The Town

The Question


The year is 1953, the place: downtown Chicago, Illinois. In just a moment, we will meet Mr. Henry J. Beemis. Notable facts: Fifty years of age, five foot eleven and one hundred eighty pounds. Employed for the last 20 years with the Greater Chicago Savings & Trust. A weathered though not unpleasant face under a thick head of hair which is finally and rapidly surrendering youthful black to veteran grey. Thicker spectacles, behind which hide kindly if somewhat intense brown eyes. These are eyes that demand order – precision -- in all that falls within their view.
Precision is Mr. Henry J. Beemis’s watchword. The word is cousin to others by which Mr. Beemis likewise determines the relative satisfaction of his life; words such as Punctuality, Brevity, Tenacity, Forthrightness and Focus. Words which, taken collectively, others might refer to as: Drab, Dreary or even… Dull. Quite so: forget about the proverbial Jack – all work and no play has made Henry J. Beemis a dull boy, indeed – and that’s just how he likes it. But that’s about to change, and we shall be privileged to front row seating for the show.

The sun had only barely penetrated the downtown skyline when Beemis swung one long leg out of his morning cab and onto the chilly autumn sidewalk, gazing for an instant of perfect serenity to the magnificently solid sculpted granite face of the reliable old Savings & Trust. Passing an immaculately folded $5 bill over the seat to the cabbie, he retrieved his briefcase, stepped out into the gusty chill.
“Nice day, Mr. Beemis!†the cabbie called after him. Beemis, as usual, didn’t answer, already marching for the antiquated wooden doors of the Trust. Nice day, indeed. Checking his watch without breaking stride, he grunted with satisfaction. The sweet smell of blooming spring flowers meant nothing to him; neither did the faintly warming eddies tunneling the surrounding chill as rosegold sunrise swelled flaring reflections in the Trust’s spotless third-story windows.
Crossing the threshold into the expansive lobby, the scent of fresh ink, strong black coffee and meticulously-maintained old leather met him in a welcoming undertow, pulling him further into the excited hush of a dozen conversations.
“Morning, Mr. Beemis!†and a handful of variations thereof sailed past his satisfied ears, to which he nodded prim reply. In all the long two decades of his employment within this hailed old edifice of fiscal responsibility, no supervisor, colleague or subordinate had once received more – in short, it had become a tradition, as expected, time-honored and well-worn as the seamless marble floors, if perhaps no more comfortable.
Beemis reached his office precisely on schedule, stepped inside, and stopped short. His receptionist, a matronly woman in her mid-50s named Darlene Koszinsky, was not in attendance. A frown creased Beemis’s face; he tugged absently at his ear. Surely, there was an explanation for this. He set his briefcase on her desk; perhaps she was in his office proper rather than out here in the foyer. He shut off the overhead lamp in the foyer on his way to check; no need to waste electricity now that the sun was up.
He only ducked into his office, a stripe of full sunlight from the window striping the back of his crisp grey tweed jacket, before straightening and backing away again. No; Darlene wasn’t in there. He started to turn back toward the hallway, wondering what was –
“Beemis!†Alfred Sutherland, Beemis’s immediate superior and a hulking bear of a man well over six foot five and three hundred fifty gelatinous pounds, stood imposingly in his doorway, visibly perturbed. “What’s the big idea, coming in here?â€
“But – but – “ Beemis stammered, briefly unsure of precisely what, indeed, the Big Idea was. “This is my office…†he tugged at his ear again before he forced his hand to his side.
“Well, of course it’s your office, Beemis!†Sutherland bellowed good-naturedly. One massive paw straightened his aircraft-carrier sized tie while the other fiddled impatiently with the end of his monstrous black handlebar moustache, while reflected sunlight glinted from his huge bald scalp. “Now that we’ve graduated the obvious, would you care to explain to me just what in the name of Jee-hosephat you think you’re doing in it?â€
“Looking for my secretary, sir! She seems to have gone – “
“She’s gone on holiday, Beemis! On holiday is where she’s gone!†Sutherland retrieved a fat Cuban cigar from his pinstriped waistcoat, clipped the end in a flash, and lit the foul-smelling monstrosity.
Beemis shook his head in consternation. “But – “
“And holiday is where you are supposed to be, my boy!†the giant bellowed on merrily. “For twenty long years, I’ve watched you tend to these invoices! Like a Swiss watch, Beemis! Like a cursed machine! This institution does not want machines in these offices, Henry! Our customers do not want machines! No, they want people, Henry! People just like them! Well, perhaps more responsible, certainly, but you make responsibility look stale and unhealthy, my boy!â€
Beemis spoke up to offer an apology – for such seemed to be the responsible thing to do –
But Sutherland had gained momentum, and there was no slowing him. “For twenty long years, I’ve waited to see any glimmering of a smile! Just the slightest peep of frivolity! Or joviality! Or…†Sutherland twirled absently at his lip-wig again. “Or… what else rhymes with ‘frivolity’, Beemis?â€
“I really couldn’t say, sir.â€
“’Course you couldn’t! And that, my boy, is why you are out out out – “ Sutherland had now taken bodily hold of Beemis and fairly spun the smaller man out through the door of the foyer and into the hall, the huge man following with the grace of a ballerina, locking the door behind them from the outside and pocketing Beemis’s tiny office key in his waistcoat -- “into the world in search of fun! And I have just the ticket!†One of those paws disappeared into a hip pocket, reappeared with a white envelope, which was then pressed sweatily into Beemis’s own hand.
“What’s this, sir?†Beemis squinted down at the envelope.
“Why, didn’t I just tell you?†Sutherland chuckled, vibrating a table lamp a few feet away. “It’s fun!â€
Beemis opened the envelope – inside was something resembling a theater ticket – in bold-face type above the address and showtime, the title was given as: The Town.

Mad juxtapositions of colored fabrics in wind-whipped afternoon. Random intersections of chaos-rapid, indecipherable speech halfway between English, Gaelic and something else entirely – a language known as Shelta, the language of these ebullient spirits we see beneath, before and all around us now as we descend into a well-peopled caravan campsite of the people known variously as Pavee, Pikeys or just Travellers.
Here is the second ingredient of the strange and wonderful journey of Mr. Henry J. Beemis; here is the joyful, raucous Slot B into which Fate is about to place his dull, precise Tab A.
As we turn our eyes northward now, beyond the aromas of frying chicken, exotic spices and cold beer, beyond the winks and flashes of bright tinsel and cheap tin, our eyes are filled with the sight of a wide, low, garishly parti-colored tent whose rough canvas sides are worn with decades of merriment. But this is not the object toward which we glide unseen through the warm autumn gusts. Instead, we arrive at a smaller and slightly more humble structure outside whose ragged cotton entrance stands a cheaply-constructed pine placard which reads: “The Town.â€

The slim foot of a girl barely out of her pre-teens settled, then flexed, on the softened sod floor of her tent. Sunlight tracked across the top of that foot, arced and traced its way up her lithe calf as she stepped forward, set her stance again. Her diminutive frame had already begun to fill a woman’s curves; sinewy thighs supported rounded hips and backside, which tapered to a slender waist, in turn tapering out again into a strong yet girlish back and budding bustline.
A single cocoa-brown braid as thick as manila rope swung lazily across her back as she stood, perfectly balanced, on that foot. With exacting precision and dancer’s grace, she lifted the other foot on a straightened leg – to hip level… then shoulder level… and, finally, directly overhead. Just as slowly she lowered it back to the earthen floor, and repeated the feat of flexibility with the other.
“Father!†she called in her native language. There came a bustle as the tent flap parted, revealing a weary-looking forty-ish man in dingy Army trousers and grease-spattered t-shirt.
“Aye, me wee one, what’ll ye need?†he asked in heavily accented English as the girl leaned forward, easily transferring her weight to her hands and cocking her legs perpendicular to the floor to gaze at him upside-down with shockingly green eyes.
“Your great belly.†She replied smartly. “Come here, Father.†When he hesitated, an admixture of defiance and resignation on his leathery face, she folded her legs and turned her hips so that her weight now rested entirely upon one hand; with the other, she curled a beckoning finger at him.
“Well, and isn’t that a new trick?†he remarked; she gave him a stern look, so that finally he sighed and relented, shuffling forward with no particular enthusiasm for his part in her rehearsal. Finally standing a few inches from her, he watched carefully as the girl’s feet turned forward again, opening precisely to his shoulders’ width.
“Good.†She flexed her shoulders slightly, reset her hands. “And… now.â€
Her father, automaton-like, responded instantly, leaning forward as her feet descended to catch his torso just above the waist. His forward momentum carried him over her flexed knees, which then straightened, pressing his five foot eight, two hundred forty pound mass parallel to the floor , holding him there as easily as any other girl her age might hold a brush.
“All right, now, Siobhan, ye’ve done yer forms for the day, I’m thinkin’.†Her father suggested nervously.
“No.†she returned quickly. “Not yet, dadda. You’ll stay up there until I’ve finished with you. I’m nearly done anyway.†With that, she flexed her knees slowly, instructing him, “Lean forward now.†They had performed this trick time and time again, so that he was beyond the urge to fight to remain level as her knees assumed ninety-degree angles to her thighs; with his arms outstretched before him, he resembled a pudgy, dirtied and badly-dressed Superman.
Then, feeling his daughter pressing him up again, he swung his arms back again. They repeated this maneuver twice more, until the girl grunted her approval. “Now we’ll try something new.†she announced, and before he could even ask what she meant, her feet vanished from under him.
For one panicky instant, his brain registered only that he was level with the ground, arms spread to either side, supported by nothing at all. But in that instant, she had pushed up with her hands, turned one hundred eighty degrees as he descended, and caught him with her arms and back. She straightened, depositing him on unsteady feet.
“Fadder, son an’ Holy Ghost…†he murmured, crossing himself.
“Do you think they’ll like it?†Siobhan peered up at him hopefully.
“Long as ye don’t kill the poor man ye get for it.†He shook his head, ran a shaking hand through his silver hair, plastering it with the sheen of sweat forming on his forehead. “And have you been practicing your other trick, now?â€
“I have.†She grinned. “Made Patrick wear a dress this mornin’ just for a look and askin’.†She giggled as her father rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Well, I wouldn’t count that for much.†He said doubtfully. “Get Bear O’Grady to do it, though, that’ll be a trick, seein’ as ye’d have to draft a tarpaulin for the fittin’ of the Large One. I’ll even give money to see that. Double the more if he does his show in it.â€
The tent flap rustled open again; this time, a rounded, matronly face peered in. “The lines are fillin’.†Wife of Diarmaid Cullan, mother to Siobhan, Mhairi Cullan was a well-worn woman and no bigger than the pride of her motherhood. A tight kerchief restrained ink-black hair from getting in the way of eyes as electric a blue as her daughter’s were green… though even she stood amazed, from time to time, at Siobhan’s gift for turning men to jelly with just a look. Even Herself had trouble resisting that emerald current when the will behind it was strong enough.
“Well, then.†Mr. Cullan squared his broad shoulders. “Best go take their money, woman. We’ll have O’Grady first, then the Llewellyns, then lovely Roma and her music, then our wee one. Off we go!â€

“Here we are, mister.†The cab driver informed Beemis, who checked his watch for the seventh time. “That’ll be six fifty.†The swarthy little man grinned over the front seat, a filthy mitt hovering into view.
“There you are,†Beemis dropped a $10 into the cabbie’s hand and swung his door open.
“Want your change, mister?â€
“No.†Beemis shook his head. “Call it a bonus. Be back here for me in an hour and you’ll get another.â€
“You got it, Boss.â€
Beemis watched the cab as it pulled away. Now to the line for admission – ah, there it was, and beyond that, a great gaudy monstrosity of a tent. Gypsies, he told himself shaking his head. He’d never really been much of a one for gypsy circuses, but… well, it was free, and he’d always been in favor of free.
“Those as got tickets already, kindly step this way!â€
He wasn’t entirely sure he’d understood that correctly – the little fireplug of a woman had spat the words so fast and closely-knit that apparently no one else had, either.
“If ye got yer tickets, kindly step right this way!†It sounded more like, “Iffegatchertickts, koynd listiproytove rare!â€
It was most certainly not a precise translation, Beemis scowled. But… well… if it would get him a better seat… he ambled uncertainly in the woman’s direction, retrieved the ticket from his jacket pocket. “I have my ticket ready, miss.â€
“Miss, says he!†she laughed, rolling her electric-blue eyes. “Well, now! Hand that over an’ let’s get ye placed proper! You’ll need to be answerin’ a question or two, aint’cha?â€
“Um…†he tried to make sense of her machine-gun speech. It actually was getting a little easier, but it still took him a second or two to process. “Yes, all right.â€
“How tall are ye?â€
“Five foot eleven.â€
“I think…†he scowled again – he actually wasn’t sure. “Approximately one hundred eighty pounds.â€
“Cooooooo!†she exclaimed, eyes wide.
“Is that a problem?†he asked, perplexed as to how it possibly could be, unless this outfit was so cheap that they had the patrons sitting on cardboard chairs.
“No, no, no problem a’tall sez I!†she shook with a great belly laugh. “I think ye might get front-row out of it, even! One last, then – any kind of ailments on ye? Bad heart, most particular, shaky nerves, faintin’ fits?â€
Ah. Beemis thought to himself, it all clicking into place now. This is just pre-show talking-up. Not badly done, not badly done at all. “Thank you, miss, I’m as fit as a fiddle.â€
“I see that ye are, I see that ye are!†she nodded, then added a final flourish of showmanship by taking a grease pencil from behind her ear and marking a thick “X†on the lower right corner of his ticket before folding it away into her blouse. “On ye go then, fancy mister, ye’ll have any seat ye like front-row center. Show’s in…†she heaved up an antiquated brass pocket-watch, “…30 minutes or thereabout, so don’t be shy about layin’ hands to a brat or a burger and beer in the while. S’on me, tell ‘em Mother Mary said so.â€
Beemis wandered away, still translating, then augured off in the direction of the barbecues, a strange small smile on his perplexed face.

As he wandered in through the cavernous entrance to the main tent, he could see that the seats were, in fact, quite sturdy and surprisingly expensive, something resembling oak as far as his untrained eye could see. The soothing cool inside the tent was quite invigorating without the fitful Illinois winds, and the soft grass floor added the comforting sensation of walking across a great thick carpet. He headed for the front of the three columns of chairs, one central column flanked by wide aisles .
Finding a seat dead-center of the front row, he noticed as he sat that some performers were already taking to the center stage area marked off by white lines chalked into a large, rough rectangle of flattened grass. Electric lights were switched on around the tent, a trio of high-powered spotlights shining down onto the stage area.
A pair of twins, fire-haired, broad-shouldered and wiry, half-danced and half-wrestled each other into the tent, laughing uproariously at something – Beemis recognized them from their various advertisements around the campsite as The Llewellyns, purported to be “Juggling Daredevils.†A massive, inky shadow loomed behind them, resolving itself into a frightening, beastly bear of a man – the eponymous Bear O’Grady, all of seven feet on flat, furry bare feet and tormenting the earth with four hundred fifty pounds of solid muscle. Beemis couldn’t begin to guess what feat the solemn giant was supposed to impress an audience with beyond the mere fact of his ability to walk upright and form human speech.
This was, Beemis decided as audience members began to swiftly fill the tent and take their seats, just what a cheap road show should be like. Precisely what it should be like. There would no doubt be the usual jugglers, probably feats of strength from the large, hirsute Bear O’Grady, some sort of aerobatic display despite the apparent lack of a trapeze… well, almost precisely, then. There was the buttery scent of popcorn in the evening air, now, there was the sweet tang of that home-brewed beer again, the sweet, homey smell of pastries, the sound of insects buzzing in the cooling darkness outside, the sounds of hushed conversation, muted laughter, the feel of the hard wooden seat, the soft grass under his shoes… he noticed that some of the audience members had even removed their own footwear and were enjoying the feel of soft, cool grass beneath hot, tired feet. He frowned disapprovingly at this. Really, now. There was such a thing as decorum, after all.
A man strode across the turf stage, looking for all the world like the Irishman’s idea of Santa Claus – or perhaps a wildly overgrown leprechaun -- with his balding head fringed by copper curls, smiling blue eyes and great wide muslin-clad belly over shocking lime-green trousers and under matching vest.
“Ladies and boys, poets and outlaws!†he announced without need for amplification. “Yer attention, please!†He spread his arms wide, turning first to the left, then to the right, until the audience had quieted and all eyes were on the stage. “We welcome ye now to the greatest show on Earth…†the audience chuckled, “…what’s admission real human bein’s can stand to part with, in any case!†The audience roared with approving laughter as Cullan nodded thanks.
Charming. Beemis thought to himself.
“And now!†Culllan continued, “Let’s get on with it! Yer first amusement of the evenin’ will be The Famous – “ he paused for dramatic effect as a huge shape ambled from behind him toward the spotlit stage – “The magnanimous – “ the hulk stepped fully into the light, revealing Bear O’Grady… who had in his hand a thick leather-bound book and who was wearing thoroughly professorial-looking spectacles, having somewhere changed into a three-piece suit complete with tie – “the giganturous Beeeaaaaarrrrr O’Graaaaaayyyyy-deeeeeee!!!â€
The audience shrieked with laughter and rumbled with applause as the giant hitched the expensive wire-rimmed spectacles down on his nose, peering sternly over them, and cleared his throat – a sound like a thunderclap rolling away across mountains. The audience hushed, awed already. Beemis was nearly certain that the sound had rattled his fillings.
“We shall begin this evenin’,†the mountain of a man rumbled, “wi’ a readin’ from The Bard.†A sausage-like index finger, moistened by a cow-like tongue, flipped gingerly through the pages of the dusty leather volume. “Let’s have, then, a passage from, ‘Address Tae The De’il.

O thou! whatever title suit thee
Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie
Wha in yon cavern grim an' sootie – “

He stiffened, stopped reading, and swiveled his head to his left, glaring balefully at something. Beemis followed his gaze, but to his consternation, saw nothing. Was this… ? Oh, there it was. A sound, distant but getting closer, forming into a mechanical growl.
With no further warning, a portion of the wall burst inward and a masked rider on a smallish motorcycle roared at better than fifty miles per hour directly at Bear O’Grady… who simply stepped backward and stopped bike and rider alike with one well-placed, outstretched hand. Jaws dropped, including Beemis’s.
Then… “Clos'd under hatches…†O’Grady continued, and a tidal wave of applause filled the tent. But the show wasn’t over. Reaching under the motorcycle with one hand, the volume of poetry still in the other, O’Grady continued reading and simultaneously lifted two hundred twenty pounds of machine and one hundred fifty pounds of teenaged rider onto his shoulder. What he read beyond that point, Beemis had no way of knowing, because he simply couldn’t hear it over the shouting, hooting and cheering of the other spectators…. Or his own. He looked, eyes wide and teary with laughter and shock, to see the looks on the faces around him. Yes, same there, all but one small boy, who was furiously scribbling something onto a small pad of paper.
Soon, Bear O’Grady and the young man on the motorcycle – back on solid earth, now – took their bows, and the next act was announced – The LLewellyns took the stage… unfortunately, whereas their juggling of knives, axes and such was technically excellent – spectacular, even – the comedy routine with which it was accompanied was all but incomprehensible. The audience applauded dutifully, but… no, it wasn’t quite the hit that O’Grady’s act had been. Well, fair to say that would be a tough act to follow.
The twins took their concluded their act, taking their bows professionally – though their disappointment at having disappointed the audience was plainly visible – and the audience seemed to understand and applauded them all the more sincerely for it.
“Well, now!†Cullan said brightly. “Here we are at the finale of the evenin’! But no fear, good people, this is somethin’ the likes of which ye’ll not see in any other show anywhere, and I guarantee ye that! The Mistress of Mesmerism! The Sybil of Strongwomen! This… is The Town!†From his right, out of the shadows, glided Siobhan Cullan in a beautiful green dress. She looked to Beemis to be all of 12 years old at most.
Ahhhh… Beemis reflected. This was why the matronly woman conducting admissions had been so keen on having him in the front row. Probably taken him for one of these fools who bought into the mesmerism business. Well, that was just insulting. Henry J. Beemis had never gone in for such mumbo-jumbo.
His thoughts had pulled him from the show for a moment; the ringmaster had departed the stage, leaving the girl to her own devices – which, for the moment, consisted of a display of nearly-inhuman grace and flexibility, the audience Ooooh-ing and Ahhhh-ing as she spun one leg up and around, catching it with one hand, leaning fluidly to catch the ground with the other hand, then up and over as she released the right foot, caught the left in the opposite hand, rolled across that shoulder, and came up balanced on the leg opposite the one she’d stood on only a second ago.
The audience began to applaud, but she was not yet finished; from a complete dead still, she launched herself into the air, bringing her feet up from behind, then tucking her legs to lever them overhead and back to earth, and from there continuing the momentum of her right leg, following it with the rest of her body to perform a virtual second flip with her left leg remaining perfectly anchored to the ground in a stunning display of balance, power and flexibility.
The audience went entirely insane with applause.
The girl held up her hands, head bowed, until the crowd had hushed again. When she spoke, her voice carried much like her father’s. “I’m going to choose a volunteer now.†Though thickly accented, her enunciation was slow and deliberate enough – and her voice captivating enough – that Beemis was drawn into every word she said instantly… not only was no afterthought required to understand her, it was difficult for him to think, at that moment, at all. But that wasn’t mesmerism… was it? Beemis shook his head like an animal trying to throw off a yoke.
And then she looked at him. Fixed him in those blazing emerald eyes, she did, and he felt as though his heart were like to stop, or leap out of his chest and run to her. Her pale, perfect face, the silent eyes like points of godly green fire, locked with his and would not let go.
“Come here to me.†She ordered, and he could only watch as the scenery changed in helpless reply until he stood looking down at her. She directed her attention to the audience, where a few gasps were the only reply.
“How did you…?†he started to ask.
“Sh.†She transfixed his eyes with her own again, sending a shiver up his spine. “If you talk, we have to pay ye for a speakin’ part.†The audience laughed quietly. “Do you believe in the power of mesmerism, Mister?†she asked him. Behind him, people were moving something, but he was only barely aware of anything other than those eyes.
“I… no…†he stammered. “It’s nonsense, I don’t…â€
“I think you do,†she said in her low, lilting voice, smiling up at him. “Sit down, right where ye are.â€
Without hesitating or even thinking, he sat – and jumped in fright when he discovered there was a chair under him. He hadn’t seen it, wasn’t consciously aware that it had been put there in any way. He began to sweat.
She hunkered down before him, took each of his hands in one of hers, and smiled. “You’ll do what I say now, won’t you.â€
He could only nod, mute, as those eyes bored into his.
“You’ll feel nothin’. You won’t move unless I tell you. You won’t speak. You won’t be afraid. Your body will be like stone.†A breeze moved through her long, loose hair. He couldn’t even nod acknowledgement of what she had said – she hadn’t given him permission to.
The feeling drained from his limbs. He wasn’t cold, nor was he hot. He wasn’t even numb, there was simply the vision of what was happening around him, and the sound… but there was no meaning to it. It was hollow, like watching a picture show when one is mostly asleep.
The audience watched as the girl spoke to the grey-haired man in the suit; thanks to the acoustics of the tent, the rest of the audience in the front row repeated what she had said, the repetitions filtering back so that everyone was now in awe of the sight of the man who had for all intents and purposes become nothing more than a marionette, a plaything for the girl.
Behind the now two-person show on stage, two large boxes approximately five feet tall had been dragged in and spaced three feet apart. The girl now straightened again and faced the audience.
“And now!†she announced, “Witness the power of mesmerism!†Stepping around behind the man on the chair, she knelt, taking hold of one chair leg in either hand in a diagonal arrangement. This move was her least favorite – not due to the weight, but due solely to balance issues. If the man on the chair were to shift his weight in either direction, even subconsciously… but this one was deeper under her control than any other she’d done this with so far, surprisingly.
The chair hitched, then rose.

The ground sunk away in front of Beemis… but he didn’t notice. You see, for Henry J. Beemis, just then, there was no ground, no such thing. In fact, at that precise moment it seemed to Henry J. Beemis that there was no such thing as Henry J. Beemis.
“Turn your head to your left.†She instructed, and the world simply panned left. Then the world began to move again, jolting mildly and regularly on the vertical axis while apparently moving across his field of vision. The people before him applauded, though he could not for the life of him fathom why.
From where the audience sat open-mouthed, it was he and the girl who were moving, as she slowly and carefully walked with the chair and its occupant perched atop her overhead-stretched hands. “You’re coming down, now.†She advised him, and soon enough the ground was rising up slowly again – it paused – then the ground finally rose up to safely and gently catch the chair. The audience cheered and applauded again; as if, Beemis flashed a thought, the ground should do anything other than that.
“For our final act this evening,†the girl addressed her audience. “I intend to try something never done previously anywhere.†She turned to Beemis, who remained motionless. “Stand up.†Mute, he complied, and she continued, “I’m going to turn and kneel down. When I do, you’re going to take a piggyback ride.â€
Ordinarily, such a proposition would have been outrageous, ludicrous… but she had turned and knelt, and it was time for a piggyback ride. She stood straight and began to walk. Beemis saw that she was walking toward one of two large, very long boxes, more specifically toward a set of makeshift stairs built onto the side, which she then climbed as a nervous murmur swelled from the audience behind them.
On some level, he understood what she meant to do, or part of it – she intended to run along the top of this platform so high off the ground, and then… he felt his arm twitch. Could’ve gone to Atlantic City… spun like a black thread through his mind.
She began to hum, a dark, sweet melody that clasped his mind in a cool, smooth embrace, and the world was moving, there was speed, the rush of air – the world spun on a horizontal axis, cool green grass, hot yellow light – the opposite wall of the tent, orange and purple canvas. The world panned to his right, and there was stricken silence.
Then there was pandemonium.

“Did you see –“
“Oh, my dear Lord!â€
“How can they – “
“Mister! Hey, Mister, are you okay?!â€
“Is he – “
There were voices all around him, but none of it meant anything. A cold beer was pressed into his hand, but his hand didn’t open to hold it until she took that hand in hers, opened his fingers, closed them around the glass, and whispered into his ear, “Hold.†He still, however, did not take a drink, simply stared straight ahead.
Then she stood before him, leaned forward, one hand on her knees. The other rose into the air for attention. The sound of crickets seemed to rise as the audience went silent once again, all eyes on Beemis as she slowly lowered her arm and rested it on his shoulder.
With her eyes pinning his, she spoke a single word: “Released.â€
Beemis simply screamed, a high-pitched terrified shriek, dropped the glass in his hand, and fainted dead away.
A moment later, a hot towel pressed against his forehead, a half-dozen hands shaking him violently back to life. His breathing erratic, his hands shaking like leaves, he fought madly to compose himself. After a full minute, someone pressed another frosty mug of strong, seasoned beer into his hand, and his spectacles – which he had never noticed being without – into the other. Putting them on, he took the mug in both hands, drained it at a draught, coughed, sputtered and began to laugh.
Then he asked for another, and the last cheer of the audience was the loudest and longest of all before the jolly Diarmaid Cullan closed the show for the evening.

The sun had only barely penetrated the downtown skyline when Beemis swung one long leg out of his morning cab and onto the chilly autumn sidewalk, gazing for an instant of perfect serenity to the magnificently solid sculpted granite face of the reliable old Savings & Trust. Passing an immaculately folded $5 bill over the seat to the cabbie, he retrieved his briefcase, stepped out into the gusty chill.
“Nice day, Mr. Beemis!†the cabbie called after him.
“Damn nice day, Campbell!†Beemis replied heartily. The sweet smell of blooming spring flowers buoyed his spirit; the faintly warming eddies tunneling the surrounding chill put a jaunty little bounce in his step as rosegold sunrise swelled flaring reflections in the Trust’s spotless third-story windows.
Crossing the threshold into the expansive lobby, the scent of fresh ink, strong black coffee and meticulously-maintained old leathemet him in a welcoming undertow, pulling him further into the excited hush of a dozen conversations.
“Morning, Mr. Beemis!†and a handful of variations thereof sailed past his satisfied ears, to which he beamed a brilliant smile.
“It is, in fact, a fine morning!†he crowed, his smile growing brighter yet at the surprise and delight he saw then. In all the long two decades of his employment within this hailed old edifice of fiscal responsibility, no supervisor, colleague or subordinate had ever before seen such a display of ebullience and good cheer – in short, it was simply unprecedented!

Henry J. Beemis, notable facts: A very young fifty years of age, five foot eleven and one hundred eighty pounds. Employed for the last 20 years with the Greater Chicago Savings & Trust. A weathered but cheerful face under a thick head of hair which is finally and rapidly surrendering youthful black to veteran grey. Thicker spectacles, behind which hide kindly if somewhat intense brown eyes. These are eyes that until recently were more familiar with ledgers than levity, more attuned to dotted Is and crossed Ts than to the majesty of a sunrise or the awe of the changing seasons.
We leave Mr. Beemis now to explore an entirely new world; a world of thrill and sensation, a world of laughter, and of life. This is a world some never find, but for a few all it takes to get there is a night on The Town.