He stared at the street through the plate-glass window, fingers tapping anxiously on the spotless white tablecloth. Would she show? She would, he told himself. It had been ten minutes. She was only ten minutes late. No need to be discouraged... that was nothing.
Sipping his water he turned to gaze at the restaurant door. It wouldnít help, he reminded himself. He hadnít the faintest idea of what she looked like. Nervously, he studied the menu that heíd already been over at least a dozen times since heíd arrived twenty minutes before their agreed meeting time. ĎWangís Palaceí it boasted in gold calligraphy. What if she didnít like Chinese?
A woman entered the restaurant. She was slender and pretty with wavy brown hair that encircled her neck and danced across the shoulders of her white blouse. Please let that be her, he whispered to himself. She was gorgeous.
His prayers were answered. She spoke briefly to the waiter and then looked at him at his table across the room near the window and smiled. He scrambled to his feet, his heart racing as she walked slowly toward him.
"Hi, Iím John," he heard himself say as he held out his hand, impressing himself with the confident exterior that he put forth even while his insides were crumbling with anxiety and anticipation.
"Sarah." She took it. The skin of her palm was soft and welcoming. He pulled the chair out for her, and she sat. What a jackpot of a blind date, he thought to himself. Thank god. Thank god for the internet.
They exchanged pleasantries and ordered their meals. The General Tsoís chicken for him. The mixed vegetables chow mein for her. Through a few painful moments of awkward silence he searched his brain for something to say. Something to start a conversation.
"So, what do you do for a living?" was what he came up with. Not terribly brilliant or witty, but still, not a bad approach to get things going.
"Iím a headhunter," she replied. "I find people."
"Headhunter? You mean like for a company? Finding people to hire?"
"Sort of. Not exactly." He waited for further details, but none came. Instead, it was, "and yourself?"
"Salesman," he replied quickly. He looked downward and she stared inquisitively.
"Whatís wrong with that?"
"Nothing." His eyes were still firmly affixed to the tablecloth. "Why?"
"Well you looked straight down right after you told me you were a salesman. You didnít tell me what you sell or anything. Some people would say that means youíre ashamed of it. Other people might think it means youíre lying. So which is it?"
"Itís just I..." He was surprised by her intuition. Sheíd put him right on the spot and he was unsure of what to say next.
"Itís just you what?" She spoke softly. Her voice was understanding. Knowing.
"Ah... Iím usually better at this." He peered back up at her, meeting her gaze. "I... thereís something about you... I donít want to lie to you. I canít."
"Why would you lie to me?"
"Alright, you got me. Iím not a salesman at all. I..." He stopped abruptly when he saw the waiter approaching. He looked away, out the window, as their dishes were placed in front of them.
"You were saying?" She continued when the waiter had gone.
"Well, I work for the government."
"The government? Whatís the big secret about that?"
"I... can I trust you?"
"I donít see why not. I think you can."
"I have to know that I can. I mean, I want to. I feel like I already know you. Like we already have a connection between us. Am I right?"
"Sure, you can definitely trust me."
He reached across the table and gripped her hand loosely in his own. "Iím in the clandestine service. Top secret operations. High level stuff." He paused to gauge her reaction which was not the utter shock that heíd expected. "Iím what you would call a secret agent."
She flashed a broad smile. She seemed excited, exhilarated by his revelation. "So what are you, James Bond?"
"Sort of," he chuckled. "Except Iím not British."
She took a sip of her tea and a bite of her food, twirling the noodles in her chopsticks. "Well tell me about your adventures, secret agent man."
"Thereís only so much I can say. So much of it is classified and... while I do trust you, I take my oath very seriously. But I can tell you that Iíve been all over the world. Iíve been in every situation you can imagine. I can handle just about... no, not just about. I can handle anything. Iíve had a gun pointed at my head with a very unhappy Lebanese guerilla holding the trigger. It was tough to talk my way out of that one. Letís see... I was in a building hit by a rocket attack. I had to climb through ten feet of rubble all while the bad guys were looking for me. I made it out of the city by hijacking a mule and cart and disguising myself as a farmer."
"Sounds scary," she cooed, twirling her coffee-colored hair. "But I bet youíve got better than that, secret agent man. You must meet all kinds of interesting people in your line of work. Tell me about some of them."
"Alright well one time, the Sultan of Brunai was visiting New York. There had been a failed attempt on his life not too long before, and security had to be tight. I was assigned to his detail... to go over there and escort him to the U.S. and back on his private jet. It was incredible. You wouldnít believe. His servants brought him whatever he wanted, no matter whether we were taking off, landing, or whatever. He had everything he could ever want on that plane. He had a hot tub! A hot tub at 40,000 feet! And the food... amazing. He had his personal chef on board who would prepare some of the most decadent things Iíve ever eaten." He smiled wryly. "That is with all due respect to our friend Wang here."
He ended his tales when the waiter returned to collect their plates. She stared admiringly as he paid the check leaving a generous tip.
"Can I give you a ride?" he asked when they made it to the sidewalk.
"Iím only a few blocks away," she answered. "But you can walk me home if you like."
"Iíd be honored. Lead the way." He placed his hand on the small of her back, his fingers tingling at the silky touch of her blouse. She led him down the avenue, taking a left onto the side street at the corner.
The block they found themselves on was long and deserted. The illumination of the streetlights was shrouded and nearly eclipsed by a row of trees on either side that hung low above the pavement. The shadows were deep enough that John was taken by surprised when a figure leapt into their path and stopped them in their tracks.
"Wallet," the man grumbled from behind the black hooded sweatshirt that hung from his torso and hid the greater portion of his face. His arm was extended and grasping something shiny that caught the reflection of the droplets of light that trickled through the tree branches. There was no mistaking what it was. A gun.
"What?" John blurted, half a question, half a gasp for air.
"I said gimme yo wallet!" was the assailantís demand. John glanced quickly behind him instinctively searching for an escape. But of course there was none. He couldnít outrun a bullet.
Obediently John reached produced his wallet, turning away as he handed it to the mugger who snatched it with his free hand, tucking it into his pocket. John didnít want to look at the menace, nor at Sarah whose reaction he was more terrified of than of the gun. He begged in his thoughts that this would be over and that she would understand.
The mugger took a step closer, the whites of his eyes flashing from beneath the covering of his hood. "And the girlís purse," he hissed, his voice cutting through John like a knife.
Sarah did nothing. Why would she? Why would she hand over her purse when she was expecting her companion to send this petty thug to the ground with one devastating move?
"You should give him your purse," John muttered quickly, staring at his feet.
The mugger had enough. He reached back, gun in hand, and whipped the metal weapon across Johnís forehead. He stumbled back and fell to the ground, dazed by the blow. "Now you betta do what your boyfriend said," he snarled at Sarah.
Sarah didnít hesitate. With lightning quickness, she kicked the gun from the muggerís hand, sending it skipping across the sidewalk. She spun around and sliced his face with a roundhouse kick that sent him down onto one knee. Before he could recover she grabbed his arm and pulled it behind him. John heard a crunch as the muggerís shoulder separated and gave way. The thug let out a yelp that sounded like something from a wounded animal. He lay on the sidewalk, writhing in pain and pounding his free fist against the pavement, screaming for her to release his butchered arm.
She did, but only for the sake of picking up his displaced gun. She knelt down and held it against the side of his head.
"Please, lady..." the mugger begged.
"Give him his wallet back," Sarah ordered. The mugger reached into his pocket with his good arm and flicked the wallet in Johnís direction. John was too stunned to even scramble to his feet and pick it up.
"Please..." the mugger whined.
"Youíre very lucky," Sarah said to him calmly, her voice no different from the soft and warming tone that had enticed John in the restaurant. "Youíre very lucky that Iím in no mood to deal with you any more than I already have. Just do yourself a favor and think about this the next time you get the urge to mug someone."
She dropped the gun to her side, and the mugger leapt to his feet and sprinted off into the night, almost tripping over his own feet. Sarah watched him go and then sauntered deliberately to where John was still pinned to the ground. She crouched over him and he turned away to avoid her condescending stare.
"You were wrong about one thing, secret agent man," she said, her inflection still refusing to change.
"What?" His voice was so meek that the word barely escaped from his throat.
"The food on the Sultanís plane sucks." She got up and walked off down the block and into the darkness. The clicking of her heels against the sidewalk was the last of her that he heard