Chapter 3: Dolce Far Niente
Part 2: Belinda Wows ’Em
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the surprise?” Matthew asks.
Leila only winks. She’s not going to say anything about it. “Try that drink,” she says. “See if it’s any good.”
He tries it. She’s been mixing martinis for him nearly half her life, ever since her father taught her how, and Matthew’s never had the heart to tell her that she uses too much vermouth. “Excellent!” he says.
For one lightning moment, he thinks of making a flirtatious remark, “You can mix my martinis anytime,” but it sounds obscene to his mind’s ear, so he doesn’t say it—or anything else. Silence hangs in the air for a moment, and he begins to feel awkward, so he decides to go ahead and say it. “You can mix my martinis anytime,” he says, but to show that it’s a joke, merely a joke, he says it in his W. C. Fields voice. Too late, he realizes that if Leila doesn’t know who the hell W. C. Fields was, then he must seem hideously goatish making such a suggestion in such a voice. He seems to be getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Maybe he should just go home.
“So,” he says, “you’re not going to tell me anything about the surprise?”
“Nope. Can’t tell.” Shrugging, she makes a girlish display of secrecy. This shrug, with her hands clasped backward in front of her pubes, her arms stretched straight, her shoulders hunched forward, makes her breasts balloon beneath the sweater. Is she inviting me to tickle the secret out of her? His composure’s slipping.
“Are you ready, Matthew?” calls Belinda from the top of the stairs.
He takes another swallow of the drink, throws a grin at Leila. “Now I am,” he says. “Shall I close my eyes?”
“No, no. I want to make an entrance.”
So it’s clothing, Matthew thinks. A dress, probably, something daring that she wouldn’t ordinarily buy herself. Good. Great. He has often wished she would wear something slinky now and then, and this is the perfect night for it.
She steps into view at the top of the stairs wearing a white fur coat. She stands there a moment, with her hands in the pockets, striking a model’s pose, making cat’s eyes, sucking her cheeks in. Then she begins walking down the the stairs, vamping.
The coat is startling. The skins are dyed mink, sewn in such a way as to create the effect of vertical stripes, white on white, and the collar and cuffs are ermine, softer and fluffier than the mink, with the slightest hint of black at the tips of the hairs. It’s a staggering, breathtaking coat.
“Wow,” says Matthew, and Leila giggles.
Belinda lets her face relax; it assumes a look that says, “Haven’t I done something silly?”
“I got it on sale,” she says. “I’m not going to tell you what it cost. I won’t even tell you what it would have cost.”
Belinda takes Matthew’s arm, and they walk down the steps. The cabdriver, who has been watching for them, gets out of the cab—it would be fair to say that he leaps out of the cab—and comes around to open the door. This has never happened to Matthew before in his life. The driver begins sweeping at the seat with his hand, and saying something in so low a voice that Matthew can’t be quite sure what it is, but it sounds to him like “’Scuse me, ’scuse me. Sorry, sorry. Dirty, dirty.” Matthew and Belinda get into the cab, astonished. They look at each other, raise their eyebrows, struggle to keep themselves from laughing.
“If he were wearing a cap,” Matthew whispers, “he would have touched it. And if he weren’t bald, he would have tugged his forelock.”
DOLCE FAR NIENTE is in the area where Belinda works, an area of spanking-new
office buildings housing young companies engaged in microelectronics, computer
software, genetic engineering, and any number of things involving lasers,
many of which are offensive. Matthew looks around. “This whole
section of town is all so new,” he says. “What was here before—I
mean, before all this?”
THE RESTAURANT is in a building that used to be a service station for
the trucks that were kept here. It seems a small and frightened thing,
cowering in the presence of the towering. It has been decorated,
inside and out, at great expense, to look like a ruin. Here and there
are artful imitations of patches of peeling stucco, baring brick beneath.
One window has been painstakingly painted with some clear goo to make it
look as if there are bullet holes in it. Just inside the door a safe
stands crazily, one corner embedded in the floor as if it had fallen from
a great height. A section of one interior wall has been torn away
along a jagged line, the vacancy covered with glass, so that the plumbing
and wiring and heating ducts show. It reminds Matthew of his apartment.
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Copyright © 1990 by Eric Kraft
Reservations Recommended is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Alec “Nick” Rafter, the author’s earnest agent.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.