I extend my tongue full length, French-kissing my third martini. The now-empty, nearly clean conical glass winks back at me, another subtle indicator of full-boat overindulgence. Could this martini-glass warning blinker--a lighthouse perched above the jagged coastline of reality--suggest my ineligibility for a fourth see-through?
My only hesitation in leaving the bar involves a strawberry blonde. She’s sitting on a nearby stool--we’re upstairs at the Martha--and, more important, the lady seems to like my looks. Grinning at me in a very particular way. I have the feeling if I stay right here, drinking and winking, Cutie Pie with an Edge may just wander over here and rub me up. She’s got that “I do whatever the hell I want” line etched into her chin.
Logic, Shore’s business, and my children's’ college education luckily snag hold of my over sexed, gin-rotted brain. Checking the bartender’s watch, I see Brooklyn Tony’s been up in Talbot’s room more than an hour. If he’s trying to bribe that woman from the American Assn. of Securities Dealers, Tony could put Shore out of business, maybe install my pink ass in a white-collar prison. The U.S. District Attorney in Trenton loves to make an example of corporate criminals.
I throw down thirty bucks and slide off my stool. I must be nuts letting Tony go up to Talbot’s room, let him represent Shore Securities with the A.A.S.D.. What was I thinking? At the very least I should have held out as long as physically possible, let the contusions and concussions speak later of my attempt to prevent Tony’s madness.
Besides Carmela, who walked in ten minutes ago, the Martha’s bar swells with lingering sunset gazers and silver-haired seniors ordering early-bird specials from the bar menu. Through the crowd, the strawberry blonde and I find each other’s gaze.
I only snag a glimpse on my way out, but Strawberry’s wearing a scooped-neck black dress that frames her breasts and drapes her hips like liquid chocolate. Diamond earrings twinkle at me, but not as brightly as the lady’s smile. If Johnny Depp the pirate had a blonde sister...
I wave and disappear into the elevator lobby.
Figures. Probably the love of my life back there, and I’m ditching the bar and a chance to meet her because everything I have, everything my children need, could be sliding down the big financial drain as I speak.
The room tilts. Oops. I should have gone for the martini quatro. The third one buried me anyway.
The elevator doors rattle open before I push the button, and Tony’s wife Gina the Luscious almost crashes into me rushing out. What the hell’s she doing here? Her shoulder-length black hair dangles loose and uncombed. Her cashmere sweater sports a torn seam across the right shoulder. And Gina Farascio’s gorgeous face is drawn tight, her mascara smeared by tears.
The instant I catch her shoulders, preventing our collision, the lights go off and the Martha’s fire alarm fills the hall with high-pitched electronic screaming. The piercing, throbbing whine stabs at my ears, the ugly noise somehow louder in the dark.
In a wash of red light, Gina’s eyes go wide and wild. An intense red beacon flashes above us from high in the elevator lobby--the alarm’s screaming now has a frightening visual quality.
The good news, if I have my bearings right in the semidarkness, the flashing red light locates the stairway. Escape. My heart’s drumming.
It figures that lives are at stake. I’ve got five or six ounces of Bombay Sapphire in me, not to mention the vermouth. Plus--let’s see if I can put this delicately--my brain’s missing some blood thanks to Gina being so close. Like an airline’s overhead baggage compartment, my contents have shifted.
A crowd of alarm-driven bar patrons streams into the small elevator lobby. The elevators lock shut. I reach for Gina’s hand as the swelling pack of panicked seniors herds toward the stairs. I don’t see or smell any smoke, but Gina and I don’t have a choice. We’re swept up like leaves in a water-filled gutter.
I slip my arm around her waist to keep us together.
Outside in the parking lot, Gina and I huddle with two or three dozen other elderly bar patrons, hotel guests, and staff while two Branchtown fire crews rush inside the Martha. I don’t spot Tony, Ms. Strawberry, or Anne Marie Talbot anywhere in the crowd, but Carmela’s out here. She’s talking with three young women and a uniformed cop.