The Fiction

Sunken Treasure

From the Christmas, 2000, issue 

(No. 4)

Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Rain had swept over the city while he had stopped at his apartment to shower and change for the evening. Downstairs again, Tim Franklin looked for a taxi on Spadina Avenue. The rain-slick street reflected the neon lights of Chinatown, creating shimmering patches of green, red, and blue. Tim stepped through them as he crossed to the east side, buttoning his raincoat as he went against the wet December wind.

Waiting with an arm extended, Tim ran his foot over the surface of a shallow puddle, smearing the cool blue-green light of a restaurant sign across the sidewalk. Two doors north, a grocer was hosing down the ground in front of his store. Ultramarine—that was the word for it. His local scratch of Chinatown, strewn with empty packing crates and rotting vegetation at the end of a business day, was somehow underwater.

Sliding into the back seat of a yellow taxi, Tim’s inspiration transformed itself into an idea: he could shoot one section of the new spot in an underwater setting. Rent an undersea backdrop and have his art director do some waving strands of seaweed and some fake fish swimming by. Simple. Maybe put the talent into an old diving suit, then flood the whole set with blue and green lights and slowly wave the backdrop to mimic gentle ocean currents.

It was mostly a lighting thing, Tim decided, before giving the cabbie the name of the restaurant in Little Italy. The cabbie looked over into the back seat and used his thin face to express his own bafflement. “College and Clinton streets,” Tim explained, though this time a little louder.

Maybe a fake submarine, Tim now thought, or some kind of superhero swimming by. When he was a kid there was the Sub-Mariner and Aquaman, and if he doubted kids would recognize them now, he was certain others had simply replaced them. Or maybe one of the client’s trademark characters, something. Carolyn knew these things better than he did.

The budget, though, the budget would be a problem. He already had his three sets—the Arctic, the desert, and the jungle—and while all three had been approved, he couldn’t imagine the client rejecting this last-minute idea. He would have to talk to Carolyn about squeezing somewhere; order lunch in instead of having the shoot catered, or replace a few P.A.s with interns from a co-op program. It could be done.

Rain fell harder as the cab progressed along College Street, running in rivulets down Tim’s back seat window and blurring the passing lights together. “Rain all night and tomorrow,” the cabbie said. They were waiting on a red light at Bathurst Street.

“That’s good for your business,” Tim replied. “It’s good for me tonight, too.” Maybe one of the four sets could go. Options, he would impress the client with options. Tim sat in a silence interrupted only occasionally by the cabbie’s radio, thinking, “I’ve got it now.”

His happiness floated him between the cab and the curb. There was a small crowd in front of Pomodoro, through which Tim carefully navigated himself as he spotted an achingly gorgeous blonde woman standing alone to one side. He felt assured the place would be filled with beautiful people and that a table was difficult to get. A month before he had read a glowing review in a city magazine. And in early December the city had already assumed a Christmas buzz.

Inside, he was met by a pretty red-headed hostess with soft, wet, light-green eyes. She wore a simple white blouse over a short black skirt. “KTV,” Tim said. “I hope you’ve got a nice table for us. This is a big night.”

“They’re all excellent,” the hostess said through frosted lips. “Mr....? ”

“Franklin. KTV.” The restaurant stretched back far beyond the hostess, wider than it appeared to be from the street, and roaringly full. “‘Kids’ TV.”

“Yes, it’s here. Your table’s not ready yet,” the hostess said. Leaning slightly over her reservation book, she allowed Tim a peek at the side of a lovely, milk-white, lightly-freckled breast encased in a silky beige bra. “But some of your party have already arrived.”

Tim could scarcely contain his grin. “Is there a coat check? ” he asked. Looking around the hostess Tim could see Vanessa, his sales manager and immediate boss, and Carolyn, their departmental assistant, sitting at the bar. Vanessa shimmered beautifully in a silver, sequined cocktail dress.

Having checked his coat, Tim wound his way through tables of radiantly youthful diners to the bar, a rectangular slab of black marble in the centre of the long room. Pomodoro was all chrome and mahogany chic, the high, hammered-tin ceiling the only indication that the space had probably, until recently, been a mom-and-pop variety or hardware store. The open kitchen, from which great hisses and the clatter of pans could be heard above the animated chatter of the diners and the slick jazz soundtrack, was at the back of the room. It emanated a comfortable warm breath of garlic. As Tim watched, someone’s meal flamed brightly on the grill.

Closer to the bar, Tim could now make out the spindly shoulders—encased, as ever, in a charcoal suit—of Douglas, the V.P. of marketing at KTV. This was inevitable, but disappointing nonetheless. Douglas was the oddball in their department, a squirrelly family man who to Tim seemed devoid of humour. None of his colleagues having seen him arrive, Tim slipped silently behind Vanessa, brushed aside her honey-blonde hair and planted a large kiss on her long, arching neck. While she expressed her surprise, Tim shook Douglas’s outstretched hand and returned Carolyn’s friendly smile and hello.

“The man of the hour,” Douglas said. “What will you have to drink? ” The V.P. was drinking mineral water, an excellent indication that he might leave soon.

“Gin, gin, and more gin,” Tim said to the waiting barman from around a metal basket of lemons and limes. “With tonic and lime.”

“Me too,” Carolyn added, holding up her empty glass. Her red dress was lovely, but Tim thought there was something dowdy about the way she wore her long, chestnut hair up. He had known Carolyn since first arriving at KTV almost five years earlier, a $125-a-day production assistant with a B.A. in cinema studies and an idea that he could, if someone provided the opportunity, direct a superb movie. Carolyn had been the receptionist at KTV then and had quickly spurned his advances. Tim had long ago reckoned that she probably wouldn’t say ‘no’ anymore. He reached out to accept his G. & T.

“We’re all here now,” said Douglas. “So listen up. I wanted us here early so we could have a little talk before our guests arrive.” Preparing himself, Tim squeezed close enough to Vanessa to smell her perfume and draw a look from Carolyn.

“We’re celebrating a lot more than a commercial for BrekFast FriendzTM cereal tonight,” Douglas continued. “Our contract with International Friendly Foods is the largest cross-promotional contract KTV has ever signed. We have a deal to exchange over two million dollars worth of products and air time that is going to make us the most attractive cable station in the country. Within two years, International Friendly Foods will be the world leader in pre-packaged kids’ meals. And it’s on KTV that kids are going to find out about them first.”

“And who’s got the money to spend? ” Tim asked no one in particular. “Kids and moms.” He’d expected this speech from Douglas. This was where the old suit claimed the credit for the work he and Vanessa had done to convince the client to drop a bundle on ads over the next year. Tim had already decided that directing them all—there could be as many as seven or eight different thirty and forty-five second spots—would be a mistake. Too many things might go wrong, and he could use the opportunity the contract offered to position himself as a creative director.

Douglas droned on, obviously enchanted, like any executive Tim had met, with the sound of his own voice. Tim signalled to the barman for another drink and leaned back against the bar to scan the busy restaurant. He knew he looked sharp in his new three-button black suit and designer shoes; that he couldn’t fail to score with an outfit like that. “We’ve become quite a team with the addition of Vanessa,” Douglas said. “So here’s to all of us.”

“I want my BrekFast FriendzTM!” Tim said as he hoisted his gin. He considered kissing Vanessa again but thought that might be too forward, even for him. “Hey, I have an idea. A great new set for BrekFast FriendzTM.”

“Really, what is it? ” Vanessa asked, twisting in her stool to bring her beautiful blue eyes level with Tim’s. It really didn’t matter that she was an M.B.A.; she was a babe, and that’s what got the deal done.

“Tim, no,” Carolyn said, wagging her finger. “I had the production manager sign off on the budget for the first spot today. No more changes.”

“Well, get it back, because this is what the spot needs,” Tim said.

“What is it? ” Douglas asked, more impatiently than Tim thought polite.

“I’ll tell you when them Friendly types get here. Don’t worry, they’ll love it. We’re gonna make kids scream to get their BrekFast FriendzTM so bad their parents will beg us to pull the spot. Awards, too. Oh, it’s gonna be sweet!”

“The screaming part—I wouldn’t phrase it precisely like that with the client,” Douglas warned Tim through his smile.

Tim watched Douglas set his empty glass down on the bar, hoping the bastard would soon be on his way. He could feel the drinks he’d already had working and, since this was his night, decided he didn’t have anything to lose. “Another drink, boss? ”

“I’m driving,” Douglas replied with that smile again, feigning sincerity, and Tim knew then that he and Douglas would have quite a year together. “I’m not,” Tim said before turning to the girls. “What say we get another round into us before those Friendly people get here? ”

“I’m fine for now,” Carolyn said.

“Me too,” Vanessa said.

Tim ordered another gin and tonic and slid an ashtray across the bar towards him, using the lull to finally light up. According to Carolyn, the Friendly people were expected at any time, so when his cigarette was finished Tim excused himself for the washroom. He felt terrific as he descended the stairs, taking two, sometimes three steps at a time.

Zipping up, Tim moved to the sink and mirror and splashed water over his face, running his wet hands through his tightly-curled dark hair. His hair had begun to recede in the past year and, while he had never been very handsome, he now thought his thinning locks added an element of sexiness and maturity he had always lacked. Women liked that he didn’t look like a boy anymore. Or Vanessa did, anyway. She had been sending him signals since arriving at KTV three months earlier. Only now it was time to call her on them. And some action with Vanessa would also show Carolyn that he was not to be trifled with. Happy with his appearance, Tim brushed some cigarette ash off of his lapel and made for the door.

The basement stairs were narrow and without a handrail, the steps themselves edged with burnished chrome. When halfway up Tim was confronted with the rapidly descending bulk of another man. He squeezed himself into the right wall, annoyed that the fellow hadn’t waited for him to reach the top before heading down. Then, suddenly, the man was flying by him, having lost his footing. Tim quickly reached out and grabbed the man by the arm, steadying him before he fell back against the stairs and cracked his back or head. Slowly, the man righted himself. He looked back at a puddle on the third step from the top, and then into Tim’s eyes. The man nodded his thanks and Tim returned the nod, knowing they now had a tacit agreement that Tim wouldn’t ever reveal this other man’s momentary weakness.

Back at the bar their guests had arrived. Diane, V.P. of sales at International Friendly Foods, was a large, blustery, middle-aged woman with a leathery, speckled face that only years of smoking brings. She was talking confidentially with Douglas. Some vice-presidential nonsense, probably, in which Tim couldn’t be any less interested. Still, he greeted her as respectfully as possible, hoping Douglas noticed the charm he was capable of turning on. Diane was hardly Tim’s type—much too old—but she was a good woman to know in the business. And KTV was hardly Tim’s last harbour.

It was Gordon, however, now deep in conversation with Vanessa, his counterpart at KTV, whom Tim couldn’t figure out. He was in his late twenties, Tim’s own age, but was hunched like an old man and flitted about nervously like Douglas. Gordon was all client, all the time; everyone’s best friend until things got hot, when any of those friends could expect a knife in their back. He was also, with his grey checked suit, powder-blue shirt, and closely-shaved bald head, probably gay. And while this in itself didn’t bother Tim, he knew the guy would be a stickler for detail and any copyright infringement or undesirable association of the product. Tim knew that he would have Gordon looking over his shoulder for every second of every shoot.

Drinks were handed around again and, in addition to another gin and tonic, Tim accepted a shot of iced vodka to drink to the health of the contract. He was feeling better now, looser, more confident. This was where he had always wanted to be, among the friends he had made along the way, especially Vanessa, hanging out where the gin flows. He lit another cigarette and scanned the room, wondering when their table would be ready.

Eventually, his eyes settled on the curve of Vanessa’s soft, white neck, which in his mind he gently stroked. But soon Douglas was steering Diane towards him. “Tim was telling us just before you arrived that he has a last minute idea for the BrekFast FriendzTM spot.”

Then everyone was looking Tim’s way, Gordon most keenly, so Tim butted his cigarette and launched into his plans. “I think we’re limiting ourselves with three sets. We need four: earth, air, fire, water. The four elements. We’ve got the earth and the snow, and the desert is hot like fire, and so is the fire under the cauldron in the jungle scene, and so what we need now is the water, you know? ”

Vanessa nodded encouragingly, but Tim was troubled by the look on Carolyn’s face. “We’ve got the money, so why don’t we start big? Let everyone know this isn’t any rinky-dink partnership here. Big splashy start.” This much he addressed to Douglas and Diane, who received it without so much as a blink.

“What’s going to be different, Tim? ” Douglas asked. “What’s the fourth set? ”

“Undersea world,” Tim replied. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.”

“We can’t afford that,” Gordon said quickly. “An aquatic crew. That would blow half the budget for the whole year.”

Tim was ecstatic now: Gordon had taken the bait. “Oh, I didn’t say that, Gordon. We can do it on the cheap, get some fishes, hang some swimmers from up above, that sort of thing. Kids don’t mind that. So long as it’s fun. Course I only came up with this on the way over, so I don’t have any dialogue or a scenario yet. Gonna call my art director tomorrow.”

“It’s a good idea, Tim,” Diane said. “And you’re right about it being fun, that’s the main thing.”

Tim was extracting another cigarette from his package, which was difficult to do with a drink in his hand. “I could have something by Monday, Diane. Whole new script of all four sets, maybe even storyboards.”

“Tim, that sounds fine, but all of this is sounding too much like work for me,” Douglas said. “We’re here to celebrate tonight.”

Tim wanted to ask what Douglas had to celebrate. “I can get you some new budgets, too. Gotta see the numbers, I know.”

“Doug’s right, Tim,” Vanessa said. “Leave it for now.”

Gordon moved closer as Tim lit up again. “Sorry if I sounded confused for a moment. I thought you might have wanted to submerge an entire film crew.”

“Gordon, buddy,” Tim said, offering his hand for Gordon to shake. “I know you know what’s going on, you know. I just wanted to say it’s going to be great working with you this year.”

“I’m looking forward to it myself,” Gordon answered as he accepted Tim’s hand. “You’re a very creative person. I like what I’ve seen of your stuff.”

“And you’re the money, baby,” Tim replied as he leaned in to whisper into Gordon’s ear. “What do you think of Carolyn? Pretty cute, eh? ”

“She’s a good-looking girl, you’re right,” Gordon replied.

“Vanessa’s the sweet stuff though. She’s the one that makes it all happen.”

“I’m sure,” Gordon replied, now obviously uncomfortable with Tim’s proximity. “They must be a lot fun to work with.”

“Talk to Carolyn, maybe, yeah? ”

“Well, I have been,” Gordon replied. He was spared further explanation by the arrival of the red-haired hostess, who announced that their table was ready.

Tim was eagerly watching the hostess’s cute behind retreat back through the dining room to the front door when Carolyn entered his frame of vision. She didn’t look happy. “Hey, there you are,” Tim said, holding out his drink as if to make a toast. “We did it, eh? Now we’re gonna show ’em.”

Carolyn ignored the outstretched drink. “Tim Franklin, what the fuck are you doing? Are you aware of what you’re saying? ”

“Hey, this is my night. They weren’t listening to you, they were listening to me. You never helped me at all.” It was just like Carolyn to ruin his good time.

“You’re drunk again, Tim. It’s not a good idea to get drunk in front of your boss. Vanessa and I have worked very hard on bringing this together. Don’t fuck this up on us now. And leave Vanessa alone, O.K.? You wouldn’t believe how much you frighten her.”

As Carolyn walked away, Tim thought he would visit the washroom again before joining the group at the table. He couldn’t believe her cheek, in front of a whole room of people on his big night. But she was right about the alcohol: he would watch the wine at dinner. It always messed him up anyway.

Only as he descended the stairs to the washroom did he realize that he was a little drunk. Not anything he couldn’t handle, he thought, just as he felt his feet buckle beneath him and his body lurch forward. Tim frantically reached out for the handrail, which wasn’t there. This was an unfortunate, if instinctual, move on his part. With his arms flailing uselessly at his sides there was nothing to protect his head as it bounced loudly off the bottom step of the stairway.

Tim would probably have difficulty remembering it at present, but for his eighth birthday he received from his aunt a large, freshwater aquarium. This was a February day many years ago, and his aunt was visiting the Franklin’s suburban home from her own city on the West Coast. Accompanying the aquarium was a starter bag of basic guppies, a small tub of their food, gravel to line the bottom of the tank, and some plants, shells, and brightly coloured stones. Also included was a large, plastic castle, some mountainous rocks with holes large enough for small fish to swim through, and a four-inch long chest which opened to reveal a fortune’s worth of gold and silver bars, mounds of gems and jewels, and many gold doubloons and pieces of eight.

Young Tim soon lost interest in his neighbourhood friends, with their snow forts, sledding, and games of street hockey, and devoted himself entirely to his new hobby. A properly functioning aquarium requires time and some expense to put together. Thus, from the Franklin household frequent trips were made to the pet store in the mall where graceful, striped angelfish, red and green swordfish, tiny tiger barbs, and flashing, silver hatchetfish were purchased, while books on tropical fish and their maintenance were withdrawn from the local library. There were also endless questions for Tim’s harried parents, who hadn’t been initially consulted about the gift and were left scrambling for ways to determine how such a small boy could raise money for his expensive hobby. For the remainder of that school year, Tim’s main topic, for presentations to his class or any other project, was tropical fish.

In the months following his birthday, the aquarium flourished under Tim’s care. More fish, such as the tiny, schooling black mollies and even a Siamese fighting fish, were acquired. Tim also developed favourites, like the large blue, white, and silver angelfish that would occasionally, to Tim’s great delight, swallow whole a lazy and distracted guppy. But even captive, brilliantly-coloured fish can grow dull for a lively boy and, against his parents’ wishes, Tim began to play games in his aquarium. Submerging plastic figurines from the big Space MovieTM—Tim’s most recent fascination—Tim ignored his frightened fish to play pirate beneath the surface of the aquarium. Eventually he acquired a large plastic galleon, which floated nicely on the surface, and it was for the safety and prosperity of this ship that the Space MovieTM figurines fought over and brought to the surface the large treasure chest.

Tim’s father was also interested in prosperity and as a bank manager was forced to move his family quite frequently. Unfortunately, another move was ordered by the head office of the bank in the summer following the gift of the aquarium. Because the Franklin’s were moving across the country to join Tim’s aunt on the West Coast, Tim was told that another home would have to be found for the fish, which would not survive the rigours of the journey. But none of his friends’ parents would welcome the fish in their homes; Tim’s school and others in the area already had freshwater aquariums and the pet store owner wouldn’t allow the fish to return because some of them had been purchased at another store and might be carrying diseases.

Best intentions thus thwarted, the problem was ignored until a week before the move. Then, while Tim sobbed behind him, Mr. Franklin tried to catch and flush down the toilet all of Tim’s exotic friends. When this proved too time-consuming, Mr. Franklin emptied the aquarium into the bathtub and then transferred those fish he hadn’t already caught into the toilet with a kitchen spatula. These events proved to be sufficiently cataclysmic for Tim that the aquarium itself remained behind, sitting alone in Tim’s otherwise empty bedroom for the new owners of the house.

But if Tim didn’t have his aquarium very long, and had rarely considered it in the intervening two decades, it was with great relief that he found himself, moments after cracking his head on the basement stairs of Pomodoro, swimming through its comfortable, twenty-three-degrees-Celsius waters. Hovering about midway down, Tim was delighted to see that he was in his sharp, new three-button suit, and that, although bubbles escaped from his mouth, he wasn’t wanting for oxygen. Swimming towards the bottom, he immediately spotted his favourite killer angelfish, as well as the two bright red swordfish that had always travelled together. Everything, including all the plants, the tall castle, and the treasure chest, appeared to be in place.

There had, however, been some changes. Instead of looking onto the dusty yellow wall of his former bedroom, the back wall of the aquarium was now covered by a watery blue-green backdrop of a coral reef teeming with schools of tropical fish and other marine life and plants. And in the front right corner of the aquarium, in what had once been the main feeding area of his polka-dot catfish, Tim saw rows of lights and grip stands, piles of sandbags, as well as black cases of camera equipment; indeed, everything a film crew would need to work. He also saw, standing alone near the film equipment, an old diving suit with a great length of hose reaching up to his galleon on the surface. It was towards this that Tim was swimming when he caught a sudden movement in the corner of his eye.

Somehow, Douglas, Diane, and Gordon, all of whom had traded their evening wear for the white cotton blouses, cutlasses and colourful, baggy pantaloons of pirates, were approaching from the left side of the aquarium. Realizing they were after his treasure chest, Tim swam quickly toward Douglas, who was ahead of the representatives of International Friendly Foods. Despite having his arm slowed by the weight of the water, Tim managed to dispatch his wimpy V.P. of marketing with one blow. As Douglas’s inert body floated to the surface beside him, Tim turned to meet the advance of Diane, who moved gracefully in the water despite her great bulk. Wrestling with her for control of a dagger, Tim received a blow to the back of the head from the cowardly Gordon, and so spun himself and Diane around quickly to avoid another. In an unprecedented stroke of luck, as Gordon drew his cutlass, Tim was able to manoeuvre the struggling Diane to receive the blow, which sliced the V.P. of sales almost in half.

Disentangling himself from Diane’s corpse, Tim expected to have to race with Gordon to the treasure chest. Instead, he was surprised to find Gordon stuffing a very beautiful Vanessa, whose ample bosom was wonderfully displayed in a brilliant green velvet plantation dress, into the window of the tallest tower of the castle. Outraged, Tim swam towards Gordon with all his strength. In the final few feet he swung himself around so that he approached the castle feet first, bouncing Gordon’s head off the rock of the castle wall. Another blow to the head was all that was required to finish off the meek sales manager. He, too, floated lifelessly towards the surface, as Vanessa swam from the window of the castle into Tim’s arms. She folded against him quite nicely, head against his chest, as they settled gently onto the top of the treasure chest.

It was the red-headed hostess who discovered him, lying face first at the bottom of the stairs. He assumed that someone needing the washroom had sent for her, which in a restaurant so large meant that he probably hadn’t been out for long. With her help, Tim crawled forward onto his knees and rested there while what little he could see of the basement hallway spun around him. Above the general din of the restaurant he could hear the intense whispering of a gathering crowd at the top of the stairs.

He had to move. There was a puddle—not a large one—of blood on the floor. Lifting his head, Tim could make out the crisp white of the hostess’s blouse, and was immediately alarmed by the gasp that escaped her mouth. Now he could feel blood on his face and taste it, too. The room spun again; he had been much happier with his head on the cool of the basement floor.

“Sir, do you need an ambulance? ” the hostess asked. Tim didn’t know. For some reason he was thinking of the aquarium he had owned when he was a kid. If he were drunk before, he felt entirely too sober now.

“Do you need an ambulance?!”

“No!”

“You can’t just lie there on the floor.”

Then the hostess’s arm reached under his shoulder and Tim felt himself hurled, more than lifted, into the open door of the men’s washroom. He was surprised that the hostess’s small frame could wield such strength, and stood blinking at her in the bright, pinkish halogen of the washroom. Then blood dripped from his face onto the floor and he reluctantly turned to the mirror.

It wasn’t as bad as he’d feared. He’d split his forehead, but most of the cut was buried beneath his left eyebrow. He might need a couple of stitches. Tim couldn’t be certain until he cleared away some of the blood. Worst was the blood that had run down his face and stained the top of his suit jacket and shirt. The jacket he could probably have cleaned, but the shirt was ruined.

“You’ve got to get something on that,” the hostess said as she wet a wad of paper towel. She was helpful. Tim liked her even better than before and was momentarily happy, just the two of them in the tiny washroom. Then pain washed over him; not the gash, but the dull roar of his head where it had struck the step. He was very thirsty and sat down heavily on the toilet.

The hostess placed the wet paper towel into his hand and Tim transferred it to his forehead, realizing he had to staunch the flow of blood. For the first time he thought of the others upstairs and wondered whether they had missed him yet or connected him to the tumult at the bottom of the stairs. He knew it had been an accident, and one easily explained, but felt ashamed.

“You hold that there and clean yourself up,” the hostess said. “I have to see the manager.”

“Don’t get the manager,” Tim managed weakly. He confronted his bloody visage again. “This was my fault. I’m not going to make a fuss.”

“I have to tell him what’s going on here.”

“I understand,” Tim said. “All I want is a glass of cold water.”

After she left Tim wiped at the blood on his face. The crisp, recycled paper towel smeared more than it absorbed, forcing him to constantly roll off and wet more. He didn’t know what to do with the bloodied remains; the paper towel would clog the toilet, but he could hardly leave it in the small wastepaper basket. The urgency of the situation abated after he had urinated and eventually his neck and face took on the reddish appearance of having been rubbed raw, with which he was marginally satisfied. He decided to leave the bloodied paper towel in the garbage; it couldn’t be helped.

As the blood on the gash, which he carefully cleaned again, began to dry, he knew he would need stitches. However, the more pressing problem was how to leave the celebration without anyone discovering what had happened to him. He sat down on the toilet again, loosened his tie and held the wet paper towel against his split forehead. Stupid of him, really, though the incident wouldn’t reflect badly on him professionally, just socially. That was the crucial difference.

There was a knock on the door and the hostess reappeared, bringing a heaven-sent pint jar of water, the majority of which Tim drank off immediately. “How are you feeling,” she asked.

“Better,” Tim answered. Well, a little dizzy. His head was pounding, and the cut itself had begun to throb a warm, wet pain. But the hostess presented quite an amazing specimen for him to concentrate on.

“Mr. Pedari—my manager—says he respects your right to privacy,” the hostess said, blinking those green eyes again. “But he insists you go to the hospital to be checked up. He’s already called a taxi.”

“Not alone,” Tim answered, peering up from his seat. He could get Carolyn to accompany him, maybe. And she could be the one to make his excuses to the others. He was surprised he hadn’t thought of that before.

“No, I’m coming,” the hostess said. She smiled bravely, though Tim knew she would rather be anywhere else. “When you’re ready, I’ll get your coat.”

“Is there another way out of here? ”

“There’s the delivery entrance, out into the back lane.” She pointed down the long hallway that ran beneath the restaurant.

“Uh-huh,” Tim replied, rising slowly. “My name’s Tim. What’s yours? ”

Andrew Daley works in the film industry. His second novel, Resort, was published in 2017. He was Taddle Creek’s associate editor from 2004 to 2009 and has contributed to the magazine since 1997. Last updated summer, 2020.
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