January 16, 2005

Chapter 10

Well, here's the chapter I promised you. The novel is set in the future, 2015, at a fictional national bloggers convention, Confab '15, in Dallas, TX. Many of the characters are based on bloggers I know, most of them Texas bloggers, with a few purely fictional charcters thrown in for good measure. Be kind, folks. I've never done this kind of thing before. And remember, this is a very rough draft.

And no, there is no smut. This is as explicit as it gets, at least as it stands now. I didn't see any reason to make it any more explicit than this. The story isn't about sex, it's about terrorism, betrayal, loyalty, and the fight against evil. But even in such circumstances, sometimes there is a little romance.

The small piano bar at the top of the convention center complex proved a poor place for finding receptive women, young or old. After making the rounds of the unattached and uninterested women at every other bar in the complex, not to mention at the Loyal Citizens gathering in the lobby earlier, Ralph decided to simply find a table where he could sit off to himself and enjoy the music and a well earned Scotch.

The man at the piano was particularly good, better than the honky-tonk guys he was used to hearing around Amarillo or Ft. Benning. He settled into some old Alyssa Keys and a little Dr. John for the older couples sitting together across the circular room.

Ralph sipped his Scotch and looked out over the Dallas nightscape, vast dark expanses with streams of moving light that crossed them. It looked nothing like it had when he was a child, and he found himself missing the close little houses in their snug yards. Even intermingled in the bad memories were brief flashes of things that made him nostalgic.

The music and the Scotch finally combined to relax the day’s events from his mind. He had been on guard since long before Bill had picked him up after his shift this afternoon. Good thing, too, he thought. I have no intention of dying on the streets of Dallas at the hands of some amateur terrorist after surviving BAC at Benning and deployments into North Korea and Dubai and places he wasn’t even allowed to acknowledge, against enemies no one knew existed.

Wouldn’t that be ironic, he mused. At least if I died in my hometown, my death would be acknowledged, folks I care about would know what happened, and I’d get a funeral my friends could attend.

Ralph sat there, leaned comfortably back into the leather wing-back chair and half closed his eyes as he faced the night sky. The reflections of the room, dreamy dark in the lounge half-light, played out on the ebony pane of glass. The waitresses sashayed and dipped, the women preened and cooed, the men leaned in to their baited hooks, and the bartender acted like air traffic control from behind the backlit plexiglass bar.

He sat there, watching life’s most primal dance play out on the darkened glass, sipping his drink, and enjoying the solitude in spite of himself. Then the old brass elevator doors opened and in the amber lighting stood a beautiful young lady. She was looking around the room, looking for someone. Ralph watched as she stepped into the bar and slowly walked the circular aisle that ran between the patrons seated on stools along the bar, and those seated along the curved glass in leather chairs or the tucked and rolled, half-circle booths, searching for someone.

He had a definite appreciation for the female form, and this particular example certainly deserved it. His half-closed eyes afforded him the opportunity of doing exactly that without outwardly appearing leering, boorish, or just more interested than was polite in public. He slowly raised his glass and took a slow, deep drink as she made her way closer to his table.

Instead of walking past, she laid her hand on his arm and leaned around the back of the chair.

"I hoped I’d find you here."

Recognizing the voice, he opened his eyes and turned away from her reflection to look at her. "Oh, damn, it’s you. What, did you forget a dig? Was there one more thing you wanted to say about my intelligence or background or perhaps you’d like to move on to my parentage or social status now." Ralph colored again as he said this, the sting of earlier this evening revisiting itself on him as she stood there.

"No, Ralph, that is your name, isn’t it? That’s not my intention at all. I had hoped you found my message in your confab program and would show up at the hospitality suite in the note."

Ralph looked confused for a second, then reached over to the empty chair across the table to retrieve the program.

"May I?" she asked, gesturing toward the now empty chair.

"Sure, please. Sit down," he mumbled as he opened the booklet and leafed through it. He paused at a page and read it silently for a moment.

"I’m really sorry about this afternoon. If you had any idea how often I get hit on in a day, you’d be shocked. But I did intend to make it up to you this evening. I’m just glad that when you didn’t show up where I hoped you would, that I’d be able to find you. And here you are. So… apology accepted?"

Ralph looked at her for a moment, then back down at the note she had written in his program.

"Sorry I had to act that way. I’d enjoy really meeting you like a normal human being after I finish my shift with registration. I’ll be in suite 2411 after 9pm. It’s one of the hospitality suites, but it’s not listed in the program because of a printing error. I hope to meet you there. We’ll start all over from the beginning, okay?

"Waiting until then,

Cecily ‘Frannie’"

"Um, so, well…"

She looked at him with just a little bit of concern, hoping he wouldn’t send her away. The look was not lost on Ralph, who looked at her reflection in the black glass and took another sip of his drink.

"My name is Ralph Maravilla. Nice to meet you. And your name?"

She looked visibly relieved. She let out a sigh, extended her hand and said "Cecily. Cecily Wright. I’m very pleased to meet you, Ralph."

She blushed sweetly when he took her hand and held it for a moment. How exactly does one shake hands with a lady anyway, he pondered. After a moment, he rubbed his thumb up the back of her hand and released it. She looked down at the table for a second and smiled as she placed her hands into her lap under the table.

"So, Cecily, when you’re not sitting at a folding table surrounded by overeager men in a convention center, what do you do?" Ralph motioned to the waitress and finished the last few drops of his Scotch.

"Well, I work at a family business, just a little place out on the east side of Dallas. It’s really small, nothing impressive or anything. But I like it and it pays okay. I’m only working there until I get my degree. Then I hope to go to Virginia and get a job."

"What sort of degree are you working toward? I have friends in Virginia, and, well, you never know, maybe they’ll have a position you might be interested in. When the time comes, you know."

"Oh, it’s nothing you’d be interested in. Really. It’s kind of a new degree, something they don’t offer too many places. But it interested me so I thought I’d try it."

The waitress walked up and Ralph pointed at his glass. She nodded and looked at Ceciliy. "Oh, uh, double Stoli vanilla, chilled no ice. Rocks glass, please." As the waitress walked away she continued, "I ended up really taking to the course work and just loving it." Ralph looked at her quizzically. "I’m studying Forensic Counter Terrorism down in Austin. Yes, I know, it‘s a new field, and it‘s so reactionary. Believe me, I hear it all the time down at UT, but screw the airheads down there. They have absolutely no clue when it comes to what‘s going on now."

Ralph just smiled at her. "Oh, so you think it’s funny for a woman with no background in criminal justice to go into something like that? Or maybe it’s because I’ve never been military? Or is it because ‘this is man’s work, little missy, leave it to the men’? Believe me, I get enough of that at home, I don’t need it from you," and she started to get up from her chair.

"No, no, please, sit down. That’s not what I was thinking at all. Please. Tell me more." Ralph gave her his best look of contrition, which was difficult to do with a grin.

"Well, really, that’s about all. I mean, I don’t live an extraordinarily exciting life. I study all week and work all weekend with the family. Other than my silly little blog, I don’t do much else. If I didn’t know Beth through her blog, and DokRussia through his, I wouldn’t really know anyone here. But Beth asked me to help out, and she’s been so kind to me, so I couldn’t say no." She paused momentarily as the waitress set their drinks down and walked away. "How about you, Ralph Maravilla? Who are you, and don’t try that line again or I’ll kick you under the table."

"Well, I know Beth, too. I used to chat with her almost every evening in the old Loyal Citizens chat room while I was in high school . I met a lot of good people in that room, including my friend Bill, who you met earlier. He and I made a pact that when we graduated from high school we’d go off and join the army together and go to airborne school, which we did. We were Airborne for eight years, served overseas for a lot of it. The war on terror was slowing down overseas, and they didn’t need as many of us nuts with crappy knees as they did before, so when our enlistments were up last year, we were allowed out."

"Airborne? I’m impressed. Halo jumping and the whole thing?"

"Halo jumping and the whole thing. I loved it. I kinda hated leaving it, but I found something I like just as much, and I keep my skills up on my own. Found a nice little jump school where I can go and jump when I feel the need to freefall. Now I just do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it." He stopped to take a sip of his drink, and watched as she drank her vodka. She really is pretty, he thought. I’d do her.

"Anyway, I do a little security work and live here in Dallas. I get to travel a little, meet interesting people. It’s a good life for a single guy with no attachments." He watched her finish her vodka and wondered where she learned to drink like that. Or maybe, he thought, she doesn’t drink like that and isn’t used to it. One can only hope. He finished his drink too, and asked if she would like another.

"No, not now. The drinks here are much too expensive. Why don’t you come with me to the hospitality suite and we can see what we find in there. Some of them have bars in them. Well, informal bars anyway. Depends on who set up the suite."

"Oh, I see. And who set up this suite, the one that isn’t in the program?"

Cecily stood and smiled at him. "Well, I suppose you could say I did."

Ralph stood and pulled a twenty from his wallet to lay on the table. He reached down beside his chair to pick up his bags and turned to follow her into the elevator. She looked down at his bags and smiled. "Good. We won’t have to stop off and pick them up."

She pushed the button to the 24th floor, and as the doors closed, stepped in front of him and back to lean against him. When she turned her head and looked up at him, he bent down and very lightly, very gently kissed her lips. He felt her hand reach up and touch the side of his neck, soft and tentative, and he lowered his face back to hers and kissed him again, just so slightly more insistent than the first kiss. Her response, too, was measured and her fingertips brushed gently through the hair on the back of his head.

They felt the elevator begin to slow, so Cecily slid across him to stand beside him before the door opened. As it opened, she slipped her arm around his and they stepped out into the hall. At the end of the hall, she retrieved her electronic key from the tiny leather bag she carried, and ran it through the reader. As the mechanism clicked and the door opened, she took his arm again and led him into the room.

Ralph stopped andset his bags into the closet area next to her bag. When he stepped out into the main room, she had lit a few small candles arranged on the standard issue hotel table, and was sitting in one of the chairs. She looked even more enticing in the warm glow, and he stopped for a moment just to look at her. She smiled but said nothing as he crossed past the bed to the table. He noticed it had been turned down invitingly, and the candlelight flickered across the smooth white sheets.

I can do this slow. I can do ’romantic,’ he thought. I can take all night. He sat down in the empty chair and accepted the drink she poured for him. She picked up her glass and raised it toward him.

"To Beth, for befriending us both. Without her, neither of us would be here."

"To Beth," he repeated. "And to second chances." They each quickly and wordlessly finished the vodka in their glasses then stood to reach for each other in the candlelight.

Posted by Mamamontezz at January 16, 2005 02:54 PM
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