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2 months ago

Hard Pressed

digging through

digging through thousands of files, they brought down one major bank and an online sex trafficking ring. What do you know about these kinds of investigations? You’re a cub reporter, tenacious but green.” Even in the dark of the bar, I could see the blood rush to her face. At first, I thought she was embarrassed, and expressing it like a kid by blushing from her toes to the roots of her hair, but as the moment stretched I realized she was furious. “I haven’t told you what I know about you, Stanley,” she said. I was getting up from the table, but sat back down when I heard her. “I changed my name,” I said, trying for nonchalance. “I’m not exactly the first person to do that.” She nodded, smiling slowly. “Sure, Xavier, that’s true. People change their names and you absolutely look the part of a debonair business god throwing around his black card in a dive bar in the East Village. Xavier is something else, but Stanley is…nothing much.” I forced a laugh. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, taking care to keep my voice so low she had to lean slightly forward to hear me. A slight look of surprise flashed across her face. “Where are we going?” she asked. I smiled coolly. “To your house to grab your passport,” I said. “I assume you have one, Jane.” She looked me dead in the eye, and belted the last of her bourbon. A sharp nod and then she took off for the door. We didn’t talk much and then we both slept on the plane. I had the flight attendant bring out Dom Perignon and a bowl of caviar from the Caspian Sea. I told her to use the crystal champagne flutes. When sudden turbulence caused the plane to jolt, I watched Jane’s full champagne glass fly and smash against the side of the plane. I smiled and asked the flight attendant to bring her another crystal glass filled close to the rim with champagne. “Let’s try that again,” I said. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“Rome,” I said. I watched her swallow the wine, the caviar in front of her untouched. She looked out her window and I, finally feeling calm, looked out mine. Once we landed, I deposited her in the penthouse of the Ritz. Then, later, I sent a chauffeured Rolls Royce to pick her up. I didn’t prepare her for the luxurious glamor of the dinner. I didn’t offer to buy her a wardrobe full of designer dresses. I was dressed impeccably, tailored suit, cufflinks, a square of silk tucked into my pocket. Now, she’s seated across from me in a dress that looks like it was bought in a Midwestern mall in 2003. She’s still beautiful, but she’s lost her cocksure attitude. “You’re not eating, Jane,” I remark, taking a sip of the rare vintage I ordered for us. “Is it okay? Should we call the chef over?” “It’s perfect,” she says, a note of bitterness obvious. I incline my head. She picks up her fork and puts it down again. “You’ve made your point, Xavier,” she says. I lift my eyes to hers. “Let me be very clear, little girl,” I say. “You may think you know me and understand some part of who I am or where I’ve come from. You learned I came from a small town, was raised by a single-mother. You might know every facet of my life, but I am and will always be more than you are: smarter, richer, more powerful, more accomplished. If you cross me, threaten me, follow me, I will—” here I pause and lean back in my chair for effect, “crush you.” I watch her wilt. I feel both shame and satisfaction. “Now,” I say, dabbing my lips with the napkin. “We have a few minutes before the plane will be ready to take us back home, should we get dessert?” I watch her as she lifts her head and squares her shoulders. “Whatever you like, Xavier.” Back on my plane, she’s staring out the window while I’m smiling to myself.

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