Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 176

James spent some time answering my questions about how his business got started, but I couldn’t say I was really satisfied with the answers, despite being more than satisfied with him. Most people would have been bragging about such success, but James was perfectly humble, acting is if being in charge of the business was just his own good fortune rather than the reason for the business’ success.

When he seemed to lose steam on the subject, I commented “I really find the idea of your business fascinating. I wouldn’t have guessed such a business could sprout up out of nowhere and get success so quickly.”

“I never thought my business would prosper quickly either, but I do enjoy helping old friends and meeting new ones. Plus, I get the diversity in work that I craved.” he replied with a shrug.

I found myself smiling as I said, “You’re just so charming, James. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to see you again after meeting you?”

“Thank you, but I’m really just another guy who’s had good fortune of late.” he insisted.

“Is meeting me part of that fortune?” I teased.

He paused long enough to stare at me for a second before saying, “I assure you that this is far from my worst date.

I realized I had started pursing my lips and quickly stopped. I didn’t want to make him nervous, even if he wasn’t as complementary as I had hoped. Neither was Camila if I were to be honest, so James might well be the perfect impersonation of a best friend.

“Do you ever worry about needing bodyguards?” I teased. “Given how much you and some of your clients are worth, someone might attempt a kidnapping eventually.”

Well, I was partially teasing. Kidnapping James was tempting, very tempting. I’d much prefer him to come willingly, but I could take him. At least, I could take him if Lady Pendreigh weren’t around. She was far too dangerous to face head-to-head. Though she couldn’t do any lasting injury to me, I was certain she’d destroy my machine and physically restrain me before I could react. I needed time to plan.

James had shrugged nervously and now said, “I never really considered it. I do provide my employees with defensive training, having had a considerable amount myself. Besides, a decent kidnapper would probably plan for bodyguards if I was seen with some regularly.”

I smiled and told him “Then the decent kidnapper would attempt to plan for a competent combatant, which is more difficult without knowing what sort of training regimen you use. Would you protect me if someone attempted to kidnap us today?”

“Of course.” he replied with a nod. “I can’t standby as someone hurts my client, after all.”

“Don’t you mean your date?” I pouted, teasing him.

“Yes, of course. My apologies. Why the sudden interest in kidnapping?” he asked.

“Sorry.” I laughed. “I suppose that might seem strange to you. I heard mention that the crime rate in this city was considerably high, so I was reading about recent events.”

“Oh? I didn’t realize the crime rate was that high.” he admitted.

I shook my head slightly as I said, “Oh come now. You were recently quoted in an article for having been at some sort of robbery.”

He didn’t respond, looking thoughtful.

“Apparently, you witnessed some man in a giant robot crashing through a wall.” I prodded, hoping he’d at least tell the story. What did he think of my alter ego?

“Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was a man, but there was some sort of mechanized suit. What sort of person would blow up a wall without knowing who was on the other side? If I had been just a little farther ahead, I would have surely died.” he insisted.

“I’m actually somewhat familiar with a few ways the alleged criminal might have checked for people through the wall. That must have still been quite the ordeal for you.” I admitted. Why was he complaining when he was perfectly fine?

“Yes. It really was. Would you believe some sort of caped crusader attacked the criminal?” he asked.

“Several witnesses claimed as much, but I can’t see how anyone would’ve survived being hit by a machine that can easily break through brick walls. The journalist who wrote the article didn’t seem to buy that either.” I informed him.

James smiled slightly as he said, “Having been there, I can confirm it. I was certain the hero was dead when she was hit, but she kept fighting till the criminal flew off.”

I needed to clarify things with him, so I said, “I’m not even certain the one in the suit should be called a criminal. According to my sources, the man stole weapon plans before they could be sold on the black market. Isn’t someone who risks arrest for the greater good supposed to be a hero?”

James seemed surprised by the notion. “So the police know what was stolen? I hadn’t heard of this.” he admitted.

I shouldn’t have mentioned that to him. This was bad. I couldn’t afford to be so smitten with anyone to risk telling too much, yet I wanted him to believe in me. I considered a few different ways I might turn things about before saying, “I didn’t get that information from any official source, but I am well connected.”

James rubbed his chin as he said, “Oh, so you don’t know if that criminal might be using the supposed weapon plans for something even more nefarious.”

Criminal. The term was beneath me. I was far more than some mere criminal. I was fighting to save the world from threats most people couldn’t even imagine. I wanted to tell him everything and make him understand, but I needed to be careful. James seemed too set in his belief that Marvelous Max was the bad guy here.

“I was just meaning we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the man’s motives. He could be fighting a battle most people know nothing about.” I informed him.

He seemed to consider my words before saying, “While we’re not making assumptions, we shouldn’t be set on the person’s gender either. There’s no telling who is behind a destructive machine. Maybe aliens even.”

I laughed and said, “Aliens, James? Really? I suppose that technology does seem pretty impressive, but I’d believe in this restaurant’s alien origin first, considering it is the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.”

He seemed more relaxed for a moment, but jumped when our hostess returned to retrieve the dishes.

“I hope you’re ready for dessert!” she exclaimed. “You two are going to love this.”

“Evanna, how do you feel about the idea of this place being created by aliens?” asked James.

Shrugging, she said, “I wouldn’t rule it out. The universe is a big place. You wouldn’t believe my delivery range if I told you.”

She was obviously teasing, barely containing a smile. She failed entirely when James laughed.

“Man, I was doing good up until you laughed.” she claimed.

James looked at me for a moment being turning back to Evanna and asking “So what’s for dessert?”

Evanna lifted tall domes to reveal crystal goblets filled with sparkling gems of various colors. “Enjoy!” she exclaimed before pushing away the cart she had filled with our used dishware.

“So what is it?” I asked, pretending not to know.

“Well, I have no idea to be honest. There are these goblets with tall spoons to the right. The goblets and spoons appear to be made of some sort of crystal while the contents looks to be multi-hued, tiny gems.” he replied.

I grinned as he spoke, allowing my excitement to show. I didn’t even wait for him to finish speaking, so long had I gone without these exquisite delights. Catching how James watched me, I explained “I’ve heard of this, though the restaurant doesn’t give it a name. If heaven were a taste, this would be it.”

James seemed lost in the taste the moment he tried the dessert. I felt the same. My senses seemed incredibly sharp as ecstasy suffused me. I could hear the conversations throughout the enormous room with ease. The feeling of the light breeze piercing my clothing to tickle my skin was intense enough to make me shiver but pleasant enough to make me sigh in comfort. My clothes themselves seemed both softer and rougher at different parts. I was so aware of everything, and then the dessert was gone, leaving my senses to return to normal. Was the experience as delightful for James as it was for me?

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 175

“I’m really glad you agreed to participate in my charity auction, James. We’re going to help so many children this way. I actually had a hand in the new hospital’s design, though Lady Pendreigh used her sway over the Pendreigh Group to make a few alterations. They were improvements in a way to be perfectly honest, but I don’t really care for Lady Pendreigh at all. She’s so… stuffy.” I explained.

“What sort of improvements?” he asked, finally taking the bait on a line of conversation.

How deep did Lady Pendreigh have her hooks in him? I wanted to save him from her.

“For example, I had a grand entryway designed which I felt would lift people’s spirits as they entered. Hospitals are so dreary. I failed to consider how some of the sculptures would affect traffic flow, and Lady Pendreigh added a sterilization system to the fountain that will work with the ventilation to clean the air while spreading an airborne sanitizer. For all her stuffiness, she really is brilliant. The design was very elegant.” I admitted.

If he was particularly invested in her, I couldn’t speak too negatively of her without putting him on guard. I found myself wondering if ever I had wanted someone to join my cause so much before.

“I can’t say I’ve actually seen any of her designs myself. She’s always working, and I hate to bother her.” he replied.

I shrugged and said, “Oh, I’m not surprised. She had her fingers in countless pies throughout Europe, and her influence here is growing rapidly. To be frank, I don’t feel spending time with her is safe.”

I carefully watched him to gauge his reaction. Hopefully, I hadn’t said too much.

“She’s not so bad.” he argued.

I resisted the urge to sigh and forced myself to laugh instead. “If you believe that, you really don’t know her well. What’s one good thing about her?’

He paused to think for a moment before saying, “Well, her desire to see things done right will help that hospital.”

Shaking my head I asserted “No-no. You can’t turn her obsessive need for control into a good thing. Can you think of any positive qualities she possesses?”

I watched him struggling to come up with something. A seed of doubt was successfully planted. Hopefully, the seed would flourish.

“Sorry, but your time’s up. We’ve arrived.” I informed him.

“How did you..?” he started to ask.

“The smell, James. This parking lot always smells fresher than most of the city.” I replied.

I wasn’t even lying. The change in smell was distinctive to this place, and I only looked to verify afterward.

James stepped out of the limo and offered his hand to me, so I accepted it and followed after him.

“Pardon my asking, but do you have partial vision?” he asked.

He was more observant than I had thought. I needed to be more careful.

“Oh, no. I’ve been completely blind since birth.” I explained. No one could know that I overcame my condition through technology of my own design. Not yet at least.

He seemed to accept my admission at face value, casually taking me into the restaurant. This part always baffled me. We stepped across the threshold, and I found myself in an impossible room. The inside was quite obviously larger than the outside and appeared to be constructed of smooth crystal of the highest clarity. Rugged patches of crystal stretched beneath us, never reaching the forested ground far below. The dimly lit forest was embraced between mountainous peaks to our right and a large moon off to the left. The moon was quite obviously not our own, making this structure and its environs seem to be on another world.

I changed the mode on my glasses to gather as much information as possible while we were here. If I could unravel the technology causing this illusion, I would easily be able to implement it for all manner of uses.

“How is it, James? What is the room like?” I asked, wanting to hear his take on it.

His voice was barely a whisper as he said, “The room is transparent, and we’re surrounded by a moonlit valley so beautiful that I lack words to describe it.”

Yes, this view was incredible, but I felt he could do better at describing it. Perhaps he wasn’t so observant after all. Before I could pursue the matter, a girl yelled to him.

“James! How’s it going?” as a curly-haired brunette with bright blue eyes.

She was shorter than me and quite pretty. Her curls seemed far less disorderly than mine, probably due to thinner hair. What was she to James if not an employee as her dress suggested?

“Evanna, right? I thought you were a driver.” he commented.

She rolled her eyes and said, “I am, but Carl insisted I fill in for a moment between shifts. Can’t argue with the boss. if you follow me, your table is just over here.” She showed us to a table before enthusiastically telling us “I’ll bring your food in just a sec!”

I reached for his hand purposely missing and feeling along the table before clutching it. “Details, James.” I told him. “I feel like there is a soft breeze in here.”

For just a moment, I thought he was put off by something, but then he said, “There is a great, crystal dome above us suspended by archways around the giant circle of a room. Each archway appears to be completely open, allowing the night air to reach us. The moon looks different to me somehow, as if it’s not our moon but that of another world. It’s absolutely enormous and tinged with blue. The forest beneath us is hard to make out, but it’s quite expansive, stretching into the distance.”

I squeezed his hand encouragingly and asked him to continue.

“I didn’t notice at first, but the crystal appears to be glowing faintly. Even looking away from the moon toward the mountains, I can make out the outline of the floating structure by the dim glow.” he explained. Then he paused for a moment, looking around before saying, “I… I have no idea where our server went from here. She seems to have vanished entirely.”

I knew he could be more observant. There were numerous times I had tried figuring out how the servers seemed to slip away, but I never was able to follow them. Something always pulled my attention away before they slipped out of the illusion. Magic might well be involved in this place, but Camila never could detect any. If there were spells in place, they were beyond her. I would suspect the Slayers, but they weren’t allowed in here for some reason. Perhaps the proprietor was a match for them. Carl was an enigma.

Smiling at James, I told him “I’m not surprised. I’m guessing some of the patrons here aren’t even real. I think this room utilizes some very advanced technology to create realistic screens on the walls. Then there must be some sort of environmental control for the temperature and breeze. You’d be amazed at some of the theories I’ve read.”

He seemed to be considering my words as he looked around, missing Evanna’s approach from behind him. I had heard her footsteps quite distinctly in this room.

“Sorry. I didn’t see you return.” stated James, having jumped when a bowl was set in front of him.

Laughing, she assured him “I’m the one that should be apologizing. I’m supposed to be making people feel comfortable. Playing host really isn’t my thing. Who wouldn’t get distracted in a room like this.”

“Evanna, is it? Do you happen to know how this illusion is created?” I asked.

Laughing again, she said, “Sorry, but I’m not allowed to discuss any of the inner workings, even with a friend of James. Please enjoy your meal.”

She knew!? I needed to put this restaurant under surveillance and have my men grab her from the parking lot the moment she got off. She should have known better than to flirt with my date.

A scent distracted me, and I exclaimed “Moqueca!” in delight.

“Pardon?” asked James.

“The dish, silly. I had this when I was in Brazil a few months back. You’re in for a treat if you’ve never tried it.” I assured him.

The host left us, and I began my normal routine of “finding” everything’s location as my niñera had showed me when I was young. I couldn’t leave James wondering again if I might not be blind. Once finished, I quickly took a bite. The taste was incredible, even better than I remembered. The secrets of this restaurant’s recipes would be worth a fortune by themselves.

“This is even better than I remembered. How do you like yours?” I asked.

“Oh. It’s great! I’ve never had anything quite like this, but the flavor really is wonderful.” he insisted.

“I’m glad you think so too. My chef can’t quite get the flavor right, so I told him to give up. I’d fire him, but he really does quite well on most things.” she explained.

James seemed to earnestly enjoy meal. Though he ate slowly, savoring each bite, a smile continually came to his lips. I enjoyed watching him far more than I would have thought possible and found myself wishing to keep him around constantly. Perhaps one day.