Mr. Remington Scott awaited Gordon at the table. Wearing a gray suit and a platinum Rolex, he scanned the restaurant as if he owned it, smirking widely and without warrant. He anticipated Gordon’s arrival with poise and panache, folding the napkin on his lap and ordering a bottle of expensive South African white. The other customers snuck glances at him, wondering who he was.
Eventually the old lady at the neighboring table had to see what all the unspoken hullaballoo was about. She stole a glimpse over her shoulder, squinting for a better look. Mr. Scott, catching her eye, sent a suave little wink in her direction, and she melted faster than butter on toast. What a proper gentleman, she thought, returning to her wine with a grin. A handsome little thing.
Gordon came back from the bathroom, and Mr. Scott saw him immediately. In the moment that their gazes interlocked, Gordon was tempted to sprint out the door and into the countryside, far away from DiRossini’s Italian Bistro and Mr. Fletcher’s All-Purpose Convenience Store. The mob would never find him. He would work on a farm with cows and chickens, pulling minimum wage, eating lunch in the tall red silo of the barn. No cruel city corruption, only polite, hospitable country folk. Urban life would be a distant memory, one he could joke about with the farmer’s daughter.
The man beckoned him over, and with the open fields of the farm emblazoned in his mind, Gordon obeyed. Left, right, left, right, left, right…
Mr. Scott pushed Gordon’s chair out with his foot, and Gordon took hold of it and lowered himself into the seat. Mr. Scott watched with a smile, but something furious gleamed in his eye. “Gordon,” he said. “Gordon, Gordon, Gordon…”
Gordon concentrated on the man’s nose. “Mr. Scott–”
“This is a fantastic bottle.” He indicated the glass. “I poured you some. Why don’t you try it?”
“I know it’s not standard protocol to order South African in an Italian restaurant, particularly one as reputable as DiRossini’s, but… I saw it on the menu and I couldn’t resist.” Mr. Scott watched his guest. “You can have some, you know; it’s on me. I want you to spend your money where it’s worth spending.”
Gordon opened his mouth. “Well, speaking of which…”
“Speaking of what?”
“Right. Where is it?”
“I… I have most of it.” The hot spring in his stomach was bubbling. Geysers of pain and nausea were soon to follow.
Mr. Scott looked straight into his eyes. “Most of it?”
“Yes, I just need–”
“Wait, let me get this straight.” He sat back in his chair. “First I give you two weeks to find out where your boss is. Then I give you a month to get your act together and accumulate the fees, which, let me remind you, have been owed for almost a year.”
Gordon gulped down the bad taste. “I get that, sir, but you have to understand, I-I-I don’t know where Mr. Fletcher is. He never came back.”
“So he disappeared. Just like that.”
“Yes, and I never saw him again. He left me in charge of the store in his absence, and I’ve, I’ve been in charge ever since. I’ve tried calling him, calling his wife,” – Mr. Scott nodded along – “and they never responded, so I went to his house and he wasn’t there. I–I don’t know where he is.”
“Well, that’s a problem.”
Gordon was silent.
“But, there’s another problem, Gordon, which is that the last time I saw you, I asked you to have the money today. Right here at this table. And where is it? Oh, you don’t have it. Now that angers me, because the money you’re supposed to be delivering to me is not your money to keep.”
“But, but you’re right. Mr. Scott, it’s not my money, it’s Mr. Fletcher’s. I don’t own the store. I don’t have any money to pay you.”
Mr. Scott brought his hands together and pressed them against his mouth. He leaned forward. “Okay, Gordon, listen to me, and listen well, because I’m only gonna tell you this once. You’re gonna go to the bank tomorrow. You’re gonna withdraw all of the store’s funds. Every penny. And then, Gordon, if you value your life at all, you’re gonna find a way to make up the rest of your debt by the end of next week; otherwise you’d better start praying that God’ll come and destroy me himself, ‘cause that’s the only thing that’s gonna stop me from settling the score.”
The old lady behind them was speaking to the tall waiter. “I’ll get the spaghetti alla puttanesca, and make sure they don’t put on any spice. You hear that? No spice.”
“Spaghetti alla puttanesca,” Mr. Scott repeated, sliding his finger down the menu. “That does sound good. What do you think, Gordon?”
Gordon stared at his menu. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…
Another waiter approached. “Are we ready to order?”
“Yes, I believe we are,” said Mr. Scott. “I’m gonna go for the puttanesca, and we’ll get a, uh… chicken parmesan for this gentleman right here.”
At this, the old lady smiled and touched her lips with eyes as wide as moons. Something primal awakened within her. Her insides burned with a giddy sense of renewal, and she looked over her shoulder at the man who made her feel young again.