On his way home, Brian stopped by the bank storage unit and dropped off his backpack and phone. He grabbed his other backpack and moved the MREs to it. Then he zipped them both, put his backpack on his shoulder and locked up. He decided to swing by his other storage unit, containing his old phone, just to check out the scene. Sure enough, there was an unmarked car parked at the corner with two men sitting in it. Brian crossed the street and circumnavigated a block to avoid them.
Brian arrived home around 3 PM. He changed into a tee and sat down at the computer. He logged in and double-clicked the Finder app and a couple of clicks later, he found a little app stashed away called “weather today” and double-clicked it. Nothing visibly happened, but in the background, it periodically checked a website called weathercheck.it, which ran a process to securely log in to the SMS message app that he used last night. This was a fairly secure way to check messages without his Android phones. This way, every hour, the app would check for messages, then ding if a new one had arrived. If so, he would then securely log in, as he did last night, to read and possibly respond to it.
As he was about to stand up, he noticed the web browser was still logged into Susan’s email. “Hmm, this could be useful,” he thought. He looked over the list of email messages, some of which were read and some were not. He scanned the list, reading the subject lines. One was from Liz Murphy and had the subject line “Where are you?!” And it was already marked “read”, so Brian clicked it. The email opened and he could see that Susan had responded to it, “I spent the night in his apartment. I know — stupid. But everything is fine. It went very well. Hope to meet again tonight. I’ll call you later.”
He closed the email and scanned the rest. Nothing else looked to be of interest.
“So, Liz Murphy must be her source at the NYPD,” he thought. “Good to know.”
He logged out of the Mac. He opened his backpack and took the MREs to the kitchen. He thought about trying one but wasn’t yet hungry. So he squeezed them into his pantry cabinet.
He decided to kick back and plan the next day. It was going to require some prep work tomorrow and he wanted to put together his list and make sure he had everything he needs in the bank storage unit since the other one would be difficult to access. Not impossible, but difficult.
He reviewed the list on his phone. Everything was coded so no one could ever figure it out. Essentially, the list said suit, duff x 2, platbuild, ski, mobile and sharp. “Everything should be in the bank unit,” he thought to himself. “Wait, my suit may be in the other. Crap.”
“Ok, now that I feel like everything is all set for tomorrow, I should give Susan a call and see if she was serious about getting together.” He reached into his pocket for the card. As he pulled out the card, his doorbell rang. He walked over to the doorbell speaker and pressed the talk button. “Hello,” he said.
“You never called me,” said Susan. “What about that dinner?”
He pressed the button again, “I was just about to. Come on up.” He pressed another button to buzz her in and he opened his door. A minute later, Susan walked through.
“Sure you were about to call,” she said smiling and a little winded from the stairs.
“Check it out,” he held up the card, “I seriously was about to call. Let me treat you to dinner tonight.”
“Ok, sounds good. How about Italian?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’d like that. Had Chinese for lunch with some friends,” Brian replied. “What did you have in mind?”
“Well,” she said, “I really like this little place on 9th called Tavola. I don’t get over there often, but it is probably my favorite Italian restaurant.”
“OK,” Brian replied. “I think I’ve been there, but it’s been a while.”
“So, why don’t you change and we’ll head out. I’ll call an Uber,” she said. “Like I said, it’s a small place, so it fills up fast.”
“Oh, OK. Be right back.” Brian walked into the bedroom. He opened his closet and pulled out a blue Oxford and a pair of dark jeans. He took off the faded jeans and grey t-shirt, putting on the fresh jeans and a white tee, then the Oxford. He changed his socks and grabbed a belt, putting it on as he walked out. Upon returning to the living room, he found Susan sitting at his desk. She turned quickly toward him.
“Are jeans okay, or is this place fancier than that?” he asked. “If it is, I probably haven’t been there.”
“Oh, uh, yeah. Jeans are fine,” she said. “I just happened to be in a skirt, since I came from the office.”
Brian grabbed his phone and wallet. He picked up his backpack and carried it into the bedroom. He opened it up and grabbed four hundred dollar bills out of an envelope. Then he closed the pack and stashed it behind a laundry basket in the closet. He walked back into the living room after shoving the cash into his jeans.
“Ok, let’s go,” he said slipping into a pair of casual shoes by the door. He opened the door and let Susan exit, then he turned and locked the door. They walked down the stairs and out of the building to find a red Prius with an Uber logo waiting for them.
“Perfect,” said Susan. Brian opened the door for her and then got into the back seat with her. Susan asked the driver, “Do you have our destination?”
“Yes, I do,” said the driver, a dark-skinned guy with blond highlights. “Looks like we’re going to 9th street?”
“Yes, thank you,” Susan replied.
The driver pulled away from the curb and made his way toward the Brooklyn Bridge.
“So, how did you spend the day?” Brian asked.
“Oh, wow, where do I start?” she replied. “First, I went back to my place for a shower and change of clothes. Then I went into the office for a few meetings. I had lunch with my friend, the one who gave me your info, and told her in basic terms about our meeting and your desire to maintain your privacy. She promises to keep her fellow officers at bay, if possible, and to keep me up-to-date with the latest. But she also said that she can’t keep anything from her team. So, as that is the case, she wants to know as little as possible.”
“I see,” said Brian.
“She was more concerned about my safety than anything,” Susan replied. “But I assured her that you were a complete gentleman.”
“Well, thanks,” he replied. “I’m glad you feel that way and I hope that you continue to feel that way.”
“After lunch I basically went back to the office, to follow up on a few stories I’m working,” she said. “I have to find another big story to work since I don’t have one here.” She smiled, looking into Brian’s eyes.
“Well, I hope you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time,” he replied.
“Oh no, not at all,” she replied. “I’m here because I find you fascinating and I had a really nice time last night. I really want to get to know you and learn whatever you feel like sharing about yourself. I have no expectations other than having a good time.”
“I feel the same way,” Brian replied. “I’m at this odd place in my life, where I really don’t want to be in a relationship. And I have some projects taking my time that I really want to see to their completion. I don’t want to say they are an obsession, but in a way, they are my priority right now.”
“OK,” Susan said with a bit of hesitation.
“But now that I met you,” he continued. “I’m intrigued about you, as well, and want to get to know you better,”
“Good,” she replied. “I thought you were about to blow me off.”
Brian laughed a bit, “I don’t see you as the type that ever gets blown off, especially by a guy.”
“Well, you might be surprised,” she said with a laugh. “I can be a bit persistent and that turns some guys off.”
“Yeah, I could see that,” he replied. “You convinced me, even though I was dead set on a quiet evening.”
“Yes, that was me in my determined mode,” she replied with a smile.
The driver was quiet the entire time, and Brian could tell he was a bit intrigued by the conversation. But he didn’t say a word until they arrived at their destination. “Here we are,” he said with a smile. “I hope you enjoy your evening.”
“Thanks,” said Brian, handing the driver some cash. He got out and offered a hand to Susan. She got out and they stepped up on the curb headed toward the restaurant. It looked just as she described it, small and quaint, with windows and glass doors that allowed you to see completely inside. The restaurant was already very full as they entered. The hostess greeted them and took them to the only remaining table. Brian pulled the chair for Susan and she sat. Then Brian moved to a chair with his back to the wall. He looked around and noticed the restaurant had a variety of different kinds of people, from other dating couples to older couples to businessmen. It was a bit loud from all of the conversations.
“This is nice,” Brian said. “I don’t think I’ve been here, after all.”
“I think you’ll like it,” she replied.
“Oh, I’m sure,” he said. “What’s your favorite?”
“I really enjoy the lasagna, but the pizzas are really good and the oven roasted salmon is delicious, too,” she said.
“Ok,” said Brian. “Would you like to start with a glass of wine?”
“Yeah, sure,” she said.
“Do you prefer red or white,” Brian said smiling.
“I think I’m feeling red today,” she replied.
“Ok, yeah, I prefer red, too,” Brian said. “Shall we go for a bottle?”
“Ok, sure,” Susan replied.
“How about the Chianti? Are you a Chianti fan?” Brian asked.
“Yes, and they have a very good Chianti,” she said, just as the waitress walked up.
“Hello,” she said. “Welcome to Tavola. Have you dined with us before?”
“I have, quite a bit,” Susan replied.
“Ah yes, I thought you looked familiar,” she said. “My name is Sarah, and I will be taking care of you this evening. May I start you off with drinks?”
“Yes, Sarah,” Brian replied. “I think we’re going to have a bottle of your Chianti.”
“Ok, sounds nice,” Sarah replied. “Would you like to hear the specials?”
“I saw them as we walked in,” Susan said. “But I think I’m leaning toward the lasagna.” She looked over at Brian.
“I saw them, too,” Brian said. “And I think I might try the lasagna, too. But I might be persuaded to try the chicken special.”
“Oh, it’s very good,” Sarah said. “Let me grab the wine, while you think it over.”
“Sounds good,” Brian replied.
Sarah turned and walked into the kitchen. Brian looked around at the decor and the plates on the table. “This place smells really good.”
“Yes, I think I’ve mentioned that I like it, a lot,” Susan said with a smile.
“Has she waited on you before, or do you think she recognized you from TV?” Brian asked.
“I don’t remember her, and it’s been a while since I’ve been here for dinner,” Susan replied. “So, it could be from the news, but I’m not on TV a lot.”
“Yeah?” he asked. “Why is that?”
“Well, partly because I’m a junior reporter, so I don’t get the big stories very often unless I find them myself,” she replied. “And a lot of the stories I get require a lot of groundwork to determine their newsworthiness.”
“I see,” he replied. “And, sometimes your source won’t let you make it news?”
“Sometimes,” she replied. “Sometimes it takes a lot of persistence.”
“And you have plenty of that, I’m guessing,” he said with a smile.
“Yep,” she replied, smiling back.
Sarah appeared from the kitchen and grabbed two wine glasses from the bar, then a bottle of Chianti from a shelf near the bar. She walked over and put the glasses on the table. As she worked to open the bottle, she said, “Do you have any questions about the menu? Still thinking about lasagna or would you like to try the special? As I said, it’s very delicious.”
“I think I’m going to stick with the lasagna,” Susan said.
“I’ll try the special,” said Brian. “If she’ll let me try hers, she can try mine and maybe break out of this lasagna rut,” he continued with a wink.
“Sure, that sounds good,” Susan replied. “Although it is a delicious rut to be in.”
“Ok,” said Sarah as she poured the wine. “What about an appetizer or a salad?”
Brian sipped the wine and looked over at Sarah to see if she was interested. She replied “I don’t think so,” looking back at Brian. Brian looked up at Sarah.
“The wine is tasty. Thanks. I can hold out for the entree. I had a big lunch,” Brian said.
“Ok, let me inform the kitchen of your choices and it should be ready shortly,” Sarah said.
Susan picked up her glass and Brian held his up and clinked it against her glass. “Here’s to persistence,” he said. “But I promise, I was just about to call you.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” she said, then sipped the wine. “This is good. I’ve always liked the Chianti. So, what was the big lunch?”
“Uncle Ted’s Chinese,” replied Brian. “I met a couple of friends there. One of them is Sam, who is starting a new software company.”
“Oh yeah, you’re loaning him money?” Susan asked.
“Yes, as an investment,” Brian replied. “Don’t know if I’ll get it back, but I have a good feeling he’ll do well with it. He’s been a good friend for a long time, so I really want to help him out so that he’s not a bike messenger for the rest of his life, which might be shorter if he continues as a bike messenger. He gets into a lot of accidents.” Brian smiled a bit.
“Oh, I see,” replied Susan. “What kind of software is it?”
“It’s a virtual reality game,” he replied. “He needs the money to buy the test hardware. He’s a good software guy, so he should do well once he has the gear. It’s some kind of new VR goggles.”
“Oh, ok,” she replied taking another sip. “Maybe I can do the story when he’s ready.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’d love that,” Brian replied. “Don’t hold your breath though, these things take some time. I’m expecting to see a beta in a month or so.”
“So, how did you guys like Uncle Ted’s? I’ve never been there,” Susan said.
“It was good,” Brian replied. “Do you like Chinese food?”
“Yes, occasionally,” Susan replied. “Question for you,” she said, changing the subject now. “Did you see the news about the apartment fire in Harlem?”
“No, I didn’t see that. Was anyone hurt?” he asked.
“No, luckily not” she replied. “Where you in Harlem today?”
“No, why do you ask?” Brian said.
“Well, there was a good samaritan that ran in and saved a woman and her dog,” Susan replied. “I thought it might have been you. The guy didn’t stick around afterward.”
“No, that was not me,” he replied. “Someone else can step forward and claim to be the hero.”
“Well, the family would like to find him to say thanks,” she replied. “So, had you been there, are you the type to run and save someone?”
“Well, I’ve done it before,” he said. “A long time ago.”
“Really?! When?” she asked.
“It was a few years ago, another apartment near mine,” he replied. “Just an old man, no dog,” Brian smiled.
“Still, that’s a heroic thing to do,” she said reaching out to grab his hand.
“But is it?” he said with a slight pause, “if you don’t have to worry about getting injured.”
Susan looked at him for a moment and replied, “You can’t be injured?”
“Yes, but, let’s just say it’s not as big of a concern,” he replied. “I still get hurt, just not severely or fatally.”
“Not fatally? How can you be sure?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve never pushed it, per se,” he said. “So, I can’t say for sure.”
“So, how did you come across this ability?” she asked.
“I suppose one would say I was born with it,” he replied. “But let’s not talk about me.” He really didn’t want to go in the direction this conversation had turned.
“How did you discover your ability?” he asked.
“What ability?” Susan asked, looking a little confused.
“Your ability to dig for the story,” he replied. “You seem to be a natural. When did you get your start?”
“It was something I discovered in college,” she said. “I was sucked into politics and started fact-checking political campaigns, so much that I eventually found myself majoring in journalism.”
“Oh wow, do you still follow politics?” Brian asked.
“Yes, but I’m not a political junkie like I used to be,” she said. “It’s more of a hobby. But I stuck with the journalism and then, of course, I knew that New York was the place to be.”
“Yes, it is. Lots of news here,” he said.
“Well, it’s more than that,” she said. “This is one of the hubs of the world. Everything either originates or travels through this town, from an information standpoint. It’s exciting to be here and around so much knowledge.”
“Yes, I can see the excitement in your eyes,” Brian said.
He looked up to see Sarah appear with their food. “Ok,” she said. “Here is your lasagna,” setting a steaming plate of golden lasagna down in front of Susan, “and here is your chicken special,” she said, putting a plate down in front of Brian. “Is there anything else I could get you? Parmesan?”
“No, thank you,” Susan replied.
“No, thanks,” said Brian.
“All right, just let me know if you do,” Sarah said and walked into the kitchen.
“Ok,” Brian said. “That does look good.”
“Well, grab a fork and try it,” Susan replied. “The chicken looks great, too.”
Brian picked up his fork. “You do the same if you want to try it.” He reached over and produced a few noodles, sauce and melted cheese from her plate. He had to reach over with his knife to avoid making a mess of the cheese.
“Be careful,” she said. “It’s very hot.”
He put it directly into his mouth.
“That is good,” he said. “Wow, maybe I should have gone for that.”
Susan reached over with her fork and picked up a small piece of chicken and a few noodles. It was small enough that she didn’t need a knife. She started to put it into her mouth but noticed that it was still very hot. She blew on it for a moment and then put it in her mouth.
“That’s very good, too. But I’m happy with my choice,” she said. She put the fork into her lasagna and pulled out a cheesy forkful. Again, she had to wait for it to cool before she could take the bite.
“The lasagna is almost like lava, it’s so hot,” Susan said. “The hot food doesn’t bother you?” She looked up at him and smiled.
“Umm, yeah, it doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “I’ve never really given it much thought, but you’re right.”
“Interesting,” she said. “What else are you impervious to? The bullets didn’t hurt you either, right,” she leaned in a bit as she blew a little on her lasagna.
“Yeah, they hurt. But you’re right about that too, they didn’t penetrate my skin,” he said. “But I did get these little bruises for a while. But, hey, we’re talking about me again. What’s your favorite thing to do on a slow weekend?”
“Oh. Wow, that’s a good question,” she said, looking up at the ceiling and around, then back at Brian. “Probably take in a museum.”
“Yeah, that’s a good answer,” he replied.
“Well, I do it a lot actually,” she replied. “I like to learn, I like art, I like to people watch, and you meet a lot of interesting people at a museum.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “There’s a lot going on at museums. Have you been to D.C? To visit the museums there?”
“Yes, actually,” she replied. “I took a train down a month ago and visited the Smithsonian. It was fantastic.”
“Did you visit the Air and Space Museum?” Brian asked.
“Yes, but I didn’t spend a lot of time there,” she replied. “I really enjoyed the Natural History Museum.”
“Yeah, that’s great,” he replied. “I was wondering about the Air and Space because they added the original model of the USS Enterprise, from the TV show. So I was wondering if you saw it.”
“Oh, cool,” she replied. “No, I don’t remember seeing it. I’m sure I would have remembered that.”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Brian replied. “Are you a fan?”
“No, I was not a fan,” she replied. “When I was a kid, Star Wars was still popular, but I wasn’t a big fan of that either.”
“So, you don’t like science fiction?” he asked.
“Oh, I do, but it’s not my favorite genre,” she replied. “Why, are you a big sci-fi nut?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he replied. “But it may come up later,” he said to prime her for topics that might arise later, if she was still around. He was having fun getting to know her. He hadn’t decided if he liked having her around for the company, or just to keep in touch with what’s happening with the police.
“So, you had lunch with your police girlfriend?” Brian asked. “Tell me more about that. Are they still on my case?”
“Yes, and she was really probing me for questions,” Susan said, taking another bite of her lasagna. She swallowed it and said, “She would really like to meet you.”
“I don’t know why,” Brian replied. “Did she tell you any more about why they want to speak with me? They can’t honestly believe I had anything to do with that robbery.”
“No, she didn’t really go into it,” Susan replied. “They are just really skeptical, based on everything that happened, and because you gave them false information.”
“Is that a crime?” Brian asked. “I know it’s not, but it’s annoying that they are pursuing me.”
“I know,” she said. “I totally see both sides, though. Don’t worry, too much. Liz Murphy is a friend and she won’t compromise our friendship, just to drag you in for questioning.”
“Are you sure?” Brian asked. “Could they have tailed you to my apartment? Are they searching it right now?”
“No, I’m certain they did not,” she replied. “I trust her. And she’s the only one that knows we’ve met.”
“Ok,” said Brian. “I trust you.” He sipped some wine.
“I’m glad to hear that. That means a lot to me,” she said.
As Brian sipped again, he noticed two beefy guys in suits approaching, looking at him. “Oh shit,” he thought. “Russians.”
The table next to them had emptied so one of the Russians pulled a chair and sat next to Susan and another sat next to Brian. He noticed that they both had a hand under their jacket.
Brian was formulating his best response when Susan spoke first “Can I help you guys?”
The guy next to Brian spoke, “No, our business is with this one.”
“Me?” Brian asked.
“Yes, you,” the Russian shoved the gun through his jacket into Brian’s side.
“Well, then, why don’t we step outside and discuss it,” he said. “No need to bother this nice lady.” He looked over at Susan. “I think I’ve answered all of her questions about the menu.” He started to stand and the Russian poked again and the other motioned toward Susan with his gun.
“We will all leave together,” the Russian said. “She is our… collateral,”
“Are you sure your business is with me?” Brian asked. “I have a very common face.”
“I told you that I never forget a face,” said the guy sitting next to Brian. Brian took another look at the Russian and realized that it was the same Russian guarding the safe. The Russian he spoke to. The Russian he slugged on his way out.
“Vadim, it’s you!” He exclaimed. “How are you?”
“Very angry. But very relieved that I found you,” he said.
Susan leaned over and said, “You know these guys?”
Brian replied, “I know this guy, but I don’t know you,” he said pointing at the other guy.
“How do you know this guy, and why is he pointing a gun at you?” asked Susan.
“Hmm, that’s a long story,” he said, “but we wouldn’t know each other if I hadn’t had a little wardrobe failure last night.”
“What?” replied Susan. “What does that mean?”
“Well, so, when you wear a ski mask to obscure your identity, it’s important that you remember to pull it down over your face,” Brian replied. “Right, Vadim?”
Vadim glared angrily.
“And how did you know it was me since you didn’t see my hair color?” Brian asked.
“I told you, I never forget a face,” said Vadim.
“What the hell are you talking about?” demanded Susan.
“Your boyfriend stole from Nikolay Noskov,” Vadim said, looking at Susan.
“She is not my girlfriend,” Brian insisted. “I just met her. She doesn’t need to be involved in this.”
“She is very involved now,” Vadim said. “And now we all take a ride.”
Brian said, “Ok, we have to take care of our tab. Susan, do you want to go do that?” He looked at her to say, “go” but Vadim motioned for her to stay.
“I have already paid your tab,” he said. “Let’s go. Slowly.”
Vadim and the other Russian stood and Brian and Susan stood. Vadim backed up allowing the other Russian and Susan to go first. They walked out of the restaurant to find a black car parked there. The other Russian opened the passenger door and told Susan to get in. He walked around to the driver’s side. Vadim opened the back door and told Brian to get in, then he followed Brian in.
They pulled away and Vadim said, “Nikolay is eager to meet you.”
“This is about the money, right, so how about I just return it to Nikolay?” Brian replied.
“What money?” Susan asked.
“Your boyfriend has stolen a very large sum of money from Nikolay Noskov,” said Vadim. “And Nikolay wishes to meet.”
“Ok,” said Brian, “I’m sure he’s upset and wants his money back. And probably a little interest. We can go get the money, and then I’ll meet with him to discuss the interest.”
The Russian driver spoke to Vadim, thinking Brian wouldn’t understand. “He’s right. We should get the money if he still has it. That would make Nikolay much happier.”
“Yes, it would” replied Vadim. “But Nikolay wants us to bring him in.”
“That’s just to torture him, to get the information,” said the driver. “But if he is willing to give us the money, I think it would be better for you since he took the money from you.”
“Yes,” said Vadim. “Maybe I will torture him, too,” he said and they both laughed. Brian joined in on the laugh, a little nervously. Obviously, Vadim forgot he spoke Russian. He looked at Brian and spoke in English “We are thinking, that if you return the money, we may only cut off a few fingers and let you go. Nikolay will take your whole hand. So, you take us to where you have the money and we will decide.”
“Sure,” said Brian. “It’s at my storage unit in Brooklyn. Take the bridge.”
Vadim said, “You still have all the money?”
“Of course,” he replied. “I couldn’t spend it in a day. So, how did you happen to find me? This could not have been by chance?”
Vadim replied, “Yes, it was by chance.” He laughed. “I happen to like Italian, and Tavola is my favorite.”
“Wow,” said Brian. “Two recommendations in one day, that place gets great word-of-mouth. So, what is your favorite dish?”
Vadim glared at him “Just shut up. What’s the address of the place?”
“Well, ok. Let’s see, it’s um on Prince, at Concord and Gold. But I can’t remember the address,” Brian said.
“Ok, you better not be joking or we will take you to see Nikolay,” he said.
“I hope you left our waitress a good tip,” Brian said.
Vadim glared at Brian and said, “Shut up until we get there.”