by Doug Rainbow
Strange things occur when a down-and-out wanderer enters the Jack O' Tens Bar.
Jack O’ Tens
By Doug Rainbow
So yesterday I was sittin' on the deck of my boat, the Jack O' Tens, anchored off the Port of New Orleans. It's a nice 80-foot yacht, I guess you'd call it, and it'll go like hell. I was sittin' there sippin' my good Jack Daniels whiskey when a government boat pulls alongside and a guy in a suit says he wants to board.
"Sure, come on up," I say. "It ain't gonna do you no good, though."
He climbs on up that little ladder and introduces himself. "Sir, I'm Scott Powell from the IRS. First let me warn you. I can always tell when a man is telling a lie. Would you agree to answer a few questions about your income?"
"Happy to. So's you know, the last government man, up in Palm Beach, didn't do so good."
"Do you know what happened to him?"
"Not really," I go. "He disappeared after he was done talkin' to me."
"Well, let's get started," the IRS guy, Powell, goes. "Where does the money come from to support your extravagant lifestyle? This boat, for example, must have cost seven or eight million dollars at least. And you show no income."
"Sit down, then, Powell. Have a Jack Daniels with me if you like. Here's what happened. . . ."
I ain't much of a man. Got shot up some in 'Nam and can't walk good. Ain't had a reg'lar job for a damn long time, and I s'pose I drink too much. Jack Daniels whiskey when I can get it.
So last summer I was up in Minneapolis tryin' to keep cool. I see this dive- lookin' place on about Broadway and Lyndale called "Jack O' Tens Bar and Grill." I was pretty hungry and gettin' tired. Sometimes a place like this'll give a man a burger and a drink for washin' some dishes or moppin' up the place. So I step inside.
"Who's the boss?" I ask the crowd in general.
One guy about my age, with lots of veins in his cheeks and nose, looks me up and down. "That'd be Ace of Spades," he says, "right there behind the bar."
I'll be damned, I think, if that slick bartender don't look like an Ace of Spades. Hes in all black clothes, including one a them little black shoestring ties. His black hair, slicks back on his head, greasy, from a point kinda low on his forehead. His eyes, his mouth, everthing seems to slant in some, like if you painted a face on the Ace of Spades. I get a little chill on that hot night and wonder if this Ace was evil.
But I’m hungry, and o' course thirsty, and I go on up to him. "You Mr. Ace of Spades?"
Well, the man tilts back his head and studys me under them slanty black eyes. "Some say so."
"I'm new in town, a little low on funds, and I been known to wash a few dishes and swamp a few floors for a burger and a Jack Daniels." I look at the floor, and can't help observin,’ "Looks like this floor could use a cleanin'.''
Ace goes, "Like Jack Daniels, do you?"
"If I can get it."
Well, he hires me, and that was almost thirteen months ago, and I stay there. Or, rather, I stay at the Jack O' Tens Bar and Grill, wherever that was, until three months ago.
See, this Jack O' Tens is one weird place. You could always find Ace there, and King of Diamonds, and Queen of Clubs, and few other regulars, and a few one-timers drifting in and out. And then, o' course, me. They call me Jack, I s'pose on accounta my preference in whiskey.
King of Diamonds is a tall, square-built guy with blocky features, a red-splotched face, and red hair. The man has diamonds, too. He got diamond cufflinks, a diamond pinky ring, and a Rolex watch with diamonds all around it. He even carries a little gold axe in his suit pocket, just like the King of Diamonds in the deck of cards. 'Cept this little axe has diamonds on it.
Queen of Clubs is a fine full-figured black woman, with bulges in the right places, and a big old-fashioned afro hairdo. She’s friendly as can be, she never drinks all that much, and she has a mellow gospel singin' voice that comes all the way up from her toes. I never heard Queen sing no songs, though. She just sounds like she could.
After a few days hangin' at the Jack 'O Tens I begin noticing things was odd. I never saw nobody deliver no food or beer to the place. And I never saw no storeroom or big walk-in kind of cooler like you'd expect. And the bar refrigerator never got empty, no matter how many beers and sandwiches we served. Which really wasn't all that many, but still you'd think they needed to resupply.
Then one sleepy Wednesday or Thursday, along about three in the afternoon some guy I never seen before come runnin' into the bar carryin' what looks like a full canvas bank bag. He’s a big guy, maybe six-two, two forty, and out of breath. Right away he goes over to the window that looks out on Broadway. He takes him a deep breath and asks Ace for a Miller.
The stranger takes his bag and his beer and goes over to King. That's what we call King of Diamonds. The stranger goes, "Why the hell they call this place Jack O' Tens?"
King goes, "The name of the place."
"There ain't no Jack of Tens," says the stranger.
King takes out that little axe, waves it and chops the air with it. "Right you are."
And the damnedest thing happens. It sounds like thunder goin’ off in the bar, but it’s a clear day. A puff of red smoke rises up where King hit the air with his axe. I go out like a light.
I donn’t know where I was when I woke up. Oh, it was still the Jack 'O Tens, alright, but it weren't no Minneapolis. I come to find out it was Cleveland, Ohio, and how we got there, the Jack 'O Tens, and my friends, Ace of Spades, King, Queenie, and me I'll never know. I do know the big stranger with the money sack never made it, and where he went I never did hear.
After a coupla weeks in Cleveland some loudmouth walks in, him sayin' he was on the dodge from his wife who is after him for child support. He tells Queenie, "No one will ever find me at the Jack 'O Tens, 'cause there ain't even any such card."
Queen goes, "Whatever you say," and she gives a little wave, like with the back of her hand.
Well, sir, the same thing happens as up in Minneapolis, with the red smoke and the God-awful noise, and everything went blank. This time I wake up in Sacramento.
Well, as time goes by, this thing with the disappearing act happens a few more times and I begin to get used to it a little bit. We go from Sacramento to Waco, Texas, then to Chicago, and then to West Palm Beach, Florida, on Blue Heron Boulevard. And it always happens the same way, as I think about it, with some customer, usually on the run from somebody, who would mouth off about there bein' no such thing as a Jack o’ tens. Then King, or Queenie, or maybe Ace makes a little motion and, bang, a new city and no more loudmouth.
Now I never been the smartest man, but I done me a lotta thinkin' on this here Jack O' Tens situation, and I think I might have me some answers. Seems strange that this little bar had got together folks called Ace, King, Queen and Jack. Seemed strange too that all hell broke loose when anyone came in questionin' the Jack o' Tens, even though it was, to me just a name. Seems strange that all this power, like nobody never seen in no natural way, comes out to make folks disappear and relocate a whole bar. About the time I begin to realize that there had to be some supernatural aspect operatin' here, a new customer comea into the bar.
The new guy’s a skinny little dude not hardly big enough to sit at a barstool, but sit he does. He orders a "10 Penny Bourbon."
Ace scratches his head. "We ain't got that. Never heard of it."
The new guy goes, "Too bad. That's my brand. I'm partial to tens
Ace turns back and looks on the wall. "Hey, look what I found."
He holds up a bottle labeled "10 Penny Bourbon," which none of us ever saw or heard of before. Like I said, the Jack O' Tens is a real strange place and it got so not much of anything there ever surprised me. Ace poured the new guy his shot.
Queenie ambles over, and you can see this new guy caught her interest.
Queen asks, "So you like tens. Why is that?"
"Well, I got me ten fingers and ten toes. I prolly got me ten dollars in this here wallet. And I think I got ten kids out there somewhere. Looks like ten is just naturally my lucky number."
"And you ain't runnin' from nobody?"
"Nope. I ain't got no enemies. Kinda like it here. Like the name of this place, Jack O' Tens. Think I might jest stay here a while if none a you minds."
Queenie waves the back of her hand, like she does, and the noise and smoke comes, but no one passed out. We all get a warm glow and feel like we just won some big lottery prize. I take out my wallet and it’s crammed full of hundred-dollar bills. Everbody hugs everbody, and we’re all like cryin' and laughin' at the same time. Ace of Spades keeps sayin' over and over, "The hand is over and we won."
I never ask no questions, but I get out of there promptly and never got back. Since then I been spendin' that money like crazy, but I just can't use it up. Whatever I spend or take out, it's all back in there next time I look.
Now I could be wrong, but I figger we was all just a part of some big poker game bein' played by God and the Devil, or Angels, or some kinda powerful forces. Our man, or god, or angel, whatever, musta been bettin' on a straight and when that ten come in he filled it. It musta been a huge pot, 'cause we all got to share in it. Like I say, I could be wrong.
Back on my boat, the Jack O' Tens, IRS man, Powell, finishes his Jack Daniels. "Interesting story," he goes. "And what happened to Mr. Edwards, the first IRS agent to visit you?"
"He said he didn't believe a word of it. Said there was no such thing as a Jack O' Tens. I had to slam down my Jack Daniels glass and poof! He disappears in a clappa thunder and a clouda red smoke."
Mr Powell looks at me for a long time. He looks at the glass, resting on the deck table, in my right hand.
Mr. Powell goes, "You know, Jack, I believe you. You will not be hearing from us again."
As he backs down that little ladder to his waiting government boat, he reverses himself and climbs back up a couple of steps. Raising his head above the rail he asks me, "Jack, do you have any idea where I might find that card game?"