Night Breaks Into Day

By TS Millheim

Thriller

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375
11 mins

Chapter One

“See, I’m not such a bad guy once you get to know me”, he said as he rattled the ice in his glass. I stifled a laugh at his self-deprecation and stared at him through the gin and tonic in his tumbler. He was nearly done with his drink. It was only his fifth since I had sat down with him an hour ago.
“You sure you’re gonna be able to drive? You must be hammered,” I stated, more than a little nervous about the man’s condition.
“I’m perfectly fine,” he said as a hint of a smile danced around the corners of his mouth. “Besides, I’ve got to do my part to stimulate the local economy. The more Bombay Sapphire I drink, the better off everybody in Springfield is.” He looked in my eyes. It was a lame joke but I didn’t see anything sloppy about his countenance. No beads of sweat appeared on his forehead, no inebriated grin wavered on hip lips. His tie was still tight around his neck. Despite seeing him pound down enough alcohol to put a Viking into the emergency room, I didn’t think he was tossing an idle boast at me.
“Now, before you let yourself get needlessly worried over me, what were we talking about?”
I slowly took a sip out of my own drink to give me a second to collect my thoughts. Why was this guy even speaking to me? I had been to the ladies room before I sat down. Charitably, you could say I was gently rumpled. In reality, I was a shambles. Just being outside for a few minutes in 95 degree 95% humidity weather had gotten my hair to frizz up. My new lip stain—the one the guy at the MAC counter insisted was good for all day—had faded despite several applications. Fifty dollars, well spent. My freshly-pressed jacket looked like I used it for a three day camp out. Sitting in an airline seat for four hours after being in an airport for three hours with a nice long stopover in blazing hot Atlanta had not been kind to the look I had worked into a high gloss in the morning.
I was also happily married. The man had to see the rings. I was only wearing two carats on my finger; three if you counted the stones on my wedding band.
Oh well, I thought. At least he’s buying. That was something. But the strange little cat and mouse game he was playing with me was starting to get a bit tired. The airport dive bar setting wasn’t exactly putting me in the mood either. The Landing Strip was clean, at least by raggedy-ass hole in the wall standards. They’d probably thrown a mop on the floor and wiped down the tables a couple times this month. There was only a half inch layer of grime coating the bar. I caught a distinct whiff of bleach when I went into the bathroom, even after a full day of travelers pissing through the stalls. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any obvious health code violations.
Interior design violations? Plenty. Jesus, the décor was beyond atrocious. Calling it a disaster would’ve paid the dump a high compliment. Marbled charcoal grey plastic tables, textured pastel pink wallpaper, oversized neon signage, track lighting. The decorators piled tacky on gaudy on cliché on terrifying and called it good. I love the eighties as much as the next gal, but the people running the bar used all of the worst visual cues from the Age of Capitalist Excess and none of the fun stuff.
If I were in charge, I would’ve tossed away the throwback motif entirely. A look like that can be played off as ironic kitsch in a Brooklyn hipster bar. A stolid working man’s Midwest airport gin mill was the last place that should’ve looked to the Reagan era for style cues.
And really, there were much better choices to be made when it came to decorating that sort of space. For five hundred dollars they could’ve done a nice economical sprucing up that would’ve given the bar a more streamlined façade while also taking down some of the more egregious unforced style errors. The blazing yellow and blue MILLER LITE monstrosity could finally stop burning a hole in my retinas. Everybody knew it was a bar; nobody needed a glowing ten square foot sign to tell them they missed the exit for the modern art gallery. For a thousand dollars—a pittance, really—they could’ve given the place a nice soft understated vibe. I was thinking along the lines of a rustic Tuscan villa; I suppose my trip to Florence a few years back had made a long-lasting impression on my design sensibilities. Nothing too crazy—no columns or frescos or anything—but just enough to create a gentle visual flair. Even if all the owners did was simply take out the dingy banged-up tiles and put down some high traffic laminate flooring, a hickory pattern with a nearly clear coat finish perhaps, it would’ve helped tie things together. Anything but the loud busy clashing un-theme they had going on.
Taking a peak at my cell, I was shocked at how much time had passed. I had let myself get caught up in some self-indulgent David Bromstad interior designer fantasies. My schedule wasn’t crazy-tight, but at the same time I wanted to decompress from all the flights and get a good night’s sleep for the next day. Futzing around in a pub didn’t make much sense if I wanted to make this trip to Missouri worthwhile.
“Look, Darrell, thanks for the drinks. I really do appreciate it. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow”, I said as I went to stand up. Let the man down easy and relatively painlessly, but go. If I was going to make a move, let it be polite and quick.
Darrell didn’t rise with me. He reached his hand across the small round surface of the table and gently put his palm over my wrist. His touch was soft and light, with hardly any pressure. His eyes crinkled and he sighed. He looked almost sad to see me trying to leave.
“Becky, Becky, Becky…what’s the rush? I know it’s 6 o’clock in New Jersey, but it’s only five here. Relax. Take a breath. You’ve got plenty of time to rest up for your meeting.”
He said it so matter-of-factly that I found it hard to argue. I wasn’t a teenager. I didn’t have a curfew. My meeting was a 12:30 lunch/interview the next day. There were some decisions I could make all on my own, without the pressure of the clock bossing me around.
I nestled back into the chair and called our waitress over to the table. Darrell smiled and leaned back in his seat, quite satisfied in his small victory over my uptight neuroticism. This tête–à–tête was going to require a social lubricant more potent than a mere Diet Pepsi.
“Could I get a Long Island ice tea?” I asked.
Our server nodded approvingly as she jotted down my order. I noticed Barbie flash a big girlish smile at Darrell as she took my order. Her figure was cute, but she had a little bit of that Midwestern chubbly-bubbly thing going on in her hip region. Every once in a while she could’ve laid off the Waffle House smothered-n-covered hash browns. Moving up a size on her pants would’ve probably bruised her ego, but it would’ve done wonders for everything else. I was seeing too much junk in the trunk for a girl with such a cute face. Other than that she looked good. For a girl on the wrong side of 110 pounds, her boobs were fairly perky too. She didn’t do much to hide them, so I and everyone else in the place had gotten a very good look at the gals. The forgiving nature of a 19 year old body was completely lost on her.

It was all very strange. I had been in the middle of America for less than two hours. Everywhere I looked there were fashion miscues and design train wrecks. The situation was depressing, but even more tragic because it didn’t have to happen. It was as if the people didn’t have access to Vogue Online. Even a dead tree subscription to Dwell would’ve done the job.
“I’ll have another gin and tonic, Barbie, thanks”, he told her without her needing to ask. She almost clicked her heels and turned on them as she said “Can do” in a perky tone. Darrell glanced at the waitress as she left, then looked back at me.
“One thing about the bar at Springfield National, the service is always first rate.”
“How many times have you been here to know how good the wait staff is? By the way, we’re not exactly talking about midtown Manhattan, Darrell. The bustling metropolis of Springfield, Missouri—ooooooh. The people here are probably dying to do something besides twiddle their thumbs all day and get themselves psyched up for a fun-filled evening of cow tipping”, I joked. He let out a belly laugh.
“See, there’s that tough East Coast attitude we talked about. I knew you couldn’t hold it back for long.”
“You’ve found out my dirty little secret,” I gasped in mock surprise. “I’m just a spoiled Jersey girl at heart.”
“Jersey girl? Yeah, I’d say so. Your accent gives it away pretty quick. Spoiled? Eh, I’m not really catching that vibe off of you”, Darrell replied with a chuckle. “I think the term you’re looking for is ‘no-nonsense’.”
“To be honest, I don’t even know what cow-tipping is. I just know it’s something these bumpkins major in at their rinky-dink farmer colleges”, I quipped back. “By the way, I do not have an accent. Its youse guys owt heeyah dat tawk fuhnneey.”
“Well, I believe it is you folks back east that don’t employ proper English”, Darrell retorted in his best Tom Brokaw Midwest brogue.
I let out a small chuckle as Darrell rattled his glass. As I took a healthy gulp of my drink, I had to admit. The man had serious game. He rolled with the conversation, he made me laugh and he put me at ease in the middle of a down market tavern in a strange city I didn’t even begin to understand. He did it cold too, no rehearsed spiel, no stupid pick-up lines, no bullshit. Despite being out of the dating scene for a few years, I was impressed with his flow. Even when he was very definitely pitching it to me, he made it seem like he wasn’t; his was the softest of soft sells.
I looked him up and down, for probably the eighth time that night. If he wore any jewelry, it was underneath his suit. No diamond studs dangled from his ears, no rings dripped off of his fingers. Even though he had a toothless redneck first name, I didn’t think he was the type of guy who would adorn his body with gallons of tattoo ink. I couldn’t get a good look at his watch, but it probably wasn’t a Casio. His dark Brooks Brothers suit did not come cheap. A bespoke shirt was mated with an elegant crimson tie, even if it wasn’t as bold and colorful as I would’ve liked. Darrell’s pocket square was crisply pressed into a narrow rectangular oxblood band that just peaked out about a quarter inch past the cuff. Not a speck of lint clung to his outfit. There was not a centimeter of loose thread that splayed out past the outline of his silhouette, making him perfectly and utterly self-contained. The gleaming black leather Mephisto shoes had probably set him back a few hundred. I knew from experience. I’d bought my husband a pair of loafers from the same company for his birthday last year.
Taken separately these accoutrements would be ostentatious, almost absurdly grandiose, the couture equivalent of dipping a dozen roses in twenty four karat gold and a pound of Swarovski crystals. On another man, flashing a single one of these baubles would look like crazy desperate plumage preening. But seen together, watching the components work as a whole on Darrell, the overall effect was rather subdued. For all the potentially gaudy decorations he looked like nothing more than a very tasteful reasonably wealthy impeccably well-groomed man. Understatement with a subtle hint of polished flash; never before had I seen someone pull off such a powerful look in such a nonchalant way.
Darrell’s eyes caught mine for a moment. He noticed me giving him the once over. I didn’t look away, but then neither did he. Just for a moment, his ultra-suave veneer slipped and I saw the faintest inkling of desire. I could only hope he didn’t see any lust in my stare.
“I am so sorry, Darrell…I’ve done nothing but blather on about myself for ages”, I said, struggling to find a way to politely break his gaze and snapping some of the tension.
“Don’t be silly, this has been great. I like hearing about what’s happening back East. I don’t get out there too often these days, so it’s important for me to get some perspective from someone actually on the ground”, he answered.
I laughed as Barbie came back with our drinks. Darrell made it seem like he was getting a raft of hard-hitting business intel. And he was right. Over the course of sixty minutes, my data driven analytics-based debriefing had been quite thorough. I had dutifully given him the inside story of the new house my husband and I had bought in Norwood, the lead paragraph of my man’s burgeoning medical career, breaking news about our Jack Russell terrier’s sock-chewing fetish, and the latest trends in my boss’ awful no good very bad sense of style.
“Enough about me, Darrell. What brings you here?” I asked, looking to give him some airtime in our basically one-sided conversation.
“My company is located in Springfield. I’m actually coming back to home base, so to speak,” he replied flatly.
“Oh, I had no idea,” I said, trying to cover up my embarrassment. I knew my face was starting to glow, which only made me feel more foolish. I’d cracked more than a few jokes at the expense of Springfield and the Midwest over the last hour. Uggghhhh, I thought, stupid, Becky. You can be so very dumb when you don’t use your brain.
“What does your company do?” I asked, quickly.
“Software, mostly”, he answered succinctly. His curt reply gave me no room for a good response.
“Oh wow. That’s very interesting”, as my voice trailed off for a second. Why do I sorta feel like I should know this guy? Software company…Springfield…Darrell…, I thought.
He looked at me, with a shy-sly grin and leaned back in his seat, as if to give me a better look at him. He gave his jacket a quick pat, even though there was not a wrinkle on it.
“Holy shit, you’re Darrell Beals!” I said as it dawned on me, an hour late.
“We have a winner!” he said with a laugh. “Nice to meet you too, Becky Silverberg.”
He reached over to shake my hand, even though we had already done that at the beginning of the evening. I grasped it and gave him a good hearty squeeze. In my head, I cursed myself for not seeing it earlier. How did I miss it?
“Its okay, Becky. I’m not as famous as some of the other software guys, but I’m getting there,” Darrell said, charitably. “I’m not on YouTube or the news channels often. I don’t have a huge media profile.”
“Well, thank you Darrell. That is very kind, but still, I apologize,” I replied back.
“There’s no need to feel bad. Unless you’re a tech analyst or a stock broker, you’re really not supposed to know who I am. In fact, I wasn’t very upfront about myself, so I really should be apologizing to you.”
“That’s right! You should be sorry!” I said in mock anger. He chuckled as he dodged out of the way of my play-slap at his shoulder.
“Look, I hate it when a celebrity drops that ‘do you know who I am’ crap on normal people. I didn’t want to pull some semi-famous person rank in our conversation. And as celebrities go, I’m strictly z-list material. I just wanted to chit-chat with a smart beautiful woman for a little while”, Darrell stated in a kindly tone. “So there’s no reason why we can’t still just shoot the breeze for a spell, right?”
“You’re correct, but you know I’m a reporter. I might just have to report this meeting on our site’s blog. Or maybe even do a full-length article”, I said, looking at him with a sideways glance.
“I really don’t know how much material you can get out of a chance encounter at an airport bar” he declared.
“You really don’t know the media, do you?” I chortled. “We can spin a five minute conversation into an international scandal.”
“Yes, now that you mention it, I have noticed that. You guys almost got a president thrown out of office for cheating on his wife. Now you see why I try not to talk to the press”, he snarked.
“Oh Darrell, don’t be so sensitive. You act as if our mission in life is to go out and ruin people’s lives. That was a Drudge thing. The Republicans piled on because they hate sex. Real reporters respect private matters,” I answered. “I’d treat you fairly, if you did the same for me.” He let out a belly laugh.
“Are you actually threatening me with favorable press?”
“‘Favorable’ depends entirely on you,” I chuckled in return as I took a long sip from my drink. I stirred the ice in the glass and the sound rattled across the table for a bit longer than was comfortable. A small silence stretched on for a few seconds, and then I looked back at Darrell. His look had completely changed, in a way I hadn’t seen before. Did I just push this conversation too far?
It was Darrell’s turn to size me up. He leaned forward in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest. The smile that had pirouetted along the corners of his mouth all night quickly faded. In its place was a lightly furrowed brow. His eyes wandered over me and I could see him thinking over his next words.
I found myself shifting in my chair. Maybe it was the fact that he was rich and powerful. Maybe it was because in his chosen field he was a huge mega-celebrity. Maybe it was just because he was so goddamn handsome. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to annoy him. Even more, I didn’t want Darrell to cut the conversation off and end the evening on an awkward note.
Mercifully, his gaze broke and he let out a quick laugh. His smile returned. I think I might’ve actually sighed.
“Well, Becky, how about I make this trip really worthwhile for you?”
“How could you possibly make my time in Springfield any better than it already is, Darrell?” I said with a questioning look, trying to regain some of my composure.
“Here’s a little secret. I’ve never given an exclusive interview to anyone about me or my company. I’ve done press conferences and web announcements, but never an extended sit-down with a member of the media. You could be the first”, he said.
“I could be,” I said slowly, “but you know I write for Misha Beacon’s website. We do artsy crafty puff pieces, not in-depth profiles of business CEOs.”
“Believe me, Misha loves tech stuff. She and I go back a few years. Underneath that ‘Lady of the House’ shtick is a very knowledgeable computer geek who understands how technology makes the world go around. I’m one hundred percent certain that she’ll be very excited to hear what I have to say.”
He knows Misha Beacon? I thought. I work for the woman and I’ve only met her once, for like 30 seconds. I quickly shook off my annoyance.
“I dunno, Darrell. This sort of story doesn’t really feel like us. Misha Beacon MultiMedia doesn’t scream ‘hi-tech’ to me,” I shot back. As soon as I said it, I felt like kicking myself. Jesus Christ, Becky, shut the hell up. Why are you trying to self-destruct this thing before it even begins?
“On the off-chance she or even your editor doesn’t want the piece, somebody else will pay you for it. Handsomely”, said Darrell, with a playful edge in his voice. “You think the New York Times won’t jump on this? Does the Washington Post have the luxury of passing up such a big story? Please. You’ll have people lining up from your doorstep all the way out to the Garden State Parkway to buy my interview from you.”
I mulled his words. This is beyond anything I had planned for this trip. I’m so goddamned unprepared. Oh God, this could be a complete disaster. I forced myself to find calm place in my head. Slowly, a placid thought slithered through my skull. Or…This could be a major score.
“I can ask any question I want?” I asked.
“Naturally. I may not answer it, but you can certainly ask.”
That was a pretty massive caveat on his part. He was laying down the groundwork to clam up if and when I dug too deep. I pondered my options for a nanosecond.
“When did you want to start?” I quickly asked.
“How about now?” he fired back. Well okay then big guy, I chortled in my mind. Involuntarily, I could feel my face burst into a big dumb smile.
“Let me get my laptop,” I said just as quickly.



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