While enjoying a cup of black coffee in a semi-classy diner in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I flipped through one of my trademark reporter's notebooks and ran across a ten-digit number. With a shrug, I muttered, "Now's as good a time as any."
"Um," said the voice coming from my cell, "hello?"
"Hi," I told it, "this is Max."
"You gave me your phone number last night?" I reminded the voice. "Need me to narrow it down?"
"I don't give out my phone number a lot, Max," said the woman on the other end with a happy sigh.
"And I never give it out to guys at that bar."
"Well," she explained, "it's kind of an old man pub, not a meat market."
"I'm not really a big fan of meat markets." Especially when the meat markets are too crowded that particular evening. "However, I've always been a huge fan of that pub, though." This would be a lot more convincing if I could remember that pub's name.
"Then how come I've never seen you there before?" she asked.
"You must have just missed me."
"You're hard to miss," she said.
It was time to get off the subject of geography before my bluff ran dry. "You're referring to my distinctive broken nose."
"It does stand out," she agreed sheepishly.
"It also makes it tough to commit petty crimes."
She chuckled. "So why are you calling, Max?"
"I was hoping you were free tonight."
After a moment, she replied, "As a matter of fact, I am."
"What do you think about me swinging by your place later?"
"You don't even know where I live!"
"I was hoping you'd tell me."
She paused again. "Monroe Street. Hoboken."
"That's good to know," I told her. "There are some pretty good takeout places in Hoboken. Got any preferences?"
"Sevenish?" I concluded. "I think that gives us plenty of time to get to know each other, and if we want to go out later, we can. If we don't, we don't."
"Eightish?" she replied. "I need to straighten out my apartment."
After I hit the End button, I turned to Gretchen West, the currently scowling photographer from my newspaper with who happened to be sharing my booth. "What?" I asked.
"Don't you ever stop?" she replied.
"Why would I?"
Gretchen shook her head. "What makes you think this woman you just met is just going to sleep with you?"
"Why wouldn't she?"
"Because she doesn't know better."
"She knows enough to find me attractive," I told her. "Isn't that enough?"
"You are so gross."
A small part of me winced, but that was mostly because I didn't usually endure such condemnation in the bright, green eyes of someone with that smile and décolletage. Her opinion of every other person she'd ever met sparkled invitingly, and so her negativity stung a little. But only a little. Otherwise, I welcomed her contempt, as it was matched by mine. Besides, her assessment reminded me of something important: "Are there any good takeout places in Hoboken?"
Aghast, she asked, "Why would I even consider helping you take advantage of some poor girl?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"You are so gross!"
"You said that already," I reminded her.
"That's because I mean it."
On the inside, I smirked. For someone so vain and vacuous, she was getting pretty good at keeping up with my banter. On the outside, however, I completely ignored her. "For obvious reasons, I should probably avoid Italian. There's nothing sexy about slurping."
"You're making me uncomfortable," she told me.
"I should probably avoid Indian food too, because I don't know how her digestive tract might react." I frowned. "Have you ever seen those movies where the characters feed each other erotically? Maybe they could give me some ideas."
"Focus," she demanded.
"I suppose I could pick up some strawberries from a bodega on the way over, but that's not much of a meal, you know?"
She pouted, which was a lot cuter than it was intimidating.
I snapped my fingers. "Something with chopsticks! I can feed it to her sensually! Maybe sushi..."
"Max Fuentes!" Gretchen snapped.
Aubry Hitchens, reality TV's It Girl de jour, cleared her throat from the other side of the table. "Are we going to get on with this interview?"
"Right," I admitted. "Totally forgot."
She sneered. "I have a talk show and a magazine shoot later, you know."
"Sorry," I replied. "Important business."
"That was important?"
I grinned. "I'll ask the questions here."
Despite herself, she smiled a tiny smile. "Then get on with it."
"Are there any good takeout places in Hoboken?"
Gretchen groaned, and Aubry frowned. "Is that really your first question?"
"It is now."
"I've never been to Hoboken."
I jotted down Hobo and struck a line through it. To her, I said, "What kind of food do you think of as sexy?"
"Is this part seriously going in the print edition?" she asked.
"Why wouldn't it?"