The Case of the Fiery Grillman

A Portland Restaurant Mystery - 1979


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#5 In which We Meet the Crew

After the night of three, as he thought of it, Paul Tomaso fought his way through a week that longed for the past tense, convinced that some cosmic law must dictate that pleasure be counter-balanced by an equal amount of torment. Raina worked an early shift Tuesday night and marched through the red front doors directly to the kitchen, the anger in her blue eyes softened by the ambiguity of their relationship and her own adventures. She shook her head. “Ditched for the bitch. It’s a low blow, Paul, but I could see it coming. Has she screwed you over yet? No? Well, that’s coming, too. Remember what I said; she comes off all smiley and sophisticated but she’ll stab you in the back every time.”

An hour later, Djuna walked in through the same double doors, going instead to the bar where she blew Johnny a kiss. Raina was waiting at the kitchen window for a sautéed mushroom appetizer. “I’m telling you, Paul, she’s no good. I’ll bet you the biscotti, the Chianti, the cannoli, and a frothy homemade cappuccino she goes home with Johnny.” When Paul said nothing, she added, “No faith in your new girlfriend? Well, maybe she’s a low stakes kind of gal. How about a bottle of cheap Chianti? No? Well, at least you did one smart thing this week.”

Raina finished early that night and settled at the bar with Bags, her drinking buddy. From the kitchen, Paul could see them across the darkened room, silhouetted by spotlights hanging low. Whenever Djuna passed, Raina pantomimed opening wine with a corkscrew. Once, Bags roared loud enough for Paul to hear, “Wouldn’t bet a bottle of cheap Chianti.”

Bags was the waiter Paul liked least. He had a long, thin, red face, a pointed nose and a protruding chin that made it seem like he had taken a crowbar across the kisser. He called himself “a lifer”, someone who wasn’t going to be an actor or a singer but would always be a waiter. During training, he introduced himself to the cooks. “Randy Bogges,” he said, “but my friends call me Bags.”

Paranoia - A short story

On The Grey Flag

The old lady was staring at her. She knew it.

Four months ago, Julia had married the love of her life. Her husband, Mike had just been named head curator at the art museum where he was working in. She was three months pregnant with a boy they would call Joey and after Joey is born she would quit that stressful writing job of hers to be a full-time housewife. Nothing could go wrong in her perfect life.

The day it arrived, Julia and Mike were busy unpacking their luggage from their trip to Venice when the doorbell rang. Julia ran out to get the door and when she opened it and looked down, there it was.

The package was encased by a bubble wrap, with an additional layer of plastic over it. At first glance it was about two feet tall and one foot wide. Julia carried it into the living room and unwrapped it. The rectangular wooden frame in the package was old, but kept in good condition. Flakes of the golden paint that coated it were coming off but it was still a beautiful frame, with very fine carvings of flowers at its corners. But Julia didn’t notice that, her eyes were fixed on the painting in the frame.

It was a portrait of an old lady who looked almost in her eighties. She had a sharp chin and high cheekbones and her pale skin was weathered and covered in wrinkles. The old lady’s graying hair was tied up in a bun and over it she wore a white bonnet. She had a hooked nose, almost too big for her face, with a sharp tip like the beak of a hawk. Below that nose she had very thin and dry lips. The edges of her mouth slanted slightly upward, giving her a smile that looked more like a smirk to Julia.

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