Gordon Walsh’s insides were gurgling loudly; so loudly, in fact, that the old woman sitting at the table behind him furled her eyebrows and rubbed her stomach. “Shhh,” she told it. “Shhh!”
Gordon squirmed in his seat and checked his watch. Gas and gastric juices bubbled in his abdomen. Heartburn seared his torso. Waiters meandered through the tables, balancing trays loaded with steaming Italian dishes whose aromas did nothing to quiet his digestive system. Nervous bowel movements and acid indigestion had plagued him since childhood, but he couldn’t recall an attack this severe. Still, he would have to deal with the anxiety somehow. There was always the bathroom, but he worried that his guest would arrive to an empty table.
Tums would do the trick. “Excuse me,” he said to the nearest waiter, a tall man who, turning with a flourish, raised his eyebrows in acknowledgment and sidled over.
“Hi,” stammered Gordon. “Uh… I’m sorry, but, you wouldn’t happen to have any Tums, would you?”
The waiter’s eyes narrowed.
“Tums. It’s a kind of medicine?”
“I am… sorry, but I do not know… what ees Tums.” Embarrassed, the waiter turned toward the bar and a short mustached man, catching his gaze, bounced out of the enclosure and sauntered over to Gordon’s table.
“Hello, sir, my name is Benito,” the man said, clasping his hands. His accent was tinged Italian. “I’m the manager here at DiRossini’s. How may I help you?”
Gordon flushed; people were looking at him. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, this really isn’t that big of a deal, but I was wondering if you had any Tums. The medicine.”
“Tums?” asked the manager. He looked at the waiter and quietly reiterated, receiving a shrug in response.
“No, um, you know what?” Gordon wiped sweat off his forehead. “Is there a pharmacy nearby? Like a CVS or something?”
“There is a Duane Reade six blocks down the street. Is that what you’re looking for?”
The old lady sitting behind them turned. “Did you say you needed a Tums?”
Gordon blinked. “Uh… yes.”
“Well, I don’t have any,” she replied, “but my stomach just happens to be acting up as well. It’s been making some strange noises ever since I left this restaurant yesterday afternoon.” She glowered at the manager. “I think it’s the food.”
Benito turned a deep shade of marinara. “Of course you…” His lips spread back across his teeth. “Ma’am, I can assure you, our food is perfectly–”
“I didn’t ask you!” she snapped. Her eyes darted back to Gordon, and she smiled with sugary sympathy. “If the pain gets any worse, let me know. We’ll see if we can’t find you some medicine.”
Gordon shivered. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, dear.” She eyed Benito one last time and returned to her chardonnay. The manager rubbed his mustache with his thumb and knuckle, mumbling, “The food is not causing your pain, sir. I can assure you of that.”
“I know,” said Gordon. “I haven’t had any yet.”
The waiter chimed in. “Do you… still need zee medicine?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.” Gordon tapped his foot with an impatience that Benito took as a welcome sign. Bowing, the manager touched the waiter’s arm and left; when he looked back at the old woman, there was murder in his eyes.