Tea in the afternoon with Larry

'What can you tell me about that poster?" Milo asked, gesturing back toward the door. "I think I might need to go to the Acid Test."

"Ah... That'll take some explaining. Or not. Would you like some tea?" said Larry, nodding at a pot on the counter.

Not waiting for an answer, he bent to fumble up cups and spoons from beneath the till. Milo felt suddenly alone in the bookstore. He became self-conscious.

"Uh, I read Howl," he said, meekly.

Larry folded back upright and dropped a teaspoon. He clutched two mismatched porcelain cups and another spoon to his chest. Bushy eyebrows raised in a comical, questioning look.

"Sorry. What did you say?"

Milo felt his face flush. He heard a distant roaring in his ears, as if he might be about to faint. The neat bookshelves suddenly seemed to loom twice as tall.

"I... I read Howl."

Larry smiled, nodded almost imperceptibly and placed the cups carefully on the glass countertop.

"That's great. How did you like it?"

His steady gaze rose to meet Milo's. Milo suddenly felt as if a hot spotlight had turned on him. As casually as he could, he tried to shift his eyes aside to a comfortable shadow, and could find none. He stuttered.

"Well, most of it... I didn't read it all... the whole thing, I mean. I got sidetracked. It was a long time ago..."

Milo felt himself sag fast like a melting candle, in the bright heat of Larry's appraisal. The sound of the door opening drew Larry's attention past Milo's shoulder, to a strikingly-beautiful young woman. Milo, relieved at the distraction, turned from the arclight of Larry's scrutiny.

"Hi Rory!" Larry grinned and waved. "Would you like tea, too?"

She smiled and waved back. "Hi Larry! Not today, thanks. I'm on a schedule, if you can believe it." She gave Milo a non-committal half-smile as she trotted into the shelves. Larry turned back to Milo. "That's Errol Flynn's daughter, Rory..." he said quietly. Comes in here once in a while. She knows Bates, Gottlieb, Bill Wheeler... everybody. She'll be at the test for sure."

"Bates...?" Milo trailed off. On the voyage back, he'd gotten out of the habit of just accepting life's little non sequiturs, and he felt like he was back at sea.

"Albert Bates, Lou Gottlieb, Wheeler Ranch... you know..."

Larry stopped and blinked in acknowledgement of the incomprehension that was unrolling onto Milo's face.

"Where you been?"

"Chi... uh... South America. Bolivia."

"Oh... alright," said Larry. "Le excusan. You're off the hook."

"Gracias," said Milo reflexively.

He stole a long look at the luscious Rory, who, oblivious to him, pored over an ominously thick poetry collection. Then his lizard brain gently suggested to his lower jaw that it hoist itself off the floor.

"She's not really Errol Flynn's daughter..." Milo finally said, disbelieving. He suspected Larry was pulling his leg.

Laugh lines formed around Larry's kind eyes. "O-kaaay!"

Milo had no idea whether it was an affirmative or a denial.