“Bullies,” muttered Alberto. With a clatter and a string of curses, he crawled his way in the dark to Duffy’s deluxe old-fashioned Buddy Holly jukebox and plugged it into the wall socket. The jukebox slowly wound its way back to life, its bubbling electronic heart illuminating one lonely corner of the bar.
“Damn it, Alberto!” Duffy pounded his fist on the bar. “You don’t know what that woman can do to a dance floor.”
Alberto stood tall and basked in the multicolored jukebox lights. “Well I aim to find out.”
Duffy’s patrons shivered awkwardly in the corners, feeling foolish but not prepared to give up the fight. Truth be told, no one had the courage to defy Duffy’s orders, to stand out from the crowd and embrace the unknown calamity of inviting Dolores McDougal to walk through the doors. No one but Alberto.
“Cowards.” Alberto leaned an elbow against the jukebox. “You’re all making a mountain out of a sugar cube.” Alberto had a significant disability when it came to figures of speech.
Just then, the thick, unmistakable clunk of Dolores McDougal’s sensible Dansko clogs reverberated on the pavement outside.
“The door,” hissed Floyd Flintswitch. “Did anybody bolt the door?”
The hidden patrons murmured in anxious uncertainty. Had they neglected this all-important final step?
The door opened. The brass bell suspended above it clanged a warning worthy of an ocean liner headed for an iceberg. A collective intake of breath came from the huddled masses in the dark corners of the bar. In walked Dolores McDougal.
She was lit from behind with the glowing blue halo of Billy Kerpletsky’s industrial-strength flashlight, her hourglass curves and strong jaw line etched in artistic perfection against this luminescent backdrop. For Alberto Ledbetter, it was a sign from heaven that he had met the one and only woman who could ever claim his heart.
It so happened that a slow tune was playing on the jukebox. Dolores kicked off her clogs, let down her hair, and stepped onto the dance floor – alone. Eyes closed, neck arched, she swayed her arms above her head, a transcendent, self-sufficient, libertine goddess. And then, in an exotic, sensuous imitation of a giant squid, Dolores expelled one long, slow, contented release of her own God-given perfume.
Alberto Ledbetter was smitten. Dolores’ regal display of disdain for convention left him staring in slack-jawed awe. She seemed so completely at home in her own skin, so content to dance the night away in solitary darkness, no partner to guide and lead her but her own inner visions. She had no need of him. He was superfluous. Paralyzed by this realization, Alberto stood frozen in position with one elbow balanced on the jukebox, one leg crossed over the other, his slick two-toned dance shoes poised in useless anticipation.
Dolores’ complete abandon had the opposite effect on the remaining denizens of Duffy’s Bar and Grill. One by one, they emerged from hiding and joined Dolores McDougal in her rhythmic reverie of sinewy movement. It was as if the darkness in the room soaked up whatever smells might have kept them away. Instead, Dolores’ disregard of convention seemed to draw them in to her world of dark freedom. Some would claim later that Dolores had bewitched them.
When Duffy realized what was happening, he pulled out his platinum Zippo lighter with the engraved monogram and reignited those stubby table candles, giving silent thanks for their vanilla and cinnamon scent. He left the main light switch off, though. Didn’t want to spoil the magic.
Alberto Ledbetter was the only one who didn’t dance that night. In fact, he didn’t budge 1 inch from his spot in the corner. Duffy had to physically remove him when it came time to lock up.
After that night, Alberto became a man possessed. His mission? Win the heart of that mysterious, musky, uninhibited creature known as Dolores McDougal. Wherever Dolores went, Alberto followed close behind to make sure nobody, not even Mayor Hornpipe himself, kept Dolores from strutting her stuff. Problem was, Dolores didn’t seem to give a roach’s antenna about dancing with a partner, and whenever she was near, Alberto melted into a puddle of sweat with all the grace and prowess of a beached jellyfish. Dancing was Alberto’s one and only super power, and Dolores was his kryptonite.
In desperation, Alberto stooped to something he had sworn he would never do. He signed up to participate in the Ladies Auxiliary Bachelor Auction for the West Ambrosia Order of the Flower Pot.
In spite of its name, the Order of the Flower Pot had very little to do with flowers. In fact it had nothing to do with gardening of any kind. It was, in actuality, a charity fund for West Ambrosia’s orphaned and disadvantaged children. In her youth, Dolores McDougal had been one of its earliest beneficiaries, and she had never forgotten. Every year, she sent the Christmas bonus from her job at the West Ambrosia Pharmacy, together with the proceeds from her side business selling beaded pill dispensers and mosaic birdbaths, as contributions to the Order of the Flower Pot. In her front window, Dolores proudly displayed the order’s handmade flag, featuring a pot of crocheted crimson zinnias. She may have been unwelcome at the meetings of the Ladies Auxiliary on account of her gaseous predilections, but Dolores was a staunch contributor to the Order of the Flower Pot. And so, Alberto Ledbetter deduced that support for the order was the one true and lasting route to Dolores’ heart.