(Click here to read the first chapter of this “steamy soap opera swarming with enough sin and snideness to make Jackie Collins swoon” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in the Cape May Herald.)
“So,” said Buddy, an octave too high -- bring it down -- “how about a drink?”
She almost seemed puzzled by the question, but then she said:
“What would you like?”
“A Diet Coke?”
“No,” said Buddy, before he could stop himself. “Come on, you don’t drink Diet Coke in a joint like this. Right Lou?”
“I don’t serve that shit,” said Lou.
“Well, okay --” she said.
“Uh --” Buddy suddenly realized he was spacing on her name -- Olivia? Rosalind? -- “what would you like?”
“Great. What color?”
“Okay, Lou, bring us a bottle of Barolo, something good, something under a thousand bucks, okay?”
“Of course a.”
Lou smiled and went away.
She was wide-eyed. And opened-mouthed, showing a lot of very white teeth.
“I was kidding.”
“Oh. I’m so stupid. I’m sorry, I don’t get out much.”
Her eyes remained wide open, just as her mouth remained partially open, and it occurred to Buddy that this was perhaps their normal state, making her look more nutty than she really was. Or, maybe she really was just nutty and that was why her eyes and her mouth --
“So, you took a bus?”
“Yeah. I either ride my bike or take buses everywhere. I have a license but my father won’t let me drive his car. I don’t mind. I hate to drive. It’s dangerous, you know?”
“It sure is.”
“Do you think I could smoke here?”
“Why not? We’re outside, and besides, they’re Italian, they don’t give a shit.”
“What if someone complains?”
“Then we’ll deal with it.”
The waiter who had been so hard to find a minute before now stood with his tongue hanging out about three feet away. Buddy made a smoking gesture and pointed at the table.
Funny-name-girl already had her enormous shiny black purse open on her lap and she came up with a semi-crushed box of Marlboros. The waiter was there in two seconds with an ashtray, helping himself to a look at her breasts as he put it down. She got out a cigarette, and waiter-boy dashingly pulled a lighter out of his pants, bowed over her with his butt jutting out, begging to be kicked, and gave her a light.
“Thank you.” She exhaled luxuriously and then gave a start, staring at Buddy -- “Oh! would you like one?”
She thrust the box to within a few inches of Buddy’s nose.
She dropped the box into her purse, clicked it shut and put it on the floor, door, snore, core -- Cordelia --
“I just smoke one a day usually,” she said, Cordelia, that was her fucking name, “which means they’re usually pretty stale. And which also means I spend the entire day thinking about that one cigarette.”
The waiter was still standing there.
“Thanks,” Buddy told him, “we’re good now.” And finally, after just one more quick fond glance at Cordelia’s bosom, the guy went away.
Buddy wondered if she’d had sense enough to keep her sweater buttoned up on the bus, even if this was L.A., and because this was L.A. And he was trying not to be as obvious as Lou or the waiter, but just above and to the left of her left breast there was a tiny odd tattoo, about the size of a dime. It was green, red, blue...
“What is your tattoo there?”
“Oh, of course.”
“It’s kind of weird ‘cause I did it myself.”
“Ah. I see.”
She pulled the edge of her cardigan over it. Too bad.
Lou came over with the Barolo, no five-minute wait this time. He jabbered on about the vintner and the vineyard and about how the wine was a little young but still drinkable (and thank God it was only a ‘97, with any luck it’d be under a hundred bucks). Finally he opened it and poured a little into Buddy’s glass, but Buddy waved him on. “That’s all right, Lou, pour away, I trust your judgment.”
Lou filled the glass, then sidled over next to Cordelia so as to appreciate the aerial view of her cleavage again while he filled her glass; as he lifted up the bottle with a show-bizzy little turn of the wrist he gave Buddy a nod of approval. He held onto the bottle.
“Where you meet such a beautiful young lady, Mr. Best?”
“Um -- well --”
“You very beautiful,” he said to Cordelia. “You Italian?”
“You got such beautiful dark hair. You must have some Italian blood.”
“Well -- maybe -- I mean --”
“Italian or not, you beautiful anyway.”
“You make sure he treat you right.”
“He treat you bad I get my friends to break his legs.”
“I mean it.”
“Okay,” she said. “Thanks.”
Lou finally put down the bottle and went off. Cordelia carefully stubbed out her cigarette, pushed aside the ashtray, and then leaned forward to whisper.
“Yeah, he’s into this whole leg-breaking thing.”
“He’s like a character in some old movie. Do you think he’s always that Italian or is he just that way in his restaurant?”
“I’m not even sure he exists outside of this restaurant.”
She lifted her glass and tasted the wine. Her eyes expanded.
“Wow, that’s good.”
Buddy tasted his.
“Yeah, it’s okay.”
She looked slightly stricken, so Buddy amended:
“I mean, it’s really okay. Okay okay.”
“Okey-dokey,” she said, and she opened her menu.
“Oh my God, Mr. Best --”
“Buddy, it is expensive. I thought --”
“Yeah, I know, I’m an asshole.”
“But, I wouldn’t’ve minded a cheap place -- really --”
“Well, what the hell -- it’s pretty good here --”
“But I thought you preferred cheap places.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“So why --”
“I don’t know. I’m nuts.”
“You wanted to impress me.”
“Well -- I figured you probably don’t get much of a chance to, you know --”
“I don’t, really. Ever. Get a chance to. All I practically ever eat at are like pathetic greasy taco joints.”
“Yeah, so, what the hell --”
“Well, I think you’re really nice. It’s -- nice here.”
She was looking around with those eyes.
“It’s really nice,” she said.
(Buddy had a theory about expensive restaurants, which was that women actually liked them. A lot of men convinced themselves that they liked all this bullshit, but what they really liked was validating themselves by proving they had the money to spend on it; but women really did like these joints, it was in their genes. There were exceptions of course, like good old Madge or Shakira, she didn’t give a damn, give her some raw groats and turnips and she was happy, but Joan -- Christ, Joan and her restaurants -- how was the Mariner going to afford that bullshit? How many thousands of dollars had Buddy spent taking Joan to trendy restaurants? And it was all bullshit. But, here he was, like an asshole --)
“Hey,” she leaned forward over her menu and spoke low. “Don’t look, but who is that older guy at that table to your left. ‘Cause he’s been looking at us.”
Buddy glanced to his left.
“It’s okay. That’s William Shatner.”
“Who is he?”
“Uh, he’s an actor. Star Trek? Captain Kirk?”
“Oh. I never saw that show.”
“Is he still like a big star?”
“Well -- he’s -- sort of an icon.”
“Oh,” she said. “So why’s he looking at us?”
“He’s probably not looking at us, he’s looking at you.”
“Oh right. All the pretty women in here? Do you know him? Has he been in your movies?”
“Yeah, we did a picture once.”
“What was it called?”
“Um, Raging Fury.”
“Y’know, Richard Gere’s over there to your left if you want to see a really big star.”
She glanced over. She didn’t seem too impressed. Or maybe she didn’t know who Gere was either.
“Have you made movies with him?”
“Uh, no. He’s a little out of my league. Or I’m out of his league.”
She turned to her menu again, with a grave expression.
“Oh my God, It is all so expensive though. Maybe I’ll just have a salad --”
“Oh, no, none of that,” said Buddy. “That’s not allowed. Here, give me your menu.”
She did this, and Buddy folded up both menus and laid them on the table.
“Okay, now we’re going to order like real Hollywood assholes.”
“How do you do that?”
“I got it from an Elmore Leonard book. The trick is not to look at the menu and just to torture the waiter with questions. Then he tells you stuff you could have learned just by looking at the menu in the first place. Then you ask him to ask the chef to make all sorts of adjustments on dishes that the chef has spent decades perfecting.”
“Oh, okay. But why?”
She gnawed her lower left lip for a moment.
“Actually you just want me to order food I really want instead of just ordering the most inexpensive meal possible.”
“Okay. I usually order your way anyway,” she said.
“Good. Now I want you to hold your own here.”
“I will. I can be really weird about food.”
As can any woman worth her salt, thought Buddy.
(Fear not, fans of tortuous dialogue: continued here.)
(Kindly refer to the right hand column of this site to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, a Danny Thomas Production for the DuMont Network.)