"So, your Italian side is in effect today, I see," said Cordelia.
"Yeah. Next week, when my black side is talking to me, Deanna and I are going to head up to the new soul food restaurant that's by the apartment."
"Soul food in Fullerton? That should be interesting. Make sure to bring me a plate."
"That's what Deanna said about this place when I said what I was doing tonight. All you two think about is food!"
"Well, that's not all we’re thinking about," she grinned.
Cordelia loved Arlen--and Arlen knew it--but it was unlike any love she had thought she'd felt before. There was no yearning or jealousy to it. It was friendship, the enjoyment of his company, and hope for his happiness. And it was moments like these, that she realized a fascinating thing: she had a better relationship with Arlen than she had had with any boyfriend--or with her ex-husband. She knew that Deanna loved him, too and she suspected that the same was so for her.
Arlen gave her a look.
"You'll get a good price in Addis Ababa."
"Addis Ababa? They'll look at me and laugh their asses off. They could go over any border and get ten of me for a hundred dollars. Younger. Virgins, even."
Arlen considered this. "You know you're right. I'll sell Deanna’s white ass in Addis Ababa and sell your black ass in Moscow."
"Speaking of Deanna, tell her to give me a call. We need to plan our caper. She can probably point me to some resources.
Arlen began to reply, then broke off at the sight of a short, muscular black man approaching their table. The two of them recognized him; Arlen, because he had seen his photo on Cordelia's nightstand when he painted her bedroom two years prior, and Cordelia because she knew the man personally--at this point in her life, more than she wished was so.
"Ah, Cordelia," the man said as he briefly gave Arlen the once-over.
"Hello, Charles," she said.
"It's no surprise to see that you reverted to hanging out with small-dicked white boys."
Cordelia looked at him without emotion. "Charles, how's your walk with God going?"
"That's none of your business."
"Well, the size of my friend's penis is none of your business, but you seem unusually interested in that."
Cordelia took a split-second look at Arlen's face. A smirk was still there, but his eyes were hazel slits—a look she recognized. She had to get Charles away from the table. He did not know what he was starting.
"Charles, just go away." She glanced in the direction from which he had come. There was a pretty black woman at a table across the room, looking on helplessly.
"Don't worry, I will," he sneered. "I just wanted you to know this: I'm embarrassed for you, sitting here with some fat, white boy. You’ve really sunk to the bottom."
"Look here, parasite," said Arlen. "Nobody at this table cares what you think. Now run along and go suck the blood from your latest host."
Charles turned to answer Arlen, and then stopped. Cordelia heard his teeth clamp shut. She looked at Arlen.
The look on Arlen's face was one Cordelia had never seen before. The smirk was gone and there was more there than just his standard 'lizard-eye,’ much more. That look made her afraid--not for herself; she knew Arlen would never hurt her. She was afraid for Charles.
Charles appeared to see it, too, and, involuntarily, took a step backward.
"Charles, you are the one who broke up with me, not the other way around. You once told me to move on. I now give you the same advice," said Cordelia.
Charles tore his glance away from Arlen's face and looked at her. The sneer was gone.
"I'm sorry...take care, Cordelia."
Charles turned and rushed back to his table. He signaled the maître and, within minutes, he and his companion left the restaurant.
"Well, I see that the ‘I'll-kill-you-and-bury-your-body-in-my-backyard’ face is all you said it was."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Besides, that asshole's rotten carcass would poison my flowers."
Cordelia shook her head. "Crazy man."
Charles and Cordelia had been engaged. Sometime after the breakup, shefound out that he had been engaged to another woman at the same time.
"I used to imagine a moment like that, but gave it up around the same time I realized what a fraud he is.Appearance is everything to him."
"Why did he do that, Cordie? What was the purpose of even coming up to the table and starting some shit? I do not get that at all."
"I do. He was ticked off to see me happy without him."
Arlen considered this silently.
"You know, of course, that that's what Monica's problem is, too. She's just more passive-aggressive about it," Cordelia continued.
"Well, we're going to fix that!"
"You're very eager to pull our little caper off," said Cordelia, smiling. "I guess I'm going to have to lose a little weight before we do this thing."
"Come on now. You look fine."
"Yeah, but being slimmer will help the persona. Remember, we’re going to be dealing with people who care about appearances.”
“Oh you bet your ass they do. Now let’s forget these folks and order. Thinking about killing a fool makes me hungry.”
That wasn’t Charles’ usual method of interacting with a surveillance target. But ever since he had been assigned to watch his old friend—his old girlfriend—he found his emotions getting in the way of his work. He had seen the fat white guy coming to her house over and over again-- sometimes early in the morning-- as he sat a ways down her street in his customary disguise as a utility worker. The fat guy would stay for a bit, leave, and then come back at mid-day. Must be a thirty-second man, Charles thought obscenely.
He couldn’t figure out the reason for his anger and wasn’t inclined to try. He had known Cordelia for many years and had several times tried to talk her into having an affair while he was married, but she would have none of it. She was the only woman he had known who didn’t try to throw herself at him and he had been intrigued. So, after his divorce, he put on his Prince Charming persona and wooed her into his web. After he tired of her, he tried to end it but she kept begging him to take her back, not understanding why he was no longer the person he claimed to be. The merry-go-round lasted for a couple of years because, being still sexually attracted to her, he kept inviting her to his apartment whenever she was on the east coast.
Then all of a sudden, Cordelia stopped contacting him. That had been two years ago. He had shrugged and moved on, not giving it or her further thought.
But then came the assignment. Charles knew that Cordelia had been actively involved in politics, though he found it boring. But his bosses had considered active political writers to be possible national security threat; aside from being a moderately successful novelist, Cordelia had some notoriety as an online political critic.
He had seen her name on a list and mentioned to his boss that he knew her, so he got the assignment. It was a lot nicer being in LA than in Kyrgyzstan, or some such shit-hole, per his usual assignments. And he anticipated bit of a sexual thrill at watching the curvy Cordelia on the sly.
He had been physically spying on her for about two weeks, but had begun monitoring her text messages only the day before, so he had known that she was going to dinner this night with some dude named Arlen Tortelli. He decided to bring his latest LA paramour to the restaurant to have a “chance” meeting and taunt Cordelia a bit. Why? Why not? Cordelia thought she was so smart and taking her down a peg or two was something he would enjoy.
He hadn’t known until this very evening that Tortelli was the same guy that came to see her and when he saw the two of them laughing and having a good time—and not even noticing his presence!--he felt it was time to show himself. But things hadn’t turned out as planned.
He had assumed that Tortelli was a soft type. But the second he looked into that face, into those eyes, he knew. Charles had learned much about human nature during his decade-long stint with the agency and, upon eye-to-eye contact, he could almost always read a person.
The second his eyes met Tortelli’s, Charles knew that he was almost as good as dead. Becoming dead was not part of his surveillance plan. It was one of the few times ever that he had felt outmatched.
There would be no more approaching Cordelia or Tortelli directly, at least by him. That had been a mistake. From now on, he would push his pride aside, conduct a standard surveillance, wait for instructions, and watch for opportunities. Opportunities for what? He would soon find out. His bosses would tell him what to do about Cordelia Otani.
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