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Last One In
By Nicholas Kulish
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Nicholas Kulish
All right reserved.
A small part of Jimmy was offended at the thought ofsomeone eating gold. It was a very small part, and shrinking dangerously fast. But it was still there.
"I ate gold," the young man shouted to anyone who cared to listen. "I ate gold." He was, Jimmy guessed, a prospective intern for one of the investment banks a five-minute cab ride down Greenwich Street. His face was flushed red from hours of drinking.
His group had been hard to miss when they entered, though Jimmy had been paying particular attention. He was seated alone and craned his neck with every cold gust of wind when the front door opened. Each time he searched the entrance for the couple who had kept him waiting for two hours. His disappointment grew, as did the glares from the white-capped sushi chef.
Jimmy's red snapper and spicy tuna rolls did not suffice as rent for this prime stool. Just as his inevitable ejection was nearing, he ordered a sorbet and with it a little more time. If it had not been late on a Monday night and the place already emptying out, they might have politely chucked him anyway.
The young men in suits were the loudest group in the dining area, tucked between the sawed-off trunks of real birch and ash trees and the angled two-by-fours posing as branches to complete the arboreal sculptures. There was an element of the theatrical at Nobu even when itsmost famous patrons were absent. The crowd played its part, and this particular group performed the chorus of boorish bankers admirably. The tasting menu—omakase—came for $80, $100, or $120 per person, with a sly "and up" tucked beside the last figure.
"What's 'and up'?" the one with the deep, resonating voice had asked. The waiter murmured something about resting safely in the chef's hands for the evening, but in practice "and up" resulted in tiny flakes of gold on your rock shrimp tempura.
"And up, bitch," the pale blond banker with the squeaky voice called out. "And up." There followed high fives and shots for all.
By the end of the meal, the young man seemed awestruck. His cheeks flamed a brighter red than the sake alone could generate. He appeared shocked to have ingested a precious metal. The kid would never see the check, which had probably run to several thousand dollars. It would come discreetly shrouded in a black cover, and a regular employee would dispatch it with an expense-account credit card, carried away before the heavy toll could cast a shadow over the boy's evening.
Jimmy reminded himself not to begrudge this kid his fun just because his own reasons for coming were more serious and his visit a complete disappointment. The restaurant was nine years old and predictable to regulars, but for a young man used to Bennigan's and Mom's meat loaf, entering this enchanted forest for a mix of Asian and Latino cuisines in Hollywood-on-Hudson glamour was still a heady trip. And Jimmy felt it was right, somehow, to shout when you ate gold. Things had really gone a step too far when that became mundane.
His own meager feast was the result of a formal warning he had received about his often-royal expense account. That, combined with a spate of firings and rumblings about further layoffs, led Jimmy to pay for this excursion out of his own pocket. He felt like a fraud in his off-the-rack suit, ordering minuscule portions under the scrutiny of the fish swordsmen before him, with the high-rolling financial wizards at his back. Jimmy was only a few years older than the would-be intern and about the same age as the full-timers, clinging in fact to the final year of his twenties. But they wore bespoke suits and ordered without a care, and he sat in discount threads fretting over a seven-dollar sorbet.
Jimmy was there to observe and chronicle the romantic rendezvous of a C-list actress and a B-list actor. As was normal in such cases, the lesser's—that is, the C-lister's—publicist had tipped him off to the encounter. He might have been able to write it up without a personal appearance, but Jimmy took pride in his work. He wanted to confirm that it happened and fill out as many details as possible. If the newspaper gossip columns were to survive the Internet-delivered onslaught of rumors and anonymous reports, they would have to differentiate themselves through quality and consistency.
At that exact moment of pessimism—spoon clinking against the empty ceramic dish—Jimmy would have placed the odds of his career survival pretty low. He rose to perform his final and most demeaning stalling technique. Jimmy passed the wall of thousands of shiny black river rocks that shielded patrons' aesthetic experience from the intrusive reality of the waiters' station and headed for the bathroom.
It was unremarkable for a normal establishment, jarringly basic for a restaurant that seemed ready to host scenes from a Kurosawa movie. There were no bronze Buddhist basins, no waterfalls. All that set it apart was an audio loop of thunder-and-rain sound effects. The black door to one of the stalls was closed, and Jimmy was about to enter the vacant one when something in the gap between the stall door and the tile floor caught his eye.
They were cowboy boots of supple reddish leather. It was the kind of leather that somehow shone with class and expense even in a darkened bathroom stall, the way each slice of fish in the restaurant looked like it had a pedigree and the papers to prove it. Jimmy had a feeling about those boots even before he bent down slightly and saw small letters branded just below the ankle bone. The monogram read "KRB."
Jimmy had written about those boots when their owner received them. They were a gift from the director for playing the lead role in the cowboy movie Ride Like the Lightning. It was a blockbuster, like all . . .
Excerpted from Last One In by Nicholas Kulish Copyright © 2007 by Nicholas Kulish. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“Like...David O. Russell’s film THREE KINGS, Nicholas Kulish...brings home both the terror and the absurdity of combat...”
“[U]nforgettable...so vivid, I feel like I’ve spent time in a Humvee with four marines heading for Baghdad.”
“Kulish’s funny, engaging novel...gets it exactly right.”
“A worthy addition to the curious but indispensable shelf of war satires.”