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Army of Waiters #1: The Maitre D is Mad

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008


The Maitre-D is mad at me, I can tell when he talks. I’m in the back with my carrots and tea and he’s up front at the debriefing podium, recapping for formality’s sake all of last night’s accomplishments to a group of agents trying mostly to keep the samosa grease off of their notes and the pride off of their faces. They know already because they were there or they were there just before or they got the call right after. Now all of them want a good, yes, thanks, fine job, but not a one will show it until or unless I lift my little finger and say okay.

It’s six in the morning and clearly not a time for customers, but joggers keep peering in the windows, wondering why the Indian place is open for breakfast is there some sort of new curry they are not aware of? Finally I flip over a placemat and write “Closed for a Private Event,” going over my letters a few times with a bright pink mini-Sharpie from a Christmas back awhile. It’s hard to read but The Little One takes it gratefully and tapes it to the door.

“The target Cleveland was reached at 18:00 and put down by Agent Orton of the Fast Food Chains. Fast Food Brigades five and six were backed with special agents from Theatrical Event Cuisine–”

The agents in front of me are sitting up the straightest, taking notes to impress me while I sit there just thinking the one sentence, I know the Maitre-D is mad at me but he can’t say so right now and I don’t want to talk about it. I am thinking I can slip out the back when this is all over but who am I kidding, because, only one of us is in charge of the Army of Waiters and as a matter of fact that one happens to be me. It’s important to remember that.

He breaks up the meeting with a wave of his fountain pen and the ranks begin to clear their own tables. I gather my poise like scaffolding around me so as he sorts his way through the crowd all I need to do is smile.

“Commander,” he says.

“Maitre-D,” I say.

“You were there last night,” he says.

“Why did the bus crash?” I say.

He closes his eyes as though to gain strength from a higher authority. It’s tough rocks for him, though, because at this moment, all he can do is,

“Answer me,” I say.

“There were complications,” he says.

I bite down on a carrot and wing it around in my fingers like it’s a pointer or a cigarette.

“Unacceptable,” I say.

“You don’t–” he says but that’s too loud and a handful of the Bistro Agents look over and I look as stern as an unwashed girl of twenty-two really can. They snap their looks right away from me and back to each other which is just the most endlessly satisfying part of being a commander.

“Is there somewhere we can go?” says the Maitre-D.

“Oh, you’re doing that thing,” I say. “Like you’re going to put me at a bad table.”

I shouldn’t torture him, though, so I stand and of course all the leaders around me stand too, and the Big One opens the door for me as I pass. We walk around the block and up the hill and across the threshold and onto the elevator that works only if you push button 1 then button 3 then button 5, for fifth, that’s my floor. The Maitre-D stands his ground on the far side of the elevator and I wonder if he’s thinking what I’m thinking, which is what I’m always thinking in the elevator with him. Someday it’ll come around again.

In my kitchen I pour him a drink.

“It’s just water,” I say.

“I know,” he says. “Water’s fine.”

“I know,” I say.

I’ve given him the mug with the real estate logo on the side.

“At ease,” I say.

He sips with his eyes peering over the mug. I think about the elevator again. If he weren’t British it would make it easier. I can’t explain it except everyone has their weaknesses. We’re not supposed to talk about that, as crimefighters, but I fully believe that if you really wanted to take down my truth and justice empire you could probably do it with just say a pub full of ruddy Brits offering to buy me a pint and spot me a few points in a game of darts or billiards or clubs. You could have my wrists split and the army of waiters disbanded just that quickly. So don’t go spreading the knowledge. Plus it might be racist, that Achilles heel of mine.

“Why did you do it?” he says.

“I wanted to watch,” I say. “Occasionally when a girl masterminds a fucking brilliant plan to take down a complicated and malicious mind-shambling crime ring, she wants to see the fucking brilliant denouement.”

“You could have been hurt, killed, kidnapped–”

“No,” I say.

“Yes,” he says.

“I masterminded not having all that happen to me,” I say.

“You could have been killed,” he repeats. “And on top of that, you didn’t keep us informed. We didn’t know you were there.”

“You knew,” I say. “How’d you know?”

“You weren’t fully hidden,” he says.

“Bullshit I wasn’t,” I say, because I know I’m right about that. If I can command the command I command I can certainly and capably hide myself on a series of rooftops as the action unfolds near the dead-end warehouse section of Eastern Old Queens.

“Something could have happened,” he says.

“Speaking of somethings that could have, you could have done it all without crashing the bus into that gym,” I say.

He shakes his head.

“Agent Orton didn’t get to target Cleveland in time,” he says.

“Refresh my memory,” I say.

“Target Cleveland was the driver–”

“I know who target Cleveland was,” I say. “I mean, refresh my memory back about twenty minutes ago when I could solemnly swear a man fitting your rank and description told an assembled group of agents and officers that target Cleveland was reached at the appropriate moment.”

“It was need to know,” he says.

I truly hate this sort of thing.

“Maitre-D,” I say.

“We fixed it,” he says.

I’m so mad I can’t think of a thing to do except to snatch his mug of water straight away from him and drink it all down myself.

“Off ease,” I say, and he stands ramrod and quick.

“Permission,” he says.

“Oh hell no,” I say. “You were what, you were going to maybe cover this gigantic hole with your paternalistic bull crap? You were not going to go over this with me at all, is that it?”

“Permission,” he says.

“Oh hell no!” I say. “We have gone awful far from permission.”

The Maitre-D is probably about six foot four. He is thirty-three years old and he was born overseas, like we discussed. He is balding and so he shaves his head and his hands are large, his fingernails flat. When I met him a lot of things were different about my life, and a lot more things were different about this city, and even more things than that were different about me, and different about my command. For instance I didn’t have one, and I didn’t know about all of this, about standing in my kitchen holding his mug of water with my boots just tall enough to bring me to his chin. He’s my second but as a fighter he can’t hold a candle to our best, and yet, his chin to my eyes I feel his entire advantage. His hands, my hands. There’s never a bit of damage I could do, not a punch that would stick or a slap that would land. I am five foot one inch and three quarters, old for my age, and born nearby.

“The bus crash. What happened?” I ask.

“Agent Orton was delayed, so I boarded the bus during the route,” he says. “Target Cleveland was put aside as soon as possible. No one was injured.”

“The crash is in the papers,” I say.

“Ma’am,” he says.

I hate him for speaking and step closer. He flinches, freezes. It’s just a moment, a brush of hairs on his neck quivering and his skin plucked taut, but it’s enough then to rush the blood through my heart and head. This isn’t the only-thing, the cliff-edge, the last-resort. This isn’t my height and his. This isn’t even the elevator. My command is our reason and there’s warmth in my hands as I put my mouth by his ear and say,

“Pull this kind of nonsense again and you’re out.”

He swallows.

“Yes,” he says.

And we’re both dismissed.