He wrote so hard he must have imprinted half a dozen cheques beneath. He signed the bottom of the cheque with an angry swipe before violently tearing it from his book and shoving it across the table at me.
“There you go, you bastard. This should clear up any confusion you might have.”
I looked at the figure he’d written and let out a long whistle before I responded. “Well, Michael, this is really generous and a lot more than I’ve ever seen on one cheque. In fact, it is so generous, I’d think you have something to hide.” I raised my eyebrows in question.
“Just take the fucking money, you turd. It is not your place to judge me.” He emphasised the words ‘your’ and ‘me’ by thumping his fist on the table.
A waiter rushed over. He looked particularly worried or harried or maybe both. “Is everything alright?”
Before I could respond, Michael said “Fuck off.” While it was said for the benefit of the waiter, he was looking straight at me when he said it. I knew what he meant. The waiter backed away so quickly from the table he almost tripped over.
I smiled, picked up the cheque and tore it into tiny pieces. Then I dumped the pieces into his drink. He looked completely shocked and amazed at my behaviour. His eyes were nearly bugging out of his head. I took my parting shot.
“I can’t be bought, not by you or anyone else. If you can’t be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with, right?” I pushed myself back from the table and stood up. I could see he was absolutely livid, still looking between his glass of overly expensive wine and back to me.
“What the fuck do you want, then?” The poison in his voice cheered me up no end.
I sat back down and leaned across the table towards him. “I want you to own up. I want you to tell my sister you’ve been cheating on her. I want you to be a fucking man instead of the poor excuse you pretend to be. I want you to drop the fucking attitude and wake up to yourself because if you think money is going to buy you out of this one, then you are so far off track, you might as well call yourself lost.”
“Well, listen to you, you fucking loser. Sounds to me like you’re jealous.”
I laughed hard and loud. I couldn’t help it. This man sitting in front of me, the man married to my sister for over twenty years and father of two of the most beautiful kids in the world; the man who thought money meant power and delighted in reminding everyone just how much money he had; this man was so inadequate a human being he has spent his adult life cheating on his wife with a succession of young women and yet had the balls to call me a loser.
His face was getting redder the more I laughed. “Just keep laughing, mate, just keep it up. You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face.” He was almost growling at me.
The maitre d’ minced up to the table. “Are you gentlemen alright? Is there anything I can do?” His tone implied he knew something was up and if it continued, he would have to do something about it.
I responded before my brother-in-law (oh, how that stuck in my mind’s throat) could swear at him too. “No, no, we’re fine,” and to prove it, I slapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder.
“Oh, well, sirs, please, if you don’t mind, could you keep your voices down as you’re disturbing our other guests.” He particularly looked my brother-in-law’s way when he said this.
Michael threw off my hand with a shake of his shoulders and started at the maitre d’. “What the fuck do you mean? Do you know who you’re talking to, you jumped up little prick?”
The maitre d’ shook his head and responded, “I’ve no idea, sir, but it doesn’t surprise me, given the way you speak. I tend not to recall arrogant, rude persons, particularly those who attend this restaurant.”
This response was so perfect and so suitable, I burst out laughing again. Michael’s face went red and he stood so abruptly, his chair flew back and into the legs of a passing waiter. The waiter was carrying a large tray with an array of empty dishes and glasses on it, which went flying. It crashed onto a table where four suits were having lunch. Glass, liquid and food splashed all over them.
The maitre d’ looked positively livid. Michael, now seemingly happy to have caused a scene, picked up his chair and sat back down. The men whose lunch Michael had destroyed looked over at him. He glared back at them, shrugging his shoulders as if to ‘what are you looking at?’
The four men stood and made their way to our table. The leader, who was the size of a professional wrestler, spoke first. “Hey, mister, are you going to apologise?” He didn’t look very happy. This was starting to shape up nicely.
“What for? I didn’t drop the fucking tray on your table.” This was typical of Michael. He couldn’t take responsibility for any of his actions. Why do people like this always end up with lots of power?
“I think you owe me and my friends an apology. I think you also owe the waiter an apology. And I think you should pay for our lunch, seeing as how you ruined it.”
Sheer stupid audacity dictated Michael’s next move. He stood up and started to walk out of the restaurant. “I’m not staying in this place one more second. You can all get well and truly fucked.”
He started to march towards the door but his progress was halted by another of the men whose lunch he’d messed up. This guy, smaller than the first, but somewhat harder-looking, simply placed his hand on my brother-in-law’s chest. My brother-in-law glared at the man. “Take your fucking hand off me or I’ll have you up for assault.”
The man responded. “What, are you going to call the police? Go ahead, you turd, call them. Then you can tell them why you’re leaving this place without paying for your food or for the damage you caused. I can tell them how you tried to do a runner and me, being the good citizen I am, I had to physically stop you. It would certainly explain the black eye and bloody lip you have.”
My brother-in-law looked confused. “What do you mean by that? I’m not injured.”
I nearly cheered at the response. “Not yet, you’re not. But keep this up and you will be. And before you say another word, I am sure that everyone in this restaurant will tell the same story I will. Now, are you going to pay for our lunch or are we going to start something else. I don’t mind, either way.”
The ease with which the guy said this, the hard look in his eyes and the chill in his voice left no room at all to doubt he wouldn’t do what he said he’d do.
My brother-in-law stood there gasping for air like a fish out of water. I had a stupid grin on my face, I knew. I couldn’t help it. I had thought I recognised the big man when I first walked into the place but I couldn’t figure where. But thanks to Michael’s actions, I remembered. I’d seen him in a newspaper recently, standing outside a local court. I don’t remember why but I do remember a particular detail.
Michael had chosen a fancy restaurant near his office mainly because he knew it was expensive and that I couldn’t really afford it. He chose it to make me feel inadequate. He chose it to make himself feel better. He certainly didn’t choose it because it belonged to the Cosa Nostra.