Our short story La Coniche d'Or is out now, on the pages of Temptation Magazine (yes, click), about the visit of friends from Sydney (true-true story)

Mar 7, 2013

Freedom Fries --- Chapter 3: "I said Hu" (part 1)

Previously. Pamela Nachtrieb Timbers, the voluminous Dean of Berkeley Law School, had been asked by President Obama to swing by for an interview --- a position at the Supreme Court is vacant --- but Pamela, regretfully, had to tell Obama about a skeleton in her closet. She will now explain to Georg Lukacs, the charsimatic hedge-fund titan (who happens to be an old friend of hers) why.

The maitre d’ is very pleased with her squeaking bag, and very kind to Pamela’s coat. George didn’t bring one, since the New Tearoom is only 6 minutes and 23 seconds from his office, which he had suggested they would walk together, for fresh air and aplomb. People would recognize him in the street, obviously, and wonder who this woman is, but he was used to this. Plus, they really didn’t look like former lovers. She looks more like his shrink, or worse, or vice versa; well, not vice versa, obviously.

Charles — as the maitre d’ is apparently known — spreads his fingers, raises his arms, and touches her breasts, almost. “We’re so pleased to have you with us, M’am,” Charles says. “Don’t worry,” George comments, “he doesn’t know you, he’s just doing his thing.” Charles laughs obligingly, then asks: “You’re famous, M’am?” Pamela can’t resist. “Yes, I’m a famous madam.” Charles laughs more obligingly. “First time you hear that reply?” Pamela asks. Now George laughs. “Her name is Pamela,” George says, “and she’ll be famous all right, starting tonight.” “Famous all right, starting tonight,” Charles comes back, “that rhymes.” All three laugh now, and George claps his hands. “Listen,” he says, “I’m a famous po-it, but nobody know-it.” General hilarity, everybody claps.

Central Park in Manhattan

Unlike other New York restaurants, the New Tearoom has been around for more than six months. This being Manhattan, the large cubic volume alone defines serious luxe, so Philip Stark could relax and contend himself with light wood, white walls, large windows, and serious art. Charles leads them to their table. Most other tables are already occupied by a hodgepodge of new New York society, like Asians with absolutely oversized, heavily rimmed glasses, or Blues Brother’s types (wasn’t that Chicago?). Times have changed, Pamela thinks. Their table, the best of course, is waiting for them in its pristine virginity at the upper level balcony with a view of the Central Park. Two waiters are in attendance to handle their chairs. Pamela and George sit down in style. Thick napkins, thin waiters, Pamela observes.

“They’re all gay,” George whispers redundantly into her ear. Charles raises his eyebrows. “The usual,” George says, then touches Pamela’s hand and kisses her left ear, no, actually licks her left ear, and says, “I know it’s outdated. “What is it,” Pamela insists, not fully at ease. “Aaron does it with crème de framboise,” Charles clarifies. It had been their drink when they were young, but Pamela can’t help it and feels a sudden pang of jealousy. Why did he never propose to me, she thinks. Now it’s too late.

They sit in silence. They order. The Kir Royal arrives. “I should have proposed to you a long time ago,” George says, “but now it would ruin your Supreme Court career; you’d never get confirmed.”
-“Indeed,” Pamela answers helplessly. George proposes a toast, but Pamela doesn’t care and drowns her glass instead.

-“Pamela, tell me, what did he say?” George finally asks.
-“I’d wondered whether you would actually ask,” Pamela replies. “It’s a no, of course.”
-“Really?”
-“He didn’t have to say no.”
-“You said no?”
-“I, I said… Hu,” Pamela replies.
-“You said hue?”
-“When in doubt, repeat the witness’ utterance.”
-“You said hue?”

The appetizer arrives, a droplet of aubergine mousse on a square inch of wild, smoked salmon stretched over a miniature crouton, plus a bonus branch of parsley on the side, all served on an oversized, white plate, a plate as large as the moon. Negative calories, Pamela conjectures, they are playing mind games. “Let me explain,” George says. “Eating out in New York has become an art form.”


***

A man walks down the street, a hotdog in one hand, a paper bag in the other. A sunny day for a sunny dog with ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, onions, and pickle relish. Since Special Agent Smith had been overcome by sudden urges, he has already started on his own dog, and the ketchup is dripping. It is disgusting.

-“George, I have to make a confession,” the female voice squeaks through the thick, white, spiraling cable into Smith’s left earpiece.
-“Not possible, Pamela, you’ve exhausted every possibility, there are no more confessions left in you,” the male voice squeaks back.
-“Well, George, it was a minor slip at the time, like, like, a Freudian slip. There is no need to confess, really, it was a short story, more flash fiction actually, and later, I didn’t want to appear pathetic, Freud is so nineteen hundreds, I didn’t want to walk on your nerves.”
-“Well, Pamela, you know, you always walk on my nerves, that’s why,” the male voice interrupted itself, “confess!”

Special Agent Smith takes another bite. He has arrived at the surveillance van that is parked aslant the curb in the no stopping zone, its credentials overstated by the inscription ‘Park Avenue Chefs.’ He signals to Jim behind the wheel, and the side door slides open to welcome him back, him and the paper bag. The bag contains four more hot dogs, one more than needed. The side door slides shut; the Tearoom conversation continues through the indoor speakers of the agency’s covert surveillance vehicle. The targets are discernible on a tiny screen mounted on a rack together with more conspiracy equipment. ‘Confess’ has been the last word of the male voice.

-“I have been pathetic enough with my stories about Barack, you know, when he and I were teaching at the same school, in Chicago,” the female voice says.
-“You have always insisted there had been nothing between Obama and you, except for the inevitable crush on your side,” the male voice continues.
-“Unanswered, the way Barack un-answers things,” the female voice confirms.

Special Agent Smith has finished his hot dog by know, and since the others are still working on theirs, he covertly switches to the orphan dog, still waiting in the bag, a minor act of selfishness well-noticed by his partners. It is the last minor act of selfishness they will notice in their life. Smith will be the only one to make a comeback, but barely.

-“OK, but still, he puts you on a short list for the Supreme Court, invites you over to the White house for an interview.”
-“You know, at the time, he was a charming, earnest, very disciplined kid with thick black hair over at the engineering school, no need to confess…”

***

Agent Ma Man Kuang looks out of the window, as his thoughts drift to a dated Western spy spoof, set in Honk Kong, where this undercover spy, Basque cap on his head, a white loaf under his arm, a bottle of red wine in his hand, exits a small, rundown building, casts guarded glances left and right, and while the camera zooms out, we discover that the large buildings to the left and to the right are occupied by the CIA and MI6, respectively, as indicated by huge neon signs on their respective roofs. The new Chinese Secret Service headquarters occupy the highest building on the planet, no need for a neon sign; it is a well-kept secret. “Wake up,” his colleague Yan Kuan Han interrupts him, “it could be important.”

-“…unanswered … the way Barack un-answers things,” the female target on their 4-D screens is saying, shot from three different angles, and identified as Dr. Pamela N. Timbers at the bottom of each screen. She is under surveillance since her appearance on the US Supreme Court shortlist 24 hours ago. Dean of Berkeley law school, author of nine law books, doctor scientiae juridicae, renowned slut.
-“OK, but still, he puts you on a short list for the Supreme Court, invites you over to the White House for an interview,” the male target interrupts. This target is an old acquaintance of the Service, a leading Davos man and mega-speculator, the 35th richest man in the world, who curiously shares his Hungarian name with a revisionist Marxist philosopher. Ma has in fact googled Lukacs (the philosopher) to make sure that they are not actually the same person, but they were not. True to form, the philosopher was already dead.

The targets are being served the main course now, on large white plates, plates as large as the moon. Each gets a minuscule piece of, yes, meat probably, grilled probably, centered in the middle to make the plate look even larger, served with a spoon of some creamy, typically western sauce, two tiny heaps of vegetables, looking suspiciously overcooked, and a branch of parsley. One single dish! Agent Ma Man signals his dismay to agent Yan Kuan, who shakes his head and says: “One single dish! You want to live in the West?”

The targets resume their conversation.
-“You know, at the time, he was a charming, earnest, very disciplined kid with thick black hair over at the engineering school, no need to confess…”
-“Confess,”
-“President Hu of China.”
-“His middle name isn’t Hussein,” Lukacs sort of wise-cracks, while the nervous systems of Man Ma and Yan Kuan kick into high gear.
-“With Chinese lovers, you never know.”
-“Before we drift off and talk about sex with middle names, let me get this straight,” Lukacs inquires, “you had an affair with a male person called Hu, and that person is now the President of China…”
-“Yes.”
-This wasn’t while we…”
-No, no, George, absolutely not, scouts honor.”
-Okay,” George breathes out, “so this person is now the President of China.”
-“And I told Barack. I said to him: ‘listen, as much as I’d appreciate to be a Justice on the Supreme Court, there is a skeleton in my closet, and the skeleton, the present president of China, is still very much…present.”
-“You think Hu told anybody about your affair?”
-“Well, okay, no, probably not. Perhaps he told his wife,” she laughs. “I don’t know. Anyhow, I knows, Hu knows, he knows. I told Barack, look, I said, I thought about this on the redeye on the way to Washington, I said, I thought back and forth, it’s not going to work.”
-“Why did you go to Washington in the first place?”
-“I had forgotten about Hu, I wasn’t aware he’d be president of China by now. I discovered it at the airport, at the newsstand. I had already checked in.”
-“My little Cinderella.”
-“Cinderella got her prince.”
-“And Obama, what did he say?”
-“He was hovering in the air, as usual. Long arms, long legs. Very basketball, very Oval Office. But he did not kiss me. Then he said, Pamela, he said, ‘I think you are right. This should stay between you and me,’ he said. ‘Okay’, he said. ‘Not this time. But Hu,’ he said, ‘you know,’ and then he said — all business — ‘do you think Hu has still a place for you in his heart’?”

“Code red,” Yan Kuan yells and picks up the phone.

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