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I glanced up at the sign shining in the cold night air. It read Blue Grotto Restaurant in bright blue neon letters, wrapped around glowing orange initials of BG. This is the place, I thought as I pulled my coat tighter around my shoulders. The rain was coming down hard tonight, so the ragged thing didn’t offer much protection.
As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by the sounds of over a dozen conversations. The place was packed tonight – every chair had someone to occupy it, every booth overflowing with hungry customers. Here and there, waiters and waitresses clad in black and white uniforms weaved in and out of the conglomerated mass of tables and chairs. Some had plates aligned on top of their arms, others carried silver platters with groups of wine glasses resting atop their gleaming surfaces. The clink of glasses and silverware added to the voices of the restaurant’s occupants, and above it all, the melodic tune of a piano could be heard permeating throughout the room.
I crossed the tiny entryway to come upon a wooden podium. Beside it was a sign that read: “Please wait to be seated.” No one had noticed me yet, so I took another look around. Brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling in the corners of the room, and in the middle of each table was a round wax candle. With the blinds drawn shut, they provided dim lighting for the large dining area.
Soon, a waiter approached me with a look of curiosity.
“Sir?” he asked in a polite, refined voice. “I’m sorry, but we don’t accept walk-ins. I would be glad to make a reservation for you tomorrow, but-”
“It’s alright,” I told him in an equally polite voice. “I’m supposed to meet someone here.”
The man stared at me with a dumbfounded look for a few moments before returning to his senses and asking, “I see. And who might this ‘someone’ be?”
I pulled out the piece of paper tucked away into the pocket of my jeans. It was a little crumpled up, but the waiter was still able to make out the name on it.
“Ah, yes! Mr. Altec! Right this way please!” the waiter said before plunging into the vast ocean of ravenous customers. I followed reluctantly.
We passed through the few narrow paths available to us until we came upon a table near the middle of the restaurant. There were only two chairs there, one on each side, and in the chair opposite the side of the table we stood on sat a man. He seemed to be in his forties, with graying hair and pale blue eyes. He wore a plain grey suit, complimented by a red tie.
As the waiter and I approached him, the man looked up from his plate of shrimp and dip.
With a smile on his face, he said, “Tom! So nice to finally meet you!” He gestured towards the empty chair. “Please, sit down!”
I pulled the chair back and took a seat.
“Would you like me to take your coat, sir?” the waiter asked.
I shook my head.
“Very well. Would you like to peruse our menu then? We have a very fine selection of-”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
The man nodded before disappearing once more into the crowd. When he was gone, I turned to face the older man who sat across from me.
“So,” he said, biting into the end of an exceptionally large shrimp. “What brings you here?”
I stared at him in confusion. “What do you mean, ‘what brings me here’?!” I cried out in frustration. Fortunately, none of the other tables heard me. Everyone was too wrapped up in their own conversations to notice that an escaped convict was sitting only a few feet away from them.
The man chuckled. “Not so loud, Tom. We don’t want to attract the wrong sort of attention now, do we?”
I let out a weary sigh. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to trust this man, I thought.
As if reading my mind, Mr. Altec said, “Now don’t worry Tom. I’m not here to hurt you. After all, if it weren’t for me, you would still be in prison.”
For a crime I didn’t commit. “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you, why did you do that? What reasons do you have for breaking me out of there? And how did you know who I was; what prison they put me in; what cell I was staying in? Where did you-”
Chewing on another piece of shrimp, Mr. Altec held up a hand for me to stop. “Please, Tom! You need to calm down a little bit! I can only eat so quickly!”
“I don’t have time to wait for you to finish your shrimp! The warden knows I’ve escaped, and he’ll have the guards searching every single building within ten miles of the prison!”
Mr. Altec sighed before putting the shrimp down. He leaned in close to me and said, “Believe me, Tom, the warden and his guards are the least of your problems right now.” He tilted his head off towards the side. “You see that couple over there in the corner?”
Slowly, I turned my head in the direction Mr. Altec had indicated. Sure enough, off in the corner of the restaurant, seated in a cozy little booth was a younger couple. I couldn’t make out the man’s face because his back was turned, but the woman was easy to spot. She had short blond hair and bright blue eyes, with a business casual dress on. She was beautiful in a way, but there was something… off about her.
“Yes, I can see them,” said to Mr. Altec.
He went back to his shrimp and in a casual tone said to me, “And those four men behind me, three tables back.”
I glanced over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of them. They were big, burly men with dark hair and dark eyes; and unlike the others around them, they weren’t engaged in an obnoxiously loud conversation. Like the woman, there was something odd about these men as well.
“Who are they?” I asked Mr. Altec.
“The couple in the corner is actually a pair of FBI agents. Those kindly gentlemen behind me happen to be members of a detective agency in New York City. And they’re all here, for you.”
My mouth dropped open, and my breath caught in my throat. I should have known better than to trust this man, I thought to myself.
“Now don’t go assuming that I had anything to do with this however,” Mr. Altec continued.
“Wait… what?” I asked him in astonishment. “You mean you’re not here to turn me in or anything?”
“On the contrary. I’m here to help you prove your innocence.”
I eyed the middle-aged man carefully. I couldn’t tell if the man was bluffing or not though, so I asked, “Well, could you tell me how you plan on doing that?”
Mr. Altec took a quick glance around the room before leaning in closer to me. “We’re running out of time, so I can’t explain too much here. All I can tell you is that you can’t trust anyone – not right now at least. But this goes far deeper than a simple murder.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked around the room again before saying, “I have to go now.” He stood up to leave, but I grabbed him by the wrist. The men glanced up from their table behind us.
“You can’t leave yet!” I said to him. “You didn’t tell me anything!”
In one swift motion, Mr. Altec slipped a folded up piece of paper into my hand.
“Head to the address on that note as soon as you leave here,” he whispered to me. “And remember, trust no one.”
“But-” I began, but Mr. Altec slipped out of my grasp before I could finish.
He quietly strode through the crowd before slipping out the door into the night.
I glanced down at the note in my hand and began to unfold it, until I noticed movement a few tables ahead of me. I looked up to see that three of the men at the table had stood up, and they were making their way towards me. I quickly glanced around and saw that the couple from earlier was leaving their booth, and the woman was staring directly at me.
Slowly, I rose up out of my seat and began to make my way towards the doors. When I was about halfway there, however, they burst open, and six guards from the prison came barging in. One of them – the leader by the looks of it – vigilantly glanced around the restaurant. Our eyes met, and he pointed at me, shouting, “There he is! That’s the prisoner who escaped earlier today!”
One of the guards pulled out a pistol. Behind me a woman screamed, and before I knew it, all hell broke loose.