Chez Chien was the closest thing
to a fine French restaurant Broad Street had to offer, which wasn't saying much
considering the competition included Charlie's Charcoal Pitaffectionately known
as Charlie's Charcoal Armpitand Papandapoulas' New York Kosher Style Deli. When it
opened for business the previous year, Chez Chien held the distinction of being the
first restaurant in town to use tablecloths that weren't red and white gingham, to set out
salad forks and soup spoons instead of bringing them to only those who ordered salad
or soup, and to keep fresh cut flowers on the tables. The menu, while
unabashedly short on creativity and authentic French dishes, was well known for its
sheer length and, for Broad Street, its high prices. Like most popular restaurants,
Chez Chien was a triumph of form over sustenance.
It's show time!" Frank the headwaiter, called out, his head poking through the
kitchen doors. "Jack, I just seated your first party. Its a six-top.
Let's get cracking."
Frank returned to the podium by
the front door just on time to greet a party of four as they walked in. "Welcome to
Chez Chien," he said in his best French accent, which sounded enough like
Maurice Chevalier with a harelip to impress most of his customers. "My name eez
Francois. If there eez anything I can do to make your eveninghow you
say?more enjoyable, pleeze do not hesitate to let me know. Zeez way to your
table, if you pleeze."
One of the waiters walked up
behind him. "Hey Frankie, what's the deal?" Frank turned and glared hard.
"I mean, Francois. Look, I got a problem."
Frank turned back to the
customers. "Excusez moi. I weel be weeth you in une momento." He pulled
Jack aside. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Sorry, man. But I need some
"Well go to the waiter's
station and get them," Frank said curtly.
"They're not there."
"They were last night."
"Well they ain't there
now," Jack said.
"Then go to the storeroom
and get some new ones."
"Already checked," Jack
"There's a whole box of 'em.
You can't miss 'em."
"I'm tellin' you, they ain't
Frank looked at Jack
suspiciously. Jack shrugged his shoulders.
"Hang on and let me seat
these geeks," Frank said.
After showing the two couples to
their table, Frank went to the waiter's station. No menus. He quickly walked through
the kitchen to the storeroom. No menus. He searched the office, the walk-in
refrigerator, underneath the dishwasher, above the cooking line, and even in the
"Shit!" Frank spit out
as he threw an empty pot across the kitchen. "Can you believe this? We're booked
solid for the first time and we can't find a God damned menu. I mean, who the
hell would walk out of here with a couple hundred menus?" He looked questioningly at
the waiters, standing in a semi-circle around him. "How are we supposed to give these
people good service if we don't have any menus?"
* * * * * *
Father Sturdevant stood at the
altar of Our Lady of Ransom Church, his green vestments in stark contrast to the pure
white altar cloths. He extended his hands towards the congregation.
"Lord Jesus Christ, you said
to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the
faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom," he joined
his hands in front of him, "where you live for ever and ever."
"Amen," the standing
congregants mumbled as they shifted their weight from one leg to the other in unison.
Ralph Marconi, who felt very
uncomfortable standing in front of the congregation wearing what he thought to be the
rather feminine looking wide-sleeved surplice of an altar boy, watched the flickering
flames of the two candles on the altar.
Father Sturdevant extended his
hands and clasped them. "The peace of the Lord be with you always."
"And also with you,"
the crowd responded.
"Let us offer each other the
sign of peace," the priest announced as he walked over and pumped the acolyte's hand
in a two-fisted handshake. The congregants turned to each other with open greetings, the
meek shaking limp hands, the women loosely grasping upper arms while kissing cheek air,
and the men coveting their neighbor's wives with a too-hearty hug and a wet, glancing
Ralph turned his back to the
altar, scanning the crowd to see who the lucky devil was who managed to strategically
position himself next to Diana Perkins and whether or not this week's Chosen had the good
fortuneand ballsto clutch her in an adolescent death hug. Job, you see, wasn't
the only one who had the hots for Diana.
Father Sturdevant walked over to
Ralph and snatched up his right hand, startling the boy so badly he nearly fell down the
steps. The priest placed his hands on Ralph's shoulders and turned him around so his back
was to the congregation. He then walked to the altar where he picked up a piece of
"Lamb of God, you take away
the sins of the world: have mercy on us," the congregation chanted. "Lamb of
God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the
sins of the world: grant us peace."
Father Sturdevant broke the bread
over the paten and placed a small piece in the chalice, quietly saying, "May this
mingling of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who
He turned his head and nodded to
Ralph absently gazed at the
flames of the altar candles.
Sturdevant said in a loud whisper.
Startled, Ralph jerked his head
up to look at the ceiling, then realizing it wasn't the voice of God he heard, looked
at Father Sturdevant questioningly. The priest pointed towards Ralph's feet. Ralph
looked at his shoes and pulled the surplice aside; his shoes were polished and
the shoelaces securely tied. He looked back at the priest, who pointed exaggeratedly
to the ground next to Ralph's feet. Ralph looked down to his right, then grinned
sheepishly. He bent down and picked up the silver altar bell and rang it loudly.
Thirty-four congregants left
their pews and walked towards the altar rails while the rest of the congregation knelt.
Ralph continued ringing the bell, the pure metallic tones echoing through the
sanctuary. Father Sturdevant motioned for Ralph to stop, but Ralph had turned his
head towards the approaching congregants to see if Diana Perkins would be kneeling
before the rail in one of her usual low-cut dresses.
Being an angel was never a
prerequisite to being an altar boy.
Father Sturdevant loudly cleared
his throat, but Ralph continued ringing the bell. He cleared his throat again, even
louder. Ralph rang away, straining his head to look for Diana. The acolyte walked
over to Ralph and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. Ralph jumped, nearly dropping
the bell. The acolyte gave him a stern look, then walked back to his place while
Ralph turned to Father Sturdevant with eyes wide. This had to be a mortal sin.
The priest smiled gently at Ralph, chuckled to himself, then shook his head as
he turned back to the altar.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of
the living God," he said quickly and very nearly silently, "by the will of the
Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world. By your holy
body and blood free me from all my sins and from every evil. Keep me faithful to your
teaching, and never let me be parted from you."
Father Sturdevant dropped one
knee to the ground, then stood and faced the crowd. Holding the host slightly over the
paten, he said, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy
are those who are called to his supper."
"Lord, I am not worthy to
receive you," he said along with the crowd, "but only say the word and I shall
He turned to face the altar and
quietly said, "May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life." He ate the
Gathering up several crumbs from
the linen corporal which was spread on the altar, he dropped them in the large
gold chalice, lifting it with both hands.
"May the blood of Christ
bring me to everlasting life."
He raised the chalice to his
lips, nearly choking as the purple liquid hit his tongue. The wine had
quite unmiraculously turned into grape Kool-Aid. He turned to look at Ralph, who
was once again angelically staring into the flickering flame of an altar candle.
"The physicality of the Sacrament is not important," he rationalized.
"The symbolism of the Holy Sacrifice remains intact." He turned back to the
altar and drank the remainder of the Kool-Aid.
Father Sturdevant lifted the
white silk cover from the gold ciborium. He held up the large covered chalice and
lifted the cover, reaching in for a small wafer. Something was wrong. Dreadfully
wrong. He lowered the ciborium and looked inside.
It was full of Ritz crackers.
The priest looked at the acolyte,
then at Ralph, who was still mesmerized by the flame. He jiggled the ciborium; yes,
they were all Ritz crackers. He turned to the thirty-four people kneeling at the
"The Sacrament is an outward
sign," he thought. "The symbolism is just as valid."
He walked to the altar rail and
stood in front of the first woman. Her eyes were closed. "The body of Christ,"
he said, pulling a Ritz cracker from the ciborium and placing it on her tongue. She
bit into the cracker and looked up in surprise.
"The blood of Christ,"
he said, putting the chalice to her lips.
"Amen," she responded,
her eyes opening wide as the sweet Kool-Aid mingled in her mouth with the buttery Ritz
Father Sturdevant leaned over and
whispered in her ear, "'Be not curious in unnecessary matters. Ecclesiastes
3:23." Then he stood upright and moved to the next person.
[ Chapter 17 ]