Chapter 24: The newcomers
At around noon, Steven and Chrissy returned from touring the shops in the terminal to kill time and fight boredom. As they made their way back to the hotel for lunch, they saw Nancy sitting at the lobby bar smoking, and from the looks of it, drinking in the company of a man who was barely looking at her. Fighting between the desire to return to their room and the eagerness to see if a second attempt at a civilized discussion might work, they made their way to the bar.
“If these are not Barbie and Ken,” said Fangs, drunk already. “So, was he a good fuck?”
Taking that second of distraction as a blessing from heaven, the man sitting next to Fangs was gone in the time it took to say “Thanks for the drink.”
Chrissy, seeing this, felt more astonished than she did on the plane the first time she met this woman. She had been gravitating around United Nations employees and diplomats her entire life, thanks to her father’s long career and it was the first time that she saw that kind of behaviour. International professionals were a class of their own. She had never seen or heard of a UN employee that took drugs or got drunk and made a scene at a party. Maybe because people didn’t usually throw parties; they organized social gatherings where people always acted properly. Even if they hated someone, they never let it show in public. Doing it could seriously harm a career. What Fangs was doing was absolute professional suicide. She made a mental note to tell Steven about
it and discussed with him why the project leaders felt that, although sociopathic, they had agreed to involve Nancy in the project.
Grabbing Steven by the hand and turning him toward the exit, Chrissy looked at the ceiling and smiled, trying to imagine what the night would have been like if she had stayed with the fat female version of Frankenstein, then grimaced in disgust.
“I knew it,” blurted Fangs, pointing her drink to the barman and eyeing him as if he was a juicy steak. “I could have gotten him you know, but he is not my type.”
But they didn’t hear that last statement, as they were already halfway to the elevator on the way to their rooms.
Chrissy had told Steven everything she knew and even felt confident enough to show him two more CDs she had made. One was a backup of all the files she had taken from her father’s computer, and the other was all the scans of the photos from the film camera that Jack had given to the project manager for development after he had been intercepted in the United States.
Steven had made a backup of both on his laptop at once. Old habits die hard. Chrissy now felt so close to him that she had arranged the pillows on the bed. They sat next to each other under the blanket and looked up the files on her laptop. If they hadn’t had their clothes on, one would have thought that they were a couple on a holiday, enjoying room service and a good movie.
It took another three hours before the driver finally called them. Steven answered that they needed about twenty minutes to be ready and when asked if he knew where Chrissy was, Steven simply replied that she would be in the lobby in twenty minutes as well.
They arrived at the front desk slightly later. Their driver was already standing there with the two newcomers, a couple. The man had dark curly hair, dark complexion, and was in his late thirties. As he stood next to the driver, at first glance, one could clearly see that he was also from the Middle East. His clothes were impeccable; he was wearing a black tailor-made suit and black shiny shoes. Chrissy knew the type and was sure he had changed before getting off the plane because his clothes displayed no visual crisps.
The woman was in her late thirties and by the looks of it, she was very fit. Steven had been involved in the martial art world since he was nine years old, spending more than ten hours a week at a local Karate school. He was used to seeing teachers and professional martial artists, both men and women, and she was one, for sure. She had big calves which was a sure bet, broad muscular shoulders, and held a rigid standing position, not unlike soldiers at rest. Her long hair was light brown and done in a pony-tail. Her green eyes were slowly scanning the faces and torsos of the people around her as if she was expecting to be attacked. She approached him to shake his hands, the grip was deep and firm and she also bowed her head slightly.
“I’m Doctor Celina Miller,” she said smiling, looking at both of them.
“And I’m Doctor Dave Uziel. You must be Steven and Nancy, right?” he said looking at Chrissy, realizing that he must have made a mistake because people would generally not show disgust at the sound of their names.
“I’m Doctor Chrissy O’Donnell. Nancy—or Dark Fangs as she likes to be called—was at the bar getting drunk last time we checked.” At that statement, Dave looked at his watch, feeling it was rather early for drinks.
“Celina, you are in martial arts right?” asked Steven, thinking that if they were to be colleagues, he should take the opportunity to call them by their first names and not by their affectation.
“I’m an archaeologist, but I have a passion for ancient warrior art and weapons,” Celina answered with a look and smile of how did you guess.
“She is a blacksmith, too,” said Dave. “She showed me pictures of some of the swords and long battle axes she makes. They’re impressive,” he added, having forgotten the word for them. Halberd, he soon remembered and didn’t correct.
“You guys have known each other long?” asked Chrissy.
“We met for the first time on the plane in New York,” Celina replied.
“I’m an engineer and Steven is a computer whiz,” explained Chrissy, trying to get the conversation going and determine what they were here for. “Dave, what is your area of expertise?”
“I’m an accountant and a medical doctor,” said Dave, looking at Celina who had put a hand on his forearm.
“He is the guy who decides who will live or who will die,” said Celina playfully, looking at Dave for a reaction. “At least that is how he put it to me.”
Dave sighed and explained. “Well, close enough; I used to work for a pharmaceutical company in the United States that determines the return on investments for certain research and drugs creation. In short, if you have millions of potential customers for a drug to help them with their diabetes, we will vote to push that research and invest billions to find a cure. But if a researcher requests funds for a disease that affects only one hundred children, we would refuse the funding on the basis that a hundred customers are not enough to recuperate our investment and make good profit.” He said rather coolly.
“Well, that’s the world we live in; one for all and all for one. Provided that there is money to be made,” acknowledged Chrissy, forcing a smile.
“On another note, the driver said that it was a long drive, so let’s hunt down the vampire before the driver completes our checkout,” said Steven, looking around.
“I asked him. He said that it is a twelve-hour drive and that they can’t or won’t use a plane to get there, so we are supposed to start today and sleep in a town called...” Celina explained, looking at the monochrome screen of her Palmtop and tapping the device with her stylus pen. “The town is Trondheim, if I pronounced it right. We will sleep in a bed and breakfast and then we will arrive at the place, midday on Wednesday.”
“Ouch, that’s going to make the trip to the airport for our holidays very long,” reflected Dave, hoping not to have appeared lazy, but he had, terribly so.
“I’m not sure we are supposed to take holidays at all,” interjected Chrissy, thinking that the accountant likely calculated all the holidays, home leaves, vacations and sick leaves he was entitled to before even asking what the project was about.
“Or even want to,” Steven added, looking at Chrissy affectionately. “If the project is as incredible as I imagine, it will be an adventure holiday in itself.”
“I’m returning the question to you: For how long have you known each other?” asked Celina, who had clearly seen the way Steven looked at Chrissy and her moving to grab his hand.
“Let’s zee: They met twenty-four hours ago in Scotland, didn’t take ten minutes for her to go and join him in his room and spend the entire night there fucking his brains out till mornin’,” snarled Nancy from behind Steven and Chrissy, her smoky breath hitting both of them in the face which made them twitch in revulsion.
“Buffy, there you are,” Chrissy said, turning and taking a step back and waving her hand in front of her nose as if to push the smell away.
“Buffy? Oh, that new show on WB, but isn’t it Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Not the vampire?” asked Steven, grinning and taking a few paces away from Fangs as well.
“Guys, this is Nancy Fox,” said Chrissy. “Nancy, how long do you think it will take you to find out why the outer shell stops neutrinos?”
“More importantly, do we even need to know?” asked Steven, placing both his arms close to his body, palm pointing to the ceiling in good Italian fashion, looking puzzled.
“Fuck you!” said Fangs giving them both the finger in stereo before returning to the bar.
“How old is that woman?” asked Dave, an expression of shock on his face and thinking that he had enough of that at home with his two rebelling teenagers.
“Thirty-seven, according to what I’ve read in her file,” replied Chrissy matter-of-factly. “She has a bad personality, but apparently she is the best in her field.”
Either because he heard the commotion or because he was actually done, the driver returned and informed them that they were ready to leave and, in the interest of saving time, he would make the next reservation on route. “The van is parked right here to the right, pointing to the large front doors. Your luggage is already in the back. I will get some refreshments for the road and get Miss Fox.”
They all sat in the back, letting Nancy have the front seat at the displeasure of the driver who had trouble deciding what was worse between the smell of her smoky clothes and the smell of alcohol emanating from the pores of her skin.
The traffic in the city was light and the road was clean and smooth. They had driven for a little more than two hours when the driver called the bed and breakfast to make his reservations. A few seconds in the conversation, he turned to them and asked what their preferences were. The hotel, as it turned out, was by the water and they had a few rooms available with a nice view of the fjord. Celina was the first one to jump at the chance to request one waterfront room, seizing the opportunity offered to her by a moment of polite silence, as when people are offered the last piece at dinner and everyone hesitates out of courtesy. “There are two more rooms left, Sirs, what do you say—should we leave those for the women?” asked the driver, looking at them through the rear-view mirror.
“There will be no need; Steven and I will share one,” replied Chrissy, not asking Steven for his permission nor caring for what the others would think or say. “Dave, Nancy, it’s your call.”
“Yeah, figured,“ mumbled Fangs, half awake.
In the end, Dave took it since it was a non-smoking room and Fangs didn’t want to have anything to do with it. The hours passed and night fell very late in the evening as it often did in the north during the summer. The little town was nice, a little medieval-looking. All of them regretted not being able to stop and take advantage of the restaurants and shops. With such beautiful sceneries, it wasn’t hard to forget that the next day would be the beginning of their new project underground. For now, it was light years away. Fangs had retired to her room, almost upon arrival at the hotel. The five of them ate and let the driver explain what he had seen on site and what he had overheard others say about the project.
His name was Farid. He was Algerian but lived in France since he was seven years old. He had also been a bodyguard and a driver for a few senators and private customers in the United States, mostly actors, and he didn’t like it at all. Goddamn kids, the lot of them he had said with a chuckle. He had been selected for the project because of his English and French speaking skills and good service recommendations.
At the end of the dinner, they all had a newfound respect for their driver, mainly because none of them had realized that he was armed and primarily there for their protection. He had assured them that no one would harm or bite them and suck their blood, thinking of Dark Fangs. He left them politely, saying that he needed to be alert for tomorrow, but he felt that they had probably wanted to be alone and discuss the project, which was true. But in the end, no one had the energy for it and all went to sleep.
As Chrissy unlocked the door to the room, she found that it was big and rustic looking with wood trims and a solid white oak bed unit. Unfortunately, the sun had finally set and the moon was nowhere to be seen. “Oh well, we will admire the view tomorrow,” said Chrissy as she closed the thick curtains.
Steven was already halfway in bed when he realized something. “There is only one bed. If you want, I can sleep on the sofa. That’s fine by me. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression.”
“What impression is that?” asked Chrissy. “Don’t tell me that you are concerned about what Nancy says.”
“No, but I understand last night,” said Steven, feeling nervous and hoping it wasn’t showing in his voice. “But tonight you didn’t need, I mean, that you didn’t have to share a room with me.”
“Yes I did, if only to see the look in Nancy’s face,” said Chrissy, grinning. But it was short-lived. She now could see the look on Steven’s face and realized she had hurt him. “I really enjoy spending time with you. We are so compatible and if I didn’t know better, I would think that you can read my mind at times.”
Steven’s body relaxed and sat on the bed next to her but didn’t touch her. “You are very beautiful, and I can see how people looked at you at dinner tonight, especially Dave. Now that they know that we are spending our second night together, they will not try to pursue you or make any innuendos in your presence anymore,” said Steven, nodding his head as if agreeing with himself. “Although it seems that we have more women than men in the team, I’m sure the women are still massively underrepresented on this project as it is often the case anywhere.”
“And you think that because people believe we are together, I will be left alone?”
“That’s just an idea. Sometimes it is best to let rumours take a life of its own,” offered Steven. “If it is good for the government, it should be good for us, too.”
“Us?” objected Chrissy. “If girls believe you are with me, they will not be interested in you either.”
Who would? He thought. There were no girls in that project; he was sure. Women, yes, but they wouldn’t be any more interested in him than him in them. But that’s not what he answered. “I don’t need them to be,” was the answer he gave truthfully. “I’m here to do a job, something so fantastic that I would likely not even have time for dating. Besides, I have a newfound friendship to cultivate, and that will take a lot of my time, I hope,” he concluded with a yawn, but nonetheless feeling that he had regrouped rather well in the end.
“Okay, let’s go sleep then,” replied Chrissy. “But please, the bed is big enough for both of us and I’m sure you slept in the same bed with girls before without doing anything?”
“Of course,” answered Steven. “But I have to warn you, I sleep naked normally. So if you don’t mind, I’ll sleep in my underwear tonight.”
“We are incredibly alike,” smiled Chrissy. “Steven, I don’t like changing my habits if they are right, although I understand your point and I sort of respect it, too.”
Sort of? Chrissy got up and went to the bathroom and Steven took the opportunity to undress, placed his clothes neatly on the chair; something he had not a habit of doing. He undressed, but kept his boxer shorts on and got under the blankets. The linens were very cold and he shivered a little. “The bed is super cold! I never understood hotels and the need to run the AC to the roof like that.”
“Then I better wait for you to warm it up before I join you!” she announced the sound of her voice muffled by the closed door.
“I didn’t turn off the lights. I didn’t want you to hurt yourself on the way to the bed,” explained Steven, genuinely concerned.
“That’s good because we have one more problem to fix before I join you,” replied Chrissy as she opened the door.
As Steven was facing the other direction and in fetal position trying to warm himself up, Chrissy closed the room light and opened the bed table lamp.
“Can’t sleep yet. Like I said, we have one more problem to fix before sleep,” insisted Chrissy, tugging at the blanket for him to turn. He did and looked at her. “I don’t like to change my habits unless I have to.” And with that, she let her bathrobe slip from her shoulders revealing her perfectly sculpted and naked body. Then, she sunk underneath the blankets and hugged him for warmth.
As her generous bosom pressed against his back, he felt a hard on coming on. He managed to ignore it and wished her goodnight and fell in an uneasy sleep.