An excerpt from ‘Café Baci’ – Copyright © 2011 by Michael Kuch
CLAIRE FLUSHED TWICE
A lady always flushes twice and never looks.
She placed the lid down on the toilet seat to remind Jack.
Gentlemanly etiquette was a desirable trait in cohabitating mates.
She stepped to the bidet, straddled the top, letting the water warm before tending to the feminine essentials with a rinse to the bottom, and patted herself dry with a towel.
FACED THE MIRROR
Loving her reflection.
Fussing with her hair, obsessed over the latest cut and color. Streaks of platinum and ash this time. Atomic Blonde. Claire taking her colorist’s advice and retiring the ginger henna she favored in her last makeover a month ago.
She flipped the bangs left to right and back, pumping a mist of hairspray to add some hold to the bob. It’d do. Just going to get all messed up again.
Claire uncapped a small tube of Preparation H from the medicine cabinet. An old school remedy to bring down the puffiness after a hard night. She squeezed a dime-sized drop in her palm and dabbed tiny dots with her baby finger at the puffy bags under her eyes. She massaged the cream in circles, careful not to mess with the eyeliner, avoiding a suicidal line between sultry, smoky eyes and sad raccoon face.
Air Kisses … a little pout of the lips playing to her reflection.
She settled on a vivid Ruby Woo red from her makeup case, traced a thin line around the edges and filled in the upper and lower fleshy bits. She didn’t want to appear too contrived, but that was Claire’s nature, and couldn’t pass on a tiny blemish with a concealing sealer. Another couple flicks of the eyeliner brush for more body and the war mask was complete.
Fabulous, Claire, Darling.
She moved down her neck and shoulders, pressing gently at her boobs – baby sponge cakes – checking for buoyancy, pushing them up and together to touch in the center, cupping each one. Silicone was too invasive, all the horror stories she’d heard about botched jobs. A fuller C cup would be nice, especially in evening gowns.
Fill in the fine crow’s feet and frown-lines.
Two decades of year-round tanning beds with her fair complexion added five years in the wrong light. Another couple in the morning sun. An even ten without makeup. Damned Welsh genes.
Claire decided on the matching lace bra and panties – a spicy paprika set, punchier than the midnight black pair she’d left by the bed, to get Jack’s attention – hanging over the shower door planted the night before, rather than going commando. She pulled up the panties, snapped them into place, straightened the thong at the back and fixed the bra.
A small splash of Annick Goutal behind her ears and down the goody trail below the navel, to give Jack directions, seemed to miss his mark last night. Almost perfect Jack could sometimes forget where to begin, but it had been a while so give the boy a break.
She finished brushing her teeth and rinsing. Claire unhooked the silk robe hanging behind the door, swung it over to drape across her shoulders. She tied and untied the belt twice before deciding to leave it open. Let Jack get a sweet profile of the Brazilian wax shadowing through the front.
Smitten by her reflection, Claire slid on her slipper pumps. Wisps of furry trim danced as she moved. She turned to check her ass in the mirror. Cheeks peaking under the cropped hem.
She opened the door and leaned against the door jam, her arms gently folded to cover her breasts. She held her stare at an imaginary point above the bed and cat-walked through the bedroom as if doing Mankind a favor. She strutted toward the bed, calling Jack’s name. A little pirouette when she reached the footboard, holding her red carpet pose with hands on hips head tossed back in profile.
A mess of pillows and linens tossed across the mattress and side chair.
She heard a door close.
Jack was never good with timing.
Screw it. She kicked at the pillow on the floor barely enough to move it. She picked it up to smell him. He would just have to wait until after breakfast. Let him stir over croissants and strawberries. Think about what he missed while he was out. Hike the robe a little more, legs dangling, teasing, from the bar stool at the breakfast counter. Fix him.
Claire threw the pillow on the bed and moved to the kitchen to wait for Jack to return. Café Baci was a ten-minute round trip, unless Jack starts talking with Nigel or bumps into Buddy along the way. Excited or bored for the moment, she couldn’t decide except she hated being alone. It’s so depressing being quiet, so boring.
She pressed her iPod docked at the counter, thumbed through Adele and Lady Gaga, found Amy Winehouse and turned it up, getting the mood just right. The music filtered through the loft loosening up the place. Claire grooving a bit now, easy girl.
At the fridge she pulled out a bottle of mineral water, uncapped it and took a small swig. A little sway of the hips, rolling the shoulders, getting it on. Lip synching to the chorus when Claire knew the lyrics. She shuffled over to the island, her chin dancing up and down like a bobble head Barbie.
She sat, crossed her legs, let her elbows rest on the marble countertop and poked at a collection of Architectural Digest magazines fanned next to a fruit bowl. She thumbed through the current issue making her way back several months until she found the feature article in the August edition about her best client, her father, Desmond Reese, and his wife Annette, shot at their coastal estate in West Palm Beach.
DADDY, STATUESQUE, BRONZED
Gordon Gecko, 80’s Slick.
About to play the front nine at Royal Palm.
Silver Shrine greased back, leaning against his pearl white Bentley GT convertible, putter at his side. Happy, blissful. Content like he was fresh out of fucks to give and wouldn’t even know where to find any more if he did. How new moneyed folks do when they forget they were piss poor once. Oblivious and smug enough to deter empathy. Arrogant asshole.
Claire adored him.
She flipped the page. Voila. Annette Gagnon-Reese, gold and diamond digging whore, wife number three, standing in the garden. Arm-in-arm with her beau. Where was this skinny bitch going?
“Botox hag. Toasted skin pulled tighter than stretched latex over a rack of dried bones. Crazy-eyed expression you want to slap off her dehydrated raisin face.”
“Oh, dis rich old prick dat standing next to me?” Claire paraphrased, enjoying her ad lib mimicking Annette’s nasally voice tinged with Quebecois accent. “Yeah, he bedder not die on me, eh? Dat cheap fuck-her and his pre-nup it doesn’t buy merde. You bet your hass he bedder not die. Tabarnac.” Annette smirking like she just screwed Tony the pool guy, or was about to.
Claire turned the pages to the interior photos, contemplated what she’d do differently. The lanai never quite came together the way she envisioned, should’ve gone with the reclaimed Spanish terracotta tiles rather than the chiselled French limestone. She made a mental note to chastise her apprentice and never again leave final detail to her juniors. Simpletons.
BORED WITH BEING ANTSY
Certain after twenty minutes Jack had run into Buddy at their Saturday morning hangout, Claire gathered a cutting board and paring knife, and placed her best China plates, linen napkins and silverware at the breakfast bar. She washed a mango, papaya and strawberries, and set aside to dry in a colander. From the fridge she pulled a package of smoked salmon, peeled away the paper-thin fillets and rolled them in tidy cone shapes onto a platter. She sprinkled capers and swirled olive oil, she’d watched Jack do a dozen times.
Next to the cook top she opened a paper bag stuffed with plump bagels and selected a couple plain ones. She wasn’t getting poppy seeds stuck in her teeth before morning sex. She sliced and laid the open halves next to the toaster. She took out a small carton of cream cheese, set it to temper. No need to rush, she had all morning with Jack. All afternoon, too, if she wanted. If he ever came back. Connard.
Claire waited, resigned to the sitting area, and flopped on an enormous cream leather sofa, reclining on her side and draped the robe open in case Jack let himself in he’d have an unobstructed view of the money shot. Unlike Jack not to leave a note or text, but the café was just down the street and he’d never bother Claire when doing lady things in the bathroom.
Her thoughts turned to Christmas, thinking what excuse Jack could possibly make not to come to Daddy’s for dinner tomorrow. She’ll call Buddy, he’ll get Jack there. Talk some sense into Jack if they both knew what was good.
Would Jack like the gifts this year? The painting was for them, making it easy. The platinum bracelet, he’d hate and never wear, try to give it to Buddy. Claire smiled.
Claire picked up her leather portfolio on the coffee table, took out the iPad, and tapped on the Safari icon. She found her company website and browsed the media section perusing a stream of accolades by an endless entourage of cronies, apprentices and sycophantic lackeys rivalling any prizefighter or rap mogul.
She read the latest press coverage and PR campaigns. She’d have her executive assistant Diane call the design magazine editors, photographers and bloggers, and arrange a media lunch in the office after the New Year as plans finalize for the first phase of the new Water Front project.
CLAIRE’S WELCOME MESSAGE
Described herself as an ingénue, an obvious stretch if not entirely inaccurate description considering Claire was neither innocent nor naïve, virginal nor sweet, merely obsessive over the term as an incurable Francophile of late.
Unoriginal and far from inspiring, Claire grew oblivious to the scorn of critics, holding equal disdain for her contemporaries, and with blatant negligence of her client’s wishes, she was nothing if not a masterful self-promoter. She labelled her signature collection of home furnishings and accessories under the moniker “Self” – a cacophony mix of urban chic and eclecticism warmed over by a dozen major design houses. Though it lacked focus, identity and purpose, it sold especially well through a major lifestyle distribution network, giving birth to an offshoot of a myriad other products from kitchen gadgetry to bathroom toiletries.
Much to the audible mortification of her closest business advisors and lawyers, she’d pilfered and cloned anything within reach, bandying about an absurdly delusional claim in support of copyright infringement. She extoled it as fresh re-interpretations of the Classics, noting with such laissez faire disregard, Ralph and Tommy and Calvin had merely repackaged everything already invented from their youth into their celebrated collections, so why shouldn’t she?
Claire personally designed very little, scantly more than oversight of initial concepts and themes that her disciples would develop into market ready products. A young talented mob of design school graduates eager to sow their seeds, filtered through rough sketches and often quizzical side notes, reinterpreting Claire’s impressions into their own finished models. When satisfied, Claire would toss around a clever name in the school of IKEA, leaving the difficult tasks of merchandising, marketing and advertising to underlings. Her only design statement was to advocate simplicity in shapes and form, and color, was to be monochromatic, always neutral tones of cream and gray, black and white. The rest was an open canvass.
It had been a half hour since Jack left, Claire’s incurable morning lust starting to wane. She went back to the kitchen found her cell phone next to her handbag and tapped Jack’s name from her favorite contacts. The phone rang three times and went into voice mail. Jack’s recorded voice announcing he would return the call as soon as possible. Claire hung up knowing Jack wouldn’t answer if he was at the Café, recalling her first meeting with Nigel had ended acrimoniously and she vowed never to return.
A MESSAGE TO JACK
In upper case, “W-A-I-T-I-N-G”, and scrolled through her phone to see if he had tried calling or texting. Nothing. Jack was beginning to piss her off, but she didn’t want to break the mood and make up for lost time last night.
After an hour, Claire sent her third text message, said not to bother coming back, she had things to do, thanks for nothing. Whatever happened she was sure Jack would find a good excuse as he always did. She’d catch up with him later.
It took Claire a moment to find the number to her second favorite customer, Frank Warren. She tapped it in.
A male voice answered on the second ring, “Hey, sweetheart.”
“Thinking about you all morning, honey,” Claire said, knowing Frank would also bullshit.
“Yeah, me too.” Frank said, returning the lie.
“Not much, Saturday shit.”
“Coming over?” Claire not big on small talk.
“I’m not far away.”
“I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
“And the kimono open.” Frank, greasy.
Claire’s purr trailed to click.