The Terrorist’s Game
“I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.”
Michael drove Cameron and Talia to dinner. It was quiet in the Escalade, which was white, not pink, on the way through Chinatown with its popular shops and restaurants to Mulberry Street and the neighborhood of Little Italy. It was a lovely fall evening in lower Manhattan, and it was all but empty save for the locals with the street merchants looking rather bored as they hoped for customers. Summer was the big time for tourists to frequent the area in the evening and spend thousands of disposable dollars on purses, sunglasses and jewelry. Since it wasn’t a weekend, the tourists were nowhere to be found, and the workers of South Manhattan had gone to their homes in the suburbs for the night. Since the epidemic, the area had been patronized far less at any time, but weeknights were Talia’s favorite time to go out to eat at a local international neighborhood restaurant.
Michael pulled to the corner of Hester and Mulberry Streets and asked when to come back. Talia instructed him to wait for her call. Cameron noted that the building where the restaurant was located was pink. It was a deep bricky rose, but still rather pink.
“Nice touch,” he thought. “I wonder why she chose this place?”
Cameron stepped out of the Escalade and held out his hand to help Talia out of the vehicle, which she ignored. They made their way to the front of the establishment and were met by a little old lady wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a skirt instead of slacks. All she needed was a habit and she would have passed for a Roman Catholic Sister.
“Good evening, dear,” the lady said. “It’s so good to see you. Sebastian will be so sorry he missed you.”
“I’ll call him soon,” Talia replied.
“He’ll like that,” she said. “Two for dinner? Would you like your usual table?”
“I would,” Talia said, smiling at the woman. “Thank you so much, Bitsie.”
Cameron suddenly felt intimidated. She had brought him to the heart of Little Italy to a restaurant where she knew the staff, or maybe the owner. She knew them by name, and it was apparent that they had a social history. She made sure to have their evening on her turf. It was a power play, and he didn’t know quite how to react. He decided to play it cool, and see if any Mafiosos came by.
They followed the elderly Italian woman to a table not far from the center entrance point to the restaurant, but outside along the street with a view of a cartoon mural by Ron English. The building, a brick store front from another era had been meticulously maintained and had floor to ceiling windows along its front that opened up completely, allowing the dining room to spill out into the street. It was a common factor of most restaurants in Little Italy, and it was part of what made it so special to all of the tourists and locals alike who wished to get out and feel like they’d gotten away from their own world for a little while. Little Italy was also famous for its delicious, authentic Italian food and delicious Gelato for dessert.
They sat at their table while Bitsie pulled a lighter from her skirt pocket and lit the candle in a hurricane glass in the center of the table with it. There was a checkered tablecloth and sets of silverware wrapped in delicate linen napkins to complete the atmosphere. Bitsie left them each a menu and said that she would be back in a few minutes to take their orders.
“Very nice,” Cameron said as he perused the menu. “Is she going to take drink orders?”
“I always get the Cabernet Sauvignon,” Talia replied. “Bitsie knows my taste.”
“What if I want a beer?” he asked.
“You’re in my town now,” she said. “Unless you want a Budweiser, just have the wine. It goes great with Italian food.”
He felt a little condescension in the air. He didn’t like to be talked down to. He also had never been to New York’s Little Italy, although he had seen pictures. He couldn’t decide whether he should attempt to exert his individuality or play along because he was out of his element. He wanted to do the right thing to impress her and get her to allow him to get to know her.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “You’re quiet. I don’t know you well, but it doesn’t seem like your normal.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I was lost in thought. Wine sounds fine. Now, what should I order? You know the restaurant, and the owners?”
She wasn’t sure how to read his behavior, and she wasn’t sure that she should tell him anything about her or her friends and family. She wanted to believe that he was just a geek who wanted to get out of his lab. She had trouble with trust, which was something that she inherited from her mother, and later was reinforced by most of the world. She would have to consider him carefully.
“I cannot tell a lie. I love the lasagna,” she said. “I also always start with the Bruschetta.”
“Ah, such good choices,” Bitsie said, as she and the waiter arrived with the wine. “Shall I make that two?”
“That sounds fabulous,” Cameron said.
The waiter poured the wine, Bitsie took the menus, and Talia took a sip and sat back to relax.
Cameron took a sip of his wine. It was sweet to him. He wasn’t much of a wine guy. He was a beer guy, and he loved to go tasting at all the microbreweries around Seattle. It was one of the thoughts that made him a slight bit homesick. He had actually hoped that he would have a chance to visit the Brooklyn Brewery while he was in town. Maybe tomorrow.
“You aren’t much for wine?” she asked, seeing the slight grimace on his face as he sipped his wine. “Uncle Sebby would be disappointed. That comes from his family’s vineyard.”
“Uncle Sebby?” he asked.
“Not really my uncle,” she explained. “He’s a dear old friend of my mother’s and a well known personality around here. Bitsie is his mother, and this is her restaurant. He went into other businesses, but she always carries her baby’s wines.”
" I see. It’s just different from what I normally drink,” he said. “No offense to Uncle Sebby or Bitsie. I’m here for the adventure. Why don’t you tell me all about you?”
“What’s to tell? I’m Clarissa Anderson’s daughter, so there’s no more to explain there. You’ve seen what I do for a living, almost first hand, at the party you crashed last night. That was clever, by the way. I’m still catching hell for that. What else? You’ve been to my house. This is one of my favorite spots and my family is friends with the family who owns it. What more do you need to know?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’ve read your books. Your theories are amazing. Your knowledge vast. You’re infinitely worldly. I’ve spent most of my life in a lab. I’m in awe of you. I’m just learning a little bit about life, and it seems like you know everything there is to know about the world. I’m jealous and intrigued.”
She had been smiling but her smile faded. All she could think about was Dmitri and Anya. She had been perfectly happy to be with her family in Russia. Her husband had taught her about terrorism and security systems. It was his business at that time, not hers. She supposed she should be thankful to him for providing her with the knowledge for a career before he died. She wished she had not had to learn anything about the real world and been able to stay in her bubble in Moscow.
“I used to be more sheltered than you probably ever were,” she said. “Sometimes I miss it. It was comfortable and normal.”
Cameron saw the look of longing in her eyes. He wondered what it was all about. “I’m sorry. You seem to thrive on your work. I mean, your writing on terrorism is incredible. I’ve read all of your books. Your theories are amazing. Your security systems are second to none. Sorry I caused you some grief by breaching one of your happenings. You’ve been at the U.N. for years. You are famous among diplomats and dignitaries and popular with your clients.”
“Don’t worry about Taheem. He’ll live. You’ve read my books? I didn’t think that a guy like you would be interested in that stuff,” she said. “They’re designed for a narrow audience of scholars in the field and actually quite boring. I prefer a good Tom Clancy novel. How did you get in that party, by the way?”
“I’m interested in more than computers,” he said. “I’m good at the computer programming game, that’s all. I have other interests like keeping a few secrets from a lady to keep her interest during the evening. But, in reality, I’d rather learn something than spend my time on flights of fancy. I sense that you are the same, since you can’t leave work alone for one evening. Where did you learn to theorize about terrorism? Your analysis is unique and logical.”
There was a lingering uneasy silence as they ate their Bruschetta. She took some time to collect her thoughts. She felt the urge to talk about herself, but she didn’t want to say too much, since she still distrusted him. She wanted to know how he got into that party. She had kept her personal life a secret for years for distinct reasons. She certainly didn’t want the world at large to know about her marriage and daughter. The press would turn all of their lives into a media circus, especially with her father in law currently running for the office of the President of Russia. Whether she wanted to believe that Cameron was a nice guy or not, he had come into her life on a challenge from the editor of a tabloid site, while committing minor crimes and invading the lives of several important diplomats. That was a cold hard fact.
Cameron watched her as he ate his Bruschetta. He wanted to start a conversation, but he was uncertain about what he could and couldn’t say. He felt that everything he said to her came out wrong and that there was no way for him to come out looking good. He didn’t want her to find out how he got into the party, because he felt that it was a hinge on what was keeping her at the table. He really had just walked in from the beach while no one was looking. He didn’t want her to know, that was all. Talia really did come off as an ice goddess most of the time. He needed to play his cards carefully, or he would find himself ousted from her world. Then he would be back to square one in the transformation that he was trying to make in his life.
He finished his Bruschetta and considered his next move. After ten minutes, he decided that he may as well go for the gusto and ask the question that he most wanted to know the answer to. “So, where does a girl like you learn all of that terrorism stuff?”
Talia nearly choked on her Bruschetta. She studied his face for a moment before she replied. “What do you mean, where do I learn it? I majored in international studies, anthropology, and social sciences in college. I minored in languages and concentrated in military history of the world. You could have read my credentials off of one of my book flaps.”
“Of course I read your flaps. You seem as though you have a deep understanding of the subject matter that no one else has,” he said. “Your analysis doesn’t seem second hand, as though from a textbook. It reads as though you’ve lived it. Where does that mystical understanding come from?”
“I’ve been around, that’s all,” she replied abruptly. “I operate in circles where you can’t help but learn things. Look, I don’t want to talk about me. I’m not that interesting. I’m a sponge and absorb what all the diplomats around me talk about. How about you. What makes a computer geek decide to turn paparazzi?”
It was going to be more difficult than Cameron thought to get acquainted with Talia Anderson.
“What is she hiding?” he wondered.