Balance of Power, 22
There had been no point holing up in the hotel room. The evening was still early and Sabrina felt the first pangs of hunger begin. She'd searched the pockets of her jacket and pulled out the slightly crumpled brochure the hotel clerk had presented.
A nearby restaurant was circled in red ink. The photo on the pamphlet showed a medium-sized dining area that seemed somehow cozy and relaxed. It was the type of little eatery that Sabrina grew up patronizing in the old neighborhood.
Despite her fears that the little place would turn out to be a disappointment Sabrina made the three block walk. Now, she sat, gratefully inhaling the delightful aromas of Afro-Cuban cuisine and hoping that the meal she had ordered would not be too long in arriving.
“Here you are.”
The vaguely familiar voice made Sabrina look up. “Don't tell me,” she laughed, “you work here, too?”
Javier, the hotel clerk, laughed and shook his head. “No, I just help out when I can.” He set a platter of steaming dishes down before her. “This is my family's restaurant,” he explained. “Javier Escovar at your service, Miss DuMonde.”
“So it was you who circled my pamphlet and not the hotel management.”
“Yes. I give them out to hotel guests who will appreciate my family's efforts to provide good food, good music and a quiet atmosphere for private conversation.” Javier glanced pointedly down at the steaming dishes covering the table.
Sabrina was amused at the man's obvious plea. “Hmm… Well, it seems as though I have been given enough food for two.” She inhaled deeply. “It smells delicious. And I would hate to see it all wasted.”Javier hastily took a seat. He beckoned to a grinning waiter who looked so much like Javier that they had to be siblings. “My little brother, Jaime,” he said by way of introduction. Javier rattled off an order for their drinks and then gave his younger brother a look the teenager understood well. Javier had set his sights on winning his guest. It was up to Jaime to continue plying them with liquor for the remainder of the evening.
Balance of Power, 23
“No. Thank you.”
Sabrina grinned broadly at Javier's astonished expression. The handsome hotel clerk was genuinely shocked that Sabrina chose to decline his invitation to take the evening to a more intimate level. He was equally shocked to find her sober enough to do so.
“It is not exactly how you thought the evening would end, is it?” Sabrina took a long, slow look around. Strategically placed candles whose flames flickered and jumped softly lighted the room. The soft strains of a plaintive tenor sax whispered in the background. A circular bed draped in crimson satin sheets dominated the center of the room. And directly beside it, a low table sat laden with an icy bottle of champagne, a large glass bowl of ripe, fragrant strawberries and another crystal bowl filled with an assortment of foil wrapped condoms.
“Your routine was very smooth,” she credited him. “Unfortunately for you, though, I saw right through it from the beginning. You see,” Sabrina continued conversationally, “one of the most important lessons my mother taught me was how to recognize a predator.” The young woman gave an odd little smile and shrugged. “Cassandra taught me how to spot men like you.”
Sabrina stretched out a graceful hand and ran her nails lightly down Javier's exposed chest. “I have an old boyfriend to thank for teaching me how to handle you as well.” Her slender fingers gently coaxed Javier's mouth shut. “So tell me, Javier… How does it feel to be the victim?”
Sabrina gave the speechless man a slow kiss upon the lips. “Thanks for a lovely evening,” she whispered. She retrieved her jacket from the chair just inside Javier's bedroom door and left him standing there in his satin pajamas that perfectly matched his satin bed sheets.
Outside Javier's apartment, Sabrina threw back her head and laughed aloud. The evening with Javier had actually helped to raise her spirits. For once in the last few days, she was the one in charge and calling the shots – instead of the other way around. For a few moments things were almost like they were before her life got turned upside down by the arrival of Michael Corleone. Things were simple and uncomplicated, like the days back in the old neighborhood.
Just the thought of that period in her life put an extra swagger in Sabrina's step. Impulsively she decided against calling a cab and decided to walk the extra blocks back to her hotel room.
Balance of Power, 24
“Maggie! Hi, it's Sabrina.” Sabrina dropped a handful of quarters into the slot and leaned against the scratched Plexiglas. “I am just checking in. I know it's been a couple of weeks…”
“I guess graduating with two degrees from Dartmouth means that you are too special to check in anymore.” Maggie Taylor glanced at the phone. “Where are you, by the way? The caller i.d. says ‘pay phone'.”
“I'm just coming from dinner with a guy who tried to run the old ‘wine and incline' scam on me.”
“He made you walk home because you wouldn't put out?” Maggie's voice rose several octaves. She could hear the constant sounds of traffic in the background.
Sabrina hastened to reassure her friend and mentor from the old neighborhood. “No, no! I just felt so good that I decided to walk back to the hotel.”
“Yes, I am Miami, would you believe it? I needed to get away for a few days. But don't worry,” Sabrina teased, “I fully intend to come back to the old neighborhood to see you and Craig. I want to see how well the new business is going for you.”
Maggie Taylor had taken Sabrina into her home and her life as young girl. She was not many years older than Sabrina. When Maggie found and married her husband Craig, Sabrina chose to grant them their privacy. She gratefully accepted the unexpected scholarship offer from Dartmouth and moved away. But Maggie and Craig remained in contact during her college years.
There was a momentary silence on the other end of the phone. “Things aren't going too well at the moment,” the older woman admitted. “One of the companies sponsoring us got bought out by a big corporation. The new company isn't too impressed with our numbers and has decided to terminate their sponsorship.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.” Maggie heard in Sabrina's voice the same shock that had been in her own when Craig first broke the news.
Sabrina mentally sifted through the details of all the accounting lectures she'd sat through at Dartmouth. “Maybe the bank would be willing to help you out temporarily,” she finally suggested.
“No. All they are concerned with is the fact that our major sponsor has decided to withdraw its support.” Maggie hesitated. “We're five days late on our loan payment.”
“Sabrina, I know that you helped Craig set aside an account just for something like this, but with the sponsorship gone, we needed to pay for our inventory.”
Sabrina frowned. She had argued fiercely against Craig and Maggie tying their home into the loan details for the business - for just this reason. If the business ran into trouble, not only would the couple stand to lose their business, but their new home as well. “How much is the payment?”
Maggie heard the determination in Sabrina's voice. It moved her that the younger woman wanted to assist them, but she would not allow it. And she knew that Craig would not allow it either. “No.” Her denial was emphatic. “I appreciate what you are thinking, but there is no way Craig or I would let you help. “
“You both put your life savings into that business!”
“And we won't let you give up yours.” Maggie curtailed Sabrina's attempt to protest. “Look, Craig and I knew the risks, Sabrina. We made a decision to start this business together. And all decisions bring about consequences.”
Sabrina froze. She felt her blood run cold. “ What did you just say ?” she demanded.
“I said that Craig and I knew the risks.”
“ No ,” the younger woman interrupted. “That sentence about decisions bringing consequences. Why did you say that ?”
“I don't know,” Maggie admitted in confusion. “It was just something the new company's lawyer said to us.”