Coal Blackstone was in the kitchen with her favourite photographer and also on-again-off-again lover, Lincoln Ford.  This week, they were on-again.
     She was slowly stirring what was going to be a clearly hefty shrimp and scallop risotto, and Link was sitting at the kitchen table attentively watching her add periodic sluicings of chicken stock and white wine to the melange. He was sipping a glass of the same wine.
     “Pass me that little pile of chopped dill on the cuttingboard, will you Linc?” she asked him. 
     Linc didn’t move.
     “Linc, the dill?”
     He looked at her as if he had suddenly returned to the room from somewhere else.
     “Which one is the dill?”
     “The little pile of chopped green stems on the cuttingboard.  The only pile of green things there.”
     Linc scooped it up and brought a handful over to the sauté pan.
     “Shall I dump in in?” he asked her.
     “Why not?” she told him, amused at his sudden and uncharacteristic remoteness.
     “Where have you been?”
     “I was thinking about the mayor.”
     Coal was surprised.  “Really?  I never think about old crass Cass.  Why would you be thinking about him, and why now?”
     “I remember being worried that you were going to see him.  Actually, it was my Greek friend Peter who was worried when I told him you were visiting the mayor.”
     “Why was he worried?”
     Linc took a swallow of the wine.
     “This isn’t really all that good, is it?” he told Coal, staring at his glass.
     “Why was your friend Peter concerned about my meeting with Cass?” she asked him again.
     “I don’t know, he didn’t really say.”
     “Rather odd.”
     “Well, I think he’d heard a couple of guys talking together in the restaurant or something.”
     “Talking about what?”
     Linc poured himself a second glass of wine.
     “Oh the usual stuff….you know, politics, women, drugs mostly….and the dumb immersion tank business.  Apparently the mayor’s new tank got into all the papers.”
     Coal laughed.  “And the hippos were boiled in their tanks,” she sang out gaily, giving her risotto a spirited grind of rough-hewn pepper.
     “What?” asked Linc.
     “Oh nothing.  There was this novel that Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs wrote in collaboration in 1945, early in their careers.  They wrote alternate chapters.  The title came from a radio broadcast the two of them heard sitting in a bar one night, about a fire in the London zoo, about how the fire raced across the fields ‘and,” said the breathless radio announcer, ‘the hippos were boiled in their tanks’!”
     “One more thing for Tamburlaine to worry about,” said Linc.  “How’s the risotto coming?”
     “Getting nice and creamy,” Coal told him.  “Just five or six minutes more.”
     Linc continued to stare into his wine glass, while Coal tipped a bowl of shrimp and scallops into the pan of fragrant rice.
     “I got a call from Joy Pommery today,” she told him.
     “Joy Pommery?”
     “Yes, you remember, she and I had dinner a few months ago.  She was worried about those death threats against the mayor.  She has some sort of odd relationship with his Largeness.”
     “You mean a sexual one?”
     “Apparently,” said Coal.
     “God, how could she?” asked Linc, getting up to prod a shrimp with a fork. “It’d be like sleeping with a narwhal!”
     “It puzzles me too,” Coal admitted.  “She’s an attractive woman. And smart.  She’s a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist or something.  She works for an advertising company.”
     “Physician, heal thyself,” murmured Linc.
     “Yes, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?
     “What did she want—when she called?”
     “I don’t know.  We’ll have to meet again and talk over a drink.  Listen, this risotto is almost there.  Why don’t you pour us some more wine and warm a couple of bowls?”
     About the same time as Coal and Linc were settling into their seafood risotto, Michael and May were settling into their first meal together—at the New Sky restaurant.
     They were both looking at menus.
     “They make a really good Hot and Sour Soup here,” said Michael, idly reorganizing the napkins, plates, bowls, chopsticks and bottles of soy sauce and hot sauce on the table.
     “I love Hot and Sour soup!” said May.  “Perfect for a chilly evening like this.”
     “Every place makes it a bit differently,” Michael added.
     “That’s true,” May agreed.
     “We should go on a Hot and Sour soup crawl sometime,” Michael said.  “We could sample five or six restaurants, see how they compare,” he added.
     May smiled.  “That’s a lot of hotness and sourness,” she said.
     “I guess so.  Here, they offer two versions—the regular one and a vegetarian version.”
     “What’s the basic difference?” May asked him.
     “Well, with the vegetarian one, they don’t include all those little pale shrimps they put in the regular soup.  I like it much better without them.”
     “Don’t you like shrimps?”
     “Yeh, usually, but these are really tiny tiny micro-shrimps and they’re so pale you can sort of see right through them, and then they look like insects or grubs or something.  They sort of put me off.”
     “Ah,” said May.
     “And anyhow I think the soup tastes better without them.”
     “Well, that would suit me fine, because I’m a vegetarian.”
     “Really?” said Michael.  “Well, I’m almost a vegetarian.”
     “How can you be almost a vegetarian?” May smiled. “Surely one either is a vegetarian or one is not?”
     Michael pondered this for a moment, all the while distracted by May’s dark, liquid eyes and the deep glowing white-jadeness of her skin.  Then he wrenched himself forcefully back to the discussion under way.
     “I’ve just decided something,” he announced to her.
     “Yes?” said May.
     “As of this very moment, I am absolutely, totally, a vegetarian!”
     “You’ve just decided this now?”
     “Yes.  But then I was on the way anyhow.”
     “Well that’s lovely,” said May.  “But you’re not doing this just for me?”
     “Well, yes I am.  That and anything else I can do to please you.”
     May put her menu down.
     “You don’t have to do anything to please me,” she told him.  “All you have to do is be.”