Lunch with Cocaine Stain–3
”That’s not like Paul,” my father said, crunching his eyebrows into a steeple. He ran his hand through his black to greying hair, combing it over like a slab of pavement and even though the news was bad, he remained eerily calm. His skin was unseasonably smooth, a fact, he maintained, that was due to his strict diet, Pilates classes, and robust sex life. This last one, my old man’s sex life, was a well known topic in the company and among the richy rich gossip circles. I imagined my father the hero of hen parties. But, whatever. The truth was that the too taut angles and hollow cast of his cheeks gave away the multiple plastic surgeries he had done in high end chop shops in Europe. I started to zone out on his stubble when he snapped up straight in his chair, the steeple crashing. I jumped back into my seat, a little too on edge. He pointed a pistol shaped hand at me and I shot my hands up around my ears in the “I surrender” position, he seemed not to notice and cruised the pistol passed me and pointed it at Frank. “Call Cheevers and tell him Paul’s done. That’s it. Fired. We’ll go with Steve.”
“Good call” Frank said, banging the table with one hand and pulling out his cell. With lickedy split finger action the text was written and sent.
“Steve?” My head swung wildly between my father and Frank. “Come on, man. Steve isn’t half as good as Pauley.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, I felt the cold slippery cod slap of guilt, a blow that was both ancient and officious, but, like the cod stocks, dwindling in modern times. Why? I had just left Pauley crashed out on my couch watching The Discovery Channel’s “Inside North Korea” with a whale sized pile of blow in front of him, his teeth grinding down to pebbles. “I mean come on. That’s weird for Pauley. Give him another shot.”
”Too late, son. This business waits for no one. You know that. Paul is out. Period.”
”But, Pauley is a good guy…”
”Listen. We want good workers, not good guys.” He had that anchorman delivery: a nail gun staccato which hammered everything home as if it was a sturdy unchangeable fact. Butt fuck fags, right? I meant, but fuck facts. Ah. Losing it.
“Listen,” he said. “Period.’ Steve is in. Paul is out.”
“Darling, we’re going with Steve,” my mother said snapping the dragon shut. She plopped a blue veined hand on my wrist and I knew that it was useless to push it any further. She reached over and fixed my younger brother, Jack’s, black hair. Jack didn’t even flinch; he just stared at his Gameboy Advance, bottom lip twitching occasionally, a series of zaps and beeps wafting up from the machine to do his talking for him.
“Well then let me deal with it, will ya’?”
“Like you dealt with the Faber account?” Frank asks.
I turned to face him but the sun flashed through the window, blinding me momentarily. I hissed like a vampire and brought up both arms to cover my eyes. I yanked my Blue Blockers out of my inside pocket and shoved them on. “Look, Frank, I told you already, Faber….”
”Listen. That is enough of that Faber account crap,” my father interrupted. “The account is in the bag; it’s ancient history now.”
Frank nodded along. “That’s right. As Dwight D. said, ‘Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.’”
“Quite enough,” my mother said punctuating the point. She reached over the table and pulled off my sunglasses placing them next to my wine glass. “Let’s have a toast. To the future.”
“The future” dad said raising his glass of Taittinger.
“The future” Frank said. A wide crocodile grin ate up his face. He didn’t move his head, but I think I saw his eye slither towards me in its socket. “And besides, we got other business to attend to.”
I raised my wine, but said nothing about the future. The fucking future? my mind spat. The thought of it made me want to lash out at someone and I turned towards Frank to resume my defense of the Faber account, but my rant was scooped out of my mouth and slapped to the floor as the waiter materialized at my side, pen nib poised on notepad. The sight of him sent a shiver through my body and I repeated to myself: Breath. Try. To. Act. Cool. Without thinking I ordered the wild mushroom consomme garnished with a pate a choux pastry stuffed with morels, chantrelles, and truffles. For my main course I got the gourmet smoked duck salad that my father recommended and which the waiter suggested showcased the fall colors, wherever they had disappeared to in this infernal heat. My father and Frank kept it simple and ordered seared cajun lamb chops with a side dish of fresh steamed vegetables and garlic smashed potatoes with sautéed onions and peppercorn gravy. My mother ordered a Waldorf salad with all organic vegetables and followed this with sushi wrapped avocado and a bowl of jasmine rice. Jack got a cheeseburger and fries, which my mother ordered for him. And a glass of ice cubes, no water, put in an Ice Age II: The Meltdowncup that Jack had brought with him from the Cinema 12. The cup had a cartoon picture of a large but friendly looking Mastodon who was winking and hugging a cocky looking saber toothed tiger. The tiger was giving me a thumbs up.
I turned to Jack and asked him in a low whisper how he was doing but he just stared at the on going drama in his lap. I watched him play for a bit thankful that I could duck out of the conversation for a few minutes and try to regain my cool. Jack’s fingers moved in a blur and I was amazed at the smooth execution of jumps and high kicks and the awesome destructive power of secret weapons. There was an endless stream of pitfalls and monsters, but he eluded them all. Nothing touched him.
I thought back to Frank’s eerie “other business” comment and wondered if it was some kind of clue. It seemed more and more certain that sent me that damn e-mail. Just the sort of shit he would get up to. I tried to put the pieces together: we were here for something big. A business merger, perhaps? A new five star client? What ever it is, I felt like I have won a big victory and straightened up in my seat. I was cool again.
The waiter arrived with another round of drinks and Jack’s Ice Age II cup with all ice cubes, no water. Already the heat was melting the ice cubes and little crackles and pops danced out of the cup and mixed with the beeps and zaps. Without looking away from his game Jack reached out and brought the cup to his ear, listening to the cracks and pops. He smiled. Then put the cup back on its coaster and resumed playing his game. My mother stared across the room fanning herself, dragon wings flapping, while my father and Frank were going on about Tiger’s chances at the Masters.
And the conversation swirled from golf to business to movie stars and back to business and I guessed this was us enjoying ourselves. I lost the thread again and zoned out on the Ice Age II cup and the large cartoon mastodon giving me a thumbs up and the winking saber tooth tiger and I had this vague thought about the improbability of two such territorial animals being pals. My mind drifted over topics of ice ages and secret weapons and how the world was tourist trapped. I shook these tangle of thoughts from my head and slipped my Blue Blockers back on and gazed out the window. A tour bus pulled up in front of the Jackson Memorial and a crowd of Asians jumped off the bus and huddled around it, reading the plaques, snapping their cameras, and then, within minutes, they were herded back on to the bus by the tour guide and it disappeared down the road burping and farting a trail of black exhaust.
Our food arrived.