This is a fucking disaster, Daniel thought to himself. He was hoping a few shots too many would net a much better result than his current situation. He found himself on a bright, spring morning in an overpriced downtown Raleigh condo in front of an overly complicated (and by his guess barely palatable) gourmet Sunday brunch that was served by someone he was straining to remember.
“Disaster” was not the chef's opinion of this sunny Southern morning. Heaven on earth was more like it. He could not believe his good fortune as he stole long stares at Daniel from across the table. He thought he had the kind of good looks that every state in the US tends to claim as their own. He was a small town corn fed Nebraska quarterback, bronzed California surfer, and a gritty Texas rancher, all rolled into one. Or to be less verbose about it—fucking hot. He was an angel, he thought. A bright sapphire-eyed angel.
Daniel felt the admiration flowing from across the table. He checked for his keys in his right pocket and knew he was sitting on his wallet. As he walked into the bar almost flat broke and his ID was a fake, he wasn't terribly concerned about the rest of the contents. His motorcycle helmet was sitting on the front table in the hall, so he had what he needed to just bolt. While he fully realized he was in walk of shame territory right now, his brain couldn't come up with a decent excuse to leave through the thick hangover. It was obvious that the Martha Stewart devotee across from him felt like he had hit the jackpot (literally) and wanted nothing more to serve breakfast to his temporarily captive Adonis. Daniel decided he would make the best of the situation, be polite, and give him the whole “breakfast with Marlboro Man experience.” Besides, Daniel had sat down in front of the table without thinking, so a dead sprint out the door was out at this point.
“So what's for breakfast?” Daniel muttered, pouring a steamy cup of coffee from a French press into a mug.
“Well good morning! I hope you slept well!” Chef Can't-Remember-His-Name heartily replied. “Lobster frittata with a truffle butter reduction sauce topped with caviar.”
These were too many syllables for Daniel. Breakfast food should be able to be described with words that could be uttered inside of a grunt. Eggs. Grits. Toast. These are the words that should be uttered prior to consuming a full cup of coffee. Longer words and more complicated concepts could wait until later.
“Oh. Great. Thanks.”
Daniel drew in another breath of coffee and looked around the place. This guy had some cash to throw around. One side of the condo was a glass wall and provided a view of Fayetteville Street and overlooked the North Carolina State Capital. The view was a great one were it not for the Civil Protection Force troops standing guard with their souped-up machine guns in expensive SWAT gear and jackboots. They were the spawn of the private American security firms that rolled through the Middle East in the 00s. Fuck-ups with rich parents went CPF. He was meeting tomorrow with an attorney who probably got her juris doctor online to discuss the incident that had occurred while he was out with James a couple of weeks ago. His fate to Echo was pretty much sealed.
James. Daniel felt a low level sense of dread sink in when he remembered why exactly he was here — as much as he could remember, anyway. He got into a fight with James the night before. Daniel wanted to plead no contest to the charges. James wanted him to plead not guilty, which Daniel disagreed with. The circumstances were shitty, but Daniel was in fact guilty of the crime he had committed. He didn't “shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die” or anything like that, but a narrow minded shitbag was shoving around James. Daniel didn't like it and delivered a Golden-Gloves style punch to the shitbag's jaw and he went down. James saw shades of gray, whereas Daniel only saw black and white. Daniel had decided that he was done talking about the subject and left their apartment to get some fresh air. That led to a motorcycle ride to downtown Raleigh. Which led to the bar. Daniel had enough cash in his wallet for a couple of drinks and this guy offered to buy him a couple more. And a couple more. And. . . who the hell was this guy?
Daniel felt his own jaw tighten and turned his attention back to the apartment. Chef What-The-Hell-Is-His-Name-Again had some taste. He had a killer view and didn't destroy it with too much stuff. Low-profile leather couch with a custom-made cherrywood Parsons table in front of it. A wall adjacent to the window contained a very large painting of blotches and swirls that looked familiar to Daniel.
“That's a Pollack. . .do you like it?” Chef No-Name asked. He was following Daniel's eyes as they traveled around the room.
Daniel smiled, nodded and continued his silent assessment of the apartment. While most people read novels on various techno devices, No Nombre maintained a low profile bookcase that ran along both non-windowed walls that matched the cherry of the Parsons table. The kitchen was huge, and had every single culinary gadget imaginable sitting on heavy marble counters. A small touchscreen monitor positioned on the front of the refrigerator played a cable news channel with the volume muted. Beyond that there was no other type of television or monitor visible.
Daniel now turned his attention to the Face With No Name. He looked back at Daniel with the eagerness of a dog waiting for a ball to be thrown. He had large hopeful brown eyes, close cropped glossy black hair, and a smile slightly too large for his face. While he was tall and had a muscular build, life in a place worthy of an Architectural Digest spread with a high bank balance had given him a slight stomach paunch. He also was about fifteen years older than Daniel. What's His Name reminded Daniel of someone who spent too much time on Internet gaming sites as a teen and discovered the gym later in life. Daniel had a feeling that he had the privilege of being the best looking guy that had ever had too many drinks in No Name's presence.
Daniel realized that the hopeful staring directed at him was patiently waiting for a response to the food. He dug a fork into his plate and hoped for the best. He was surprised. It tasted like a really expensive, really good casserole. The lobster was sweet, the egg savory, and the caviar salty. Most of his culinary experience growing up carried the suffix of “-helper.” Once he could legally sign a lease and cook for himself he stuck with steak and some sort of vegetable. Basic, basic stuff. James tried to cook fancier things, but that usually resulted in a call to Pizza Hut.
Daniel swallowed and grinned, scratching the stubble on his chin in surprise. “It's good” he said while digging his fork in for a heaping bite. WhytheFUCKcan'tIrememberthisguysname?
“I'm glad — eat up. You need something to soak up all that alcohol,” the man turned his head and smiled. “You had a lot to drink. Name's Tom, by the way. In case you've forgotten.”
“You got me. Name's Daniel, though I doubt you forgot. Pleasure to meet you under more civilized circumstances,” he said, thinking of how shit-drunk he was the night before.
Tom grinned, “Now don't think I didn't enjoy the less civilized circumstances of last night.”
Daniel found himself reassessing Tom slightly based on this response. Tom was much more than an opportunist — he was too calculating for that. Daniel shot him a huge grin.
“I'm going to assume despite my raging headache I can say the same.”
He scooped another forkful of fritatta into his mouth. After he swallowed he bit the base of his lip and looked around the condo. “So Tom, to be perfectly honest, I'm something of a professional fuck up right now. What do you do to earn your bread?”
“Oh, I work in RTP,” Tom said. Daniel paused for a minute. Research Triangle Park was something like the Silicone Valley of the South. A lot of tech companies had offices there. Some government agencies kept office space in the area as well. Daniel glanced back out the window at the stellar view of the State Capitol.
“I'm the Chief Analytics Officer for CPF,” Tom said this with a slight tinge of reservation. He admitted to being the CAO of one of the largest government contractors the same way one might admit to being a 35-year-old shift manager at McDonald's.
CPF. Civil Protection Force. The wealthy delinquent's way out of conict service. And he had just spent the night with one of its big guns. Who liked Daniel. A lot.
Daniel saw his future had he wanted it. Daniel talked when he drank, so he was sure Tom knew the story. Play house with Tom and and get “assigned” to CPF. Daniel wouldn't even be one of the jack boots outside of the capitol. He'd sit in the office wearing a suit writing the jack boots' schedules and reviews if he wanted to. The only time he'd have to wear a uniform is if that's what Tom wanted for his birthday. Tom clearly liked Daniel. Not just liked him, but felt like he was lucky to have met him. Tom was clearly intelligent and strategic, but he wasn't a mastermind. This arrangement wouldn't be a form of servitude. Daniel knew that he would have the balance of power. All he had to do was exist in Tom's universe and he would be loved and protected. Sincerely loved and protected.
Daniel carried on polite conversation through the rest of breakfast. He then kissed Tom on the cheek, thanked him for his time, and told him he could probably write him in Echo in a couple of months if he wanted.
© 2010 Lisa Kupfer