't want it; so he gave it to his secretary. She still sent him a birthday card ...
Wasn't that a page for non-smoking bac in the Belshazzar Room? A floorwalker steered him to a red velvet, roped-off nook. Face to face at the gaming table's midriff stood a caller in a tux and his turbanned assistant, who looked older. Three players in evening dress sat at one hemisphere, where a sign in a stand read "$100 Minimum."
When Walt -- too casually dressed -- hesitated, the heavy-set assistant, who'd a scar over his lip, unhooked the velvet rope: "Good evening, sir. Step right in, and take your pick of the open positions." Choosing Five (Olympia's birthday was the fifth of May), Walt casually placed the carrier under the table and sat down. No longer swayed or pummelled, Chess settled into Long Cat Meditation, as he always did at shows.
The tanned young buck at Seven joked with the pale young caller: what was his turbanned croupier hiding -- the Buddha's extra brain? His own aluminum mini-briefcase lay on the table, closed. At Two sat a cheerful, elderly lady in a puff-sleeved, plum silk gown -- Aunty Wing, Walt dubbed her -- arranging her chips in a carved wooden case with a bamboo handle. Next to her, at Position "won," a grey-skinned old man with a hatchet face was cracking his knuckles; oh he looked addicted and resolute.
Already the decks had been opened, shuffled and cut, the first few cards "burned" (discarded unseen). Walt, who'd expected a tall-chaired ladder man, like a tennis umpire, waved at the wide wall mirror, and Aunty Wing giggled. Players deal the cards for baccarat, so casinos watch the game like God.
"Good evening, lady and gentleman." The pale young man's fiery hair looked slicked back with wallpaper paste. "I'm Nick Demas, your caller for this eight-deck shoe. Any problems, you raise your hand and we'll breathe. This ugly towel-head's your croupier, Harry Appolion, and this -- please pay attention, ma'am -- is our holy of holies -- our tip box. We split them fifty-fifty, but old Harry has seventeen kids. Just joking, man. Shall we begin, with four players? A civilized number for a non-smoking game."
"I've been ready ten minutes," croaked Hatchet, drumming a dirty-nailed finger on his vinyl case.
"Has everyone played American bac?" The others nodded, so Walt did too, who'd loaded some software at home. "Then I'll just remind you to place your bets before the cards are dealt. Make sure your chips lie inside your own box for Player, Banker or Tie--and not on a line. Please, do not touch them again till Harry's through with you. I'll call the cards and cue your draws, but Harry's God here; he collects your bets and pays your winnings as we go. You can wait till the end of the shoe to pay your five percent commissions on winning Banker hands. Don't worry, old Harry never makes a mistake."
The croupier grinned and stroked his scar.
"Again, if you need change or chips, a drink or a break, just raise your hand. Now, good luck to you all this evening,"
They placed their bets, Walt starting small.
"A generous game," Nick picked up the silver tray of cards (the "shoe"). "Since you don't play against each other, or the house, in theory you all can win every hand -- if you guess right, that is." Young Pup at lucky Seven barked.
"Let's get on with it," Hatchet croaked, and Nick handed him the shoe. Greedily he dealt four cards, alternating to Player and Banker, tucking Banker's hand under the shoe as ritual requires. Nick paddled Player's cards to the highest bettor -- Young Pup, who'd laid $500 on Player. Pup exposed them, and then Nick snatched them back to display on the green baize midriff, in the fictive Player's position. Gleefully Hatchet exposed the two Banker cards and then tossed them over to Nick, who arranged them at Banker's position, just above the Player's cards.
What hocus-pocus, Walt thought. Why don't they deal them out face up? The rules tell how to add them, and whether you get a third card.
"Player has a grand natural," sang Nick. "Banker a ten and a king, for zero. Player wins, nine over zero."
Having bet on Banker (statistically luckier; hence the casino's five percent), Walt was down his $100, and Aunty Wing had lost twice that. Since Banker lost, Hatchet surrendered the shoe. Deftly she dealt out four cards, and Nick sang:
"Player has a queen and ten for zero. Banker a two and three for five. Player hits again: for a four for Player. Banker hits again: and draws a ten. Banker wins, five over four." Getting back double his $100, Walt smiled: early luck. Aunty dealt two more hands, and then Nick passed the shoe. Carefully, Walt dealt out four cards.
Yes, it was fun to reveal them: an illusion of power you missed practicing at home. Not that anything you do can help you, once you place your bet. American bac's a game of pure chance. He was safe as anybody.
Now Hatchet won big -- sweeping chips worth thousands into his black vinyl case. A few more hands and Walt felt the game's deep spell: who'd total closer to nine, this time? Was there a subtle pattern? Any at all? Player wasn't playing, or course; and the Banker too was fiction. Just like a tax avoidance scheme.
Walt won, and lost; he won and surrendered his will to the clicking chips, the croupier's hands, and the caller's spiel -- often nicked by groans or yelps of joy. Discards flicked away, as if by themselves, and the cards in the shoe consumed like time.
When Walt won big (for safety's sake, he kept on betting on the Banker), he pressed a thousand-dollar chip into the croupier's moist hand, which closed. Everybody bet on every hand; these players could eat their losses ...
Then they paused, to let Pup buy chips, and Walt noticed a whispering crowd behind the ropes. He felt proud to be performing, at risk, while these lesser folk looked on. Nick let in a waitress -- the drinks were on the house -- and a smooth-featured blond in a yellow sheath slipped in and stood at Walt's side, breathing in slow pants.
"May I watch?" she inquired.
"Of course, my dear. But I just lost another five thou."
"Maybe your luck will turn."
When it did, his multicolored chips made a mighty hill. Her fruity perfume woke up Chess, who sneezed; Walt wiped his own nose with a hanky.
Then, betting on Tie -- statistically one of the worst bets you can make in a casino -- Pup made himself an incredible 8 to 1! Raucously laughing, he gathered in his winnings with both hands, his rude self-assurance like Diddle & Squatt's young bloods. These lawyers had chanted "Eat what you kill" while trashing its lockstep, traditional profit-sharing. Yes, they'd murdered collegiality; and he'd felt glad -- no, relieved to retire. But tonight he was supposed to be rolling high and having the time of his life.
So, to impress Miss America, Walt bet on Tie himself. Aunty Wing wagged her finger when he shoved a stack of $5000 chips to his farthest square. The spectators applauded him though; and for a heartbeat he felt the omnipotence of the man about to leap from a bridge.
He lost, of course, and most of his chips were gone. "I've been weighed in the balance and found wanting," he confessed to his lady friend, who smiling mysteriously soon drifted away.
"You need to know when to stop," chided Aunty Wing, stacking her own gains in twin piles. "I stop as soon as I make a little money for both my boys. They each own a company in Silicon Valley, still."
"I'm having fun," Walt protested, and gulped the last of his gin and tonic. Chess sneezed again and again; so he spread his sportscoat over the carrier. This only made the poor cat cough and wheeze. Lifting the carrier into his lap, Walt rolled up its window ...
Out sprang Chess, scattering chips, and bounded away, wheezing like a monster.
"What the --," yelled Hatchet and Aunty Wing shrieked as the mirror swung upwards and a black-jacketed team erupted from a hidden room. But Walt stumbled through the lookers-on, crying:
"Stop that cat -- he's sick!"
"Stop that guy!" shouted Nick. "He still owes commissions!" The guard Walt had tipped grabbed his shirt, which ripped as he pulled away.
"Come back, Chessy!" Walt pleaded, rudely pushing through the crowds. Gasping and choking, the old cat waddled stubbornly across a row of slots, and old ladies shrieked and toppled off their stools and lost their wigs.
Walt collided with a waitress with a tray; and slipping on her drinks a guard tripped up two men on crutches, who sprawled. Somebody punched Walt in the ribs, and dropping to his knees he glimpsed the propped-open door where Chess was gasping, straining, dying.
He grabbed the heaving cat and fled from the Boardwalk into a narrow sidestreet where, in the friendly darkness, he slowed and caught his breath. His shirt was torn, but he had the cat, his wallet and the asthma pills. He heard shouting from the casino. The old cat wheezed against his chest.
"I'm sorry I put you through this," Walt cried. "If Mommy knew, she'd file for divorce." He rambled around for a while, cradling Chess and feeling miserable. Slowly, in the fresh air, the attack subsided by itself. A gift; for he'd left the bronchodilator spray in New York. How selfish, how cruel.
Four blocks inland, Walt noticed a Salvation Army store. Venturing inside he found a canvas jacket and a duffel bag that looked new. The amused salesman asked no questions, and Walt gratefully wished him a pleasant evening.
Leaving the bag unzipped, so Chess could stick his head out, he carried him back to the Boardwalk, where he gave a guy in headphones fifty bucks to push them in a wicker chair. A bored cop stared past them, and Walt wanted to shout in her face: "Showcat and Lawyer Trash Casino!"
Of course it wasn't true. The games would continue, as before; the damage, if any, added to his bill. To the bag in his lap he confessed: "I just lost fifty thousand dollars, and I don't feel a thing. That's sad. I did just what I wanted; so why didn't it make me happy -- or sad?
"At least we're safe: Olympia can't leave me, at her age. But why didn't I stop when I was ahead? You can always walk away.
"I'm pooped. Shall we sleep in the car tonight? No, we don't need it."
They ended up sleeping on the empty beach, Chess tucked into his jacket. When he meowed he got some pats, and in the morning he took his pill without a fuss.
"Now what? We've done Atlantic City, and you're liking this salt air. Let's do more breathing this weekend, boy; it's free." Walt carried the cat to the bus station.
He recognized the sky blue water tower, and the big flag flapping as if it could fly. "Ocean City," cried the driver, pulling in at the old-fashioned, wooden station. The low-built town still looked free of graffiti: remarkable.
Walt's parents used to rent a room in a guesthouse near the beach. Happy days ... they had stayed at the Flanders, taking their meals in its high-ceilinged dining room.
He stopped at a supermarket, and then rented an oversize tricycle with a basket in front. Walt pedalled Chess up and down the Boardwalk 'til a smiling cop reminded him pets are not allowed.
"He has asthma, and the salt air does him good," Walt explained, and the cop walked away. A terrier in another basket yapped at them, as Chess sat savoring the sun on his fur. People were jogging, or riding bikes, or pedalling canopied carts abubble with children. Walt liked the look of these promenaders: solidly built, unfashionable.
He offered Chess a pop-top tuna can on a bench, but the cat kept yearning towards a patch of grass. Walt plucked him some, and sucked a stem. Nebuchadnezzar ate grass ...
"You should get that cat a proper carrier," scolded a young mother, her infant in a harness on her breast.
"I should," Walt conceded, and she chuckled, bouncing away.
"What a beautiful Persian." A flabby woman with a drooping eye pulled a shopping cart that squeaked.
"He's a Himalayan Persian," Walt said proudly. "He's won many prizes in his day. Now he's retired."
Determined to have fun the old-fashioned way, he went browsing up and down the Boardwalk, feasting on ice cream, molasses paddles and roasted peanuts. All the souvenir stores -- stuffed with seashell merchandise from China -- ballyhooed their end-of-season markdowns.
"Grandpa went to Ocean City and all I got was this lousy shirt," read a T-shirt. "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," read another; and "Gone Fishing For Good."
"They make their money here not being Atlantic City," Walt explained. "It's still a dry town, with living churches." People ignored him talking to his cat.
"Look at that: the Flanders. Thought they tore it down." Its peeling bulk still dominated the beach. Walt was admiring its red tile roof and sturdy, blue scallop ornaments when a flock of children bounded from a door. Next came a silver-bearded man, leading a laughing, unruly procession; at his side a shorter, plumper woman, who looked pleased. As this reunion milled and chattered near the beach, Walt saw the patriarch check his watch; so he set down his bag and waited too.
At 4 PM a small plane flew past, streaming a banner with: "Happy 70th Bday, Holly!!!" Her family cheered, and on impulse Walt also wished her a happy birthday.
"You have a happy day too," she burbled, and he wandered on, feeling strangely moved. A boy in a wheelchair said something to his mom. People who need each other can love each other, Walt thought. That's the secret.
Music thumped from an arcade, where two lobsterized girls were dancing side by side, on machines with squares marked out for their feet. Amazed, he saw them read their steps off a monitor scrolling so quick he couldn't parse its code. What coordination. When the music stopped, they chose a faster tune.
"Everybody's looking at you," a metallic voice encouraged, and because they were dancing so furiously a crowd in fact had formed. They soon grew tired, though, and an acne-pocked youth took over one machine. His T-shirt read, "I'm the BESTEST." Whirling, he did his frantic steps backwards, earning praise from the monitor grading his work.
He looked happy by himself, thought Walt. What a physical specimen. The Pentagon would love this boy -- if he couldn't spell his name and thought Shakespeare an ancient weapon.
The crowd applauded when he dismounted, and he took a sweeping bow.
"Let's go on the rides," Walt muttered to the cat, who had dozed off. "Our dancing days are done. Let's watch the sunset, though; I always liked this time." He found a clean bench, facing the beach, where some teens -- boys and girls together -- were playing dishevelled volleyball.
"Now I'm just a man with a cat in a bag. Isn't this fun?" Purring, Chess reached up and kneaded Walt's soft chest.
"He looks like my cat," cried a roasted old lady in shorts. Her loose legs sported a varicose tangle. Plopping down, she drew her knitting out of a bag and started clicking her needles, gazing out at the sea beyond the game.
"Do you like cats?" Walt ventured.
"Oh yes; they're magical creatures. They know how to enjoy, and how to relax and how to handle pain. Know many people who can do all that?"
Walt nodded -- which launched the tale of her Persian, pumped full of anesthesia gas while having his teeth scaled. "They wanted to operate, but I measured him every morning; and I thought the balloon was shrinking; and it was, all by itself. And then we were playing with his catnip mouse, and he started crackling, from his final bubbles. Yes, Felix made medical history here, surviving till the day he died.
"Yes, I love cats; they're honorable," she rambled on, in her sweet voice, and Walt wondered if she was demented. "They give us warmth and play, like little kids who can't grow up." She stopped clicking, and gazed smiling up at the rosy, descending sun.
"What are you making?" he asked her.
"A sweater for my dog, Zorro. He's a sheltie-lab, with some Saint Bernard. In winter we take walks on the beach, and the sea air keeps us trim. For forty-four years I worked for the IRS -- in Collections." Walt smiled, said nothing. "You know what I'm up to this year?"
"Please, tell me."
"I'm writing a book about cats, with everything they taught me. I wanted to call it The Joy of Cats, but I never reach the end."
"Maybe you should write, 'The End' and stop."
"That's funny; maybe I should."
Lovers enlaced tranced past, and Walt swallowed. "I have to go," said the woman gently. "Zorro will be wanting his dinner. I fry him beef hearts. That's a cheap and nutritious food for any dog."
Walt wished her a pleasant evening, and watched her waddle away. A worthy woman, with whom he might have had an affair, for example.
Crowds overflowed the raucous, lit-up Boardwalk, and he wandered on, the cat's bag hanging on his chest. They avoided the tacky games of chance, where you bet on a spinning wheel, and the games where you slam a hammer or shoot light from a rifle that looks real.
"Let's go on the rides," he muttered, as they lingered to watch kids screaming down the roller coaster's rusty slope. They rode the carousel several times, creaking up and down to calliope music.
"Now this is fun," Walt confided. Chess peeked out of the bag on his chest and winked his eyes. "I wish it would never end." But something jammed, and the boy who'd danced on the machine shooed them off, with a horde of disappointed children.
At the Ferris wheel they got a gondola of their own. When it stopped, near the top, Walt confessed: "I know I had a choice. I didn't have to marry Olympia. I didn't have to blow my stash on a game. I could slide this window open. What do you think? 'Lawyer Leaps from Fortune's Wheel!'"
Chess meowed and hid his head.
"What would happen to you?" The cat burrowed into the bag, and his tail tip hanging out reminded Walt of the rabbit's foot he'd cherished as a boy.
With a bump, the Ferris wheel began to turn again.
"Too late; have to stay to the party's end, pecked and bitten till I die. Olympia needs me; she does. How absurd." He felt for the cat, who nosed his hand. "Oh you're all full of tangles. What will she say?"
The freckled girl who opened the gondola's door for them at the bottom asked: "Did you have a nice ride, sir?"
"Thank you; the view was beautiful."
As Walt shuffled away she heard him murmur: "Guess we'll look for the next bus home."