“Okay. Your name’s Esperanza,” Paul said as the cab crept slowly forward in the rush-hour traffic, “but what do people call you?”
“Esperanza,” I replied.
“Oh, come on. No one is called Esperanza. What do your friends call you? Essie? Espy? Ranzi?”
I gave him a disdainful look. “What do they call you? Pablo? Paulo?”
“Okay. Point taken.”
“I stopped being Denny when I was twelve years old,” Dennis said in a vague way that told me he was thinking aloud. “Actually, I never cared for my name. Dennis the Menace and all.”
“So, go by your middle name,” I suggested.
He shook his head. “It’s my mother’s maiden name. Samuelson.”
“Sam works,” Paul told him.
“Please, don ‘t,” Dennis insisted.
“Dennis, it is, then,” I said as the cab pulled up before The Bistro. Yes, it was a trade name, not a generic one, as I had assumed.
The Bistro did not occupy a storefront. Rather, it was located upstairs, above a secondhand bookshop. Something about it seemed Bohemian, as though its owner were trying to make his French leanings blend with the Hippie style of the day.
“It’s pre-Hippie, actually,” Dennis told me. “Think Beatnik, French coffee houses, that sort of thing. But don’t worry. It runs only skin deep – just to appeal to the clientele. Francois cooks to suit himself.”
“And he does it well,” Paul added.
“Ah! Mes amis!” a joyous voice exclaimed as the maitre d’ rushed forward to greet us. Truthfully, he looked French.
“Basque French,” Paul would tell me later. “Jean Pierre left the region during the war and never looked back.”
“He left home to escape a wicked stepfather,” Dennis added with a grin.
“No. We decided that he must have left home to escape a wicked stepfather,” Paul reminded him. “Of course, we had tied on a few when we made up that story.”
I had to grin at the men, even though I shuddered inwardly to think of the tales they might make up about me. Soon, I was too caught up in dinner to worry about those things.
“Francois is doing creatures tonight,” the waiter informed us. His name was Jacques.
“Creatures?” I asked when Jacques had presented the day’s specials and departed.
“They’re not critters,” Dennis told me. “New creations. Jacques calls them creatures.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. A moment later, I declined the suggestion that I try the escargot (snails), which, for all their good reviews, fall in the category of critters, not creations, for me. I chose, instead, the pompano en papillote. I had enjoyed it at The Courtyard in New Orleans and was curious to see how Francois created it.
“It’s not a new dish, though. It’s been around forever,” I said.
“Francois is creating a new way of making it,” Dennis informed me when I remarked that pamano en papillote was not new. “Usually, his new ways are very successful.”
“Is a fish a critter?” Paul asked.
“It is if its eyes bulge,” Dennis replied before I could think of a snappy rejoinder.
“There! What Dennis said,” I told Paul.
Paul laughed merrily. “You two suit each other.”
“Down, boy,” Dennis retorted. To me, he added, “Hank and Ben at school called Paul ‘Marrying Sam.’”
“I thought Sam was your name,” I teased him.
Paul’s laughter became raucous. Dennis gave me an appraising eye.
“It appears that there is more to Miss Cervantes than we first thought, Pablo,” he said.
“Actually, Hank called me ‘Marrying Sam.’ Ben called me an old maid aunt,” Paul confessed.
“Are you an old maid aunt?” I asked him.
“I know when two people look good together. You two look good together.”
“Can’t we just have dinner together?” I asked.
“We’re just having dinner together, Pablo,” Dennis affirmed.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Paul said as he arose.
“Going somewhere?” I asked his retreating figure.
“He sees a girl at the bar that he wants to meet,” Dennis explained. “It’s a new one every night for him.”
TO BE CONTINUED
(c) 2008, Virginia Tolles, All Rights Reserved