Mrs. Schmulowitz suggested that I take Savannah to Bel Cibo, an intimate, white-tablecloth Italian joint overlooking the water. I was certain Bel Cibo translated to, “Big Ambiance, Small Portions,” but that was cool. For once, money was no object, even if I didn’t have any. It’s not every day a man asks the world’s most beautiful woman to marry him again and she says yes.
The menu was in Italian. Not that I could’ve read it anyway, not in the dim candlelight of our corner table. I was getting to that stage in life where I needed reading glasses. I hated it. Our tuxedoed waiter, an anxious little man with a dented nose and dark, slicked back hair, sounded like a guy from New Jersey trying to sound like a guy from Naples.
“For the belladona?”
Savannah held a candle close as she perused the menu. She’d put her hair up — glamour incarnate in gold hoops, heels, and a short, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress, black. I’d trimmed my jail break of a beard and changed into my only dress shirt and khakis. I would’ve ironed both had I owned an iron.
“I’d like to start with the Mozzarella di Bufala con Pomodoro e Basilico, please,” she told the waiter, “then the Tagliolini del Campo as an entree.”
“Eccellente. And for the signore?”
“What do you recommend?”
He recommended the Tortino di Granceaola as an appetizer, followed by Rustichella d’Abruzzo all’Amatriciana. Whatever the hell those were. Both, he assured me, were “molto delizioso.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
The waiter asked if we’d had a chance to look over the wine list.
“We won’t be having wine tonight,” I said.
“That’s right, we won’t.” Savannah beamed. “I’m pregnant.”
He suggested a bottle of sparkling water. Savannah said that would be fine.
“You have no idea what you just ordered, do you?” she said playfully after the waiter departed.
“Not a clue. Doesn’t matter, though. All I want is you.”
She tilted her head, stroking the side of her neck, and smiled demurely. The candlelight danced in her eyes.
“The romantic Cordell Logan. It’s so unlike you.”
I was on a roll. “You’re unbelievably beautiful tonight, Savannah. More so than usual. As if that’s even possible. I’m so lucky.”
“I’m the one who’s lucky.”
We held hands across the table. I felt warm and good inside, that sensation when you’re living in the moment, where you belong.
Across the restaurant, a busboy spilled a tray of water glasses that shattered on the travertine floor, loud as firecrackers. Every other diner flinched, startled, including Savannah. I didn’t. She noticed.
“What is it with you?”
I looked over at her.
“Somebody drops a bunch of glasses and everybody jumps out of their skin but you. Arlo was the same way. Why can’t you just be honest with me, Logan?”
“You know what. About you. What you did for a living when we were married. The real story.”
She knew only part of the story, the one before we’d met. That I’d graduated a rare liberal arts major from the Air Force Academy, and that I’d flown combat missions over Iraq in A-10 Warthogs before an old football injury disqualified me from flight status. What she didn’t know was that I’d spent nearly a decade after that off the books, much of it while we were husband and wife, kicking in doors as part of a tier one, inter-service counterterrorism unit, code-named Alpha. I could’ve told her that a man doesn’t spend as long as I did shooting people and getting shot at without learning to control his acoustic startle reflex. I also could’ve told her that Arlo Echevarria had been my boss at Alpha, and that my cover story — working with him at a marketing agency in San Francisco where we all lived at the time — was straight-up hokum. But I kept my mouth shut.
Savannah suspected that the marketing job was a cover story, especially after Echevarria, who’d retired by then, was shot to death in Los Angeles. Now here we were, less than a year after his murder, planning a new life together amid her same old demands of candor and transparency, and my same old obfuscation of the truth. The more things change…
“You mind me asking you a question?”
“We’re getting married again, Logan. You can ask me anything.”
“How many men did you sleep with before we met?”
She sat back in her chair. “What I did before we met is none of your concern.”
“I rest my case.”
She stared at me with her eyebrows raised and mouth open — that same expression every woman wears when she realizes that the man she’s dining with possesses all the smarts of a doorknob.
“Logan, what you did before we were married is absolutely none of my business. And what I did is none of yours. What you did for a living while we were married, though, was and is very much my business.”
“I’ve told you what I did a hundred times. But for clarification, let’s go with a hundred and one: I was a marketing sales rep.”
She rewarded my lie with a disbelieving smirk. “A sales rep. With a gun.”
“Plenty of people own guns, including sales reps. This is America, Savannah. Mom, apple pie, and guns.”
Our special evening together teetered on the precipice. Sparkling water could not have arrived at a more opportune moment. The waiter filled our glasses while the restaurant’s sommelier delivered a bottle of wine to an older couple at the next table. He opened the bottle with a flourish and presented the cork to the gentleman for his inspection. Then he dribbled some of the wine into a small silver chalice that dangled from a chain around his neck. He sipped, smacked his lips, pronounced the selection, “Squisito,” poured the vino into long-stemmed crystal goblets, wrapped the bottle in a linen towel like he was changing a diaper, set the bottle on the table, bowed crisply from the waist, and left.
“The guy gets paid to chug other people’s overpriced grape juice?” I said. “I’m definitely in the wrong line of work.”
Savannah exhaled through her nose and looked away. Call it a hunch, but I got the impression she was still mad at me.
Buddhists bathe their statues of the Buddha. The practice is supposed to improve harmony and inner balance. I owned no such statue but, thanks to Mrs. Schmulowitz, I did have a tub in my garage apartment. And if anybody’s harmony and inner balance needed improvement, especially after the tenuous way dinner with Savannah had gone that night, it was mine.
“Think I’ll go take a bath.”
“Whatever you’d like,” she said indifferently. She was stretched out on my bed reading Psychology Today, still wearing her cocktail dress, heels off. Kiddiot dozed on her toes like a fluffy, purring foot warmer.
The tub was purple. Ditto the sink and toilet. Mrs. Schmulowitz had picked them all up for a song at the garage sale of some aging rock star who’d decided to redo his McMansion after laboring one season on one of those celebrity rehab shows. Rancho Bonita was crawling with folks like that, famous people who had more money than sense. I shut the bathroom door and ran the water as hot as it would go. I also squirted in a liberal dose of Mr. Bubble, because nothing says “relaxation” like foamy suds, and also because Mr. Bubble is odorless. When you’ve pulled triggers for a living, there’s something antithetical about going around all day smelling like strawberry or golden-toasted coconut.
I stripped naked and eased into the tub, soaking a forest green washcloth, then spreading it flat across my face as I lay back with my eyes closed. It’s in the quiet of such moments that memories intrude. The price, I suppose, for having a clan-destine past.