Whenever anyone asks me about Hal Trammel, my standard answer goes like this: “Well, I haven’t heard anything about his plane going down, so he must still be out there somewhere making someone’s life miserable.”
Yeah, a guy like me doesn’t let things go easily. So don’t get me started . . .
“What about Casey?” That’s usually the next question.
Casey Morello: the other half of the equation. She still keeps in touch with Hal Trammel, as far as I know—but I don’t really know, because I haven’t had much to do with them. Not since I learned that Casey was on her way to Hal’s house to celebrate right after Hal stuck a knife in my back (again).
“What about Casey?” I echoed, stalling, breaking off eye contact with the questioner: Ricky Orkin, my one-time right-hand man when we were all working together, me and him and Hal Trammel and Casey Morello. We had just sat down to dinner, which we still do once in a while (less often with each passing year, and not only because my visits back to New York are increasingly infrequent). Ricky sat across from me, the top of his bald head commanding the high ground while his ever-expanding midsection annexed the lower elevations.
In fact, we were waiting for Casey and another former coworker back at our favorite haunt, Paola’s Kitchen, an unmarked eatery in the West Village that you had to know was there before you could find it, with no set menu—you ate whatever Paola was cooking up that day.
I hadn’t seen much of Casey in recent years, no more than a handful of times since I moved to Seattle, and only in superficial social settings like this one. So I tried to avoid Ricky’s question by pretending to study the wine list, even though I had already ordered a bottle, just uncorked, a 2012 Nipozzano, a Chianti Riserva that may have served me well in the past if I could only remember whether I had actually had it before.
“Just wanted to get a few tidbits from you before she showed up,” Ricky said. “Don’t want it to be too obvious how out of touch I am. And who’d know more about Casey Morello than you, am I right?” “Last I heard”—I grasped for something that wouldn’t give me away—“Casey and Hal were still pretty tight.”
I took a sip of the wine and winced at its skunkiness—not what I expected of a Chianti Riserva, certainly not one with a DOCG label, not that I know what DOCG means, except it’s supposed to be better than Italian wines that don’t have a DOCG label.
Everything I know about wine is this: You can’t go too far wrong with a Chianti if it’s a Riserva, a Bordeaux if it’s a Pomerol (though all I know about Pomerol is to recognize the name, because I had a good one once), an Australian if it’s a Cabernet Shiraz (not just a plain Shiraz), or a pinot noir if it’s Central Coast California (I got that from the movie Sideways). Or any South African or South American wine if you prize that skunky aftertaste—the vulgate, I call it (I like to make up words), cheap versions of better wines, a conflation of the vulgar taste that likely results from sulfates. In the circles I travel in, this is enough to make me an oenophone—another made-up word, not a true oenophile, knowing just enough to sound like one (or maybe I was a full-fledged oenophony).
But evidently I had gone wrong with this Chianti.
“Last I heard,” Ricky said with a devilish grin, a prelude no doubt to a juicy piece of gossip that I probably didn’t want or need to hear, “Hal took over a small company down near his place on Hilton Head and brought Casey in as CFO. How could you not have known? Wouldn’t Casey have said something to you?”
Maybe I should have ordered the pinot.
At that moment, Tammy Tomlinson, the other member of our party, came in, saving me from an embarrassing admission: Ricky seemed to know a lot more about Casey than he was letting on, certainly more than me.
Tammy Tomlinson had been one of our best technical team leaders— still was for the folks now running the company. She had been mildly infamous around our office for marrying a senior member of her team after a long, secret affair. But she was so well-liked (as was her maritaverat team member, to use the future perfect of the Latin verb to marry) that people spoke about it fondly, not salaciously— their gorgeous twin girls helped. Neither did people give Tammy a hard time about her first name, most of them being too young to know that she was named after the Tammy and the Bachelor movies, too young to know that she was Tammy Tell Me True in more than name alone.