Miracles and Madness
Zachary sipped his espresso, set it back down on the table and leaned back in his chair at a table near the front window of the Daily Grind.
“Jade!” the barista shouted. “Skinny chai latte.”
A woman wearing grey slacks, a lilac blouse and black ankle boots raised her hand. “That’s mine.” She took the tall coffee cup from the barista and walked toward the door.
“See? I told you that you’d be getting coffee,” Zachary noted as she passed him.
“Excuse me?” Jade stopped and looked at the man dressed in a black suit and a black shirt.
“We spoke on the phone yesterday. I asked if you would like to have coffee. You said you don’t go out of your way to meet strange men.”
“Are you stalking me?”
“No, my dear. Of all the coffee shops in Charlotte, I had no idea which one you would choose. But I consider it serendipitous to find you here, anyway.”
“I consider it creepy.”
“Still, would you join me? I mean, you’re here.”
“I do have some time to kill before an interview.” She let out a sigh. “Okay, but if I detect the slightest bit of serial killer...”
“I understand. You’re wise to be so cautious. These are violent times.”
Jade’s instinct was to drop the coffee and sprint out the door but something prevented her. Something hidden.
Did he hypnotize me somehow? Or maybe there’s some kind of polar shift, perhaps, creating a weird magnetism? I’m reaching, but this is not like me.
Jade sat down in the chair across from Zachary, facing the window, keeping her eye on the door in case she needed to make a run for it.
“So, Miss Thorneheart,” he said, lifting his right leg and resting his foot on his left knee, “what is it that you do?”
“Politics,” Jade replied. “I was assistant campaign manager for Cassandra Banks. She was running for mayor. She lost.”
“I’m sorry. So, now…” Zachary squinted his eyes just a little as he stared into her eyes.
“Now, I’m considering my options.”
“And what options are those?”
“To find another job or be unemployed.” She took a large drink from her mug of cappuccino. She made no effort to avoid getting a foam moustache. After putting the mug back down on the table, she picked up her cloth napkin and wiped the frothy steamed milk from her top lip.
“Is that why you have an interview? A job?”
“Yes. Charlotte Political Research Firm.”
“Sounds promising. How did you and Stewart meet?”
“College. University of Charlotte. He was writing a paper for the school newspaper about an economic summit I had organized. He was still a bit green around the gills. I was a political science major. He was a communications major. I could tell that political news was not his forte. In fact, it was after that interview that he switched from Campus News to Arts and Entertainment.”
“Ah, yes. Film critic.”
“You’ve done your research. Are you sure you’re not stalking me? You know, you get me here, and you ask me all these questions, but you’re not telling anything about you.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a bit of a world traveler.”
“That doesn’t sound cheesy at all. Next you’re going to tell me you’re an importer/exporter and your name is Art Vandelay.”
“No. You might say I’m… independently wealthy.”
“Where did you get the wealth from? A dot-com? Lottery?”
“Just... well-timed investments.”
“Ah. Insider trading.”
“Oh, no, no,” Zachary chuckled.
“Are you psychic?”
“You don’t know?” Jade chided.
“You don’t know.”
“I don’t know? What are you talking about?” Jade scrunched up her face and then sensed Zachary staring at her. She averted her eyes and began gazing at what was left of the foam in her cappuccino, swirling around her half-empty coffee mug.
“You miss him. Don’t you?” Zachary commented.
“What? No. I could care less if he were alive or dead.”
“It’s ‘I could not care less.’ If you could care less, that means you do care a little. And I don’t believe you anyway.”
“He broke up with me. I will never forgive him for that.”
“Indifference and resentment are conflicting emotions, Miss Thorneheart.”
“What do you care?”
“Do you ever feel like getting even?”
“Vengeance is a nasty business.”
“That it is, but you didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes. I’ve felt like getting even. Plenty of times over the past month, but I’m not going to key his car.”
“Did he leave you for someone else?”
“Someone named Alex. I don’t know her, but I hate her nonetheless. Red-headed tramp.”
“I don’t know her last name. Why?”
“Well, I read in the newspaper that she went missing. And her grandmother’s been killed.”
“She’s missing? Wait. Why are you telling me this? You’re not just some random person who found a cell phone. Are you?”
“You are more observant than I guessed you would be. Can I share a secret with you, Miss Thorneheart?”
“I’m not sure I want to know any secrets you would want to share.”
“Are you attracted to power or prestige?”
“Based on the way you carry yourself and your career choice, I’ve deduced that you’re attracted to either power or prestige. You want to be in control or in a position of influence. Which is it?”
“I can’t just want to help peop—“
“Power… Miss Thorneheart… or prestige?”
“Why does it matter? You’re beginning to freak me out.“
“Because I can offer you both.”
“Offer me? You’re going to offer me power and prestige? How is that, exactly?”
“I’ve lived a very long time. I’ve traveled the entire world. I’ve seen everything there is to see.”
“You can’t be old enough to have seen everything.”
“I am. And I have. I can do things. Amazing things. Miracles, you might say.”
“Miracles? What, like water into wine?”
“Please… something more original than that.”
Zachary held up his hands, turning them around to show Jade he had nothing hidden in them. He closed his hands together, forming a space the size of an apple. “Put your hands around mine.” Jade hesitantly placed one hand underneath and the other over his. “I’m going to open up my fingers just enough for you to see that there’s still nothing in there.”
“Okay.” She peeked between two of his fingers and, with the light creeping in around fingers on the other side of the sphere of flesh and bone, could see that the space was empty. “It’s empty.”
“Do you like baseball?”
“Not really. My dad took me to—“
“It doesn’t matter. It will suffice for now. Look into the space again, just to be sure.”
Jade looked down at their hands and, though she knew there would be nothing, she could already feel that there was firmness beneath Zachary’s hands that wasn’t there before. Zachary’s fingers spread, as did Jade’s eyelids. Where there was only empty space before, there was a dirty, scuffed baseball. The red laces of the seams were stained brown and were starting to unravel in places, allowing the dry cowhide to curl up. The sandlot ball had seen many games, but none such as the one Zachary was playing.
“How’d you do that?”
“I assure you. It was no illusion. The baseball dematerialized from a nearby playground, where it was forgotten, and rematerialized in my hand. It’s real magic.”
“You’re full of crap.”
“Would you like me to make one appear in your hand? While it’s open?”
“No. What else can you do?”
“Well… I can’t die and I can make myself nearly invisible.”
“How many others like you are there?”
“Oh, there’s none like me. But immortals who can do magic? I don’t know. No one’s ever gathered us all in one place and there’s no duty roster or anything.”
“None like you,” she scoffed. “What makes you so special?”
“Come closer and I’ll tell you.”
Jade scooted her chair over so that she was sitting just inches away from Zachary.
She leaned closer and tilted her head. Without a moment’s notice, everything that was Zachary was gone and in its place was a flurry of black, feathery madness. As the dark, flapping and cawing chaos quickly dissipated, Jade was enveloped by a calm awareness that she was on the verge of something much bigger than any mayoral election campaign. A card dropped in her lap.
I’m going on a trip to Baltimore. If you want to come, meet me with your car at Mangione’s on East Blvd. 7:00 tonight.
“Zachary? Where do I recognize that name from? And why did it just now dawn on me that he never told me his name?
She pulled out her phone and dialed a number. “Gerald. It’s Jade. I’m going to have to cancel for tonight. I’m sorry. My father’s in the hospital. Thank you. No. I’ll call you. Okay. Alright. Bye.”
She hung up and immediately dialed a different number.
“Nguyen. I won’t be home tonight. No, not Gerald. I might not be home tomorrow, either. What time do you get off? Okay. I’ll fill you in when you get home. I’ve got to pack. I will you tell you later. Okay, Nosey? Bye.”
“I must be insane,” Jade said to herself as she sat in her car in the Mangione’s parking lot. “What if he turns out to be like Ted Bundy? Charismatic, charming… and psychotic.” She flipped open her cellphone and dialed.
“Come on, answer. Nguyen. I’m going in. I know. Listen. If you don’t hear from me by midnight, you can start to worry. Okay? My license plate number is 1KI-2123. You know… just in case. Bye.” She shut her phone and put it back in her purse, breathed deeply and opened the car door.
As she walked toward the entrance, a million thoughts raced through her head. Please let there not be a pile of dead bodies somewhere that this guy is responsible for. Please leave me a way out if I get into trouble. And please… let this not be the worst mistake of my life.
She followed the host to the table where Zachary sat waiting, expecting her stomach to be tied in a knot no one could untie. As she arrived and the host pulled out her chair for her to sit, she found herself surprisingly calm.
“I almost didn’t come,” she said as she sat down and pulled her chair closer to the table.
“I’d be worried about you if you didn’t have second thoughts. What made you decide to show?”
“Somehow… I got the feeling that if I didn’t, I’d be missing an experience not many people get to have.”
“Well, you are right about that,” Zachary said, smiling as he slowly took a sip of red wine.
“I haven’t been here since I got the job on the mayoral campaign. It’s one of my favorites,” Jade said, looking at the menu. “You know, if you aren’t psychic, you’re an excellent guesser. You got a great table, too.”
“I’ve been told I can be very persuasive.”
"Wait a second. Zachary. I know where I've heard that name before. Zachary Dee... DiCarlo. No?"
"Almost. Di Corvo. But keep your voice down."
"Zachary Di Corvo," Jade whispered. "Holy crap."
"I know what you're thinking. I can assure you that there is more going here than what most people know. You're seeking revenge against one person because he ended his relationship with you. I'm seeking revenge against him along with his whole group."
"It's very complicated. The original incident was so long ago. Things got blown out of proportion. I never said I wanted to live forever. And it's the Circle's fault. It took me centuries to come to terms with my condition. But I will never forgive them."
"Wow. On the surface, you said a lot of words, but it's still, overall, kind of vague. But I won't pry anymore right now."
"I so appreciate it."
“So, what’s in Baltimore?”
“Tradition. I visit someone on their birthday every year. This year, I plan on making it extra special.”
“Okay. How long have you been doing that?”
“About sixty years.”
“Really? Are they immortal, too?”
“Yes, although, in a different way. He’s a bit famous, but very much dead.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Don’t be silly. How could you have known?”
“Is it anyone I might have heard of?”
“Oh, absolutely, but you’re going to have to wait to find out. You’ll learn, over time, that I have an almost insatiable need to be dramatic and I simply love issuing surprises.”
“I’m going to like this surprise, though. Right?”
“I hope so,” Zachary said with a wink.