Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Tom Abelard sits down at the cafeteria table next to his teammate Bob Cratch. Abelard gives his head a slight jerk to reassort the hair that is falling in his eyes, but he is immediately as disheveled as when he started. He looks over at Bob Cratch's plate.
"You went for the quenelles too?" Abelard asks.
Bob Cratch nods. "I took the duck," he replies.
"I went for the pike. They do nice fish here."
"They fly a lot of it over from Europe. Like the Dover sole is really from Dover. And I know they fly the bread in daily from Paris."
Abelard nods. "You know, if we were teachers, we'd get wine with this."
Bob Cratch carefully runs a piece of his duck quenelle in the light brown sauce that is like a perfect little lake on the edge of his plate. There is not a hint of grease in it; the lessons of nouvelle cuisine have been learned well by the Quilty cafeteria staff. While they still tend to concentrate on staples of traditional cookery, they don't overplay it. They would rather thicken with a vegetable paste than with yet another dollop of butter or cream. When there is butter or cream in a dish, they are not enhancements but butter and cream for their own sake.
The butter, like the fish and the bread, are also flown in from the continent.
"It's not wine, but the ginger beer isn't terrible," Bob Cratch says.
"Yeah, but it's no gewürztraminer," Tom Abelard mutters.
They eat for a while in companionable silence, while a string quartet in the far corner of the cafeteria is playing Mozart. Lest we be too swift to judge, the Quilty Prep dining arrangements should not be viewed as bordering on the effete simply because of such amenities as live music; the band only plays two or three times a week, and ordinarily the students are left to the less exhilarating devices of piped-in background from the library's collection of virtually every CD ever recorded.
"I've got a favor to ask you," Abelard says, pushing aside his now empty plate and pulling his lemon tart a little closer.
"I want you to add another entry to LD at the Venerable Bede this weekend."
Bob Cratch shrugs. His light hair is clipped down almost to the roots, making him even more formidable than usual with his big girth bursting through his Tokyo Disneyland shirt and into his overalls; there's something about big guys with little hair that makes them look even bigger. "I've got more slots than people, the way things are working out," he replies. "We can probably fit anybody in we want. So far it's just us and Melvish going."
"Melvish is going?"
Bob Cratch nods. "His father is judging."
"His father was going to judge last time at Algren. We never saw hide nor hair of him."
"Until he came to pick up the wounded scion after the incident."
"Oh yeah. Right. The incident. Won't Melvish be too wounded to debate?"
"He broke his foot, not his brain."
Abelard narrows his eyes. "Moot point if there ever was one."
"Anyhow, I got space. Who wants to come?"
"Camelia Maru. From Nighten Day."
"Nighten Day? What do you mean?"
"I mean I talked to her last night, and she wants to debate on our team because Nighten Day is kaput."
"But if Nighten Day is kaput, they're not going to let her debate for them."
"Not for them. For us."
"For us? You mean, as a Quilty debater? A member of the Quilty team?"
Bob Cratch thinks for a second. "She really wants to join our team? I don't know about--"
"She doesn't want to join our team," Abelard says. "She just wants to debate. And it's too late to go as an independent, and she doesn't think that will work anyhow, because it would mean official permission from Nighten Day and all kinds of approvals and chaperones and stuff, and if she just comes with us, and says she's one of us, nobody will be the wiser."
"What if she wins? Then people would know?"
"Win? For God's sake, she's a freshman and she's only debated about twice in her life, and the entire field is mostly varsity. She's not going to win, and she's not going to break. The odds of her even having a winning record are about as likely as…" He thinks for a second and looks away, and gets an unfortunate inspiration. "About as likely as Melvish sitting with someone other than us."
"Hi guys," the intruder says, standing at their table. He is walking with the aid of a crutch; his tray is being carried by one of the Quilty waiters. "Mind if I join you?" Before either of his teammates can reply, he is plopping himself into a chair.
Bob Cratch and Tom Abelard exchange a glance that each recognizes as expressing the thought that, well, he is a teammate so what can you do, and besides, we're already on dessert and we'll be out of here in a minute.
"So it's been like murder getting around on this crutch, let me tell you." And, "I mean, that Algren was really something, wasn't it? Great tournament." And, "Did you guys have the duck or the pike?" And, "I saw 'The Usual Suspects' last night. It turns out that Kaiser Soze is Kevin Spacey."
And, and, and, and, and -- and various other assorted conversation starters thrown out in an almost nonstop barrage, allowing only time enough to keep a steady flow of quenelle into the Melvish maw. Neither Abelard nor Bob Cratch pay much attention, and eventually, as Melvish wears down, get back to their own conversation.
"I can fit her in," Bob Cratch says. "It's really not a problem. But she will have to pretend to be from Quilty. And if anyone finds out she isn't, we may get screwed."
"Fit who in?" Melvish asks.
Neither Bob Cratch nor Abelard respond immediately.
"It's not as if he won't know," Abelard finally says.
Bob Cratch nods. "You're right." He turns to Melvish. "There's this girl from the disbanded Nighten Day team who's going to travel to the Venerable with us this weekend. We're going to tell everyone she's one of us."
"No kidding!" Melvish takes a sip of his mango lassi. "Who?"
"Some freshman. What was her name?"
"Camelia," Abelard says. "Camelia Maru."
Melvish slams down his glass. "Camelia! I know her. Oh, baby. She is hot. I am, like, totally in love with her. She's going to come with us? That is so cool. That is so unbelievably cool." He shakes his head. "Unbelievable. The gods are shining on John Melvish tonight."
Tom Abelard stares at Melvish in unalloyed astonishment. Bob Cratch starts laughing uncontrollably.
"This isn't funny, Cratch."
"This is the funniest thing I've ever seen," Bob Cratch responds when he is able to get a few words out.
"I don't get it," Melvish says, a quizzical expression on his face.
"You don't get it?" Abelard sighs. "What you don't get, Melvish, is this." He says the next words slowly and deliberately. "Camelia… is… with… me. Comprenez-vous? Comprendo? Capisce?"
Melvish looks as if he has just swallowed his grandmother's BenGay.
"Get it?" Abelard says.
Melvish gulps. "Got it."
"Good." Abelard stands up, his lemon tart half uneaten on his plate. "I gotta go. Class is going to start soon."
"We've got ten minutes," Bob Cratch tells him.
"So I'll get there early."
"You've never gone to a class early in your life."
"There's always a first time," Abelard says, heading for the cafeteria door.
In his wake, Bob Cratch finishes his own dessert while Melvish sits playing with his food.
"The chef doesn't like it when you don't finish your main course," Bob Cratch tells him.
"I think I've lost my appetite."
"Not because of Bob and Camelia?"
"Is she really going out with him?"
"Who is Joe Jackson?"
"Oh. I thought we were playing 'Jeopardy.' Is she going out with him? I have no idea. It's the first I ever heard of her."
"Is she going to come with us."
"I'll get her in, sure. The Venerable won't know the difference. I'll e-mail them this afternoon."
"I don't know what they see in him," Melvish says. "I mean, the girls seem to all go crazy for him. I don't see what all the shouting's about."
"It's different for girls."
"Did you read 'Cryptonomicon'?"
"Never even heard of it."
"He does it with Beatle songs. I'm just stealing it. But Beatle songs are easier. A lot easier than Joe Jackson. For one thing, not that many people really know any Joe Jackson songs."
"What are you talking about?"
Melvish closes his eyes, raises his head and gives a soft little scream. "Heeellllppppp!"
"Aha! Now you're doing it on purpose."
"You're impossible. The two of you. You make no sense whatsoever, and Abelard is stealing my girlfriend."
"She's not exactly your girlfriend yet, is she?"
Bob Cratch lifts his glass to Melvish in a toast. "You're gonna lose that girl."
"Feh! I can't talk to you people." Melvish stands up and pulls his crutch under his arm. "I should have known better."
"Amazing. Simply amazing."
"You're still doing it."
Melvish limps away.
"Run for your life," Bob Cratch calls after him. "And try doing that with Eminem," he mutters to himself, looking at his watch and deciding that he, too, better head for the highway. He takes a last sip of ginger beer and returns to the world of Quilty academics.
Will Bob Cratch sign up Camelia Maru as a Quilty debater?
Will Melvish's father show up to judge?
Will Melvish abide by Tom Abelard's rules to keep away from Camelia?
Will the 2004 primaries be starting in less than a month?
Are the Olympics still going on?
Why don't we do it in the road in our next episode: "The Ballad of John and Yoko, or, Who did you used to Hate Before there were Clintons?"
Go to the next episode due Nov 15, 2000.