Sean still hadn’t arrived when Aubrey arrived at the restaurant so she decided to have a drink before he did and stood at the dark wooden bar to wait, refusing a seat from a man who looked interested in more than altruistic chivalry. Even after a long day and a hike from the parking garage in what felt every bit like four-inch heels, her feet didn’t bother her enough to barter a chair for a conversation and she couldn’t remember the last time that had seemed like an equitable exchange. College maybe.
“Here you are. MacAllen 12, one ice cube. Anything else I can get you?”
“This is it. Thanks. The change is yours.” She handed him a twenty and turned away. Another twenty would come close to buying a whole bottle, but it would have been sacrilege to pay less for it in a place filled with so many bankers and brokers, many of whom had been or would be clients of Conservators. The high cost of the drink was homage to the excess that fueled the company she still thought of as Conner’s, though no one else did. With her back to the bar, she waited for Sean and watched. The corporate warriors, well dressed flesh hunters and frantic thumb-typists were packed into the narrow restaurant along with the tourist who came here to see if fish stew tasted any different in a restaurant that had been working on the recipe for a hundred and fifty years. Aubrey tried to enjoy the human theatre of the moment but by design, she hadn’t left any room in her days for mental drift, and was out of practice. She had more success and more practice enjoying the scotch.
The small remains of the ice cube had just begun rattling against an emptying glass when she heard her name from deeper within the restaurant. There was so much competing chatter she thought she might have missed Sean, but a man whose name she couldn’t remember was walking towards her, a drink of his own in his hand. She did remember the twenty five million dollar sale price of the painting Conservator delivered to a private collector in The Hague for him. She racked her brain for a name and readied herself to play the role still on her Conservator Transit business card, Client Liaison.
“Spent all the DeKooning money yet?”
The man laughed and shook his head. As he gave her a sweeping and unapologetic appraisal, she remembered the name that belonged to the shipment.
“How are you, Neil?”
“I am very good, Aubrey. You are stunning, as always,” he said as he kissed her cheek. From their first meeting, Neil Abbot made her think of Louis Carol or at least his Cheshire cat, though she could definitely see the two men shared the same predilection for the too young.
“Ask any woman, it’s all smoke and mirrors.”
“I doubt that. Are you here for business or pleasure?”
“Meeting my brother-in-law for dinner. Are you meeting your wife?”
Knowing the answer she suppressed a grin as she asked. If he were going to meet his wife, it would be a double date, because Neil Abbot and his wife shared a loose interpretation of monogamy.
“I am here taking a break from the ugly business of the bar. You should join me until responsibility catches up with us.” He said as he rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. It briefly occurred to her to simply decline, but he didn’t have the nature or the blood alcohol level of a man who would take it with grace.
“Neil you are such a gentleman, but honestly, after a few drinks with you, family night would be a chore. I will make you take me to lunch when you can free up a little time, because there’s a gallery I want you to see. We could grab a bite and shoot over there before you’d be missed.” The only reason she offered was to allow him to keep his ego intact, but she decided to call one of the gallery owners she knew to arrange something in case her offer was more of a temptation than she anticipated it being.
It also occurred to her that Neil might provide a solution to the Italian problem, if she could stomach its execution. There were a few dealers with connections in Italy who might be grateful for access to his cavernous wallet, but the one with the best contacts was Dena Sanders, an unlikable woman.
“I’ll see what I can do. I’m in court most of the week, but we need to catch up. I’m sorry, about the verdict. They should have given the son-of-a-bitch the chair. ”
She gave his hand a slight squeeze and thanked him.
At first she’d consoled the sympathetic who came to her after Conner’s death, but eventually her own outrage was all she could feel She no longer cared how other people felt about her husband’s death and she wasn’t going to resurrect the crippling hatred she’d nursed for the drunk who’d killed him by discussing the sentence either. She paused long enough for the silence between them to end the subject, then pulled her hand from his to dig into her bag for a card.
She gave him a playful tug on his sleeve as she said,
“Now, take this, and give me a call when you’re ready to spend large amounts of your money on beautiful things.”
“How about I start with spending a small amount of money on one beautiful thing. Let me buy you another drink.”
She breathed out a soft laugh as she shook her glass at him.
“One of these on an empty stomach is more than enough. I’m driving.”
“The hot rod?”
One thing more entertaining than a woman who wasn’t making it easy was a fast car, and the right fast car could be more entertaining than a woman who was. Conner spent two years rebuilding the junked 1967 427 AC Cobra, a gift from his father on his sixteenth birthday. Driving it was a heady flight just above the surface of the earth,
“No” She smiled. “I almost never drive it into the city. The valets can’t resist a joy ride and it’s not the kind of car you want to leave in a parking garage”
Neil leaned in close enough for her to smell the juniper in the gin on his breath.
“You’ve got to be something to see in that hot little ride with the top off.”
She probably was, but a woman doesn’t say that to a man she’s holding at arms length unless she wants the distance to be closed. She didn’t and ignored the entendre entirely.
“It is a nice car, but the thing stays in the garage most of the time. My two very large dogs tend not to fit into the very small car.”
She was reaching into her arsenal of subject matter for a change in conversational direction when Sean slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him for a kiss on the nape of her neck.
“They tend not to fit in the mom mobile either. Hello, darling. You’ve started a party without me and should be spanked.”
“Undoubtedly. Sean, this is Neil Abbot. We moved a painting for him a few months ago and I’m going to see to it that he spend some more money in the very near future. Neil, this is Sean Hale, my brother-in-law.” She looked up at Sean, amused by his feigned possessiveness.
The two men shook hands and exchanged professionally polite greetings before Neil turned back to her.
“ I’ll leave you to your evening. Let’s see if we can’t work something out for next week.”
“Absolutely. It was good to see you, Neil.”
Aubrey watched him walk away for a moment, and turned to Sean with an eyebrow raised.