Normally by now I’d have figured out what the hell was going on at the museum, but since this isn’t going to be a book, I can just keep noodling around. Why can’t you just noodle around for a book? Because one of the many reasons people read fiction is to get a tidier version of reality. A book that just meanders, listening to people talk, gets annoying very quickly. This stuff is starting to annoy, especially since every scene with Seb in it has the same damn dialogue–Structure Rule #47 You Cannot Arc What You Do Not Know–but I’m getting the impression that you’re reading these more as short stories than pieces of a novel, so that’s good.
Still, I am feeling the need to put some grit in the oyster, so to speak, so when a new character showed up out of nowhere, I noodled.
I have a rule about not adding new characters after the first act, or at least no characters that haven’t been introduced or foreshadowed. No idea what most of the turning points are yet because I have no idea what the damn plot is, but I like the idea of Lily and Fin ending the first act with their fall, so I’m thinking the Guy in the Black Suit has to show up before Fin gives her the glasses, lurking in the background of some of the scenes you’ve already read. Well, I knew I had to add some diner regulars, so those add-a-character rewrites were always in the cards. But as rough structure, the beginning pieces in today’s stuff happens before the end of Act One, then Lily goes to give the glasses back at the end of Act One, then the rest of this stuff is in Act Two.
See, I have a plan. Kinda. Here, have a new character. Still no plot, and none of the pieces below are complete scenes, so this stuff goes nowhere, but since it was in my brain . . .
Cheryl caught Lily at the end of the dinner rush on Tuesday night. “New guy at booth one. What do you think?”
Lily looked over and saw a middle-aged man in a black suit with his back against the wall in the first booth, definitely not the usual Surprise customer. Well-dressed, moderately attractive in a stern way, sharp-featured, his hair graying at the sides, his jawline still mostly close to the bone.
“Professor?” Lily said, and then looked closer and thought, No. Professors came in all sizes and styles, but they usually did not have dead eyes. This guy looked like he’d risen from the grave. “Kind of grim.”
“Carrying, too,” Cheryl said.
Lily looked at her, wide-eyed. “He has a gun?”
“Shoulder holster.” Cheryl patted her shoulder. “He’s not going to rob us, he’s not the type.”
“Oh, well, that’s good to know,” Lily said. “How about going nuts and shooting up the place?”
“Nah,” Cheryl said. “He’s not crazy. I know crazy. He’s calm and hungry. So we feed him and he goes away.” She turned back to the kitchen. “He’s probably just a hit man, and nobody here has annoyed anybody enough to get killed.”
Lily looked at the black suit guy. “I might have. Seb’s pretty upset and his uncle is in a snit.”
“Louis?” Cheryl snorted. “Louis wouldn’t have the balls to put out a contract.”
“Seb might,” Lily said.
“We should do something about Seb,” Cheryl said, and put the black suit’s order in.
The next night, Fin sat down across from the black suit.
The suit regarded him calmly.
“The gun,” Fin said carefully, “is alarming the waitresses.”
“The redhead,” the suit said.
“Yes,” Fin said.
“The little blonde doesn’t appear concerned.”
“It takes a lot to knock Cheryl off her game.”
“Tell the redhead not to worry,” the suit said. “I’m not here for her.”
“If you could leave the gun at home,” Fin began, and the suit shook his head slowly. “Look–”
“Your name is Thorfin Anderson, an illustrator, presently finishing a commission for a writer named Stephen Corrigan. The man sitting with you is your brother, Bjorn, who works at the university, lecturer in literature. The little blonde is Cheryl Frey and she owns this restaurant. The redhead is her cousin, Lilyanne Frey. You come here to look at Lilyanne. None of you are part of my current plan. You are safe to go about your business. Nothing will happen to you.”
“Story of my life,” Fin said.
At eleven, Lily took the trash out to the dumpster, and Seb stepped out from behind it as she threw the bags in.
“We need to talk,” he said, no smiles or faux charm this time, although it was hard to see him in the dark. Then he looked past her. “What do you want?”
Lily turned and saw the guy in the black suit coming toward them out of the darkness, looking at Seb with those flat black eyes.
She stepped back, trying to think of something soothing to say so she could get out from between them.
“You are Sebastian Lewis,” the suit said. “You work at the teaching museum, under your uncle, Louis Lewis. You once worked beside Miss Frey, but since she is now on leave, there is no reason for you to talk to her. Do not annoy her again.”
Seb looked at her. “You hired a bodyguard?”
“I don’t think so,” Lily said.
“Miss Frey and I are in a relationship,” Seb said.
“No, we’re not,” Lily said.
“We could be,” Seb said, exasperated, “if you’d just listen to me.”
“No.” Lily turned back to the suit. “Thank you very much for wanting to help, but I can handle this.”
“I don’t want to help,” the suit said. “I want to talk to Sebastian Lewis.”
“Oh.” Lily looked back at Seb. “We’re not going to find his body in the Dumpster later, are we?”
“No,” the suit said.
“Well, then, I’ll just get back to work,” Lily said, and set off at a fast clip for the kitchen door.
When she got there, she looked back.
The suit was standing close to Seb, who for once was looking unsure of himself.
Hell, she thought, and went in and told Cheryl, who went out to the counter and told Fin and Bjorn–“They’re Vikings, this is what they live for”—who went out and came back to report an empty parking lot.
“Did you look in the Dumpster?” Cheryl said.
“Yes,” Bjorn said. “No body.”
“Pity,” Cheryl said and went back to work.
“So how is Viking sex?” Cheryl said Sunday night, when the three of them were on her couch, eating Van’s signature Four-Cheese-and-Five-Vegetables-To-Be-Named-Later pizza and ignoring Netflix.
“I’m happy,” Van said.
“It’s very good.” Lily picked up a piece of pizza.
“Really?” Cheryl said. “Better than Seb?”
“Of course,” Lily said.
“Because you used to be fairly enthusiastic about Seb.”
Lily nodded. “In the beginning,” she said around her pizza.
Van and Cheryl looked at each other and then back at Lily.
“What happened?” Van said.
Lily chewed and frowned. “After the first month, it began to dawn on me that I was mostly there as an audience.”
Van stopped chewing. “He didn’t pay attention?”
“No, he did,’ Lily said, trying to be fair. “He always cared that I was getting there. It’s just that after a while I realized that he cared because he wanted the applause, not because he wanted me satisfied. It was an ego thing.”
Van went back to her pizza. “Isn’t it always?”
“No,” Lily said. “Is it with Bjorn?”
Van looked thoughtful as she chewed. “Little bit, maybe. I think it’s a different side to entertainment.”
“Entertainment?” Cheryl said. “I’ve always found sex entertaining. Well, there were a couple of guys who closed early, but in general.”
“Bjorn’s not looking for applause, but he wants me entertained. He wants me happy.” Van took another bite. “I usually don’t laugh that much during sex, but with him . . .” She thought for a moment as she chewed “For him, sex is fun. It’s play. I mean, he gets serious at the end, but I don’t see him ever getting dark and dangerous.”
“Not a 9 ½ Weeks kind of guy, huh?” Lily said.
Cheryl frowned. “I hate that movie. Don’t leave the refrigerator door open, people, it’s bad for the appliance.”
Vanessa nodded. “Sex combined with food is probably Bjorn’s idea of paradise. Mostly there’s just no ego there. It’s amusement park sex. Enjoy the ride and laugh with me.” She tilted her head to look at them. “It’s actually really good. I’m always happier after I’ve been with him. I take all the tense stuff to his apartment, and he makes it go away without getting heavy about it. I think the laughing might be as much of a relief as the sex.” She thought about it. “No, the sex is more, but the laughing is great. I really like him.”
“That’s it?” Lily said. “Like?”
“We’ve both been through some stuff,” Van said. “We’re just looking for a clean, well-lighted place to come our brains out, so we’re both content with like.”
Lily nodded. “Fin worries about him, but he’s trying to keep his hands off.”
“Which is easier now that he’s got his hands on you,” Van said. “You haven’t said much about him.”
“There’s not a lot to say.”
“Oh,” Van said.
“No,” Lily said. “It’s good. It’s very good. Good solid sex.”
Van shook her head and picked up another piece of pizza. “Boring.”
Lily frowned. “I got tired of Seb’s big productions, the whole ‘let’s try this,’ always looking to up his game, after a while it was just exhausting. Fin is not exhausting. Fin is satisfying. And . . . safe. If I wanted anything more, he’d give it to me, but right now, I just want good, solid, head-banging sex with a guy I trust.” She picked up another piece of pizza. “I have come to the conclusion that exciting is often not good. When I was younger, exciting was . . . exciting. Now it’s just annoying. I want my pulse racing, but not because I’m anxious or tense. I want it racing because I’m with a guy who’s everything I’ve ever wanted and who gives me everything I’ve ever needed.”
“Whoa,” Van said.
“Yeah.” Lily considered what she’d just said. “I may have overstated that. It’s just hard to say ‘He’s better than exciting.’ Because he is exciting. It’s just a quiet kind of exciting. Deep exciting. Steady exciting.”
“Contradiction in terms,” Van said around her pizza.
“And yet, still true. This is really good pizza.”
“All my pizzas are really good.”
“I know,” Lily said, “but it’s important not to take any of them for granted. This is very good pizza, and we should pay attention and not take for granted that since it’s your pizza, of course it will be good.”
“Kind of like the guys,” Van said.
“Yes. They are good guys. We should not take for granted.”
Van nodded. “Good point.”
Lily looked over at Cheryl. “You have become uncharacteristically quiet.”
“I’m thinking about having sex again,” Cheryl said.
Van raised her eyebrows. “Got anybody in mind?”
Cheryl frowned. “Maybe the black suit.”
“The hired killer?”
Cheryl shook her head. “I may have jumped to a conclusion there. I think he’s the law.”
Lily sat up. “The law?”
Cheryl shrugged. “Our choices are gun nut, hired killer, and the law. He’s not paranoid or a braggart and he does not appear to be compensating for a small penis, so that leaves either a hired killer or the law. And I don’t see hired killers hanging around for three weeks, asking for the ketchup.”
“The law seems more credible,” Van agreed. “I don’t think there are that many hit men just floating around.”
“It is New Jersey,” Cheryl pointed out. “But yeah, odds are he’s law.”
“So what is he doing here?” Lily said.
“Eating dinner,” Cheryl said. “Appreciating the pie. Possibly having sex with me.”
“So he’s got a full schedule,” Van said.
“The days are just packed,” Lily said.
Cheryl looked thoughtful and then nodded. “I will have to consider him. In the meantime, give me the basics about your love lives so I know if I approve. Do the Anderson boys go down?”
“Yes,” Lily said.
“With enthusiasm,” Van said.
“Do they get the job done?”
“Absolutely,” Van said.
“I’m responsible for my own orgasm,” Lily said.
“Do you have to be?” Cheryl said.
“No. Fin’s very good at completion.”
“Are they carping, critical, or controlling?”
“Most laid-back guy I’ve ever slept with,” Van said.
“Very open-minded,” Lily said. “Sex-positive. Hung like a . . .”
“Yes?” Cheryl said.
“ . . . a well-hung person.”
“You may sleep with them,” Cheryl said grandly.
“Thanks, boss,” Van said.
“Wait’ll I tell Fin,” Lily said. “He’ll be so happy.”
Cheryl nodded. “Now all I have to do is get the law into bed.”
“It’s a two-part process,” Lily said.
“You start by telling him you’re not a creeper pervert,” Van said.
“I don’t like to lie,” Cheryl said. “Can I just tell him I’m not a creeper?”
“Sure,” Lily said. “You do you.”
The next evening, the guy in the black suit motioned Lily over. He was looking a little confused, but then he’d just talked to Cheryl, so not surprising.
“Yes?” Lily said, bringing the coffee pot with her.
“The little blonde waitress just told me she’s not a creeper.”
“That’s Cheryl,” Lily said. “The creeper thing is the first part of a two-part pass.”
“I see,” the black suit said. “What’s the second part?”
“She asks you if you want to have sex. I’m Lily, by the way. And you are?”
He nodded. “Arthur Mortimer. Pleased to meet you. She couldn’t have started with the second part?”
“She wants you to feel safe.”
He regarded her for a moment. “Why wouldn’t I feel safe?”
“Cheryl is a very interesting woman,” Lily said. “But she does have an edge.”
“I live on the edge,” Mortimer said, deadpan.
“Well, play your cards right and you can have sex there, too.”
“Really.” He looked back at Cheryl, now explaining mindfulness to a very confused older couple. “What kind of cards am I holding, Lily?”
“All aces, Mr. Mortimer,” Lily said. “You don’t have a heart condition, do you?”
“Just checking. Very few of her lovers stroke out.”
“Good to know.”
Lily filled his coffee cup and went back behind the counter, leaving him looking bemused.
“What were you doing with my prey?” Cheryl said.
“Setting up your next move,” Lily said. “His name is Arthur Mortimer. Go ask if he wants to.”
“That fast?” Cheryl nodded. “I like this two-part pass thing. It’s efficient.”
Fin and Bjorn came in and Lily moved down the counter to them. “You’re late.”
“Sorry, Mom,” Bjorn said. “We had things to do.”
Lily leaned across the counter and Fin leaned, too, and she kissed him. “You can do me later,” she whispered.
“Planning on it,” Fin said. “What’s new?”
“The guy in the black suit is Arthur Mortimer, and Cheryl’s going to have sex with him.”
“Does he know?”
“Yes. She told him she wasn’t a creeper, and I tipped him that sex was next. She’ll be completing the pass shortly.”
“This diner is going to get a lot more popular once people figure out the special,” Fin said.