The Restaurant

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: MIKE

A short story set inside of a restaurant in which very little happens. Written at Palomar College in 2001.

“. . .With a glass of the house wine,” Peter said finishing his order and handing the waiter his' menu. The waiter bowed respectfully and went to inform the chef that Dr. Johnson at table two wanted the usual.

While this was being done, Peter stretched himself out and made himself comfortable. It would be at least half an hour, maybe longer, until his food arrived. That, thought Peter, was the only real disadvantage to eating here. The long wait. Everything else was fine. The food was well prepared and tasted excellent, the staff was friendly, and the atmosphere was great. Classical music played softly in the background. Beautiful paintings of landscapes and portraits decorated the walls. It was almost the perfect restaurant. Almost. That damn wait was the only downside. Still, he could deal with it. It wasn’t an unreasonable amount of time considering the quality of the food when it finally arrived. All he had to do was find some way to pass the time.

Peter idly looked around the restaurant. It wasn’t as full as he’d have thought it would be. Usually it was bustling around dinnertime. There were couples out for a romantic evening; families celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and college acceptances; lawyers, doctors and professors eating delicious food in a companionable atmosphere before going home to lonely, empty houses. Not today though. There were at least three empty tables, one of which was surrounded by a swarm of waiters and busboys. None of the other tables had more than two people at them. It was a slow day. Peter briefly wondered if his food might be ready sooner because of it but decided not to raise his hopes too much.

He sighed heavily. Well, he had to wait; there was no getting around it. He decided to play some solitaire while he waited but quickly discovered that he had left his cards at home. Or at the office. Either way they weren’t in his jacket pocket. While he was looking for them, he noticed the couple at the next table.


***

Actually, what he noticed was an old man in a dark blue suit and an attractive young woman in a blue dress having an animated (and apparently enjoyable) conversation. The old man had steel gray eyes and, to be honest, a face that looked like it had been carved from granite with a dull hatchet. He looked familiar. Peter briefly wondered if he might be a former athlete or a coach of some sort. There was no denying that the old man had been quite muscular and well built at one time.

Had Peter paid more attention to the evening news he would have recognized the old man in the dark blue suit as Colonel Brennan Carnifex, a widower several times over who had inherited several large estates from his dearly departed wives. It could be said that the Colonel had made a profession out of being a widower. It could be said but it rarely ever was. Carnifex didn’t like it and was very vocal in expressing his feelings about things he didn’t like. At the moment Colonel Carnifex was celebrating his latest inheritance (and acquittal) with a magnum of champagne, a large Cuban cigar, and an attractive young woman. He was well off financially, ready to settle down, and felt that this particular young woman would make an excellent wife. Had Peter been able to study the young woman in the blue dress in greater detail; he would have recognized her as being a childhood friend of his. Had he done so, he would have approached her and entered into conversation with her thereby discovering that she worked as a professor of psychology at a university not far from the hospital where he worked as a cardiologist. In the short term this would have led to a flood of verbal abuse from the retired Colonel and Peter’s quick retreat to his' own table. It would also have led to a telephone call from his childhood friend, the young woman in the blue dress, two days later. She would call Peter to apologize for Carnifex’s loathsome behavior. This, in turn, would result in Peter taking his childhood friend out to dinner at the restaurant. This would eventually have led to a relationship that would end fifty-some years later with his falling from the roof of their house in Florida, after stubbornly refusing to let their son-in-law hang up the Christmas lights.

Peter, however, was not able to study the young woman in any greater detail. By chance, the young woman in the blue dress was sitting with her back to him. Instead he focused his attention back on the old man in the dark blue suit and tried to remember where he had seen him.

Had Peter – in his professional capacity as Dr. Johnson – been Carnifex’s doctor he would have known that the Colonel’s love of the good life (especially good food, good cigars and good wines) had weakened his cold-blooded heart to the degree that his wife- to-be would be his widow a few hours after the wedding. A very wealthy widow.

Had Peter also known exactly how ill-gotten the Colonel’s wealth was, he wouldn’t have done a thing to save him.

But Peter Johnson knew none of these things. He simply wrote off the old man in the dark blue suit as being a dirty old man and his attractive companion in the blue dress as a gold-digger and looked around to find other interesting diners in the restaurant worth studying.


***

The next table was one of the empty ones. In fact, this was the table that all those waiters and busboys had been working on. Peter became aware of a sudden need to use the restroom. So, he stood up, flexed a cramp out of his left calf and walked to the restroom. On the way back. Peter took advantage of the opportunity to stop by and take a quick look at the table.

The table had been very carefully set and decorated with muted festivity. There. was a flowery centerpiece, a bottle of champagne chilling next to n', and a small white card on which was printed in fine golden writing:

Reserved

for

Noble

A table reserved for Noble: probably a birthday or anniversary, he thought to himself as he went back to his table.

Little did he suspect that the careful hours of preparation that had gone into making that table a decorative masterpiece had all been for nothing. Today was the 35'h Wedding Anniversary of Victor and Victoria Noble. Unknown to the couple, their two children and their spouses had conspired to surprise them with a dinner here at the couple’s favorite restaurant. The plotters had spared no expense m' order to ensure a happy and memorable evening.

Unfortunately for the conspirators and the restaurant staff, the couple that was to be surprised had spontaneously decided to take off on a second honeymoon. That evening, when their children and their spouses arrived to take them to the restaurant, they were nowhere to be found. Immediately, the panicky plotters called everyone they could think of. They called the Nobles’ friends and neighbors. Finally, they called the police. They forgot to call the restaurant. As a result, the management would hold the food and the table until closing time, at which point the decision would be made to bill the conspirators for wasting the restaurant’s time and food.

Meanwhile, the police and the Nobles’ children and children-in-law would search for the missing couple for three and a half hours before locating them in the Hotel L’Affaire in Palm Village. At the time of their discovery they were busily doing their best to recreate their honeymoon. As a result, they failed to notice the knocking on the door of their hotel room. Concerned by their' failure to answer the knocking their son-in-law would jump through the window of the hotel room in a heroic, if severely misguided, attempt to rescue them from danger. The embarrassment of the situation resulted in a noteworthy increase in tension between the parents and their children and an end to surprise celebrations m' the family for several years to come.

Peter Johnson, of course, knew none of this and mentally wished them a happy. . .whatever.

 ***

The table following the Nobleses was empty but the one after that had a single diner, a middle-aged woman wearing a gray dress and coat with a tattered valise and a copy of The Daily Spyglass on the floor by her feet. Peter couldn’t believe that she read such trash. She had a very prim and proper look to her as she sipped at her soup and tea. Soup and tea. She was probably the governess for a wealthy family, Peter thought. He glanced at his watch; the food would be arriving shortly.

Had Peter known who she was, he might have lost his appetite. The woman he had casually dismissed as being a prim and proper governess was actually Martina Wright, a journalist whose articles in The Daily Spyglass Peter always read and utterly loathed. He couldn’t understand it; her articles were, almost without exception, extremist one-sided rants that cursed and, in some cases actually threatened violence against, dissenting opinions in language unbefitting a journalist. She called it “subjective journalism,” while Peter called it (he thought, more accurately) “propaganda”. She was a two-bit, backwater, inferior journalist who would never amount to anything and yet he couldn’t help reading her articles. In some sick, unhealthy way those articles fascinated him. Maybe It was the same phenomena that made people slow down to gawk at carnage of an auto accident. Whatever it was, it was disturbing.

Had Peter known that he could influence the life of Martina Wright through the simple action of talking to another diner in the restaurant he would have been amazed.

Had he known that simple action would result In Martina Wright having a considerably shorter (and considerably more successful) life, he would doubtlessly have had mixed feelings on the subject and might have thought twice about speaking to that other diner.

He didn’t know.

***

Jackson Powers! Jackson Powers was here! Peter could hardly believe it. Jackson Powers, the businessman who owned half the city, the philanthropist who gave to every charity. The skilled politician who everybody said was going to be the state’s next governor, the man who’d married his high school sweetheart and was raising two kids while putting a third through college. Jackson Powers sitting alone and eating a small green salad.

Peter was a strong supporter of Jackson Powers politically and had long hoped to meet him. Peter decided that after the food came and he was done eating, he would go over and say hello to Powers.

Had Peter Johnson known the consequences of his action he might have reconsidered his decision and just paid his bill and left.

However, he didn’t know. As a result of this, he would (after finishing an excellent meal) go to greet Jackson Powers. There, after introducing himself and greeting Powers, he would talk to Powers for a few minutes on the importance of honesty in public officials.

The consequences of this action would be numerous.

Martina Wright would – after discovering the presence of Jackson Powers in the restaurant – follow him' to the Hotel Republique as part of her obsessive quest to uncover the ultimate story. There she would discover that Powers was having an affair with a tall blonde wearing a revolting green dress or, as she would write in the article revealing Powers’ indiscretion, “a hideous dress the color of radioactive guacamole.” As a result of her article, Powers would lose his bid for Governor in the upcoming election, and his wife would divorce him. Furthermore, Wright’s article would spark an official investigation into his activities, after which Jackson Powers would be arrested, tried, and convicted for misusing the power of his political office. His former business partner would (after taking over the company) disavow any association with Powers or his unscrupulous business practices. After serving three of his five years in a minimum-security prison, Jackson Powers would be paroled on good behavior. Once out, he would use his few remaining contacts in the business world to start a new business. In a few years he would become a minor celebrity in his community as “Jumping Jack” Powers of Powers Used Cars (“I’ll jump through hoops to make sure you get the best deal on a used car”). Fortunately, the basic principles of his new job weren’t that far from the basic principles of his old one and he was able to earn enough to keep his head above the water, financially speaking, until his death of a heart attack thirteen years later.

As a result of her article, Martina Wright would become a well-known journalist and gain all the lame and money she ever wanted. To show her appreciation for these things and their attendant luxuries, Martina Wright would begin to indulge herself to an unhealthy degree. She would eventually lose control of herself (and the Lamborghini). Eyewitness accounts would say she never even tried to take the turn but simply zoomed off the overhang into the water.

Meanwhile, the woman wearing the radioactive guacamole dress would make a small fortune appearing on talk shows. She would later use this money to finance her “Isotope Foods” fashion line. To the horror of Peter Johnson, it would be a smashing success.

Had Peter Johnson known of the consequences of greeting Jackson Powers, he might not have done it.

He didn’t know.

***

The waiter interrupted Peter Johnson in his contemplation of Jackson Powers.

“Dr. Johnson, your meal.”

Peter smiled and sat back as the waiter placed the food in front of mm

“Thank you, Vicente.”
“My pleasure, Dr. Johnson”

Vicente bowed and moved off to kitchen to flirt with the chef’s daughter.

Peter speared a bit of the food on his fork and popped! It into his mouth. He closed his eyes and savored the rich flavor.

The food here was really quite good.

 


Submitted: January 23, 2020

© Copyright 2021 M. C. Mueller. All rights reserved.

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