Monday, April 11, 2016

The sign read “THE MONKEY BITES”

     Ace sat with his back to the room and appeared to be reading a small prayer book. Actually, he was tearing out the pages one by one and eating them, chewing slowly and looking up at the ceiling of his cage as if he was memorizing the text. Billy, the bar's owner and bartender, said he only ate one or two pages a day – it was not as if he was hungry. Billy fed Ace every time he fed himself. In fact, he fed Ace first like he was worried about being poisoned; a fair concern because he treated the cook like dirt.

     It bothered Bea to see Ace locked up like that. It was obvious that he was constantly pissed-off, unlike most captive monkeys who sank into apathy after a while. If anyone but Billy approached the cage Ace screamed and flung himself around inside. If you put your hands anywhere near his reach or grasp there would be blood. He once ate a drunk's left little finger.

     The day he escaped she helped him by not saying anything as she watched him slip out the unfastened wire door. He scrambled soundlessly up the cage and across a shelf full of stemmed glasses that never even shuddered. From there, he reached the open transom over the door that led to the alley. He paused a moment as if mentally packing, and fixed Bea with his hooded golden eyes,  vanishing before she could blink. He was gone an hour before Billy missed him.

     Goldy dropped her tray the last two inches onto their table to wake up the drunks and impress people just how hard her job was. Billy startled from his newspaper spread out on the bar, looked around and gave a little shriek seeing the open cage door. He had no one to blame or lash out at because he was the only one who could deal with the brute without losing a digit or a pint of blood. He was livid not because of any fondness for the animal. Ace had been collateral for a bar tab run up by a guy who used to be a regular, but had to leave on short notice due to some complication with the sheriff. It had been five years and Billy still hoped to collect having some notion that monkeys lived at least as long as people did.

     He cursed and took the cage, which needed cleaning, down from the bar and took it out the door to the alley as if he thought the deadbeat might be waiting there with Ace. When he came back inside he was carrying the scalped prayer book and handed it over when Bea reached out for it, as if by prior agreement. The first third of the pages were gone and the cover was dark with hamburger grease and redolent of monkey piss. Murph made her put it on the floor while they ate their grill cheese and tomato soup lunch hoping she would forget it but confident that she wouldn't. She didn't.

     Bea was not quite three when Ace made his break for freedom. She thought she saw him from time to time high in the trees around Wampus pond. He stole food all over town and some folks made a point of leaving leftovers out on the porch to see if it would disappear overnight. “Leaving bite for Ace” and reporting on whether it was taken became a common point of gossip. It was bigger news when someone said Ace made off with a whole pie left cooling on a windowsill. This was nonsense because she didn’t think Ace could lift whole pie and make off with it clean. Jump in, splash around and eat a third maybe, but not the whole pie. Ace wasn't much bigger than your average apple pie at least by weight. The vet said he was a Barbary Ape and not a monkey at all but the distinction was lost on Ace and the patrons of the Airport Bar. The pie thief was definitely a person and some years later Maryann Phelps was found dead of a heart attack, lying flat on her back in the McCarthy's kitchen garden, a smug look on her face and one of Ginny McCarthy's prize-winning cherry pies upside down in the dirt beside her.

     All summer after the escape Billy would go down to the park with a bag of stale popcorn and a six pack of beer and sit and smoke and drink. He never brought a net or a bag with him. Did he think Ace would listen to reason and accompany him back to the bar and his cage? Billy would kill the six pack and lie back on the bench and nod, the bag of popcorn spilling out for the pigeons and squirrels to make bold with as he snored. He would wake up as darkness fell and one of the bands started tuning up in the hall across the street and he would see that the popcorn was all gone and swear to folks that Ace had paid him a visit.
        Then came the day that Bea found Ace dead .

from the Monkeytown Murders c. Deborah Lacativa 2016