Curtailer felt the impact, like being stabbed or poked in the chest. He looked down and saw two spots of blood spreading across the front of his otherwise clean and well-ironed white cotton dress shirt. As though observing from a distance, he noted that the report of the pistol was louder when it was aimed at him than when it had been fired at the ceiling.
“You wanted a story? How do you like your story now, you…,” And Smones called Curtailer a vulgar word which referred to a particular part of the female anatomy, a word commonly used in Britain as an insult, but frowned upon in the United States.
Curtailer looked down, horrified, at the two spots of blood on his shirt front, feeling the awful sting in his chest. He hardly heard Smones —a demented edge to his voice —call him that smutty name.
He gasped for breath. His hands fumbled at his chest. His thoughts went round and round.
‘O Lord, O Lord, not this, not death at the hands of this lout. O Lord…’
Across the table from him, in the hushed restaurant, Smones snickered.
“They’re blanks, you twat,” he crowed. “Hollywood blanks, loaded with fake blood.”
He aimed the pistol down at the tabletop and pulled the trigger. There was the loud report, the gun jumped in his hand, and a splatter of blood appeared on the white tablecloth. Then, with satisfaction, he shoved the pistol back inside his fisherman’s vest.
For a moment, Curtailer was uncharacteristically speechless, even devoid of thought. Then anger rose inside him like bile or vomit.
“You stupid fucking asshole,” he hissed. “What is wrong with you?”
Smones watched him closely, smirking, quite proud of himself.
Rage boiled up inside Curtailer. Visions flipped past his inner eye in a rapid, violent sequence: flinging himself across the table, his hands hooking around that fat, ugly neck and squeezing, squeezing… Or the sterling silver knife beside his plate of tripes suddenly in his fist, then thrust into Smones pig eyes, first one, then the other, thrusting, thrusting… Or a sudden leap upwards from his chair, grasping the edge of the table and flinging it over onto Smones who falls backwards as Curtailer jumps on top of the table on top of Smones and jumps up and down, up and down…
His hands gripped the edge of the table so tightly his knuckles cracked.
But before he could act out any of these scenarios, a calm voice from within said, “Wait, think. Smones is your biggest author. Your only really big author. Your bread and butter. Think. Think…”
He stood quickly, still gripping the edge of the table. His chair hit the wall behind him. He ground his teeth, growled, violently cleared his throat.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said hoarsely.
Again, louder and more clearly, “Ladies and gentlemen,” out over the silent restaurant.
Looking back at him were pale faces and wide eyes.
“Please don’t be alarmed. What you have just witnessed was nothing more than a bit of publicity by the world-famous author,” and he gestured toward Smones, “Mitchell Smones, whose next prize-winning novel is about to go to press.”
As he spoke, his voice gained in confidence and authority, and the other patrons of the restaurant, who had been frozen in surprise and fear, began to relax, shifting in their seats.
“Yes, that’s right, another groundbreaking novel from… MITCHELL SMONES! Watch for it, soon to appear on the New York Times best seller list. And now, let’s all return to our enjoyment of lunch. Thank you for participating in this… happening.”
With a flourish and a quick bow, Curtailer sat.
‘Happening,’ he thought. A wave of self-loathing washed over him. ‘Where the hell had that bit of retro cliché come from?’
Across the room, someone began to applaud, slowly. Clap. Clap. Clap. Then another joined in. Then more. Some began to laugh, relieved laughter, the tension lifting from the throng of diners.
Curtailer could see the M’aître d’, on the far side of the room, lowering the telephone receiver to its cradle.
He looked at Smones, who was nodding in approval and grinning like a congressman up for reelection.
“Hey, buddy. Way to go,” said Smones. “You passed your spontaneity test with flying colors. Cool!”
Curtailer swallowed. It took some effort.
“You’d better write one hell of a novel, you miserable prick,” he snarled. “And I expect you to replace this shirt.”
Out on the sidewalk, Smones hurried away from the grand entrance of Le Cirque 2000, heading north on Madison Avenue. Maybe the M’aître d’ hadn’t called the cops, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
He was feeling very perky. He laughed quietly to himself, searching for the correct descriptive term – was he snickering? Giggling? Tittering? No, actually, he decided, he was chortling.
He’d totally had that pompous turd, Curtailer – HAD him! The beer and the meat sandwich – channeling Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stel-laaaa!
And screw all that business with Jewel. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about Jewel. She was a mindless tart. Had incessantly annoyed him with her stupefying prattle. Good luck with her, Myron, you pansy bastard.
Oh, yes, about that new novel. More chortling. He would do as he had with the past several novels, hire a team of grad students from the Lit departments of Columbia and NYU, get them to sign and notarize the ironclad non-disclosure, non-compete, confidentiality, work-for-hire and independent contractor agreement which his attorney had prepared, along with a few thinly-veiled references to Rocko and a certain baseball bat. Then they’d hunker down in his favorite suite at the Plaza Athénée Hotel, where he’d ride herd on them non-stop, 24/7, for as many days as it took, while they cranked out the pages and he drank Lagavulin single malt and smoked Cuban cigars.
As he hustled up the Avenue, the sight of a young couple walking toward him pulled him out of his celebratory revelry. A gangly, long-haired, bearded punk in an old army jacket and jeans torn at the knees walked arm-in-arm with a dishy blond who was much too good for him. They chattered away happily, she tossing her head and laughing.
As he came abreast of them, with the young man immediately to his left and the girlfriend on the other side, nearer the curb, Smones cocked his left arm and gave the kid a short, quick shot to the solar plexus. There was his sharp, gasping intake of breath, then the young woman’s horrified shriek.
Smones continued walking, picking up his pace.
“You bastard!” screamed the girl behind him. “You Nazi asshole!”
Ah, well, thought Smones — some are born to greatness, while others have greatness thrust into them.
[TO BE CONTINUED]