Old Speckled Hen, Part 1
The day starts with sunshine on my face. A cracked window offers the first taste of warmer weather. I don my monkey suit and leave the apartment with a lift in my chest.
My fellow commuters share my mood — imbibing music and books with a joie de vivre that’s rare for the morning rush.
At my stop, I catch a glimpse of cropped crimson hair. A long, pale neck. I attempt to push closer but veterans of the transit system tolerate nothing. The crowd’s spit out into refracted daylight.
There she is, crossing the crosswalk. I skirt past a musclebound office drone with a suitcase — who uses a suitcase anymore? — and fly across the street.
“Esther,” I call out, catching up.
The woman turns around. Not her, after all.
I arrive for work nonetheless clinging the positive side of things. Happiness is like honey — it sticks until something diffuses it.
Pompadour’s outside my office when I arrive. First day as my deputy.
“Morning, boss,” he says, brightly. “Wasn’t sure what time you started and I wanted to get a jump on things.”
“How long have you been waiting?”
My assistant signals otherwise. “Okay,” I say, waving him inside. “Come in, I guess.”
I’ve barely taken my seat, when he says, “I’m going to go for broke here.”
“You’ve been a one man department until now. I’m sure there are things you’ve wanted to do but couldn’t.” He holds out his hands. “I want to help you get there.”
Shock isn’t an entirely sufficient word to encapsulate my reaction. It’s like a toddler’s looked up from his macaroni to explain the theory of relativity. “That’s ambitious of you.”
“Ambitious or not, boss. I’m a team player.”
“Call me Nolan,” I say, leaning back. “Let me run something past you.”
“All ears,” he says, leaning forward.
“I want to reduce the amount of risk our clients carry. Need an approach that I can get Conor Fidelity on board with.”
My deputy nods eagerly, jotting down notes.
“I want to make it profitable to be stable,” I say. “Is that something you can tackle?”
He beams. “I’ll have something for you today.”
“That’s not necessary.”
Standing, he says, “I got this.” With that, he bee-lines out of sight.
I sit back, staring at the door.
Work goes swiftly when you’re in the right mood. I breeze through paperwork, reply to messages, sit through a mundane conference call.
My mind strays only fleetingly from the scent of Esther’s sweat.
The world outside beckons. I tell my assistant I’m going out for lunch.
Pollen. Crisp air. Hordes off workers fleeing their desks to share the moment.
I consider calling Esther, then pocket my phone again. I’m out of practice dating — or whatever category we fall under. I can’t appear too eager.
I locate a pub with an outdoor area and grab the last available table. Order a pint of Old Speckled Hen and a burger with bleu cheese. The sun rises high enough to circumvent the buildings, baking the pavement and all of us with it. The tables beside me shift under the awning. I stay put.
My phone rings. It’s Kitty. T-minus-23 days and I’ve been avoiding the issue altogether.
With trepidation, I answer. Immediately, she’s off to the races.
“How could you do this?” she asks.
“Hello to you, too.”
“I expected you to be angry. I expected us to work through it in the end. I never expected you to do this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your countersuit, Nolan. This fucking piece of bullshit in which you lay claim to my half of the practice.”
“I didn’t file that.”
“Your name is on it,” she says.
“Kitty, I didn’t file that.”
“Then why do I have in front of me?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“You don’t know?”
“You want to hear what other vengeful crap is in here?” she asks.
“Hold on a second. You’re the one who filed first, remember?”
“You’re the one who found somebody you wanted to fuck more than me.”
“Let it out.”
“You took our dog, for Christ’s sake.”
Nervous glances, from others at the restaurant. I leave my seat and pace the area out front.
“So you did do this,” she says. “This is my life.”
“It’s my life, too.”
“You did not just hang up on me.”
I call back, it goes straight to voicemail. Dial Lee Winchester’s office and leave a message with his assistant. Kick around the cobblestone. Consider leaving an angry voicemail for Kitty when my lawyer calls back.
“Your assistant said you were out.”
“Sorry about that,” he says. “Your bitch of an ex has been flooding our lines.”
“Don’t call her that.”
“If you can find a more appropriate way to describe her.”
“She says she got a countersuit,” I say, opting to ignore his response. “That it goes after her business.”
“We didn’t file a countersuit.”
“Incorrect,” he says. “We absolutely filed.”
[To be continued]
This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group. He was commissioned by At Large magazine to publish his third novel in serialization — now available, with new chapters publishing weekly — titled My Life on Rye. And, as one half of the wife-and-husband team Grackle + Pigeon, he’ll be publishing a tome for modern living this fall — Blanket Fort: Growing Up Is Optional (HarperCollins/Morrow Gift). You can find his work at nathanielkressen.com.