"So when did you get into eating raw fish? What are you, some kind of pelican?"
The one who was squat as a keg, Vic, thrust his jaw out after he spoke, making his face seem even more like a bulldog's. The sweetfaced stringbean, Eddie, rolled his eyes and sniffed the air apprehensively, as though he had been foxed into an abbatoir.
Now that they had gone under the harbor to East Boston they were even closer to Logan Airport, and the d้cor reflected it. Although the restaurant was small and tucked away, the place was themed like some Pan Am terminal, circa 1949. Everything was propellers and fuselages and cockpits. The black and white wall photos showed dining on planes when first-class really was first class. The waitresses looked like Hooters girls in flight attendant outfits, and the one who took their drink orders sauvignon blanc for Eddie and a double Jack for Vic knew Vic by name.
"I don't just eat raw fish. I eat all kinds of fish."
"So what don't you eat?"
"Everything that's on this menu probably. I haven't had a steak in twenty years."
"So what am I supposed to do tell Tammy here to make you up a bed of lettuce?"
"Screw the food, Vic. I'm not here for the food. And you know what? I think I'll have a steak, just so we'll stop talking about it. I didn't call you after all this time to talk about a ..."
But Vic had his nose in the menu. "Don't get the Hangar Steak. It's stringy. The pieces stick in your molars.
"I'm in your hands, how's that. You order for me. Then I want to ..."
"Get the Landing Strip. Big New York cut." He waved the waitress over. "Tammy, two Landing Strips, make them black and blue."
Eddie's eyes twitched painfully. Same as if an insect flew into them. "What's black and blue, Vic?"
Vic pushed his bulldog teeth out even further as he thought about it. "I'd say it's close as you can get to ...beef sushi. Sound good? Tickle your palate?"
For a second Eddie looked as though his sauvignon blanc was headed back up the inner pipe. He checked his pants pocket to make sure the Zantac was there. But then he rallied somehow and went for more wine, throwing it back like mouthwash.
"Screw you, Vic. You're still the kind of guy who'd piss on a friend."
Eddie was not a poker-face type. Even if you were a man up on the moon you could see he wished he hadn't said that. It had just come out of him, like brain vomit, from some shitty place. And with the grin now knifing the edges of Vic's shovel-jaw, everything about Eddie said he wanted to take the comment back, like a misplayed chess piece.
Vic lifted his double Jack in toast position. "Well, that's for me to know and you to find out. Is that why you called me after all this time?"
"You're really full of yourself. You don't know ..."
Vic leaned across the table, just as close as they were that night, when they were blindfolded and pelted with everything from ketchup and hot sauce to wood. He raised his glass of Tennessee corn again. "That's Jack shit, please."
Vic shoved his squat rocks glass into Eddie's tapered wine glass bumping instead of clinking. "Here's to the past," he said. "And you better not break that stem or Tammy'll be upset with you. Maybe you should switch to a nice, pink Cosmo."
Tammy, bearing platters, vamped her entrance and bent way down. In a whoosh of chest-flesh and Obsession fumes she presented two crackling slabs of steer.
Eddie managed to get a lock on his quaking left hand. The fingers stopped and made a fist, but it was under the table, and he wasn't even aware of the fist. "This isn't about the past, Vic. It's about some shit you're pulling today. A situation in your office."
"My office. Well, before we start, better tell me about your office. I don't even know what the hell you do."
Tammy set the beef slabs down. They landed with a bang, heavy and hard. Eddie's eyes bulged. Vic ordered fresh drinks.
"Bone appetite," Vic said. Eddie rolled his eyes and dutifully picked up the serrated dagger Tammy had set next to his plate. He pinned the steer with his fork and made a halting incision, looking seasick as the blood bubbled up.
"I do communications, okay. And I'm at 103 State. But I have me, just me. I don't have five hundred people under me."
"I'm at 47 State. Sure you know that, don't you? And it's more like six hundred. All under me."
"I know what you're up to. I look at the Boston Business Journal. I see your shit."
"Up to? How long have you been at 103?"
"Years, Vic. Nearly twelve. Jesus, this is raw. Do you know what these cows eat?"
Vic sliced a perfect block out of the slab and forked it into his mouth. He chewed it like a meat grinder and swallowed loudly. Eddie watched Vic's Adam's Apple engorge, quiver and subside. A happy gust of beef-breath erupted from Vic's innards. He followed it with a guzzle of Jack and ice.
"You still giving out your Pink Pump Award, Vic? That made the Journal and the Globe."
Vic paused for a good couple of beats. "Bet your ass I'm still giving it out. Keeps my guys honest."
"Honest. Is that what you call it?"
"Watch out or I'll take out my dick and piss on you again. Just like the old days."
Eddie's head snapped back. For an instant his eyes glazed over, like a boxer who had taken a harder jab than he'd trained for. Then they cleared and he put his fork down, even slammed it a little.
"Look, can we get this Hell Night off the table? It's not why I called you. I'm not the old Frat Boy type. I'm not in high finance like you. I don't even remember the secret handshake. They hit us, they hazed us, they did all that and poured shit in our hair too. .."
Vic plunged the knife in again. "Bet your arse I'm still giving it out. Pink as a panty. Separates the movers from the shakers."
"...They made us stand there and..."
"You look like a nine-to-fiver, Eddie. You a mover or a shaker? You'd win the Pink Pump Award in a heartbeat. If you worked for me."
"Not likely, Vic. Not in this lifetime."
Vic swigged and chewed some ice before speaking. "Shake, shake," he said, "how's your steak?"
The hostess with the Filene's Basement black gown and eagle-wing pin came drifting by - to ask how Tammy was treating them. Vic gave her a thumbs up with one hand and pointed to his Jack glass with the other. The hostess turned and waved at Tammy, who was doing the Bunny bow for a foursome several tables away.
Eddie wiped his mouth with the Flying Tigers napkin. "No more frat boy business, okay? I shouldn't have brought it up. My bad."
"This Hell Night shit, Eddie. Get over it. Get a life."
"It's not why I called you. It's not what..."
"But tonight I don't have a blindfold on, Eddie. It's not Hell Night for me, it's steak night. But you...It's still like you've got the fraternity flagpole up your ass."
Suddenly Eddie's skin went pale, then flamed red. He pitched forward, clutched his throat and gagged. Vic jumped up, reached way over and cracked Eddie on the back. A gob of half-chewed matter fell out of Eddie's mouth onto the plate.
"It's okay," Eddie wheezed. "I'm okay."
"Drink some fucking water. Drink."
Eddie grabbed his water glass and took four huge slugs.
"Drink. Drink more."
He sputtered and sucked at the air. "I don't need to drink more. I'm fine, I'll live."
"See what happens when you don't eat steak? You forget how. One more second and you'd have had Tammy doing the Heimlich Maneuver." Vic chuckled. "But maybe that's what you wanted..."
Vic made the okay sign to Tammy, who was indeed bearing down on them, swooping across from the bar bringing another round.
"Funny," Eddie said, still coughing. "Funny as shit. Now can we get Hell Night off the table? Can we do that?"
"You already said that, Eddie. You said it was off the table."
"The weird thing is we're sitting as close tonight as we were then. I could smell you. You stank like..."
Vic sank his knife into the steak. He carved out another perfect box.
"...but who wouldn't stink," Eddie said. "The way they kicked the shit out of us. Wet and bareass. Standing there in that goddamn ice cellar. The hot mustard got under my goddamn blindfold. I thought they were burning my eyes out. Then they said it..."
"What I'm telling you is get a life. You're tipsy on two glasses of ..."
"They said you two, you and me, now piss on each other. If you want to be brothers, piss on each other."
Vic couldn't even wait to swallow. He opened his beef-filled mouth and bellowed back at Eddie, spraying blood-bits as he shouted. "So what are you blaming me for? They said it. I just did what they said."
"On my naked leg. Jesus, Vic, there must have been twenty of them. Watching. Howling. Twenty hyenas. And did I piss on you?"
"Don't ask me, I was blindfolded, just like you."
"Did I, Vic?"
"Well, if you did you must have shot wide. I never felt it."
"Well, I didn't. There are some things I don't do, no matter what."
Vic finally paused enough to swallow the block of steak. Then he aimed the knife at Eddie like an exclamation point.
"Is that because you wouldn't? Or because you couldn't?"
Eddie looked away. He had a new glaze in his eyes. To Vic it was the glaze of a rabbit expecting to be stabbed and skinned.
"I know you, Eddie. You would have pissed on me just like I pissed on you. But you tensed up, you froze, because..."
Eddie seized his sauvignon blanc glass like it was the pole on a lurching bus. "Because why? Why would..."
Vic pointed his steak knife right at Eddie's lapel.
"Because you're Eddie, that's why. You don't eat steak."
Eddie drained his wine glass, furiously drank ice water and started a mad tap-dance with his fingers.
"Dessert time," Vic announced. He raised his steak knife and waved it. The knife flashed in the air and Tammy responded, from way across the room. She high-signed Vic then sailed over with her order pad and a fresh tailwind of Obsession.
"Two Joy Sticks." Vic said this with such gusto it pushed out the fat knot on his tie. "Big ones. Extra whipped cream. You'll love this, Eddie. You'll be licking the chocolate."
The Joy Sticks arrived they were dark and long, a kind of extreme Fudgsicle. Whipped cream all the way up like stripes on a barber pole. When Eddie had his lips around it, Vic shot his bulldog grin again.
He leaned so close he was practically on top of Eddie's dessert. "You know, who's to say I even did piss on you? Did you see it? You were blindfolded. Maybe they dribbled hot water on your leg. Maybe it was all cooked up between us to fuck up your head. And..."
"Did we succeed or what?"
"Enough, Vic. Leave it alone. To tell you the truth ...I don't give a shit."
"I don't. Really, I don't."
Vic stood up, straightened his sleeves and pointed to a narrow aisle that ran past the kitchen. "You know, it's only one toilet back there, just like on a plane. I got to whizz like a horse. Unless you got a bladder of steel, so do you..."
"What are you telling me that I have to go because you have to go?"
"What you say we go back there... and cross swords. For old times sake."
"For old times sake. I don't fucking believe it."
"Tell me you never crossed swords. Never?"
"I don't have to piss with you. I don't have to..."
"You don't have to do anything, Eddie, do you? So why don't you just eat your Joy Stick."
"Get the fuck out of here, Vic. Get the..."
Eddie watched Vic parade through the main room, marching down the gauntlet of booths like a man running for mayor, shaking hands and waving at people as he made his way to the rest room. Then Eddie sprang to his feet, squeezed out from behind the table, hurried out the door and broke into a run.
He drew stares, the kinds of stares people will always throw at a man running at night in a business suit. But he kept running anyway.
Next day, Eddie was in his office at 103 State when the package arrived brought by a courier who said his instructions were to put it in Eddie's hands, and no one else's. The wrapping paper carried no return address, but the plume of scent that rose as Eddie tore at it brought Tammy to his mind, if only for a split-second.
The lid came off more easily than the paper the container, in fact, was only a shoe box. Inside it was a single shoe, a woman's, very pink and very loud, mounted on a narrow plaque. On it Eddie found his name, embossed in a flowery italic, the kind used for afternoon tea invitations.
He stared at it and reached for the Zantac, then the Xanax. And Eddie was still staring at the shoe and the frilly type when Vic called, laughing, apologizing, and inviting him for more drinks and food.
"Nine o'clock. The Runway. Same as last night." And the phone clicked.
Eddie moved his lips. No words came out.
He waited for the pills to work. When they didn't he took more. A hush fell and even the street sounds stopped. Not a horn, not a siren, and there was nothing but time to kill. Eddie bent down and untied his own shoe, his heavy black oxford, and slipped his stringbean foot into the pink pump on the plaque.
He did it just to do it. He was hoping hard that it didn't fit.
About the author:
Paul Silverman has worked as a newspaper reporter, sandwich man, olive packer and advertising creative director. One of his commercials won a Silver Lion at Cannes . His stories have appeared in Tampa Review, The South Dakota Review, The North Atlantic Review, Word Riot, In Posse Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Timber Creek Review, The Front Range Review, The Jabberwock Review, Jewish Currents, The Coe Review, Hobart Online, Amarillo Bay , The Adirondack Review, The Paumanok Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Subterranean Quarterly, Thieves Jargon,The Summerset Review, and others. His piece, Getaway, published by Verbsap, is on the 2006 Million Writers Award shortlist list of Notable Online Stories.
Byline Magazine, Lily and The Worcester Review have nominated his stories to the Pushcart Committee. New work was recently accepted by The Pikeville Review, Oyster Boy Review, Eclectica, Cricket Online Review and Alimentum
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