Inspired by the following Decamot Items:
Bear, clinic, crystal, earwig, juggler, magnifying glass, pendulum, Space Needle, uncle, wart
Holly West had always suffered from mild vertigo. It wasn’t ever medically diagnosed but she was aware of a feeling of nausea whenever she peered over a bridge or looked out of the sixth floor window of her office in down town Seattle where she worked as an account executive in one of the city’s leading firms of architects. All the more remarkable, then, that she found herself on her way to Space Needle to have dinner with someone she had never met.
The invitation had arrived a week earlier printed on the back of an old school photograph headed Ballard High School – Class of ’58. This was not only her alma mater but her graduation year and someone had circled a plump looking female in the front row which, when looked at through a magnifying glass, was the unmistakable figure of herself; not that anyone these days could have made the connection. The figure in the photograph was mousy haired bespectacled and overweight and the names running along the bottom identified her as Svetlana Konchelski.
Roger Hart had a similar invitation tucked inside his pocket as he waited to hail a cab on the corner of Highland Drive and 6th Avenue. He was running late as usual, the result of trying to fit six jobs in at once – often succeeding it has to be said - thus earning him the nickname the juggler. His mobile mechanic franchise had finally taken off after the 2008 financial crash had killed off his first career as an investment analyst. Now, midway through 2017, Roger had seen the surprise invitation as a good luck omen; a sign of better things to come. In the good old days pre-crash, he enjoyed eating at the Skycity restaurant 500 feet above Seattle.
He hadn’t recognised any of the other students circled in the picture but Roger remembered there were 2000 students at Ballard in those days so why would he recognise anybody? Here was a chance to eat his way through the menu at someone else’s expense he argued.
Peter Gale also thought the pendulum of fortune had finally swung in his favour. An inveterate gambler who believed in the contra cyclical investment theory; be a bear when everybody was a bull and vice versa. His great Uncle, so family legend had it, survived the great Wall Street crash of the thirties. His motto had been handed down like tablets of stone especially at Christmas family gatherings. ‘Son’, his father would say, ‘always buy on a sell recommendation and always sell on a buy recommendation’
“If it was good enough for the Rothschild’s so it should be good enough for us” he used to intone although nobody actually knew a Rothschild or seemed to question its veracity. The fact is the theory didn’t work and Peter Gale was always left clutching at straws. His invitation reminded him that the official Ballard High School motto was “To Honor Thee We Trophies Bring” emblazoned on its crest. Maybe one of the other invitees was about to bless him with unexpected largess. At the very least he travelled hopefully.
All three arrived at the base of the iconic landmark within ten minutes of each other but not one recognised either of the other two; as they waited in line for one of the three elevator capsules, their host was checking his watch and preparing their dining table 500 feet above. He had waited a long time for this moment and quietly rehearsed his opening lines to himself. At ground zero, Holly West was having serious second thoughts. She was struggling to make ends meet following her third divorce and longed to get out of Seattle once and for all.
The invitation had said ‘a multi-million dollar reward awaits you if you have the courage to go up in the world but only the class of ’58 can unlock the treasure’ See you there at 1.00 pm. Just ask for table 21. As the doors opened to the next available elevator, a crowd of Japanese tourists spilled out and Holly found herself being ushered in with 24 others before she could turn about. She spent the next five minutes with her eyes shut tight choosing to ignore the oohing and aahing around her as her fellow passengers took in the truly spectacular views. They included Peter Gale who couldn’t help wondering if he had ever met the smart-ish but well-worn middle aged woman opposite him who looked as if she might be about to vomit. Both thoughts were saved by a ding dong bell sound and a disembodied voice announcing their arrival followed by the ubiquitous universal greeting of “thanks for travelling with Otis and have a nice day”
When Roger Hart heard the same greeting a few minutes later he thought irritably – “as if I had a bloody choice!” It was much the same feeling he had had when he first read his invitation the week before. No entrepreneur worthy of the description could turn down a free lunch and, who knows, he might even strike it lucky; but he still felt a sense of foreboding as he was shown through to table 21 by a smartly dressed waiter in his mid-twenties of Spanish or Mexican origin thought Roger.
“My name is Pedro and I will be serving you today. Your host has been slightly delayed but has asked me to show you the menu. His very strong recommendation is asparagus flat bread as a starter followed by Wild King Salmon with seasonal vegetables and sautéed mushrooms. And I can thoroughly recommend the Pinot Noir from Windy Bay Oregon”
“Do we have any choice?” said Holly West through nervous laughter.
“A free lunch is a free lunch whatever it consists of” chimed in Peter Gale with equal trepidation.
“My sentiments entirely” agreed Roger Hart quickly anxious to complete the initial ice breaking.
“Excellent” said Pedro who took back the menus and retreated in the direction of the kitchens leaving the three invitees to try and break further ice together.
The silence was broken by Peter Gale putting his invitation down on the table with the school photo uppermost.
This was immediately followed by the other two shouting “SNAP!” together and collapsing into near hysterical laughter which was only interrupted by Pedro with the first course and an invitation to taste the wine.
“I’m glad you are getting on so well together” he said as he uncorked the bottle. “Do you recognise each other after all these years?”
Still in jocular mood, Holly offered the observation “I doubt if they see me as Svetlana Konchelski – once I left that horrible school the first thing I did was to have that hideous wart removed from my nose!”
“Good God Sweaty Bettie … I don’t believe it!” said Peter Gale “There was something about the angle of your face in the elevator … pretty pathetic really because we only called you Sweaty Bettie because we couldn’t get our tongues around your Russian name!”
“But you managed to get your tongue around other things didn’t you?” chipped in Roger Hart with an obvious ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ implication as the Pinot Noir from Windy Bay Oregon, spiked for the purpose by their host, began to loosen tongues all round.
The main course arrived with the third bottle of Pinot Noir by which time all three had relaxed into a barely controlled stupor. It was at this point Pedro introduced an impromptu party quiz game starting with: Do you remember the Ballard High School Motto?
“Something about bringing trophies” replied Holly nervously with nods of approval from her male cohorts.
“And do you remember the trophy that Janitor Menzies brought to you in March 1958? Said Pedro with barely concealed hostility.
The three quiz contestants now had Pedro’s full attention as they each recalled, through the filter of increasingly hazy cerebral membranes, the Mexican Janitor who they liked to poke fun at but who they knew was a useful source for the odd packet of dope; Janitor Menzies was a safe conduit to the criminal gangs that surrounded the district. Through ‘Bucky the Beaver Senior’ as they called him, these three middle class students acted out their fantasies vicariously of being part of the real underworld. It gave the trio an inverted feeling of misplaced superiority that the official Ballard High School mascot was indeed Bucky the Beaver.
“The trophy he offered you was a dossier containing detailed evidence – photos, tapes, eye witness statements – linking the local state governor to officials at Trump Enterprises who won the contract to refurbish Ballard High School in 1953. It was bribery on a very large scale. Not one of you had the guts to put your head above the parapet and bring down a corrupt regime did you? All you had to do was take the evidence to the attorney general’s office and that could have saved my father’s life.”
The colour drained out of the three former Ballard High School alumni.
“Let me remind you that Ballard High was finally demolished in 1997 because of asbestos contamination which could have been sorted in 1953 had Trump Enterprises not cut corners back in the fifties. For the record my father, Pedro Menzies Senior, died a horrible death from mesothelioma two years ago. The main cause of mesothelioma is breathing in asbestos dust. I visited him in a Federal State clinic and spent six months piecing together his story”
Attempting to recover some sort of composure, Roger Hart began a long rambling pathetic confession saying it wasn’t their fault … how were they to know the documents were genuine … we were only students with careers at stake …. About to graduate …
Pedro now cut to the chase: “But one of you tipped of the police about my father’s other alleged activities and hinted that he might even be an illegal immigrant. It was rubbish of course but corruption at City Hall was so rife that my father had no choice but to accept a two year suspended sentence and a promise to stay silent before finally being allowed to return to Ballard as a junior janitor. By then of course you were well away pursuing careers of middle class mediocrity”
Pedro’s real intent was now crystal clear as panic failed to move the inebriated trio. An earwig wriggled out of the sautéed mushrooms as if confirming their worst fears by which time Pedro melted away to leave them to their fate.
It takes 47 minutes for the restaurant at Skycity to complete one circumlocution. It takes about that time to die from potassium cyanide poisoning in the hands of a skilled medically trained master Chef.