Sunday, April 27, 2014

WIP: Chapter Two of 'Drop Dead, Gorgeous'


     We stopped at the Chinese restaurant on Travilah Road, just north of River Road, and had chicken with almonds, rice, and Chinese vegetables, washed down with hot green tea.
     After supper, we drove to the converted warehouse on South Street in Georgetown. I parked the Green Bug, the Volkswagen Sandra bought me for my fiftieth birthday, in a basement parking garage in an adjacent building.
     Sandwiched between M Street, the main corridor running east and west through Georgetown, and the Whitehurst Freeway, an elevated highway running along the Potomac River, South Street and the other narrow streets in the area that formed the south border of Georgetown had once crisscrossed between and among warehouses that were part of the river port. They had long since been converted to office buildings, studios, and exclusive condominiums. There were one or two over-priced restaurants, just as exclusive as the condos, often requiring six months to get a table – if you knew the right people. I’d never eaten there. I’m pretty sure my buddy Quincy Chang, a partner in the law firm that has me on a ten thousand dollar a month retainer to do odd jobs for them, knows the right people. Hell, I’m pretty sure he’s one of the right people. But, we met when we were both in the army and assigned at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, me in Delta Force and him in the post adjutant general office as an army lawyer, so he pretty much knows my taste in eateries runs mainly to the lowbrow. I prefer paying for food, not ambience.
     After coming out of the parking garage, we moved briskly toward our destination. Despite the gentrification of the buildings, street maintenance was no better than in other parts of the city. Mounds of grey slush dotted the sidewalk, and here there were empty wine bottles left behind by the homeless guys who had gone looking for warm grates to huddle over. The cold air did little to erase the smell of sweat, urine and stale booze. Added to that was the biting cold. Thankfully, the inside of the building was heated – the blast of warm air felt great.
     The front of the building had been converted into a large entrance lobby, with a ticket booth to the right and an area to the left with tables laden with champagne and an impressive array of finger sandwiches, dips, gourmet crackers, cheese, and fruit. Sandra and I presented ourselves at the ticket booth. The attendant was a tall, skinny redhead with freckles on her nose and cheeks. I gave her my name.
     “Oh, Mr. Pennyback,” she said. “Mr. Rigg left tickets for you and Ms. Winter.” She shoved two tickets to us – front row, 1 and 2. I took them and put them inside my jacket pocket.
     “Well, looks like Calvin Rigg still thinks highly of you,” Sandra said as she linked her arm through mine. “Front row seats – now that’s class.”
     “I’m more interested in the snacks,” I said. “Hell, if I’d known they’d have a spread like this, we could have skipped dinner.”
     She pulled me toward the table. “Ooh, look – caviar,” she said. “I always have room for caviar.”
     I hadn’t noticed the little bowls of the dark eggs sitting nestled among the cheese and crackers. I joined Sandra at the table. She was shoveling crackers piled high with caviar into her mouth and making little sighing sounds. I picked up a cracker and dipped it into the caviar, scooping up a small amount. Not exactly the sophisticated way to do it, but then, I’m not really into sophisticated. She was right, though, it was good.
     Despite having eaten, we made a dent in the food near us, and washed it down with a glass each of the bubbly stuff – an expensive French brand. It looked like Rigg was doing well for himself.
     A stuffy looking guy wearing a top hat and tail coat, and speaking with a British accent, announced that the show was about to begin before we were able to make complete pigs of ourselves. We followed the rest of the crowd, middle aged men and women decked out in what I’m sure they thought passed for high fashion, but to me just looked like expensive closet hangings, into the large room where the fashion show was being held.
     There was a large stage at the back of the room. The runway, a narrow elevated strip projecting from the center of the stage out about fifty feet, had five rows of seats to each side, with each row slightly elevated above the one in front.
     Our seats were at the right, just at the end of the runway. Most of the other front row seats were already filled. The house lights went down just as we took our seats. Pink floodlights illuminated the runway, and without preamble or announcement the models began parading from behind the large purple curtains at either side of the stage.
     One at a time they pranced and strutted across the stage and down the runway, pausing at the end, and thrusting their hips at the audience on either side, looking at us with stares of aloof disdain.
     I’m no fashion expert, but I could tell that Rigg was using African traditional dress for his inspiration, with lots of hip-hugging wrap around skirts and colorful head scarves. I also recognized some of the models from my investigation of his former partner’s murder – Bibi Gunn, a tall woman with cocoa brown skin, shiny black hair done in corn rows, and a nice rear end that was displayed to best advantage in the clinging skirts; Svetlana Kalishnakova, the Georgian model with metallic blonde hair, now cut close to her skull, and breasts that threatened to burst from the tightly wrapped blouses, and Genvieve Montand, the Philadelphia native with her brown hair done in a page boy cut. The others were typical fashion models, with long legs, pert breasts, unencumbered by bras, and wooden expressions on their faces.
     I had to keep pinching my thighs to stay awake. Two meals, the warmth in the room, and the music – the muted sound of drums to the beat of the models’ strutting – made me drowsy. Sandra kept looking askance at me, and occasionally nudged me in the side with her elbow.
     The lights came up, and a skinny guy wearing a powder blue tuxedo came out on stage and announced a twenty minute intermission. Sandra and I were halfway to the exit when Calvin Rigg came through the door, heading straight for us. He was wearing faded jeans and a plaid shirt, open at the throat. His hair was still cropped close, and beginning to show gray at the temples. He looked like he’d put on a few pounds since we last met.
     “Mr. Pennyback, Al,” he said. “I’m so glad you could come. I hope you two are enjoying the show.”
     “It’s amazing,” Sandra said.
     He looked at me, a faint smile on his pale face. “I imagine it’s not your cup of tea, Al,” he said. “No matter. I wanted you to come so we could talk.”
     “What did you want to talk about, Cal?”
     “Could we go back to my office? Ms. Winter – Sandra – why don’t you enjoy the rest of the show.” He smiled at me. “I think you’ll be more comfortable in my office.”

     He had that right. I squeezed Sandra’s arm. “I’ll be back by the time the show’s over, babe.”