Chapter Eight: The Lunch Date
Roj saw Garrison walk into the room from the elevators, and pass through the rows of cubicles without speaking to anyone. He looked angry, and that made her smile. He left the building, crossed the street, and turned right. She drifted along beside his left arm, feeling like a child being taken for an outing. The only person who noticed her was an infant in a stroller, who craned her neck to watch her pass. Roj waved cheerily, and the baby smiled and thrashed her hands up and down.
Garrison entered High Street Deli, paused as though looking at the meats and side dishes in their glass case, then headed to the back of the store where the restrooms were. He didn't stop, but opened the back door to the alley. A car was waiting for him. He got in, Roj in his wake, and the car pulled away.
Traveling along not under her own power felt very strange and unreal. A machine was vibrating, moving her past sidewalks and buildings, cheating her of the whispers of the streets. Is that why I've never heard of a ghost haunting a car? Because you don't have a sense of where you are, and it's really not all that diverting unless you're with someone you like? She looked at Garrison's face, still set in grumpy lines. Oh, Garrison, you are so cute when you look like someone destroyed your shitter. Roj turned from angle to angle, observing all his wrinkles and curves of his frown, until the car pulled up to the covered entry of Richesse, a very exclusive restaurant. Oh, boy, I've always wanted to see the inside of that place!
Inside, the maitre d' politely greeted Garrison. "Yes, sir. René will escort you to your table." They not only know who he is, but they don't even question whether or not he had a reservation. Roj saw the maitre d' put a check mark beside something written in his reservation book. Looking over his shoulder, she saw "11:00 - Duchamps - 2."
With a leap, she caught up with Garrison as he followed the obsequious René up the stairs to the balcony seating, which overlooked the main room. The area had its own bar, and leather upholstered chairs that would not have looked out of place in a mansion before a grand fireplace. Nice. You lunch here, we eat Chinese take out and McWhatever. Not eat. I ate. They eat. I must remember my dead tenses.
Garrison took a seat at the table farthest from the stair, positioning himself so that he could see anyone who entered the dining area, upstairs or down. Roj parked her point of view beside him so that she could observe, too. "So, Tom, what do you think of our first date? You into headless chicks these days? Let me confide in you, Tom, I took a tour of your Personnel Department this morning, and have to admit, even dead I could do five times the work those old doughnut grinders can." She crossed her arms and informed him, "And by the way, just so you know, you stink like a pile of skunk shit, and are so ugly with festering corruption that you make the picture of Dorian Gray look like the Mona Lisa."
"Hot coffee, and a shot of Glenfiddich," Garrison said to the bowing René.
"You're going to keep playing with this, forget yourself, and let him hear you," Desai said.
"If he hears me, what is he going to do, go to a priest and ask for an exorcism? He doesn't believe in anything but his own paygrade and his three-piece suits."
"Also, skunk excrement does not smell especially bad."
"It's the thought that counts." Roj paused, shuddering, just as Garrison sat up straighter.
He accepted the coffee that the waiter brought, took a swallow, then poured the shot into it. He took another gulp, watching the same figure that Roj had caught sight of. It was the big man who had shot her in the head, and he was coming towards the stairs.
"It's him. The one who killed me." Roj whispered.
"Do not worry, he can't harm you any more," Desai murmured. "He will not even see you, for he cares nothing for the realm of the spirit."
"Okay, but just seeing him makes me want to shoot off to the stars again."
"That wouldn't be a bad idea. There is nothing but your own will keeping you here."
She turned to him, "Look, Desai, I just feel like I need to ... " Desai was not there; she could not perceive him at all. "Fine, be that way. You ought to teach me that trick some day."
Still fearful, Roj drew a little away from the table as the big man approached. His suit was impeccable, as it had been on the evening of her death. His dark brown head was shaved to bowling ball cleanliness, gleaming with toned skin. After shaking Garrison's hand, he took the seat across from him; René took his order for iced tea and disappeared for only a moment, bringing menus back with him along with the frosted tall glass. Was he Duchamps, or was that just kind of a code name? Roj wondered. She watched him take the lemon parked on the edge of the glass, squeeze it into the tea, and say to Garrison, "Vitamin C. Very good for the health."
A kind of smoke came up from his mouth, a smoke that was not smoke, but a curling little plume of danger. He was actually threatening Garrison with the simple words. Did Garrison know that? It didn't look like it, as Garrison was still looking at the menu.
"I'll have the pheasant," Garrison said, and handed the menu card back to René.
"As will I," said the other man, removing his sunglasses. "Mr. Garrison is very good at knowing what is best."
This time Garrison looked at him with a dawning concern that for a moment, overrode his anger. As René departed for the kitchens, the Chief said, "Yeah, tell me about this. The Pest is still alive, Max. Why'd you take the girlfriend instead?"
"The man was in love. All men spill secrets to the woman they love, they cannot help it. We were watching this woman for weeks. One day she takes off in a taxi with another man, so we follow. She is not meeting a lover, she is meeting someone who has information. Suddenly, she knows too much about her Chief."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Their voices were low, but they stopped talking as René appeared again to fill their water glasses. After he left, Max said, "I will tell you this, but please -- we should wait until we have eat this superb food."
In the quiet minutes that followed, Roj came closer to Max, the man who had blown her life off onto the wall of the second floor lounge in the precinct. She studied his face minutely, trying to sense what it was about him that made him capable of such disgusting and seemingly pointless violence. His skin was very healthy, except for the dripping exudate of evil; there was a dot on his purplish lips that might have been pigmentation, or a spot of dried blood; his ears had no hairs in them, so he must have a good barber or valet. His hands were large, and strong -- she looked away, demoralized by the hand that had held a gun against the side of her head. Then she looked at his eyes, and was appalled at the vacuum there. His eyes were dark brown, but behind the reflection in the moisture there, there was no life, no sparkle or twinkle. Just a void, dark beyond the darkest brown. Roj retreated in time for René to bring the plates.
Across each leg of pheasant was a zigzagging line of orange-red, a hot sauce, with freshly chopped parsley sprinkled on it. Seasoned bread cubes were on the side, with a drizzling of gravy; diagonally cut asparagus slices radiated across the plate with the bread cubes as their epicenter.
Roj watched the two men eat, with some feeling like envy. Not having a stomach, she was not hungry, but wished that she could have tasted the fare. Garrison ate, cutting meat from the leg of the pheasant, but when he was done, sat back from his plate. Max not only cut the meat, but also picked up the bones and gnawed the remainders from them. "René, my friend, this food is too good, and you know how I am. Bring me another napkin."
René not only brought a second napkin, but also a separate dish containing a small hot steamed towel. "More tea, Sir?" he asked. After Max's nod, he turned to Garrison. "Another coffee with?"
Garrison nodded, and when René had cleared the plates and brought the drinks, he cleared his throat and said, "Now, what were you talking about?"
"This," said Max, drawing a folded series of papers from the inside pocket of his jacket. He passed them across the table to Garrison.
Roj watched in horror as the papers were revealed to be the ones Danny Chuster had shown her in the coffee shop, the ones he had ditched in the common trash bin in the store.
They still smelled a little of his sweat.
"Where did you get these?" Garrison hissed.
"The girl and the fat boy were looking at them."
"They don't mean anything."
"You dream, then. The fat boy knew what he had in his hands, he printed out your messages and the attachments. He told the girl. She saw them. We take your Pest, she still knows what happen. We take the girl."
"Why didn't you take him, then, since he was there with her?"
"Sorry, sorry, thought we did. Saw his blood flowing from his head and thought we had made the two love-birds with one stone." Max wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Now he nuts, off the force for a while. Plenty of time."
"And the fat boy just happened to overdose."
"Yes, what a shock. These young people, and how they do not understand what they are playing with."
Garrison stuffed the papers into his inner suit pocket, looking uneasy.
Ah, yes, he can shred them, but he has no guarantee that his buddy Max here hasn't made copies.
"Okay," Garrison muttered.
"Thomas, my friend, this was a fine lunch. I thank you deeply for this opportunity to share information."
René appeared with the leather folder that encased the check. Garrison reached for his back right pocket -- and found no wallet. He fumbled around his ass, his expression gathering confusion.
Roj flung her arms up in a simulation of a referee signaling a touchdown.
"What the -- " said Garrison, only now realizing his wallet was gone. "God damn it, I don't have my wallet!"
Max watched his lunch companion's face crimson. "How prudent you are! No wallet, no pay. I don't wish to see you have to wash dishes, so I will save you, Garrison. But you do owe me, not only for the lunch, but for looking out for your interests." He took out his own wallet, and two hundred-dollar bills, placing them in the leather folder with the cheque. "You will remember this."
Garrison was pale with outrage, watching Max put his dark sunglasses on his face again, sitting, humiliated, until René returned with the receipt and they were free to leave.
"Oh, Tom, it was a great date, and I've learned so much about you, and I want to know you better," Roj told him effusively, "but Mr. Max is so ... how shall I say, so much closer to my death that I have to go with him and find out more about his undoubtedly engrossing way of life. All I can leave you with is this."
As Garrison reached for his whiskyed coffee, Roj knocked it off the table onto his crotch.
With only a slight cackle, Roj flew to dog Max's filthy, stinking steps.