Of course, the “Gentlemen’s Club Bandit” would visit our little club when it was my turn to host. I have that sort of luck sometimes.
We had heard of the particular thief by now of course, he had hit at least 8 exclusive clubs up and down the New England coast, robbing the well-to-do during their dinners and taking fairly large sums of money. I suppose we simply thought ourselves immune. Two reasons I suppose; one is that we allow women in our club (although it’s tough for the average woman to meet one of the charter requirements – but changing the charter would change the club so it simply isn’t done – women have always been allowed but in the 275-year history only 7 had been admitted. We have 2 currently). The other is that there is no requirement to be rich to be part of our club. (Although probably every last one of us wishes he/she were rich – and one of us most certainly is).
Preparing the monthly meeting of The 10 Commandments Club can be a difficult task. It is a fully staffed affair, with waitpersons, chefs and a full 7-course meal. What makes it difficult is that the staff as well as all the guests must qualify for membership under our charter. We all rotate through the various positions (I myself have been a waiter twice) although only Hanrikson is a qualified chef. He pulls that duty fairly often, including the night in question.
The meetings are always held on Fridays, which can make the menu difficult. Two of our current 18 are now practicing Catholics, which means they will not be having steak that night. Also, Dupont (no, not THAT Dupont – our Letan Dupont is RICHER) is a vegetarian (not a vegan, as he reminds us at every meeting) and Richardson has certain food allergies that must be accommodated.
But being host means you are in charge of everything, including the menu. I wanted steak – blood rare with onions and mushrooms and a 20-year old Burgundy to go with it. Hanrikson would make special tofu and salad concoctions for Dupont and had brought in halibut caught off Maine just for Thompson and Nelson.
We hold our meetings at The Formosa Lodge just off the main highway south on Highway 37. It’s a great restaurant, and it is willing to rent out the entire facility for an evening, which is what we do. We pay the staff that normally works there and give them the evening off. That gives us the privacy a group like ours requires.
I had arrived at The Formosa early, to make certain preparations were in order. I mean preparations other than the food. Once the menu was set Hanrikson took over and there was nothing to worry about. The host usually assists when needed, but this time Flagel and Myers were both there ahead of me, and Hanrikson was ordering them about with the authority he so well deserved. Ah, Brenda Myers is a wonder to behold in action. I shouldn’t think that but I always do. Her husband is not a member but certainly has the potential to be – given proper motivation.
Richardson arrived only a few minutes behind me as he was serving as headwaiter that night. The wait-staff always eats as well, but usually after the others have been served. He informed me that Geller would be our other waiter that night. I should have guessed. Geller actually enjoys that role, and occasionally volunteers for it. He’s a psychologist and enjoys watching others interact. Our group is an imposing one so it creates some fascinating social dynamics.
We got the dinner table arranged, with myself at the head as host. Two plates, salad bowls, soup bowls, two forks, two spoons, one knife, one glass for wine and another for water, 18 times. The two spots at the end of the long table were reserved for the wait-staff, while the seat to the host’s immediate left was reserved for the chef. This tends to be honorary until dessert is served as the chef is always in constant motion.
Behind the host’s chair we hung our charter. It’s a simple and familiar charter – The 10 Commandments, plus a small after word. Every member of the club knows it by heart, including Levin (who converted to Judaism but not Orthodox). You must to gain admittance. We always put them up – a club with the history of ours will have rituals.
The guests started arriving at 5:00 pm, as dinner would start at 6:00 sharp. This would give people a chance to drink and socialize. Many of us only saw each other at these gatherings and this was always a good opportunity to catch up on things. Dupont was one of the last to arrive (as usual) but he sought me out immediately after getting his glass of wine.
“Splendid this evening Wyatt,” he said, shaking my hand firmly. He took a long draught from his glass and sighed appreciatively. “I do not know how you developed your taste in wine but this is superb!”
Dupont likes taking digs like that at me. He is the wealthiest member of the club, while I am the poorest. But on the flip side, he meant every word he said. As I could appreciate that sort of debate I did not rise to the bait. “I’m glad it meets your approval Dupont,” I replied. “I always keep our group’s sommelier in mind when my turn comes around.”
Dupont nodded and smiled. “And I do thank you.” He glanced around the room. “A packed house as always, I see.”
All 18 of us were there by then, each with a glass of wine save for Porter, who joined AA 4 years ago at the urging of the membership. I could hear various snippets of small-talk going around the room, but being cornered by Dupont made it difficult to focus on any of them.
“So I understand some congratulations are in order,” he said.
I smiled. So he had heard. Well, Dupont had spies. “Yes, thank you,” I blushed. “I finally got that promotion.”
“About bloody time. You’ve been angling for that job for years I know.”
I laughed. “EVERYBODY knows. It’s how I wound up here, if you take my meaning.”
Dupont laughed as well. Subtlety thy name is NOT Letan Dupont. Dupont had seconded my membership to the club. Richardson had been my sponsor.
Geller chose that moment to whisper in my ear that it was time for the membership to be seated. As per tradition, the two of us went into the dining area while Richardson got the attention of the others and called roll. Geller and I made a final inspection of the table and then the others were allowed in. Everyone took their places at the table (except Hanrikson) and stood, placing their glasses on the table. A grand silence fell on the room.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” I began. “This, the 3,181st meeting of The 10 Commandments Club is called to order. As is our custom, a reading of our charter will now commence.”
I did not need to reference the hanging behind me, but I turned to face it anyway. Ritual, ritual, ritual.
“I am the Lord thy god, thou shall not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain. Remember keep thou holy the Sabbath day. Honor thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. We the membership of The 10 Commandments Club understand and know our place within God’s 10 great laws, and henceforth will follow our charter in respect thereof.
“The meeting shall come to order. Friends, take your seats.”