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by Frank Duff

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559 Nathan Abbott Way


Johnny was too curious not to show up. He arrived at Annesley Hall at five minutes to seven in the nicest outfit he owned: a slick black three piece suit with a cobalt blue high necked shirt and no tie. He had bought it for his high school formal-- with drug money. Tinka was waiting for him on the stairs. He didn't recognize her at first, but when he did it almost bowled him over. She had transformed from an intimidating Asian punker girl into the most beautiful woman he had ever seen by simply putting on a dress and a hat.

The dress was a long form fitting red silk evening gown with red sequins and the hat was black and feathered and pinned into her hair, which looked downright aristocratic despite the fact that it peeked out wildly in red, black and blue around the edges. She also wore a black mink scarf that would have looked absurd on anyone but her.

Johnny was just about to tell her that she looked amazing, but she beat him to the punch: "Good Evening Dr. Page, you're looking sharp tonight."

"Sorry?" was the only thing Johnny could think of to say.

"You are Dr. Edward Emmanuel Page and I am your wife Bettie," she replied, checking her makeup in a compact mirror.

"Bettie Page?"

"Only by marriage, now come on." She shoved the mirror back into her purse and led him into the building. They ascended the stairs toward the main hall.

"Nice dress," Johnny said from two stairs behind and below Tinka.

"Thanks. Stole it from a costume rental shop." As she said this, Tinka turned and made eye contact with Johnny. It was then that he noticed that her eyes were just as wild and fiery as they had been the day before. It made her look less like a respectable aristocratic lady and rather quite a bit more like a walking time bomb in an evening gown.

They were at the top of the stairs and Tinka was about to push open the doors to the main hall when Johnny asked: "What's the occasion, anyway?"

"Chemistry Department Faculty Mixer" came the reply and then they were through the doors and inside. There were fifty or sixty people in attendance, mostly wise and friendly looking men in the latter half of their lives wearing old dusty suits with timid wives hanging off of their arms, although there were also a smattering of single men and women in their twenties and thirties. Johnny and Tinka, or Dr. and Mrs. Page, were clearly the youngest people present. The buzz of conversation was maintaining that preternaturally healthy level only attainable when a good-sized group of interesting people are coupled with free alcohol. Tinka liberated two glasses of red wine from a table near the entrance and handed one to Johnny.

Five minutes later, Johnny was at the buffet filling his plate with some of the best vegetarian sushi he had ever tasted and trying to avoid talking to anyone so as not to be caught out. His brain registered something incongruous in his peripheral vision. He turned to see what it was and was surprised by the sight of Lyle talking and gesticulating excitedly at a small group of ageing chemists not twenty feet away. He was dressed much as he had been the day before except that he was wearing a Dead Kennedy's Holiday in Cambodia shirt that didn't expose his nipples. At first Johnny thought that Lyle was intentionally making some sort of scene to disrupt the mixer, but upon looking more closely it became clear that the chemists were not only unoffended by what Lyle was saying, but actually quite interested. Johnny tried but couldn't make out the words from where he was standing. It was then that Lyle noticed Johnny. Their eyes met and Lyle raised his eyebrows briefly while he continued to orate. Johnny had no idea what was going on so he simply smiled and nodded back at Lyle, finished piling futo maki onto his plate and started looking around for Tinka whom he had completely lost track of.

He was still looking when he noticed that Lyle had broken off from his group and seemed to be gravitating in his direction.

"Didn't expect to see you here," Lyle said when he got close enough.

"Me either."

"You didn't expect to see me here, or to see you here?" Lyle asked smiling.

"Take your pick."

Lyle grabbed an avocado roll off of Johnny's plate and popped it in his mouth. He seemed entirely absorbed in his own thoughts as he chewed, as though he had from one instance to the next completely forgotten that Johnny was there. This turned out to be untrue the next moment when Lyle reached for the glass of wine in Johnny's hand, took a generous sip, swallowed and handed the glass back. "Pretty damn good for free food."

"No kidding," Johnny responded guardedly. He couldn't really think of anything better to say since he was half-expecting his mother or some other equally unlikely person to walk through the door at any second. Johnny's mother was in fact in Peterborough making love to Johnny's father at just that moment and would live the rest of her life without ever setting foot in Annesley hall. So he was okay on that front.

Despite Johnny's obvious disorientation, Lyle kept dragging the conversation along: "That chica is bad news."

Johnny was snapped back into the present by the non sequitur and raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

"The Korean girl you came in with", Lyle elaborated, "I've seen her around. She's trouble."

Johnny merely smiled and shrugged: "Whatever". He didn't mind a little trouble. Lyle shrugged as well, as though to say: "I warned you, that's all I can do".

Johnny stopped to take another look around the room. He took in the two lonely looking girls leaning against the drink table. They both had that look in their eyes that said "yeah, I'm a woman in a man's world. What's it to you?" He took in the man in his fifties wearing the baby blue suit who was waving his arms excitedly and talking about Buckminster Fuller as his wife looked on with terminal boredom. Suddenly Johnny realized that, aside from Lyle's presence, this scene was no stranger than any number of others he had been through in his life. Without warning, he hit his social stride and grabbed the conversational bull by the horns: "It wasn't acid that Huxley was talking about in Doors of Perception, it was mescaline."

"I know," said Lyle, "but he talks about acid in Heaven and Hell, and if you've read one, you're going to read the other."

"Yeah, but he also talks about strobe lights in Heaven and Hell."

"I'm not interested in strobe lights. I have a professional interest in acid."

Ah! Johnny's thought, he's a dealer. Maybe the future wasn't as bright as he had first thought. But still, Lyle claimed to be looking for acid. If he was a dealer looking for a new connection there may well be even more money to be made. And at a lower risk.

"Well," Johnny said, "no promises, but if you're still interested I might just be able to help you out."

Lyle had opened his mouth to respond when Tinka's voice suddenly interrupted them: "Come on Doctor, we're leaving."

At the word "Doctor" Lyle raised his eyebrows and smiled. Tinka shot him a look that would have killed a lesser man. He smiled wider, showing his teeth. Tinka began to bodily drag Johnny away. He mouthed "Monday" to Lyle and proceeded to follow Tinka under his own power: "What's the rush?"

"Some old biddy wants to claw my eyes out because she thinks I was flirting with her husband."

"Were you?"

"Irrelevant," she said as they passed the drink table. Tinka let go of Johnny's arm so that she would be able to grab two unopened bottles of wine on the way past. Then they were out the door. Tinka stopped suddenly: "Shit!"

"What's wrong?"

She thrust the bottles into Johnny's hands: "Hold these. Wait Here."

And then she was running back through the doors into the main hall. A moment later she reappeared triumphantly holding a corkscrew. She took his arm and said cheerily "Shall we?"

"Where am I walking you to?" Johnny asked once they were outside.

"Your place," she said, "we're married."

Tinka uncorked one of the bottles on the way and they had finished it by the time they reached Johnny's residence, Tinka drinking more than her share. As Johnny unlocked the door to his room, Tinka said suddenly: "I cast a spell on you this morning."

Caught off guard, Johnny could only ask: "What kind of spell?" as they stepped inside.

"To make you good in bed," she said, kicking the door closed, "It may not have been necessary, but you can never be too careful."

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