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The Conversation at the Fish Shack

Kandie was still looking out of the window and dreaming about the conversation she had had with her husband by the pool when Chrissy finally appeared.

!”God! I'm so sorry I was late, I really am. My car broke down and I had to get a cab."

“You ought to get a fusion engine.”

“Ha, ha,” Chrissy said, “You’re right though; I'll talk to Duncan about it."

“I was beginning to get worried about you Chrissy."

“I couldn't com you, 'cos its battery was flat. It’s still charging up now in my bag. I'm sorry."

“Hey, it's okay. How’re you doing?" Kandie asked.

“Fine, you know just great. Great party at your place. Just great."

“Thanks, I enjoyed the singing. Listen, Chrissy I think we'd better order 'cos I've been waiting a while."

“Sure. Shoot, I'll choose while you order."

The waiter minced over to their table and flipped open his electronic pad and pen with a flick of his wrist.

“Is madam ready to order?” he said in a low, husky voice.

“I'll have swordfish," said Kandie.

“Me too," Chrissy blurted.

“But you don't like swordfish!”

“No, I don’t, do I? You're quite right. I'll have...what’s the micro dish today?”

“On the board," said the waiter.

“That'll do," said Chrissy indifferently, casting a glance at the board. “And how would you like your swordfish cooked?"

“Well done," replied Kandie.

“And would you like side salad or vegetables with that?”

“Side salad please." said Kandie.

“Which salad would you like?” The waiter showed Kandie the choice of salads on his electronic pad.

“She chose Waldorf: a woman of taste.


“Uh huh.”

“Rye, white, pumpernickel, sourdough wholegrain or synthetic?"

“Oh let's go for the real stuff," continued Chrissy, "and we'll have rye please."

“Drinks?" said the waiter tapping the pen on the pad.

“A large mineral water and pineapple juice."

“Would that be Perrier or Ash water?”

“Ash water, still."

The waiter's brow furrowed inadvertently.

“Thank you,” he said and smiled nervously, skipping off to try and get his lunchtime alcohol commission elsewhere.

He returned moments later.

“Sorry I forgot to ask, would you like entertainment with your meal? We have real, virtual and screen on a range of topics from.”

“It’s okay thanks, I think we are okay. We’ll talk, won't we Chrissy? We haven't seen each other for bit. "

The waiter looked disappointed and pressed go on his electronic pad.

The information was relayed to the automated kitchen.

Chrissy and Kandie gazed vacantly out of the window, absorbing the somewhat awkward silence between them. They listened to the dull clatter of knives and forks on plates, and a small man sitting on a table opposite them, who had an incredibly annoying laugh. They didn't know who he was.

The bread arrived, warm and effusing steam like cow's nostrils on a cold morning. They sat together munching in silence, listening to each other's bucolic mastications. Chrissy was beginning to wonder whether not taking the entertainment option hadn't, in fact, been a big mistake. She'd never sensed Kandie as edgy as this.

“So do you want to go shopping later today?" Kandie ventured.

“How? Real, virtual or screen?" replied Chrissy indolently.

“We could go real. I always get real nostalgic when we go real shopping. I know when the others first took off everyone wondered if shopping malls would survive, but they didn't get it did they? People need to go shopping and meet real people; it's amusing its part of the fun. I like real shopping, I think there's a real swing back in favour of it."

“I suppose,” said Chrissy, uncertainly. “I’ve never really given it much thought.”

“So that's settled then. We’ll go real shopping later? How are you doin' anyway?" enquired Kandie.

“Oh, I’m quite well," replied Chrissy laconically.

“And how's Duncan?" asked Kandie.

“Oh he's fine."

“I'm thinking about setting up an art dealership and gallery in town."

Chrissy's eyes sparked to attention and regarded Kandie with a mixture of envy and curiosity.

“Great, what's brought this about?" she enquired.

“Well, Jessica looks after Roger and Stephanie quite often and I need something to get my brain going again. It'd be nice to make something happen. You know my parents were into antiques and they got the odd painting in, I know a bit about art and I don't think this town has much in the way of an outlet for artists." Kandie mused and took a sip of water. "I was thinking about having a small 3-D virtual gallery. If people wanted a copy I could talk to the artist, get a copy made, wire it to them and get a small commission. I was also thinking about having a 2-D real life gallery to promote the arts, crafts and particularly paintings of local painters here in the state."

“Sounds great, "Chrissy chirped, "but art just isn't that big in Iowa, have you thought about that?"

“Yep, but then I thought the art could be a quasi-historical collection, with paintings showing how Iowa has developed over the centuries. I thought a lot of farmers would like to get hold of pictures showing what their farms looked like a hundred years ago. I've been talking to Jakob Hamburg, the farming union guy. Sorry of course you know him. He reckons they'll buy into it. I was thinking about applying to get a state grant, to see if I could create a permanent exhibition, which would show the history of Iowa through works of art."

“Now why didn't I think of that," replied Chrissy whimsically. "Sounds interesting. So let me just get this straight, you've got more than one idea really, being a dealer for net cited 3-D virtual art, showing real art about Iowa and setting up like a little history of Iowa." Chrissy paused. “There's a small museum, I think it's in Pella showing the history of Dutch settlers in the area. You know Pella, the town where lots of people still have little Dutch windmills on their lawns."

“Yeah I know the one," echoed Kandie.

“Yeah," continued Chrissy," sounds a great idea, I'm sure Duncan would back you up on it."

Kandie held Chrissy's gaze with a friendly smile, wondering if this was the right moment to raise the issue of Chuck's expansion ideas, or should it be later on.

“Duncan would be able to talk to the governor and see if there could be any chance of some state funding for the idea."

“That'd be a great help," replied Kandie with a note of hesitation.

“Do you want me to set up a dinner over at my place with the governor, I you could discuss it informally. Duncan has always got on very well with the Governor, as you know.”

“Yeah, so has Chuck," said Kandie warily," but not as well as you guys know him."·

Kandie knew she could probably get to see the governor quite easily but she didn't want to appear ungrateful.

“That would be absolutely great," said Kandie with appropriate sincerity.

The sun hid behind the yellow clouds for a moment allowing a penumbra to cascade across the lake.

The boy with the stick was still playing. He had now speared a mucid fish and was walking up the path towards his mother, anxiously wanting her to see his trophy. His mother had her back to him and was talking earnestly to another woman on the path. She turned around to her son; her mouth gaped in horror and cast a furtive look towards the diners in the restaurant. She started gesticulating at her son.

The child wandered back down the path feigning truculence and waving his stick around in the air to advertise his trophy to the diners. Only Kandie and Chrissy were the audience for this little piece of theatre but they appreciated it even if the boy's mother didn't.

"Kids," said Chrissy warmly.

Their main meals arrived followed by the almost obligatory silence, which happens when food arrives.

"It's Brad's birthday in three weeks," said Chrissy abruptly. I thought I'd have a party for him. I know Brad really enjoyed coming over to your place for Roger's sixth last month. I was going to ask you where you got that game from which they enjoyed so much; the Tom and Jerry avatar game wasn't it?"

“Yep that's right," replied Kandie," I don't know to be honest, Id' have to ask Jessica."

“It's just that everyone enjoyed it so much and we'd like to get the same games machine."

Kandie regarded Chrissy from over the top of her glass. Sometimes Chrissy could be a little petty.

“I'll get Jessica to give you a call," said Kandie. "How's Brad?"

“Oh, you know very well."

Kandie knew this since they both went to the same nursery and Roger often talked about Brad, they were reasonably good friends.

“Good," said Kandie, "how's the micromeal?" "Fine, thanks."

“I heard the meeting with the Koreans went well," said Chrissy casually" “Urm." said Kandie her mouth full of food.

Kandie finished her mouthful, put her utensils down and took a short breath.

“We've been friends for a long time now haven't we, so I hope I can speak plainly. I really need to talk to you..."

Kandie paused and Chrissy met her gaze. Chrissy put down her cutlery.

“I thought you were bein’ edgy, I was going to ask why."

“Chuck may want to expand the plant by a considerable amount in the near future, which may well include building more amenities and houses for new staff. Either the town's behind it or not. "

Chrissy looked taken aback.

“How do you think Duncan'll react to it?" Kandie continued unabated.

I think you know how he'll react to it," replied Chrissy warily, "He won't like it.”

“Well, Chrissy I think he might be cooperative if we can get them both to stop being so bloody pig headed.”

The two women returned to their food nervously.

“This is nice,” Chrissy chimed.

“Good, I'm glad. The thing is Chrissy,” Kandie started abruptly, "I think they both ought to grow up a bit or reach some sort of compromise, don't you? I mean Carlton motors isn't going to go away, it’s here to stay no matter what anyone may think of it. It will expand, it's merely a matter of when and how."

Chrissy kept eating for a moment and finally looked up.

“This is very difficult for me," Chrissy said finally.

“And me. I guess we should have known something would happen eventually, that's why I wanted to talk ..." said Kandie, "we could at least try and make the whole thing work out more easily." Kandie hesitated.

“So I was going to ask you, if you could, um, try and find out how Duncan would react if he knew that the factory might increase by ten times in size."

Chrissy's face belied her feelings.

“Are you serious?" she spluttered. “Ten times?”

Kandie nodded.

“That's nearly a quarter of the whole area of Hertferd, Jees I thought it might expand a bit but...ten times." Chrissy sighed and shook her head. "And what happens if Duncan won't play ball?" said Chrissy in a blank, detached tone.

“I don't know," said Kandie. Chrissy shot a look at Kandie.

“Yes you do, you're not telling me something." Chrissy's pupils grew smaller.

“I don't know," repeated Kandie, "Things could get ugly," she uttered ambiguously.

“Damn right," snapped Chrissy, "For everyone."

“I think we both ought to try and stop that, " retorted Kandie, " I'm just trying to avoid it and I hoped you would want to too..."

Chrissy sipped some water, turned and looked out of the window. The boy had gone home but leisure craft were still racing across the water, leaving mists of water as they travelled. Chrissy felt confused.

“Let me get this straight. You want me to go and find out how my husband would react so you can report back to Chuck, like some Korean agent, sneaking around?"

“That's not what I mean..." Kandie stuttered.

“You're asking me to spy on my husband aren't you?"

“That's not the way I was thinking ...not how I would have put it, it's for all our…”

“I ask you," continued Chrissy her voice raising with each word, "would you do this?"

The man with the annoying laugh stopped laughing and cast a look at the two well-dressed women curiously.

“Would you or would you not do this?" repeated Chrissy more loudly. "I don't know," said Kandie.

“I can't believe you've asked me to do this, if you don't even know if you'd do it yourself, " said Chrissy tersely.

Chrissy sat looking at Kandie and Kandie sat looking at Chrissy. The waiter came over to the table.

“Is everything alright?" he enquired timidly.

“Fine," the two women replied firmly in unison without looking at him. Chrissy tossed her napkin down on the table and got up abruptly.

“I'm going now," she said simply. "Charge the bill to my husband’s account please."

We normally need..."

“I said charge the bill to my husband's account. You know who he is I take it?" Chrissy said firmly.

“Yes mam. I do."

“Good, so charge it."

The restaurant had become strangely quiet. Everyone was listening to the scene by the window table, except that everyone was trying to make out that they weren't listening, so they'd all become intensely interested in their food and weren't talking.

“Good-bye Kandie. No shopping today," Chrissy said sardonically. She spun round, threw on her coat and marched out of the restaurant, her coat billowing blue in her wake.

Kandie sat pensively. She'd gone off her food. She wasn't into it in the first place. The grilled swordfish had little pieces of encrusted black herbs on the top and she couldn't help thinking of the child's trophy. She flagged the waiter.

“Glass of wine please," she said coldly. "White and no I don't care if it's housewine, from Australia, Sardinia or never never land. Just get me a glass of wine."

“Yes mam," said the waiter humbly, scuttling off anxious to be out of her vicinity.

The wine appeared quickly, the nimble waiter delivering the glass with alacrity and seemingly vanishing again.

Kandie's com bleeped. Kandie rattled in her handbag somewhat embarrassed. She knew the house rules: no coms. The manager, mingling with the clients in the background gave her a grave look.

She opened the com. Chrissy's face stared at her without emotion.

"I'll ask him," she said simply, “But on one condition.”


“If he says what I think he'll say, you must tell me what your husband will do. If you're asking me to break my loyalty so must you."

Kandie played with the bottom of her wine glass.

"Okay," she said after a pause.

“I want your word on that."

“You've just got it."

The com switched off leaving a residual white spot in a blank screen where Chrissy's face had been.
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