“You gonna answer that?”
I could see that Mandy was getting pissed. Not at me. She was pissed that my phone was ruining her date. When I suggested brunch she was all smiles. A few calls from wrong numbers later and I felt the ice in her glare.
“No,” I said, sliding my thumb left. “I don’t recognize the number.”
“What if it’s a client, John? It’s probably important. I mean, they’ve called you six times since we’ve sat down.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, but i don’t want to answer it. We’re on a date.” I smiled trying to be cute. It didn’t work. I met her eyes, they didn’t return the warmth.
“Well if they call one more time, you answer and tell them to stop. Or you turn your fucking phone off.”
“Sorry, babe. I can’t help it that I’m so popular.”
The back of her legs making a peeling sound against the vinyl booth as she stood up. “I’m going to the little girls room. Be right back.”
Arizona, I thought, do I know anyone in Arizona? I creased my brow. Nope. Well, the hell with it.
“Hello,” I said wiping a bit of orange juice off my upper lip. “Who’s this?”
“John? Is this John Macy?”
“Speaking. Who am I speaking to?”
“No time, John. What I’m about to tell you is very important.”
I was annoyed, but intrigued.
“No matter what happens next, act normal. They are watching you. They have been for quite some time. If you react appropriately and remain unphased, you will earn their trust. Balk– and you will be terminated. They have a history of using violent means to eradicate opponents. I’ve got to go, they are about to break my encryption of this line. Remember– act normal.”
The phone was to my ear when Mandy came back from the bathroom. She reached for her napkin and and slid back into the booth. After a moment, she cocked her head.
“Well?” She said.
“Wrong number,” I said smiling. “Just an old guy looking for his daughter. I told him that he had the wrong number, and told him how to look her number up.”
“Oh,” she snapped her head back. “That was nice of you.” Her eyes lit up. “Hey, check this out: they’re handing out live goldfish in the bathroom.” She pulled a fist out of her left pocket and slammed down a writing fish on her appetizer plate.
Remember– act normal.
“Huh, yeah that’s weird. And, it’s uh-alive. Yeah babe, I’ve-uh never seen that before.”
A grumble came from under the table. “God, I’m so hungry. How long has it been since we ordered you think?” Mandy said, checking her phone. She stood and looked over the back of the booth for our waiter and sat back down.“Shit. You wanna split this while we wait?”
“Split what.” I said, eyeing the dying fish on the plate in front of her.
“The fish. John.”
I looked up and swallowed. “Uh, sure. It should hold us over until the waffles get here.”
“Great, I’ll take the tail.” She slammed the prongs of her fork into the side of the fish. They metal speared clean through and clanked against the plate. In one last convulsion the small goldfish started to ooze out of the four fresh wounds. Mandy took the steak knife out of the neatly folded napkin next to the plate and started sawing away. “Here you go,” she said, directing the fish head towards my mouth.
Don’t balk. Don’t balk. Oh fuck.
I took the head and threw it back. The first bite was the worst; crunching bones and soft cold tissues. After the first crunch, I decided to close my eyes and chew faster. I almost choked swallowing. I opened my eyes to Mandy reaching across the table for my hand, smiling.
“Wasn’t that good?” She said, baring her teeth. “Hey, I want to show you something after.”