Mallory’s Bar and Grill, NYC
“Roland! Roland!” A ragged roar of applause from women in glitter, men in black tie, the shockwave hit Kary’s ears like a physical blow as Andrew swung open the door from Mallory’s kitchen into the upper East Side bar and grill, and held it for Dana and for her. ‘In the jungle, the mighty jungle…’ floated through her head.
His eyebrows arched, but he didn’t seem fazed; his smile encompassed everyone.
The king entering the Great Hall? She shook her head. This is a little party? She should have expected it. At the WMRC dock, George Cosgrave had shepherded them into the heated limo so quickly she hadn’t time to get cold in the brittle black New York night, but the chauffeur delivered them, not to the front entrance, but to the alley behind the restaurant. For safety?
Escaping the maelström was her first thought. Too early for people to know who she was—they’d either been getting ready for the party or already here drinking when Night Talk had blown her cover. If she could dissociate herself from the man of the hour, she could still avoid detection. She touched Andrew’s arm. “Dana and I have to find her sister.” She caught Dana’s attention. Great—trading one celebrity for another. “Okay with you, Dana?”
Dana locked arms. “We’ll raid the buffet. I’m starved.”
“Keep a chair for me,” he said. “There’s a pile o’ people I have to make nice with. I’m the ram on the auction block.” His petitioners bore him away, but not before he had grabbed the maitre d’ and handed Dana and Kary over.
The restaurant matched Kary’s mental image of an old gentlemen’s club: heavy dark furniture, hunter-green wallpaper over the wainscoting, photos of celebrities and politicians in massive gilded frames. To one side, five servers presided over a display worthy of Versailles. Elaborate. And expensive.
From a booth toward the front, she followed Andrew’s progress: the fisherman’s sweater stood out easily from the crowd. He poached a beer from a passing waiter, grazed from group to group without letting any claim him.
“Pours it on rather thick, doesn’t he?” Dana said. Her gaze alternated between the knot with Andrew at its center, and the entrance. “There’s Chrissy!”
Dana took charge. Mother-hen-like, with Brian as footman, she snagged a waiter and supervised delivery of ‘two of everything.’ She pampered Chrissy and Kary impartially. “If I don’t, Chrissy won’t eat enough to keep a mouse alive.”
Kary had to raise her voice to be heard. “Do you know all these people?”
“Producers, agents, gossip columnists.” Dana returned a wave from a tall brunette in a chartreuse cocktail dress. “Hangers-on. Yeah, most of them. But they’re here to talk to Andrew, so enjoy your dinner.”
“Fine with me.”
Dana’s head snapped up as Brian looked horrified. “Oh, God. I can’t believe I said that!”
Brian, who had seated Dana by the wall ‘to hide her from view,’ hung his head.
Chrissy laughed. “Foot in mouth?”
“Sorry, Kary. They’re all used to me being outrageous.”
“I meant it,” Kary said. The food restored her—she hadn’t realized how long it had been since dinner—but she didn’t belong here. The familiar ache starting between her shoulder blades warned her she was on time borrowed at exorbitant interest.
He invited me for one thing. She turned to Chrissy. How old was the girl? Twenty-three? Twenty-four? There was something wan about the face, a stillness about the body, as if someone had taken a Dana and smoothed away not only a few years but all of the verve. “Tired?”
“I’ll pay for it tomorrow.” Chrissy disavowed the cost with a shrug.
“It gets better.”
“For most people.” An exaggeration? “How long…?”
“Since my third year of college. Thought I’d caught mono.”
“Kissing someone, I presume?”
Chrissy laughed. “Yeah. But it never went away. I had to drop out—thought it would just be for the semester, but it was four years before I could go back. I’m only taking two courses a term, and I’ll finally be finished next year. But I’m positive I’ll never get a job—who’d want someone who can’t work?”
“You don’t have to work to be valuable.” It had been so hard to believe that.
“And most people who’ve even heard of CFS think it’s contagious, like AIDS.”
“There’ll be things you can do… Eventually…” I’m not offering much relief, am I? Helplessness fought with anger. She used to love nights like this in the city.
“And now that I’m old enough to drink legally, alcohol makes me sick!” Chrissy said.
You’ve got fight, kid. “I know. I miss Tequila Sunrises.” She held up the crisp chilled Sauvignon Blanc. “That gets better too—I’m up to an occasional half-glass of wine—”
Chrissy looked up past Kary’s head, and her eyes lit up. Kary turned.
“Everyone wants a piece of me!” growled Andrew. “Are ye okay?” Guinness in hand, he grabbed a chair, turned it around and sat on it backward. “George, bring it over. You know George?”
“We came together?” Kary said.
“Ah. Right ye are.” He got them all squeezed together, with one arm around Chrissy’s shoulder. “Got it? George’s documenting the whole thing.”
“All here.” George patted an elaborate digital camera.
Kary said, “Shouldn’t you be in the picture?”
“Aye, George. Here. Take us a few more.”
A tiny remote control and a table-top tripod emerged from the camera bag. George insisted they say ‘Guinness’—“So there won’t be any silly smiles”—fitted himself into an imaginary space between Chrissy and Kary, snapped a quick bunch.
“Not too bored?” Andrew asked Kary. “Want me to introduce you around?”
“Don’t you dare. This is far better.”
“Where else can I still observe these people in their natural habitat?”
“Collecting specimens?” His brogue thickened. “You’ll be pinning us up on the wall like wasps?”
“’Fess up. You like the idea.”
He waved his free hand, including with the gesture everything in sight. “This is my territory.”
Chrissy’s gaze never left the actor’s face, adoration plain. Kary kicked herself, steered the conversation in the right direction, and got out of it.
Andrew exerted himself, shared faintly naughty anecdotes, got Chrissy laughing and blushing at the same time. He focused on Chrissy as if she were the only person in the known universe.
A lovely trait. It must make him quite irresistible.
“Hey, there you are! Come on, you gotta meet—” A pudgy hand descended onto Andrew’s shoulder. Andrew whirled, captured a plump wrist. “Watch it! Ouch!”
“Sorry, Maury. Act first, think later.” He didn’t sound sorry.
Some instinct made Kary glance at George; she caught the tail end of a suppressed grin. George mimed using the edge of his hand as an imaginary saw. She got it: last man who tried that lost his arm up past the elbow.
“Hey, Maury,” Andrew said. “Meet my new friends.”
Kary imagined the agent calculating their present value to him—zero—adding to it just the right dollop of worth as ‘friends of Andrew’.
Maury cranked up the smile. “I know Dana. From the TV show, right?”
“Do you need a new agent, Kary?” Andrew said. “I’m sure Maury’d be thrilled to take you on.”
The agent all but danced with impatience. “Sure thing.” Out came the ever-ready card.
“Elise Carter’s my agent.” Kary stowed the card in her purse. “Do you know her?”
Maury shook his head. “Sorry. No.”
“I’ll be sure to call you if Elise and I come to a parting of the ways.” She gave Andrew what she hoped was a stern glance.
Andrew’s eyes opened very wide. Blameless. Right.
Dana whispered with Chrissy. Kary knew the signs: Chrissy was running on fumes. Dana chose the moment to make their escape.
“Must you?” Andrew rose. He shook Brian’s hand.
“I’m afraid so.” Dana smoothed Chrissy’s hair. “My fault. Early call.”
“But thank you so very much,” Chrissy said. “It was wonderful meeting Kary.”
Kary hugged her. “Keep your spirits up.”
“I’ll try. I promise.”
Andrew kissed Chrissy’s cheek, Dana’s hand. “Be seeing you.”
“Ditto.” Dana let George help with her coat, while Maury, chastened, held Chrissy’s.
Kary’s gaze followed Chrissy as Dana and Brian plowed a path for her to the entrance. A tap on her arm. Andrew.
“Gotta go. Maury’s leading me to the slaughter.” He appealed to George. “Stay with Kary, won’t you?”
“I’ve been trying to get rid of you for hours,” George said. “Unlike you, I can read, and I want to talk about her books. Begone.”
“Hey, a fan.” Andrew stood. “Aye, then. Back in half a mo… I’m coming, Maury.” A quick wave, and he’d plunged into the sea of supplicants.
“God, the din!” Kary covered her ears. “Is it always this chaotic?”
“Since Roland,” George said. “I mean, people used to recognize him on the street, but we never needed armed guards.”
“Is your band on tour?”
“Later this year. He flew us in for the show. Likes to share the wealth.” George wagged his head. “The lads are catching the Dublin express tomorrow night. First class. They pamper you so, it’s embarrassing.”
“You’re not going to Ireland?”
George hesitated. “Well, ah; Andy’s asked me to stay on a bit, be a sort of manager…”
She examined him critically. “Let me see… You’ve always done it for the band, and he needs you to keep things straight.” And he’s put you on salary, which makes you horribly uncomfortable. “You’re the solid friend who knew him when.”
George smiled wryly. “Aye. He thinks I can help with the vultures.”
Kary glanced at Andrew, coralled against the far end of the bar by the birds of prey: men in suits, young women in dresses skimpy as camisoles. His stance had ‘alpha lion’ written all over.
George followed her gaze, made a hrumphing sound.
“What?” Kary said. Andrew leaned a slip of paper on a suit’s back, scribbled while laughing with a tiny frosted blonde in red sequins. “He looks happy enough.”
“The lasses have taken him on.”
“Are you jealous?”
“Me? Lord above, no. Fiona’d have me head.”
“Fiona?” She coaxed his story out: running the farm for his ailing father, band member when ‘the lads’ got together around Andrew’s increasingly demanding schedule. He retrieved a photo from his wallet: an Irish beauty with fiery ringlets, dimples, and a very determined mouth. “She’s beautiful, George.”
“Is this how you get your material? Getting the other person to spill his secrets?”
“I wish.” She stretched her neck and shoulders discreetly, exhaled. She should have left when Dana left. But is one party too much to ask?
The top of Andrew’s head was all that remained visible. The schmoozing was as much required in his career as acting. He’d made no promises; she’d been foolish to look forward to a chance for intelligent conversation. What was I thinking—he isn’t coming back any time soon.
“Tough break—getting sick, I mean,” George said.
The sympathy in his voice, too close to pity, stiffened her resolve. Time to go. “You learn to live with it.” She shrugged. “Which reminds me—it’s been lovely speaking with you.” She gathered the shreds of energy, rose, offered her hand. “You said you liked the books.”
George got to his feet. “Very much.”
“They wouldn’t exist.”
~ ~ ~
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Copyrighted material by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt.