” “Algonquin.” “Go ahead and sit at table H.” She pointed to a room with two dozen mini-tables configured in an oval. She sat sideways, as though the 90-degree angle would grant privacy. More revolting was her totem, a ball covered with spiky stalks. “Never watched it.” Babycheeks reminded me we’d rehearsed “safe questions” yesterday. ” “No, my friend dragged me, but she left for an emergency. She probably browsed tonight’s menu and lost her appetite.” Ah, passive-aggressive.

At the next table was a lovely blonde in a gray suit and pink shirt. She ripped open gold foil, unwrapped what resembled a turd in need of Zoloft. A flash of memory took me back to college Bio, and I scowled.

I had no time for dinner.” From her Louis Vuitton handbag she excavated something labeled Pro-chieve.

By the time I reached Sarah, my patience was as worn as my voice.

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If Babycheeks — my totem and spirit-guide — answered, it was lost beneath the bar’s raucous gabble of small talk and pick-up lines. She explained that we’d have five minutes for each “date,” which began when the bell rang. “Elise.” Her handshake was a dead fish, and she reeled it back immediately.

A hostess with shiny teeth and a clipboard approached. At each subsequent ring, the men moved to the next table. Her arms crossed over her stomach, as if to keep an alien from bursting out. “My ex used to say that.” Her shadow-cat’s hackles rose. I loved Cheers.” I scrambled to shut my brain’s babble-faucet.

The hostess tapped her microphone, rupturing our eardrums with feedback. Bachelor number eight.” We wore numbers to keep track of potential matches. Black widow, maybe.” Though I wanted to give tonight a real chance, to find one nice girl in this city, I wouldn’t be anyone’s entertainment.

Her totem — a cat made of shadows — coiled scarf-like around her neck. My second sight was useful; totems were usually invisible, even to the girls themselves. She tossed her hair, crossed her arms, though this time to lift her bosom.