DALTON’S VOICE DRONES monotonously like cold waves against a Scottish coastline. All the heat is gone from the air, so that, when a trickle of consciousness spills back into me, I use it to wish that I had a thick traveler’s coat, or that I’d never come here.

 

A pounding at the door wakes me up.

 

“This is Large, Creeping Charlie,” says Big Pharmakos.

 

*****

THE TAVERN is just a nail-stuck black box on a stretch of Strip with nothing around it except a defunct Honda dealership and an insurance storefront.

 

Big Pharmakos notices my limp, carried over from the nerve-damage in the Dalton dream, and assures me it’s nothing to worry about.

 

Manning the door is a heavyset older man in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, with a big serving of white hair drooped over his eyes. He sits on a stool, shuffling through a fistful of what looks like lotto tickets with cash mixed in. He looks at us as we pass, then goes back to it.

 

Big Pharmakos whispers, “That’s Gibbering Pete, bouncer. Likes to charge an entrance fee. Don’t mind him. Unless I’m doing a set here… ”

 

Large, Creeping Charlie goes off to get us drinks.

 

So here we are. I have twenty bucks in my shirt pocket, figuring I’ll fork it over at the end. A basket of peanuts with the shells on comes our way. Up on the bandstand is a guy with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica that keeps slipping out of its neck holder and into his shirt. I never see him replace it, but it slips out several times.

 

He’s playing either an extremely slow or an extremely long cover of John Prine’s “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone.” All I can tell is that it’s gone on much longer than that song should.

 

Large, Creeping Charlie sits back down with three glasses of dim liquid, panting like the fumes have already gotten to him.

 

“Cheers,” I say. There aren’t too many people out tonight. I wonder what time it is, and what day of the week, and whether this crowd is representative of Dodge City.

 

Big Pharmakos is trying out a new joke but I barely hear it because my attention is tied up in a man hunched over the bar in a sleek black jacket with silver hair down to his shoulders. I can’t take my eyes off him. His head gets larger and smaller, like he’s pumping out used thoughts into some other place and sucking in fresh ones in a kind of dialysis.

 

I begin to sweat, wondering how much material he’s liable to move in the course of a night, and how long until it begins to pour out of him. I’m starting to wonder how long we’re going to be here, how long my twenty bucks will hold out. I’m pretty sure that man is Professor Barry Dalton, and I don’t know if I want to be around when he opens his mouth.

 

I feel traumatized by his speech, like the extent of its damage will only become knowable years down the line.

 

“Excuse me, guys,” I say, limping down from my seat and toward the bathroom, right past the Dalton-figure, as if by eluding his notice he might elude mine.

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