At a little after nine, the man Chaisey was waiting for walked into the Pearl Lounge on the twentieth floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, and took a seat at the long, gleaming bar. Sometimes it took a little while before she was sure of her man, but not this time. His beautifully cut gray suit and stylishly long hair set him apart from the rest of the casually dressed patrons. Chaisey had been sitting in a booth by the window for two hours, fighting nerves and boredom as she nursed a seven-and-seven and gazed out at the Chicago skyline. Now it was time to go to work.
She went over to the bar and took a seat, leaving an empty padded stool between herself and the man, whose name was Albert Virello. The bartender came over immediately, and she ordered a glass of white wine. She didn't look at Virello, but she felt the weight of his gaze as she took a tiny sip of wine and then set the glass back down on the small napkin. Then she swiveled her stool around, letting her gaze sweep across Virello to the large windows behind the bar. He smiled at her, but she kept her face neutral. When she swiveled back around she made eye contact for a moment, letting the corner of her mouth move upward just a fraction before her gaze slipped away.
A few seconds later he was standing behind her.
"Excuse me ... would you mind if I sat down next to you?"
She looked up, feigning surprise. "No, of course not."
Virello set his drink down and slipped into the stool next to her, carefully spreading the bottom of his jacket to avoid sitting on it.
Chaisey smiled to herself, thinking about her meeting with Mason three days ago. "This one should be right up your alley," he had told her. "He's a sharp dresser who fancies himself a real lady killer." This was said with a perfectly straight face - Mason didn't do irony. He had handed her a photograph of Albert Virello, and she had spent several minutes memorizing it. The photograph had showed Virello sitting in a restaurant, wearing an elegant navy-blue suit. He was smiling at something, and Chaisey recognized immediately that he was quite good looking. In his forties, he had smooth, tanned skin and dark gray hair. His features were lean and sharp, and he reminded her of a wolf.
"Are you in Chicago on business?"
Chaisey turned to look at Virello. "You could say that. I had a job interview today."
"Ah, I see. It went well, I trust?"
"Yes, yes it did. They offered me the job, in fact. I'm pretty excited, I've always wanted to live in Chicago." She gave him a dazzling smile.
"Congratulations," said Virello, returning the smile. "Chicago is a wonderful city. I lived here for ten years before I had to move away two years ago."
"That's great - I'd love to hear about the city from someone who knows it well," she said. Then she blushed a little and took a sip of wine.
He nodded, his eyes gleaming. "I don't want to be too forward, but have you had dinner yet?"
They took the elevator down to the first floor and had dinner at Harry's. Why get into a taxi when there was a famous steak house right in the building? The restaurant was busy, but Virello had a few words with the maitre d' and they were shown to a good table. Chaisey didn't know what he said, but she was sure that Albert Virello's clothes had something to do with it. In addition to the dark gray wool suit, he was wearing a hand-stitched shirt in a soft cream color and the most beautiful hand-painted silk tie she had ever seen - a soft melding of green and white, like sea foam.
Most men loved to talk about themselves, but not Virello. They spent most of the dinner talking about her. Without ever seeming to pry, he forced Chaisey to embellish her simple back-story with a wealth of personal details. By the time their plates were cleared, Chaisey felt a warm affection for Jennifer White, the aspiring advertising executive from Minneapolis who loved animals and old black and white movies, hated politics and telemarketing, and was training to compete in her first triathlon.
Virello did talk a bit about himself. He told her he was born in France, which was true, and he told her he was a financial advisor specializing in the European market, which was not. He had some amusing stories about his travels, the truth of which was immaterial.
Chaisey declined a brandy, and accepted the offer of dessert, ordering a small dish of sorbet.
When the waiter left, Albert said "Jennifer, I think you are going to go very far." He swirled the last sip of Bordeaux in his glass. "You have ambition, but you also have a very good heart. Both of those things are important for type of career you want."
"I hope you're right."
He looked into her eyes. "Also, you are very beautiful. That never hurts, does it?"
"Oh, Albert." She looked down shyly at the table. "This has been so wonderful, so relaxing. Just what I needed after a stressful day. How can I thank you?"
She felt his hand cover hers, warm and heavy. His voice was a soft purr. "Jennifer, I would very much like to make love to you tonight."
She made him wait for a few seconds, then she lifted her eyes and smiled.
They rode the elevator in companionable silence, holding hands. The more Chaisey thought about his approach, the more she appreciated its simplicity. Once they had spent the evening together, he was entitled to make a pass. An American man would have invited her up to his room on a silly pretext - another drink, or to watch an in-room movie. The tension would have risen on both sides, and the conversation would have become forced and artificial, until finally the overdue pass came. Albert's direct approach was much more elegant, more manly.
His room was on the seventeenth floor, overlooking Lake Michigan. As he fussed with the lights and the drapes, Chaisey excused herself into the bathroom.
.... There is more of this story ...