Monday 14 October 2013
The aroma of a multitude of dishes filled the dining room of Mortensen’s Restaurant. Whether it was a light lunch he was after, or a celebratory dinner with friends, it was Marvin Turner’s favourite place to eat in the city. Marvin surveyed the room as he waited for the Maître’d to finish seating the previous patron, and return to the reception desk. The restaurant was close to capacity but his status as a Mortensen’s regular afforded Marvin the luxury of a reservation at short notice.
‘Good evening, Mr. Turner,’ the Maître’d said as he approached Marvin at the reception desk.
‘Charlie, always a pleasure to see you,’ Marvin replied.
‘If you’ll step this way, sir, I’m sure we’ve reserved your usual table.’
Charlie the Maître’d ushered Marvin into the dining room proper then led the way to the man’s usual table hidden in the back corner by the entrance to the kitchen. From here, Marvin could see the whole of the dining room: he could see who came in and who left, and if he needed to make a quick getaway, the back entrance was easily accessible through the kitchen. Marvin never knew when the law might finally catch up with him, so he was always prepared for a quick escape. He ordered a gin and tonic, and watched the door for the arrival of his dinner companion.
Marvin was on his third gin and tonic when he saw her saunter through the door, and speak to Charlie Wilks, the Maître’d. Charlie smiled and nodded as the woman spoke, then placed his hand on her back and walked her Marvin’s table. Marvin stood as Charlie withdrew the chair opposite him, and then carefully pushed it in as the dinner companion sat. She placed her black clutch on the edge of the table, and smiled at Marvin.
‘Erica, thank you for joining me tonight. You look lovely as usual,’ Marvin greeted her.
‘Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Turner,’ she replied.
‘For the last time, please, it’s Marvin. Now, can I get you something to drink, or would you prefer to order right away?’
‘Why don’t we do both?’ she looked down at the menu on the table in front of her. Marvin did the same.
‘What do you recommend, Mr. Turner? I mean, Marvin.’
He smiled. The young woman knew how to play the polite society game of deferring to the older party, and soliciting a recommendation.
‘I see Wade Aitcheson has taught you well,’ he said. A wry smile spread across Erica’s lips.
‘I’m not entirely sure what you’re referring to, Marvin.’
‘Ah, you’re going to play that card. Fair enough. Then, Erica, I recommend getting a gin and tonic, and following that with . . . ah hell, everything is excellent here. Pick a dish, you can’t go wrong.’
She sighed, and continued perusing the menu.
‘And here I was, expecting so much more from your recommendation than pick anything because it’s all good.’
‘You’re killing me. I’ve been critiqued by an artist. That’s not the way things should be. I’m the critic here, not you.’
* * * * *
The restaurant had been clearing out around Marvin and Erica before they’d even reached the point of their dinner. Erica looked around and saw that only three other tables were still occupied. Marvin immediately understood that he could no longer draw the dinner out. It was time to get down to business. He drank the remainder of the water in his glass, wiped his mouth with a red fabric napkin, and signalled to the waiter that he required the bill.
‘I hope you’ll forgive me for extending this dinner for as long as I possibly could, Erica, but it’s not often that I am afforded the opportunity to have dinner with a talented, young, up-and-coming artist. Most of the time, up-and-coming artists stay as far away from me as they possibly can. The perils of being an art critic, I suppose.’ Marvin stopped speaking when the waiter delivered the bill. He glanced at the bottom line, pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his pants, flipped it open and removed a credit card, and handed the card and the bill back to the waiter, who promptly disappeared to process the payment.
‘So what is it that you want from me, Marvin?’ Erica knew when she was being played.
He decided the straight play would be the most effective with Erica.
‘Your pieces show great maturity for a fledgling artist. I’ve got a couple of galleries that would really love to hang some of your pieces. That means that they want you to stop selling your paintings to Wade Aitcheson.’
‘You know I can’t do that Marvin,’ she replied.
‘Would it make a difference if I tell you how much they’re willing to pay per piece?’
. . . To be continued . . .