"Hey there," Clair said, smiling. "You're the first customer."
I noticed her breasts, now firmly held in place under her white shirt, and when she turned to lead me inside, visible lines, beneath her black slacks. "Poutine and what would you suggest as a non-alcoholic drink?"
"Ginger beer works very well," she said, sitting us down at a table from which she could watch for any arriving customer.
"So who are Stanley and Peter?" I asked in reference to the restaurant's name.
"As is typical for restaurants," she said, cheerfully, "they're a gay couple. Stan is from Toronto, more business and publicity than cooking. Peter is from western Ontario, worked at fast food places to afford culinary school in Toronto. The businessman and the chef met one snowy January day and decided to start a restaurant here in Niagara Falls. The story is that Peter, not used to icy cobblestone, slipped and literally fell for Stan."
"Oh" she said, a dreamy smile on her face, "Montreal is a beautiful city, perfect for an art major. The art led to modeling. The modeling led to acting. The acting led to Toronto."
"Anything I might have heard of?" I teased.
"A six foot tall leading lady? Bit parts, mostly. I did some stunt work."
"Like how to make a car flip over? I asked, remembering her comment from last night.
"Usually, they have special ramps for that," she said, a clinical coolness to her voice. "But that is a more dramatic response than threatening to crash into a telephone pole."
"You could have threatened to drive into the lower rapids," I suggested. "I've read the first man to swim the English Channel drowned trying to swim them.
"Ah, poor Captain Webb," she said, pleased by my reading up on area history. "The force of the waves pounding out the air from his lungs. Anyway my height was always a disadvantage for acting. I only got parts in theater by taking male roles -- Murderer Number Three in Macbeth, for instance. Still, there was always modeling."
She excused herself for a moment and returned with my meal. I began to notice her ability to guess my next question. "Yes, some of it involved nudity ... and some movies I wouldn't want my grandparents to see."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," she joked. "It got old," she complained. "They always wanted to have me play a dominatrix. I prefer a little variety. Put me in the pillory sometime and let the little blonde do the paddling." She looked at me to gauge my reaction. "Oh yeah," she said as an afterthought, "I'm bi. But no worries, I am reasonably monogamous."
"I won't go behind anyone's back," she said, an odd defensiveness in her voice. "I think I'll occasionally need a break from the routine, but maybe ..." her voice trailing off.
"Have you," I began, unsure how to finish the question.
"Had sex and fallen in love with both men and women? Yes," she said. "Have a preference? Depends on who I'm with," she said with a giggle. "And yes, I can be either dominant or submissive, but I'm not a big fan of pain -- giving or receiving." And then adding, "physical or emotional -- believe it or not."
Maybe a little too much information. Yet she had aroused my curiosity -- among other things. So why not push it? "What was your most memorable sexual experience?"
"Ah," she said, grinning. "Fasten your seat belt. I was still in college when my boyfriend -- at the time -- Pierre and I were at a street fair. We came to a booth with a gypsy fortune teller. We sat down and she pulled out a deck of tarot cards -- a dark, elaborate Czech deck. She immediately saw our relationship was in trouble -- not exactly news to either of us. So I asked what we could do to delay the inevitable. Here she went silent carefully examining the cards."
"You believe in tarot cards?"
"From a psychological perspective, yes -- that they are a medium, helpful in guiding communication -- nothing magical, just a tool."
"'And you're a real Gypsy?' Pierre asked her, 'from the deepest darkest corner of ...'
"'The deepest, darkest corner of London,' she admitted, her cockney accent apparent. 'But there are a lot of those. And my father claims to have been born in Transylvania, so this is rather keeping with the family tradition.'
"'Anyway, about my question?' I asked her.
"'You've told him very personal things about yourself. He wants to see it -- a common male fantasy in such cases...'
"I looked at this Gypsy woman. Mid-thirties, short, but in very good shape. Yes, sexy, you might say. Our eyes met and I knew what Pierre wanted to see -- and that she would be a willing participant."
"She told me her name was Jilly -- odd name for a Gypsy fortune teller. She closed up her stand and we walked to Pierre's car. The three of us went to our apartment and ... well, you can guess what happened, and let me tell you, it was magnificent."
"So what happened after?" I asked.
"Pierre decided he preferred older woman and dumped me for her." She spent a long moment in silence. "So what about you?"
"My ex was not at all adventurous. Once we did it in a wooded area, part of a ten acre plot her family owned out in the middle of nowhere."
"So nothing like the Montreal Metro at 4am?" she asked, gazing at the door.
"Very infrequent sex was all I could ever hope for from her." I had to stop, considering her latest revelation. "Metro...? 4am?"
"Ask me sometime," she said, standing up. "Customers ..."
I suddenly realized why I so drawn to her. She'd confidently strolled down avenues I'd been frightened to even turn onto.
"So tonight?" she asked.
I handed her a card I'd prepared with my hotel room and cell phone numbers.
I spent the rest of the day viewing some of the tourist attractions; a revolving restaurant 700 feet up, barrels used by people seeking fame -- some succeeding and some having some ghastly-to-think-about end.
That night, I got a phone call from Clair. "I'm sorry," she said, clearly angry, "but I can't make it tonight."
"My passport is being delayed by your Department of Homeland Security. Something set off one of their triggers. I need to drive up to Montreal to gather some paperwork and maybe talk to an immigration lawyer."
I briefly considered offering to join her, but I had no idea how long she would need and Joe was expecting me Saturday morning. I spent the rest of the week idly sightseeing. The trip home was quiet, Joe's negotiations in Toronto went nowhere. And I had my own issues.