"And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps." ~ H.L. Mencken
Minerva, Chapter 8
O'Toole poured Tara another glass of wine. He couldn't take his eyes off of her; in the dim candlelight she was absolutely stunning.
'But I just don't understand,' O'Toole said, 'how you could . . . associate with someone like that.'
O'Toole was very interested in the exact nature of Tara and Quinn's relationship. He lately had been plagued by a string of 'bad luck,' and O'Toole couldn't help but be suspicious. It was not a matter of jealousy but simple prudence.
In the beginning it hadn't really mattered. O'Toole hadn't touched a woman since the crash, and he had doubted if he ever would again. The physical urges had naturally resumed, but he just didn't feel the whole thing was worth it anymore. So he thought the outings with Tara , though replete with innuendo, were harmless; he knew he wasn't going to pursue the matter. And he had assumed that someone like Tara McClare would stop inviting him once she'd filled in the details of her personality sketch, and moved on to somebody else new and interesting.
But after the fourth session of free drinks (and the second of jukebox dancing), things had changed. As she pulled up to his apartment on that night (because of Tara 's taunting, O'Toole had had far too much to drive himself home), Tara had thrown her pink Mustang into Park and jumped in O'Toole's lap.
'Does this make you uncomfortable?' Tara asked. 'I can move.'
'N-no, it's fine,' O'Toole said. He stared into her eyes.
'Can I ask you something?' Tara queried.
'Ask away,' O'Toole said, and nervously drummed his fingers on the door.
'If we were shipwrecked on a desert island,' Tara asked, 'would you kiss me then?'
O'Toole was speechless. After a moment it occurred to him that this was in fact an invitation.
'Oh!' Tara exclaimed after a moment of necking. She looked down. 'It seems we have a visitor.'
'Uh,' O'Toole fumbled, 'yes, that's my friend. It's been a while since I've done this, so he's a little eager.'
'Hmm . . . Maybe someday I'll meet your friend,' Tara said and they resumed necking.
O'Toole put down his menu.
'They tell me the lobster bisque is 'to die for,'' he said and smiled.
'That's what they say about cigarettes,' Tara said without looking up from her menu.
'Okay!' she said after another moment. She put down the menu. 'I know what I'm having.'
'Good,' O'Toole said, declining to ask Tara her selection. He didn't want to encourage the idea that deciding on a meal was a big event. 'Now you can finally answer my question.'
'What do you want me to say?' Tara asked. 'He's an intriguing man. He's so . . . .' Tara looked up in the air, a slight smile on her lips.
O'Toole braced himself for the worst: rugged, solid, sexy, masculine.
'. . . honest.' Tara looked back at O'Toole, with the same expression she'd had after choosing her entr'e. 'Yes, that's what it is: John Quinn is very honest. Unlike some people, who will say anything to make a sale . . . .' Tara pursed her lips and paused, pretending she did not see the implication for O'Toole. 'But unlike those types of people, John Quinn is a real person, and that's a very rare thing to find.'
'He's also a real criminal,' O'Toole answered in the same tone.
'Whoa ho ho!' Tara said and laughed. 'You violate international agreements to start a colony with a right-wing anarchist, and you're telling me I shouldn't associate with John Quinn?'
'I am not telling you what you should or shouldn't do,' O'Toole said. 'I'm just curious how a responsible woman can be attr'involved with someone like that.'
'He's very spontaneous,' Tara said after a moment of silence. 'He doesn't worry about the future. He makes you feel as if nothing could be more enjoyable than the present moment. Not at all like you, who lays out his clothes for the week.'
'I don't 'lay my clothes out,'' O'Toole said and emptied his glass. 'I just hang them up in the right order when I get home from the cleaners.'
'The words of a heroin addict'I take it all back!' Tara said and signaled the waitress by pointing at the empty bottle of wine.
'Don't worry, you're just as spontaneous as John Quinn,' Tara said, and leaned over to pat O'Toole's knee. As she said it, she recalled the night in Paris.
Quinn had left the country immediately following the Caruzzi incident. At his urging, Tara had taken off from work and toured Europe with him.
'Any trouble at the airport?' Quinn asked once they were settled in the taxi. He had arranged for several friends to watch Tara , but providing protection for someone who didn't even want it was quite difficult.
'Nope. And no rusted vans pulled up when I went jogging,' Tara said contemptuously.
'Good then,' Quinn said, tossing one of Tara 's gloves onto the floor by her feet. 'Welcome to Paris .'
Quinn leaned over to pick up the glove. As he did, he pulled up Tara 's skirt just enough to expose her left knee. He kissed it gently.
'Driver?' Quinn said as he popped his head up. 'How long until the hotel?'
'About fifteen minutes,' the driver replied.
'Make it thirty,' Quinn said, tossing a hundred dollar bill onto the front seat.
'So how does it work then?' O'Toole asked. 'You run around with the bad boys, then you catch your breath with the nice guys?'
'I'm not sure,' Tara said with puzzlement in her brow. She folded her hands and rested her chin on them. 'Which one are you?'
'I am definitely a nice guy,' O'Toole said.
'But that's just what a bad boy would say. He'd break my heart, wouldn't he?' Tara said, nodding her head.
O'Toole just smiled. He had quickly learned Tara had too much energy to be beaten in a battle of wits.
O'Toole's attention wandered from Tara 's conversation as he tried to plan something spontaneous. He could easily persuade the staff to accommodate him; a simple story about his desire to propose, plus some tipping, would see to that. But what to arrange? A special song from the band? No no, a special dance on the floor, just he and Tara.
'Hi, good evening,' an employee said after approaching the table. 'Sir, are you Peter O'Toole?'
'Yes,' O'Toole answered.
'Great!' The woman seemed genuinely pleased. 'There's someone on the phone for you; says it's very urgent.'
O'Toole's brow furrowed. He excused himself and followed the employee.
As soon as O'Toole had left the room, a shy man wearing a collared shirt and sweater approached the table.
'Miss McClare?' he asked, shifting his weight nervously on his feet. 'My name is Jim Teasdale. I work with Pete O'Toole. I hate to disturb you'may I have a moment of your time?'
'Oh-okay,' Tara said, slightly confused.
Teasdale sat in O'Toole's chair.
'Slow down,' O'Toole commanded. 'You work for who?'
'You know, what's his name . . . . I'm telling you, we've been robbed!' The voice on the phone proceeded with the story once again.
'But why are you calling me? How could you possibly have this number?'
O'Toole was perplexed. The security teams at Minerva didn't know him at all. They should report to Linehan.
'Okay you're obviously not the person to handle this. I'll call somebody else.' The phone clicked.
O'Toole checked his watch and calculated the time difference. He pulled a business card out of his wallet and dialed the home phone of Darrell Linehan.
'And really, I don't want you to hate Pete,' Teasdale implored. 'But since his wife's passing, I think he just gave up on a normal relationship. He didn't want to risk getting hurt again. And I'm sure, during those years, well, he must have gotten it on one of our Vegas trips.'
Tara said nothing.
'Ma'am, you've got to understand, he truly doesn't know. He won't get tested, since he doesn't want to know. But after Amy told me, and she swears she was only with him, I thought I had to say something.' Teasdale glanced at the back hallway.
'I really have to go,' he said, standing. 'Please don't say anything. It would embarrass him tremendously.'
'I had to say something,' Teasdale repeated over his shoulder as he hurried away from the table.
Chris Nook chuckled as he jogged to his car. It had gone fairly well inside; the woman was too stunned to ask any details.
Well, they don't call me the Cockblock Jock for nothing, Nook thought, referring to Matt's poetic nickname. I may not be good for much, but I can certainly fuck up a healthy relationship.
'What took so long?' Tara asked when O'Toole sat back down.
'Oh, just a problem on the island. No big deal; sorry about the wait.'
O'Toole had spent ten minutes while Linehan confirmed that the call had been a hoax.
'Have you ever been to Las Vegas ?' Tara asked.
'Sure,' O'Toole answered. He had taken Mary there on several occasions.
'Do you work with a Jim Teasdale?' Tara asked.
'Ye-e-s,' O'Toole said, perplexed. Between the phone calls and Tara 's random questions, he was ready for a nap.
'Describe him.' Tara sat back and stared at O'Toole.
'Well, he's about five-foot-ten, he's got brown hair, he wears glasses . . . . '
'Does he ever wear contact lenses?' Tara interrupted.
'Not that I've ever seen.'
'And you're sure his hair is brown? It couldn't be black and you just got it mixed up?'
'I think I know the difference between black and brown,' O'Toole said. 'What's this all about?'
'Nothing, no big deal,' Tara said, and poured another glass of wine. She refilled O'Toole's glass, even though he had only had a few sips.
'I know!' Tara suddenly exclaimed. 'Let's take a field trip and get blood tests tomorrow!'
'Yes dear,' O'Toole said, shaking his head. This one was certainly a handful.
Tara smiled and wiggled in her chair.
She also resolved to pay John Quinn a visit.