The plates and flatware are big and solid, like the short wide glasses from which men in suits drink single-malt Scotch, or bourbon. The women with those men might be older and elegant, or young and hot, or something in between . . . David's is the place where a woman is special simply because she is a woman; one feels it the instant one sets foot inside. It's an institution from a simpler time, and going there one is starkly reminded of what has been lost in the process of making all those gains.
We're shown to our table, and perhaps it's the candlelight but King looks very good tonight. He keeps in shape and dresses well, so he always looks pretty decent, but tonight he looks better. I muse that we must make a handsome couple -- Me in a little black dress and pearls -- I saw us turn a head or two as we made our way through the restaurant, and in this crowd that's looking very good.
I look at the menu but it's just to have something in My hands -- I know exactly what I'm having -- David's dry-aged porterhouse and a baked potato the size of My niece's head. King orders scotch and I order a martini, and the waiter sweeps away as if on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport.
It's one of those times when there is something to be said both for taking on the subject head on and for very slowly inching one's way up to it. I decide to take the slow approach -- having a bad time at David's would be criminal, and besides, I was open to the (slight) possibility that King had a good reason for not telling Me he'd gone legit.
I looked up from the menu and smiled. "They say that in the old days, they'd give the woman a menu with no prices on it, like in the classic French places."
King smiled as the waiter brought our drinks and swept away, knowing with a good waiter's innate sense that we weren't ready to order just yet.
"A quaint custom . . . no longer necessary in these enlightened times, we're led to believe. Of course it was a money-maker, too . . . if one party is ordering without regard to price it probably boosts the bottom line a bit."
We raised our glasses in a perfunctory toast and I sipped the martini . . . savoring that beautiful clean dryness, finished off with subtle herbal notes. I am not a regular martini drinker but there is something magical about a really well-made one, now and then.
I nodded in return. "Well, there is that aspect . . . ironic that it helps the bottom line to keep the woman in the dark." I tried to deliver that line as innocently as possible.
King didn't bat an eye. "In the dark? I thought the idea was to give the woman the freedom to delight herself, unencumbered by financial considerations." I wasn't the only one who could deliver a good line innocently. And suddenly it seemed as though we were talking about envelopes . . .
I took another drink from My glass. "But some women delight in overcoming those . . . financial considerations." I paused a moment. "And some men, too."
King looked at Me blankly, for just a second.
I smiled. "You know what I mean. Most men . . . don't want to win if the game is rigged in their favor -- they lose interest eventually. They seek out the fair game, where the challenges are greater, but the rewards are infinitely more satisfying."
King suppressed a chuckle with a swig of scotch. "Do tell." It doesn't matter now if he thinks he's humoring Me. I forge head in the direction of the point of this dinner.
"Well, suppose a man is . . . a gangster, for the sake of argument. The game is rigged in his favor . . . no one with half a brain loses money being a gangster. And such a man is not cut out to be a working stiff . . . but, the challenge of running a business . . . or businesses, totally on the up-and-up . . . without the game being rigged . . . one could see that being a huge challenge, with huge personal rewards, not necessarily monetary in nature. At least not solely monetary."
I finished My drink. "And in the long run . . . safer."
The waiter appeared and we ordered our dinner -- I ordered another one of those transcendent martinis.
King's expression suddenly turned philosophical. "Danger is something a young man doesn't think about. Nor is the future. Nor . . . loneliness. One ends up with everything one could want, but nothing that matters."
I am used to hearing lies. Acting jobs. Sales pitches. I am good at telling the truth from a lie, real emotion from sales pitch. I'm looking right at him and for the life of Me I can't tell if that was real or something King thought would sound good to throw Me off.
I hear Frankie Boots in My head: "Doll, when you can't be sure what's what -- just play along and see where it goes."
So I play it straight. "And what matters to you, King?"
King pauses a moment. It's not a studied pause -- he's genuinely considering the question.
"Living long enough to enjoy all this money I've made. Being able to do what I want without worrying so much about who wants a piece of Me. Not thinking about cops, Feds, and DAs with axes to grind. Doing what I like with my money, and, yes . . . making more of it with the game not being rigged, as you put it."
He's telling the truth. Martinis or not, I can tell.
"So why not tell Me, King? You know you could trust Me."
King's expression softens. "I know, X. I know. But I have found that there is a certain value in certain people thinking I am still in that 'rigged game.' Surely you can understand that."
I nodded. Really was self-evident - I shouldn't have needed to ask. Damned martinis!
"The killings -- I'm pretty sure you're not the target."
"I know I'm not." He paused to drink more scotch. "For a long time, X, I had to have that sixth sense about who wanted to do me harm and who didn't. I couldn't have survived without it. And I still have it. One benefit of that former life I don't mind retaining."
I want to talk about envelopes but King is rolling.
"Once you ruled out Bobby Astro, something fell into place for me. I realized that that world spins on its own axis. There are a few psychos who can't let go, but once you leave it, as long as you leave it the right way, it more or less goes it way and you go yours."
I sip the martini, wondering how many of these I can have and maintain My wits. Assuming I still had them.
"Then why . . . " He reads the question in My mind.
"Why all the envelopes? Well, it's not that I don't think the Blog City PD can solve this, X, but I trust you more than I trust them. I had too many of those clowns on my pad for too long . . . I know their limitations. I knew that you would work hard for the money, and these murders are happening at places I own . . . so I've got an interest in stopping them."
Smooth as silk he pulls an envelope and slides it across the table. I barely feel Myself taking it and slipping it into My little bag. The bastard is good.
The waiter appears with our food. King looks across the table at Me before he digs in. "Besides, it might be confusing if I gave you that later."