Marcus Shaw was understanding what his parents meant when they mentioned feelings of newness when arriving in another country. His real name, Marek Stawski, appeared on his checks. Otherwise, he used the Americanized moniker for work purposes. As a lawyer for the firm of Mills, Devare, and Lane, his boss, Patrick Mills, was more concerned with appearance than conduct. After all, they were in the law business. Morals could be manipulated with the right amount of money from a wealthy client. Mr. Mills presented Marcus Shaw as a substitute because Mills was not as handsome. Frank Robinson, whom Marcus was to meet, need not know anything other than that Patrick Mills was unable to attend the session.
Though California was in the same country, Marcus felt a difference between Minneapolis, Minnesota and what he observed so far at the Oakland Airport. The weather was warmer now. He preferred usually cooler temperatures but the sun was not completely overwhelming. He could handle it for one or two days. Mr. Robinson was standing in the lobby, holding up a sign with the name Marcus Shaw on it. Marcus approached him. Robinson nodded. “Good afternoon, Mr Shaw. I am slightly puzzled why Mr. Mills couldn’t make it, especially since he’s the person working with me.”
Marcus said, “You can meet him when you come into Minneapolis. He was not able to show up for this meeting.”
They walked towards a car. Robinson said, “I understand that. Why couldn’t he?”
Marcus shrugged. “He just couldn’t.”
“That sort of response irritates me. You people in the law business are so smug. You act like a client needs to dust off his suit coat before talking to you and then he has to salute you because your soul is made of gold. But, I won’t argue. Let’s get this over with.”
Marcus laughed. “Actually, it’s platinum and that’s not my soul, it’s my esophagus.”
Robinson nodded. “Okay, that was funny. I like you.” They walked in the car.
On the drive towards 15th and Madison where they were headed, they listened to a jazz station. Neither said anything. The music took Marcus out of work mode and put him in the frame of mind of someone relaxing on a sofa, with a cup of hot tea, while outside the rain stormed heavily. Robinson had the heater on in the car but Marcus did not mind. He did not like the hot sun baking on him but the air flow of warmth generated by a heater was refreshing to him. He appreciated the type of energy it produced.
When they arrived at 1522 Madison Street, he realized they were at an apartment complex. He asked, “Is this where we will do business?”
Robinson answered, “The time is four o’clock in the afternoon. You must be tired from the plane ride. I’m not inhuman like some of your clients and I’m sure a few coworkers are. Patrick Mills, whom I’ve only had the pleasure to speak with on the phone, is probably wondering if you’ve already signed the papers. This is where you’ll sleep tonight. I don’t know how things are where you live but here, in Oakland, you notice this is a residential neighborhood. There is a corner cafe and a convenience store a couple of blocks down the street. About six blocks further, there’s a lot of restaurants in case you’re in the mood to eat something. The library is open for another hour and a half. You may want to go there and read a book. We can discuss business tomorrow.”
They got out of the car. Robinson handed him some keys. “The key with the green tip is for the front door. The other key is for the mailbox but I’m sure you won’t need to use that unless you want to pick your teeth. I worked once with someone who did that. Nothing surprises me. You have my phone number. I’m leaving. I’ll come back tomorrow and bring you in my office. Don’t worry, though, if you somehow think I’m going far far away. I live three blocks away on 15th and Harrison and the office is five blocks away on 12th and Alice Street. Good day, Mr. Shaw.” He went in his car and drove away.
Marcus saw the apartment, B6, was right next to where he was standing. He unlocked the door, opened it and went inside. Several minutes after he took off his coat and put his suitcase on the table in the living room, he heard a knock on the door. He opened the door and noticed a young woman standing outside. He said, “Hello.”
She waved and said, “You must be Patrick Mills. My name is Amita Khatri. I am a personal friend of Frank Robinson. He asked me to come and look to see if the place was clean and to your liking. I am not a maid. You can think of me more like an inspector. I am just here to report whatever you say to me so Frank is happy. He said you preferred women who wear dresses but I am sorry. I cannot accommodate that way of thinking.”
Marcus noticed Amita was wearing a sweatshirt tucked into belted jeans with her sleeves pushed up, a look he did not see anyone wear in his hometown but that was intriguing and more attractive than the typical buttoned blazers and skirts most female clients adorned during their encounters with him, partly because his boss preferred that look on women. However, Marcus agreed very little with anything his boss liked, except for winning cases. They shared the same amount of enthusiasm for that. He said, “You’re in luck. I’m not Patrick Mills.”
She walked in the apartment and Marcus shut the door. Amita looked at him for a whole minute, standing still and nodding slowly. Finally, she smiled and said, “This changes everything. You simply do not know how differently everything will be.”
He was nervous. “Is that good or bad?”
“I cannot answer that. What have your impressions been about our introductory remarks?”
“They were fine. I must tell you, I like your outfit. I am glad you did not take advice from my boss.”
She nodded. “My answer to you, then, is that the afternoon will go by most pleasantly. Are you in the mood for Malaysian cuisine? I know a place that serves an excellent Tom Yum soup.”
“That might be good. Can I see the bedroom first, though? Whenever I stay in an apartment other than my own or a hotel, I like to see where I’ll sleep. It’s how I psychologically put myself in the right mental place.”
“That is fine. I am accompanying you.”
They entered the bedroom. The bed looked pleasant with green sheets. Amita shut the door and approached Marcus. “Do not worry. We aren’t going to stay in here. I just want your aesthetic sense of the room to be complete. I assume you will be shutting the door tonight?”
She extended her hand. “Very good. What is your name?”
“Marcus Shaw.” He gave her his hand.
They shook. “This is an important moment for us, Marcus.”
He noticed she kept shaking his hand for five seconds, then ten and twenty and then close to a whole minute. Marcus wondered if she was waiting for him to let go first. However, when he tried to do so, she continued gripping tight. She stopped the shaking motion but still held on.
She shook her head. “There is no need for you to try to remove this union. It does not come off.” She walked towards the door, opened it, and went in the living room, pulling him with her.
Marcus frowned. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“You don’t have to understand it. I am in control of the flow. Your boss, whom I think of as Mr. Nothing, is a flavorless chip. You have a good way about you and I want to preserve what we share between us because it is special.”
He laughed nervously. “It almost sounds like you want us to stay like this always.”
“It is beautiful. Fate will guide you in our travels and good luck will abound. It will never stop.”
He tried pulling his hand free but could not do so. “I can’t believe you’re serious.”
She sighed. “If we are to get Tom Yum soup, we can do so. The restaurant closes in two hours. There’s plenty of time for us to eat and then be on our way.”
“What if I don’t want soup?”
“There are many restaurants. You can choose.”
He shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Come on.” She opened the front door and walked, pulling him outside. ්