Chapter Thirty-three

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The Garlic Palace was its usual aromatic self, only more so. Maybe Mickey doused the place with garlic-scented spray to maintain the ambience. Speaking of my favorite short Sicilian, he nodded at me and put my diet drink of choice on a napkin in front of my usual stool at the bar.

"What's cooking?" I said.

Mickey didn't even look up from the beer he poured. "Veal," he said.

"With garlic?"

I heard a snort but only one eye looked up at me with derision. "Lemon with veal," he said, as if I'd misspelled my own name. "Garlic overpowers the delicate aroma."

Now I had the derision of both eyes. Cooking Italian, apparently, made Mickey God—or at least that was his excuse this week.

"Okay, so what's with the smell?" I said.

"What smell?"

I took a sip of cola and twirled a little on my stool. "The smell of garlic," I said. "The whole place reeks of it."

Mickey shrugged. "I'm making sauce. Tomorrow's lasagna night." Then he was off delivering the beer to a table behind me.

I took another swig of soda and shifted to watch Mickey work his way across the room clearing tables. He'd never waste money by hiring a bus boy.

All this time I'd kept the aroma-thing to myself, thinking it would hurt Mickey's feelings to know that I called his place the Garlic Palace on the sly.

Actually, Claudie and I said "Palace" as shorthand, but Mickey never asked exactly what we meant since neither "Garlic" nor "Palace" was the real name of Mickey's establishment.

Apparently, the smell didn't bother him. Surprising, since he was such a sensitive little noodge in every other respect. People were funny, I decided. I also decided to take a miss on Mickey's Friday night lasagna.

Forty-five minutes later, well into my second diet cola, Jimmy arrived with Kate. She appeared even younger and more blond than I remembered. She didn't wait to be introduced but bounced right over to meet me.

"You'll be Paulette then," she said. Without waiting for an affirmative, she hugged me warmly. "Jamie speaks about you all the time," she said when we parted.

"I . . . that's nice, Kate," I said. "It's good to meet you." Jamie?

I looked for Mr. James Dolan, but he'd been waylaid by Mickey. My favorite Sicilian was almost certainly pumping him for information about the woman on his arm.

"Do you want to sit at the bar or at a table?" I asked Kate.

"Can we sit at the bar?" she said. "I'd like to get a good look at the bartender."

"Mickey?" I said.

"The one wearing the disco shirt," she said. "He reminds me of that film, Saturday Night Fever."

"Mickey?" I said again half a tone higher. Kate plopped down on the stool next to me. My height-challenged friend thought I talked to him, so he came over to refresh my cola. Jimmy, however, disappeared.

"Who's your friend?" Mickey said, wiping the formica counter in front of Kate five or six times until it shined.

I'd been wondering how I would introduce her. "This is Jimmy's . . . "

"Cousin." Kate finished my sentence and stuck out her hand. "I'm Jimmy's cousin from Ireland."

Mickey took the proffered hand, and instead of shaking it, as I figured he'd do, he kissed it. "I had no idea that women were so beautiful in Ireland," he said.

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