Excerpt from Merlot

Merlot“I was thinking, if you wouldn’t mind, we could dine in my office, it would be private, the service will still be good and the food excellent. Plus, it will give me a chance to get away from all this, and have an uninterrupted conversation with you. I feel like, well, between me running around tonight and what was your friend’s name, Kari?”

Karen,” corrected Cindy.

“Yeah, well either way, I feel like we haven’t talked and to tell you the truth as long as I’m out here, they’re going to keep calling me.”

“Your office sounds wonderful,” Cindy said, envisioning candle light and personal wait staff.

It took them fifteen minutes to make their way through the bar, Merlot talking to people, giving the word he wasn’t to be disturbed, checking with the hostess, Allie, about some special situation until eventually they made their way to his office.

Whatever Cindy was hoping for wasn’t what she found. She had conjured up some sort of elegant, romantic private table, a waiter or two. Most likely a rose or something on the table, not to mention candlelight, probably a sound system playing soft music, the lights dimmed for romance.

“Oh, oops, sorry for the mess,” Merlot said, sliding over three liquor cases stacked near the edge of his desk.

“Let me just clean this shit off,” he said over his shoulder, stacking piles of invoices one on top of the other and dumping them on a dreadful striped couch with torn, duct taped arm rests already covered with similar piles. He pushed two coffee mugs onto a credenza behind his large black desk chair. Each mug still held coffee and as he picked them up they dribbled a small puddle across the desktop.

He grabbed a soiled terrycloth rag and attempted to wipe at some sort of stain that seemed like it didn’t want to leave, moistened the rag by dipping it into the trail of coffee and garnered moderate success. Then he nodded at a green Naugahyde chair.

“Just pull that damn thing up here to the desk and I’ll get some food for us, what do you feel like?”

“Ahh, is there a menu?” Cindy asked, still a little in shock.

“Hunh? Oh yeah, sure, ahhh, let me get one for you,” he said, leaving before she could say ‘No, wait’.

She looked around, remembered the new top she had purchased now lying on her bed and her ridiculous dreams about a romantic evening and started laughing. The guy runs a goddamned restaurant, it’s Saturday night, he doesn’t have time to have a romantic dinner for two.

Merlot quickly returned with a menu and a couple bottles of wine in hand and things were suddenly looking much better.

“What do you recommend?” she asked.

“If it were me, I’m partial to the bruschetta for an appetizer and we have the best prime rib,” he said knowing they had plenty of both in the kitchen.

“Okay, you sold me, is there more Merlot, Tony?” she asked sliding her glass across the desktop.

He filled her glass, left with the menu, returning in short order with silverware and napkins.

Cindy was attempting to sit gracefully in the Naugahyde chair and failing miserably. The arms on the thing kept it from moving any closer to the edge of the desk and the angle of the chair seat placed her butt about a foot lower than her knees. With her skirt up above the top of her thighs she would have killed right now for a pair of jeans but had to settle for the napkin, quickly unwrapping her silverware and draping the cloth across her legs. It was a little like dining while sitting for a gynecological exam, the only thing the chair lacked was a set of stirrups.

Merlot, sitting opposite and just a bit higher in his tall backed, black leather office chair, gave the whole room a surreal feel.

“Who’s that?” She asked gesturing with her third glass of wine to the framed photo on the wall of a man with a little boy in a little league uniform. It was the only photo in the office with the exception of a small desk top photo of what looked like two proud parents and Tony on possibly a high school graduation day.

“That’s my dad, and that goofy looking kid in the baseball uniform is me.”

“Is he still alive, your Dad?”

“No, he’s been gone for over fifteen years, but I still miss him every day. We were real pals, along with being father and son.” He looked at the photo a moment longer before turning back to her.

She attempted to wedge her knees underneath the overhang of the desk but the arms of the chair prevented her from moving any closer to the desk and she felt like she was slumping more and more into the back of the chair, drastically raising her knees.

He seemed not to notice and he chatted on about work, her work mostly. Asking what she did in a day. How crazy was it working through the fair week? Asking about the usual characters and coworkers everyone has from their workplace.

“Well, Merlot, isn’t this cozy,” cackled a woman in her mid-sixties pushing the office door open with her hip while balancing two plates of bruschetta, two salads along with another bottle of wine. She set the food on the desk top, looked around and then down at Cindy who still felt like she was on display.

“I’ll get you some candles, Honey, never enough time for romance in this life,” she said before turning to leave.

Merlot remained quiet while she was in the office, just rolled his eyes. As soon as the door closed behind her, he said, “She’s been with us for over twenty-five years. My Dad hired her, she’s a good worker, loyal, and she gets away with murder, which I kinda like.”

“Ahh, that’s so sweet,” Cindy said, feeling warm and about to finish her fourth glass of wine. She wiggled down ever so slightly into her chair and felt a warm glow coming all over her.

It was toward the end of the meal, Cindy pushed food around her plate, not really hungry any more. Merlot had cleared the bruschetta and salad plates, stacking them on the office credenza on top of a stack of files. The candles flickered in the draft from the air conditioning and mounds of melted wax were gradually building up on the worn surface of the desk. In the background, the unending percussion pounding from Kiss of Death, their final set for the night.

Merlot poured more wine into her glass, not that it was empty. In fact it hadn’t been empty all night. He’d remained busy keeping it reasonably full. Every time, he filled it she would say, “Oops, not too much,” just about the time he stopped pouring.

She was beyond cautioning herself about getting drunk and was now cautioning herself about getting drunker, although that didn’t seem to be working either. She had stopped attempting to sit like a lady halfway through dinner and was now draped sideways in the green chair, legs swinging freely over the arm, shoes somewhere on the floor below. She balanced a half-eaten plate of chocolate gateau on her chest and gestured with the wine glass in her right hand as she spoke.

“This money these fuckers bring in, ah, oh Jesus, I didn’t mean to say it that way.”

“Customers?” suggested Merlot.

“Yeah, the fucking customers, Tony. That’s what the fuckers are, my customers. Anyway, you wouldn’t believe it. Its sticky, all covered with sugar and fruit drinks. And it smells like grease and shit, you know all that shit they have at the fair. By the time I get home at night I just peel my clothes off and take a long hot shower.”

“There’s this one guy, really weird, he’s always eyeing up the tellers. Get this, he wears a Vikings jersey, these really baggy shorts, a baseball hat and hunting boots or something. Oh, he’s so gross,” she shivered at the thought.

“He gets all sweaty and he’s at the bank about a hundred times a day, always in a hurry. Pudgy, pushy, porky, that’s what we call him, Porky Pig. I know,” she continued philosophically after another long sip of wine, “that isn’t very nice but he’s just so, so creepy. He has this crew cut and a Donald Duck tattoo, I mean what’s that?” she laughed, taking another long sip.

“He’s this old guy and he looks at you like you’re a cheeseburger and he’s starving to death. He kind of licks his lips, it’s just awful. I’d want to take all my clothes off and just burn them if he touched me.”

“Sounds interesting,” Merlot said a bit luridly, wondering if she would react.

She didn’t.

“I smell like the fair after handling all that money and I haven’t even had my butt inside the gate.”

“More wine?” asked Merlot.

“I’d better not,” she said, inclining her glass toward Merlot so he could refill it. “I’ve got to be at work early on Monday to help count all the money.”

“Tomorrow’s Sunday, you can sleep in,” Merlot advised.

She seemed to think about that for a half moment while sipping,

“Mmm-mmm, there’s so much of this cash from the deposits, after we do deposits, we balance our drawers about ten times a day, take the cash into the vault. Then they separate it into the various denominations.”

“You mean like Catholic and Lutheran?” Merlot joked.

“No,” she said, not picking up on the joke, “you know, tens, twenties, that sort of shit. Then they run it through the counters, bundle it in master bundles of one, five or ten thousand depending on the denomination and have the couriers haul it off to Central.”

“Sounds busy.” Merlot encouraged, hoping she’d continue to ramble.

“Busy, Christ,” she said washing the declaration down with more wine. “You’ve no idea. We have to hire extra people just to run this shit through the counters. Ha! that’s real glamorous, sitting around card tables with five other people in a vault without a fan. We used to have people supplied by Central, but they’ve cut back on staff so many times they didn’t have anyone to spare.”

“So get this,” she said, lurching halfway in Merlot’s direction, spilling wine on her dress and hiking it well above her hips. “I’ve got thousands upon hundreds of thousands of dollars to count and I have to hire temps. You know how hard it is to get good temps? Christ it’s a nightmare.”

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