This is the first chapter of the new Max Sawyer adventure, Baptism of Blood. It is unrevised and raw.1
The bow tie seemed to constrict like a vise around my neck. It is not that I mind the formal attire, but I always feel out of place wearing something that stodgy. I concentrated all of my willpower to keep my fingers from tugging at the knot. I am no expert at tying the infernal things, so I don’t want to spend another ten minutes trying to
reconstruct the bow.
I sipped a shot of whatever well bourbon the bartender was pouring. My palate, which has sampled most of the bourbons out there, was willing to bet that the brown liquid surrounding my ice was Old Charter.
As I already mentioned, I try to stay out of tuxedos as much as possible. However, tonight was not for me. I was standing in the Grand Ballroom of the Peabody Hotel drinking over-priced bourbon and staring at over-priced memorabilia on auction for a cause. In truth, I was doing it for two causes, both of which seemed worthwhile to me.
The first was to help raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. This alone would probably merit standing in a monkey suit. However, the second cause I was championing tonight was standing beside me in a long, slinky dress that slid around her hips and melted along her taut legs to the floor.
Lisa Day was engrossed in a conversation with Becky Gregory, the wife of Senator Raymond Gregory. The Gregorys had been staunch supporters of St. Jude since their daughter had been treated for leukemia there almost twenty years earlier. Becky Gregory was on the committee that organized this particular gala.
The Gregorys’ daughter, Michelle, had been a college roommate of Lisa’s at the University of Arkansas. Michelle had invited Lisa to join her parents at their table. Lisa had, in turn, convinced me to tag along as her date. I was quite willing to go since I rarely get the time I want to spend with Lisa.
Lisa and I had grown up in the same small town in Arkansas. I moved away the day after I graduated from high school, two weeks after I found my parents brutally murdered.
Lisa and I became reacquainted last year when I had returned home. Lisa was the editor of the local newspaper, and she and I became embroiled in a couple of murders. Lisa had saved my life when another old high school chum tried to kill me.
Lisa used our escapades to launch a new career with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as a senior crime reporter. She wrote a true crime book about the murders that established her further into the publishing world.
Unfortunately, I live in Memphis while she works in Little Rock most of the time. As a result of our living situations, we have tried to keep our lives uncomplicated. With her busy schedule at the paper and on book promotions, we rarely have time for each other. So when the opportunity avails itself, we share a few moments with each other. I wish I could say I was satisfied, but the truth is that I am madly in love with her. I asked her once to move to Memphis, but she seemed aloof. I suggested moving to Little Rock, but it hasn’t happened yet. I am afraid that if we were closer together, everything would go sour.
The chandeliers dimmed as a signal for everyone to move to their seat for dinner. One of the banquet staff moved through the crowd chiming a bell to further alert the guests to move inside the ballroom.
The ballroom was decked out in an animal theme. African designs and art decorated the room.
I decided to check my bid on an original lobby card from the movie Animal Crackers. The card had been signed by Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx. The bid was at $6,000.
I have always been a fan of the Marx Brother since my dad and I sat up all night to watch a marathon of their movies when I was eight years old. I bought an autographed copy of the autobiography of Harpo, Harpo Speaks. I recently picked up the DVD release of the lost episodes of You Bet Your Life. There are few modern actors, in my opinion, that can hold a candle to the comedic timing of any of the Marx Brothers.
I may be a big fan, however $6,000 seemed a bit pricey for me. I had drawn the line at $2,500, so I walked away from the auction toward my table.
Lisa was sitting beside Michelle, and the two were chatting as if they were still in Brown Hall at two in the morning. Lisa was beaming as she talked, but the dialogue ceased as I approached the table. I could almost feel my ears burning.
“Lisa has been telling me all about you, Max,” Michelle said curtly, but with an approving smile.
“I hope she isn’t exaggerating.”
“If I didn’t,” Lisa grinned, “there would be little to talk about.”
Michelle chimed in, “They have surgeries to fix that kind of thing.”
I nodded and leaned toward Lisa, “I thought you said two inches was a lot.”
Michelle let out a laugh as Lisa responded, “It is for a two year old.”
Michelle stifled her laugh as Senator and Mrs. Gregory joined us. Another couple in their mid-sixties sat with us as well. They introduced themselves as Phillip and Shannon Evans. Phillip Evans was a founding partner in the law firm, Evans, Jameson, Brock, Thursdon, and Associates. The firm of many names specialized in tax laws for big companies. Since Senator Gregory had recently been on the warpath to give the tax cuts to big companies, I surmised that Evan’s firm had some dealings with the Senator.
We were joined by another older couple in their late seventies. They sat opposite us, and I was unable to catch their names. Probably because no one thought to introduce them. The gentleman seemed quite friendly with both Senator Gregory and Phillip Evans.
I concluded that it would make little difference in my evening should I be introduced. Besides the only one at the table that interested me was steadily chattering with her friend.
I sipped on the glass of water in front of me. I pondered whether the cash bars in the foyer were still open. Then, I noticed a server pass by and place two bottles of wine on the table.
I am not a trained sommelier by any stretch of the imagination, but I do pride myself on knowing and enjoying many wines. I immediately recognized the labels of the wine. A bottle of Lincourt Vineyards Syrah sat within an arms length of me. On the other side of the table sat a bottle of Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Spy Valley is a fantastic
wine from New Zealand. I had purchased a whole case after I first tried it last year. The liquor store clerk informed me that I had bought the last of that vintage that they had in stock. Spy Valley would have to remain unavailable until the vineyard released the newest
vintage. I peered at the bottle and noticed that it was the newer vintage, and I had to hide my excitement at getting a chance to sample this vintage.
I was elated at the selection laid out in front of me. I was concerned that I might have to share this bottle with eight other people. I only hoped that there were extra bottles in the back. I took a glass of the Spy Valley and put it to my lips. Most Sauvignon Blancs have a distinctly grape flavor to them, but Spy Valley is so flavorful that it is almost like drinking grape juice. There was a crisp herbal flavor to it, and I let the nectar wash across my tongue so I could enjoy its full flavor. Once I let the wine pass through my throat, I realized that the odds of my getting inebriated might have vaulted upward. Not that the odds were ever that low. I was glad we had decided to get a room in the hotel.
Lisa continued to chat with Michelle as she slid her hand on to my thigh. I don’t really consider myself handsome, and in fact, I would most likely say I only looked average. The genetics of my family thought it humorous to play a little trick on me. They decided to skip over me when the height gene was passed around, so I come to a height
of five feet six and half inches. I believe that anytime someone is shorter than five feet seven inches every half inch counts. I can gratefully only assume that people shorter that five feet five inches count the quarter inch as well. Despite being blessed with an average
shortness, my genetics blessed me with a stocky frame. So, in essence, I have the weight of a six foot man. Thankfully, only a small portion is unwanted fat. Unfortunately, it falls into a small paunch in my mid-drift that strives daily to stick out over my belt. In order to stay one step ahead, I constantly try to keep in shape. I bicycle mostly because it feels less like exercise. I also play a little soccer because it doesn’t feel like running. Just to round my exercise regimen, I spend a lot of time in, on and under water.
I can only guess that all those calisthenics is the reason that Lisa finds my legs so sexy. Those aren’t my words. She is constantly commenting and rubbing my thighs. I don’t completely comprehend. I can certainly cherish a nice pair of legs on a woman, but I have no idea what it is that she finds so appealing. But I don’t argue or
I try to act nonchalant as she rests her hand on my leg, but I can feel a smile creep across my face. I glanced about the table at the Senator and his cronies as they were discussing and making deals. The wives were chatting graciously.
The ballroom was filled with tuxedos and gowns creating a constant murmur of nonsense. I sat quietly and listened to a thousand voices rumbling through the room, and I mused as to whether the actual words had more meaning that the buzzing I heard now. I smiled as I thought what a thousand mouths chewing might sound like.
I quaffed my wine and let my philosophizing mind wander a bit from the crowd. As luck would have it, a server carrying a large tray stopped beside our table to distribute salads to us. My mind gave over its ponderings for a deeper concentration on the plate at hand. The menu on our program had described the salad as a collection of mixed greens with julienne vegetables and a raspberry vinaigrette. I patiently waited for everyone at the table to receive their salads before I stabbed my salad fork into a pile of greens. The salad preceded a Chilean sea bass that was drizzled with some cream sauce. The fish practically melted on my tongue.
“Sorry, I’m ignoring you,” Lisa said in my ear.
“You can make up for it later,” I said with a lecherous grin.
“I just might have to,” she rebutted with an equally lascivious smile.
She quickly ran her fingers up my inner thigh and she turned on her bedroom eyes. Lisa has this uncanny ability to change the dilation of her pupils when she feels amorous. Inevitably it sends my libido into overdrive.
I stretched my neck, and she brought her hand up from under the table with her napkin. She dabbed the corner of her mouth.
Following that slightly carnal moment, I was unable to focus on the program that was being performed. It was a well choreographed take off of the The Lion King with kids dressed in intricate animal costumes. The children herded past while Lisa slipped her fingers between mine. Of all the intimacies that I have shared with women, holding someone’s hand like that seems the most powerful. Perhaps it stems from our youth when it was the first step to almost any relationship. Of course, I don’t want to sit around holding hands all the time.
The program ended a few minutes after eleven, and Lisa and I joined Michelle for another cocktail in the Lobby Bar of the Peabody. The Lobby Bar (as it is actually named) has played host to numerous luminaries, as well as five very ordinary ducks. The ducks have become a legend with the Peabody Hotel. The tradition began back in the 1930’s when the general manager of the hotel at the time had returned from a hunting trip with a friend. He and his hunting buddy began to imbibe some Tennessee sipping whiskey, probably what we call Jack Daniels. As often happens when whiskey is involved, these guys came up with a brilliant joke, to leave some of their live duck decoys in the fountain in the lobby. When the two hungover hunters awoke and stumbled downstairs they found an enthusiastic throng of people surrounding the fountain cooing over the new residents. This landmark exploit heralded in the public relations people, who took this drunken prank and turned it into the cornerstone of the Peabody Hotel. Now every day at eleven in the morning they march the ducks from the Duck Palace on the roof to the fountain in the lobby, and then at five, they march them back upstairs. The lobby often fills to the maximum with tourists ready to fight each other for a better view.
The ducks, however, had retired for the night. We found a seat near the bar where a cocktail server with the name Emily pinned to her dress came to get our order. I ordered a Manhattan with Woodford Reserve bourbon while Lisa and Michelle opted for a couple of Cosmopolitans. They were not as discerning in their choice of particular liquors.
While we sipped our drinks, we watched as many of the guests from the dinner clogged up near the door as the valets rushed to retrieve their individual vehicles. We talked and joked for an hour before I paid our tab and left Emily a generous tip.
I had gotten a room in the hotel for the night so we wouldn’t have to fight the flock of people trying to get out of the hotel. I also wanted to enjoy an elegant evening with Lisa before she had to go back to Little Rock tomorrow.
We took the elevator up to 1246, the Romeo and Juliet suite. It was considered one of the hotel’s honeymoon suites. It was a two story suite. The bedroom was large with a king size bed and the living room with a built in bar area, unfortunately unstocked, was on the eleventh floor.
“Thanks Max,” Lisa whispered in my ear. “I had a great time.”
I gave her one of my more charming smiles and a quick peck on her cheek as I opened the door to our suite. She pulled me close and kissed me.
“I believe I have something to make up to you,” she said with a hiss.
I relented, and she led me into the room and shut the door.