Read an Excerpt
By TRAVIS THRASHER
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 Travis Thrasher
All right reserved.
Chapter One4 P.M.
"Mind if I join you?"
These are not the words you expect to hear. Not now, on a Friday midafternoon in Manhattan. Not after the two days you've had. Not after the cancelled dinner and the cancelled merger. And positively, definitely, not from the beautiful woman in the black skirt and heels standing before you.
For a moment you're lost for words. You're never lost for words. But for half a second, you can't say anything.
Only half an hour ago you watched her settle into her seat and order a glass of wine and cross her legs and gaze out at the sidewalk close to Rockefeller Center. Sipping a red and people-watching, just as you were doing. Your glance shifted, first to the table in front of you, then to the half-glass of Pinot Grigio, then the empty chair facing you, then the glisten of your wedding ring in the sun. But your eyes found their way back to the blonde sitting in front of you, her profile in full view, her eyes glancing over and easily spotting your gaze.
You were the first to look away.
This sort of fun, innocent glancing went on for half an hour as the motion of the city blurred behind. People getting off work, tourists roaming, couples strolling. You are here becauseyou've ordered wine from this place before. It's a hobby you've only picked up the last couple of years; harmless, yet you keep it from some of the couples you know. Some of your church friends who still make a big deal out of drinking. But in a city far away from the suburbs of Chicago, nobody is going to see you. Nobody is going to care if you're on your second glass. Or if you're staring at one of the hottest women you've ever seen.
It doesn't hurt to look.
But for some reason she's now standing in front of you, looking down at you, smiling, waiting for an answer.
That's all you say.
She sits down across from you, a glass in her hand. For a moment she continues watching the sidewalk.
You have no idea how your life is about to change.
Full lips that curl into a smile captivate you. You wait for her to say something.
"Enjoying your glass?"
"Very much," you reply.
"What do you have?"
"A Pinot Grigio."
Her voice is soft but confident, more mature than her twenty-something appearance suggests.
"Much of a wine connoisseur?" You shake your head and ask, "Are you?"
"I come here to observe people. It's always fascinating who you might run into."
Her soft, flawless skin almost glows.
"Where are you from?" she asks after a moment of silence.
"Do I look like a tourist?"
"You don't look like a New Yorker."
"Chicago," you say. It's easier than saying Deerfield, Illinois.
"You don't have an accent."
"Neither do you." "I haven't stuck around anywhere long enough to pick up an accent."
Her greenish-blue eyes, model's eyes, would seem manufactured if they were in a magazine. Blonde hair that might be real or colored falls several inches below her shoulders. The look she gives is confident, curious, and relaxed.
You think it's a dangerous look. Women might be the ones who claim to have intuitions, but you have some yourself.
"Where are you from?"
"Florida. And California."
"Which one first?"
She shines another smile. "Does it matter?"
"Florida," she answers.
A waiter comes up, and she preempts his question by ordering another glass of something called The Prisoner.
"That's the name of a wine?"
She nods. You tell the waiter you'll try a glass.
It's the end of a long week and you didn't ask for her to be sitting there and there's nothing wrong with sharing a glass of wine with a stranger in the middle of hundreds of other strangers. A single snapshot might look scandalous but you have an explanation and you don't need an explanation anyway.
You're too fried to even think about anything except wondering who this woman is and what she really wants.
"Heading back soon?" she asks.
She has a strong voice. Nothing about her is weak. Her gaze doesn't waver as you keep your eyes on hers and avoid looking at anything else. Or any other part of her.
"So with all the sights to see in New York, and all the things to do, what brings you here?"
"I order wines from this place. Thought I'd check it out in person."
"First time to New York?"
"First time sitting here," you tell her.
You came to New York first with Lisa.
Lisa is your wife, just in case you need someone to remind you.
The blonde takes a sip from her wine and you look at her lips for a second longer than you probably should.
I'm tired, you think. Tired and fed up and not wanting to think.
Perhaps this is rationalizing.
"And you're all alone?"
Now you're the one to smile.
"Am I missing something here?" you ask.
"Uncomfortable with questions?"
"I've seen stuff like this on television shows. People getting pranked."
"I just figured you might like some company. And I thought you probably wouldn't take the initiative to join me."
"And you're all alone?" you repeat her question.
"At the moment, no. Just making light conversation to pass the time."
You wonder if this is a New York thing.
"I'm Michael," you tell her, finally being friendly.
"And what does Michael do for a living?"
You smile. "Michael works in technology."
"You sell it?"
"Does it matter?" you ask, teasing her.
"Come on. You already told me your name."
"I could've made up it up. There are thousands of Michaels."
"There are thousands of salesmen."
"I don't sell anything. I'm a VP of finance. It's a small company."
Hoping to be bought out by a conglomerate. Hoping to capitalize on growth. Hoping to seal a deal that would set me for life.
Hope has many meanings. You don't want to think about hope anymore.
"You don't look like the accountant type."
"Trust me, I'm not."
She looks at you and doesn't look away. The sidewalks are getting busier but you've stopped watching people.
"So what are you selling?" you ask.
Her gaze doesn't waver. "Please."
"A lot of women might take that as an insult." "A lot of guys might be too stupid to ask."
She sips her glass again and for the moment continues to watch the crowd. As if she's done, at least for the moment, with the conversation. You don't know if she's out on business, but she might be. Wearing a suit with the skirt cut above her knees and a white blouse that looks expensive. Black pointy heels. A little purse that can only carry sunglasses and a couple of credit cards.
This is the way your luck goes. A beautiful outgoing woman with that look in her eye comes and sits down at a table with you to share a glass of wine and some light banter. There is nothing more that can happen because you are a married man with two children. And Lisa might wonder what in the world you're doing with this woman in the first place, talking and smiling and sharing a glass of wine.
It's harmless and you didn't do anything to prompt it and nothing else will come of it because nothing can come of it. And that's your luck. Because as beautiful as this woman is, she is not yours and can never be yours and all she will be is a seductive smile to look at.
"Tell me, Michael," she says, stressing your name. "Are you an adventurous man?"
You feel a chill go through you. Not a warm chill. It's the kind that scares you. Her question is loaded, and both of you know it.
"I like to think I am," you say, feigning control, feigning an adventurous spirit.
You bet she sees right through you.
"You look like you're two seconds away from sprinting out of here."
"I'm fine right where I am," you say, doing your best at acting cool.
"Do you know that the other day I saw George Clooney on that very sidewalk? Probably in town doing press for a new movie."
"You probably get a lot of that around here."
"I'm not often starstruck. In fact, I never am. But George. He's in a different class."
"Would you approach him?"
A hint of playfulness flickers in her eyes. "No. But I'd do my best to try to get him to come up to me."
"So what does that make me?"
She laughs. "A very lucky man."
"Probably," you say, your eyes locking onto hers and, for a brief second, sharing something unspoken but powerful. "So what do you do for a living?"
"Lots of things."
"Lots of jobs?"
She smiles. "I own my own business, among other things."
"Not really, but I'll take it."
"What sort of business?"
"A little bit of everything."
You don't mind her vagueness. Maybe she has wealthy parents. From the look of her, she has money, wherever she's getting it from. She wears a thin watch with diamonds around its face. A small necklace with a diamond pendant dangles from her neck. There is a ring on her right hand that looks pricey.
"So have you enjoyed your time in New York?"
"You sound like a travel agent," you say.
"And you sound nervous. It's just a question."
"Actually, it's been pretty lousy, to be honest."
Where do I begin?
She looks, waits for something more. You're not about to get into it here and now with this stranger.
"I came here hoping for more. Things just-they didn't work out."
"But you're here now."
"Yes, I am."
"Things can still work out for you."
She smiles. Once again, you feel a slow-growing sense of alarm.
You take a sip from your glass. But it doesn't help.
Your fears (and part of you wonders what exactly you're afraid of) eventually subside when the unnamed woman says she must go.
"Thanks for the chat."
"Don't worry. I've already paid for my wine." "It's fine," you say.
She looks at you as if she's contemplating something, sizing you up.
It is not a safe look. Nothing about it is safe. It's dangerous.
"You have a pen and a business card?" she asks.
You find them and give them to her, surprised, wanting to know where this will lead.
She quickly writes down something and gives you back the card and the pen.
"Perhaps we can share another glass of wine later. If you're not too busy."
She stands, and of course you can't help but look at her. She doesn't even say good-bye and maybe that's the whole point. She's left you with a name and a phone number and now she's turned and walking away and she's leaving you with a great view. You briefly lose yourself in watching.
What just happened, and how did it happen to me? You're not the kind of guy who gets a "Jasmine" to write out her number for you.
And you're not the guy who calls that number, for whatever reason. Whether it's to sample a serious vintage or to get yourself in serious trouble.
You're not that sort of man, despite the fact that your plane leaves in sixteen hours and you have nothing else to do and you have a lot of time to kill.
Because if you were that sort of man, there would have to be some serious reasons why, right? And you're a good guy. With a good family. And a good life. You're not going to do anything with that number.
But you slide it into your shirt pocket anyway.
There's anonymity in New York City.
Even God can't keep track of everyone in this city, you think. There's so much compressed into such a small space.
You are used to Chicago, living in the suburbs and working in the city. Chicago has character; New York has crowds. Something about the faces passing you by makes you feel small and insignificant. One of the millions. Still wearing a suit you were going to wear to dinner tonight. Still wearing the new tie Lisa bought you.
There is a never-ending soundtrack of traffic and voices and life playing out around you. A myriad of colors shifting and waving. The smell of the hot dog vendor's wares almost makes you stop but you see a disaster waiting to happen smeared all over your coat. You think back to the blonde, the long legs, the phone number.
Of course you think this. Of course you won't dial it. There's some sort of catch and you're not taking it.
Maybe she's just like you. Alone in a city looking for company.
And she wants you to think this. Just like the guys you pass who want you to spend twenty-five dollars on a wallet that cost them fifty cents to make. It's part of the scenery, part of the street, part of New York.
If you're not too busy.
And you wonder how you're going to spend the night. There's nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to see.
A man could get lost in a city like this and nobody would know. Nobody would care.
God himself might not even care.
You've replayed the conversation in your head a dozen times, trying to see if you could have said something else or managed the situation any better.
"We've decided the markets are too volatile to go ahead with the merger at this time."
The pasty-faced guy sitting across from you wears a suit too expensive for somebody who looks as disheveled as he does and wears too much authority for someone as clueless as he acts.
"We've spoken about this for six months, Geoffrey," you say, not only stating the truth but reminding him why you're here.
You've spent six months on this project.
An entire company depends on your actions right here and now.
"I'm sorry, Mike. I mean, man, it sucks. I know. I was talking to the board yesterday. Sorry-I could've saved you a trip to the city, you know. It just-it's not going to work out."
"So what am I supposed to tell the guys back home?"
"These things aren't fail proof, Mike. They happen. It's big business. We're not a small firm like you guys. We buy and sell every day."
Three other suits, two men and a woman, stare at you with uncompromising, uncaring glances as Geoffrey talks.
"We have to be able to figure this out."
"It's not our decision to figure out. Not when there is so much money on the table."
$250,000,000 to be exact.
"I can refigure the figures. We can do that right now."
"There's no refiguring anything."
You want to take Geoffrey's chubby cheeks in your hands and rub his face in the contract. The contract you spent a couple weeks working on.
"Okay, let's just go over the final tabs one more time. Just one more time."
"I understand your anxiety, Mike," he says with a smug look that says he surely doesn't understand. "I know there are lots of jobs on the line here. There is a company you're looking after, and I admire that. But DB Solutions will find another buyer. We're confident of that."
You're not. You're so desperate you resort to clichés.
"Then how about if we think outside the box?"
That statement seems to annoy Geoffrey, as if people before in his life have told him the very same thing.
When someone is in a position of power like Geoffrey is, you don't talk down to him.
"Here's something outside the box. Liam spends every day of his life thinking outside the box. And he'll wake up going on his gut and his instincts. And the other day, his gut told him not to move ahead with this deal. And despite anything we do or however far we can think outside the box, there is no changing Liam's call. This is his deal, and if he says no, he means no."
You look at Geoffrey and know that he's being brutally honest.
"I've worked with him long enough to know," he says with a finality that stings.
You are speechless and want to say something or do something but you can't. You know it's over. You have to go back and tell a company of over 250 employees that the deal went south and they might not have a job in a few weeks.
"I'm sorry, Mike," Geoffrey says.
Yeah, I am too.
Excerpted from BLINDED by TRAVIS THRASHER Copyright © 2006 by Travis Thrasher. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.