Guilty Pleasures

by Joanne Grier

 

Catherine came to an abrupt stop, finger pointing; and her voice rose over the den of taxi horns and yelling street vendors.  “Would ya look at that?  At last!  Come on, let’s go.”  Grabbing Edie’s hand she led her startled friend across the street and inside the crowded building.

“When did this open?  There was one about two blocks from campus my last year in college and I was happily addicted after my first one!”  Catherine eagerly joined the queue, chatting like a magpie, about her addiction, all while staring into Edie’s awe struck face.

Still in somewhat a state of shock, Edie quickly found herself back on the street with a bag in her hand as they hurried on down the street.  After a couple of blocks they came to a small, slightly hidden outdoor area and quickly grabbed two seats. 

Opening her bag, Catherine sighed in anticipation and began to hungrily eat.  After chewing and swallowing, she turned to Edie with a wide grin and muttered, “Absolutely divine!”

Over the next several weeks, whenever they had lunch together, Edie knew where Cathy wanted to eat.  She was amazed that her friend, whom she considered to be very sophisticated, had such an addiction for this rather common, ordinary food.  She’d seen the items in the paper; saw the old pictures of Cathy in elegant ball gowns eating at the hottest restaurants.

***************

Sharing a pot of tea with William as she waited for Vincent to return from work detail, Catherine listened to William’s rather woebegone story.  “Surely, it can’t be that bad.”

“There just comes a time when no matter what I try, everyone is simply sick of my food.  It’s only the start of fall, and already I’m seeing signs.  These things don’t usually happen until late winter.  After all, there are just so many soups and hearty stews I can create to keep this bunch warm!  It doesn’t help that so many magazines and newspapers with all their tempting ads are in great supply here below.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate everything our Helpers do for us, but I just wish they didn’t send down every cooking and food magazine!  Just seeing all that variety of food available uptop is more than enough to create a multitude of cranky eaters!”

“Is there anything I could do to help?  You know I’m more than willing to help in any way.  I don’t have much cash with me today, but I could certainly bring some down tomorrow in order to allow you to shop at the market.”

“Thanks but no.  It isn’t the money.  We have enough left in this week’s budget for food, it’s just I’m so frustrated in thinking of something that would perk up their taste, something different I haven’t tried before.  Some treat or something that isn’t old hat down here, something I haven’t already made hundreds of times.  Today at lunch, I actually had garbage and you know we never have plates returned with food on them!”

Catherine reached out, taking William’s large hand in hers as she murmured what she hoped were words of encouragement.

Over the next several days, Catherine found herself replaying her conversation with William, pondering what she could do to help.  She had never seen William in such a state.  They needed a surprise, something to give a slight shake to their daily diet, and that would give William a break.

******************

“Fine friend you are!  Now you’ve got me hauling these things home to my granny, and she’s now addicted to them!  It’s bad enough I gotta eat ‘em at least twice weekly, but now at home, too!”  Her voice might have been rough, but Edie’s grin told Cathy she was truly grateful she found something her granny delighted in eating.  Cathy had heard all the stories about what a picky eater Edie’s eighty year old granny had become.

Smiling they entered the now familiar building and joined the queue.  They were laughing as they clutched their bags and headed out the door.

Dropping the bag on her desk, a thought suddenly struck Catherine and she quickly stumbled into her chair, shaking with delight.

Turning the bag over and finding what she needed, she grabbed the phone and dialed.  She couldn’t believe her luck as she got through on her first attempt.  Quickly she stated her purpose and listened intently, a huge grin spreading across her face as the manager stated their policy.  “I’ll be in to prepay around five this evening.  Is that acceptable?  Thanks, I’ll see you then.”

********************

The next day Bennie made two early morning deliveries to the tunnels to two very surprised recipients. 

Twice during the day Catherine reminded Joe that she couldn’t work late this evening, that she had to leave no later than five thirty.  At five fifteen Joe appeared at her desk, bent down beside her and whispered in her ear.  “You’d better leave now.  I just heard Moreno is on the way and he wants to see all the staff.  You know how late these meetings of his last.”

Grabbing her purse and jacket Catherine rapidly left the office, without bothering to clear her desk, and took the stairs down.  Moreno, she knew, never used the stairs.  She safely made it to the garage, got into her car, and quickly drove away.

******************

Catherine drove into the Mallon warehouse and after greeting Mr. Mallon and his son, he directed her to the back of the warehouse.  As she exited her car she saw Vincent and several other men step from the shadows.

“Both the backseat and the trunk are filled.  You did bring a flatbed, didn’t you?”

The men quickly unloaded her car and began to ferry everything Below while she took her car back outside leaving it in Mr. Mallon’s secured lot.  As she was a trusted Helper of long standing, Mr. Mallon had given her the access code so she had a secure place to leave her car when making late night deliveries Below.

Vincent waited to help Catherine down the ladder and then they started for the hub.  The men chattered about the intriguing smells coming from the boxes, and Vincent had a mysterious look as they wondered what was inside.

****************

“I told you before; I don’t know what it is!  Catherine said I wasn’t to cook and that she was bringing food.  You’ll just have to be patient.”

The dining hall was packed and a few grumbling voices were heard, but for the most part, everyone was eager to learn what they would be having for dinner.  They had become accustomed to reading the menu as they walked in, and instead was a simple message starting that Catherine was bringing tonight’s meal.

From a distance, they could hear the rumble of the flatbed and the voices of the men as they neared the dining hall.  Catherine spoke briefly to William and in turn, he passed the instructions to the wait staff, who were on serving duty, and soon they began filling the long serving tables.

Vincent called for quiet and then offered his hand to assist Catherine to stand on one of the chairs so that everyone could see her.  “I’m sorry if your meal is a little later than normal tonight.  It was something of a logistical challenge getting it all together.”  Her smile was met with gentle laughter and many warm returning smiles.

“Although William is known for his ability to create daily masterpieces of culinary delight, I’m sure like any other family, you all get tired of having the same foods.  Tonight’s menu is rather simple, common fare but something that I’ve been addicted to since my college days.  You’re going to laugh when you discover my addiction.

“There’s a salad for every person, fish for those who don’t eat meat, and enough sandwiches for five or six per child and ten or more per adult.  Plus there are French fries and onion rings.  We have dessert, too; and I see William already has tea available. “

The reaction of the citizens was one of wonder and awe.  How did Catherine expect the children to eat six sandwiches and the adults to consume ten?  They were bewildered and shocked.

“Please, won’t you come forward?”  Catherine’s smile welcomed her friends as they slowly began to move toward the serving tables.

The noise level seemed to reach a new high as sack after sack was opened.  From her seat Catherine twisted and turned as she watched the reactions.  The children dove right in and the majority of the adults, too, instantly were familiar with the food.

The meal was an outstanding success and Catherine was more than overjoyed as she watched the mountain of bags disappear from the serving tables.  She was extremely pleased that people weren’t shy about returning for seconds as each bag contained four sandwiches each plus one bag of fries and onion rings and a dessert.

*****************

The party atmosphere went on, but slowly the tunnel dwellers came forward one or two at a time to offer their heart-felt thanks to Catherine. Their words rang in her ears, and she shared many hugs and kisses as they bid her goodnight.

Hand in hand she and Vincent strolled toward the Mallon warehouse.  “You outdid yourself tonight.  They were so surprised and delighted by your generosity.  It will be the talk of the tunnels for days.”

“I was happy to do it.  William deserves a break from his job.  He never complains, and he is outstanding in his dedication.”

“Yes, we are truly blessed with his faithful service.  Tell me, how is it you have kept this addiction a secret?”

“Edie and I were going to lunch, and there it was.  All the construction scaffolding was gone and there before my eyes was a duplicate of my college haunt.  My very own Aluminum Room complete with its well-known fortress like shape.”

Shaking his head and smiling Vincent quietly murmured “Who would have thought my Catherine was a burger and fries chick.”

 

The End

 

Return to the Stories and Poems Index

WFOL Logo