Justine sat quietly next to her friend Kate at end of the tall and elegant wooden bar spread like melted toffee in a lazy “L” from the front of the entrance way to Chez Jorge, a popular uptown dining room and imbibery. Marcus Sprinter saw them enter and gently jabbed his colleagues, saying “holy Jesus mother of man! Would you look at those two hotties!” That is when heads turned and the longest night began. It was then that a single elegant cigarette drawn out of an expensive box, hung midair and beckoned to be lit. With nudging and prompting from the eager group, with nods and leading eyes, Marcus turned and walked the 3 ft distance to where Kate held her cigarette carelessly aloft in a an exaggerated twist of a limp wrist. She was being dramatic as a silver screen goddess from the black and white film days. A Harlow or Garbo though, she was not. Kate stood all of five feet two inches and was as inelegant in her forced mannerisms, as she was in her cutting speech. The first words from her mouth as she abruptly withdrew the proffered cigarette was”I don’t need you, I can get it, little boy.”
Marcus stood momentarily taken aback by the rudeness, but smiled immediately, knowing that at least he would never have to worry about figuring this woman out. Marcus knew people. He knew psychology, it was his game and he was good at it. This was another hurting character who had turned spiteful and hateful. In her estimation that the world was dangerous, she became aggressive and the whole thing was a cover for deep insecurities. Marcus nodded assent to her but immediately turned towards her friend Justine.
Justine had often endured sweet Kates’ attempts to annihilate men with sharp retorts or pointed attacks, but she winced each time nonetheless. Justine’s smile was warm and inviting and Marcus noticed the stark difference between her and Kate. Justine was tall with long limbs that seemed to gracefully slide from her blue cotton summer dress. Her legs were tanned and strong, which Marcus noticed with a certain appreciation. He immediately spoke his mind as was his habit. “Run”?
Justine seemed to not-quite-understand what he had meant by his incomplete sentence. This was a sign that she was either, slow, drunk or perhaps a foreigner who could not catch colloquial nuance as easily as native speakers. She obviously was genuinely trying to understand, so Marcus counted her in, as intelligent, maybe drunk and maybe foreign.
“Do you run, you know, for health or recreation?” He tried again.
“Oh, oh yes, I do in fact run, I love it and go every day. Do you run?”
“Well, kinda-sorta, I well, I mean I used to, before the incident.” Marcus said with a grin.
Justine caught none of his playful banter as she was looking for literal translations and was immediately perplexed. “ Incident? ” Did you break your legs or something”?
“Well, not exactly, but yeah something like that. You see I have had surgeries, but hey, I do not want to talk about me, tell me more about you. Do you run in races or just jog for fun?”
“No, I want to hear about your injuries or whatever the “incident” is. What happened and why do you not run anymore?”
Marcus was smiling now, happy to be engaged in conversation with such a lovely woman. He sincerely did not like talking about himself but Justine’s insistence was forcing him to tell more about his life than perhaps he thought her ready for. As he was about to answer, Justine was distracted and immediately moved her head forward to the object of her new interest. “What are those badges you have chained around your neck and tucked away in your shirt pocket?
She was reaching for Marcus’ identity badges and he deftly covered his pocket with his hand. Their hands collided as Justine was intending to take the badges out for further inspection. He liked the feel of her hand on his and Justine lingered there as she batted her lashes and put her forehead next to his.
“What are they?’’Are you from Homeland Security? You can show me, com’on, all you guys come in here, I know who you are, it is okay, don’t show me then.”
Marcus had come straight from work and knew enough to tuck the badges away. Most of his colleagues just locked the badges in their cars, but Marcus knew this to be a risky maneuver that could compromise security. The badges granted access to information that needed to be protected. The protection of that information was vital to national security. The badges opened gates, doors, elevators and vaults where only highly cleared people could go. He was not about to lock them in his car and he certainly would not show them to anyone for any reason unless it was a security guard. He wished he had undid the chain and tucked them in his vest pocket.
Justine then started asking the routine boy meets girl questions. “Where you from? But before he could answer she said: “What do you do, really, I mean?” She seemed put off at the missed chance to see his badges but Marcus knew instinctively that she was on the hunt and may even try to grab them again. He smiled.
A man who should be unnoticed is noticed and persued.