At the appropriate time on Saturday night, Hector Van Hooft settled himself on the sofa in his living room to watch the Seven O’clock News.
He had thought…even gone so far as to assume…that Jimmy Christmas, the intern he had so carefully chosen to cover his press conference, would put a positive spin on the day’s events. In particular, that the parking space which had given him so much grief was gone. Or, rather, not that the space itself was gone, but that the characteristics it adapted to prevent Hector from pulling into it had disappeared.
How, he wondered, could that turn of events be interpreted in any way to reflect badly on him?
And yet, when he was caught on camera asking “Where did it go?”, instead of appearing to be a victim…and he was a victim!...he looked like a guy in a checkered sports coat wearing ten watches on each arm who wants to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.
Worse yet, when Rosemary Thigpen exclaimed on camera, “It’s a trick!” – how could he ever have trusted that, that, that…creature? – he felt that her shifty eyes, sly smirk, and porcine face had reflected badly on him, too.
What did his mother always say?
“You are judged by the company that you keep.”
What had he been thinking!!!
Hector turned off the television and began to pace his small apartment.
It was still Saturday.
He looked at a clock on an end table.
Other than the interview, the stupid, fateful interview he gave with Rosemary that morning, he had slept most of the day.
What to do now?
Hector was too nervous to read.
He was afraid to watch TV. What if he were to appear in an even worse light on a different news station?
He was in no mood to go to a movie or to walk up and down the snow covered streets.
He reached for his telephone. He dialed the direct number for the duty chef’s private line in the kitchen at the Wedgewood Restaurant.
Afonse Acosta, also an executive chef, if somewhat Hector’s junior, picked up the phone. He barked irritably.
“Alfonse, this is Hector.”
“Hello, Hector. Talk fast. I’m busy.”
“Do you need an extra hand tonight?”
“Yes. Of course. I always need extra hands. But who?”
“You know what they say, Hector. ‘Too many cooks…’”
“Yes. Yes. Of course. But I won’t interfere. I’ll just help with preparations. I’ll whisk eggs. Slice onions. Fold napkins. Wherever you want. I’m going stir crazy, and I need an excuse to get out of my apartment.”
“Okay. I’ll put you on vegetables. But behave or I’ll kick you out.”
And so, an hour and a half later, uniformed only in an apron (and not, in deference to Alfonse Acosta, his chef’s hat), Hector was standing over a cutting board beside a gleaming chrome cabinet, chopping potatoes and determinedly trying not to think about a parking space that, up until a week ago, had been his and his alone. A space that, overnight, had formed an alliance with a pestilent young woman whose appearance had forced Hector – against his natural inclination to be shy and unassuming – to speak out publicly at a press conference that, also through no fault of his own, attracted an infamous fat filmmaker (who turned out to be a violent activist), an inept fledgling reporter (who turned out to have no journalistic ethics), and…he chopped.
In his eyes was the same murderous gleam as could be seen in the eyes of Madam Defarge as she glazed up at the guillotine.
Then, suddenly, Hector heard the sounds of heavy footsteps and felt a whoosh of moving air as the swinging double doors to the kitchen flew open. Standing in that portal was Rosemary Thigpen. Her legs were spread wide like a gunfighter, and her piggy black eyes roved the room like a predator seeking prey.
Her white teeth clenched, her thick neck bulged, and beneath her traffic enforcement officer’s uniform, her pudgy body expanded like a wrestler in a rage
Within seconds, she spotted Hector Van Hooft.
He drew his knife away from the potatoes and held it out in front of his apron as if to repel an attack.
“You!” Rosemary screamed and strode across the room, dodging sous-chefs, bakery chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, waiters, and a sputteringly indignant Alfonse Acosta, who demanded, “Out! Out! Get out of my kitchen at once!”
She continued forward and did not stop until she was face to face with her friend-of-the-day-before, co-interviewee of that morning, and now, apparently, fatal foe.
“You!” she screamed again. “You got me into this!”
Hector struggled to hold the knife steady (his hands were shaking), while the enraged meter maid seemed to expand with every breath she took like a balloon in a Thanksgiving Day Parade.
She moved closer.
The Executive Chef took a step back.
She swiped the air with her right arm, and knocked the knife out of his hand.
It clattered to the floor.
Rosemary stomped her feet.
Her face grew purple.
She bellowed, “I WAS FIRED!”
“You and your stupid press conference. You and your stupid interviews. You and your stupid media attention. My boss saw someone he assumed was me on the Seven O’clock News, and that person, whoever she was, was throwing an M500 fire cracker into a parking space. A little smoke…a little soot…that’s all…touched the base of a parking meter. Smoke. Soot. At a parking meter that dogs pee on every day! The dogs get off scot-free, but me…what happens to me? The best parking enforcement officer the city has ever seen? I get fired for destruction of public property.”
She pressed her lips together and glared.
She turned to her left and saw dozens of pastries arranged in rows in delicate bone China dessert dishes. With a quick jerk of her arm, she swept them off the counter, and they came crashing to the floor.
Hector’s whole body began to quake.
“You!” She glared darts at his eyeballs. “It was your stupid crusade. Your stupid idea! Your…”
But whatever she was going to say next was drowned by a screech of sirens, which rose to a terrifying crescendo mere seconds before the doors flew open to the kitchen for a second time.
Now, to an invasion of police.
Alfonse Acosta stood to one side, his arms folded serenely across his chest and a look of triumph on his face as the mad woman who had violated the sanctity of his kitchen was handcuffed and hauled away.
Meanwhile, Hector Van Hooft who, if not Alfonse Acosta’s friend, was at least a respected colleague, collapsed like a rag onto the kitchen floor.
He was helped to his feet by two waiters who assisted him into the chef’s office, settled him on a sofa, and brought him a cup of brandy-filled tea.
Order was quickly restored to the Wedgewood Restaurant kitchen.
Diners were offered sincere apologies and complimentary after-dinner drinks.
Dessert dishes were replenished. Vegetables were sautéed. Flambés were ignited.
And the evening progressed.
By 10:00 p.m., Hector felt sufficiently recovered to profusely thank Alfonse (after that night, he never once peered at him arrogantly over the rims of his rimless eye glasses) and go home.
He had parked his car where he usually did, half a block from the hotel on the east side of the street.
But as he approached, he noticed something…odd.
The car was not as he had left it.
On the windshield.
Was that a fan of fluttering papers?
He walked closer.
Yes. Underneath the windshield wipers. One. Two. Three. Five. Seven. Ten.
Ten parking tickets. Each with a box in which a different violation was checked off.
No Parking - $ 55
Pedestrian Safety Zone - $ 100
Loading Zone - $ 55
Within 20 feet of intersection - $ 40
Taxi stand - $ 50
Crosswalk - $ 85
Sidewalk - $ 65
Overnight commercial - $ 65
No stop/stand - $ 75
Handicap ramp - $ 100
And at the bottom of every completely unjustified ticket, in the space allocated for “Complainant’s Name” was the viciously scrawled signature:
Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - evesun.com Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.