Nina kept to herself during the shift, but I could honestly not blame her. My work in the back was not taxing, and I spent the time pondering the puzzle of her ex. Every so often, I would go to the front to bus tables and check on her. Jorge’s was a twenty-four-hour joint and never closed except for mundane holidays. It had a rep for consistent business throughout the night. At one point, Nina tapped my shoulder and whispered in my ear that Drake, her ex, was sitting alone at table thirty-six.
Drake did seem like the rough type one would see on the street. A large scar ran from the top of his forehead to the back of his neck. An untrimmed, reddish-blonde Fu Manchu covered much of his lips, and he wore the ever-popular black leather jacket with denim pants combination. I wondered who his icon was growing up: Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin?
When Drake wasn’t watching Nina, he was studying the restaurant. He didn’t initiate conversation, and other than just being a creeper, he remained unobtrusive. I expected as much. Drake was here as a scout. It made sense that he wouldn’t cause a scene, and he could intimidate Nina with just his presence.
Eventually, Ronald, Drake’s waiter, approached me in the back, saying that Drake wanted me to clear his table. I raised my eyebrow, but shrugged. If he wanted to talk, I might as well hear him out. Hopefully, I would figure out why he was stalking Nina.
I grabbed a bus tray and walked into the front of the restaurant. Nina was at the bar waiting for a drink order, and she eyed me as I strode toward Drake.
“Good evening, sir,” I greeted him. “I will take any dishes that you are finished with.”
Drake pierced me with his blue-eyed stare. He handed me his plate with the silverware on it.
“Let’s drop the nice chatter,” he said in a deep voice. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you are in?”
“I do not take too kindly to that talk, sir,” I said calmly.
“Do not play stupid. You may be tall and broad, but whatever you have, we want.”
I sighed. The last thing I wanted to do was make him angry and turn him belligerent. “If your gang has already broken into my motel room, you already know I have nothing of value.”
“I am well aware that there is nothing we want in that room,” Drake said, licking his bottom gums. “But you do have something valuable that we all want. The longer you keep it a secret, the worse it will be for you.”
“So, this is not about Nina?”
“She should have stayed out of this,” he said, his hungry gaze flicking toward her.
I shook my head. “I am sorry, Drake. Honestly, I have nothing of value to you.”
I grabbed his napkins and empty water glass. Drake grabbed my wrist. “Giovanni Silente,” he sneered.
I hesitated. Giovanni Silente was one of my old aliases back when I was living in Chicago, but that was over sixty years ago. How could he know that name? It was too late for me to hide it. Drake saw my hesitation, and he grinned.
“It is you, Mr. Silente. You really haven’t aged a bit.”
I sat down across from him and stared Drake in the eye. “You are too young to know that name.”
“Photographs and video footage are timeless.”
“You want to start talking to me, Mr. Silente?”
“My name is Horace Harper,” I whispered coldly. “You will do well to remember that.”
Drake leaned in, matching my tone. “You have until this time tomorrow to reveal your secret and where it is.” He stood up from the table and bit his cheek. “Say hi to Nina for me,” he said before walking away.
After a few minutes, Nina and Ronald came to the table. I looked at Nina and breathed in deeply. “He says hi.”
“Hi is not really a tip, but okay,” Ronald muttered and walked away.
Nina placed her hand on my shoulder. “Was that really necessary?”
I shrugged. “He wanted to talk to me. At least now we know he and his cartel are after me.”
Nina shook her head. “Why, Horace? What do you have that they want?”
“I do not know,” I lied. What else could I tell her? Dropping off the ‘I am an ancient Greek deity, and your ex may be after immortality’ may work in cinema but never worked so well in the real world. Father had plenty of stories he could tell in that area. Eventually, this would likely play out where Nina would learn at least a portion of the truth.. Perhaps that would be the best scenario.
“Whatever it is,” Nina said, “you better not lose your life over it. You are a good man, Horace. Nothing is worth more than your life.”
Funny, if I did not know any better, I’d say she made a pun.
“Why are you grinning? This is serious!”
“Sorry,” I said. I rose from the table and picked up the bus tub. “Whatever this secret is, I’d better find out before they do.”
“That is what Drake told me,” I explained. “They are after a secret. He believes I have it, and they want to know where it is.”
“Well,” Nina smiled, “you were much of an enigma when I met you. Very quiet but sociable. You can roast someone quickly, but also give them a hand without expecting anything in return. I would not be surprised if you had some skeletons in the closet.”
I chuckled. “I wish I could see you say that to my uncle.”
Nina raised an eyebrow.
“Um,” I tried my best to explain myself, “he is a mortician. Many of my family call him the king in his field.”
“Okay.” Nina rolled her eyes.
“Hopefully, we will discover the truth, but for now, let’s chill and get back to work.”