Inaugural Post: Scene from a Novel, Affirmative Action

Every blog has to have a first post, other than ‘Hello World!’ so, here’s mine. Affirmative Action is not and is not meant to be a funny book. It’s about serious men doing serious things. ‘Serious men,’ by the way, is organized crime-speak for members in good standing meant to be taken seriously by other members: our friend rather than a friend. Jonathan Tyne is running from some serious men but along the way he meets Catherine Duvall, the novel’s female protagonist. I could write an entire novel about Catherine. Maybe I will. Extraordinary is an understatement.

The scene I’m posting is when they meet. First meetings between lovers (of course, they become lovers, what would be the point of including her if they didn’t) are world-changing events. Remember one of yours? Remember several of yours? For Jonathan, staying close to Catherine increases his risk of being killed by several orders of magnitude. So what does he do? What would you do? He knows who she is, from a mutual friend, but he doesn’t want her to know he knows. That’s backstory for you and you don’t need to know, at least not right now. I’ve tried to make the scene funny even if the book isn’t. Pretend you just ordered your café latte at B&N, you’re sitting in your favorite chair, the one where you can watch the wildlife come and go, and you’ve opened Affirmative Action randomly and begin reading. I hope you become so engrossed you ignore the passing parade. After you read the scene, join the discussion and tell me what you think. Enjoy… Catherine and Jonathan meet.

 * * *

Finally it was his turn and he stepped to the lectern.  He was embarrassed that he did not have a reservation, which would reveal to the woman that he was stupid and that was the last thing he wished to appear to this one.  His mission now took on something of the hint of urgency; he knew he had to get permission to play and beyond doubt, he had to play well to overcome the bad impression not having a reservation was going to make on this woman.  During the more than twenty minutes he’d spent in line he’d thought up a plausible story he would use on her and hope for the best.  He intended to hold eye contact with her through the entire conversation.  Those eyes… she had extraordinary eyes: close up he could see they weren’t really black but the deepest blue, violet actually, no, almost purple; so striking were they that there was nowhere else he could look.

“Good evening sir.  Welcome to Di Giorgio’s.”

Their eyes met and held and he looked for any sign of recognition.  There was something… some flicker… something other than the respectful look of a professional gatekeeper, but whether she recognized him or not he could not say.  “Hullo, one for dinner, please.  I think I have a reservation.”

“If you have a reservation you could have saved yourself a twenty minute wait.  You could have been in the other line.”

“Thank you, I do know what con means in Italian… but… well, it’s like this; I’m not sure if I actually have a reservation.”

“Not sure?  Either you made one or you didn’t.  Which is it?”

“I meant to make one, for eight-thirty, and I may have but I was juggling so many balls… Have you ever been so busy that you just forgot to do something?”

Hello!  Earth calling space cadet… that’s what lists are for.  Don’t you make them?”

“So what would I put in it, juggle better?”

“Make reservation for dinner… and check it off when you do it.”

“I just knew when I saw you, you were going to be helpful.”

“Would you like me to check my list… to see whether you made a reservation?  I do so want to be helpful.”

“Yes, please.  That’s exactly why I stood in the senza line.  I figured you’ve heard every excuse imaginable and I didn’t want to piss you off, seeing as how I’d like a table even if I forgot… you know, to make a reservation.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What name do I check for?”

“Oh sorry, Ware… Michael Ware.”

W-a-r-e?”

“You found it; great.”

“I haven’t started looking yet.”

“Oh, well you spelled it correctly; that’s progress, isn’t it?”

She stared at him for so long Tyne thought he would give the game away by laughing.  Finally she lowered her eyes to her list and searched for his name.  He bit his lower lip to keep from making a sound and managed to compose his face before she looked up.

“Sorry, I can’t find your name in my log.”

“Rats.  Well, I’d still like a table.”

“I can put you down for a table but you’re going to have a very long wait, at least two hours, possibly longer.”

“Di Giorgio’s has a very nice bar.  You put me down on your list and I’ll amuse myself rapping with the bartender until my table is ready.”

“If you spend two hours in the bar you won’t even be able to taste the food.  Why don’t you settle for a pizza… just down the street and I’ll make a reservation for you for tomorrow night?”

“No, I’ll hang out in the bar and drink mostly Pellegrino.”

“Okay but I should warn you; you’re alone so if I seat you at a table for two you’re going to get stuck for a second meal you didn’t order.  We do have a few tables for one but I can’t guarantee you’ll get one.  This is the height of the summer season, the weather’s glorious, there’s a pro-am golf tournament this weekend at Eagle Crest and tonight and the next two are going to be three of our busiest.”

A golf tournament; so that’s why they are so busy, he thought.  “I don’t understand why you’re so determined to send me out into the cold without any sustenance.  I’ll risk it.”

“Mr. Ware, within walking distance of Di Giorgio’s there are three or four really good restaurants where I’m sure you would be seated a lot faster than you will be here.”

“But Di Giorgio’s is my favorite.  I didn’t come 150 miles to eat down the street.  If you can’t seat me tonight then you can’t but if it’s just a little wait in the bar, please put me down in your list.”

She smiled and started to write his name in her log.  He casually leaned against the lectern, as if he was watching her make the entry, and with his mouth close to her ear and barely above a whisper said, “Say, I have an idea.  You get a dinner break, don’t you?”

She stopped writing and turned to look at him and he saw in her eyes he’d made a mistake.  This gambit wasn’t going to work but now that he’d crossed the Rubicon, he had no choice but to continue.  She said, “Yes, if I want one.”

“Well, tonight I think you should want one… and when you take your break, please come and get me in the bar and we’ll have dinner together.”

“My break isn’t long enough for the kitchen to prepare a meal for you.”

“In that case, tell the kitchen what you want to eat and tell them to prepare enough for two.  When it’s ready, come and get me in the bar.  I’ll eat whatever you eat.  I’m sure it will be excellent since who better than you would know what on tonight’s menu is particularly good.”

“I don’t order from the menu.  I eat whatever the kitchen prepares in bulk; lasagne or ravioli, the zuppe of the day or sometimes just a hearty salad.”

“That doesn’t surprise me but it doesn’t mean it won’t be good.”

“Mr. Ware, I eat in the kitchen at a table reserved for staff.”

“Terrific.  I’ve always wanted to eat in the kitchen.  The sights and smells will add something special to my dining experience… as will dining with you.”

“Sorry, the kitchen is off limits to guests.”

He paused for several beats and then said, “I have a suggestion that I think will solve our dilemma.  Do you want to hear it?”

“The answer is no.”

“You haven’t heard my suggestion yet.”

“The answer is still no.”

“I was about to suggest…”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“If I say please?”

“No, and you’re starting to annoy me.”

“Ask Lydia.”

The woman stared at him for several seconds and then said, “What did you say?”

“I thought that might get your attention.  I was about to suggest that you ask Lydia if it would be okay for Michael to dine with you in the kitchen.  Ask her.”

“Are you just dropping her name or do you really know her?”

“Ask her… and no last names.  Just ask her about Michael.  Or, don’t ask her; that’s okay too because I’m going to ask her to introduce us.”

“Even if you do know her… even if she’s a relative, why should I eat with you?”

“’Cause we’re going to be friends, you and I.”

“We are?”

“Uh-huh.  I used to come in here a lot, when I lived in the county, sometimes as often as once a week.  My wife… ex-wife that is… doesn’t like to cook so we ate out a lot.  The last few years, not so often… but now that I know you’re here I’m going to become a regular again, so you’re going to be seeing a lot of me.  That’s why I know we’re going to become friends.”

“Couldn’t you do any of the cooking?  Does the woman always have to be the chief cook and bottle washer?”

“Actually I cooked more often than she.  I like to cook and I’m good at it, I think better now than she… but even if you enjoy cooking you don’t like to do it every night.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We liked this place, the food and especially the woman who owns it… so we ate here a lot.  Ask Lydia about Madeleine too; they’re particularly close.  Oh, and ask her if she agrees with me, that you and I are going to be friends.”

She pointed at her log and said, “See, I’m writing your name on the list, at the bottom of the list.  When a table becomes available, if you’re still here, someone will come and get you in the bar.”

Tyne deftly and unobtrusively slipped a twenty-dollar bill under the logbook and thanked the woman.  He then started for the bar but stopped and said, “Do you mind if I play your piano?  That would certainly make the time pass more agreeably.”

She stopped writing and studied him over her glasses – Ware?  Black Irish, not quite six feet, sturdy looking, black really curly hair, gray eyes with something else, maybe a little yellow, no, more green than yellow; neat ponytail held with a pretentious silver barrette, no less, not a déclassé rubber band.  A little puffy under the eyes, as if he is allergic to something; interesting face, not handsome but not exactly ugly; prominent cheekbones, no fat, no jowls, hard-bitten was the phrase that came to mind.  Straight nose with a little bump near the bridge, as if it had been broken long ago.  Lots of wrinkles around the eyes, and at the corners of the mouth too, like hers.  Where do those goddamn little mouth wrinkles she hated come from, she thought; certainly not from smiling, probably from clenching his teeth, something she did and had tried very hard but unsuccessfully to stop doing?  No gray; she wondered whether he colored his hair, decided he didn’t as it wasn’t uniform enough, with some brown, even a little red.  A vain, forty-something ex-jock with an attitude about women and a glib line; what he needs, she thought, is a swift kick in the ass.

“Are you any good?”

“I know my way around a keyboard.”

“Knock yourself out.  Can you find your way to the bar by yourself Mr. Ware?” with just a trace of a smirk.

“I think so ma’am, but if I get lost I’ll send up a flare, or I’ll do something else equally outrageous.”  At no time did he leer, look at her tits or let his gaze leave her eyes except when she looked down.  Now he held her eyes until she looked away, only then did he step around the lectern and head for the bar.  He’d gone only a step when she stopped him by poking him in the arm with her pen, the non-pointy end.

If you’re any good, they’re might be a table available at nine… but you’ll have to be really good.  Trust me, I know what good sounds like.  But if you stink… well, you could order a tray of antipasti – the spiedini di gamberoni and the assorti are particularly good – share it with the others in the bar not smart enough to make a reservation.”

“Do you have a favorite song I might know?”

She thought for a moment and then said, “How about… something by Maury Yeston; your choice?  Do you know anything by Yeston?  Have you even heard of Yeston?”

“I think I can manage a Yeston… for you… if you tell me your name?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t need to know my name.”

“Are you ashamed of your name?  Is that why you won’t tell me?”

“My name is for my friends… and you aren’t one.”

“But I will be and I’ve been so good… well, most of the year.  I think I deserve to know your name, especially if I’m going to play Yeston for you.”

“You can really play Yeston?  You’re not just shitting me?”

“Yes I can and I’m not.”

“Well, if you do and it’s any good you’ll get your table.  My name is Catherine, by the way, but… there’s something you should know.”

They were looking directly in each other’s eyes and she had just the trace of a smile on her lips, and he said, “What’s that?”

Tyne had thought when he stepped to the lectern that he was facing the woman directly but the lectern was asymmetrical so his view of her was slightly oblique.  He was actually looking at the left side of her face and when she smiled it was strikingly similar to his smile, more with her eyes than her mouth and he could see the intricate network of wrinkles at the corner of her eye and below her lower lid.  She’d smiled with her lips closed but the smile pulled the skin at the side of her mouth back just a little revealing another network of fine wrinkles at the corner of her mouth her makeup couldn’t quite conceal.  She was older than she looked but that impressed him all the more because the body appeared so supple.  The crinkling of the crow’s feet more than her words convinced him that he’d made contact; that his attempt at repartee had not been in vain.

Without any change in her expression she raised her left hand in front of his face and waggled her fingers.  She was wearing a wedding ring, a thin gold band with an intricate filigree pattern.  He hadn’t noticed it or maybe he hadn’t been looking for it.  Then, it was as if she could no longer keep a straight face.  She smiled broadly, shook her head as if she were dealing with the village idiot and then stuck her tongue out at him.  She dropped her eyes to the log and finished writing his name in it, all the while laughing at him.  Tyne made a valiant effort to maintain a poker face but the ring and the way she’d showed it to him floored him, as if she’d punched him very hard in the stomach.

To cover his discomfort he said, “Does that mean we aren’t going to be dining together in the kitchen?”

“What part of no don’t you understand?”

“I understand perfectly, but I thought you might change your mind… you know, because you want to be helpful.”

“Nice try Slick but not a chance.”

“Okay, and just to show there are no hard feelings, listen up for an absolutely awesome Yeston.  Just for you… and don’t forget to ask Lydia about me.”

Neither Charles nor Lydia had said anything about her being married and Tyne assumed, based on the way she’d come to Bend that she wasn’t.  Now, if she asked him to collaborate with her, a notion he had already been thinking was a foregone conclusion, he might just pass.  But, never let it be said he wasn’t up to a challenge; if Catherine liked Yeston she was in for a pleasant surprise.

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