Few small towns offer much in the way of nightlife beyond the odd alcohol-fueled incident, and Patmos was certainly consistent with the norm. With the closure of the movie theater - a predictable casualty of the shift away from old-fashioned projectors - the only options were stargazing on Kiyama Hill and a little place called the Orientale. The Orientale was a bit of an institution, having sat on Icaria Street for decades without ever missing a day of service, offering a convenient dating location for those young couples who hadn't yet departed for other cities. The extravagant gilded decor and artfully dim lighting struck more sophisticated patrons as cheesy, but for people raised in a place otherwise dominated by fast food it was a welcome bit of class - one for which the owner charged a healthy premium.
The Orientale was Will's latest workplace, and the only one at which he'd maintained a position for more than a few consecutive weeks. It wasn't irresponsibility but Will’s demeanor that caused problems, particularly when he was absorbed by a new project. The owner found Will's unqualified exuberance charming enough to keep him on, and this was not a problem for Will. This was hardly a dream job, but it was a step up, and it gave him a captive audience.
When Will arrived at the restaurant shortly after 5:00, it was in the usual state for that time - a scattered handful of older patrons in the dining area and the usual cast of characters propping up the bar. The bartender, a short, rough-looking woman about Will's age, pointed at Will as he entered. "You're late. Again."
"Cut me some slack, Sadie," said Will. "The boss called me in an hour early, and I'm an hour early. Can't imagine why that's necessary, look at the place."
"It's going to be a big week. With all the important people in town, she figures there will be a lot more business." Sadie slid a notepad and pen across to Will. "So get to it, all right?"
Will snatched the notepad off the counter. "Hey, I'll do it, but that's crazy. These fancy types aren't coming here. They're gonna be in some pricey bistro on Amos Street, same as all the other people who are too good for this town."
"Maybe so, but we have seen more customers the last few days. Plus, what the boss says, goes. So get on it, all right?" Sadie pointed at a booth. "You've got a customer already."
"I'm on it," said Will, grabbing a menu.
Sadie took Will by the wrist. "Oh, and remember what we discussed yesterday. None of that doomsday talk, right?"
"All right, Sadie."
"Because we've been getting complaints."
"I'll be a good boy, I promise." Will pressed a finger to his lips. "Not a word."
"I'm not defending you next time," said Sadie. "You hear me, Will? This is it."
Will didn't acknowledge Sadie's threat, one that he'd heard on an almost daily basis since beginning his work. He was off to his customer, eager to keep up his one accolade as the quickest waiter in the business. She was in one of the corner booths, an isolated spot with an extra fixture providing just enough light for her to read. She flipped the pages with such speed that Will couldn't even catch the subject matter, but it obviously offered her no difficulty. Between the dim light and the book concealing her face he could scarcely make out her appearance, save an impressive cascade of shoulder-length black hair and delicate almond eyes.
"Good evening, I'm Will and I'll be taking care of you tonight." Will placed the menu next to her. "Would you like to start with a beverage?"
The woman barely glimpsed Will, not giving him even a spare moment of reading time. "Just water for now. I'll get something else when I order."
"Very good," said Will. "And would you like to start with some bread and butter? It's complimentary. There is no charge."
"Sure. Bring out a loaf."
"Will you need much time?"
"My father's coming soon. I'll order when he does."
"Of course." Will applied a broad grin. "Your English is very good."
The woman peered up at Will with incredulity. "Excuse me?"
"You're very well-spoken."
The woman rubbed the bridge of her nose. "You're not very smart, are you?"
"What do you mean?" said Will. "I was just-"
Will began to respond, but the words simply wouldn't come. He merely receded from the booth, hoping he wouldn't trip over anything and embarrass himself further. As he wove through the tables, a man waved for him. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, you're ready to order." Will pulled out his notepad. "All right, I'm Will and I'll take care of you. What would you like?"
"That's Will Scarborough, right?"
"The Will Scarborough that lives on Karpathos Street?"
Will lowered the notepad. "How - "
"I'll have the chicken parmigiana. And bring me a bottle of beer and a glass. Something domestic, don't care what." He smiled and handed Will his menu. "Thank you."
Will studied the menu for a moment before reluctantly taking it. "...I'll get right on it." Will stepped back to the bar, staring back over his shoulder. "Hey Sadie, you're not going to believe this. This guy- "
"What the hell did you say to Lidia?" said Sadie, thumping her fist on the counter.
"The woman in the corner. What did you say?"
Will threw up his hands. "I didn't say anything! And how would you even know if I had? It's not like she had time to lodge a complaint."
"I have eyes, Will. I know what it looks like when a customer is mad." Sadie leaned over the bar. "Now what did you say?"
"I don't know. She told me she was going to wait on her father and then I complimented on her English."
"Is your skull solid all the way down?" Sadie crossed her arms and threw her head back. "Do you even know who that is? That's Lidia Zhang. Zhang Yanli's daughter?"
Will snapped his fingers. "Oh! Old man Jameson's friend, right?"
"Yes, his connected friend. Well-connected, if you can grasp that."
"Hell, Sadie, you're buying into that Triad crap too?" Will stopped short of laughing. "That's a load of shit. He's a businessman."
"Sure," said Sadie. "A businessman who's been under investigation by the FBI for years."
Will's grin froze into a morbid expression. "...That doesn't mean he's guilty of anything. The Feds are assholes."
"So are you." Sadie jabbed her fist into Will's shoulder. "That women was born all of thirty miles from here and I'm guessing that she doesn't appreciate your dumb little remarks."
"Oh." Will gazed down at the bar. "Should I apologize?"
"Just try not to screw things up even more," said Sadie. "I know you don't follow the news, so let me clue you in. All these foreign technicians we have in town now? They're here because Zhang's been greasing the skids, and not always in fully legal ways. He brought all of them, all the way up to that Dr. Yang guy who's basically building the damn thing. Whether or not the other stuff is true, he gets the VIP treatment and so does his family."
"I got it."
"Do you, Will?" Sadie shook her head. "You know, I've stuck my neck out for you because I know it's been rough for you this last few years. I don't hold that against you. But it does mean that when you mess up, it's on me. You understand?"
Will flicked at the corner of a napkin holder. "Does that mean you don't want to hear about the guy who knew my name and where I live?"
"No, I don't."
Will nodded sheepishly. "...I'm gonna need a glass and a bottle of beer. Domestic."
Sadie deftly opened a bottle and set it onto a try along with a clean pint glass. "Get moving."
Will left the contents of the tray at the man's table, trying not to make eye contact with this suspiciously well-informed individual. He then proceeded to Lidia's booth, head hung low. "Sorry to interrupt, I just came to apologize. I said something stupid, and...well, I’m sorry."
Lidia stared intently at her book. "Fine."
"I'd be happy to get you something on me, just to apologize." Will pointed at the menu. "Maybe an appetizer?"
"Something from the bar?"
"That probably wouldn't be a good idea." Lidia leaned back in her seat. "What I would like is some quiet time without any idiotic comments."
"I can give you that, no problem. I'm gone, I'll stay away until your dad shows up, and then I'll only listen. It's all good." Will spun and jogged back to the bar, throwing himself onto one of the stools. "I think that went well."
"You know what? I'm just going to take care of their order myself. If you go over again, there might be an incident." Sadie crossed her arms. "Will, I have a question."
Will leaned over the bar, resting casually on one elbow. "Shoot. I'm an open book."
"Yes you are," said Sadie. "Do you honestly think the world is going to end, or do you just hope it will? It would solve so many of your problems if everything went away, wouldn't it? No more getting fired, no more dead-end schemes, no more people calling you names to your face."
"Give me a little credit, Sadie."
"I wouldn't dare, Will. I've known a lot of guys like you, and the best thing for you is to hear that you have a problem."
"You say that like I'm a drunk or something."
"That might be an easier fix. Get your life together, Will. Stop playing these little games of yours and just...get things together." Sadie returned to her customers at the end of the bar. "Just think about it."
Will sighed and slouched over the bar, silently hoping to vanish into the faux-mahogany surface. He reached into his back pocket, pulling out the story Sam had written for him. It was a crumpled mess, and he hadn't given himself enough time to read more than a line or two. At that moment, it may well have been the most important thing to him - but there wasn't time. There was never time, and time was fast becoming a precious commodity.
"Did I hear right? Zhang Yanli's coming by?"
Will looked over at the man sitting next to him. Even from a few feet away, Will could see nothing of this man's face. His jacket - unseasonable in such warm weather - was pulled tight around his neck and face and he rested his head on one arm, blocking Will's view. A half-finished rum and coke sat just within his reach.
"Yeah, his kid's here. She said he was coming by." Will tried to get a better look at the man, to no avail. "Wait, who are you? You know him?"
"No, I just don't want to run into anyone who might recognize me." He downed his drink in one mighty swallow and stood to leave. "The man behind us, the one who knew your name?"
Will picked up in an instant, listening with childlike fascination. "You know about that guy? Who is he?"
"I don't have a name, but I can tell you that he works for Jameson Enterprises. His job is to stop information leaks. If he's being that obvious, it means he doesn't care what you know."
"I knew it! Do you work for Jameson, too? Is that how you know?" Will lowered his voice. "Are you the one who sent the email?"
"No. And no more questions, please. Just take this much: I know Joshua. He won't do anything to you, but I can't say the same for the people who work for him." The man stood up, tugging at the collar of his jacket. "I'm trying to keep a low profile. Don't tell anyone I was here."
"Wait! I have more questions!" Will reached out for the stranger, but he twisted away and was out the door in a second. Will looked around for anyone else who could confirm what had happened, but Sadie was occupied with the regulars and the other patrons were lost in their own diversions. The man who had questioned Will earlier was gazing out the window, tracking Will in the bent reflection.
Will chuckled under his breath. "What a trip." He leaned over the bar, muttering as surreptitiously as he could while still being heard over the music. "Sadie! Over here!"
Sadie dragged herself to the edge of the bar with no small share of frustration. "What?"
"The guy who was here?"
"Who was he?"
"Why? You wanna start stalking him?"
"No, it's..." Will halted as he pondered the man's words. "...Never mind, it's not important."
"Shocking." Sadie tipped her head toward the front door. "You have another customer."
"No rest for the wicked." Pushing the flurry of events into the recesses of his mind, Will turned back to the door. "Welcome to the Ori...oh."
There was a presence in the doorway that engulfed the slender figure standing there. He was no taller than Will, but he could still feel this man's shadow upon him, rooting him to the spot. The reedy beard - a good six inches in length, though composed of not more than thirty gray hairs - would have appeared comical in other circumstances, but in the artistic gloom of the Orientale it merely made him look like the dragon he surely was inside.
"Good evening," he said in a steady, staccato timber. "You are our waiter?"
Will fidgeted as he scratched around for a sentence. "You would be Mr. Yan...uh..."
"Zhang, please." He smiled in a curious way that hardly put Will's mind at ease. "I believe that my daughter is waiting for me."
"Oh...Someone else is going to take your order, actually."
"Why? You are capable, are you not?"
"Yeah...yeah, sure. This way." Will led Zhang Yanli through the room, not daring to speak lest he again invoke the family's wrath.
Lidia glanced up from her book. "What do you w...oh, father." Her expression softened at once, the book tumbling from her hands. "He's not supposed to take our order."
"Such a mystery," said Zhang Yanli. "What is the problem, xiaofeng?"
The rest of Lidia's remarks vanished into a haze of unfamiliar sounds and syllables, and Zhang Yanli's remarks followed suit. Will had long since learned that it was impolite (though at times useful) to listen in, and even here, with his inability to comprehend the conversation, he still felt compelled to stand at a distance and look away, carefully avoiding looking at the Jameson agent. If he could not understand the words, he certainly gleaned the thrust of the conversation, and the daughter was on the losing side.
"You will have to excuse my daughter," said Zhang Yanli once the conversation had quieted. "She is a brilliant child, but most sensitive."
"No, it was totally my fault," said Will. "Look, I can be a real knucklehead sometimes, I say the wrong thing-"
Zhang Yanli waved him away. "Say nothing. We will require a few minutes before we place our order. I will appreciate a bit of solitude, my daughter has a close friend who is an employee of mine, and the discussion may be sensitive."
"Well, it's not like I could..." Will caught himself mid-gaffe. "...Will do. Just wave me on over when you're ready."
Will retreated from the table, covertly surveying the darkened room. "Bad trip," he muttered to himself. "Man, tonight can't end quick enough."