TW: Swearing and sexual references.
Reaching across the table, Darius told the first lie of the evening to his date.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone looking as beautiful as you do now in my entire life.” In his mind, the image of a girl from his high school superimposed itself over the woman smiling in candlelight. “I love that dress,” he said, entirely indifferent to the rich blue she wore.
“How did you find this place?” She asked, tucking curled chocolate locks behind her ear. A sparkling earing revealed as her lobe emerged from her hair. The gemstone caught the orange light of the flame one dozens of faces.
“I used to walk past it on my way to work.” He shows her a Rolex on his wrist as if it wasn’t meant to peak from the cuff of his shirt. “When you said yes, I thought of this place straight away.” For once Darius was telling the truth. He liked that restaurant, mostly because the fire escape was around a corner by the toilets.
“It’s nice,” she said, biting her lip. Smooth jazz began playing from speakers hidden in the wooden rafters. She looked up.
“They got to my request,” he said as if the song was his idea, “I thought it would set the mood.”
“And what mood is that?” Her eyes shone with excitement. He could practically smell her pheromones over the burning wax.
“Intimate. Romantic. A mood worthy of a beauty like you.” He’d used that line before. It didn’t matter the song, if the girl was into it.
“You said you’d travelled. Where have you been?” She asked. Her brilliant teeth reflected him a dozen times, each white pillar dazzling.
“Ladies first,” he said, wanting to know where she’d been before he stepped into a trap.
“Fine.” Dipping her head with a wider smile, she twirled a strand of hair around her index finger. “I’ve been to Thailand for a few weeks after high school. I visit my grandparents in Alaska every summer. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon.” She shrugged, flushed at her own innocence.
He’d never left the state. “I haven’t been to Thailand, but China, Japan, Korea, they were fun.” He let the words drip slowly. Casual bragging was an art he’d spent years mastering. Putting too much emphasis on anything aroused suspicion. If you said you’d done something cool, you had to moan about a downside to sell the lie.
“It was weird how like America Japan was. The trains were crazy though. So crowded. I had my head in this guy’s armpit during rush hour. Horrible.
China was just endless people. Amazing architecture though. And great food. Honestly though, it was a bit too much. Culture shock you know?” Nothing too specific. No detail that can be disproven.
“What was your favourite?” She asked, leaning on an elbow. Enraptured by his web of lies, she was on the edge of her seat. She rested her chin on her hand, a band of silver around the middle finger of her left hand. Silver or platinum?
“Honestly? Japan, mostly because when I wanted to, I could have MacDonald’s and pizza when I was getting homesick. Is that pathetic?” He feigned embarrassment.
“No. That’s sweet?” She put the ringed hand on his, reaching across the table. “Travelling is wonderful but also because it helps us appreciate everything we have back home. Where is, or was home for you before that?”
“Manhattan,” he said. Manhattan always sounded affluent, especially compared to Brooklyn, where he’d grown up helping his mother dodge bills and repossession.
“Wow,” letting go of his hand she sat back in the chair and curled her lip, raised one eyebrow, and nodded. “Very nice. Used to the finer things in life?”
“I wouldn’t say that. We lived in a basement apartment. It flooded twice. My mom worked hard to make sure I wouldn’t have to go through that. You went to Harvard, right?” He wanted to know before lying about his own education.
Shaking her head, she smiled. “Yale.”
“Shame. I was hoping we could reminisce about Harvard, I thought you’d said something about it in our texts. Never mind. You don’t want to talk about college.” Darius had flunked his college applications and decided to charm his way through the world with his bachelor’s degree from the School of Life.
Food arrived, both having lobster with crab and fresh scallops. The bread in baskets with each was piping hot. Uncultured as he was with many things, Darius had been running from restaurants long enough to crack lobster shell like a pro.
“Do you want a hand?” He offered, nodding to Jessica’s lobster. It slid between the metal clamps she was trying to crush it with.
“Thank you. Sorry. I’m so embarrassed.” She handed him the metal implement and pushed her plate across the table. Darius expertly split the shell and freed the meat for her.
“That’s alright. I do this a lot. Too often probably. Aquaman would hate me.”
“How can you be sure?” Jessica asked. “Maybe he would have spoken to that lobster and hated it. That lobster could have been a real piece of work.”
“You’re a comics fan?” He asked the first genuine question of the night.
“More the films, I really liked Jason Momoa, badass.” She chewed a bit of lobster and kept talking. “For all we know, this thing,” she held up her lobster, “was a scoundrel. Some womanising prick who never paid his way and left a trail of broken hearts in his wake.”
“I don’t think that’s how lobsters work,” Darius said, not sure how he had ended up talking about the social habits of crustaceans.
“We’ll never know now. All I can do is say thank you for your sacrifice and for bathing in butter before you boiled to death.” She winked at him. Darius started revising his estimations of her. It was almost a shame that he could never see her again. She wouldn’t want to date anyone who left her to foot the tab. He would never pay the tab if he could help it.
“Excuse me? Can we have some champagne?” He looked at the waiter, who nodded and reached for the drinks menu.
“Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.” Jessica raised her glass of water before taking a sip.
“Is that from Happy Endings?” He asked of the show he’d watched instead of studying for his high school exams.
“No. It’s a song by Fall Out Boy.” She barely paid attention, too engrossed in ransacking the corpse of the lobster.
“Here is the wine menu, sir, madam. If you want to look.”
“We’ll take the best one on the menu, a bottle please. Only the best for this beauty.” Darius looked from the nodding waiter in a white suit to his date and winked.
Wow, she thought, the prick really doesn’t remember me at all. Sexism, you generous bastard. The gift that keeps on giving.
“I was thinking of dying my hair. What do you think? I like red.” She had to drop the hint. Surely if he just thought about it, he would recognise her from the sushi restaurant where he’d literally run the moment they finished eating. She wasn’t having that shit again.
“You’re perfect just the way you are, never change.”
Wow. You’re a smarmy prick aren’t you. And yet I’m having fun. Is that revenge or just that he’s good at this? She knew he was spinning a web from fine chords of bullshit, but still it hit her ego and stuck. Everyone needs validation. He was handsome and he tossed out complements the way most men threw out inappropriate looks.
“Where do you stand on junk mail?” She asked, wanting to shake him up.
“Huh, like email?” He frowned and even that was annoyingly appealing.
“No. Like when girls are doing online dating, I guarantee that most of their profiles say No Dick Pics. Then nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of a thousand will send a dick pick. Some even offer to pay for sex, on dating websites. It’s a wonder the species hasn’t died out right?”
Darius sat silently looking as though he’d been put in low power mode for almost a minute. “People date online?” He shrugged. “I don’t think many good things happen online.”
“It can be useful though,” Jessica said. She chewed a prawn and looked at him.
“Well, for example, when you’re online dating you get to know things about someone that you don’t know from meeting them in real life until later. If they say they’re a fan of a band you hate or have a political inclination you can’t stand, you don’t waste your time.”
“And if they send you a dick pic you block them and report them to the police for sexual harassment?” He smiled. “In real life though, there aren’t many people bold enough to expose themselves to a stranger and think that it’s going to turn out well. The internet brings that out of people.”
“You mean like ghosting, when people seem engaged in a relationship or conversation and then disappear?” Come on. That wasn’t even subtle. You must get it.
“Exactly. Being in public holds people to a certain standard of behaviour.” Darius poured them both a glass of the champagne which had appeared while they had been deep in conversation about dick pics.
They clinked the glasses together and as he sipped elegantly, she downed hers.
“In a hurry?” He asked.
“No. Nervous. This is all going so well. I didn’t think it would. I’m just thinking about what happens next.” She looked into his eyes. Blue flecked with green, reflecting the gyrating candle.
“And what happens next?” He asked with a flirtatious purr.
“What I’m guessing usually happens next when you out with a girl. She gets drunk.” Jessica held up her second flute of champagne. “And then gets fucked,” she whispered. Her wink was overlong. She dipped as she closed her eyes.
“Ooh. Too much maybe. Can you watch my jacket. I need to- Well, you don’t need to know what I’m going to do in there. That’s not sexy.” She got up, stumbling slightly in her heels. “You are so hot.” Slapping a manicured hand on his shoulder she put her lips to his ears. “I’m going to fuck you tonight.” She pecked his cheek and hobbled towards the bathroom.
Around the corner, she gently pressed the push bar of the fire escape and pulled her phone out of her clutch.
Walking away down the alley behind the restaurant she listened to the dial tone.
“Hello. Yes. I just wanted to say that the guy at table twelve told me he’s going to run. His girlfriend already ran off. If you’re going to get his money, you’d better grab him now.” She hung up the call and smiled.
Have a good night scrubbing pots, Darius.
Jessica had been in the toilet for almost five minutes when a big man in chef’s whites put a hand on Darius’ shoulder.
“We know your girlfriend did a runner. You aren’t going to do that, are you?”
“Of course not,” the lothario gave his captor a winning grin. “She’ll be back any moment now. We’ll split the bill, or I’ll pay it. Just give me a moment please.”
The man with a hairnet peeking out from his white hat crossed arms thicker than Darius’ torso. “She’s gone kid. Time to get your wallet out.”
Patting his jacket, the liar feigned fear. “Wait. What?” He tugged at all of the pockets, patted the coat all over. “My wallet. She must have taken it. You have to believe me.”
The chef was joined by the server. “I don’t believe you,” said the waiter. “I remember you from before now. You ran. I missed my tip. You know I got yelled at because you ran? Boss said I should have caught you. Now I have.” The waiter said to the cook, “make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. I have the old bill saved. He can pay them both.”
Sighing, Darius looked out of the window. He saw Jessica watching as she got into a yellow cab. Before closing the door behind her, her red lips pursed. She blew him a kiss and slammed the door.
“She’s there.” Darius stood up. A meaty hand grabbed his shoulder and forced him back down into the seat.
“What, behind me? This isn’t a pantomime. Get your money or we’re going to have a problem.” Besides being an excellent chef, the man clearly dabbled in body building. Darius didn’t want that kind of trouble.
“My watch,” he slipped it off his wrist. “It’s a Rolex, worth hundreds. Take it and we call it quits?”
The chef shook his head. “That bottle is worth two grand, and this is fake.” The chef held up the sparkling timepiece. “That’ll take five dollars off your bill. That’s being generous.” The big man’s thick Hell’s Kitchen accent sounded anything but generous. A hand that could crush Darius’ face on its own took his jacket from the back of the chair. Checking the pockets, he pulled out a tiny piece of paper. Tossing the paper on the table he shook the jacket at the dine-and-dasher.
“This place is mine. When you run without paying your bill, you’re robbing me. I’m not having that. This takes another five dollars off your bill. That’s ten dollars.”
“Are you going to take the shirt off my back?” Asked the liar.
“You drinking a two grand bottle of champagne, the only one I had, when you can’t pay for it, that’s taking the shirt from my back. That’s taking the food from my children’s mouths. That’s screwing over every one of my staff and putting years of our hard work in danger.” He handed the jacket and watch to the server. A strong finger prodded Darius in the chest. It hurt. “Cough up my money right now, or this is gonna get ugly.”
“How about if I wash the dishes?”
“You would have to wash my dishes for a month unpaid.”
“Deal.” Darius smiled the usually winning smile and held out his hand.
Shaking his head, the owner/chef gave a humourless laugh. “Ha ha, very funny kid. Think I’m falling for that shit? Do I look like I was born yesterday?”
On the contrary, to Darius the man looked to have been manufactured from the leftovers of Mr Universe contest runners up and jammed into chef whites around twenty years before.
“My shoes. How about my shoes?” Darius handed the rented shoes to the chef. He then stuffed the note from his jacket into his trouser pocket.
Asking around, the big man found that none of his staff would fit the leather shoes due to Darius’ petite feet.
“No deal. You’re scrubbing the dishes tonight. Break any and they get added to your tab. Then I’ll accompany you home and repo whatever to get my money. Get up, I’ll show you where the taps and sponges are.” With a hand hooked under the liar’s shoulder, the chef mountain guided him to the kitchen.
“Mario, change the sign on the door to closed. You and the rest of the guys can go once the customers have finished.” The waiter nodded as Darius was escorted to the kitchen.
For the rest of the night, long after others had gone, he scrubbed every dish. Eventually the owner began looking at his phone. Darius saw a knife, and an opportunity for escape.
Slapping his already wet white shirt sleeve down into the tomato sauce on a plate of spaghetti Bolognese he lifted the kitchen knife, swung it near his arm and screamed.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE. I CAN’T TAKE THIS. SHE SET ME UP!” Screaming every syllable and with easy tears streaming down his face, Darius dropped the knife into the sink of soapy water. He gripped his arm at the elbow and kept screaming as he staggered past the horrified owner.
Pushing his way through the door of the restaurant he breathed in the cool night air. A smile crossed his face. He ran.
A dozen blocks away he pulled the note from his pocket.
Hey douchebag. Thanks for leaving me with the cheque before. Really classy. I called myself Hilda and I had red hair. Remember me? I bet you do now. Have fun paying off tonight’s dinner. If you ever feel like buying me a meal again, you know where to find me.
Yours insincerely, Jessica?