THE DUKE

Part XXIX

Work at the club was different.  Darren could sense it as soon as he walked in.  The waitresses did not look at him or talk to him.  It was like he was not there at all. Normally, their chatter was all over the place, since there were, as yet, no customers to remain silent around.  And that chatter always included him until now.  Darren felt his importance had grown too rapidly and too high, so they were afraid of him, and could no longer assign the lowest tasks to him.  After about fifteen minutes of grousing around to himself, having nothing to do, he walked back to Sergeant Cross’s office and stuck his head around the edge of the door jam.

“Dinner service begins in an hour and a half,” he said.

Sergeant Cross looked up from the paperwork he’d been paying attention to.

“Yes,” he replied, his expression blank.

“Ah, is there something you want me to do between now and then?” Darren asked, embarrassed that he was even asking the question.

“Do whatever you want to do, but be back in time to cover the dinner load,” Cross said, going back to looking down at the surface of his desk.

Darren couldn't believe his ears.  Sergeant Cross didn't care if he stayed at the club or left until dinner service.  That was simply unheard of unless someone took ill or was injured.

“I need the hours, so I can’t punch out,” Darren replied, knowing that it was also a terminal or mortal sin not to be on-premises when punched in.

“So, do what you feel is right,” Cross said, “and close the door.”

He walked through the restaurant until he got to the back door.  Darren didn’t go through it and then turned and entered the kitchen.  Wu was working away behind his array of big iron stoves and steel plate ovens.  He didn’t hear Darren enter so he simply stood and waited.  The place was a wonder of great aromas, cooking noises from open fires, and sizzling meats and vegetables.  Until working in the kitchen, Darren never understood just how much cooking had to be done before the dinner customers ever arrived.  Fully sixty percent of the meals the club offered on the menu was at least half-cooked long before a real customer walked in the doors.

“What, you Elvis boy,” Wu shouted through the smoke pervading the place and the din of so many pots and pans heating and producing cooked products.

The gas fires in the stoves alone made it difficult to converse in the jammed together space.

“Anything you want me to do, Wu?” Darren yelled at the short Chinaman through cupped hands.

“You make Wu famous,” Wu said, with a giant smile on his face.  “Whole family know I meeting Elvis, and soon will become famous.”

Darren sighed, but silently, and only to himself.  The pressure and expectation Wu was evidencing and laying down upon me was the same as so many others were also only too happy to apply.

Darren backed up, and the spring-loaded swinging door opened, then closed as he exited, first the door, then the hall, and then out through the back entrance to the club.  He had an hour and a half to kill and he knew where he needed to go.

As Darren walked toward Jimmy’s house I had to smile. For the first time in his life, he was being paid not to work, and in fact, he was being paid to entertain himself anyway that he wanted.

Jimmy was home, practicing on his organ. He was playing Beethoven’s Ninth, one of my all-time favorites, even when played on an organ. Darren heard the music from a block away, and always wondered how he got away with playing so often and so loud in a military officer compound. Darren's parents wouldn’t even allow him to play his small transistor radio outside the confines of our home, and the neighborhood was a hundred percent civilian.

Darren realized that he was not his usual excited and expressive self, as he entered Jimmy’s front door. Things were reaching a critical state and some sort of climax was in the distance, and the distance was one not far off.

Jimmy stopped playing the organ, said hello, and then led Darren out of the house into the front yard.

“Well?” he asked, but said no more, taking a seat on the top step of the stairs leading down to the sidewalk.

“Well, what?” Darren replied, knowing full well that Jimmy was excited to know about the likelihood of the coming Elvis meeting, and also Darren’s meeting with Mrs. Levy, and all of the likely lurid details.

There was a moment of silence between them.

“When’s the meeting?” Jimmy asked, finally, “and don’t give me that “what meeting’ crap. If there was to be no meeting, then you’d be hiding in some hole somewhere licking your wounds. When did she arrange it for?”

Darren hated for Jimmy to be able to read him so well, but there was nothing to be done for it.

“Okay, it’s set for Friday,” Darren replied, a bit dejectedly.

“We can do that, but why us, why are we being invited over again?” Jimmy asked.

“So we can talk Elvis into doing the party,” Darren responded, not understanding what Jimmy was talking about.

“She shouldn’t need us,” Jimmy said. “Why doesn’t she ask Elvis herself, on our behalf of course. It seems that she has a pretty powerful ability to reach him right through or around the colonel and his other handlers. Why us?”

“I don’t know,” Darren replied, thinking about the lack of logic that seemed to prevail over everything they did to try to arrange the special party.

“The truth is in the detail,” Jimmy exclaimed, pointing upward with his right index finger and making his eyes grow big and round, like some mad scientist.

“Tell me about the meeting you had with Mrs. Levy, and don’t leave out a single detail,” Jimmy said.

Darren cringed inside. Talking about Mrs. Levy and the meeting he’d had with her wasn’t something he wanted to do, partly because he felt that Jimmy would repeat every word to Star or worse; make Darren tell Star in person.

“I’d rather not discuss it,” Darren said, about to go on before Jimmy stopped him cold.

“Really, the last time you revealed all. Star and I were able to guide you through the roiled up and troubled waters stirring all around you. It’s obvious.”

“Obvious?” Darren said, a small bit of anger coming through in his tone.

“Yes, obvious,” Jimmy replied, “like figuring out that the meeting was a success and it now seems likely there actually may be a party,” Jimmy said, before stopping to look over at his friend. “You met, and she did it again.”

“What again,” Darren shot back. “You can’t know what happened because you weren’t there.

“All I have to do is listen to you and look at you,” Jimmy replied. “You’re a mess of pouting expression and you don’t look too good either. And what the hell are you doing here when you’re supposed to be at work?”

Darren was relieved to have the subject changed.

“I’m paid now to do whatever I want until it’s time for customers to show up at the club,”

“What?” Jimmy said, shock in his voice. “Cross runs that place like a well-oiled Swiss watch, built and operated by Germans. I would never have imagined that you could have so much power over him.”

“Or, when I fail, I’ll have so much anger directed toward me,” Darren replied with a voice almost too low to hear, staring down at the red dirt patches among the rough badly kept grass between the sidewalk and the curb.

“Give it up and tell me,” Jimmy said, “and don’t be so afraid of everything. She’s only a middle-aged woman of great beauty and sexuality, and you’re a twerp of a teenage kid. What can happen there?”

“What do you mean, what can happen?” Darren blurted out. “What if I have to, well, do something with her because of the favors she’s doing for me?”

Jimmy got to his feet and started to laugh out loud. “I can’t believe it. You date the girl with the biggest chest on all of Oahu, and then her beautiful mother takes a shine to you. What kind of dream life are you living that you somehow have come to believe it’s not a dream but a nightmare?”

“Joe Pillsbury,” Darren replied, glumly.

“Who the heck is that?” Jimmy asked. “And what does he have to do with anything?”

“She’s dating Joe Pillsbury of the Pillsbury flour company or something like that,” Darren said. “He’s probably fabulously wealthy, and going to the same rich people’s college on the mainland that she’s going to.”

“Mrs. Levy told you that?” Jimmy said, his laughter fading away.

“Mrs. Levy dumped me,” Darren finally got out.

“Mrs. Levy dumped you?” Jimmy’s tone had gone from caring to humor once more. “That’s so cool. Did she keep all her clothes on this time?”

“That’s not funny,” Darren replied.

“Well, something sure as heck happened in that house,” Jimmy said. “What was it?”

“It was no big deal,” Darren replied, standing to join his friend on the main surface of the porch. “She gave me a hug, that’s all,” he finished, after a pause of a few seconds.

“Ah, the hug,” Jimmy laughed again. “You just gave it away. That little delay before you answered and your ruffled state, reveal it all. That was some hug, I’ll bet.”

“It was too long, too tight and she was just like in me or on me even though we were standing in the kitchen.” Darren gushed the words out, spoken almost too fast to be understood. “I couldn’t go home when I got off because my mom would show up from work and smell Mrs. Levy’s perfume all over the house. The perfume’s all over me. If I work the night, then I can take a dip in the pool afterward with my clothes on. The chlorine will fix everything.”

Jimmy leaned toward his friend.

Darren jumped back. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Hmmm,” Jimmy murmured, you do smell pretty good.Diorling Perfume

“It’s called Diorling. The perfume. Judy wears it sometime. It’s way too expensive for my mom ever to have or use it. If she wore the same stuff as my mom, then there’d be no problem.

“You worry about the strangest of things,” Jimmy said.

“You know my family, so how can you say that?” Darren replied.

“Good point,” Jimmy concluded. “You better get back to work. Don’t take any favors from Cross. If he lets you go then you stay. It’ll make him think you are contributing when you don’t have to, and you are dependable and a team player. You don’t want to owe him anything if this goes south.”

“Hey,” Darren said, with a hurt tone, “I’m all of those things.

“Ha!” Jimmy exclaimed. You contribute nothing, you’re undependable as heck and you don’t know what a team is. You have a great memory so everyone thinks you’re smart, that’s all.”

“I’m as smart as you,” Darren replied, stung by his friend’s analysis.

“Oh, really?” Jimmy asked. “How about Star Black?”

“That’s not fair,” Darren said, “she’s smarter than both of us put together, but she’s a girl.”

“But?” Jimmy replied, instantly. “I think her being a girl is pretty terrific.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” Darren got out, but his voice had become weaker as he spoke.

“We’re not done with that subject,” Jimmy said, “and I’m headed over there right now. I’ll drop you at the club. Star’s brain is the best among us, of that there’s no question, so she gets to know everything so she can advise us on how to proceed, and guess what, she’s a girl, advising us about girls. Go figure.”

The Corvair started without any trouble. It started so quickly that the starter motor caught for a few seconds and spun so fast it whined.

Darren had his front shotgun seat back, and he smiled to himself with satisfaction.

“Maybe the car doesn’t like Star,” he said, although his words were lost, as Jimmy took the Spyder’s turbo motor up to maximum R.P.M.

The Cannon Club was the same as he’d left it. When he entered through the real alley door, Darren was ready. Ready for whatever Cross might say, and ready for whatever the women making up the rest of the wait staff probably would not say. He knew he somehow, by accident, stepped into some sort of Twilight Zone sort of existence in their minds. He was neither one of them nor one of management. He was alone. He noted to himself, ruefully, that the Twilight Zone television shows he so loved were shows where a whole different story was told, beginning to end, in only half an hour. When would his own show be done?

Darren went into the steaming hot kitchen so see Wu, but Wu was too busy to bother with him, ignoring his presence almost completely while he bent over his cooking instruments, tables, and devices. He looked up once, while Darren tried to figure out how he was going to kill most of an hour.

“Pot washa, no show,” Wu yelled at him as if somehow Darren had been morphed into Sergeant Cross. Wu went back to work without saying anything else. Darren looked over at the stack of pots. Usually, the pot washer did half the pots at night and soaked the difficult ones for washing the next day, well before dinner service time. Darren knew the routine well because it was behind that sink, below that shower spigot, and in that heat that he’d begun his employment at the club.

He moved to the area, examined the pots, and then moved to begin work. He challenged himself to finish all the pots before it was his time to turn into the busboy he really was.

Darren began to feel better about life the longer and harder he worked. Pot washing was a life-leveler. He had no status, he was covered in food smells of all kinds, and the pots neither hugged him nor asked him to arrange parties for them.

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