The Conversion of John the Baptist
It was supposed to be a quiet evening, just Ann Fatale and me, tablecloths – plain or chintz – who cares, muted lighting, some palatable Italian food and a bottle or two of red. There’s a bright neon sign in the restaurant window, a blue winking oval OPEN. Outside a nearby streetlight casts a sickly, pale grapefruit circle on the purple sidewalk snow. The night bleeds black for all the honest souls and unrequited lovers alone tonight in this cold, harsh city.
I feel good; I look even better: a new haircut slicked back with pomade and my freshly shaven cheeks still stinging from the slap happy application of witch hazel. I’m wearing new blue suede shoes in bad weather, but I don’t care. The rest of my clothes fit better than they normally do. I’m feeling like a million bucks. My baby is looking like she’s just sashayed out of The Royal Canadian Mint carrying a bulging handbag, along with three suitcases humped by love sick inside help only too happy to be of service gratis. Sometimes my heart breaks when I look into her blue peepers because I have a sense of what would happen to me if she ever walked out: that rear-end black skirt hip sway would kill me. I would die a little more saying sayonara.
I’m crazy about Ann and maybe I’m crazy because of the way I live my life; it’s a hard living trying to set things right. I’m no saint. I’m no diplomat. Talk is cheap and a bullet speaks volumes. The name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m the fixer behind the curtain, the lethal shadow in the mist and fog.
The waiter doesn’t mince but he wants to, trouble is he’s about 50 pounds too hefty. I’m wondering about the thumb prints in the bread rolls. I’m wondering if the kitchen is cleaner than the men’s toilet. The coke addled owner is a crime family scion; he’s even paying protection to his old man. The trattoria’s a small time money laundering operation but Ann likes the food and the joint’s within walking distance. Just another night until the Baptist dame huffs in, dragging her purse like a ball and chain, her husband on a leash behind her.
Religion is the crutch of the vacant and feeble minded although all of us strive to fill the innate emptiness within ourselves someway, somehow. That holier-than-thou face is pinched. Her worm wiggly lips are the mere suggestion of a line revealing teeth sharper than some confidence men I know. Her tight little ringlets of hair are L’Oreal coloured, somewhere between mouse and auburn. The Baptist lady is all hi, hello, how are you, won’t you come to Bible study and who’s your man, to Ann. I ask the woman if she can remember the last time she uncrossed her legs. Conversation swiftly goes down hill from there.
She strides off smarting and thumps back down at their table to commence her snit. It’s been my experience that one of the reasons this great dirty world turns is that dames compel men to do things they’d prefer not to. I watched the little man reluctantly rise. Misguided honour but I didn’t court and marry the crone. I wasn’t spoiling for a fight; I was enjoying Ann’s vivacious company and my penne al dente.
“Did you insult my wife?”
“Not at all,” I reply. “I merely suggested she relax a little. Better for her and probably better for you.”
He looked relieved. “My name’s John,” he says. He held his hand out. Shake.
“You already know Ann Fatale,” I say. “My name’s Danger, Geoff Danger.”
“You’re new to the community. You should attend our monthly Bible study meeting and get to know everyone.” He grins. “I often serve beer as a little lure for the fallen.”
“Well,” I crack wise, “was it Ben Franklin who said, ‘Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy?’ Or was that in a letter from Paul to the Corinthians?”
“I don’t remember that particular passage. However, I do hope you’ll join us. Our next meeting is this Saturday night.”
“Thank you for the invitation. That’s very kind.” I rise from my chair and take John by his necktie and lift him so that the toes of his patent leather shoes scrabble against the chequered red and green ceramic tiles on the floor. “But get this and don’t you forget it. Beer is nothing but a chaser for Irish whisky. My bible is Storyville to Swing Street: Who’s Who of Jazz. And if you think we’d spend our Saturday night with the likes of you and your ilk, well, you’ve got another thing coming. And this is it.” I punch him hard in the face and then knee him in the groin. The waiter flits over but I stop him cold with a glare.
“Oh, baby,” Ann breathes, “I’m hungry for dessert but I believe we should eat at home.”
I let John slide down under our table. I finish my wine; it’s a paler shade of crimson than John’s blood but still a decent Asti. I tell the waiter to get our bill and make it snappy. And penne ante up our doggie bags to the Baptist dame.