The Good Doctor 68
We got to the hotel at about the same time that everyone else got there and the lobby was a crush of well dressed people milling about talking loudly and wondering where they should be going. Mom left us jammed in with everyone else and took off to find out what the problem was.
The hotel was beautiful, well, if you like those things. It was all burnished gold and warm browns and lots of marble, very elegant like the people we were surrounded by. The thing is that I’ve never really understood why anyone would be doing this when they could be at home lying on the floor and watching TV. I mean why would you want to hang around with snooty rich people when you could be watching TV, drinking beer and having your kids climb all over you while they pestered you endlessly with questions?
Some people seem to handle waiting better than others and the couple pressed in next to us didn’t seem to be taking it too well. The lady was a tall blond with her hair pulled back tightly and she was dressed like something out of Vanity Fair complete with glittering jewels. Her back was to me and her dress was pretty much backless. I could have reached out and touched her spine and a little voice said, “Do it! Scare the crap outta her!” I resisted.
She turned to her husband and said, “Darling, do something! Can’t you find someone who knows where we’re supposed to go?” Someplace for her to go came immediately to mind but I kept my mouth shut.
Suddenly she turned to me like she’d been reading my mind and said, “Young man, do you know where we should be going?”
I said, “Well, it depends on what you’re here for. Dance Your Ass Off is in the Copa Room and Jammin to Da Tunes is on the Biltmore Terrace.”
The words were no sooner out of my mouth than Pete’s huge hand clamped tightly to my shoulder and jerked me backwards. “Arianna, Eric is just kidding!” Her eyes widened and her penciled in eyebrows leapt skyward. I couldn’t believe that he actually knew her.
“PETER! Oh thank God you’re here!”
And as soon as those words were out of her mouth my mother came pushing through the crowd yelling, “I found our table! The hotel screwed everything up! They were supposed to have signs up telling people where to go!” She grabbed my arm and dragged me through the crowd. Yeah, I do get pushed around a lot.
At one end of the huge dining room was a dimly lit bar with dark leather everything and everyone was making a beeline for it and then filtering back, drinks in hand and looking casually for where they were supposed to be sitting.
My mother dragged me over to a big table at the front of the room with a small American flag in the middle of it. “This is ours, Eric.”
I pointed to the center of the table. “What’s with the flag? Nobody else has got em.”
“They need to designate what table the mayor is at.”
“The mayor? He’s at our table? You’re kidding!” Well this is just great!
“No, Eric, I’m not. He asked to be.” Pete came walking up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder while he listened to my mom.
“What, Helen? What about the mayor?”
“He’s at our table! Isn’t that wonderful? He’s very handsome and his wife is gorgeous.”
I could feel the tension in Pete’s body through his hand and I turned my head and looked up at him and tried to change the subject. “How’s Arianna? She gonna make it through this trauma?”
He laughed. “Arianna’s pain threshold is pretty low. Believe me, she’s being really reasonable, at least for her.” He looked around and then said, “Well, let’s get a drink before we sit down. Helen, what can I get you?”
My mom said absently, “I wonder where Rose is. She’s at our table too.” Well, as aggravating as Rose can be at least, in a way, she’s an ally. She said, “She’s with Lur….I mean Mr. Cambr....well, whatever his name is. I’d like a glass of wine, Pete.”
Pete grabbed my arm and pulled me along to the bar. I dunno why they don’t just put a choke collar on me.
At the bar Pete ordered a Chardonnay for my mom a Martini for himself and a Scotch for me. Just as I was taking a sip of my drink through the throng of people I noticed a guy leaning against the far end of the bar that I had gone through high school with, Barry Kominski.
I told Pete that I’d meet him back at the table and walked to the end of the bar. Barry was staring at the wall, not something on the wall, the wall. It didn’t surprise me. I sat with him in his garage one hot summer day a dozen years ago when his then girlfriend kept him entertained for like thirty minutes by shining a flashlight on the wall. So maybe he was no Rhodes scholar but he was a decent guy.
I nudged his elbow. “You counting the germs?”
He looked at me with eyes that were barely focused. He said glassily, “Huh?”
“The wall, Barry, you’re staring at the fucking wall!”
He seemed to come outta his trance. “Eric! What the fuck are you doin here, you’re not married!”
“You gotta be married to get into this hotel?”
He laughed and chugged his beer. “You gotta be married to be forced into coming here!”
I shook my head. “My mother’s idea. She didn’t wanna come alone. I came with her and Pete. What’d Sharon make you come?”
He nodded. “She works in his office.”
He kinda sneered. “Mr. Good-n-Plenty.” He smiled. “Or as some of us call him, Asswipe.”
I grinned. “I assume you’re talking about Lionel?”
He took a sip of beer and slowly pronounced, “Li-o-nel.”
“You don’t like him?”
“Eric, the fucker’s got everything, looks, money, everything. His wife’s gorgeous although a mega-bitch.” He shook his head. “Why should I like him?”
“Maybe he’s a nice guy.” He gave me a withering look.
“Nobody with that much dough is a nice guy.”
“How do ya know that he’s all that rich?”
He shook his head. “Car, house, clothes….although the money probably comes from his old man cause I sure can’t see him working for it.”
I said almost to myself, “Well, Pete’s got money too.”
“Big difference, Buddy. Pete works hard for his dough and everybody knows it. When my little girl was really sick it was like he was with us twenty-four hours a day, he came to the house and then he was at the hospital.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t know he was your doctor.” Nobody tells me anything!
He smiled in a way that told me that he was exaggerating and said, “I love the guy. If you weren’t already sucking his cock I would be.”
Without really thinking I grinned and said, “It’s big enough for two.”
Barry laughed grabbed his beer and pushed off from the bar. He reached over and squeezed my shoulder. “I’m glad, Eric…I’m glad for both of you.”
When I got to the table my mom was just sitting down to the left of Pete and he patted the chair to his right so I plopped down in it. “Barry Kominski says hi.” He didn’t but he probably meant to.
Pete said, “Barry? I didn’t know he was here.” Then. “Wait, his wife works at City Hall.”
“He likes you.” I thought Barry’s remark about sucking his dick was better saved for another time.
“I like him too. He’s a great dad and he and his wife have been through hell with their little girl.”
I glanced around. “Any sign of you-know-who?”
Pete shook his head and then spotted something and started to grin. “Nope but here’s your buddy.”
I turned around and saw Rose dragging Lurch through the throng of people like a tug boat pulling the QE2. She was wearing a bright red dress that was made out of some kind of shiny cloth, like silk. There was one large diamond on her right hand and several smaller rings.
Lurch kept slamming his hand down on a left leg that seemed to have a mind of its own. All of a sudden she stopped about ten feet away, pulled a small shiny compact out of her little purse and began dapping optimistically at her face while the three of us watched her.
I leaned into Pete and said, “If only it was that easy.”
Rose glared at me and then stepped forward and said, “Don’t start, just don’t start!”
She dropped down in the seat next to me and Lurch sat on her other side. She looked around and then said to my mom in her loud gravelly voice, “Helen, do we have to get our own drinks?”
Mom said, “I guess, Rose. They don’t seem to have any waiters for getting drinks. I can’t believe the service. Eric’ll get your drinks.” The fuck he will!
Rose turned to Lurch, “Darling please! I’m gonna die without a double gin martini!” Lurch struggled to his feet and then Rose yelled, “No wait! Bring me two of em! I’ll never get a refill at this rate! And don’t let em give you any crappy gin! Bombay if they got it! Thanks, Sweetie! You’re a doll and momma loves you!” Oh barf!
I looked at my mom so that I could raise my eyebrows over Rose’s two doubles but she refused to look at me. I hate being ignored. Of course I also hate a lot of attention.
Rose said, “The traffic was horrendous! Victor doesn’t like to drive so we took my car and this damn car full of teenagers wouldn’t get outta my way and Victor gets so upset when I swear. He used to be a priest you know.” Pete had dropped his hand to my left knee and was digging his fingers in as a warning for me to keep my mouth shut.
I took a sip of my scotch and mumbled into my glass, “Father Victor?”
Rose’s eyes flared. “Yes, Eric, Father Victor! Is that so unusual?”
“Yes, Rose, actually it is. Geez, don’t tell me he left the priesthood for you!”
She was looking around to see if her drink was on its way. “Don’t be silly, Eric, that was years ago. Besides, I think that whole priesthood business was just a phase for him.”
Rose leaned across the table towards mom and in a loud stage whisper said, “Who’s the extra seats for?”
Mom leaned forward and said, “The mayor, Rose! I thought you knew! He asked to sit with us!”
Rose glanced quickly at Pete and then said cautiously, “Oh.”
Rose is about as subtle as a Mack truck and she gave me a look that she probably thought was unreadable by anyone but me but one that I’m sure could have been read by anyone on the planet from about ten blocks away. I’m also pretty sure that I heard Pete make a small sound in his throat, something like a moan but the expression on his face never changed. I thought for a moment about grabbing his crotch as kind of a mood changer but then I figured he was probably on edge enough already.
Then a moment later I could hear the noise level in the room drop for a moment and then increase as Lionel and his wife made their entrance. He had to practically himself away from a herd of middle aged women who all looked intent on having his babies and practically had to pry pudgy diamond clad fingers off of his arms. His wife was wearing the same faintly amused look that Queen Elizabeth often seems to have. Free of the throng and behind my mother’s chair he put his hands on her shoulders and bent forward and kissed her. I got the feeling that my mother might have wet herself. I don’t get it. I mean, he’s okay looking, brown hair, brown eyes maybe a little old rich slick but nothing to write home about. Well, on second thought, he does kinda look hot. Like sometimes when you meet someone and you can just kinda tell that if you were having sex with them it’d be good. If I was to rate Pete at a ten then Lionel would probably be an eight. Which is still very good.
His smile was sparkling and his tone was casually intimate. “Is this our table, Helen?” It better be, his wife was already sitting down, adjusting the silverware and smiling broadly at Pete.
When she spoke it was to an old acquaintance. “Pete, it is sooo good to see you again.” At that Lionel leaned over behind my mother and instead of shaking Pete’s hand he squeezed his shoulder as Pete was getting up to shake hands with him. It ended up awkward with Pete mumbling hello.
“Yeah, Pete, it is soooo great to see you.” And turning to me while I struggled to my feet. “And this handsome guy has gotta be Eric.” He held out his hand for me to shake. “Dude, I have heard so much about you!” Dude? Does one adult say that to another? Maybe I’m outta the loop. And what has he heard? Fuck, I hate this! We coulda had a great night at home watching television but instead we hadda come here.
Lionel stared at Rose for a split second and then since nobody else was gonna do it I said, “Ahh this is, Rose Montross….”
She laughed and held out the hand with the gazillion carat diamond on it. She said, “The hospital insisted that I come along to make sure that Eric keeps taking his medication.” Victor appeared on her right trying to juggle three huge martini glasses and saying, “Here’s your drinks, Sweetheart.”
I looked at Lionel smiled and said, “I guess all those martini’s pretty well explain the situation.” Lionel got a look on his face that told me he was going along with the joke. I kept thinking about what Barry had said and I was wondering if it was true. So far he didn’t seem that way.
When I glanced up at Pete there was a smile plastered to his face but I knew it was fake. I also knew how to change that and when I sat down I leaned into him and whispered, “You wanna go into the john and fuck?” The smile was now real. On the other hand the expression on Lionel’s face was odd and, well, complex, maybe a little jealous, maybe a little frustrated, maybe even a little angry. Shit! How long can this dinner last? I mean if we get served in ten minutes how long can it be? Like ten minutes for salad and another fifteen for the main course and another ten for dessert. Unless we screw around we could be outta here in a little over a half an hour. Right! We’ll die here!
I looked up at Pete. “I wonder what Jase and David are doing?” He smiled.
Where two minutes ago we had no waiters we now had three. Well, one waiter and two guys to bring water and plates and relish trays. And somehow they all looked like this wasn’t what they usually did, like they’d been rushed in to fill the breech. The overwhelmed waiter started with my mother and worked his way around writing down our order. You had your choice of beef, chicken or salmon. I took beef. I would have liked to take all of them. Actually I would have liked to have a huge bowl of pasta with meatballs and tons of parmesan cheese and a loaf of crispy Italian bread or maybe two double Whopper’s with cheese and bacon and a side order of fries. I have very fast metabolism.
I kinda figured Lionel for the type who figures that he should order for everybody but it didn’t happen and during dinner I didn’t even have to talk to him much thanks to my mother. I guess maybe because she was sitting next to him she decided she had some kind of obligation to keep him talking which she totally did. But he did keep glancing at Pete.
Somehow, well, mainly do to the women pestering Lionel with questions we made it through the meal without any awkward moments and then they were bringing us coffee to mercifully mark the end of the meal.
Sitting next to Rose is like sitting at a stop light when the car next to you is old but has a powerful engine and it’s being continually revved. Ever since she finished her salad she had been fingering the cigarettes in her little hand bag.
I leaned into her and whispered, “If you chewed tobacco you could be enjoying it right now.”
She growled, “Don’t mess with me, Eric!”
“How the hell is it that Victor doesn’t mind all that toxic smoke? He doesn’t look like it’d take all that much to lay him low.”
“He’s from a generation that did the gentlemanly thing and sucked it up! Something you young guys should learn to do.”
I grinned. “Die for our women folk? I don’t think so! All the women that I know are pretty good at taking care of themselves.”
Then when I heard a noise and turned back to Pete asking Susan if she’d like to dance. Lionel got a slightly trapped look on his face and asked my mom the same thing. Like there was any chance that she’d say no to that. That just left Rose, Victor and me.
Three minutes later Victor laid his hand over Rose’s and said, “Would you like to?”
She said sure but then glanced at me. “But who’s gonna watch the…..I mean who’s gonna keep Eric outta trouble?”
I was just about to come back with a witty retort when Lionel’s voice said, “I’ll watch him.” as he slid into the chair Rose was leaving.
As Rose was being led away by Lurch she turned and said, “Don’t let him up on the table! He knows he’s not allowed.”
I looked into Lionel’s tanned face. For the first time that night he looked unsure and maybe a little embarrassed. I said, “That was some fast dancing. You were only gone a couple of minutes.”
His right elbow was on the table and the tips of his fingers were touching his right temple. He moved them slightly away as if to say, “What can you do?”
“Your mom started talking to some woman that I guess was in charge of all this tonight. She seemed pissed, your mom I mean.”
“It’s been kinda screwed up, almost like the hotel didn’t know this was supposed to be happening.” He didn’t reply to that but just seemed to be staring at my chest.
Suddenly he looked up into my eyes. His mouth was tight. “You probably think I’m an asshole.”
I grinned and then exhaled heavily. You know, like you do when you’re using it to make a point. “Let’s just say I haven’t ruled it out.”
“Would that stop you from helping me?”
He didn’t answer that but said, “Did Pete tell you about me?”
“He said you were the best piece of ass he ever had!”
To his credit, he laughed and then slowly shook his head. “I deserved that.” He picked up a spoon and twisted it in his fingers. “Do you have a brother, Eric?”
I shook my head. “No. It woulda been great though.”
He smiled. “It was great! I didn’t really have a brother but I had Pete and that was even better.” He tapped the spoon on the table cloth. “We did everything together and nothing meant anything to me unless it mattered to him. Even when my dad bought me a car I needed him to like it or it wasn’t gonna be shit. Showing a thing to Pete meant more to me than me owning it.” He looked me in the eye. “You know what I mean?”
I nodded because he made me feel like I knew.
“Then I fucked it up.” He stared down into his lap and shook his head. “I dunno how I coulda let that happen…but I did. Suddenly girls were in my life and that seemed soooo important. So much more important than my friend. And somehow I felt like Pete threatened that. He represented something I needed to forget. Funny, cause even when that was happening I knew how wrong it was. I told myself that I hadda stop before it was too late but somehow that didn’t help. Sometimes when your fucking up there’s a weird satisfaction in it, in knowing you’re screwing up and knowing it’s completely wrong.” He stopped talking and just stared into his lap. If it was an act it was a good one. I believe him.
I asked softly, “Did you tell him this.”
“He won’t talk to me. I just tried again. He walked away.”
“You hurt him. About as badly as anyone can. With an enemy you know what you’re up against but when a friend screws you over it’s a thousand times worse. It’s pretty cruel when you think that someone is one way and then you find out that you’ve been wrong all along.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
I nodded. “Sure. Pete’s probably the most decent guy that I’ve ever known and I can’t believe that if he comes to believe that you’re sincere that he won’t work it out with you. But this is the wrong place.”
“Yeah, it’s too public. He’s probably gonna want to yell at you and tell you what an asshole you are. He’s not able to do that here. For one thing the place is full of his patients.”
“Patients? Oh, fuck, yeah, right, he’s a doctor.”
“Right. And a lotta these people know him differently than you do. Take that into consideration and get him to meet you where there won’t be an audience.”
Lionel stared at me hard. “What will you tell him?”
“What I believe. That he should talk to you.”