The Regulars (part III)

Fresca Tortilla on Ditmars had the best Mexican food in Queens. Well, it probably wasn’t the best by any sort of strict culinary standard; but it was our favorite. The owners were Mr. and Mrs. Wong, a very jovial and welcoming couple that barely spoke English. (“Their English is better than my Chinese,” Mike would snap anytime someone dared to make a comment.) They used to run a regular Chinese restaurant that never really made any money. Then they closed for a month and reopened with a tortilla machine and a whole new food selection. Even though they couldn’t pronounce three-quarters of the menu, they quickly became one of the most successful restaurants in the neighborhood. None of us lived all that close, yet we ate here at least twice a week.

Jenny rapped her plastic fork and knife against the table as if keeping the beat on a big orange and brown drum, her hair bouncing slightly as she talked. “Frank still wants Mark to put in more money for Keyspan because of the space heater incident. There’s no way in hell Mark’s doing that. He’ll get another heater first. They should have known when they moved in there that this is how it’d shake down.”

“Wait…who?”

“Mark and Frank. Two of the guys from Stern.”

“Oh.” I had no idea how Jenny got to know all these random people, but she seemed to be friends with about half of Brooklyn and a third of Manhattan.

“Number four. Extra Jack.” Mrs. Wong put my tray down and smiled. Her other hand slid a second tray between Jenny’s rhythmic utensils. “Salad, Taco.” As she bustled away, I removed the tinfoil from my quesadilla in my usual manner: in little circles as if peeling an onion. Jenny already had a forkful of lettuce in her mouth.

“Hey,” she mumbled around her food, “do you know that guy at your place, Nate S-something?”

“Nate Sampson, the project manager?”

“Yeah. What do you know about him?”

I chewed slowly, a piece of grilled chicken resting on my tongue. “He’s a good guy. Kind of quiet and ponderous. Really nice. A little too nice, actually. Like maybe he’s really a date rapist.”

“So you don’t endorse him?”

“I don’t not endorse him. I don’t know him all that well.” I chewed some more. “He’s probably not a date rapist.”

“But you never know.”

“Exactly.” I forked a piece of chicken out of its foil home and reached across the table to drop it on Jenny’s plate. On the way back, I scooped up some of the ground beef product sprinkled throughout her salad. “Why are you asking about him?”

“Oh, no reason. I know this girl, and he’s someone she might be interested in. But I wanted to ask about him before I said anything.”

I threw my hands up in mock outrage, splattering melted orange cheese across the next table. “Why don’t you ever ask about me?”

“I know all about you.”

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