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.Like I’m being watched.I always trust my instincts, so I glance around, as if I’m looking for something, or simply surveying the street.Nothing.At least not anything I can see with my eyes.The feeling doesn’t go away, not even when I go inside and am greeted enthusiastically by the wife of the host.She pulls me into her recently-enhanced chest and smacks a kiss on my cheek.It’s impossible to tell how old she is because her skin has been lifted so many times.She might as well be a silicone sex doll.After making my escape, I grab a drink and weave through the crowd, saying hello and making small talk.The tables have labels on them, so I search for mine and then for Mr.Beaumont’s.They’re all the way across the room, but with a simple swap, I’m sitting right next to him.Beaumont is elusive again.I search for a while, but then things get started, so I make my way back to my chair.The master of ceremonies takes the stage (some washed-up comedian-turned-host) and we’re all ordered to take our seats.I sink into mine, introducing myself to the lady on my left who has to be at least eighty years old, but has kindness in her smile as she shakes my hand.She and her husband hold hands on top of the table, and he keeps smiling at her.That’s pure love right there.They ask me if I have a wife and I smile back and say I haven’t met the right woman yet.That opens me up to a barrage of marriage and dating advice.I don’t bother to tell them that the kind of love story they have isn’t for people like me.But I humor them and listen, keeping part of my attention on the still-empty seat beside me.Waiters come around and start taking drink orders.I order water, even though I want something much stronger.I need to have my mind sharp.Finally, just as the first course is announced, Mr.Beaumont slides into his seat, sans wife and daughter.Damn.But it isn’t a total loss.I can still make something of this night.“Mr.Beaumont, nice to see you again,” I say, holding out my hand and giving him a smile.“I didn’t know you were a fan of philanthropy.” Of course, this is a lie, but it rolls off of my tongue easily.The more you lie, the easier it gets.Trust me.“Ah, Mr.Brand, nice to see you as well.And I could say the same.I’ve been a supporter of this organization for many years.” That’s also true, but I don’t want him to know how much I truly know about him.“Well,” I say as the waiter comes back with my water and the rest of the drinks for the table, “I can’t say no to a worthy cause.” Tonight it’s AIDS in Africa.As worthy a cause as any and I’m more than willing to pay the money for the plate.It’s a win-win situation.If only Saige was here, it would have been a home run.But like the song says, you can’t always get what you want.Beaumont and I chat and the couple next to me joins the conversation.It’s all polite and surface information.I’m looking for an opening to see if I can ask about the daughter.Midway through the third course of lobster bisque, he takes out his phone and frowns at it before putting it away and not answering.“Something wrong?” I say, trying not to look too interested.“Nothing.Just my daughter being herself.I know I should be more firm with her, but she’s my only daughter.” He heaves a heavy sigh and I mentally curse.If she’s texting him, then that probably means she isn’t going to be here tonight.Swing and a miss.Again.“How old is she?” I ask, even though I know.Down to her birthdate.“Twenty.But she doesn’t always act it.” He shakes his head like a long-suffering father and the fellow across the way commiserates with him.Apparently he and his wife have four daughters (all grown, obviously).I sit and listen, waiting my turn.The comedian on stage is still going, but not many people are actually listening to him.“Do you have any children, Mr.Brand?” Beaumont says.I shake my head.“No, I don’t.” I don’t elaborate.“So what’s the issue with yours?” I’m not above brown-nosing to get the information I want.I’m also not above doing anything to get what I want, actually.“Typical rebellion.I thought she’d gotten it out of her system in her teenage years, but it seems that was just the beginning.” He turns his eyes to the ceiling, as if begging God.Or cursing him.“Well, I can’t offer any advice on that front.But I’m sure she’ll come around,” I say, finishing my soup.I’m eating damn good tonight.There are twelve courses, but they are all microscopic, which was why you need so many to have a full meal.I will never understand wealthy people eating such tiny portions.You’d think it would be the opposite.“Is it too late to send her to military school?” he says with a chuckle.It’s the first time I’ve heard him make any sort of a joke.“Is she in college, or working?” I ask.Yet another bit of information I already know.“She wants to do a lot of things, but she can never seem to make up her mind.One minute she wants to be a fashion designer and the next she wants to be a social worker.Right now she’s in school for art history and restoration.” He shakes his head as if she might as well be in school for professional pole dancing.For most parents, art history might not be that bad, but for this fellow, it’s a disgrace.“And what would you want her to do?” The fourth course of lemon garlic scallops arrives.Three fucking scallops.That’s it.I had to practice my table manners for a long time before I started attending events like this.I know which fork is the salad fork, what course comes when and how to order nearly any kind of drink.It’s all part of the job.I have to give the appearance that I’ve been doing this my whole life, instead of for just a few years.I have to make it look effortless.Beaumont chuckles and spears a scallop with his fork, cutting it in half and then bringing it to his mouth.“Oh, I’m not sure.She’s smart, and that’s part of the problem.It would be much easier if she wasn’t sharp and I could just push her into a mid-level position in my company.Give her an office and some things to do and that would be it.But alas, my offspring wants more.” He laughs and I eat one of my scallops as delicately as I can.They’re delicious and I want to inhale them.I should have eaten more before I came.“I’m sure she’ll settle down.She’s still young.” That makes Beaumont laugh again.“And so are you,” he says.I don’t feel young.I’ve never felt young.I remember watching other children play and envying them.But life often deals shitty hands and I got a pretty bad one.Still, it had made me who I am today and for that I’m almost grateful.Beaumont chats more with me about his daughter and his wife and his yacht.I’ve had a hundred conversations like this, so I’m able to tune most of it out and scan the rest of the room.I’m always careful, always waiting for an ambush, or for someone to pick up on something.So far, I’ve been able to get away with everything I’ve done, but that luck can only hold out so long.I’m not delusional enough to think that I can outfox everyone.Granted, I have a team behind me, but sooner or later, my luck is going to run out.I’ve drifted off too far and Beaumont has asked me a question.“I’m sorry, I got distracted for a moment,” I say.“See something you like?” he asks with a wink, pointing toward a woman coming back to her table from the restroom [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]