Monthly Archives: November 2011

Happy Hour

The new restaurant on the block had not yet had its grand opening. It had not had a soft opening, either. In fact, it had had no sort of opening whatsoever, save for a small sign in 1950s-esque print that announced ‘Open for Happy Hour. 5pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday.’

The tiny sign did not garner much in the way of ‘traffic’ or ‘customers,’ but then again, that was not the point. The bar was not quite ready to open; there was still staff to train, staff to hire, even. As such, it was not an imposition – and perhaps was even helpful – to allow the few daredevils who met the sign with intrigue a stiff drink.

There were not many who entered the dark bar between the hours of 5pm and 7pm. It did not look as inviting as the high end sushi restaurant next door, or as filling as the stand-by steak joint. But to some, it did look like a good deal, and if they could stand the fumbling no waitstaff or the awkward bar-tenders in training who lined the gleaming mahogany-and-bronze counter top, they would get there first taste of what was about to become one of the hottest spots in town.

This was the case for the two young women who had gone out for a mid-week girls night out, in search of something new. Their hair had been teased up and smoothed down. Skirts had been hemmed and tucked to the shortest they could get away with, and the heels had been raised a solid two inches from what they might try to get away with during the work day.  They had been drawn to the new bar – with it’s gleaming bronze sign that read Ducante’s – because it was something new. One of the women – the one with the sparkly head band holding up her bangs – had insisted they go in. The other had complained at the lack of suitable men, but had agreed to a single drink.

When the ocean in their cups had been reduced to a puddle and the ice was left rattling against the glass, the two consented to a second drink for one reason and one reason only: the attractive bartender lounging behind the counter.

He was not what they had been expecting to find when they left their homes for mid-week manhunting. His brown hair was peppered with grey despite his youthful appearance, and his stature was not the especially tall one that the girl without a headband so preferred. He looked neither especially strong nor especially emaciated, but there was just something about the way he talked to them as they ordered their drinks:

“Two vodka-cranberries, please.”

“Vodka-cranberry. What an excellent choice, my dear, quite excellent indeed.”

And then that little half smile that tugged just the corner of his mouth – that was to die for.

When the ice cubes clinked against the empty glass, it was the headband girl that bound out of her seat to get refills. She didn’t bother waiting for the waitress – a tiny waif of a thing with limp hair named ‘Molly’ to even check on how they were doing. Instead, she bounced straight to the counter, ignoring the group of trainees who were eagerly watching a short haired girl mix a Manhattan.

“This is quite the bar,” the girl said flirtatiously, leaning her elbows against the polished brass edge of the counter. “We’ll take two more, by the way.”

It was at this point she noticed the man’s deep chocolate eyes. They slid from her face to her elbows resting on the metal, and then his little half smile seemed to deepen to a grin as he turned to rest two high ball glasses from the shelf behind the bar. “It is one of the better ones, to be sure. This location is a particular favorite of mine.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize it was a chain,” she said nonchalantly, watching as the man scooped the ice, selected a vodka. The short haired girl behind the counter was sipping her Manhattan and watching as her students tried to mimic her mixture.

“‘Chain’ is such a nasty, pejorative word,” the man said, grabbing the cranberry juice. “I prefer ‘piece of the empire.'”

Giving her a hair a toss, the girl felt her own lips pulling a playful little half smile. Absolutely to die for. “Are you the owner, then?”

“Gregory Ducante, at your service,” he said with a mock bow.

The girl fidgeted, trying to keep the smile in place. Well off and attractive. And the attitude he gave – this man, this Gregory Ducante, was so self assured that she was unsure what to do with herself. She had rarely met men who acted this way, especially on nights that entailed skirts hemmed and tucked and heels raised a full two inches. “Well, Mr. Ducante. How much for the drinks?”

“These, my dear, are on the house,” he answered, pushing them towards her. “Happy hour, you know,” he added with a wink.

The girl felt herself blush as she accepted the drinks, shuffling back to her table in her too-high heels. Behind the bar, Gregory Ducante chuckled to himself.

“Alright, you all can make a drink, congratulations,” the short haired girl was saying to her students. “Now go memorize where all the ingredients are in the stock room. I’m quizzing you when you get back,” she said sharply, watching as they all scuttled off before turning to the man behind the counter with her. “What was that?”

“What was what?” He asked innocently, grabbing a rag to wipe a smudge left by the girl’s elbows.

“Your shameless flirting,” the girl accused. “You know you’re not interested in them.”

“Maya, Maya, Maya,” Ducante tutted, snatching up one of the drinks the trainee bartenders had left behind. “I’m not really interested in anyone. But that shouldn’t stop me from using it for my own gain, should it?” And, laughing, he knocked back the entire drink in one swallow, scowling as he added, “Could use less bitters. Make sure they do better, next time.”

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Interview

The girl was pacing nervously on the sidewalk. The day was brisk; cooler than usual for the time of year, and this particular girl had been out in the elements for sometime. She had walked straight to the street of high-end restaurants after school for a reason: not to lose her nerve. An hour after the final bell had rung, however, and she found herself trying to ascertain that it was not lost, but merely hiding.

This is just like any other restaurant, she tried to assure herself. Except this one serves a lot of drinks. Mom and dad can’t be too mad, just because people order a lot of drinks…

That was the thought that carried her through the heavy wooden doors that she had to tug open with unexpected force. Though the day was far from sunny – in fact it was quite over cast – she found herself squinting in the low light of the new not-bar on the block. There were no windows, to begin with, but the dim lighting combined with the dark wood felt almost blinding compared to the cloudy day she had come from.

As her eyes adjusted, she spotted a blonde sitting at a table with a petite brunette, both popping gum and muttering conspiratorially between each other. Behind the bar, a harried looking woman with short hair shook a clip board at the new comer to the kind-of-restaurant.

“Are you my 4.15?” The woman behind the bar demanded, “Because if you are, you’re late.”

“I… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” the girl said quickly. “Are you… uh… Miranda?”

The woman behind the bar set the clipboard on the counter. “Maya.”

At the dark, polished wood tables, the gum poppers giggled. The girl who had just entered squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back the urge to cringe. “Sorry, sorry. Maya. I’m Molly Sheriton,” she said, hurrying forward to offer a hand.

The woman ignored the gesture, crossing her arms over her chest. “Did you bring a resume, like I asked?”

Trying to keep her stomach afloat, Molly Sheriton passed over a piece of paper – one only slightly crumpled by the death grip she had had on it during the walk from school to the not-bar. Ducante’s. “Yes, ma’am,” she mumbled.

For just a moment, Maya raised an eyebrow, as if this ‘ma’am’ nonsense was entirely foreign. The expression was fleeting – or at least, it was covered as she glanced down at the paper in front of her. She pressed a finger to the ‘previous experience’ section. “You worked at a chain restaurant?”

“Um,” Molly fidgeted. “It was ‘family style.'”

A smirk seemed to tug at the corner of Maya’s mouth. “We don’t get a lot of families in here.”

“I… I know.”

With a flourish, the woman behind the bar lay the paper on the counter top. “Let me guess. You’re applying here because you think working in a bar is ‘bad ass.’ Or that it will make you more money.”

Molly fidgeted, but said nothing.

“Maybe it’s not about making payments on some half-baked teenage sports car at all. Maybe you’re just doing it to piss off mom and dad.”

“I’m not,” she said quickly, and just as quickly, biting her lip in silent, self-directed rage. This was all at once not the way, and entirely the way, that she had expected this interview to go.

Maya leaned her elbows on the bar, her face now very close to Molly’s. “Do you have a family, chica? One that loves you?”

“I… I’m sorry,” Molly murmured, taking a step back. This was all so horribly wrong. She was about to turn on her heel to go, when the bar keep spoke again.

“Because that can come in handy around here.” There was the sound of scraping paper – Maya was holding out Molly’s resume. “Show up tomorrow. 4 o’clock, no later. Training.”

Slack jawed, Molly accepted the paper.

Maya simply looked over her shoulder at the gum poppers at the table. “Alright. Which one of you sluts is my 4:30?”

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It Begins

“Hey! No, no, no, what do you think you’re doing?” Maya Solis squawked, throwing down the clipboard contents that she had been reviewing. “Does that look like where that goes? I don’t think so – in the store closet with all the rest of the alcohol. Thank you!”

She shook her head, annoyed, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. It was a habit she had picked up from her employer, and it had all but eclipsed her former lip biting. With a sigh, she gave her head – and short, brown hair – a firm shake, willing away the headache creeping into her periphery. We only have a week, she thought. Only a week. Maya was fond of her employer, Mr. Ducante, she really was. But his timelines… they just weren’t conducive to opening businesses.

In a week, she was expected to take full inventory, find a way to organize it, and find and train a staff. None of the three were particularly difficult; she could watch delivery men come and go, she could even shout the occasional order as the laziest amongst them tried to pawn off a box of brandy in the middle of the bar. And organizing? Well, after five bar openings, she was used to that. She would just use the same system she used at her home base in Selvmar. But finding a staff… finding a staff was the worst part for Maya Solis.

Oh, wait-staff was easy, for the most part. Bartenders? Not the worst. But there was select staff that Ducante required that were much harder to come by. These hires, they needed to possess some very unique talents. Normally, she could scare up a few candidates, but those were in bigger cities. New York, Chicago… she could handle the hiring there. Why did he feel the need to open a bar in this po-dunk town, Molten? The presence he was looking for in this town was minimal at best, and Maya, for one, was at a loss for where to start looking.

The job that she was particularly concerned with filling at the moment was that of “bouncer.” The clientele this bar would attract with Ducante at it’s helm would require more than the average muscle head to keep the rowdy in line. She was looking for someone with more finely tuned senses – someone who could pick up on traits that others might have labeled as unnatural.

Maya Solis sighed and bit her lip, tapping her almost-out-of-ink pen on the shining bar top. Her hazel eyes drifted towards the ceiling, fixating on the ostentatious chandelier that crowned the center of the bar, all the while wondering if the sort she was looking for might read the classifieds in a town like Molten.

“Hey!” She snapped as another delivery man entered the bar. “There’s a mat outside for a reason. Can’t you read the sign?! Wipe your feet!”

As the man started, back tracking to the mat with a disgruntled expression on his face, Maya Solis sighed again. It was going to be a long week.

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Hiring

Every day for the past several weeks, Gregory Ducante had strolled through the flung-open front door of his newly purchased building to the din of construction. The workers had replaced swaths of dark floorboards, rewired the electricity. They had reconstructed the dilapidated stairs that led to the upstairs office and remodeled both bathrooms to precisely his standards. Each morning, Gregory Ducante would climb the stairs to his office. He would spend precisely twenty minutes reading the newspaper – business section only, as there was little else in those sorts of papers to interest him – before juggling through the paperwork that explained his business holdings, profits earned, inventory systems.

It was his pride and joy, going through these papers, his capitalist endeavors. The root of chaos.

Today, though, as he shook his paper open, something was notably different. There was no scuffling from downstairs, there was no occasional power drill or pounding hammer. Two days prior, all of the polished dark wood furniture had been delivered to the finished bar front. The bar itself – a long, sweeping mahogany number rimmed in polished bronze – was delivered the next day. Gregory Ducante had ordered it from a very particular man overseas whom he had found long ago. Now, with everything in place, the bar was compete. At least in physical structure.

Ducante laid the paper down on his overcrowded desk, rubbing the bridge of his nose between two fingers. The last thing he needed to open this, his latest venture, was a staff. Hiring had long since been his least favorite part of the process; sorting through the ordinary dribble that appeared at his doorstep was far beneath anything that might pique his interest. It was lucky for him, then, that his protege would be making her way into town in the next few days.

Gregory Ducante was not an emotional man. He did not enjoy forming attachments, nor did he particularly relishes friendships. Most people, he felt, were good for two things: what they could do for him, and what he could learn from them. He supposed that Maya Solis was not much different than anyone else – there was a lot that she did for him, and he did not feel much of an emotional attachment. But there was of course a direct link between the productivity of his businesses and the presence of Maya Solis uncharacteristically grateful to the five foot tall, twenty-something soon to be waltzing through his door.

It was hard for him to imagine that he had almost not hired her. That had been five bars prior, when he still took point on personally interviewing and hiring all candidates. How he managed to get through a process that had been like pulling teeth for all of the businesses he had started before then, Ducante had no idea – but that day in his dark fixer-upper in Selvmar had changed everything.

Selvmar was an extraordinary town in that the clientele it attracted was noticeably… different. That did not, however, mean that the applicants to open position of ‘bar staff as necessary’ were anything to write home about. Ducante had long since given up on individual interviews: listening to people drag on and on about their lives, strengths, and weaknesses was utterly agonizing. The group he had interviewed in the refurbished dive bar had been graced with a ten minute lecture, instead of questions about themselves, of Ducante’s philosophy on business, customer service, and the like.

While he spoke, he took in the applicants in front of him. They were all perfectly normal: a few nodded energetically as he spoke. This he found painfully annoying. Others tilted their heads to the side, which gave them the off-putting appearance of looking most like toy dogs. There was one girl who sat quietly, her arms folded over her chest, chewing the corner of her lip as Ducante spoke. She looked like the last thing she wanted was to be there.

As his lecture ended, Ducante shook his head and gave a sigh. He turned towards the bar, leaning his hands on it. “You can all go.”

There was a mumbling and scuffling behind him. One of his chosen few had started to ask a question, but Ducante cut him off abruptly. “That is all I need. You will hear from me later. You can all leave.” He repeated firmly. There was a scraping of chairs, followed by the sound of several pairs of footsteps leaving the bar. The door squeaked as it swung shut behind them.

Yet, as Gregory Ducante turned back to face the empty and as of yet unstaffed bar, his eyes fell upon the girl who had been chewing her lip. “And why are you still here?” He asked bluntly.

The girl stood up, her arms still crossed. “I’m the one you should hire.”

Ducante forced out a bark of a laugh. “Oh, you are, are you? And what makes you say that?”

The girl seemed taken aback by the question, as if her brazen act of rebellion should have been enough to earn her the spot already. “I’m… I’m smart. I’m efficient. I’m bilingual.”

“Bilingual, you say,” Ducante repeated, raising an eyebrow.

“Spanish,” the girl elaborated, tucking a strand of brown hair behind her ear.

“Hm,” Ducante said, taking a few steps towards the girl. His gaze flicked up and down her petite frame. “Well, the rest of the lot was smart and efficient, too. The one who had been sitting to your right,” he gestured to a now empty chair, “Was a recent Harvard grad – when will these kids learn to stop getting liberal arts majors? – and the one to your left was a market manager for a large franchise. What makes you more desirable than they might be?”

The girl bit her lip in what Ducante would come to learn was her nervous, go to habit. “I have other skills. Skills that would be useful in… in this kind of bar.”

“My dear, don’t simply hint,” he said, spreading his hands in a gesture that begged for an example. “You must be more direct if you expect to be taken seriously in this world.”

The girl a quick shake of her head, circling around behind her chair. She leaned down in one fluid motion – extracting a long, wicked looking knife from the side of her tall leather boots – and then stood, flinging the knife towards the bar owner who she had just demanded a job from.

Ducante slid aside as the knife whizzed past his head, embedding itself in the freshly painted wall of the bar. This time, he laughed in earnest as he inspected the impressive stick. “Bravo, bravo. You’ve proved that you can kill my patrons should they neglect to pay their tab. Remind me again why I think you deserve this job?”

Despite the situation, the girl did not seem the least bit bothered. If anything, she looked frustrated by the fact that she had not yet been proclaimed as ‘hired,’ and even more irritated by the fact that her potential employer was examining her knife instead of her. “I know what you are!” She said, her voice raised in an almost frantic way.

Gregory Ducante, who had been about to pull the knife from the wall, froze. “Do you, now,” he murmured, turning to face her. “And how would you know that?”

“Friends in low places,” she said, trying to hold her chin up. “They’re not hard to find, especially in this town.”

“And these… friends. They told you that I’m the sort you want to work for?” He questioned. With slow, measured strides, he crossed back to the bar, examining the spread of resumes that covered it.

She kicked a spot on the polished floor. “They didn’t tell me to do anything. But I can spot you, I know what to look for. And… and others, too.”

“Can you now,” he asked, plucking a paper out of the pile.

“I’ve been around people… people like you for awhile now. I can take care of your bar. I know the type of people you’d get here.” She said, her voice becoming more forceful, more confident. “And if you think that some Harvard drop out can do better than that you’re a – ”

“Ms. Solis,” Ducante said, his chocolate gaze fixing on her from over the top of the resume. “You don’t have to say anymore. You’re hired.”

Maya Solis’ jaw had dropped at these words. She had begun stuttering thank you’s, but Gregory Ducante simply held up a hand.

“Don’t make me regret this, Ms. Solis.” He set down the paper, crossing his arms over his chest again. “You could be useful. For a human.”

In his office above the new bar, Gregory Ducante smiled. Yes, Maya Solis had been useful. Even if she insisted on individual interviews. Resting the paper from the mess of his desktop, Ducante took a deep breath, enjoying the silence that came before the mess that was business.

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Construction

The bar doors, flung open to allow a whir of sawdust and paint fumes to exit the long-vacant building, had drawn mixed reviews from the local population of the town. Some spoke jovially about the positive impact new business would have on the community. Others questioned curiously what exactly this place would be – and when would it be open to the public? Still others grumbled, casting dark looks at the traffic cones that stole an entire three parking spaces from the street front. Construction was always met with mixed reviews, least of all from the construction workers.

The workers in this particular establishment were of course happy to be paid. They were less happy to be working in a building built with no windows on the first floor: the large doors only did so much to ventilate. The respirators they needed to wear itched, and their goggles left angry red marks on their faces at the end of the day. None the less, the building they were refurbishing was soon to be a bar, and the best part about working in a bar was when the owner would pass out beer at lunch.

For Grant Thompson, the daily appearance of the owner was as mixed a bag as the construction site itself, of which he was the foreman. Gregory Ducante, dressed in his finely made clothes, could not make it more clear that he was not one of the construction workers. Thompson thought that it was somehow condescending that Ducante expected to just be accepted as One Of The Boys. Yeah, he brought the beer. But did he have to stand there, sipping that strange burgundy liquor and watching as they went back to work? Thompson much preferred the hours when Gregory Ducante holed himself away in the upstairs office, working on paperwork for what he described as his ‘other ventures.’

Thompson did not particularly like or dislike this man, this current employer. In a more typical situation, he might have found a moment to degrade the poor gent to his workers. A mild joke here, a playful jab there. But this particular man. Well, he did not seem to be someone that one could easily bring down with a well placed line. Something about his small frame – a frame that Thomspon could have easily over powered – and calm, composed demeanor seemed to radiate confidence. This particular confidence was not easily shaken; though it did easily shake.

Specifically, it shook Thompson. Each day as he watched Ducante casually lean against one of the piles of new floor boards, cracking jokes to his beer drinking crew (which would always be met with pleasant, amicable laughter), Thompson felt his own confidence shake. He thought about the silver-haired property owner before he got to work, after he got home. When his wife suggested they splurge for a fancy dinner, all Thompson could do was grit his teeth as he thought about wearing the sort of shiny loafers that Ducante somehow found acceptable for general lounging in a construction area. Soon, Thompson was not sleeping well. Seeing the beer that Ducante always brought out for the crew turned his stomach.

He thought about saying as much to someone, anyone, but he knew it would sound crazy. How could he explain that the man paying him well over the standing asking price for a remodel filled him with this much rage? Grant Thompson just felt sure, so incredibly sure, that there was something off about this particular property owner. That was the thought that consumed him as he traveled to work each day, as he barked orders to the men under his watch.

It was the thought that was consuming him on one particular Thursday, exactly two weeks after the traffic cones began blocking off the three street parking spots, when a shipment of carefully bronzed scones arrived. It was this thought that consumed him as he traipsed up the recently reconstructed and polished stairs that led to Gregory Ducante’s office.

“Sir?” Thompson said in his gruff voice as he rapped gently on the door.

“Come in, Mr. Thompson,” called Ducante easily. The office was not particularly large, but it was certainly sumptuous. Ducante had laid a thick, slate colored shag carpet over the dark wood. A heavy antique desk sat against one wall. Ducante, who had covered the beautiful wooden find in all sorts of paperwork, looked up as Thompson came in. An unnerving, toothy grin fell over his features. One slender hand – the type of hand that had never seen a real days work, Thompson thought bitterly – raised a glass of that strange burgundy liquid to greet his guest. “What can I help you with this afternoon?”

“Shipment of sconces in for you,” Thompson said levelly. “Signed for it myself. Just need to know where my boys are supposed to be putting them.”

“Ah, the sconces, the sconces…” Ducante said, taking a long drought from his cup as his free hand rifled through a pile of papers slightly to his left. He let out a satisfied ‘hmmm’ as he extracted a thin vellum sheet covered in lines, arrows, and directions from the pile. “This should suffice in showing you where they go, I imagine?”

Thompson nodded as he accepted the blue prints. “This should, yeah.” He squinted his light blue eyes as he looked down at the page. “But sir, with the placement like this – and without the fluorescence – well, your bar is going to be nearly pitch black.”

Nearly being the key word in that sentence, I believe,” Ducante replied easily.

Thompson glanced up from the papers, forcing a nervous smile. “I… right. I’m sorry.”

Ducante shook his free hand vaguely. “No need, no need. The concern is greatly appreciated. I own several bars, Mr. Thompson, and I have found that near darkness is the quickest way to implore people to indulge.”

Grant Thompson choked out a chuckle. “Well, uh. Yeah, I suppose. Say, uh, if you own so many bars… how is it that you can be here every day? Supervising, and uh, you know?”

The corner of the bar owner’s mouth twitched. “This investment is one of my particular favorites,” he said, taking another swig of his drink.

Feeling rather brave, and bolstered by the way the conversation was going, Thompson added, “What is that stuff you’re always drinking? Is it some signature of your business?”

Ducante swirled the contents of the glass thoughtfully, cutting his chocolate brown eyes towards his foreman. “This?” He set it on the table, leaning forward. “Do you really want to know?”

For no reason that he could explain, Grant Thompson felt a shiver run down his spine that had rarely been felt in his 6’1, 250 pound frame. “I…”

“Here,” the bar owner was continuing, “I’ll do you one better. Try it for yourself, won’t you?” Wiggling his fingers thoughtfully, he selected a decanter from the shelf above the hurricane medley of paperwork strewn across the desk. As if from no where, he had produced an extra glass and poured a finger of the strange, burgundy liquor into it.

Suddenly, Thompson’s mouth felt quite dry. He took a shuffled step forward to take the glass that was offered. The liquid smelled astringent, metallic, and sweet, all at the same time.

“Well, don’t look so upset. Top shelf whiskey, a very unique import. Not to be snubbed,” Ducante explained with an arched eyebrow. “Well? Bottoms up.”

And with that, the bar owner downed the rest of his glass. Thompson obediently followed; for what he claimed was to shelf, the whiskey was hardly what Thompson would expect to pay any type of good money for. It burned all the way down his throat, and the taste it left in his mouth was somehow disgustingly familiar and foreign all at the same time.

Ducante offered a reassuring smile, which Thompson tried to return. He handed back the glass and made it out of the office door, down the shiny, refurbished stairs. He made it all the way to the front doors, flung open to mixed reviews from the public. He was just at the traffic cones that blocked off the parking when his stomach rejected the expensive beverage. It was then that Thompson thought, ever so briefly, that the excessive trappings of Gregory Ducante were perhaps not something that warranted his time after all.

Real Estate

“I think you’ll enjoy this one quite a bit, Mr. Ducante,” Eliza Janelle said breathlessly, shifting a pile of papers in her arms to search for a key. Ms. Janelle had been a realtor for exactly seven months, and she had met Mr. Gregory Ducante exactly three times.

Every time she had seen him, Mr. Ducante had looked exactly the same. He was not a tall man, though he was also not especially short. His ashen brown hair was prematurely streaked with grey (prematurely, because Mr. Ducante could have been no more than thirty-five at most) and was always well maintained: short on the sides, perfectly combed on the top.

‘Perfectly maintained’ was a pleasant way to describe all of Mr. Ducante, when Ms. Eliza Janelle stopped to think about it. His lean frame was always dressed in perfectly tailored dark trousers, an expertly pressed button up always on top. Dark polished loafers shone on his feet.

It had been these loafers that she had noticed most on their first meeting: particularly, because they had been scuffed.

When her employers, the Marvin Bros. Realty Company, had told her a business man was looking for a building to turn into a new tavern, she had immediately pictured the mod, white-walled establishment so en vogue in the big cities not far from their own town of Molten. She had explained as much, thinking herself very business savvy, as she led Mr. Ducante into a trendy – and recently defunct – restaurant.

Yet, as his shoe rubbed against the faux-leather border of one of the color blocked benches, scuffing the dark hide on some unseen hardware, his pointed features had contracted into something very sour indeed.

“Eliza, my dear,” he had said, languidly running a finger across a multi-density fiber table of Swedish design. “I am not sure what you have been told by that… establishment… you work for. But this is not what I am looking for in the slightest.”

“No? But – a bar – I’m so sorry, Mr. Ducante, sir – ”

He held up one hand to stop her, shaking his head slowly from side to side. “No need for that, now. Let’s just try better next time, shall we?” A rather serene grin fell across his thin lips. “Something with character. Something with a visible history. That, my dear, is what I am looking for.”

And grin still in place, he had turned on heel and left the prospective property.

The second time they had met, she had thought she had done better. The property she had chosen (as Mr. Ducante was a self-proclaimed new comer to Molten) had history, to be sure: it had almost burned down fifteen years previous, and though still salvageable, had remained vacant ever since.

But this, too, was met with a certain degree of irreverence.

“Dear God, girl,” he said, peering around a particularly well-crafted cobweb. “I am in the business of entrepreneurial endeavors. That is hard enough without coddling a money trap.”

And just as the first time, he had turned and left.

This time, though, she was determined for the situation to be different. She had done her research: she smiled triumphantly as she rested her keys from her purse without toppling a single pile of papers. On the side walk, Mr. Gregory Ducante was looking skeptically between the upscale sushi restaurant and local landmark steak house that surrounded this latest building. The building itself was not particularly large nor particularly small: it had no windows on the first floor, only a pair of wide set double doors made of a cracked, aged wood.

One creaked as Ms. Janelle pulled it open, her kitten heels clicking against the pavement.

“Please,” she said, shaking her hair out of her face to spite the autumn bluster, “you first.”

“Why, thank you, Ms. Janelle,” he said, a smirk set in place. The doorway before him was dark – no doubt a side effect of creating a building without windows on the main level. As he crossed the threshold, Eliza Janelle reached clumsily around the door to flip on the lights.

Cold fluorescence flooded the room. The space appeared larger inside than it did outside: perhaps because it was entirely unfurnished, or perhaps because of a mixture of creamy, exposed brick walls and dark – albeit dusty – wood floors. The space was entirely unassuming, save for an aged chandelier that hung low in the center of the room.

Mr. Gregory Ducante crossed to the center, folded his arms over his perfectly pressed shirt, and gazed at the chandelier with his dark chocolate stare.

“I realize it’s not furnished – but the store rooms are already set up, and there is a lovely space for an office, just upstairs, it could all use some cleaning, but – ”

“How old is it?” Asked Mr. Ducante, who had crossed the room to lay one slender hand against the brick.

“It was built in nineteen… nineteen twenty-two.” Ms. Eliza Janelle said, glancing down at the papers in her arms for reassurance.

Mr. Ducante sighed. “Such a good year,” he breathed.

Eliza chuckled nervously. This was as best a rsponse as she had gotten so far.

“Good work, my dear Ms. Janelle,” Mr. Ducante said easily, turning to face her. “I’ll take it.”

“Oh – oh that, that’s fantastic!” she gushed, trying to contain her enthusiasm. Ms. Janelle shifted the paperwork in her arms. “I’ve brought some papers, just in case – ”

“Of course,” he said smoothly, taking the stack out of her arms. “Of course, my dear. How about you leave these – and the keys – in my possession, and I will take care of it all in the morning?”

“Well – ” Eliza Janelle began. It was quite unorthodox.

“Did I mention that I am, among a great many other things, also a Notary Public?” Mr. Ducante added with a wink.

Ms. Janelle giggled, shifting her hands uncomfortably. She was unsure what to do with them now that they were free from the piles of documents.

“I promise it will all be done before you step foot in the office,” Mr. Ducante said honorably, holding out his hand. “And you can tell those boys at Marvin Brothers that they’re working you too hard.”

Eliza Janelle gave a smile and a nod as she reached out to grasp his hand with her own. As they met to shake, and as her hazel eyes met his chocolate ones, a funny thing happened. She was sure, that just for a second, his chocolate colored irises had turned to a most unnatural red.

She felt her body tense: but moments later, as he was waving her pleasantly from her first high-six-figure sale, she scolded herself. There was nothing odd here: Mr. Ducante had simply been correct.

She was working too hard.

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