But Zoe was busy with something new, little face turning beet-red, hands clenched, eyes bulging.
“Great,” said Karen, ignoring the thin man but certain he was still giving her the once-over. Then she softened her tone, not wanting to give Zoe any complexes. “That’s fine, honey. Poop to your heart’s content, make a nice big one for Mommy.”
Moments later the deed was done and Zoe was scooping up pasta again and hurling it.
“That’s it, young lady, time to clean you up and go meet Daddy.”
“No more eh-eh, change-change.” Standing, Karen undid the straps of the high chair and lifted Zoe out, sniffing.
“Definitely time to change you.”
But Zoe had other ideas and she began to kick and fuss. Holding the baby under one arm, like an oversized football, Karen lifted the gigantic denim bag that now took the place of the calf-leather purse Doug had given her, and walked over to the bar where the waiter stood polishing glasses and sucking his teeth.
He continued to ignore them even when Karen and Zoe were two feet away.
“Excuse me, sir.”
One heavy black eyebrow cocked.
“Where’s your ladies’ room?”
Wet brown eyes ran over Karen’s body like dirty oil, then Zoe’s. Definitely a creep.
He licked his lips. A crooked thumb indicated the back of the restaurant.
Right past the booth with Lizard and his pals.
Taking a deep breath and staring straight ahead, Karen marched, swinging the big bag. God, it was heavy. All the stuff you had to carry.
The three men stopped talking as she walked by. Someone chuckled.
Lizard cleared his throat and said, “Cute kid,” in a nasal voice full of locker-room glee. More laughter. Karen pushed through the door.
She emerged a few minutes later, having wrestled Zoe to a three- round decision. In one of Zoe’s hands was the cow-rattle Karen employed to take Zoe’s mind off diaper-changing. Let’s hear it for distraction.
Forced to pass the three men, Karen stared straight ahead but managed to see what they were eating. Double-cut veal chops, bone and gristle and meat spread out over huge plates. Some poor calf had been confined and force-fed and butchered so these three creeps could stuff their faces.
Lizard said, “Very cute.” The other two laughed and Karen knew he hadn’t meant Zoe.
Feeling herself flush, she kept going.
The men started talking.
Zoe shook the rattle.
Karen said, “Eh-eh, huh, Zoe?” and the baby grinned and drew back her hand.
Windup and the pitch.
The rattle sailed toward the back of the restaurant.
Rolling on the tile floor toward the back booth.
Karen ran back, startling the three men. The rattle had landed next to a shiny black loafer.
As she picked it up, the tail end of a sentence faded into silence. A word. A name.
A name from the evening news.
A man, not a nice one, who’d talked about his friends and had been murdered in jail, yesterday, despite police protection.
The man who’d uttered the name was staring at her.
Fear–ice-cube terror–spread across Karen’s face, paralyzing it.
Lizard put his knife down. His eyes narrowed to hyphens.
He was still smiling, but differently, very differently.
One of the other men cursed. Lizard shut him up with a blink.
The rattle was in Karen’s hand now. Shaking, making ridiculous rattle sounds. Her hand couldn’t stop shaking.
She began backing away.
“Hey,” said Lizard. “Cutie.”
Karen kept going.
Lizard looked at Zoe and his smile died.
Karen clutched her baby tight and ran. Past the waiter, forgetting about the high chair, then remembering, but who cared, it was a cheap one, she needed to get out of this place.
She heard chairs scrape the tile floor. “Hey, Cutie, hold on.”
She kept going.
The waiter started to move around from behind the bar. Lizard was coming at her too. Moving fast. Taller than he looked sitting down, the gray suit billowing around his lanky frame.
“Hold on!” he shouted.
Karen gripped the door, swung it open, and dashed out hearing his curses.