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A man in a mild brown suit and dark shoes approached the mahogany counter, behind which a young uniformed clerk waited.
“How can I help you, sir?” He said politely, leaning forward slightly as though comfortable with his job.
The man answered in a cultured, pleasant tone, “I have an appointment with a Mr. Thomas. Has he arrived?”
The youth authoritatively pulled a handful of notes from under the counter, rifling through them with impressive efficiency. “Yes, sir, Mr. Thomas checked in with us at twelve fifteen. He asks that meet him in the lounge upon arrival. I’ll call the bartender to let him know you’ve arrived.”
“That is appreciated, thank you.” The man had dark eyes like swirling ink and hair that was slightly grey at the temples. The only thing missing that would give him the appearance of a true gentleman was a pair of glasses. He turned away from the desk as the clerk answered the ringing telephone, “Walker-Banks, how may I help you?”
The man took the stairs rather than the elevator, walking at a slow but steady pace. When he reached the second floor, he was approached by another uniformed worker.
“May I take your hat and coat?”
“Ah, yes,” he said, pulling off his overcoat. “I have an appointment with Mr. Thomas. Is he here?”
“Right over here, sir.” The young man directed him to a black-suited man slowly nursing a glass of brandy. Upon his arrival, the man looked expectantly over the top of the glass.
“Mr. Thomas? I am-”
“Tarmin Chase, yes.” The voice had a natural hoarse quality. “Please, sit down.” Thomas rose, extending a hand. Each man grasped the other’s warmly, giving the pretense of long time friendship. They sat opposite one another, making small talk.
“Nice weather today.”
“Yes, it is. It’s supposed to storm tomorrow.”
“So I’ve heard.”
A waiter approached the table. “May I get you something sir?”
“Just water, thank you.”
“Take a brandy, too.” Thomas urged and Chase finally obliged with a nod of his head.
“I’ll be right back, sir.” The waiter walked away.
“Now,” Thomas said, clearing his throat, “down to business. Do you have the-” He broke off as Chase began rifling through a file in his lap. “Yes.”
“I have the legal documents here.” Thomas moved the salt and peppershakers aside as Chase passed him the papers along with a black pen. “Now, I must advise you to read them carefully.”
“Yes, of course.” He answered good-naturedly. “Thank you.” Their waiter placed Chase’s drinks on the table.
“There you are, sir.”
“Now, what does this phrase mean, here?” Thomas asked, gesturing at it with the pen. Chase tried to find the corresponding area on his copy. “Sixth…sixth line, yes.”
“This states, basically, that you will forfeit all…claims, respectively, within thirty days.”
“Hmm, yes. So…what do I receive as compensation for this?”
“The company will not be prosecuted.”
“Well…” he scanned the pages slowly, tapping the pen on his breast pocket. “What’s all this jargon here? Herein, forthwith, no I’ve got it now. This all seems acceptable. Shall I come in…Tuesday and sign it with your notaries?”
“That would be wonderful.” Chase took the papers and pen back. He had not expected such instant agreement to the document.
“How is your brandy?” Thomas asked, leaning against the back of his chair.
Chase tried a bit, returning it to the table with an even face. “I must admit, I’ve never been much of a drinking man.”
“Drinking socially is one of life’s pleasures. You must indulge yourself.” Thomas brought the glass to his lips again.
Chase feigned deliberation before answering diplomatically, “I don’t seem to have the taste for it.”
“Well, to each his own.”
“Most certainly.” Chase took a long drink of the water.
Thomas watched him with an unreadable expression. Finally he said, “Shall we make a dinner of it?”
“I, regretfully, have another appointment within the hour, but I thank you for your consideration. I really must be on my way.”
“Not at all. Waiter!”
The same sandy-haired man who had served them their drinks approached the table. “Yes, sir?”
“Please charge this to my account.”
“I really must protest.” Chase said, and the waiter stood patiently in case the source of payment should change.
“No, it would be my pleasure. Please. You may take the tip if your conscience would be bothered.”
“You are most generous, Mr. Thomas.” Chase removed a folded bill from his coat pocket and passed it to the waiter. “There you are.”
“Thank you, sir!” The waiter answered honestly, subtly examining the bill with a well-trained eye for signs of trickery. “Thank you!”
“You are quite welcome. Now, would you be kind enough to fetch my hat and coat?”
“Oh, yes, sir.” The man hurried away.
“Thank you for the drinks, Mr. Thomas.”
“Not at all.”
Chase secured his file of papers and each man rose. The waiter returned with the brown hat and overcoat, handing them to Chase, who acknowledged him with merely a nod of his head.
“I will await our Tuesday meeting.” Chase said to Thomas.
“Yes, indeed. This has been a refreshingly pleasant discussion. You seem to me to be a man possessive of great intellect.”
“You are too kind. In complimenting me, you are complimenting yourself, for, if we were to fight one another, I have no doubt you would prove to be a most formidable enemy.” The compliment concealed a flash of warning, which Thomas immediately recognized.
Responding in kind, he answered quietly, “Indeed you would.”
The two men stared at each other for a brief moment. When next they spoke, their words were less easy than they had been before.
“Thank you again.”
“Farewell, Mr. Chase.”
The brown suited man folded his coat on his arm, his hat in his hand, and walked away.