Cousin Sheldon

August, 1925, Paris, France

I started to laugh, but the rigid expression on Mr. Sheldon’s face made it clear he was being very serious.  He’s an older, occasionally charming, American businessman with a lot more money than hair. During the past few weeks, he’s made frequent appearances at the Boeuf, usually alone, and always wanting to chat with us. Well, really just me. Like so many of the men with more money than hair, I think he is quite taken with me, which is always fun regardless of the source.

When we first met, I asked him if we might be related as he and my mother share the Sheldon surname.  It didn’t take long to discover we were, as our ancestors trace back to John Alden and the Mayflower. His line of the Sheldon family remained in Boston, while mine chose to seek out adventure and fortune in 1850’s California. I really hadn’t given him, or our family connection, much thought until this moment.

“I’m sorry?” I said, sure I had misunderstood him. “Did you say you want to loan us the money to buy le Boeuf sur le Toit?”

“Not the entire Boeuf, just this side of it.  Louis Moyses would retain ownership of the formal dining room and kitchen, and you and Bob would own and manage the bar.”

Evidently, the Boston Sheldons suffer from delusions as well as receding hairlines.  He talked like he was buying a used car.  It was all quite unsettling.       

“Louis wouldn’t part with any of it.  This place is like his child,” I insisted.

“I hope you don’t mind, but Louis and I have already discussed it and agreed to terms.”

Shocked, I took a closer look at this Mr. Sheldon wanting to believe him and wishing I could remember his first name.    

“Look, Moyses has some financial problems and I made him an offer that makes those go away. All that is missing is for you and Bob to agree.”

Breaking eye contact with Mr. Sheldon, I glanced around the room hoping to buy time to allow my head to clear.  The notion of owning our own nightclub, especially the Boeuf, instantly generated a thousand conflicting thoughts that got jumbled into a tangled mess that made my head hurt.  I spotted Bob at a table across the room having a discussion with Sinclair Louis – about writing, no doubt. I glanced around for Moyses, but he was nowhere to be seen. 

Turning my attention back to Mr. Sheldon, “Why would you do this?  You hardly know us.”

“After all, we are family.” He smiled for the first time.  “Muriel, over the years I have made a lot of money recognizing good investments.  You and Bob are a very attractive and talented young couple who have, in a very short period of time, built up an impressive and loyal group of adoring fans.  The Boeuf has a reputation as the place to be in Paris.  Put the two together and I see money waiting to be made.”

“And what’s in it for us?”

“If it is managed and marketed correctly, more money than the two of you can spend.”

“I think you underestimate my ability when it comes to shopping.”

 Mr. Sheldon was all business and ignored my joke. “Do you think Bob will like the idea?”

 “He will love it!”  I lied. “I’ll discuss it with him tonight and let you know tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

“Till tomorrow then.”

The rest of the night on stage passed in a conflicting fog, one second thinking about the excitement of owning part of the Boeuf and the next dreading Bob’s reaction. He had been talking a lot more lately about how the demands of performing didn’t give him a lot of time to write. Hanging out with all the writers that came around the club had reignited his desire to tell stories and get a book published.

After our last number, I came up behind him and planted a kiss on his neck. “How about you and I go to Mitchell’s for breakfast.  Just the two of us.”

“But Scott and Zelda have invited us to a party.”

“I know, but let’s skip it tonight.  We go to parties with them all the time.”  I reached around his waist and gave him a hug.

“Okay,” Bob said, turning around and giving me the look he always does when he gets suspicious.  “What are you up to?”

“Why must I be up to anything?  Maybe I just want to spend time alone with my husband.”

“I know something is on your mind as you forgot your lyrics twice tonight and during our last tune, you added a few notes that weren’t there the last twenty times we’ve performed it.”

I thought I had done an excellent job covering my mistakes, but Bob knows my tricks well – much too well. I shall have to invent new ones.

Frustrated, I blurted out, “Never mind then.  Let’s just go to the stupid party!  Who gives a damn about what I want?”

When I saw Bob’s shoulders drop like a scolded schoolboy, I knew I had said too much, too harshly.  He does try so hard to please me and I feel awful that I hurt him.

“Let me tell Scott to go ahead without us and I’ll meet you out front.”   

“Darling no,” I said in as tender a voice as I could muster.  “I’m sorry. It’s been a difficult evening.  Let’s go to the party and have a grand time.”

“No,” Bob insisted. “Tonight I am all yours.”

As the bright lights of Paris flashed by the taxi’s windows, I explained Mr. Sheldon’s offer to my husband.  I tried to sound neutral on the matter, but felt like I was failing miserably.  Bob’s response was not what I expected.

“How wonderful!  How much are we going to make?”

“I have no idea.  I guess that depends on how much business we do,” I said, completely shocked.  “But what about our dream to travel the world and your writing?”

“We are young and there will be plenty of time for travel.  I will write when we are not at the club and where better to gather inspiration and characters than Paris and le Boeuf sur le Toit?”

“But Bob, we don’t know a damn thing about managing a nightclub.” 

I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.  My husband had stolen the words I’d been rehearsing all night, and here I was uttering what I expected to be his arguments.

“How hard can it be?  You make sure there is plenty of booze behind the bar and great entertainment on the stage.  And you, my darling, are the greatest entertainment in the world.”

As we exited the taxi, I felt as if I was in the midst of an emotional whirlpool, being sucked lower and lower. I had just gotten what I wanted, but in a way that left me strangely unsettled.  I thought I knew every aspect of my husband’s mind – that I could anticipate what he would think, long before he thought about thinking it.

Before entering Mitchell’s, Bob pulled me close.  “Minkling, this will be a great adventure, a lark like no other.  We’ll save enough money to explore the world in grand style.  Then, when we tire of the grind, we’ll sell our interest and move on to the next chapter. Let’s do this!”

“If you insist, darling.”

We sat in Mitchell’s sipping coffee till dawn, happily chatting about our grand plans for the Boeuf. Our future seemed so bright and gay, it’s hard to believe that less than six months ago we were roaming the streets of Paris broke and hungry.

Thank God those days are over forever!