Chapter 11

It was now 10:15 and Brian walked a few blocks toward his apartment. Once he turned onto Montague, he stopped into a deli and grabbed a bottle of water. As he walked out, he noticed a very attractive blond woman looking down at her smartphone and then looking around, as if she were lost. She looked up at Brian and made eye contact.

“Excuse me,” she said to him from a few yards away. “Can you help me?”

Brian paused and turned back. “Sure, maybe. What’s going on?” he asked.

“I’m trying to find the Custom House. Is it nearby?” she asked.

Brian looked down the street, a block away, at the Custom House sign. “You’re kidding, right?” he said, smiling somewhat.

“Umm, no. A friend of mine suggested I try it and I found myself in the neighborhood, starving, so I thought I would grab a bite there. Is it nearby?”

Brian motioned in the direction. “It, it’s right over there. I ate there earlier tonight. It is quite good.”

“Ah okay, I think I see it,” she said, looking down the street. “I lost a contact and forgot my glasses. Hey, do you have any recommendations?”

“Well, I’m kind of a burger guy, and they make a great one. But I had a grilled chicken salad earlier. It was good, too, for a salad” Brian replied.

“Ah, okay. Sounds good. So, it’s right… down… here?” she said walking slowly in the direction Brian had pointed.

“Yeah, here, I’ll walk you down until you see it,” Brian replied.

“Oh, thank you so much,” she said, excited. “Do you live around here?”

They started walking toward the Custom House.

“Umm, yes, a, uh, few blocks over,” he replied.

“This seems like a nice neighborhood. I’ve never been to Brooklyn Heights, so it’s fun to finally see it,” she said.

“What brings you to Brooklyn?” Brian asked.

“I had a meeting at St. Francis,” she replied.

“I see,” he said. “What was it about? Are you applying for college or a job?” Brian asked, mostly joking.

“Ha, no,” she replied, laughing a bit. “I was doing some research.”

“Research? What kind of research?” Brian asked, now intrigued.

“Well, I can’t really say. It’s for a story I’m working on for my company,” she replied.

“Uh huh,” said Brian, still a little intrigued.

“Custom House is still open, right?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.

“Oh yeah, they stay open kind of late. You should be okay,” he said. “Well, here you are. It was, um, nice talking to you. Enjoy your meal,” he said, looking at her, then away and back.

“Thanks a lot,” she replied. “Umm, would you like to join me?  I’d really like the company.”

Brian stopped and paused for a second. “What? Uh, I don’t think so,” he replied.

This whole encounter had been a little odd. Who was this woman? She couldn’t be with the Russian mob. The police? No way. He gave them bogus information. Yet, she looked somewhat familiar. Maybe he should see where this goes.

“Oh, please, I insist. You’ve been so kind and seem like a nice guy. I hate to eat alone.” She said twirling her shoulder-length blond hair a bit.

This had been one of the craziest days in a while. While Brian considered himself to be a somewhat decent-looking guy, he’d never experience this reaction from an attractive woman. And this girl was extremely attractive. She could’ve asked anybody for directions — it’s a nice part of town. But she asked him, when he wasn’t necessarily looking his best. It was very odd…

“I, um, well…” Brian started to reply.

“How about one of those great burgers you mentioned?” she asked.

“Oh, well, I couldn’t eat one of those. I ate earlier. Maybe an appetizer or something,” he replied.

“Great! Let’s eat. Oh, I’m Susan” she said, holding out her hand.

“Um, Brian” he replied, extending his hand. She shook with a nice, firm but soft handshake.

“Nice to meet you,” she said.

“And likewise” Brian replied. “I have to say, I would have never expected the night to end like this.”

“Ha, yeah, I wouldn’t either. But I saw you, looking like you knew the neighborhood, and you look like a decent, helpful guy. So I asked you for directions. And I really don’t like to eat alone. I’m a people person,” Susan said as Brian opened the door for her.

“Oh, I can tell,” Brian said as she passed through the door. “Of course, I’m always willing to help an attractive damsel in distress.”

As they entered, the hostess greeted them “Brian, welcome back. Didn’t get enough to eat earlier. You were here, right?”

“Yep, with my buddy, Sam” he replied. “The salad’s all gone and I just made a new friend who wanted to try the food here. This is Susan. Susan, this is um, Kris.”

“Hi, nice to meet you,” Susan said with a wave.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Kris said. “Sit anywhere you like, it’s kind of slow this time of night.” She followed Brian and Susan to a table toward the back. They sat and Kris put menus on the table.

“I’ll bring a couple of waters,” Kris said.

“Actually, I have this,” Brian said holding up his bottle of water.

“OK, so I’ll bring you a glass,” Kris said, grinning.

“Sure, thanks,” replied Brian.

Susan opened up a menu and looked it over. Brian sat back a bit and looked at Susan, trying to figure out where he’d seen her before, or whether she just had a certain look that was familiar.  She looked up, noticing that he was looking at her.

“This looks good. I think I’m going to try the Mediterranean salmon salad. How about you?” she asked.

“I’m going to have the chicken tenders” he replied. “They’re usually quite tasty.”

“Ah, ok, sounds good, too. So, apparently, you come often?” she asked.

“Yeah, probably too much” he replied. “But they’re open late, have a good menu and drinks.”

“Yes, I could see coming here often,” Susan said.

Kris dropped by again. “Here’s some water for you both. You can save yours for that long walk home,” she said with a wink. 

Brian laughed a little. “Ok, yeah right. It’s a long one, for sure.”

Kris continued, “Do you guys want anything else? Your waitress is finishing up another order.”

“Thank you,” Susan replied. “Actually, I think I would like a Stella.”

“Sure, no problem” replied Kris. “Brian, you want something a little stronger than that water,” she said with a sly grin.

“Sure,” Brian said. “Make it two.”

“You got it!” she said and walked toward the bar.

“So, Brian, what do you do for a living?” Susan asked.

Brian stared over and out the patio door. “I, um, do a bunch of different things. My day job involves expedient delivery of crucial elements vital to the operation of multiple organizations around New York.”

“Really!” Susan replied. “Like who, can you name a few names?”

“Yeah, okay… I’m a bicycle courier,” Brian said laughing a bit.

Susan smiled, politely. “Okay, I see. That’s funny, but it is important. And it explains why you’re in good shape.”

“Yeah, I really like the freedom it gives me. While I look for something else to do. But for now, I’m content. It pays the bills and, you’re right, the exercise is great,” Brian said, looking for her reaction. While he may like the job, it wasn’t the most lucrative job, which was always a detriment when trying to impress women.

“Yeah, I ride a bike, too. But mostly at the gym. The New York streets terrify me on a bike,” she said.

“Yes, it is pretty crazy out there. A lot of jerks, too, trying to wreck your day, literally,” Brian said. “What is it you said you do? Research? For what? You said it was a secret or something, but can you give me a hint?”

“It’s nothing exciting, for now,” she replied. “I work for a local NBC affiliate and I’m researching some potentially interesting things going on at St. Francis. Waiting to see where the story takes me. That’s what I love about my job, you never know where a story will take you.”

“Right, sometimes to Brooklyn,” Brian said, smiling.

“Yes, sometimes to places even worse,” she replied, smiling back. “But, I’d say this is shaping up nicely.”

Brian thought, “Is she flirting with me, or is this something else?  Totally weird…”

“I’ll say. I was just going to go home and see what was on the DVR.” Brian said.

“Oh really” she replied.

“Nah, I don’t even have a DVR. I don’t watch a lot of TV,” he replied.

“Here you go, guys,” Kris said, putting two glasses of beer on the table. “Lori should be over to take your order in a minute.”

“Thanks,” replied Susan.

“So what do you do for fun?” she asked, turning her head slightly and looking deeply into Brian’s eyes. It was almost unnerving. Was this just part of the dating game? Or some other game?

“Oh, I’m very boring. Let’s see, I read a lot. I’m restoring an old car, I ride my bike and I like live music, so I go out to a lot of music venues, like bars, MSG and Lincoln Center,” Brian replied.  “How about you?”

“Well, some of that, actually, minus the car” she replied. “But I like the theater and movies, too. What do you like to read?”

“I just finished re-reading Beowulf, and before that, I read a book of Shakespeare’s Tragedies. But before that, it was the last Harry Potter book,” Brian said, smiling a bit.

“Harry Potter?” she asked, smiling back.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t read them when they were wildly popular, but I finally got around to them,” he replied.

“Oh, I loved those books,” she said. But it’s nice to hear you enjoy the classics,” she said. “Speaking of classics, what kind of car are you restoring?”

“It’s a ’65 convertible Mustang,” said Brian. “I hope to make it a beauty once again.”

“You’ll have to take me for a ride. I’ve never ridden in one,” she said with a smile.

“Well, it will be a while. It’s a real mess right now,” Brian said, shaking his head a bit.

A tall skinny woman with brown hair walked over. “Hey, Brian, what’s up? You guys hungry?” she asked with a grin.

“Hey, yeah, my new friend, Susan, heard you guys had good food and invited me in to join her,” Brian said motioning toward Susan. “Susan, this is Lori.”

“Hi,” said Susan, “I’ve heard you have a great Mediterranean salmon salad.”

Lori replied, “Yes, it is good. You want that? What are you having, Brian?”

“I think I’m going for the chicken tenders,” he said, looking up with a slight grin.

“Sure. Were you in here earlier?” she asked.

“Yeah, Sam and I had dinner earlier,” Brian replied.

“Oh yeah? What’s he up to these days?” she asked.

“You know, his usual. Except now he has some new business venture he wants me to invest in,” Brian replied.

“What! Really? What is it?” She asked, looking skeptical.

“I should probably let him tell you. It sounds pretty cool, though,” he replied.

“Are you gonna invest?” Lori asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I think he can pull it off, between him and the other guys involved. It’s a really cool idea.  I’d buy it, or, I guess I’ll be the first to buy it, actually,” he replied.

“All right,” she said. “It’s your money. I’ll get your food right out.”

“Thank you,” said Susan.

“Thanks,” said Brian.

“So you like music, live music? What kind? You mentioned the symphony?” Susan asked.

“Well, yes, the symphony and all types of modern music, blues, jazz and rock,” he replied. “Even a little hip-hop, but just a little. What about you, do you like live music?”

“Yes!” she replied, “I love it. Well, I like the symphony and the opera, but really love jazz and blues.”

“So, where did you grow up? You have a wide range of interests, and I have to say, you look like you might have European ancestry. Were you born here?” she asked, again looking deep into Brian’s eyes.

“No,” he replied, looking away briefly. “I don’t really know where I was born. My parents died when I was very young, so I grew up with other, er, families. Mostly in Europe, but I’ve lived in a lot of places abroad.”

“You grew up abroad? You don’t have an accent, that I can detect,” she replied, with a slight look of surprise.

“Well, I’ve lived here for a long time, too,” Brian said. He wanted to change the subject. “So, where do you live? In the city?”

“Oh yes, on the Upper West Side” she replied. “I have a small apartment there.” 

“Nice, I’m sure,” said Brian. “With, my salary, I couldn’t afford to live in the city.  But, I like it here. It suites me.”

“Well, this seems really nice,” she said.  “So your place — it’s nearby?”

“Um, yeah.  A couple of blocks,” he replied.

This was so weird, Brian thought. It seems like she knew enough about him, by now, to totally throw in the towel, considering her career and lifestyle compared to his. But she was still here. She had even asked the question about living close by like she might actually want to come over. But Brian was quite sure this would never evolve into a one night stand or a date. Or maybe she just liked one-nighters with guys she barely knew. But her job wasn’t the kind that you just casually mention, like a secretary or lawyer, where there are millions of people doing it. It was a fairly high profile job. If a one nighter went badly, she’d be easy to find for the wrong kind of guy. A woman like her would be more careful if she liked to pick up random guys.

“It’s a pretty small flat in a walk-up Brownstone” Brian replied. “It’s not much, but it’s all I need.  I don’t entertain very often,” he said with a little smile.

“Do you have any pets? You seem like a dog guy to me,” she said smiling.

“No, I haven’t owned a dog in a long time” Brian replied. “I don’t like it when they pass. It’s depressing.”

“Yes, but they bring so much joy into your life” she replied. “I don’t have a dog now, cause I can get really busy, but I had one when I was younger. A Golden, named Ginger who I loved dearly. But she died when I was in college.”

She nodded her head a bit, looking sad for a moment. Then she smiled again and looked at Brian.

“Brian, did you go to college?” Susan asked, again staring deep into his eyes.

“Yes, actually, I did” he replied.

“Oh, where?” She asked.

“Don’t look so surprised, just because I’m a bike messenger,” he smiled back at her.

“Oh no, I didn’t mean anything by that. I’m just curious who you might be cheering for in the NCAA tournament,” she said with a smile.

“Well, I went to college abroad, so I don’t have a stake in any of it” he replied.  I’m actually more of a soccer fan if I were a sports fan.”

“Ah, I see” she replied.  “So, where did you go to school?”

“The University of Manchester, in England,” he replied.

“Oh, okay. Wow,” she replied with surprise. “When did you graduate?”

“Um, well, I didn’t actually.  It’s kind of complicated,” Brian replied. He really wanted to change the subject. “So, is it just in your nature to ask lots of questions — as a researcher, you know?”

He asked with a slight grin so it wouldn’t look so obvious that he was trying to deflect. “Or do you also do the reporting for your company?  Are you ever on TV?”

“Yes,” she replied.  “I’m occasionally on TV. And, I suppose it is in my nature to ask a lot of questions. Like I said, I’m a people person, and you are more and more fascinating by the minute.”

“Oh?” Brian replied. “How so?”

She replied, “Well, you’ve seen and done so much, but it’s not like you’re a big go-getter adventurous type.  But you obviously are.  You just disguise it well.”

Brian thought about this for a few seconds. “This is really weird,” he thought.

Just as he was about to comment, their food arrived. “Here’s your Mediterranean salad. Would you like anything else?” she asked Susan as she put both plates down.

“No, thanks. This looks great.” She smiled.

Lori replied, “OK, just let me know if you need anything else. More beers?”

Susan replied, “Oh, yes that would be great. Two more.”

“Coming right up,” Lori said as she walked away.

Susan poked at the salad a bit, picked up a small forkful and said, “So, tell me more about your time abroad.”

“Oh, that was so long ago,” he said. “There’s not much to say. College, odd jobs. Then I started traveling and ended up coming to the U.S. Once I came to New York, I decided to stay here a while.”

“So, how long have you been here?” she asked.

Brian thought carefully, about this. He’d been here a lot longer than he wanted to admit but could tell she was trying to put together a timeline about him.

“I think five or six years, or so” he replied. “It’s hard to believe, but time flies. What about you?”

“I’ve been here five years,” she replied. “I moved here right out of college. I spent time in New York before that and knew I wanted to live here. I’m originally from Springfield. Illinois.”

“Oh yeah? Cool,” replied Brian. “I’ve been to Chicago, but only for a day or so.”

“Yeah, Chicago’s kind of nice,” she said, “but it’s not New York. This is where it all happens. It’s exciting.”

“So Brian, are you in a relationship? I probably should’ve asked you that earlier, before I asked you to join me for dinner.”

“Oh. No,” said Brian, swallowing a bite from a chicken finger, a little surprised.

“Oh really? Haven’t found the right girl?” she asked, smiling wryly.

“No that’s not it. Been in quite a few relationships but they just never last,” Brian replied.

“Really? You seem like a really nice guy, and you’re attractive,” she asked, smiling curiously.

“Yeah, they’ve all been great. Some really great. But it’s complicated. I’d rather not get into it” Brian said, taking another bite and looking away briefly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to delve into your personal life,” Susan said.

“Oh, it’s OK,” said Brian. “It’s no big deal,” Brian replied.

“OK,” Susan replied. “It’s actually part of my scoundrel test.”

“Scoundrel test?” Brian looked back, inquisitively.

“Yeah,” she smiled. “A scoundrel would’ve accepted, even if in a relationship, and would now be dancing around the relationship question. But you answered honestly and without hesitation.”

“But I could still be a scoundrel. Right?” Brian replied, smiling.

“Yeah, you’re not totally off the hook, yet,” she said with a laugh.

“How about you? Are you a scoundrel?” Brian asked, returning the wry smile.

“Well, I’m not in a relationship, but you’ll have to be the judge about the rest of my personality,” she said with a wink.

By now, they had each stopped eating, though neither one had finished. They each just looked at each other for a moment, kind of sizing each other up. Brian thought, “OK, she may be a scoundrel, but what is she after? This is so odd.”

Susan broke the glance and looked around briefly. Brian took a quick glance around as well. There were two other couples, a young woman at the bar and a group of three guys left in the restaurant, and the noise level had dropped a bit. Brian still considered this all very odd and was still waiting for a candid camera crew, or the cops, to appear.

“Hey,” she said.”Do you want to continue this somewhere else?”

Brian thought about it for a second. He had originally just wanted to go home and shower. But this was intriguing.

“Uh, yeah. Sure,” he replied.

Susan motioned “check” to Lori and she acknowledged.

Brian looked around and noticed the time on the CNN broadcast. 12:23 AM.

“So, what did you have in mind? Something around here? There’s a coffee shop still open and a couple of bars nearby.”

Lori brought the check over. “Can I get you guys anything else?” she asked.

Susan looked at Brian as he was finishing his beer. He shook his head slightly and Susan replied, “No, thank you very much.”

Susan stuffed a credit card into the check wallet and immediately gave it back to Lori, who took it and walked over to a terminal to process the card.

“Hmm, let’s see. Coffee or more drinks,” Susan replied to Brian. “I think more drinks are in order,” she said with a little smile.

“Scoundrel,” Brian thought.

He replied, “Ok, sure, sounds good. And thanks for the food and drinks here. This has really turned out to be a much more interesting evening than I had planned.”

“I’m having fun, too,” she said.

Lori brought the check back. “I thought you looked familiar. You’re on the news, right?” she asked, looking at Susan.

Susan looked up at Lori, smiled and replied “Yes. I’m a reporter, but I’m off tonight.”

Lori replied, “I thought so, but wasn’t sure until I saw your name on the card. Nice to meet you. Hope you guys enjoyed everything.”

“Yes, it was great,” said Susan.

Brian chimed in, “Yeah it was good, as usual. Thanks, Lori.”

“You’re welcome.” Looking at Susan, “I hope you come back soon. ”Then she looked at Brian. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon,” she said will a grin.

“Probably so,” Brian replied.

Susan and Brian walked out of the restaurant and stopped, looking around. Brian motioned toward the river.

“There are a couple of bars down this way that are OK,” Brian said.

“So,” Susan said, “what about your place? Which way is that?”

“M M My place?” Brian verified that he heard her correctly.

“It’s close, right?” she asked.

Brian thought, “this is some sort of game. I don’t think she’s looking for a date, but she’s dropping all kinds of hints and charm. If I call her out, it might chase her away. But I’m not really looking to settle down again. Not here anyway.”

“Emm, yeah it’s close,” Brian replied. “But let me ask you something.”

“Sure,” replied Susan. “Anything. But let’s walk and talk.”

“Ok,” Brian said. And headed down Montague toward the river. He continued, “This is not normal for me, and so I gotta ask, what’s your plan for tonight? This seemed so random, but I get the feeling it’s not.”

Susan looked over at Brian. “What makes you think that, that it wasn’t random?”

“Well,” Brian started and paused. “For starters, I get the feeling your vision is better than you hinted before. And, I saw you from a distance before you asked me for help, and you didn’t seem to be lost then, at least until I was closer.”

“Well, Brian,” she replied. “You’re pretty perceptive, and you’re right. This may not have been as coincidental as I let on.”

Brian stopped. Susan stopped, and Brian looked at her again, turning his head slightly, looking around and back.

“What is it you want then?” Brian asked.

“Come, let’s keep walking,” she said as she held out her hand. “I have something I want to tell you, but I think we should do it in private.”

Brian didn’t take her hand but started walking again.

“Which way is your place?” Susan asked.

“Just a couple of blocks,” Brian replied as Susan turned to join him.

“This is about to get really interesting,” he thought.

Continue to Chapter 12
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