Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 59 and 60

Chapter Fifty-nine

Her name was Demejian, Eilin Demejian. The Armenian girl. Approaching her at the entryway to the pier, Jordan felt his legs were providing him with all the support of water faucet flow. His heart was a tom-tom drum thundering out of some unvisited, unimaginable jungle. He thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world, which of course she wasn’t, but where tastes are concerned, what is written has been done so on toilet paper, not engraved in stone.

It was not merely his present circumstances which led Jordan to conclude she might be a little above his kin. He’d felt the same whenever confronted with a girl who matched his own personal goddess archetype. And, in his defense, it must be said that save for the born-smooth operator, so do most men. That’s where the ideal of conquest comes in, but that’s a topic for another kind of writer – the specialist – as opposed to the generalist and highway scribe.

So he kind of got off to a rough start as they began their stroll down the boardwalk. The usual miscues; the “how are yous?” and “so what do you dos?” were falling flatter than an 11-year girl’s chest and then Jordan descended into public relations which, we know, was the natural dominion of Corey and Randall, not his. He mentioned, by way of boast, that he was a member of The Sidewalk Smokers Club. She was not moved, was unfamiliar with, not of the moment.

Then Eilin grabbed his hand and smiled up at him. There are a handful of times when even the guy is looking for so much more than sex and light petting. And this was just such a time. Wanting to avoid his secret life as a barista, Jordan clumsily, drunkenly, trembling, pushed The Sidewalk Smokers envelope yet again.

“We’ve been in the newspapers recently,” he pointed out.

Eilin said that she didn’t read the newspapers.

And there are also times when the usual weights and measures we’d hold a potential mate to are waived in the face of overwhelming affections, and so J. gave her a pass on the newspapers, too.

No need. Eilin, taking control of the flow, added that she could not do so (read the papers) presently, “because of something that’s going on with my family.” Jordan remembered how she had said they were a close-knit bunch. There was an undeniable hint of sadness to what she said and J., being a sometimes-smart fella, understood that there was something unfolding in the daily papers that didn’t sit right with her.

Without even knowing her at all, he was sad that something might be making her sad and he swore to himself that, if and when he found out what it was, he’d do his damnedest to remedy it.

Sensing that Jordan was lost in his thoughts, Eilin grabbed at his shoulders and turned him square to her, his back to the setting sun and thrashing surf. “You look,” she said to him from deep within some preternatural dream, “like something out of a drawing.” He was, of course, something out of a police sketch, but wasn’t about to go into it.

She kissed him and his will to live lurched again and again and again.

Chapter Sixty

Joya was coming back from her meeting with the lesbian city councilmember and on her way to dinner with City Attorney, taking the full measure of her entanglements and compromises. Never afraid of engagement, she shrugged where others might have shuddered. Joya could not tell you what The Sidewalk Smokers really was/were, or in what direction it/they were heading, but she knew she was with them 100 percent. It was not in her to leave behind unfinished business or messes. Jordan must be saved, Yvonne made whole, the bum philosophy universal, the White House interior redone by Clarisse, simply because her path had intersected theirs (out there on the sidewalk, smoking). And finally, the sidewalk smokers outside her store must be preserved in a liberty everlasting. These were the bones fate had placed on her plate and she felt obliged to pick them clean.

The lesbian citycouncilady had been frank with Joya about the prospects of stopping the BID’s plan for cleaning out the scum. The purifying baptismal had taken on the aspect of a steamroller and she, as their (the BID’s) representative at City Hall, had no plans to stand in its way.

“It would be suicide,” she drove the point home. “I can’t be associated with you people.” Joya swallowed hard. These were words hard to take coming from a political figure given to radical postures. That she wasn’t interested gave Joya a sick sense of where The Smokers really stood on the acceptable-O-meter of civic behavior.

The councilperson’s own interests were in the Angel Without Mercy case, she explained. “That’s a winner honey. People think the old lady was probably miserable and they are right. The city attorney rode the wave of outrage rolling in, but it’s already crested. I’ll ride the rip-tide back out. And anyway, I believe in it, assisted suicide, and all that.”

Joya pressed the lesbian city councilwoman to do everything in her power to prevent the coming clash of forces.

“What about DeConcini?” the legislator threw in, somewhat desperate at the onslaught.

“He bailed on us.”

“The Esquire is a man completely out for himself,” the lesbian city councilmember explained. “That was why he was available for hire. The telegenic nature of your little campaign enticed him. He wanted some screen time, my dear.”

“We knew that.”

“So he got it and it worked.”


For all her charm – and the lesbian citycouncilperson was certainly affected by it – Joya did not possess an incisive understanding of everything she heard and her counterpart was working hard to be patient.

“Don’t you see? He got some work straight out of that whole mess outside your store.

He moved on; bigger fish to fry. You will have to find another whore.”

For those who cling to the quaint notion a feminine presence in politics would soften the game, let it be noted here how politician women talk a lot like politician men and are equally ambitious. Joya had been ignorant of the reality. The last expression had its intended effect and Joya retreated into her head. She knew that in their desperation she and probably other Club members were resorting to sex in moving things along a bit, pressing an ages-old advantage. There is almost a temptation to test attraction’s utility just one more time; like a retired champion returning to the ring to see if he still has what it takes.

He usually doesn’t, but The Smokers were capable. Sexy was at least a part of what had been played with from the very beginning and maybe sexy was at stake, too.

Yvonne’s devilish past saw to that. Weak in matters of professionalism, they were without parallel in those speaking to passion.

It did not seem to Joya that the city councilwoman was going to take on the lady retailers along her street and she was looking for another whore real bad. So she asked the lesbian city councilwoman if she weren’t interested in meeting for a drink some evening in the near future, hon.

The object of her false affections was not fooled, but thoroughly amenable to the proposition.

This bit of information is included, not to scandalize or defame, but to demonstrate the fluidity with which otherwise complicated matters move when sex is thrown in as lubricant. The woman was overweight and not very attractive and she’d found, without making an abusive habit out of the thing, that being in a position of power afforded her greater sexual options. And Joya was one of these options she would shortly avail herself of.

Joya made a vow to limit her dalliances with public officials to these two. Not out of morality, mind you, but as a way to protect her own cachet by keeping its dispersion finite.

She was wary of getting tired in this fast-paced, adrenaline-tapping scenario, for there were other pressures. Sadina had called in tears quitting over a cut in pay and in the number of hours they had been spending together. Joya had not attended to her little keepsake. She was sad to lose her, but happily involved in the problems of others. And she still enjoyed a good cigarette out in the open air.

At any rate, if an overweight lesbian sounds rough, it must be remembered that we are talking about Joya. What she was facing with City Attorney was infinitely more damning and permanent than a perfunctory roll around with lady what’s-her-name.

They’d been headed toward each other like old iron locomotives screeching along the same track, despite the unorthodoxy and seeming impossibility of the pairing and their mutual and complete mortification. There wasn’t too much to talk about, merely a way of blending their mutual interests and needs into a package palatable to each.

Under the circumstances, this would not be easy, but people who think they’re in love think they will find a way.

Besides, he was a man of influence, stand-up fellow really, who was ready with the ring when she arrived at their table, late. She’d known it was coming, the proposal, and really had hoped for something more original.

She took one look at him and flashed a face that made him feel special. She took the time and reflection necessary to deliver her rejoinder and said, “Hon, don’t give a jewel, be a jewel.”

Joya closed the little velvet box, placed it in his hands and clasped them with hers.

“I don’t get it,” he said, zapped by this unpredictable woman and the quarrelsome clan on whose behalf she was working. He had to have her then. There was something so creamy and disarming about the way she fleeced people that he viewed it as nothing less than an invitation to a pure kind of love, when that wasn’t what it was at all.

City Attorney was handsome in a way without edge, inoffensively so. He too found it tough not to avail himself of the traffic in private parts customary in the power guild.

He made much of his virtue in public life, but he had a weakness for this one woman taking him places self-control and career considerations had sworn him off many times over many years. She was rocking his world and he was ready to piss-off the whole damn mayor’s campaign. It had always been an act of cynicism papered over with a vague promise that, once in power, he might somehow rule with innocence again.

After that night at the Argentine restaurant with The Smokers he’d found himself still enjoying minor rushes from their ebullience and fighting a blind belief in their fight.

This is City Attorney’s vision of them and serves as testimony to the effective nature of the group’s intentions and manipulations alike.

He sighed. A waiter in black-and-white welcomed them and asked if they wanted to start off with some cocktails. He said no. She said yes. The waiter vowed to return with her request and a pair of menus.

Joya never imagined things happened in so obvious a way, but here she was, ready to make a demand, in exchange for promising to spend the rest of her life with him in front of a lot of friends, all represented by a piece of jewelry she wouldn’t dare sell in her own store. It was a man in a suit; the thing she’d avoided her whole life and the wonder of it all had her feeling like a child. She did not know if she loved him for him or for what he might do for her.

He did not care. He did not get where he was in life by behaving as a Boy Scout, although it is what he led people to believe.

As such, he maintained operatives. Not very different than the way Carlos maintained them. Anyhow, City Attorney’s operatives had informed, much to his dismay, that the Angel Without Mercy could almost assuredly be traced to The Sidewalk Smokers Club. Shaken, he’d gotten in touch with the lead detective in the case –Dumburton. They had met and Dumburton had been adamant about City Attorney’s need to prosecute the thing.

There was but a fat chance of that happening now that a link between the Angel Without Mercy and these monsters the woman of his dreams openly cavorted with had been made. He would have to cancel a meeting he’d agreed to in principle with Dumburton. The matter was dead, if he had any say, and he did.

“I want you to help me with the business improvement district’s plan to clear out the sidewalk smokers.”

There was but another fat chance of City Attorney, normally, choosing a political dogfight like that, but under the circumstances he wanted to do it for her – ruin himself that is.

“And,” she rode her own momentum, “you gotta see what you ken do about gettin’ those charges against Yvonne dropped.” He said he might do that, but in the right and proper time, which was completely up to him because he didn’t want her pushing him around. She was a little surprised at the business-like tone his part of the discourse had taken, but Joya, after all, started it. She did not like his counter-twisting, but was aware of how this was that most-feared and enigmatic of liberal monsters – the attorney. And so she let it all slide.

He handed her the ring by way of agreement. She took it with the same sentiment in mind. Something very nice passed between them even if it was not the most romantic of moments in the annals of matrimonial proposals. The waiter came back with a martini and the sight of it warmed her into a little shudder of pleasure. They each took refuge behind their menus, opting to deal with other intimacies and complications needing address at later meetings, over time, and yes, together.

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