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Mark Dooher couldn't take his eyes off the young woman who had just entered the dining room at Fior d'Italia and was being seated, facing them, at a table ten feet away.
His companion for lunch was, like Dooher, an attorney. His name was Wes Farrell and he generally practiced in a different stratum--lower--than Dooher did. The two men had been best friends since they were kids. Farrell glanced up from his calamari, his baleful eyes glinting with humor, trying to be subtle as he took in the goddess across the room. "Too young," he said.
"My foot, Wes."
"All parts of you, not just your foot. Besides which," Farrell went on, "you're married."
"I am married."
Farrell nodded. "Keep repeating it. It's good for you. I, on the other hand, am getting divorced."
"I can never get divorced. Sheila would never divorce me."
"You could divorce her if you wanted to...
"Impossible." Then, amending: "Not that I'd ever want to, of course, but impossible."
Dooher went back to his pasta for a moment. "Because, my son, even in our jaded age, when ninety percent of your income derives from your work as counsel to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, when you are in fact a prominent player in the Roman Catholic community, as I am, a divorce would play some havoc with your business. Across the board. Not just the Church itself, but all the ancillary..."
Farrell broke off a bite-sized piece of Italian bread and dipped it into the little dish of extra virgin olive oil that rested between them. "I doubt it. People get divorced all the time. Your best friend, for example, is getting divorced right now. Have I mentioned that?"
"Lydia's divorcing you, Wes. You're not divorcing her. It's different. God," he said, "look at her."
Farrell glanced up again. "She looks good."
"Good?" Dooher feasted for another moment on the vision. "That woman is so far beyond 'good' that the light from 'good' is going to take a year to get to her."
"At which time, you'll be a year older and forever out of her reach. Pass the butter."
"Butter will kill you, you know."
Farrell nodded. "Either that or something else. This calamari milleottocentoottantasei, for example."
"Or pronouncing it."
A handsome young man in a business suit--every male customer in the restaurant wore a business suit--was approaching the woman's table. He pulled a chair out across from her, smiling, saying something. She was looking up at him, her expression cool, reserved. Farrell noted it, and something else.
"Don't look now," he said, "but isn't the guy sitting down with her--doesn't he work for you?"
Wes Farrell was on his schlumpy way up toward Columbus and the North Beach walk-up out of which he ran his law business. Dooher lingered in the doorway at Fior d'Italia, then turned and went back inside to the bar, where he ordered a Pellegrino.
He sipped the bottled water and considered his reflection in the bar's mirror. He still looked good. He had his hair--the light brown streaked with blond, camouflaging the hint of gray that was only just beginning to appear around the temples. The skin of his face was as unlined as it had been at thirty.
Now, at forty-six, he knew he looked ten years younger, which was enough--any more youth would be bad for business. His body carried a hundred and eighty pounds on a six-foot frame. Today he wore a tailored Italian double-breasted suit in a refined shade of green that picked up the flecks in his eyes.
From where he sat at the bar, he could watch her in profile. She had loosened up somewhat, but Wes had been right--there was a tension in the way she sat, in her body language. The man with her was Joe Avery--again, Wes had nailed it--a sixth-year associate at McCabe & Roth, the firm Dooher managed. (McCabe and Roth both had been forced to retire during the downsizing of the past two years. Now, in spite of the name, it was Dooher's firm, beginning to show profit again.)
He drank his Italian water, looked at himself in the mirror over the bar. What was he doing here?
He couldn't allow himself to leave. This was something he thought he'd outgrown long ago--such an overwhelming physical attraction.
Oh sure, when he'd been younger...in college a couple of times...even the first few years of the marriage, the occasional dalliance, stepping out, somebody coming on to him, usually on a business trip or one of the firm retreats.
But that had stopped after the one crisis, Sheila getting wind of what was going on with one of them. She wasn't going to have it. Infidelity wasn't going to be part of their lives. Dooher had better decide whether he wanted to sleep around or keep the kids.
A hundred times since, he wished he'd let Sheila go, taking the kids with her.
But in truth, back then, fifteen years ago, he was already unable to risk a divorce, already working with some of the charities, the Archdiocese itself. There was big money there, clean work. And Sheila would have scotched it if things had gotten ugly.
He knew she would have. As she would today.
So he'd simply put his hormones out of his mind, put all of his effort into real life--work, the wife, the kids, the house. He would be satisfied with the ten-fifteen-twenty days of vacation, the new car.
Everyone else seemed to survive in that secure between-the-lines adult existence. It wasn't so bad.
Except Mark Dooher hated it. He never got over hating it. He had never had to play by the same rules as everyone else. He was simply better at everything, smarter, more charismatic.
He deserved more. He deserved better.
That couldn't be all there was. Do your job, live the routine, get old, die. That couldn't be it. Not for him.
He couldn't get the woman off his mind.
Well, he would just have to do it, that was all. He'd call up his fabled discipline and simply will her out of his consciousness. There was nothing to be done with her anyway. Dooher didn't trust the dynamic of lust, that hormonal rush and then the long regret. Well, he wasn't about to get involved with all that.
It was better just to stop thinking about her. Or at least not get confused, keep it in the realm of fantasy. It wasn't as if he knew anything about her, as if there could be real attraction.
In fact, if that turned out to be the case, it would be far more complicated. Then what? Leave Sheila...?
No, it was better not to pursue it at all. He was just in one of his funks, believing that the opportunity that would give his life new meaning was passing him by.
He knew better. In reality, everything disappointed. Nothing turned out as you hoped.
He'd just suck it up and put her out of his mind, do nothing about the fantasy. He didn't even want to take one step, because who knew where that could lead? He'd forget all about her. He wasn't going to do anything.
It was stupid to consider.
Joe Avery looked up from the clutter of paper littering his desk, a legal brief that was already anything but brief. "Sir?"
Dooher, the friendliest boss on the planet, was in the doorway, one hand extended up to the sill, the other on his belt, coat open, sincere smile. "A Mardi Gras party. Feast before fast. Unless you've got other plans..."
"You'll enjoy it. Sheila and I do it every year. Just casual, no costumes, masks, taking to the streets afterwards, none of that. And pretty good food if you like Cajun. Anyway, eight o'clock, if you're free..."
Avery was young and gung-ho and hadn't spoken to Dooher more than a hundred times in his six years with the firm, had never spent any time with him socially. His mouth hung open in surprise at the invitation, but he was nodding, already planning to be there, wondering what was happening.
Dooher was going on. "If you've got other plans, don't worry about it, but you've paid your dues around here--you're up for shareholder this year if I'm not mistaken?"
Avery nodded. "Next, actually."
Dooher waved that off. "Well, we'll see. But come on up. Bring your girlfriend, you got one. Or not. Your call. Just let us know."
Then Dooher was gone.