Charles Boyer, President of Healey Abrasives, was thoroughly average, which in no way set him apart from his acquaintances, a group that included local politicians, professionals, and businessmen. Mediocrity was entrenched both at Healey Abrasives, the corporation which had been his employer these past fifteen years, and in Tollburg, a once thriving but now rundown western Massachusetts mill town he'd called home that same length of time.

What did set him apart was why he was average. He was a sum of physical and mental extremes which, combined together, canceled each other out, leaving him stranded in neutral. What appeared to be simple indecisiveness was really an unquenchable need to succeed, drenched by an overwhelming fear of failure. His apparent simplemindedness was actually a quick but erratic mind held in check by a fear of making conspicuous decisions, while his legendary stubbornness sprung from a deeply ingrained belief he was always wrong, strongly reinforced by the fear of appearing ridiculous if the truth came out.

So when Charles mulled even simple questions at work endlessly, or asked the same questions over and over while never coming to a conclusion, his subordinates debated whether he was dumb, indecisive, or as most thought, both. Drawing an opposite conclusion, his superiors at Omni Publishing and Manufacturing, usually shortened to OPM, the highly leveraged private equity funded firm that had purchased Healey Abrasives a year prior, considered it deep thought going into whatever question they had just posed. In reality neither interpretation was correct--Charles’s mind worked like a pinball machine, with ideas and emotions darting from bumper to psychological bumper, shooting off at random, occasionally hitting targets and scoring points, yet inevitably working their way down to drain past a pair of malfunctioning, frozen mental flippers.

Today Charles was hunched deeply into his luxurious, high-backed, black leather desk chair, staring vacantly, for quite some time, out the floor to ceiling windows that formed the western wall of his spacious office. Nine months ago he'd submitted figures to his new boss, Dave Gifford, the CEO and Chairman of OPM, showing conclusively that they should close their local chainsaw file manufacturing facility and move south for the cheaper labor and rent. Ever since he'd been trying to figure out how in God’s name he'd come up with the numbers. It was obvious he'd made at least one spreadsheet error somewhere, but luckily no one else had caught on, and his plans had proceeded as planned. Dave Gifford and OPM consistently operated at a very high level, leaving the details to the business units, so they probably hadn’t studied Charles’s numbers and the details carefully. Rumor had it that despite months of “due diligence” prior to the purchase, OPM had actually purchased Healey Abrasives by mistake, thinking they manufactured chainsaws, not just chainsaw files. An abrasives company certainly didn’t fit with OPM’s mission statement of “buying vertically into the publishing marketplace”, while chainsaws were at least used in the paper supply chain to cut trees. Giving credence to the rumor was that OPM had changed their name from the more euphonious acronym VPL—Vertical Publishing Line, three weeks after the purchase was finalized.

So the local Tollburg manufacturing plant had been closed, long time employees laid off, and interim foreign suppliers found, but Charles still had to come up with a new location for the factory that would at least appear, accounting-wise, to save some money. He thought he'd found it, in Landover, Alabama, but no matter how often he played with the spreadsheet, the cost per square foot to rent the dump he'd located kept coming out higher than rents in Manhattan. He was doing something wrong again, but with three hundred plus factory workers already laid off he couldn't very well ask someone for help, so he just continued staring out the window: It was early spring in New England, and a light drizzle was misting against his windows, partially obscuring his view of the bare trees and scattered rocks on the low hill behind the building.

Thankfully his windows opened onto the backside of the building, away from Tollburg’s Main Street, or the view would have been decidedly different. Tollburg’s once grand storefronts were now largely vacant, the rare buildings still occupied being rented almost exclusively by various state and federal agencies, some designed to help the downtrodden get back on their feet from whatever addiction or misfortune had befallen them; others to bring business and urban renewal back to Tollburg. Unfortunately, both types of government agencies were unsuccessful, mainly managing to drive more business and well-paying jobs away, while increasing drug and alcohol abuse in a self-perpetuating and mutually reinforcing cycle. Many of the people they tried to help wandered Main Street for lack of anywhere else to go, loitering in threatening groups or standing alone, talking loudly to themselves or the rare passerby, furthering the flight of all entrepreneurs except streetwalkers and drug dealers from Main Street.

Charles considered none of this. It wasn’t his problem. As President of Healey Abrasives, his office contained all the rich accoutrements his title suggested. His leather chair wrapped snugly around him, holding him like a giant hand a few feet off the plush, dark blue carpet. As he peered out his window, his left elbow rested on an oversize mahogany desk, its vast expanse broken only by empty in and out baskets, a green blotter framed in leather, a black phone with the voicemail indicator discreetly blinking red, two oversize flat screen computer monitors, a Dell wireless mouse and unnecessary mouse pad, and a little plastic billboard bearing his name and title. Despite its unobtrusiveness, the small blinking light on the phone was like a strobe light: He’d seen the call come in four hours earlier, and had intentionally let it go to voicemail—sooner or later he’d have to listen to the message and probably return the call to Dottie, his wife, but he was certainly in no hurry.

Outside his window the rain was now picking up in intensity as dark grey clouds blew by in the fading late afternoon light, barely visible above the forest of leafless second growth maple trees beginning five yards from the building. Piles of colored, decaying wet leaves from last fall were gathered along the bottom edge of the plate glass. Charles swung back to face his desk: How in the hell could a building in one of the world's least desirable communities cost $72 a square foot? Obviously it couldn't, so he must have the decimal point in the wrong place. He divided the total by 10, using his calculator just to be sure. Now it was a much more reasonable $7.20 per square foot, not as good as if he’d properly divided by 12, since he had the annual rent confused with the monthly rent, but good enough to at least show a paper profit on the move.

With that finally out of the way, he breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back in his chair to relax, hands behind his head. Relief didn’t last long. Doubts and worries attacked immediately, giving him tightness in his chest and what felt like the beginnings of an ulcer in his stomach. Were his calculations really correct? Was anyone going to find out, since they probably weren’t? What about all the people laid off with tiny severance packages….maybe kids were going to bed hungry in Tollburg tonight because of the shutdown. His mind counterattacked, forcing the thoughts back, but their retreat left him with a headache to complement his other ailments. He stood up to do some Management by Walking Around, a handy, euphemistic reason to go for a stroll around the office that he’d learned while at Harvard Business School, and a good way to relieve stress and take out aggressions.

Standing up from his desk, Charles was average looking, but like his personality, his appearance was a blend of unusual features.  He was of above average height and weight, but the pounds were strangely distributed--by middle age gravity, stress, and years of inactivity had rounded his once handsome features and softened his body parts, forcing them down and outward. Even in his expensively tailored suits his buttocks protruded unusually far, making his pants ride high in the back. His Lindberg glasses and lightly graying hair made him look both scholarly and trendy, but could not quite offset the overall impression his face gave when he concentrated, which some of his subordinates compared unflatteringly to a dog trying to read a newspaper.

He strode to the perimeter of the executive wing, where the lush carpet abutted the edge of a worn linoleum floor, surveying the vast, bustling bullpen office area full of working employees, many talking loudly on the phone, their voices echoing off the hard floor. He always wondered how they could hear anything or do any work with all the racket. Where to go first? The order entry department was in the right rear corner behind some old gray cubicle walls, sixty feet away. He liked to see what orders were coming in, but he couldn't get there without walking through the accounts payable department, which he didn't remotely want to see, and besides, he could never remember the supervisor's name--maybe it would come to him by the time he got there, but he didn’t feel like running through the alphabet in his mind until it hit him. He looked to his left, where the customer service group of middle aged, overweight ladies were interspersed amongst old grey, dented file cabinets, fax machines, grayish white network printers, and hand-me-down desks and chairs. He tacked towards Debbie, the supervisor, who was on a call with an angry customer.

"Please hold," said Debbie resignedly, while Charles hovered over her.

“How's it going?" asked Charles in a fatherly tone. In the fifteen years they'd worked together Debbie had learned to never answer anything but 'OK', avoiding a conversation at all costs, but today, in the heat of handling a steady torrent of complaints, she forgot herself.

"Well,” said Debbie, “I certainly am getting a lot of complaints about our chain saw files, sir—they say the quality is terrible. Our rep in CA just told me the best thing about the files we got from China is that they weren’t boxed carefully, so sometimes when you order a dozen you only get 10 or 11 in a box. What should we tell our customers?"

"Oh?" said Charles in a surprised tone. He couldn't believe his ears. If he'd had any inclination she was going to ask a question like this he'd have headed straight for payables. So what if he couldn’t remember the supervisor’s name?

"A lot of our distributors, they don't feel the quality was up to our old standards, and they're especially upset we didn't ship until late December, when the timber harvesting season was over” continued Debbie, almost babbling. “They can't sell them, and want to send them all back for credit."

"Well you just tell them," said Charles, his voice rising in indignation, "that the manufacturer of those files gave me his word of honor that his files were as good or better than the ones we used to make here in the factory, before we shut it down, and that was good enough for me. To me, a man's word is his bond, and that applies to everyone. Just because a man's of a different race, like from Hong Kong, is no reason to doubt his word." He was becoming quite animated and his face was flushed. This was hitting extremely close to home, since he’d not only closed the local factory based on what was most likely a math error, but personally located the foreign supplier. "You tell those customers that the President of this company was personally assured that the files were of top quality, and that they'd be here by September."

"But Mr. Boyer, sir," said Debbie timidly, already greatly regretting beginning the conversation. "They weren't here until late December, right around Christmas time, and the quality’s no good."

"My God, girl”, said Charles with unconcealed and righteous disgust. “Mr. Wong, who by the way is now a close personal friend of mine, couldn't help that. The poor man's mother died, and then his entire factory burned to the ground. He even sent me pictures of it….I couldn’t even recognize the factory or its surroundings, it was so badly destroyed. It's a tribute to his friendship with me that we got the files at all. He must have had to move heaven and earth to get his entire factory rebuilt and those files to us by December."

"Yes, sir," sighed Debbie. The hold button light on the phone was now out, but she knew they'd all call back, even madder, requesting to speak to her by name. Maybe she should lie about her name.

"So you tell them they're lucky to have any files at all, and we're not taking them back," Charles snapped, spinning on his heels and striding off, while Debbie reluctantly picked up the phone to relay the company President’s message to the next irate caller.

That conversation sure hadn't turned out like Charles expected. Now in an irritable mood, he strode towards data entry and Nancy Polanski, a short, heavyset clerk who was currently his favorite target when he strode the office. Nancy kept her eyes on the monitor and her head down, pretending she didn’t see him coming, but they both knew where he was heading.

"What're you doing?" asked Charles loudly enough for everyone around to hear.

"I'm entering orders, Mr. Boyer, sir”, replied Nancy timidly.

“I can see that, obviously”, replied Charles haughtily. “What else are you doing?”

"Nothing else. Just entering orders, sir. That's all I ever do," was Nancy's puzzled reply.

"What are you doing with that ruler, then?" asked Charles slowly, as he moved in for the kill.

"Keeping my place, sir, on the order."

"That's something else, isn't it?" boomed Charles triumphantly.

Nancy didn't reply, but stared down at her keyboard. Her eyes began to water.

"I said, that's something else, isn't it?" repeated Charles loudly, glancing around the room at fifty employees looking anywhere but at him. "From now on, when I ask you something, I want a correct answer right away. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." said Nancy in a small voice. She kept her head lowered. She was a single mother with two kids in elementary school, and Tollburg was not exactly loaded with other jobs.

Feeling much better now, having forgotten about his miscalculation and Landover, Charles methodically surveyed the office a final time before strutting forcefully back towards his office. Behind him Nancy looked up cautiously and seeing him striding away like a duck, flashed his backside her middle finger. Charles heard the muffled snickering, but assuming it was at Nancy's expense, continued purposefully toward his office.

An excerpt from "Other People's Money: A road to heaven paved with bad intentions"

The characters in this scene are:

Charles, the president of an acquired company, Healey Abrasives
Dave, a partner is the acquiring private equity group OPM
Dave’s wife Jill

They are together on a company sponsored boondoggle to California, but having vastly different experiences—Charles, the books anti-hero, is in the midst of an unusual redemption involving prayer, an affair and strip clubs; while Dave, forced to hang out with his wife, is despondent from having attended a day long lecture on fashion shows. Jill, a minor character to this point, is about to throw them all a curveball. The scene begins as the trio tries unsuccessfully to decide on a restaurant for dinner, until eventually ending up in a sushi bar.

Back at the table, Charles, Jill and Dave were making no progress determining where to eat since Dave just wanted to drink, Jill wasn’t hungry, and Charles wanted to get to the party as soon as possible—going nowhere to eat was his first choice, followed closely by McDonald’s due solely to the speed of food delivery. For lack of a decision, they finally just hopped a cab to Stanford, planning to then walk up University Ave towards the party, hopefully finding some place that struck their fancy along the way.

The walk turned out to be considerably longer than any of them anticipated—Charles, irritated it was taking so long to get to the party, led the way, while Dave and Jill brought up the rear. Dave slouched along while Jill, serving as an anchor to slow Charles’s fast pace, continually wanted to browse the various expensive boutiques along the way, much to both men’s dismay. After about twenty minutes of stop and go walking they came once again to The Working Person’s Boutique, where Jill again held up forward progress by venturing inside. By this time even Dave was getting hungry.

“Come on, Jill,” complained Dave. “These places are a pain in the ass—the stuff all looks the same, like you’re planning to explore the Amazon or wrestle alligators here in Menlo Park, plus it costs a ton.” Pulling a pair of pants off the rack, he continued, “Look at this bullshit. These pants look like you could wear them on Mount Everest and they cost $600. Where are you planning to wear something like this…..in the elevator at home? I know we live on the 35th floor so you might get frost bite from the altitude. Maybe we should pick up an oxygen mask too.”

“Dave,” came the exasperated reply. “You just don’t appreciate fashion.” Jill pulled a pair of $800 camouflage pants and short sport coat from the rack. “Wouldn’t I just look adorable at your next work party?”

“Only if I enlist,” was the grumpy reply. “I’ll bet there’s a restaurant coming up soon we’d all like.”

“I’m sure I’ll like it,” chimed in Charles. If the next restaurant served cold, week old hot dogs he’d vote for it, as long as it was fast.

“Oh, look at this,” exclaimed Jill, holding up a $500 pair of peasant pants as the clerk came over to help.

“That will look so good on you,” said the clerk. “It makes you look sophisticated, but like a working class person. Maybe like a college professor from a wealthy family on sabbatical and working with his hands so he can write a book about how poorly the working class is treated by the rich.”

“That’s exactly how I saw it,” concurred Jill. “I’ll take them, plus that camouflage suit. I just want to try them on, to make sure they accent my figure without being too sexist.”

“Of course,” replied the clerk. “I know just what you mean. I hate it when men stare at us.”

“Me too,” said Jill as she pranced off in her high heels to the changing room, her tight jeans strategically pre-worn in the rear near the bejeweled back pockets, below the Roberto Cavalli label.

................................

Twenty minutes later and two thousand dollars lighter, the trio re-emerged onto the street. By now the sun was setting, and the street was lighting up. Immediately across the avenue from them was a sushi bar.

“Oh,” said Jill excitedly. “I love sushi. Let’s go in there.”

Charles, not being an adventuresome eater, had never been in a sushi bar, but as he really had no say in where they stopped, and at least it was somewhere, so they could eat and then keep walking, he said, “Sounds good.”

“Didn’t know you liked sushi, Charles” laughed Dave.

“I’ve never had it,” replied Charles matter-of-factly.

“Don’t worry. I’ll help you order,” said Jill.

After being led to a low table behind a screen that required removing their shoes, the waitress, a small Japanese woman, appeared.

Dave ordered first since he was hungry. “I’ll have two orders each of tuna, yellow tail, and salmon sushi, plus a spider roll and a big Kirin beer.”

“I’ll have the same, but just one of each” said Charles, playing it safe.

“Oh Charles. Don’t order what Dave does. He always orders the same thing, and has no sense of adventure. Let me order for you.”

“I think I’ll stick to what Dave ordered.”

“No, I’ll order for you. We’ll both get the same thing and can split it,” went on Jill. “Life’s no fun if you never take a chance. Dave’s no fun—he never wants to do anything different or daring.”

“Switch my beer to a Saki, a big one” said Dave.

“I’ll have one of those, too,” said Charles.

“That’s better,” said Jill. “You can get beer anywhere. I’ll have a Saki too. I love that warm feeling it gives you.”

Jill studied the narrow sheet listing the various items available, pencil in hand. She checked off a number of items, then handing over the paper to the waitress saying, “Charles and I will split our meal. We’ll have Uni, Kohada, Ikura, Hotate, and two orders of Hon Maguro sushi. Put extra wasabi on the rice with the Blue Fin.”

“Bon appétit”, Charles,” laughed Dave, finishing his fifth tiny glass of Saki, emptying the bottle. “Ummm. That’s good. How about another round?” he said to the waitress.

“The Maguro is quite expensive, madam,” said the waitress. “Blue fin tuna is selling at record prices.”

“That’s not a problem…it’s really quite tasty, I’m sure.”

Charles sipped on his Saki, wishing the food would hurry up. How strange could it be? Dave’s showed up first, with the second bottle of Saki, and looked reasonably normal—slices of fish over rice, and cooked soft shell crab rolled in rice and seaweed. It even looked pretty good.

“How do you eat that stuff?” Charles asked Dave.

“It’s an acquired taste—you’ll like it soon enough. At our age, we’re so used to everything, like food we eat, even a good steak, that we’re happy when something different comes along, even raw fish. You’ll like it.”

“Thanks, but that’s not really what I meant. I meant really, how do you eat it? Do you just use a fork?”

“No, no, don’t use a fork,” said Dave. You’ll use either chop sticks, which are kind of tricky, or just use your fingers. You use the ginger—that thin, pink stuff, to clear your palate, and then you dip the sushi into this little bowl here, that has soy sauce and wasabi in it. You mix in a little wasabi, but not too much. It’s really hot, so you don’t want to get too much. Jill likes a lot of it, but me—I go light on it. It burns my nose if I get too much.”

Now Charles was actually looking forward to his meal’s arrival since Dave’s looked so good, especially the spider roll, which turned out to just be soft shell crab, and not something that had been hard to even imagine anyone consuming, let alone paying for.

“Here, Charles. Try a bite of the spider roll,” Dave offered.

Charles took a bite, grasping it with his chopsticks, using them like pinchers. It had a great taste, which he washed down with more Saki.

Just then Charles’s meal, so kindly ordered for him by Jill, arrived. Charles just stared at it while Dave chuckled. In front of him sat an order of sea urchin, salmon eggs, gizard shad, raw scallops, and thankfully, the Blue Fin tuna with extra wasabi.

“Dig in, Charles,” said Jill gleefully. “Doesn’t it look just wonderful?”

There’s no way I’m eating this shit. “Well, it certainly does look unusual.”

“Come on, Charles. Take a bite,” heckled Dave. “Jill sure ordered you a taste experience. Maybe you can have some freshwater eel for desert.”

“Stay out of this, Dave,” said Jill, turning her attention to Charles. “Really, you just have to try it. Just pick something.”

Charles, peering at the odd assortment of sushi on the counter in front of him, chose what looked the most normal, the maguro. “I guess I’ll try this.” He picked up a piece of the Blue Fin tuna, dipped it lightly in the soy sauce with just a touch of hot Japanese mustard, and took a nibble off the end. It was delicious, so he took a big bite, stuffing it all, including the extra wasabi skillfully hidden between the fish and rice by the sushi chef, into his mouth.  At first he detected just the delicate flavor of the very expensive, highly prized Blue Fin, enhanced by the soy sauce, but then the wasabi began welling up inside his mouth. “Arghh,” he gasped, as the wasabi burst into full bloom, permeating his nasal passages, blasting from his mouth into his nostrils like a WWII flame thrower.  His eyes began to water, then overflowed with tears, while his mouth hung open as he grabbed for his water. He swallowed the $50 Blue Fin sushi whole, then pounded back more water. It didn’t help, so he took a swig of Saki, nearly knocking the bottle over in the fog of tears clouding his vision. Although he couldn’t speak, he could hear Dave laughing beside him.

“Lucky Jill asked for extra wasabi, wasn’t it?” Dave said unsympathetically. Then, turning serious, he asked. “Charles—Are you OK? You look like you’re having a heart attack.”

Charles couldn’t respond, but nodded his head that he was OK.

“Wasn’t that good?” asked Jill, no trace of sarcasm in her voice. “The wasabi adds a whole new dimension to the eating experience.”

“What in God’s name was in that?” rasped Charles, his nasal passages still burning. Strangely, it had been good, now that the vapors inside his nose were dissipating, but he had no desire to go through that experience again. It was like crawling across a hot beach to enhance the pleasure of a cooling swim in the ocean.

“That’s wasabi-- Japanese horseradish,” replied Jill. “Isn’t it fabulous?”

“That may be the worst thing I ever ate,” Charles finally managed to say. “I thought my nose was going to burn off.”

“Oh, you’re no fun. Here, try something else.” Jill pushed the gizzard shad in front of him.

“Maybe I’ll try this instead,” said Charles, picking up the Salmon eggs. It didn’t look too good, but at least he recognized it from his fishing days, and Jill hadn’t ordered it with extra wasabi. He tentatively took a nibble, and although it was better than he expected, the nibble was plenty.

“Dave, can I have another bite of that spider roll?”

“Sure, go ahead. Finish it. Jill can eat that great stuff she ordered.”

“I’m not really that hungry. I ordered it for Charles. He’d have liked it if you hadn’t discouraged him.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll encourage him….Go ahead, Charles. Try another bite of that Blue Fin Tuna. There’s $200 worth of it there so someone ought to eat it. There are kids starving in Africa, you know.”

“Forget it,” said Charles.

“Very funny,” said Jill. You’re always making fun of me.”

Dave sat fiddling with a chopstick at the table while Charles, having given up on chopsticks, ate the Spider Roll with his fingers; Dave, having had enough sushi and Saki, decided to kill some time as he waited for Charles to finish--looking serious, he leaned forward on his elbows and asked Jill, who was across the table from him,. “Now I’m not being a wise guy or making fun of you, but what do you like so much about fashion shows?”

To his surprise and mild annoyance, Jill didn’t answer immediately. Rather, she pondered her response a moment, hesitated, and then said, “It’s something different—just like you were saying about the sushi. When you get to be our age, the same old things seem boring, no matter how good they might be. Like you said, even a great steak can be boring if you’ve had them often enough.”

“So you need a different hobby, and you want to learn to design clothes, and learn about fashion? That’s certainly understandable.”

Jill wasn’t usually too honest or open with Dave, but after two bottles of Saki was feeling all warm inside and trusting. “That’s not really it, Dave. Really, what it is….,” She hesitated again, “is that I like to watch the women walk on the runway in their beautiful outfits.”

Dave, missing the point, replied, “So you like to see the new clothing styles and how they look?”

“No, Dave. I like to see the women. I actually imagine them walking up there with nothing on under their clothes.”

This got Dave’s attention. “Charles—switch seats with me, will you? You can eat the rest of my sushi. It’s normal stuff.” Then turning back to Jill he continued, “You mean you imagine the women wearing no underwear?”

Charles, who had been concentrating entirely on getting the food into his mouth in one piece while trying to determine what was edible, changed seats with Dave; He also started paying attention to the conversation.

“That’s it Dave. I find it very stimulating.”

“Stimulating in what way? You mean you like naked women?” asked Dave incredulously, and loudly enough he could have been heard at neighboring tables, had it not been for the curtain.

“I’m not sure, but I think so. I’d like to try something new.”

“You mean you’d like to have sex with a woman?” This time the neighboring tables could have heard him through a foot of insulation. Dave couldn’t believe it, but it had his undivided attention.

“Shhh—you’d better keep your voice down…..I think so. I’m not sure.”

“Would I be there too?”

“Of course you would. I wouldn’t want to be there by myself.”

Dave was seeing Jill’s interest in fashion, and his attendance at fashion conferences, in an entirely new and much brighter light. “What would I be doing, exactly?”

“That would be up to you. Do you think it sounds fun?” she asked, unsure of herself.

This caused Dave to pause. It sounded fucking terrific, depending of course on who the other woman was—if she looked like a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers that would be less fun--but he had to be careful not to act too enthusiastic about it and make Jill think he was tired of her, and get jealous. “Gee, I don’t know. It seems pretty wild.”

Jill then said what Dave had been hearing multiple times a day for years, and what he was praying he’d hear at least one more time: “You are just too set in your ways. You never want to try new things. You need to be more adventuresome.”

“I’d be willing to try it, if you want me to but I can’t guarantee anything.” He felt himself stirring as his mind imagined the possibilities.

“Oh, Dave. That’s so understanding of you,” Jill cooed. She wrapped her arms in front of her, tight across her breasts, and leaned into him.

Dave’s slouch was now completely gone, his attention focused like a laser beam. It was a dream come true, out of nowhere, or worse than nowhere—from a fashion show. Maybe there would be willing women at the party tonight. “Well, we’d better head for the party. I’m afraid we might be running late.”

This comment perked up Charles, who was still starving but terrified of the odd assortment of strange foods in front of him, providing hiding spots for lurking Japanese horseradish, ready to attack his unsuspecting nasal passages. “I’m all done,” he announced. He’d certainly had enough sushi, and whatever that damn green paste was called, and was eager to get this show on the road. There were bound to be appetizers at Anne’s.

“I’m ready,” said Jill, grinning slyly at Dave. Apparently she had the same idea he did.

“Let’s go for it,” boomed Dave, pushing his chair back and standing up abruptly. “Could we have the check, please,” he asked the nearest oriental woman, who may or may not have been their waitress. As they exited the sushi bar, there remained approximately $400 of sushi uneaten on the table, though the Saki bottles were empty.

The remaining distance to the party was covered in record time, this time with Dave leading the charge, holding Jill’s hand, nearly dragging her, as he strode purposefully down University Ave, heading for what he hoped was the sushi equivalent of new experiences for his marital sex life. Charles, bringing up the rear, watched them go, and hoped, for Dave’s sake, there wasn’t any wasabi hidden in the experience.

 

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