I never was one for parties.
I would rather put my foot on the third rail of the 42nd street
"A" train than be at a party with dull, dreary drinkers whose sole purpose in life is to post selfies all day, and swipe Tinder for hook-ups at night. But it was Harper’s 30th birthday and of course, according to her, she was throwing herself “the party of the century”. For weeks she was calling me to remind me that I had to go. I couldn’t stand listening to her wag her tongue one more minute, so I caved in and said I would. The Sunday morning before the party, we met in front of H&H bagels on 78th Street and Broadway, just around the corner from her apartment. It was a weekend tradition for us to meet, buy a dozen bagels, stop at Zabar’s for scallion cream cheese and lox, then head over to her place to inhale as many carbs as possible. The rest of the week we ate Central Park grass. She was still yapping about the party as we walked into her tiny apartment kitchen.
“Ali, this is NOT going to be like any other party. This one is really going to be different. I got the idea out of last month’s Cosmopolitan. Get this! Everyone has to bring something to eat, just one thing and here’s the best part! You can’t tell me what you are bringing. We could end up with nothing but Cheez Whiz and cocktail hot dogs! Isn’t that crazy?”
I looked at her and wondered if she had been smoking her hemp and Brussel sprout salads, and binge watching “Chopped” this past week.
“Oh my God, Harper, are you high? WHAT the hell is so different about that?”,
I had my right hand in my mouth trying to pick some poppy seeds out of my back teeth. Bagels from H&H were the best in the city, but the poppy seeds were tooth murderers.
Prancing around with a sesame bagel in her hand, she stopped dead in her tracks, turned and slowly walked towards me while coolly picking up a knife from the counter with a gob of cream cheese on it. Crazy Harper was at it again. Since kindergarten, for one stupid reason or the other, she has threatened to kill me with licorice rope hangings, root beer fizzies drownings and now it was a knife of cream cheese. Well, at least it was Zabar’s cream cheese.
I could hear the anchor tease now: “WRFB-TV crime reporter Ali Fields, stabbed with schmear and schmaltz. Story at 11.”
As she walked towards me, knife in hand, I chuckled and said,
“C’mon Harper, if you kill me today, whose gonna listen to you brag about the party, and buy Alka Seltzer and lox for your hangover next Sunday?”
She continued to stare at me while using her sweatshirt sleeve to wipe the knife clean.
Harper Enrow. Beautiful blonde cream cheese killer, and one of my closest friends since birth had it in her to slice someone into pieces without thinking about it. I knew she never would, but capable, yes. I left her apartment promising that I would call her in the middle of the week with party clothing updates. I hit the street and made my way to the subway towards my Soho
“I have plenty of time to decide, it’s only Sunday”, I thought.
I made a note to myself to buy a couple of jars of green olives stuffed with feta cheese, and call it a day. The party was a week away, so I had plenty of time to go shopping. Of course, the week flew by and suddenly, Saturday night crept up like a tight thong. Harper kept calling me every day that week about what I was going to wear, pecking at me like a frantic hen. Today was no different.
“What are you wearing”, I’m dying to know. Are you wearing your Prada stilettos? I’m wearing my Liz C. dress, you know that little black spangly thing? What are you bringing to eat? I know it's supposed to be a secret but you have to tell me, Ali! After all, I am your BFF.
I tuned her out, put her on speaker phone, and let her drone on as I stood peering into my refrigerator looking for anything not hairy and green that I could pass off as food.
“Ali…are you listening to me?” Harper was whining, again.
It was already 7pm and I had nothing to wear, and nothing to bring. I poked my head out of the fridge and yelled over to the phone.
“Yes, Harper, I’m listening! I'm going to wear that sexy, grey Russian military uniform with those hot black knee-high compression socks and black combat boots.”
She was still babbling. I had to get her off the phone, somehow. Holding my cell phone, I opened my front door and rang the bell, so she could hear it through the speaker.
“Hey, gotta run Harper! Jeffrey Dahmer’s at the front door asking for a hatchet, baggies, and a mop.c Can't talk! See you tonight.”
I threw the phone onto the couch and opened the refrigerator door, again. I never made it to the store during the week and nothing in the refrigerator looked appealing. Now, I was panicking. I trashed my clothes closet looking for something to wear and decided upon a short black dress with black stilettos, pulled back my hair with a black scrungy, threw a few dollars, a red lipstick and a couple of credit cards into my Michael Kors clutch, ran out the door and hailed a taxi.
“If I am going to put my foot on the third rail, I might as well look good”, I thought.
Thankfully, Harper lived on the upper West side where the 24-hour Korean markets stayed open all night for the insomniacs who craved sushi and Spic and Span at 3am. Running in my heels down saw dusted floors, I passed bottles of marinated fish eyes and Korean bulgogi sauce. I was tempted to buy both but held back. Then, in the corner of my eye, I noticed a bright neon glow coming from the rear of the store, so I followed light. The refrigerator gods were calling my name. There stood the biggest industrial refrigerator I had ever seen filled with fresh
Lo Mein noodles, spicy red kimchi, deep friend puffy tofu squares, and salami. Shocked, I murmured out loud “Salami?” But there they were. Stacked against the cold aluminum wall were at least a dozen dreamy foot long, red and blue plastic wrapped Hebrew National salamis, at least five inches wide marked “Kosher for Passover,” made of cured, garlicky beef, body parts and heavy as a baseball bat’s head. I grabbed two and headed towards the cashier at the front of the store.
“Hmmm, maybe I should buy a couple more, just in case”.
I ran back, grabbed two more, a bottle of Chinese mustard, a box of toothpicks and a bottle of Greek olives stuffed with Feta cheese.
“It couldn’t hurt, I thought”, chuckling on the way out of the store.
As predicted, when I arrived at her apartment, the drones were already standing around taking selfies with one hand and raising martini glasses up high with the other. I stood in the doorway for a minute watching some idiot in the corner having a conversation with Harper’s Amazon Alexa. He was screaming into it, asking Alexa to turn on Drake’s latest rap track and, at the same time, play an episode of Game of Thrones. You could hear the music go on and off and watch the flat screen do the same thing. It was like watching an acid trip from the ‘60’s.
I needed a drink, already.
The apartment was wall to wall bodies, all dressed in black. Black dresses, black jackets, black heels, black lipstick, black martinis, and even black lights hanging in some corners.
“A coroner’s convention”, I murmured under my breath.
Before the end of the night, we might need one if I have to hang around this place very long. The entire dining room table was filled paper plates of crappy food. I had envisioned the table would have been filled with pate on fine china, slices of raw salmon with wasabi and at least a salad or two, but instead there were bowls of cheese doodles, peanuts, Doritos and salsa and, yes, Cheez Whiz. I guess I was not much better bringing whole salamis with a jar of olives. Harper told me she was going to set-up the bar on her bedroom dresser since she ran out of space in the kitchen preparing for people to donate their food. I would be heading to the bar very soon. I turned towards the kitchen, so I could drop off the food. Suddenly, I heard Harper’s voice screech my name. She lunged forward with a martini glass in her right hand, spilling her drink all over the rug as she played bumpers with bodies that were in her way. She was shouting and drooling at the same time.
“Ali my love! You made it! Everyone, this is Ali, my bestest, bestest, dearest, closest friend in the whole wide world, and the best news reporter on TV.”
I could feel my face turn purple in a sea of black clothed silence. Then as if bees had just flew into the room, there was a growing buzz of hellos and hi-yas and clinking glasses.
“OH my God! Ali! You look FAB! Isn’t this party fab? Don’t you think so?”.
Her tongue was plastered to the top of her mouth as she spoke causing her voice to gargle. Swaggering, she grabbed my arm and yanked me into the two-inch bathroom, slammed the door, and pushed me up against the toilet paper roll holder. I was still holding the bag of salamis and olives.
“That bitch is here”, she said breathing into my face. Her vodka breath was melting my lipstick.
“Harper, who the hell are you talking about?” Which bitch?”.
Then as if she were slapped with a wet cold rag, she screamed.
“Jacki Calien, who else? How the hell did she find out about my party? What creep brought her? Do you want me to push her out the window for you, Ali? We’re four floors up, that should teach her to screw around with you.”
I didn’t tell Harper that I had seen Jacki when I walked into the apartment. She was standing in the corner up against the wall, looking ironed as usual. Polished and sleek, she held her cigarette in a long black holder as if she were Lauren Bacall in the Big Sleep. That was Jacki. Once we had been best friends, and completely inseparable. As college roommates, we could not have been more opposite. My side of our dorm room was all colorful and warm like a “Your kid is going to college!” advertisement from Bed Bath and Beyond. Jacki’s side of the room looked like it was from Prison Weekly. Sad, grey blankets, one pillow on plain white sheets. Strangely, she slept with a raggedy old teddy bear that she said her brother gave her before he committed suicide a year before she left for college. Somehow, we grew used to each other, and the match worked. During the six years after graduation, we followed each other everywhere. Traveled together, found an apartment together, jobs and boyfriends all on the same path. We had both become local news reporters, but at competing stations. But, Jacki became New York City’s darling of crime reporting, breaking every big murder story before everyone else. Arriving on the scene to a story, Jacki was already there, and I always wondered how she got there before the rest of us. We had been nothing short of sisters. And then, like a contract killer, she murdered us.
I had been sent on an assignment by my station to San Francisco to interview the family of a murder victim and was gone for a few days. On my way back to the city, Harper called my cell, and through her shouts I learned that my so-called best friend and my boyfriend had moved in with one another.
That was six months ago, and I hadn’t seen or talked to her since. I quickly moved into my own place in Soho, expensive but worth every bowl of cornflakes and water I eat three times a day.
Recently, I heard from one the beat reporters that Jacki dumped my former boy-toy and was picking up beautiful men in the Village for night rides.
“Harper, I don’t care if she IS here. Now let me go slice up my salamis, will you?”
I pushed my way out of the bathroom, and into the kitchen. Thankfully, Harper had invited a few friends that I knew who were hanging out by the stove. Finally relaxed, I started to unwrap one of the salamis when the kitchen door swung open.
In came Jacki, drunk and swinging a bottle of Prosecco in the air and barking at the top of her lungs.
“Well, well. If it isn’t Miss WBRT-TV herself. The famous Ali Fields whose ratings are in the big bowl of worthlessness.”
I stood at the counter, ignoring her with knife in hand. I was wondering if I should make the salami slices thin or thick as she slid next to me waving the champagne bottle over my head.
“What’s the matter, Ali-Bali?” Cat got your tongue? Everyone, this is my dearest friend Ali who doesn’t know how to hang on to her man, or a murder story.”
One of the kitchen friends told her to shut up. I stepped away from the counter for a moment to get a sharper knife when suddenly I looked up and there was Harper holding one of the salamis in her right hand, and one in her left, charging towards Jacki. I didn’t even see her come into the room. Secretly rooting for her, I shouted at her to stop.
“Harper, STOP! Don’t….”.
But it was too late. She had clubbed Jacki on the right and then the left side of her head with the salamis. The greasy meat had exploded all over Jacki’s head, hair and face. Instantly, the smell of garlic and pepper rose into the air as Jacki fell back hitting her head on the kitchen cabinet and slid down onto the floor, champagne flowing all over. My mouth fell open in shock.
One of the drones standing next to the refrigerator who was chomping on his own salami on rye said,
“Boy, I never thought that could be used as a weapon”.
Harper looked down, saw that Jacki was out cold, glanced around the room, made a dash to the sink, leaned in, and barfed. The crowd from the living room was trying to make their way into the kitchen to see what the commotion was all about. I wanted to get out before someone leaked the story to the WBRTV news desk, and then every reporter in town would show up.
I walked around the counter and headed to the kitchen door but stopped to look at Jacki crumpled up against the stove. I reached into the paper bag I had left on the counter and pulled out a jar. Smirking, I bent over her body and quietly said,
“Would you like mustard with that, Jacki?” and dropped the bottle into her wet, garlicky lap.
I turned, strolled out of the apartment smiling thinking that I had put my foot on the third rail. Let me tell you, it felt just great.