Bravo —Sunday, 11:07 AM
I'm overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the diner. I can see clearly again, for the first time in a long time. It's as though I've woken up from a repeating nightmare. My stomach growls from the scent of sautéing beef and onions that flow from the nearby kitchen entrance. Light and shadow play on the sparkling cutlery lying upon white, folded cloth. Most captivating to my senses, however, is my companion who sits across from me.
"My apologies, Caterina, if I keep staring. This is the first time I've felt... grounded... in quite a while."
A shrug of her upper lip pardons me with a smile.
"Sounds like your appetite is back, a good sign your health is returning."
The sun filtering through the venetian blinds amplifies her light and dark features in patterned brilliance.
"I feel amazing. Present... if that makes any sense?"
Her laugh is intoxicating, with an accent like her words. It's vintage brandy compared to the 'made from concentrate' speech drifting from the other diner patrons. I could write poetry describing its mellow start and sharp bite, sweet nose, and a finish I expect would peel the paint off my doors. The wounded note under the full body... is more subtle.
I skim my fingers over the raised patterning of the leather booth, anchoring my grip on reality, and mention what I've guessed. "You've been injured before also, haven't you?"
The peerless white of her complexion fades as though a shadow passes. I glance out the window as she replies.
"Malediction wounded me. I don't want to talk about it."
Embarrassed, I pull down the stretchy sleeves of the athletic shirt I wear over track pants of a similar fabric. The workout gear and shoes in my gym bag is all that survived the disaster that was my apartment.
"Thanks for buying me dinner. Again, I don't feel I deserve your charity."
"And your food arrives!"
I follow her glance towards the approaching waitress. The waitress' black apron and skirt over a white shirt stir fleeting images of my mother. Canada's reputed 'Best Poutine' is placed before me. The sunlight does wonders for the golden fries and dark streams of gravy. I pause to admire the first mouth-watering forkful, then lower my hand.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't start eating without you, where are my manners? Are you certain you're not hungry?"
The darkness of her eyes flicker with voraciousness before redeeming their statuesque stoniness.
"There's nothing here I can eat. I suppose you could say... I'm vegan."
"Oh my," I look back to my meal as guilt joins the rumbling in my belly, "very noble of you."
Her hand brushes mine.
"I'll take pleasure in watching you eat instead."
Outside the window a black coupe slows to park beside the diner. A star-inked hand slides from the descending window while an equally tattooed giant of a man exits from the driver's side—briefcase in hand. A bell chimes as he enters to offer the briefcase to Katrina. She nods as it's placed upon the table.
I savor the delicious meal as she sorts through its contents. It slides my way as her henchmen exits.
"I must depart, Bravo. First, allow me to offer you everything you've asked for, and more..."
The briefcase unfolds on oiled hinges to reveal its few contents; my disassembled Sterling Mk 4, one bulging canvas bank-deposit bag from the Rideau Casino, a magnetic-stripe key card, and a cruel black knife with a saw-bladed curve rising on each side.
"Pass your phone over, Bravo?"
I obey. A transparent, flexible circuit is applied like a sticker by her slender fingers.
Again, her gaze summons my attention like a magnet.
"I will text you later with the location of your Bent River targets, along with information you must retrieve for me before having your fun. Your hotel room number is on the key card. The room service is well-reputed. Please eat and be well."
"I... can never," I steady my quivering voice with a breath, "thank you enough—for helping me."
My blinking becomes obvious as I try to keep hot tears from forming. With subtlety I attempt to dry my eyes on the sleeve of my athletic shirt. The fabric rejects the salty drops. Darkness shadows my vision as her thumbs wipe my eyes.
"You're worth it, Bravo. Later I will go clothes shopping to send some black and yellow appropriate attire over. You will remain an actor within Rembrandt's scene, but at my direction. How does that sound, Mr. Jefferson?"
"I serve at your pleasure."
I signal the waitress' attention as she leaves. Ordering another poutine might make a dent in the vacuum filling me from her absence.
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Rival demigods-Venus and Killer Caterpillar-assume control of the gangster scene, dragging Dahl and Bravo into their ongoing conspiracy. ****** Trigger warning: Violence, Mature Language, Sexuality, Murder