Page 31 of Alpha (Alpha 1)

He answered as he chewed. “I was…developing business contacts, you could say.”

“That’s vague.”

“On purpose. Perhaps eventually I’ll tell you more about what I do, how I made my fortune. But not now. It’s not relevant at this time.”

I had kept my hand on my glass the entire time, so I wouldn’t have to find it again, or have him give it to me every time. I took a drink, sniffing past the bite of the spice. We talked more as we ate, again the conversation staying light. It was the kind of thing I usually hated, but it was also exactly what I needed, the appearance of normality to offset the oddity of being blindfolded. There were several courses to the meal, each better than the last, and almost all of them spicier than I usually liked. By the time the meal ended, my tongue was tingling.

“Not so much spicy food next time, huh?” I said, taking a sip of my second glass of wine.

Roth laughed. “Sure. For you, anything. But here, that’s just the way Kim cooks. He’s a master with la jiao.”

“La what?”

“La jiao,” he repeated. “The chili peppers that made the food spicy. It’s Kim’s signature.”

“You mean Kim was the chef?”

“This is his restaurant. I provided the capital and some of the direction, but he runs it and does the cooking. It’s very exclusive, very expensive. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to get a table here unless you had reservations six months out.”

“But for you….” I insinuated.

“I get my way.”

“Clearly.”

I heard his chair scrape, felt his fingers trail over my shoulders and back. “Would you care for dessert? Or would you like to proceed to the show?”

“I’m full,” I said. “We can go if you’re ready.”

“Good answer.” He took my hand and led me back the way we came.

I heard the heavy doors open, and then the sounds of the kitchen and the low chatter of voices receded. I heard the elevator whirring. A short ride later, we were moving across what sounded like a large foyer with marble floors, my heels echoing with sharp clicks. Another door opened, and Roth’s hand on my lower back urged me through and outside. The sounds of New York assaulted me, horns honking, voices, shoes, rushing vehicles, sirens. It was a warm evening, in contrast to the cool of the restaurant and the lobby we’d just left.

I heard voices nearby. “Look…she’s blindfolded. I wonder why?”

“Look at that dress!”

“Did you see her necklace?”

“That’s a Maybach, I think….”

“Holy shit, he’s gorgeous….”

And then I heard a car door open and Roth helped me into the car, gently nudging my head to make me duck. I slid in and across, feeling leather underneath my hands. The door closed and I felt Roth beside me, and then the engine purred and we were moving.

Tension rolled off Roth. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“I would have preferred a private entrance, but that wasn’t possible, unfortunately.” He took my hand, and I found myself naturally threading my fingers through his. “We have a private entrance at the Met, thankfully.”

“What are we seeing?” I asked, ignoring my own embarrassment over the things I’d overheard, and the fact that I wouldn’t be really seeing anything.

“La Bohème. A very enjoyable presentation. The bel cantos performing this are wonderful, and really, you won’t be missing much being blindfolded. The music is the thing.”

I’d heard of it, but knew nothing about it. The rest of the ride was quiet, but Roth’s tension was still palpable.

“You really don’t like being around people, do you?” I couldn’t help asking.

“What makes you ask that?” His voice was thin and razor sharp.

I shrugged. “I can just feel how tense you are. That whole scene back there really upset you.”

“You can feel all that?”

I nodded with another small lift of one shoulder. “Yeah. It’s coming off you in waves.”

I heard him suck in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “You are very perceptive, Kyrie. Especially considering you don’t have the use of visual cues.” His fingers squeezed mine.

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I said nothing. I heard car horns, and the sense of motion ceased, indicating we were stopped at a traffic light or were stuck in a traffic jam.

“You are correct, of course,” Roth said, after a few minutes of silence. “I dislike crowds. It’s not that I don’t like people, per se. I merely prefer my interactions to be…one-to-one, on my terms. There is so much one cannot control in a public, crowded setting. And my life experience has taught me to…shun…such situations whenever possible.”

The vehicle moved again, and we rode in companionable silence. After twenty minutes in the car, which was punctuated with sporadic conversation, Harris stopped the car, and I heard him get out and come around to open our door. Roth slid out, and I extended my hand. He pulled me, helping me out of the car. A wash of overlapping voices hit me from my left, cameras clicking, questions being shouted.

I heard another door open, this one right in front of us, and Roth’s hand on my lower back urged me forward. I moved as quickly as I could in my three-inch heels and tight dress, knowing Roth would want to get inside before the photographers caught sight of us. After a dozen steps, the door closed behind us, shutting off the babble of noise from the street.

“This way please, Mr. Roth,” I heard a soft, awed female voice say.

Following the usher, I assumed, Roth guided me onto an elevator, down what I guessed was a hallway and into—I assumed—a private box. I could hear the orchestra warming up, the jarring cacophony of instruments. Now more than ever I hated the blindfold. I wanted to see. My first time at the New York Met, and I was blindfolded. I couldn’t see the stage, the architecture of the theater, the seats; I couldn’t watch the people filing in and taking their seats, adjusting wraps and suit coats. I couldn’t look for famous faces.

Roth helped me find my seat, and then I felt him settle in beside me. “The show should begin shortly. Would you care for a drink?”

I shrugged. “Sure. Whatever you feel like is fine.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve never been to the opera, never been to the Met, and I…I just want to see everything. This blindfold is frustrating.”

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