by C.J. Brown
A story of a dinner for a newly freed man.
|The Abromowitz party arived at the restaurant at 6:45, a full fifteen minutes earlier than their reservation. The clothes they wore barely met the unwritten threshold of attire that is normally seen at O'Hare's Steakhouse. Most of the clients were business executives entertaining high value clients in hopes of closing that next big deal.
The Maitre'd looked them over and wondered silently why they seemed familiar. Certainly this was not the normal dinner party he dealt with, yet there was something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Something he had seen before, or heard about...
"Your room is being prepared by our staff. Would you like to have a drink at the bar while you wait?"
The young woman who seemed to be in charge looked around nervously and glanced into the bar area. The wood was polished to perfection, framed paintings adorned the walls, clearly well-to-do businessmen sipped brown liquor on the rocks from expensive looking glasses while smoke from even more expensive cigars wafted all around. She timidly looked back and quietly said "um, no thank you sir. We'll just wait here."
The gentleman nodded and smiled at her, then excused himself with a promise to return in a few moments. He then pointed out the coat check room and walked away.
Gerard Lempik was on the phone when he heard a knock at the door. He paused a moment then shouted, "what is it?"
The maitre'd quietly entered the office and wordlessly motioned that he needed just a minute of the man's time. Mr. Lempik was a busy man, but he knew that this would not be wasted time. Hank rarely wasted his time with trivial matters.
He graciously finished his call, then looked up at Hank. "Well?"
"Yes sir, well I wanted to let you know that we have a party that I'm concerned about. They've reserved a private room, but they don't seem as though they could pay for a dinner at McDonald's, much less drop a few grand here. Would you like me to have them escorted out?"
Gerard sat and thought while nodding. "Do you think they have any clue as to the type of place this is? I mean, perhaps they just thought this was a normal steakhouse and now they're too embarrassed to just walk out. Go take a peak out there. I'll bet they've already slinked back out to the street."
Hank nodded and walked out the door. A moment later he returned. "They're still here sir. What would you like me to do?"
This was always a difficult situation, but it was thankfully a rare one. The last thing Gerard wanted was the bad publicity of kicking out someone simply based on perception. At the same time, he certainly didn't want to waste his employee's time on a group that wouldn't be able to pay anyway.
"Mr. Lempik? There is one more thing." Hank continued. "There's something familiar about them. I don't know what, but I've seen them, or heard about them somewhere. I think they've been in the news or something."
Gerard nodded and thought. "Like they won the lottery or something?"
Hank shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. That would surely explain their unease in being at a place like this."
"What did you say the name was?"
"I didn't say, but it's Abromowitz."
Gerard grew thoughtful. He kicked back in his chair and a sudden realization dawned on him.
"Holy mother of... Oh my. Okay, now I know." He looked up at Hank. That's the case that Lemperer just took care of. Remember, the wrongfully convicted rapist/murderer?" Harry Lemperer was a highly public attorney who frequented O'Hare's. He had recently gotten a conviction overturned on a man who had been on death row for the murder and rape of his own six year old daughter. DNA evidence proved conclusively that the man was innocent. A recently released sex offender had been working at their apartment building as a janitor, and he had finally confessed to the crime. Mr. Abromowitz had spent 12 years in prison.
"Hold on a sec." Gerard continued. He then began punching keys on his computer and a moment later summoned Hank over. "Is that them?" he asked while pointing at the screen.
"Yeah, I think so." Hank nodded. The fortyish man was shown on the screen leaving the prison, and there was a young women running up to greet him. The young woman strongly resembled the timid lady out front. Now that he looked, one of the gentlemen with her seemed to also look like the recently released man. "Yeah that's them. Do you think Harry is treating them tonight? It would explain why they're here."
"Yeah, probably. I just don't know why he didn't call me to let me know."
"Maybe they wanted some privacy. I'm sure they were concerned about being gawked at."
"Either way," Gerard said, "let's take good care of them. Any friend of Harry's..."
"Yes sir." Hank hurried out of the office to the front. The group was still wearing their coats and the coak check man looked to Hank and shrugged. "Did you want to check your coats?" Hank prodded.
The young woman walked up close to Hank but never took her eyes off the floor. She then whispered, "Um, does it cost anything?"
This was clearly a question that Hank was not used to being asked. He pondered it a moment and then made a quick decision. "No, it's free, but it is customary to tip the man a dollar or two for each coat after you pick them up again."
As the woman nodded in understanding, Hank dropped his voice to a whisper. "Ma'am, we know that you are friends of Mr. Lemperer. We also know who you are. This restaurant is very expensive, but I don't want you to worry about that. Enjoy yourselves tonight. Any friend of Mr. Lemperer's is a dear friend of ours."
Finally lifting her eyes from the floor, she looked incredulously at Hank. Tears began to well up in her eyes. "Oh my... Thank you sir. Thank you so much! I mean, do you mean?"
Hank nodded. "Tonight is on the house." Then he quickly added, "but just tonight, okay?"
"Oh yes sir. I mean, we've been saving for a few years in hopes that this night would come. It's a celebration of sorts. I mean, we can pay, but it'll be a bit tight."
Hank cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Say no more. Just go drop off your coats and I'll bring you to your room."
The celebration was joyous and the family dined on filet mignon, lobster, and washed it all down with three bottles of Dom Perignon. When it appeared as though th tab would exceed $2,000, Hank diplomatically hinted that the restaurant's generosity shouldn't be taken for granted. The clearly grateful group placed a $75.00 tip on the table and looked to Hank to see if this was reasonable. Though it was woefully inadequate, Hank indicated that it was more than enough, and privately informed the waiters that he'd take care of the tip himself. As the family left, Hank smiled to himself and took pride in the little joy he was able to give these folks.
He stood at the front of the restaurant and watched them leaved in a taxi. As if on cue, Harry Lemperer walked in the door with his wife a few minutes later. "Hank, old boy! How's it going?"
"Oh, Mr. Lemperer. We weren't expecting you this evening! You just missed your friends though, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves tonight. I hope they speak well of their experience next time you speak with them." Hank smiled, clearly pleased.
"Which friends might you be speaking about?"
"Well, the Abromowitz family of course. They had their little celebration here, and, well, we assumed that you had recommended our establishment."
A confused, but amused grin grew on Harry's face. "I'm not exactly sure what you're talking about there Hank, but are you referring to the gentleman who was recently in the news?"
"Well, yes sir. Of course."
"Yeah well, I just spoke to him myself this afternoon. They're in California staying with relatives for a while. In fact, they're probably going to move out there and start over, y'know?"
Both men stood silently for a moment as confusion came over them simultaneously. In a cab across town, a small group of people smiled and laughed.
"Yep, that was the best one yet Jenny," the fortyish man stated. So far, you're definitely in the lead.
"Thank you Carl." Jenny bowed her head and waved her hand dramatically. "Who's next?"
"I am." Another young man said. "We're hitting Nova next Friday. We'll meet at 3:00 at my place to go over the roles. Everybody going to be there?"
Nods all around. Jenny then asked, "what do I get to be this time Ron?" Ron smiled. You'll find out soon enough. This'll be the best one yet.