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First You Die, Chapter 7: Sonia’s Choice



First You Die, Chapter Seven: Sonia's Choice

Sonia walked past, around the corner, and thought about this new development. Rick would be surprised, wouldn’t he? And he didn’t want her to get out of the car. Wait until she told him. She could walk right in and find out if this store was related to the one in Bangkok. It probably wasn’t. Just a coincidence, she thought. But what if there was a connection? What if the clinic in Bangkok had something to do with Porn’s disappearance? She would just have to find out, that’s all.

She needed a plan and thought about it on the way to the market. She bought a dozen horse shoe crabs, ten green papayas and a liter of naam plaa, the fermented fish sauce that was kept in a huge barrel in the rear of the store. She would peel and julienne the papaya, add the roe from the horseshoe crabs along with scallions, hot peppers, lemon grass and a dash of the fish sauce and make a killer spicy salad. Danforth had promised to put it on the specials list.

Sonia hailed a cab and gave the driver the address of Ricks Bar. She leaned back in the seat thinking that it was good she did not walk right into the clinic. She was wearing a navy blue suit from Bloomindales and six hundred-dollar Manolo Blahnik shoes. Then there was the leather case she had made at Coach on Fifth Avenue. She definitely looked out of place. Tomorrow would be another day. She closed her eyes and wondered if she would go with the hooker look or the immigrant look.

The restaurant was packed when she arrived. The bar was five deep. Sonia gave the packages of food to one of the girls to bring to the kitchen, put the Sig-Sauer box behind the bar and went up to the office to change into one of her dresses. Sonia slipped out of her underwear. She didn’t like the look of her thong showing through the dress and she didn’t need to wear a bra as her breasts stood right out by themselves. She picked out a purple silk floor-length dress with long sleeves, high collar and a touch of gold embroidery. The dress had the same color cloth buttons running down all the way in front and was tightly fitted to her body.

The restaurant was filled with bamboo trees almost reaching the ceiling. Tall flowering bird of paradise plants stood in huge clay vases and orchids were hanging in coconut husks near every table. Hand-woven tapestries made in Northern Thailand hung on the walls next to rattan baskets and colorful prints of ancient Bangkok.

Danforth printed out a daily menu according to what produce came in and what else he had picked up in the Union Square greenmarket. Sonia had the girls adhere the paper menu to a palm or banana leaf with double-sided tape. The customers were surprised at first to be handed a large green leaf when they were seated.

Sonia also had a rolling cart fabricated from bamboo and had the girls make a green papaya salad called som-tam tableside as if they were in a fancy French restaurant. The girls had been making this dish most of their lives and welded a small cleaver quite dexterously, holding the papaya in one hand and chopping thin slivers of the fruit into a wood bowl where it was tossed with a variety of Thai spices. Almost every single table ordered one or more of the salads. It was quite interesting to watch the girls assemble the dish and it also gave the customers an opportunity to talk with the girls who would willingly chatter away if they had the chance.

Sonia knew that Rick thought it a bit too much of a change from the austere appearance of his old bar but her beautiful girls in traditional Thai silk dresses brought the look all together. She knew instinctively that the restaurant should offer more than just excellent food and that everything: the setting, decorations, wait staff and even the type of customer influenced a person’s perception of the place.

Sonia purveyed glamour, excitement, love and social acceptance- in the way she greeted every single person as soon as possible, made every single customer feel not only comfortable but very special. Sonia was selling an experience just as much as something to eat, and an experience it was, starting as soon as someone opened the door.

She had stationed her most stunning girl, Blossom at the front door. Blossom greeted everyone with a smile as warm and inviting as a Krabi beach in December. Many of the male customers were in no hurry to sit down if they could just linger at the front desk for a few minutes. The restaurant had received great reviews not only on the food and service but on the décor as well. Sonia resisted the urge to remind Rick that she had been right about the change in atmosphere.

Sonia walked from table to table chatting with the customers. She knew or recognized almost everybody. The ones that were not familiar received an extra dose of Sonia’s charismatic personality. She charmed the women and enchanted the men. If the table held couples, she looked directly at the women, smiling and talking to them. Sonia knew what most women did- the fact that they were the ones in charge. If Sonia paid too much attention to the men at the table she knew that she would never see them again.

Sonia spotted a famous tennis couple that just had a baby boy and sent over champagne. She bent over to kiss Al Roker, her favorite TV newsman and then stopped to say hello to a food critic that was sitting with a beautiful blonde girl. The man’s wife had brown hair and was much older than the young blonde. He started to introduce the girl as his assistant. Sonia waved him off with a big grin and a lift of her eyebrows that said don’t bother. She sent four different desserts to the table and huge snifters of expensive cognac. Every customer was a star in her restaurant. Okay, so it belonged to Rick but Rick belonged to her. That was how she thought of it.

Sonia found Rick and Larry eating at the end of the bar. There were simply no tables available for them; as it was, they were getting pushed and jostled by the bar crowd.

Larry cut into his Kobe porterhouse with cabernet espagnole sauce, maui onion salsa, and yukon gold mashed potatoes. ‘I liked it better when it wasn’t so busy. Say Sonia, I always wanted to ask you, are the girl’s names really Joy and Pearl and Ruby and so on? Or did you make those up?’

‘I did and I’ll tell you why. Thai names are much longer than farang names so all Thais have a nickname and it’s usually an abbreviated version of their real name. Take Rattana over there.’ Sonia pointed to a tall nineteen-year old. She was wearing a tight red silk dress and was exceptionally endowed.
‘Boy would I love to.’ Larry smiled.

‘Her name means expensive jewelry or luxury item. Thais know that even her shortened name, Ratt, is a desirable thing, but here in America, people don’t understand.’

A table of eight got up to leave and Sonia started to go over to say goodbye. The eight-top was headed towards the bar and in the lead was a dark-haired beauty in a low cut silver dress. She had two hit records on top of the charts and had just finished making her fifth movie. Her name was Jennifer or J-lo something or other, Sonia couldn’t remember.

Jennifer kissed Sonia on the cheek. ‘Thanks for a super meal.’ And then she threw her arms around Rick and Larry, squeezing in-between them. ‘Hey why don’t you guys come with us, we’re going to that new club on Hudson.’ She said you guys, but looked only at Rick.

When Rick was much younger, he resembled John Denver, the famous singer of syrupy love songs. Now he was older, much older at forty-nine. He had gained weight and his face had that lined and rugged look. He resembled Robert Redford with just the slightest hint of the innocence of John Denver. It was a look that women found hard to resist.

‘Thanks, but we’re working.’ Rick smiled.

‘OK, next time.’ She breezed out with her entourage as Sonia went off somewhere talking to more customers.

‘Jesus H. Christ. Couldn’t you say yes just for once- for me? Do you know who that was?’ Larry held his hands to his head.

‘Yeah, she’s some singer or something. I have this theory that if it wasn’t for Sonia, none of these girls would be the least bit interested in me. Girl sees a guy with a knock-out dish and right away she thinks this guy is something special, and it’s all in her mind.’

‘I don’t care where it is. I want some of it.’

‘Hey, up to you. Hang out here long enough and something’s bound to happen. But do you think that she was prettier than Sonia, or sexier? You know, every now and then some movie star guy or male model will come in and put the big make on her. I used to be fuming, sitting at the bar-watching. But it doesn’t bother me anymore because I know that if they get too friendly Sonia is just going to blow them away like they were kids looking in a candy store window-makes them absolutely nuts. Their egos can’t take it.’

Rick saw Sonia out of the corner of his eye. She was talking to a table of suits-Wall Street brokers with suspenders and large expense accounts. Sonia had a bright mischievous grin on her face as she spoke directly to the men, her sensuality spilling over, cloaking them like melting chocolate on a sultry day. The men were listening carefully, all ears and eyes.

Rick thought that she could read the phone book to the guys and they would pay rapt attention. He had never known a woman who could be fully dressed, completely covered with clothes and look so naked and sexy. Rick stared at Sonia and wondered if other men thought the same thing about the buttons running down the length of her dress. When she came near, he had all he could do to keep his hands from touching the buttons, wanting to undo each one, slowly, while looking into her eyes. As a matter of fact, by God, a good idea, he would have to get Sonia into the office later, have her sit on the desk, facing him.

Larry stood up from the bar, interrupting Rick’s thoughts. ‘Some people have to go to work in the morning. Hey, isn’t that the police commissioner by the window? What’s this place coming to- a downtown Elaines?’

‘Yeah, without the attitude. Joe comes in at least once a week.’

‘So it’s Joe is it? Not Commissioner Policarpio?’ Is that how you picked up the carry license? Good friends are we?’

Rick merely shrugged his shoulders. ‘The commissioner’s from New Jersey- like me. I know him a long time. Every now and then we play golf together. Actually Joe plays and I just bang my ball along and try to keep up with him.’

‘I wondered how you got the name of that special last week. Shrimp Scampi Policarpo; what was that?’

‘Joe came in one day and made shrimp with roasted garlic and serrano peppers, fabulous. The guy’s a hell of a cook.’

‘Motherfucker’ echoed through the room. The voice came from a crowd at the bar. Joy the bartender glanced uncomfortably in Rick’s direction.

Rick stood up.

‘I told this cocksucker off but good.’ Again words spoken too loudly.

‘Larry go to the bathroom and wash your hands or something.’ Rick pushed his bar stool away.

‘Why?’

‘Can you be a witness and still represent me?’

‘Rick, don’t start.’

‘This is my home.’

Rick walked rapidly towards a group of five men. They wore open shirts, gold chains hung from a few of their necks. White guys from across the river- Brooklyn or New Jersey, half in the bag and surely in the wrong place.

‘Gentlemen, I want you to have a good time but you have to knock off the language and keep it down.’ Rick didn’t bother to introduce himself. It was apparent who he was.

‘Why?’ the biggest guy spoke. A man that was a smaller version stood between him and Rick. The smaller guy went two hundred pounds at least and had a short sleeved shirt exposing pumped up biceps.

‘There’s couples having dinner here and women too. This isn’t a bar. It’s a restaurant.’

‘This isn’t a bar?’ The larger man slurred his words as he tapped a finger on the zinc-topped bar.

Joy started clearing away the men’s beer bottles and drinks. It was one of the first things you learned as a bartender. Take away anything a customer could throw or use for violence.

Rick had positioned himself well. The men were in a line at the bar. There was room for them to head for the door if they wanted to leave and they could not surround him. They were lined up nicely in a row in front of him.

‘I’m sorry but I’m going to ask you all to leave now. Don’t worry about the check.’ Rick spoke slowly and distinctly.

In one second Rick was going to cold-cock the first guy, knocking him into the big one behind him. Rick was going to step in and punch the big guy right in the face before he knew what happened and maybe the third guy too if he looked like he wanted some. The other two guys would suddenly start to think things over -not be such wise asses.

Out of the corner of his eye, Rick saw Sonia coming over. God Damn it, not now Sonia, Rick thought.

Sonia strolled to the center of the group, a huge smile on her face. She crooked a finger at them in a come with me gesture, nodding her head for them to follow her as she walked away. The men forgot all about Rick for the moment and followed the spectacular looking woman. Sonia walked out the front door and onto the sidewalk with the men close behind.

‘God Damn it,’ Rick exclaimed. He could see Sonia through the large front window, still smiling, talking earnestly to the men. In a few minutes she came inside while the men stood there for a second before wandering away.

‘Jesus Christ. I told you not to do that anymore.’

‘Oh, would you rather have a law suit or may be go to the hospital?’

Larry was back at the bar. ‘What did you tell those guys?’

Sonia shrugged her shoulders. It was no big deal to her. ‘I said they looked like real nice guys…’

‘Yeah, right. I’ve seen better looking serial killers.’ Rick was still annoyed.

Sonia ignored him. ‘And that they were acting badly and that I was not used to that kind of language and they should go home now.’

It was hard to argue with her, Rick thought. She had done this before and it always worked. Hell, who wouldn’t follow her if she asked them to and they were out the door before they realized what had happened. Would these tough guys realize the next morning that they had been thrown out by a girl half their size and out smarted to boot?

Larry headed towards the door. ‘Wonders never cease. Keep me informed as to what’s happening. Thanks for dinner.’

Rick walked him to the front of the store. Blossom held up the phone and nodded her head to Rick.

Rick took the receiver, ‘Rick speaking.’

A bright cheery voice came on the line. ‘Hi Rick, it’s Eve, how are you?’

A stabbing pain shot thought Rick’s head. He hated talking to his ex-wife. She always sounded so happy and self-satisfied.

‘I drove by the other day and I saw that you took down the stained-glass picture from behind the bar.’

‘Yeah, it just didn’t go with the new decorations and Asian-American food.’ Rick had bought the colorful piece, an Art-Deco bowl of fruit design, in Lillian Nassau’s on 57th Street.

‘Well, I’m redecorating my loft and I could use it. Where is it now?’

‘It’s in storage and you already got half the furniture, not to mention my car and the loft too.’ Rick was disgusted every time he remembered it.

‘I bet I know where it is. Why don’t you just let me have it?’

‘I’ll think about it.’ Rick slammed down the phone without saying goodbye. She had cheated on him during their marriage, divorced him, got a cash settlement and two years later was still asking for things. Fucking amazing, he thought.

He looked around the room for Sonia. The place was starting to empty out now. It was two A.M. already. Sonia was at the bar, relaxing with a slight smile on her face. She had just decided that the hooker look was more her style.

Stickman's thoughts:

Getting even better!