On Saturday, Van decided to take a walk around the neighborhood, something he rarely did because – well, it just wasn’t in his nature to do so. He cruised past the corner grocery where he normally purchased his beer supply, realizing that he hadn’t purchase any since the award ceremony. He walked in and fetched a six pack from the back cooler. He walked to the front and placed it on the counter. The clerk looked up from the book he was reading, and went to ring up his purchase. He glanced at Van, as he touched the buttons on the register. “Hey, aren’t you that guy that wrote that thing about that girl that won that prize?” Van smiled indulgently, saying, “I guess so.” The clerk said, “I read that thing – it was in that magazine – we’ve got some over there on the display,” as he pointed to the right of the store. “Man, it kinda made me tear up a little. That was a dirty shame, that was, what happened to that girl. Can’t nobody do somethin’ about that?” Van said, “Well, the murder happened fifty years ago, and I suppose the murder rate has gone down since then. Does that help?” The clerk answered, “Oh..fifty years, huh? Guess I missed that one. That’s be eleven fifty for the beer.” Van handed him a twenty, and the clerk gave him his change. “So whadda workin’ on now? More stuff about girls gettin’ murdered?” Van said, “No – I’m writing about rehab facilities for veterans that are taking money from the government and not giving the disabled vets what they need to get better.” The clerk thought about that for a moment. “Well, that sucks…you should do somethin’ about that.” Van promised he would, picked up the beer and walked back to his apartment. He put the beer in the refrigerator, and on a whim, picked up his cell and called Catherine. Her phone rang through to voice mail. He hung up. “No sense in leaving a message – she probably won’t call me back anyway.”
Van was bored, and could think of nothing better to do than watch television. He turned on his Apple TV, and turned it to the Bloomberg network. He clicked on the icon for Shows, then selected Charlie Rose. There was Dexter, talking about ISIS, although he corrected himself and said they’re just called IS now. He certainly sounded as though he knew what he was talking about. But Van could see that, through the vague patina of normality, Dexter was not a well man. His tie was just a bit too off center, and the dark circles underneath his eyes were a dead giveaway to a man for whom a good night’s sleep is a thing of the past. But Charlie didn’t seem to notice, peppering Dexter with questions faster than he could answer them. Van could see Dexter get visibly unnerved, as Charlie cut away to another of the guests he was interviewing around the table. Van felt bad for the guy. So on another impulse, he picked up his phone again and tried calling Dexter. As with Catherine, the call rang through to voice mail. But this time, Van left a message saying he’d enjoyed having dinner with him, and maybe they could get together for a beer some time.
Five minutes later, Van’s phone rang. He looked down at the screen to see that it was Catherine, calling from her work number. He picked up, saying with his most cheery voice, “Catherine! It’s so good to hear from you.” There was silence on the other end. After several long moments, Catherine said, “Did you call me a few moments ago and not leave a message?” Van, feeling sheepish but not knowing exactly why, said, “Yes, I did. I thought maybe you were working and didn’t want to be disturbed.” Catherine replied, “I am working, and I don’t understand why you’re calling me, after the deal the other night.” Van thought quickly, not having thoroughly prepared himself to have this discussion with her. “Listen, I’ve been meaning to call and talk with you about that. See, it really wasn’t as it appeared..uh..what I mean to say is…um..listen, can we get together and talk about this? I really need to see you to explain.”
Once again there was a long pause. “What is there to explain? You and some dark haired girl were naked together or what appeared to be a new leather sofa in your living room. Did I miss anything?” The more they talked, it appeared the more angry and upset Catherine was growing. Van said, “Listen, I really need to talk with you about this – how about we get together tomorrow morning – say around 10 – at the Broadway Cafe for a nice brunch? They do a really nice Sunday brunch.” Catherine hesitated, but then agreed to meet him. They hung up, and Van thought to himself, “I have the rest of today and tonight to come up with a really good explanation for what happened. I really owe it to Catherine to do that.”
Sunday morning at a few minutes after ten, Van walked through the door of the Broadway Cafe. The wait staff provided their normal greeting, and Van selected the table he’d used to interview Bill Genovese. He sat down, the waiter brought a pot of coffee, and a menu. “I’m being joined by ..” Van hesitated .. “by another person. She should be here any minute.” The waiter left another menu, and walked back to the counter to remove some croissants from the warming oven. Two minuts later, Catherine walked in. She glanced around, and saw Van sitting at the table toward the back. Catherine walked over to the table, and sat down in the chair opposite him. “How’ve you been?” was all Van could think to say. “How do you think I’ve been? Not very good, thanks to you,” Catherine said, with a furrowed brow. She appeared to have lost a few pounds since Van had last seen her. “You look like you’ve lost weight – hey, that’s great. Wish I could,” was all Van could muster. Catherine gave him what could only be described as a sour look. “So you wanted to speak with me about that night?” Van swallowed hard, saying, “Let’s order brunch first. The omelettes here are really good – especially the mushroom and cheddar.”
The waiter came over at Van’s eye contact, and they ordered breakfast. Van got the omelet, and Catherine ordered two soft boiled eggs and a croissant. The waiter brought over two small glasses of orange juice, and a small container of yoghurt. “On the house – for our favorite author, here.” Van smiled, and Catherine sat stone-faced. The meal came in ten minutes, and they quietly ate their breakfasts. After the second cup of coffee, Van started his explanation. “See, that girl – her name is Sarah – was an old girlfriend of mine. She had dumped me a few months ago, I guess because I just wasn’t good enough for her. Then, after the article and then the prize, I guess she changed her mind and decided that I was good enough for her. So she called and we went to dinner, and drank a bottle of Pinot, which God knows I am just not used to. Well, when we went back to my place, I had no intention of anything happening – after all, she dumped me, so I figured this was just a dinner, you know? The next thing I know, she comes out into the living room in this little teddy thing – that’s what you call it, right? Little lace one piece thing? Anyway, she comes out in that, and starts rubbing all over me, and I guess with the wine and it was late, and I was really tired, I was just like..well, I don’t know what I was. But it certainly wasn’t initiated by me, and well, I gotta say, it really didn’t mean anything. I really think I love you.”
The more Van talked, the wider Catherine’s eyes grew. When he stopped to take a breath, she said, “You asked me here to tell me that? My God, Van, are you really that shallow and insensitive? You didn’t initiate it, and therefore it’s not a problem? I don’t believe you!” Van said, “Well, the truth of the matter is, I have to admit, even though it hurts my masculine ego, I was having a little trouble in the um..erection department – I guess because of the alcohol. I couldn’t, and we really didn’t. We rolled around and touched and stuff, but I didn’t fuck her. That is the honest to God truth. Would I lie to you? Doesn’t that make you feel better?”
Catherine calmly picked up her cloth napkin and wiped her mouth. She took one last swallow from her coffee mug. She put down the napkin, and looked Van squarely in the eye. “No, Van, it doesn’t make me feel better. And frankly, I don’t believe you. But that’s neither here nor there. Here’s the thing. I’ve always known that you are a typical shallow, insensitive man who doesn’t understand the first thing about relationships, loyalty or even basic ethics. I got that. But I’d always believed – frankly, based on your writing – that there was a decent, sensitive – good guy – underneath that crummy exterior. But I see I was wrong. You really are a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical…shit!” With those last words, Catherine got up and turned to leave. “If and when you ever find that decent guy within you that was capable of writing that sensitive prose – then give me a call.” With that, she walked out the door.
Van went back home, and spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening drinking his way through the six pack of Amstel, and a bottle of tequila he’d had set aside for making margaritas to celebrate his win. About 9:45 that night, he scrolled through his phone to find Remnick’s office number. The phone rang once, and then voice mail picked up. At the phrase, “leave a message,” a very drunk Van slurred, “Hey, Remnas..David, this is Van Collins calling. I’ve decided to take that gig you offered me. Yeah. I’m gonna take that gig. Yeah. Uh..goodbye.” With that, Van retreated to the bathroom, and threw up about a quart of the liquid in his stomach. Fifteen minutes later, he was back in there repeating the same retching routine. After a third time, he lay on his bed with the room spinning. He vaguely remembered dialing someone’s number, but for the life of him, couldn’t remember whose number he’d dialed. “Oh well, I’ll sort that out in the morning.” Van fell asleep with one foot still on the floor.