He was thinking wine and sex, and she was on her way out. Divine Fury. Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY that Eddie Denovo threw for himself on his 50th birthday was old-school newsroom.  The photo editor of the San Francisco News simply invited everyone to pile into the nearby M&M, the venerable Irish pub with ancient barstools and a horseshoe bar that had accommodated thirsty editors, reporters, photographers, politicians and neighborhood regulars for four decades.  He bought everyone their first drink, explained this was more of a wake than a celebration and then kept ordering more for himself.  Quarters were tight and it was clear the event was more of an inspired launching pad for the evening than the main event in itself.

Lee piled out with a dozen reporters and editors, climbed into one of three cabs the group flagged down for the four-minute ride to Slim’s, a popular South of Market night club typically  jammed to overflowing when popular bands rolled in playing country, Cajun, hard rock and everything in between.  It was blues night and still early enough for the party to stumble their way to an open cluster of tables in the back.  The quartet on stage was led by a thin guy in his 20s wearing an all-red outfit and wailing convincingly about lost loves, wasted lives and depression so dark that it feels like the sun will never rise again.

Lee sat across from Lorraine Carr and she seemed to be channeling the sad lyrics.  She looked numb as she stared at the stage and Lee realized how accustomed he was to seeing her brimming over with laughter and life, whether working hard on a story, convincing her staff to make the extra effort or just describing some outlandish event she’d attended the previous night.

“Hey,” he snapped his fingers to get her attention.  “What do you want?  I’m buying.”

Her face unfroze and Carr smiled.

“Well, in that case, how about something with Belvedere vodka, citrus and not too sweet,”  she said.  “Surprise me.”

Lee went to the bar and ordered two Belvedere gimlets and asked the bartender to make them dry if that were possible.  As an afterthought, he asked for doubles.  He brought the drinks back to the table, handed one to Carr and took a sip of the other.  He could live with that.  The bartender must have substituted some fresh lime juice for most of the sweetened, bottled stuff.

“Hmmm.  I like,” said Carr, taking an exploratory sip and then a larger gulp.  “He can order a drink.”  She licked an index finger and drew a mark in the air in front of her face.

“Hmmm.  Okay,” he said.  “Doesn’t like sweet drinks.”  He licked his finger and marked his own invisible scorecard.

Carr thought for a moment.

“Not one of the worst jerks in the newsroom,” she said, making another mark.

“Wow.  Standards are getting pretty high here,” said Lee, his finger poised.  “Most idealistic editor.”

“Gee.  Most idealistic,” said Carr, contemplatively.  “I suppose you’re right.  But you aren’t actually putting that in the plus column, are you?”

Lee thought for a moment.

“Yes.  I am,” he said.  “We cynics need you guys.  It’s the only thing that keeps us from spiraling down the toilet.  Plus, it reminds us of our youth.”

“No,” said Carr.  “We’re just enablers.  You cranky old farts need to hit bottom, figure out what you care about and do something about it.  Get off your butt and live life.”

“Ouch,” said Lee.  “I mean ‘Ouch.’  I’m not that much older than you.  What?  Six or seven years? ”

“Almost ten,” said Carr.  “I know your birth date.  I am your boss, after all.  And, the ‘old’ part is the least of it.  It’s the rest.  Don’t be afraid to care.  Commit to something you care about.  I don’t mean mocha lattes.”

“C’mon, Lorraine,” said Lee.  “What is this?  Freud night at Slim’s?  I’m going to have to put, ‘Gets too serious.’ In the minus column.”

“Oh, crap, you’re right,” she said.  “It’s because you’ve gotten me drunk.”

“Gets women drunk,” she said, making another mark in the air.  Then, she drew a question mark with a dot at the bottom, and added:  “And takes advantage?”

Lee was quiet for a moment.

“So the question is what?” he asked a little indignantly.  “Do I mix wine and sex?”

“Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of: ‘What would that be like?’” said Carr.  She said it with a small smile that didn’t change while she held his stare with her own.

Lee was still searching for something to say when she stood up, said goodnight and walked out the door.

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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