“Oh!” Underwood blushed, which was actually possible in his current guise, and waved it off. “Aah, it was nothing – just a hobby. You pick things up, you know…” He gave the moth-fey an embarrassed sort of smile. “You that hard up for performers that you need a low-rent reporter singing Sinatra?” It was clear that Underwood wanted the answer to be “yes”, even if he didn’t want to admit it to himself. “I guess you let me know…”
Somewhat mollified by the suggestion, the reporter sat down in his chair, gazing briefly at the ceiling – but not before whispering a few words to his night-vision goggles, and propping them up in the window. Had to keep watching somehow, after all.
“Now stories…stories, I know. Talk about weddings… Well, here’s a good one. Tell me if you’ve heard this before.”
The reporter leaned in, shifting his cadence and punctuating the yarn with hand gestures. It wasn’t a traditional fairy tale, not by a long shot, but there were other traditions, and this one suited Underwood just fine.
“So one time it comes on the week before Christmas, and here is a citizen sitting in the back of his Chinese restaurant and having a good and long stew to himself. Now, this citizen is the type who is liable to duck at the eye of the public, but he is known as an all around stand-up character, for he is one time the President of a cold-weather organization, and a good listener besides. But now, this citizen is in a stew, and he is talking about his stew to Miss Jenny Showtime, who is a pusher of computers and a blue haired doll, and who is sharing with this citizen a plate of egg foo young.
“‘Miss Jenny Showtime,’ says this citizen, ‘I am a man who circles the old drainpipe of life. When I am President of my cold-weather organization, I sit in this restaurant, which is once a delicatessen, and I speak with the many gentlemen who are like to frequent such an establishment. These gentlemen tell me their troubles. Some of these gentlemen, they give me their troubles, for they are not the sort of gentlemen whose business is above the board, and from this comes many capers and shenanigans. Sometimes such events come out sunny, and sometimes they come out blue and sorrowful, but there are always events. It is a good time to be a President.’
“‘But then the federales move back into the beer racket, and then the new buildings go up, and then Mayor What-Is-His-Name with his broken windows takes a squeegee to the entire business, and by this time I am not President no more. I sit in my restaurant, only now they make it a Chinese restaurant, and I watch the bankers and the computer billboards and the tour bus camera slingers, and it is my opinion that Broadway goes altogether farshlugginer while I am not watching. It is slick, and it is put together as neat as you please, but nobody comes by the restaurant no more, except for you, Miss Jenny Showtime. This is why I stew. It is not the Broadway I remember, and I am vexed by this more than somewhat.’
“Miss Jenny Showtime nods and says that is truly a pickle, and thank you for the egg foo young. Only when she gets up and goes to push her computers, she has a thoughtful-like expression on her kisser, because Miss Jenny Showtime is a thoughtful kind of a doll.
“So it comes on the next day, which is a Tuesday, and this citizen sits down to his lunch in the back of his Chinese restaurant, and he notices that there are not so many gawkers and day-trippers and Midwest camera rubes as is customary on Broadway, and this befuddles him quite some. Furthermore, when he is not halfway through his won tons, into this restaurant comes Berhanu Bekele, who is a man who sells watches from a coat, and who is sporting a bona-fide look of distress across his mug.
“‘Well,’ says Bekele, ‘I am a cussed sight better off for finding you here, my friend, because I owe a character by the name of Chechen Harry a cool ten thousand G’s by ten o’clock this morning, only I hear on the news that there is a transit strike just happening, and it is for this reason that I cannot deliver the necessary potatoes to Chechen Harry by this time, for Chechen Harry has the misfortune to live in Bushwick. But I hear that you are a stand-up guy and a good listener, and maybe that you help me with this grave predicament.’
“And all of a sudden also comes in Sangat Singh, who runs his own cab when the license board is not looking, and he says to this citizen, ‘Today is a transit strike, and because there are fifty fares and then some for every block of Broadway, I make a bet with my friend that if I pull in more Mazola with my cab than he does with his cab, then I win as my prize a date with his best gal. Now, I do this because my friend is a no-good two timer, and because I am crazy for this doll with all my heart and all my soul. But I go to my garage this morning, and I see that some rat takes a Louisville Slugger and gives my transmission the business. I hear that in this restaurant is a man who knows people, and who is good at handling situations. I think maybe you are this man.’
“And also comes in this guy who is maybe a newspaper scribe, and who maybe does some business on the side, and he says: ‘That is a coincidence and no mistake, for I am on the tail of a bent copper for a newspaper column, and I fix to follow him to the Bronx this morning to watch him take a payoff from a two-bit hop slinger, only because of the transit strike the trail goes as cold as a dead duck. But I hear that here there is one time a President of a cold-weather organization, and that maybe this morning he helps another member of this organization, owing to the cold weather.’
“The citizen gets a thoughtful look, and he keeps mum, and he finishes his won tons, and then he looks at the three gentlemen and he says, ‘Gentlemen, because there is a transit strike, and because I am a citizen that remembers what it is like to live on Broadway, I help you with your troubles. But first, I am of the opinion that I like to walk across the street and look at some computers. In the meanwhile, on account of it is lunch time, maybe you sit for a spell, and I order you an order of lo mein to share.’
“Well, the three gentlemen are more than somewhat puzzled at this declaration, but it is indeed lunch time, and it is very good lo mein, and so they make like this citizen says. As it comes across, these three gentlemen do not know Miss Jenny Showtime from a hole in the ground. They also do not know that Miss Jenny Showtime is in thick with a doll happens to work high up in the Transit Union. And they especially do not know that, even though Miss Jenny Showtime is just rising 36, and is as modern a dame as ever you like, she loves this old citizen with a love that beats out Casanova seven to five.
“So it is coming on fifteen minutes later, and this citizen walks into his Chinese restaurant with a big old smile plastered all over his kisser, and he says, ‘Come on, boys, it is going to be a busy day.’ And it is a very busy day to be sure. And comes that May, what do you think but there is a wedding in that same Chinese restaurant, and who do you think but a newspaper scribe takes down the whole story. And that is where I hear it.”
Underwood sat back and sighed contentedly, savoring the memory. “Great reception, too. At least, that’s what I hear.” He smirked, implicitly acknowledging the fiction that he had come across the story secondhand.
There was a small “beep” from the reporter’s suit jacket pocket, and the top half-centimeter of a PDA peeked out where his handkerchief should have been. Underwood looked at it sympathetically. “Yeah, wish you could’ve seen it too, buddy.” Back at Sergei and Erin: “Sorry: I’ve got a phone, his name’s Sparky, and he’s got opinions sometimes. Should’ve said, probably.”
5 successes to keep watching somehow!