A to Z 2017: LIAISON

"Mr. Bryce?"

"Please, just Donovan." He extended his hand across the table to the clean cut gentleman who stood to greet him. The man was short and slightly stocky, but held himself well, dressed in a dark blue, three-piece suit. Donovan assumed he was of Italian descent. Or Sicilian. The chosen location was an obvious indicator, but the four other men standing in uniform behind his greeter — each in their own suit, albeit more casual — was even more so. Mafia outfits were alive and well, he knew better than most. "And none of that Don or Donnie bullshit, you understand? Not even my mother gets away with that crap."

There was a curt smile and nod delivered to him. "Of course, Mr... Of course, Donovan. It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Frederick Baldi, but I must insist that you address me as Mr. Baldi." Donovan wondered if the man was ever teased as a child. "As you can imagine, I'm not very accustomed to being so casual."

"I can imagine plenty." The two of them sat at opposite ends of the table, Donovan unbuttoning his own jacket. The bodyguards unwavering, hands clasped in front of them, staring straight ahead and avoiding any eye contact. As if he could pretend they weren't right there in the room with them. "I notice you seem to have the entire place on lock down." He gestured, indicating the completely vacant restaurant beside the current staff and themselves. "Gives an eerie feeling, Mr. Baldi."

"I prefer to conduct my business with the utmost privacy."

"I can respect that. Speaking of which..."

"I represent one Mr. Benedict Valentine. I assume you know who he is?"

"Everyone knows Benedict Valentine. At least anyone that hasn't been living under a rock for the past twenty or thirty years, and maybe even then." Not even a chuckle. Tough crowd.

"While that may be true, I'm lead to believe that you may be more familiar with the various nuances that go on behind the scenes of running such a large business operation. Things can get very complicated." He knew what Frederick was referencing, but let him continue. "You come highly recommended, Mr. Bryce." Back to formalities. "In fact, I understand that Mr. Valentine has reached out to you in the past?"

Donovan felt his muscles slowly begin to tense up, his hand wanting to move involuntarily to a hidden piece that hadn't been confiscated at the door when arriving. "That's right, some time ago. But..."

"But you refused." The man never took his beady eyes off of him.

"That's right." He tried calculating his odds of survival, but he kept starting over and reassessing, because it never came out in his favor. Maybe if he could keep Frederick talking he could buy some time to devise an exit strategy that didn't involve a body bag. "Unfortunately, Benedict..." He realized it wasn't the best time to stray from those formalities he detested. No reason to stir the pot even more. "Mr. Valentine and I couldn't see eye to eye on some of the more finer details of his request."

"The fact that the target in question was a woman, you mean?" He knew Frederick knew that that was exactly what he meant. Just keep on talking you little weaselly, turtle-necked fuck. Donovan didn't even know what the insult meant, but he was satisfied with it. The way the man spoke in monotone, face expressionless, was getting to him. If he wasn't getting out of here alive, he determined that if nothing else, Frederick wouldn't be either.

"That's right. Something about trying to honor some semblance of morals in my line of work." He continued assessing. Four plus Turtle Neck. Possibly more in the kitchen, definitely more out front. That wasn't including any of the staff present that were loyal to Valentine. He guessed most were. "It may sound silly to most, but I'm not most, so I had to turn him down."

"And he forgives you." Donovan wasn't sure what to say, seized by feelings of immense relief and intense rage. He forgives me? "But, he does hope you will reconsider your 'silly' morals for the right price. A very sensitive matter has arisen and Mr. Valentine is once again requesting your services." Frederick's eyes penetrated him. "A very rare opportunity. Mr. Valentine hates having to ask twice." Donovan was catching the drift. "But before we discuss details, you must try the tortellini, it's to die for. I'm sure you don't mind I ordered in advance for you."

Frederick Baldi clapped his hands together sharply and on cue the kitchen staff began serving his potential Last Supper.

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