The first one to speak loses. That is the rule.
So I sat across from Walters and stared at him. My head ached, feet hurt, and I was exhausted. I wanted something, anything to drink. Yet I did not move or speak.
He knew the rule, too. He looked at his watch, glanced at other people in the food court, then glared back at me, waiting for me to speak. Asshole.
Enough. I needed to break his pattern. I stood up, turned to walk away. When he started to say something I whirled and smashed his face with my right fist. He went ass over teakettle, sending chairs skittering. Screams and yelling followed from other people as I bent over and grabbed his necktie.
“Where is my daughter, you son of a bitch?”
His eyes almost smiled back at me as his lip bled. I gathered his tie closer and started to hit him again when I heard something behind me. I felt a sharp blow behind my left ear, and then nothing. Black.
My head throbbed. I felt blood caked behind my ear. The floor was cold and the room dark. I could feel the thrum of machinery through the floor and heard the hum of air handling. I tried to get up on my hands and knees and immediately felt sick. I dry heaved for an eternity. I curled back on the floor. Its cold felt good as my gut spasmed. The darkness fell over me again.
A light hurt my eyes. I woke to wingtip shoes standing beside my face. How long have I been here? I tried to sort out where I was and what had happened. Slowly I began to piece it back together. Moira, Walters, food court. Whose shoes were lording over me?
I wiped the drool from my face and realized it was blood. I tried sitting up and felt a sharp pain split my brain. I braced myself with a hand against a wall and sat for a moment. I looked up from the shoes, way up, to see the Rookie’s leering face.
“Where is your dog now, asshole?” He tapped a leather sap against his leg.
“You really need to send that suit to the cleaners. It still smells of pissing yourself.”
He started towards me with the sap raised when Walters voice barked, “Rogers, put it down!”
He stopped a foot away from me.
Walters came over and stood in front of me. He looked down with no trace of emotion, then spoke again.
“Clean him up and bring him to the conference room.”
He left through a dogged door – it reminded me of a hatch inside a sub.
I looked at Rogers and smiled through the caked blood.
“Yes Rogers, draw a bath for me, 104 degrees with a hint of lemon in the water. I think I’ll wear my seersucker suit today if you’d be so kind.”
He responded by planting one of his wingtips into my knee. Pain shot up my leg. I waited a moment, took a breath, and smiled back up at him. He thought pain could intimidate me. But I know pain, it is my constant companion and I am not afraid of pain anymore.
“If you like, I can give you the name of my shoemaker in London. Those wingtips are pathetic copies of cheap imitations.”
He looked back through the door, thought better of it, turned and went to a locker on the far wall. He took a towel and a jumpsuit out and threw them to me.
“You have two minutes. I’ll be waiting outside the door.”
When he left I did a quick inspection of my head and parts. I took the towel, dabbed at the raw place behind my ear and winced. I spit on the towel and got mostly blood. The cheap-suit Rookie must get his rocks off beating unconscious men.
I removed my torn clothing and dressed slowly, making sure to take longer than two minutes. When I was ready I drew a deep breath and walked as steadily as I could to the door. The Rookie was waiting.
“Remind me what cologne you use. We have such an insect problem at our trailer court.”
He didn't talk back -- just shoved me in the small of my back. I wouldn't give him the benefit of falling, but only just.
Large air-handling ducts and insulated pipes lined the corridor. Up ahead and to the right the corridor took a ninety-degree bend. Huge bundles of computer and fiber optic cables ran down this hall.
A door approached on the left. A Babble of sound, voices and light filtered out of it. Rookie nudged me in through the opening.
The far wall was full of flat-panel displays. All the cable news outlets played, as well as stock market displays. Foreign news outlets, weather, it was bewildering. My head hurt from trying to see what all was there.
A long polished wood table split the room. At its end, Walters sat in a high back leather chair. He watched the monitors, pretending to ignore me. The Rookie stayed by the door as I walked towards Walters. Okay bad cop, bad cop.
I grabbed a chair and pulled it directly between Walters and the displays. I sat down and stared him in the eye.
The talking heads were bleating about the debt ceiling. Walters looked past me, but finally spoke. “All currencies and markets are racing each other to the bottom. Wish I knew a good advisor.”
He then looked straight back at me.
“I am going to return your daughter to you.”