By R. John Quisenberry
Stephen’s memory was fuzzy on how he even got to the table where Lorelei had saved them both seats. It seemed to have passed in a blur. He found himself placing a forearm in the way of Dick’s open hand strike as it was swinging down. It would have been a ringing slap to Lorelei’s flushed left cheek. The impact jolted the arm and caused the plate full of soggy salad to pitch up into Dick’s face as the arm rebounded. Spewing bits of slightly limp lettuce and dressing all over the enraged man. Dick seemed stunned.
“I’m sorry Dick! I am so clumsy! Are you okay?” said Stephen with the most innocent face he could muster.
A faint giggle started in the near distance of the room. It carried well in the quiet that had clamped down on the room as everyone noticed the confrontation.
With supreme effort, Dick forced down his anger into a hardcore. “Hey, we all have our moments Stevie. Mistakes happen. Try to be more careful in the future.” Dick turned away. Wherever he looked or faced, the giggles went silent, and faces lost a bit of color as people looked down at their plates.
Turning to Lorelei, Stephen tried to look sheepish, “Sorry, I seem to have spilled your salad. Would you like me to get another?”
This was the last straw and Lorelei’s rage at whatever Dick had said fell apart into a laugh that shook her shoulders and was only barely kept from rolling across the room by the murmur of conversations resuming all around the room. Covert glances continued to follow Stephen and Lorelei with keen interest.
“I had a big breakfast. I think I will pass on the salad. Besides, it looked pretty old.”
“Yes, Dick didn’t seem to enjoy it at all…”
Lorelei just barely stifled a guffaw. “Well, you can’t blame him for not liking the service.”
“I hope you don’t mind my rudeness, but I am going to eat in front of you. I’m starving.” he set down his plate. It was laden with salmon, beef strips, chicken, and a wide variety of vegetables. The thing must have weighed in at four pounds or more. “I know, a little heavy on the meat. I just have a sudden craving for it.”
Looking around Lorelei said, “Yes, and it looks like everybody else has the same craving. Look.” and she nodded to one of the nearby tables where everyone seemed to have recovered from the previous drama, but was still quiet as they devoured their impressive stockpile of assorted charred animal and fish flesh. There also seemed to be a lot of milk being consumed.
“Now that I see them at it, I could do with some milk myself!”
Stephen got up and walked over to the section of the food area devoted to large coolers of chilled beverages.
” ’Sup Hero?” slurred the deep voice of Dick from behind him.
“Not much Dick.”
“Hey, try a REAL drink big man,” he said as he shoved a dark, closed bottle towards Stephen. It turned out to be the same stout he had tried the night before.
“Thanks, Dick! I tried that one last night. It’s great, but I think I would enjoy a glass of something milder while I eat.” Stephen carried the bottle away with him to the table where he saw the single serving-sized jugs of milk.
From behind him came the voice he was now officially sick of. “What’s the matter? You get the drop on me and look like a hero, then you’re too good to take a beer with me? A guy could get the idea you didn’t like him Stevie. How about we make nice and have us a beer?”
Turning, Stephen saw that Dick’s face was flushed and he seemed to be grinding his teeth in rage. He knew two things at that point. One, Dick was far from mentally stable, and two, Dick was going to get violent if he did not fulfill the social custom of having a beer together. “It’s cool Dick. Got an opener? Never mind, I’ll use the table.” Stephen made sure to copy, exactly the method he had seen Alan use at the party.
“Cool trick man!” said Dick. Placing the edge of the bottle cap on the corner of the table, he tried to copy Stephen’s actions. The beers and whatever else he had already consumed betrayed him at that point and the cap took a few millimeters of the bottle with it as the foam of abused stout sprayed out of the remaining volume and splashed foam and dark liquid all over the bottoms of his suit pants and his leather loafers.
Dick cursed violently as he stormed off to the bathroom to rinse the foam and liquid from his clothing. Stephen grabbed three of the milk bottles and walked calmly to his table as the rest of the room laughed nervously and watched him to see what he would do to Dick next.
“You know,” said Lorelei when he sat down, “if you keep helping Dick like that, you are going to have a fan club.”
“A fat lot of good that is when he has me fired! How was I supposed to know he was that dumb?” He said this while realizing that he had shown Dick that trick knowing that it was going to end badly. Oddly, it didn’t bother him that much. Dick would do what he would do.