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  1. January 4, 04:42
    Knox County, Maine

    The house had stood on this private islet, overlooking the waters of Rockport Harbor and Penobscot Bay, since the early-1900s. Following acquisition in 1992, it was always a priority of the Huntington family to retain the architectural character of its original Renaissance Revival-style, throughout the myriad improvements and renovations. This was an intention Sophie Conrad especially appreciated after an incident with the Land Rover and the north-west side of the house. She had spent the night in an Emergency Room with a concussion and a bruised shoulder, but an entire portion of the ground-floor sitting room had to be reconstructed.

    That was more than a decade ago.

    Twisting her loosened hair across a shoulder, the doctor picked up two golden slices of ciabatta and set them aside. Smothered in now-melted gratings of Cheddar, Gruyère, and Parmesan, the remaining slices sizzled on the grill as she carefully placed strips of bacon atop of them.

    It was a quarter to five in the morning and the family had braved the chill to watch the Quadrantic Meteor Shower from the ground floor loggia. It was tradition, along with the repeated stories and open teasing, laughing hugs and warm kisses. After tracking the imaginary line from Antares to Jupiter, the conversation turned to breakfast. With a flight just after light, she was happy to oblige.

    Deftly, just before anyone could waltz in to steal a slice, Dijon mustard swirled precisely across the centre of the sandwiches to make small smiling faces. Then, the metallic clicks of an opening door heralded the entrance of the footfalls and voices most precious to her in all the world.

  2. Christmas Eve, 2015

    It had been a particularly dry year for the state of California, but all of that seemed to be changing for the city of San Francisco now as slate precipitation drizzled onto the streets, accompanied by the pall of fog that rolled with the tides into the Bay Area.

    Chase Devineaux snapped shut the fastens of his black Rimowa and slipped the handle up. Checking his watch, he waited — and then, a sudden text message popped up on the screen of his Alpha V9 communicator, two minutes before due. He opened the front door of his current residence (a temporary bedroom with an attached kitchen on the twenty-sixth floor of the Accolade tower) and took the elevator down into the main lobby.

    Usually, he would make his own way to the ACME Airfield, but his silver-shaded Toyota Camry Hybrid was in the workshop — for the third time this month.

    He should just get normal tyres.

    Thus, it became that his ride into Alameda Island would be via a blazing-red MINI Cooper S.

    Doctor Sophie Conrad lifted a small package of brown-coloured paper from the leather seat of the passenger side as the Director of Operations climbed in. “Good morning, and...” she pushed the paper-bag into the hands of the man before disengaging the handbrake, “Happy Birthday.”

    Folded in waxed paper was a generous portion of dark-chocolate covered walnuts, sea-salt lightly sprinkled over the homemade product. Chase studied the misshapened nuggets for awhile before popping one into his mouth.

    “Walnuts,” he spoke without stopping to think, “I like walnuts.”

    Sophie smiled, the heel of her palm pressed against the steering wheel as she made a quick turn along the still-deserted streets and accelerated, “I know.” She had found out about ten months ago, watching him pick out the specific from a bag of mixed nuts.

    After he had moved into the ACME campus following the destruction of his apartment and, after he had decided that the hotel suite was much too much of an expense on his account, Sophie had discovered Chase in his office one early-morning, quite unshaven, his dark-grey tie lost and the buttons of his white shirt half-undone. Nursing his fifth shot of espresso, he was rummaging through a metallic packet that his assistant had left behind.

    From then on, even as she now handed him the iPad that had been lying on her dashboard, she had taken up the mission of finding him a new apartment. “Here,” she unlocked the touchscreen, “I have found just the place.”

    Without waiting for a response, she continued: “It's just around the corner from Headquarters, on Long Bridge Street. Look at the views,” she paused to insist, “Look.”

    “On the east-side, there's the waters of the Bay, and… from the south-facing window, you can see Accolade,” she continued, not without a hint of triumph, “It'll be like you still live onsite.”

    Devineaux manipulated the slim device in his grip, zooming in and out with his index and middle fingers. Something felt off, “Looks a little… I don’t know, inconvenient.” He put down the iPad, “Besides, I’m only a few floors now from my office. If I lived there, I’d have to walk further to get to work.”

    “You cannot live in Accolade forever,” familiar exasperation following in a short huff of breath. “Besides,” Sophie matched his tone, with a slight tilt of her head, “Medical will need those rooms eventually.”

    “You mean you’ll make sure Medical consider those rooms heavily,” Chase chuckled as the Accolade tower retreated from the rearview mirror and the Oakland Bay Bridge approached before them.

    She smiled, concession masked by a nonchalant reminder, “We were given Level 26.”

    “I’m a fan of efficiency.”

    “Oh…” the doctor extended the vowel emphatically. It was not the first time she had heard that line, “You can try efficiently fitting a Steinway into that little cell you've taken up...”

    She turned to him, a nod towards the now-darkened screen of the iPad: “The east-facing living room has enough floorspace for a grand piano.”

    There was a pause, and then brisk acquiescence from the director as he shifted in his seat. “Maybe I can stow some decent alcohol again,” he spoke in a tone that hemmed sensibility and wistfulness, “always did feel strange bringing a bottle of anything more than flavored beverages through the Accolade lobby.”

    “Are we in agreement?” the amusement was quick, as was the triumph, “You can view the apartment right after New Year’s. I have made the relevant checks.”

    The rim of his mouth formed a slow smile. This would be the eleventh property she showed him, “You have seriously thought this out.”

    “Mm-hm,” the sound was inordinately chirpy, “I am as stubborn as you are.”

    “Okay. Then,” he affirmed, “when I get back, I’ll check this place.”

    The sentiment of approval settled upon her features, and comfortable silence came upon the city compact as Chase bit into another walnut.

    Along the early-morning roads, the MINI made rapid progress into Alameda Island. A blanket of humidity spread across the Bay area and shrouded parts of the airfield. Yet, there remained enough visibility and such promises of clear skies later. Chase paused to enjoy the view.

    “I love that fog over the uncertain shadows of metal birds,” his comment punctuated the quiet, unstrained, “They’re frozen until jolted to life, massive beasts.”

    Sophie tilted her head at him, slowing the car as they approached the security checkpoint. She granted him a warm smile, “You, Director, are such a romantic.”

    He gestured agreeably, then ate another walnut, “You’re still calling me Director?”

    The reply was serious, even if her focus remained on the road: “Always.”

    Then, he chuckled, somehow satisfied.

    They paused at the well-lit gantry, Sophie rolling down the window at her side. The guard recognised her passenger with ease and Chase greeted him with a question on where he was heading after the holiday rush. John Barrett, an ACME employee for almost six years now, was to be in Hawaii from the second to sixth of January. Saluting the director, he wore a laid-back smile as he pointed the car towards its parking spot.

    “If you don’t mind,” Devineaux peered over at Sophie as he unloaded both of their carry-on bags, “I’d like to borrow the car for a few days after I get back.” The request and its following suggestion were logically planned knowing that Sophie would agree, “I’m not sure when the Camry would be done, and I can pick you up when your return flight lands.” He paused to add, “I’ll even get it waxed.”

    She laughed, low and short, coming around to his side to hand him the keys and take her luggage, “It’s the third time to the workshop this month. Have you yet convinced the mechanic to turn it into a starship?”

    “Maybe some sort of hovercraft will do me good against…” he was wry, seemingly considering, “that other group we don't talk about.”

    Sophie turned to give him a puzzled frown. She remained thoughtful before gently speaking again, “She will come back… one day.”

    Considering her sympathetic tone, he reassured her with a flat, “Or, not.”

    Moments passed before Devineaux noted the keys in his hand. Then, holding up the object, he raised his left brow, “This can't get cuter,” he added with mirth, “a little red car for a mini red car.”

    With mirrored amusement, Sophie amiably accepted the comment as they began walking towards the flight line.

    Pocketing the keychain, he addressed another concern, “Your… family, still wants you to find something in Maine?”

    “No,” her reply was straightforward, having discerned the edge of his query. She smiled, and stretched to inhale, the wind laced with jet fuel, “I like it here.”

    “How is your grandfather?”

    There, his expression stiffened slightly, a resentment he rarely betrayed. He had always felt a level of insufficiency when it came to his maternal grandfather. But finally, he smiled as if in mock-defeat to the facts of life, “He’s well, for 92. Sometimes he remembers me, sometimes he calls me by my father’s name, other times he thinks I’m a stranger, but at least we communicate.”

    The doctor slowed her steps as Chase continued, looking at him with open kindness as she touched his forearm, “Did he ever learn to use that iPhone you bought him?”

    “I think he’s making use of it,” he exhaled, calmer, “He’s been playing with that talking cat app…”

    She paused, “Do you think you'll ever be so old and content?”

    Chase assessed the question as they walked. Then, he smiled before answering, “I don’t know, I intend to live forever.”
    Ennai, Chase, Invader and 6 others like this.
  3. Trials and Trust
    Part 3

    Isidro Velasco was born Isidro Luis Grimau somewhere in Spain approximately five decades ago. As a young man from a poor family, he never went to school. Since childhood, he was known in the community as a thief; having several times stolen the neighbours' pigs to sell to nearby towns. When he reached a certain age, he was sent to serve in the military, to the relief of his parents.

    Eventually, he left Spain, running off to the United States and joining the U.S. Army. After his term ended, Grimau was granted U.S. citizenship, and he continued to serve the military under various missions.

    Greed soon got the better of him, and Grimau befriended powerful-but-scrupulous people in Mexico after a covert mission in the country. His relationship with the Mexicans fell apart after funding to the core organization met with opposition from the NSA. The United States branded him a traitor after this incident and, as he was discovered to be helping the enemy, revoked his citizenship.

    Five years ago, a friend contacted Isidro about working a case for an American ‘kid’ — some detective from an international firm. He ignored the request until nearly three months later, when an attempt to exploit fast cash got him into trouble. A stranger bailed him out, and after all was said and done, bought him coffee and cigarettes at a border town. The young man, introducing himself as Chase Devineaux, convinced Grimau to join him, if only to return the favour. Thus, for the past four years, Isidro worked for Devineaux outside of ACME, enjoying the freedom immensely.


    When Chase arrived at the informant's safe house earlier that evening, he found the front door unlocked, and upon further investigation, discovered that someone had been watching his agent for quite some time. An altercation ensued and the incident required medical assistance. Chase called Sophie; and the rest, theoretically, was about to become history.

    The porch was narrow and dim. An unlit ceiling lamp hung over it, the area rug a faded-green and the floor littered with the contents from an overturned stand of broken umbrellas. There may have been an old hat that Devineaux stepped on, unnoticed.

    The front door remained unlocked and a muffled, rhythmic banging resonated from beyond. He entered casually, aware of the eyes that were watching him, and it was a beat or two after that Sophie Conrad followed.

    In the small hallway that led to several opened rooms, an older man sat on the floor. He was decently muscular, someone of past military service, with a thin beard. His black hair held streaks of white that were prominent against his darker skin. One hand was cupped at his side, the other seemed to be unusable, and both his feet, bare and shoeless, were pushed against the only closed door in the house — the broom closet — where the rapping was coming from. Next to him was a phone — one of Chase's — that had slipped just out of his reach. When he saw the Field Director, his heavy breathing paused with a sigh of relief, only to tense when Sophie came into view.

    “She’s a doctor,” Devineaux immediately explained.

    ¡No!” the man sharply protested, assuming the worst, “Ningún médico, le dije que no doctor!

    Lo sé, I know,” Chase spoke calmly, “Isidro, it's ok, está bien, ella es mi agente.

    The man was no less wary. “¿Habla español?” he asked.

    The Director looked at Sophie, who had not moved but for the slightest smile. He shrugged, Sí, ella entendía todo lo que dijiste.

    Nodding some form of approval, the man nervously laughed.

    “I take it he's awake?” Chase hinted towards the closet door, “How long?”

    “Too long,” Isidro spoke in moderately accented English, “And, it took you too long to get here. I wait for bandages and you get me doctor, chico tonto!”

    Ignoring the Spanish admonishment, Chase turned his attention to the closed door. By now, the noise had stopped, whoever who was in there was listening to them.

    Looking at Sophie, he said, “Take him inside, see what you can do?”

    Then, he motioned for Isidro to move his feet, “I’ve got it from here.”

    To be continued...

    Part 3 was written wholly by Chase Devineaux;
    mildly edited by myself.
  4. Trials and Trust
    Part 2

    The neighborhood they were now driving through was a wasteland this early in the morning. Dull gray tones gave the streets a solemn, dusty view previously hidden by the night. Stagnant water puddles stained paved cement while both neglect and disrepair showed through cracks of all sizes. Colonies of matted rust devoured visible metallic surfaces while aerosolized neon left layered marks on all things vertical and flat.

    One noticeable house was coated in brick-red paint, with a dark oak door and whitewashed windows. It was the home of an old woman who had been fostering children for nearly thirty years, and a once-familiar place to the passenger of the silver Camry. As they passed, the waking eyes of sleepy locals attached to the vehicle like billiard balls to a passing magnet.

    Chase once had an acquaintance who insisted on charity. She had a list of orphanages and, while it was convenient, recruited him to drive about San Francisco delivering care packages. Eventually, his work got in the way, and she had plenty of other men willing to help her out — many who were much easier to convince than Chase.

    The brick-red house stayed in his memory because the old woman who owned it was strangely bitter. She had told him not to play with the children, he would disappoint them later when he never returned; best not to give if only to take. Ever since, he wanted to prove her wrong, but she remained painfully right—

    “Director Devineaux?”

    He turned towards the voice, awoken from temporary reverie.

    “Yes, right,” he paused, “Turn right, ahead.”

    A flicker of concern crossed her eyes as she glanced at the man beside her. In the last eight minutes, all Sophie had to gauge of his condition — medical or not — were the glimpses caught within the passenger-side wing-mirror. Bridled tension fixed his posture, but his expression remained characteristically esoteric, betrayed only by the fleeting notion of restlessness that clenched at his jaw. The alternations of light and dark from passing streetlamps only served to further eclipse his sharp features, the weight of his brow a shadow over his light eyes.

    “You’d said that someone else was injured,” she continued, with the same gentle prompting that flowed from her previous address, “Can you tell me more?”

    “Hispanic male, late-fifties; he has some contusions and minor burns,” the words were terse and Devineaux considered what followed carefully, “He’s a… sort of informant, but uh… he doesn’t have official paperwork.”

    Sophie nodded without remark, “And, your arm?”

    “Not much,” he studied her, gauging the nature of her question but decided that she was simply being thorough. “The bleeding stopped. Once we’re done with this, I’ll stop by the AMC*.”

    “How did it happen?”

    That was a little harder to explain, and again, Chase contemplated his words, “I think it might have come in contact with someone’s teeth.”

    There was a pause — the slightest frown — as Sophie pressed her lips together, uncertain if that was a dark attempt at humour from the Director and not keen on allowing her amusement light. The GPS application on her mobile device emitted a low ping and she obediently turned into a driveway paved with cracked concrete.

    Several streets from the brick-red house was their destination: A small, two-storey apartment building squeezed unnaturally between two others. To its left was a townhouse with torn shingles and a large gap between the porch and entryway, while the other was a semi-renovated home with light greenish sidings that may have once been sky-blue in color.

    “Wait out here,” Chase said, as soon as they got out of the car, “I’ll make sure it’s clear.”

    To be continued...

    *AMC = ACME Medical Center
  5. Trials and Trust
    Part 1

    JANUARY, 2011
    SUNDAY, 0500 hours

    She opened her eyes to stare at the narrow sliver of light that sliced across the pale ceiling above, her brow already beginning to furrow in confusion. Then, there it was: the low ping of her work line.

    Pushing aside the coverings, Dr Sophie Conrad rolled over and stretched an arm across her bed to reach for the mobile phone. She stared at the screen and her frown deepened. Duly, clearing her throat and expelling all further traces of sleep, she sat up and accepted the call.

    “Director Devineaux, good morning.”

    “Sophie,” an exhalation followed the name, “I may… I have an emergency, do you think you can meet me outside your apartment in about fifteen minutes?”

    Out of bed, already walking across her bedroom and towards the bathroom, she nodded to no one in particular even as he spoke. “Yes,” she confirmed, tapping a switch to squint as light flooded the space.

    * * *​

    Chase Devineaux had been in a fight and it was barely five in the morning. The silver Toyota Camry, tinted cashmere by the slow dawn, was heading towards 1201, 4th Street.

    The Field Director took pride in looking proper, and if he stayed clear of long conversations, he might hide the fact that his night was unusually eventful. His shirt was only slightly ruffled; any discrepancies masked by his jacket. The necktie was in a quickly-made four-in-hand knot, unusual for him, but no one would pick that up. Dashing down 3rd Street with only one hand gripping the steering wheel, he made a quick turn towards 4th Street and nearly passed his intended destination.

    With her hands tucked into the pockets of her dark-wash jeans, she stood at the edge of the pavement, haloed by the warm lights of the condominium lobby behind her. The wind disturbed her ponytail, casting streaks of bright-red hair around her shoulders and Sophie raised an eyebrow as a recognisable sedan sped past her before pulling to a harsh stop.

    Adjusting the strap of the duffel bag at her side, she calmly covered the short distance.

    “How do you know where I live?” she asked as she opened the passenger-side door and climbed in, shifting the weight of her bag onto her lap before holding out a chilled bottle of cold-pressed organic orange juice. Stitched onto the no-nonsense black canvas of the holdall was a singular red-coloured cross.

    “Your… files…” his explanation seemed both sufficient and equally empty as he took the offered drink with his right hand. Confused, he read the label briefly before placing the bottle into the cup holder of the middle console.

    “Ah… my files.” Sophie scrutinised the Field Director, the beads of perspiration on his brow inconsistent with his stoic façade. He did not appear intoxicated, although he did appear distressed. She considered his mien before pressing her lips together thoughtfully.

    “You’re injured,” her observation was matter-of-fact.

    “No,” he deviated, but did not want to lie, “I mean -- yes, but I need you to help me with someone else first.”

    Hesitating, she narrowed her eyes.

    “All right,” she nodded as she picked up the bottle of orange juice and twisted its cap to break the seal, “I have one condition.” Sophie returned the plastic container to rest within the cup holder.

    At ‘all right,’ Chase was ready to go, his foot on the accelerator. Yet, he paused at the second phrase.

    “Yes?” he inquired, almost impatiently.

    I will drive,” the doctor stated, her tone precluding objection. “It’s not possible for you to safely do so with your arm in that condition,” her gaze rested on his guarded left side for a moment, conveying her deductions.

    I… drove here, he thought, but did not say. Instead, he reluctantly unbuckled his seatbelt and moved to step out of the vehicle.

    Silently, they exchanged places and Sophie offloaded her medical kit onto the backseat before sliding the catch of her seatbelt in place. She tapped the tip of a finger on the loosened cap of the juice bottle before resting her hand on the clutch.

    “Where are we going?”

    “169, Naples Street,” Chase answered. “Have you been in the area?”

    “No,” the reply came after a moment of thought as she began coaxing the Toyota forward before picking up speed to turn into China Basin Street and then onto 3rd Street. “We’ll have to get onto the I-280, yes?”

    “Yes,” he affirmed, considering the juice and how he was to negotiate the bottle. Detaching the already-unfastened cap, he drank from it… and drank all of it.

    Watching him from the corner of her vision field, Sophie remained silent. She had questions -- many questions -- but sensed that the answers would come in their time. Thus, the duo sped through the minimal early-morning traffic without attempt at conversation, the Camry finally turning right and right again to merge with the I-280.

    To be continued...

    This was written in 2011 and is currently being edited for publication.
    Write drunk, edit sober, as someone so oft repeats.
    Apparently, it took us four years to become sober.

    Merci beaucoup, Directeur.
  6. December 15th, 2008
    Metropolitan Pavilion, NYC
    Charity: Ball 2008 for Charity: Water

    For an event that boasted national media coverage, the attendance of selected celebrities, and the patronage of some of New York’s finest, the 2008 Charity: Ball was trying very hard to disguise itself as a mere gallery showcase – except that instead of artistic endeavours, the images lining the parallel walls of the South Pavilion depicted, without equivocation, the realities of humanity’s reliance on water.

    Having only just detached herself from the party she had been in the company of, Sophie Conrad strolled along a wall of LED televisions, absently moving a suede clutch between the grasp of both her hands. The pointed heels of her black pumps were quiet against the polished parquet floor, all but drowned out by the noise around her. Alongside her, the images of impoverished men and women, the fact and figures about the earth and its water, and the evidence reinforcing how every dollar donated to the cause of Charity: Water could change the lives of the people whose faces were flashing across the screens drifted past.

    While the bright lights of the Big Apple attracted 50 million visitors every year, it failed to entice her; for despite the undeniable allure the city possessed in its finer moments, she found it an insolent, almost-vulgar egomaniac in its constant high-speed hurtle towards trumpeted eminence. And although her vicious assessment of New York City amused her, she conceded that it was undoubtedly brought about and intensified by the eagerness she had for the next morning when a short flight would deliver her back to the comforting familiarity of Boston and the quiet of her Beacon Hill apartment.

    So it was, that when a voice spoke up behind her to interrupt her thoughtful dalliance, she found herself surprised.

    “Water, water everywhere, and they only seem to serve wine.”

    Turning with a questioning brow already raised, she met the gaze of the man who had approached. Good-looking, his hair was russet-coloured under the warm spotlights, his voice was level and friendly, and his lighthearted grin smile-eliciting. Taking a moment to deliberate his appearance and the glass of wine in his hand, she was inordinately serious when she replied, with a slight nod of her head at his drink:

    “It takes a hundred and twenty litres of water to make a single glass of wine.”

    The statement hung between her and the stranger for a moment. And then, realising the censure that could be read in her words and eager to dispel the hint of mortification she sensed from the man, she relented. Her solemnity fell away and ease and warmth took their place with a smile.

    “Good evening,” she said in a brighter tone, as she extended a hand, “My name is Sophie Conrad.”

    “Chase Devineaux.” The introduction was returned smoothly as they shook hands. If he had taken offence, nothing was betrayed. “I’m with the, uh…”

    She tilted her head and considered him carefully as he hesitated and sipped from the glass of wine in his hand.

    “The third secretary of cultural affairs. I came with that group,” he concluded.

    She nodded politely, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Devineaux.” She found herself passingly wondering about his genealogy.

    “Are you enjoying the gallery?” he asked.

    Instinctively, she turned her gaze towards the length of wall behind her. Though all she thought of Charity: Water and its annual Charity: Ball were certain to her, she took a minute to contemplate how she would respond to or convey her thoughts to this one Chase Devineaux.

    “The exhibition is very effective,” she replied with decision, returning her attention to Chase and giving him an elfish smile, “And, dare I say, far more entertaining than a speech.”

    “How about you?” she ventured, waving her hand out as a silent invitation for him to join her as she restarted her leisurely perusal along the length of the South Pavilion, putting some distance between them and a boisterous group that was slowly but surely moving nearer. “What do you make of all this?”

    She glanced back at him. He looked deceptively relaxed with one of his hands in the pocket of his pants and the other casually holding his glass of wine. She remembered his comment about being a part of a party of others: “Are you not a patron of Charity: Water?”

    The question must have amused him, somehow. He chuckled and shrugged and took another sip from his glass.

    “I work with a law enforcement agency, ACME, in San Francisco,” he said. “We’re mostly… passive, when it comes to charity. You’ll have to forgive me if I sound ignorant.”

    “ACME?” she stopped in mid-step and turned to acknowledge his words with a bemused frown: “You’re a detective?” It was almost a statement.

    Chase hesitated, “No, not quite.” He appeared slightly surprised by her reaction. “I’m the Field Director. I take care of field agents.”

    He retrieved a name card from his wallet and handed it to her, “You’re familiar with ACME?”

    She looked at his card, murmuring a perfunctory, “I see,” before lifting her eyes towards him and shaking her head in response to his question. “I’m afraid that I only recognise the organisation’s name. Nothing more…”

    She opened her clutch and tucked his card in.

    “I work at the Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.”

    Sophie handed one of her name cards to Chase. She did not bother to elaborate on what she did at the hospital, for it was all neatly printed onto the card. Instead, even as Chase scanned it, she regarded him with unhidden curiosity, formulating her own theories about him as - she was sure - he was doing about her. Field Director of ACME, indeed.

    “Doctor of Medicine.”

    After the pause that he took to contemplate her occupation, Chase raised his brows and pocketed the card. “You must be in high demand?”

    Sophie smiled but remained silent. She had anticipated some comment on her profession – there always seemed to be – but to have someone actually read out her qualification was rather unexpected. Amusing, even. Nevertheless, the question Chase had posed was to her more rhetorical than one requiring an answer; to deny it would be lying and to confirm it pompous. There was no possible satisfactory reply. She was certain that individuals like him, who played a role in maintaining social order and public safety, were as equally in demand as individuals in her profession were.

    He took another sip of the wine and she tilted her head slightly to consider his action and its result. Chardonnay, though a very versatile wine, was best enjoyed chilled and Sophie could only surmise that the drink must now be too warm to be enjoyed: He had lowered the glass and now held it with his fingers upon its rim, seemingly quitting its contents. A moment later, he spoke again:

    “So, are you here on behalf of someone or is this purely personal interest?”

    She realised, then, that she had remained silent for too long.

    “Both,” she replied, with a wry shrug. More important than the function she was currently in attendance, she had agreed to come to NYC to visit an old classmate from Harvard who now worked for the Mount Sinai Hospital. They had research which overlapped. “Charity: Water is the adopted beneficiary of my department. And, you?”

    She afforded a mere second of contemplation before a sparkle of mischief lit up her blue-green eyes, and she took a small calculating step towards him. “You aren’t a patron of the charity nor are you representing your organisation---” She lifted a brow and nodded in the direction of the abandoned wine glass, “You don’t seem to be enjoying the wine nor the company of your host… So,” she teased, “why are you here?”

    Chase smiled, unruffled by the provocation in her words: “To meet important people I haven’t met in awhile…” There was a pause, and then, “That doesn’t seem like a very good reason, does it?”

    Sophie shook her head, laughing lightly, and restored the physical distance between them. His answer was so simple it required no elaboration. “Not at all,” she demurred, graciously.

    Before more could be said, however, a low beep sounded, commanding both their attentions.

    Chase reached into the inner pocket of his dinner jacket and extracted a handheld device. Sophie regarded him in silence, tepid curiosity in her gaze as she watched him read the message shown on the device’s screen. His casual demeanour gave way to austerity, a mien he seemed more practiced at.

    “Miss Conrad,” he smiled apologetically as he looked back at her. “I have a flight to catch but it looks like you’ve given me reason to be here after all.”

    Sophie marked the difference that had overcome this curious stranger as a result of a text message and disguised her amusement as she watched him juggle the device, his wine glass, and the task of handing her another business card.

    “This card belongs to Dr. Zimmerman, Chief of Medicine at the ACME Medical Centre in San Francisco,” he said.

    She relieved him of the card quickly.

    “I don’t usually recruit for that wing, but we’re understaffed and looking for management positions. If you know anyone decent, please pass that on for me?”

    Not entirely confident of his intention, a brief frown flickered across her face. She gave the card a critical glance: “Certainly.”

    Then, she returned her attention to Chase. She accounted for the current occupations in his hands and weighed the options of shaking his hand goodbye or letting him leave of his own device. She decided on the latter. And, despite her detachment, her smile and her wish were genuine. “Have a safe flight, Mr. Devineaux."

    * * *​

    Author's Notes: Co-written. Thank you, CJ.
    First published in March 2010. Edited in February 2012.
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