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Matt and Joanna spent New Year’s Eve with Jim and Leigh, but not at Stenny’s. Joanna’s father Lou taught her at a young age that going to bars on holidays, most especially on New Year’s Eve, was for amateurs.

The four of them spent the evening at Jim and Leigh’s house munching on a variety of finger foods, snacks, and deserts; the only rule was No Forks.

The evening was enriched by the presence in the house of Jim and Leigh’s 5 cats—Koko, Melly, Bootsie, Perry, and Smokey—although no one other than Jim and Leigh had ever seen the reclusive Bootsie.

“I’m not totally convinced that cat even exists,” Matt had said one Sunday afternoon early in their relationship, as they were watching the Eagles play the Giants on Leigh and Jim’s 55-inch TV.

“Well if we’re lying about that, we’re crazy, and I don’t think you’re safe in our house,” Jim had said. “No telling what we’re capable of.”

“True. But this chair is very comfortable and you have good beer so I’ll take my chances,” Matt replied.

This New Year’s Eve, after eating as much as they could endure, they played a trivia game of their own invention, which had become a semi-regular part of their get-togethers. None of them wanted to dick around with game boards, dice, timers, or player pieces, so they just asked each other questions they collected from a number of sources—game cards, the internet, books.

The game proceeded as it usually did, with each participant ruling in certain categories—Leigh in art and literature, Jim in health and geography, Matt in sports and science, and Joanna in business and pop culture.

The most amusing moment of the game was when it was Joanna’s turn to quiz the other three.

“In a Moscow mule, what spirit is mixed with ginger beer?” she asked.

“Black Russians!” Matt yelled.

Leigh laughed her sweet tinkly laugh; Jim said, “It’s vodka. What’s the matter with you, Matlock?” and Joanna shook her head, saying, “Matt, for Christ’s sake. Deaf Donny drinks Moscow mules all the time, you should have known it was vodka. And how the fuck are black Russians going to get in there? Are they going to be ground up in a blender? Jim’s point, that’s the game, he wins. Fuck.” Joanna is very competitive.

So now it’s January 3rd, a Friday, and the four of them are back at Stenny’s, drinking their usual drinks and talking to bartender Stephen about how New Year’s Eve played out.

“It was pretty quiet,” he says. “This isn’t the hottest of hot spots.”

“Nothing exciting or unusual?” Leigh asks, hoping (as usual) for some drama.

“Well, there was the Ben thing.”

“Who was he fighting with this time?” Jim asks. Since Ben’s fight with Kiki nearly five months ago over a difference of opinion about Helen Keller, he has been arguing with those in shouting distance fairly frequently.

“Billy,” Stephen says.

“That’s nothing new,” Joanna says. “Ben never could stand Billy’s bullshit. Same as the rest of us.”

“Different this time,” Stephen says.

“How so?” This from Matt.

“Well you know how Billy sometimes casts himself in the role of hero?”

“Yes,” Leigh says. “Like the time he said he saved a baby from a burning house.”

“Bullshit and trite. A two-fer,” Joanna says.

“Or the time he said he sucked the venom from his colleague’s snake bite and saved his life.”

“Oh yes, and from a type of snake that has never been seen in Philadelphia,” Matt says.

“You know something I just thought of?” Leigh says. “Billy is a mail carrier, just like Cliff Claven and Newman om Seinfeld.  And just as weird.”

“True,” Joanna says.

“Anyway,” Jim says to Stephen, “He told Ben he did something heroic?”

“Yeah, he said he stopped a robbery at the 7-Eleven in Wyndmoor,” Stephen says. “Threw himself between a woman in a wheelchair and a bullet. Ben just lost it. Went off on him.”

“Wait,” Jim says. “I heard about that. I think it really happened.”

“Ben had heard about it too. He just didn’t believe it was Billy,” Stephen says.

“Well, we can find out,” Joanna says. She is already googling Wyndmoor 7-Eleven Robbery. “Here it is, came right up.” She scans the article, and shares some key words as she reads. “Robbery…Sunday the 28th…elderly woman…wheelchair…attempted shooting…mail carrier…wants to remain anonymous…says I’m not a hero….”

“Jeez,” Leigh says, “Maybe it was Billy.”

“No fucking way,” Jim says. “If he wanted to remain anonymous, why is he telling people?”

“That’s an excellent point,” Matt says, but he is clearly losing interest in this conversation and wanders off to chat with Ray.


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