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65

MRS. W INSISTED on hosting a celebratory dinner, so after Fiona and Brian went back home to the apartment so Brian could shower and change and shake like a leaf and down some medicinal vodka and generally try to get over the horrible experience of having been, for however brief a moment, in the toils of the law, they went back across town in Mrs. W's waiting limo to meet the lady herself at Endi Rhuni, a hot new Thai-Bangladeshi fusion restaurant on East Sixty-third Street, where the vulture wings, when a shipment had come in, were the sp'ecialit'e de la maison.

Mrs. W was already there, resplendent, as the saying goes, behind a large snowy white round table at a banquette built for six. They joined her, Fiona sliding in to Mrs. W's left, Brian to her right, and Brian began by ordering a little more vodka, just to be certain he was keeping the dosage up to the proper level.

The first business of the occasion was to order a meal. Vulture wings happened to be in residence, so Mrs. W and Brian both ordered some, while Fiona, feeling less adventurous, had the llama steak with yams. Then Mrs. W called for a New Zealand pinot noir she felt good about, the waiter left, and she said, "Brian. Are you quite recovered?"

"Dickens," he said. His voice still shook a bit, but not as much as when he'd first been released to them. "It's Dickens, that's what it is. I never knew what people meant when they said that, when they said Dickensian, you know, that place is Dickensian, or look down there, that's Dickensian. But now I do. Boy, believe me, now I do. That was Dickensian."

"It sounds terrible, you poor boy," Mrs. W said.

"I even thought," he said, with a meaningful look at Fiona, "if I knew anything I'd tell, just to get out of there. But then I thought, if I tell, I'm part of it, and I'll never get out. So I didn't tell. Not that I knew anything I could tell."

"Of course not," Fiona said.

He shook his head. "The place was so awful, I mean just the place. I mean cold, and hard, and dirty. But the people. Mrs. W, you don't even want to know there are people like that."

"No, I'm sure I don't."

"You don't want those people out of there," Brian told her. "You want me out of there"

"Of course."

"But not those people. You don't want those people out of there. Ever. Lock 'em up and throw away the key, there's something else I never really understood. You know, I thought, for a while there I thought I was gonna have to spend the night there."

"Oh, Brian," Mrs. W said, and squeezed his near forearm in sympathy.

"I thought, how can I do this," Brian went on. "I thought, this is going to destroy me, even if I get out of here someday someday someday, it's going to destroy my talent, how can I ever try to draw something funny ever again or"

"Oh, Brian," Fiona said, "you'll get over it."

"put on the Reverend Twisted, knowing those people are there. I mean, I'm a different person now, I can't, I can't be like I was"

"The new Brian may be even better than the old," Mrs. W assured him, and said, "Oh, your glass is empty," and raised a commanding hand to have his vodka refreshed.

By then the food and wine had started to arrive, so they set to, and the conversation skirted around other topics without ever leaving Brian's life-changing experiences entirely unobserved, and by the end of the meal the tremor in his voice was almost completely gone. They finished with shared desserts peanut parfait, lychee flan, bees' nest soup and were happily passing them around when all at once the theme music from Mighty Mouse rollicked beneath the table.

"Oh, I forgot!" Brian cried, scrabbling around inside his clothing. "I always turn it off when I'm just so flustered, I don't know" He popped the cell phone open and looked in it. "It's the station," he said. "Maybe they want me to take tomorrow off to recover. I better answer it."

The women agreed, and Brian spoke into the phone: "Here I am, out of custody." He grinned. "Hi, Sean, I'm here with Mrs. W and Fiona, we're making the bad memories go away over weird desserts." He nodded at the phone, switched his grin to the women, and said, "Sean says hello."

"And so do we," said Mrs. W.

"What? Sure I can talk." Brian looked alert, then confused, then terribly hurt. "But why? I was innocent! Sean, they let me go."

Fiona, startled for him, said, "Brian?"

"But, Sean, it wasn't my fault. You've gotta go? You lay this on me, and then you've gotta go? Sean? Sean?" Staring helplessly at the women, he said, "He went."

"But what was it, dear boy?" Mrs. W wanted to know.

Turning his cell phone off, closing it, moodily returning it to its recess on his person, he said, "They fired me."

"What?"

"I knew it," Fiona said.

Mrs. W reared around to glare at her with a disbelieving, almost angry look. "You knew it? How could you have known it?"

"Just from how Brian looked."

Leaving that side-issue, Mrs. W turned back to say, "Brian, what on earth did they fire you for?"

"Cops all over the station, asking questions. Turns out, that private eye'd been doing stuff there, maybe phone taps, nobody knows."

"But what has that to do with you?"

"I was what it was all about." Brian gave a hopeless shrug. "At GRODY, they don't wanna be around anything heavy."

"But it wasn't your fault."

"I'd just be a bad reminder."

Fiona said, "Can't your union do anything?"

"They'll try to find me another job."

"Well, this is intolerable," Mrs. W said, and whipped out her own cell phone. "We're not going to take this lying down, Brian. Never take anything lying down.".

"No, ma'am."

With the deftness of a master knitter, Mrs. W navigated her cell phone, marching through its address book to the person she wanted, then making the call. Fiona watched and said, "Who are you calling, Mrs. W?"

"Jay. We're not going to put up with this, my dear."

"But, you fired Jay today."

"Oh, nonsense," she said. "I fire him all the time, that doesn't Jay? Livia. Well, we are also just finishing dinner. Half an hour? Perfect. Call me at home." Slapping the phone shut, she said, "We've finished our desserts. Fiona, dear, we'll have to go on ahead, so I'm afraid I must ask you to put this meal on your credit card and take a taxi home. I'll reimburse you, of course, tomorrow."

"But"

"Come along, Brian," Mrs. W said, hurrying him ahead of her around the banquette and onto his feet.

Fiona said, "Should I come on to your place, Mrs. W?"

"I do not intend to spend all night on this, my dear," Mrs. W told her. "You go on home, and Brian will be along after he's explained the situation to Jay." She started off, then turned back to say, "Dear. Don't overtip."

The reason Fiona overslept is because Brian, having lived a normal regular life far longer than she had, was always the first one out of bed. This morning, without Brian, she slept until nearly nine o'clock, then woke from confused bad dreams with a sudden start.

Without Brian? No, his side of the bed wasn't rumpled. He hadn't

He hadn't come home last night.

First things first. When she came out of the bathroom, she immediately phoned Mrs. W, and recognized Lucy's voice. "Hi, it's Fiona, can I talk to Mrs. W?"

"Oh, you just missed them."

"Just missed? Them?"

"They're on their way to Newark, they're flying to Palm Beach. For about a week, Mrs. W says."

"But who"

"She says I should find out what she owes you for last night and she'll send you a check."

"But who"

"She says," Lucy went on, "you had a terrible time of it, and you should take the rest of this week off, and everybody can start all over again next week."

"But who"

"On salary, she said," Lucy explained.

"Lucy! Who did Mrs. W go to Palm Beach with?"

Sounding surprised, Lucy said, "You didn't know? You had to know. She's taking your friend Brian down there to find him a much better job than he had at that cable station. Do you know how much you spent last night?"

"I'll have to, uh, I'll have to figure that out and call you back."

"Fine," Lucy said. "Mrs. W says she'll check in with me when they get to Palm Beach."

"They."

"Enjoy your vacation," Lucy said, and hung up.

So, a little later, did Fiona, though she continued to sit on the sofa in the big room, naked, alone, without breakfast, just looking around at what had suddenly become a very different space.

It must be in their genes, she thought. Her father stole my great-grandfather's future. And now she's stolen my boyfriend.


| What`s So Funny? | c



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