Chapter 51

              Owen exited the town car as it idled on the curb. When his sizable form departed, the frame lifted up several inches, free of the burden weighing it down. A valet rushed over, but the driver waved him off. Say what Owen might about Mordent Holdings, that town car policy wasn’t always a bad thing. It meant that after a long day Owen didn’t have to drive or jog to meet up with Jeremiah. Plus, he was able to stash some of his more bulky costume components in the town car’s back seat.

                It was the first true break he’d caught all day. Dealing with last night’s messages had necessitated several calls to Lenny, who was less than thrilled by Owen’s request, as well as Zero and Topsy. While it was nice to speak with his old friend, Owen couldn’t help noticing the weariness in Topsy’s voice as they’d gone over their calendars to find a mutually open date. It hurt to hear his former partner so drained, and it was made all the worse by the fact that Owen knew he very well might be adding to Topsy’s strain.

                Dealing with Zero, at least, was a straightforward affair. The man was an HCP dean through and through; he said what he wanted then immediately entered negotiation mode to get it. That in itself wasn’t impressive, but it spoke to Zero’s understanding that this was the strategy Owen would respond best to. Knowing how to come at people was nearly as important as what was said when the dealing began. Thankfully, Owen wouldn’t have to deal with Zero for a little while, so it meant he didn’t have any conflicts for dinner.

                The Sleek Minx was an upscale restaurant, though not so refined that they actually imposed a dress code. It was the sort of place where one who underdressed was brow-beaten and silently shamed rather than flat-out refused service. Owen drew a few looks as he walked through the front door; he’d donned a button-down and a nice pair of slacks, but refused to trade in his boots for something more appropriate. If there was a chance this night might end in a fight, Owen wasn’t going to be caught trying to maneuver in some slick-soled wingtips.

                No sooner had the host looked up than a knowing look spread across his gaunt face. “You must be Mr. Micah’s guest. Please, follow me.” The host turned and began heading down a hallway, barely even waiting for Owen to realize he was being led. As the two walked, Owen took in the ambiance of the restaurant. It was an older building, lots of molding along the walls and ceiling, with every wall painted the same shade of ivory. The tables were large, with sprawling white table cloths and ample space between them. This was not the sort of establishment where as many diners as possible were crammed together. Each table was a small island, and no doubt the cost of eating at it reflected that. Here, they clearly courted guests of high quality, rather than quantity.

                Jeremiah rose as his table came into view, reaching over and shaking Owen’s hand. “Nice to see you again.” Before the handshake was even done, the host had melted away, resuming his post down the hall.

                “You too,” Owen replied. He took a seat, which Jeremiah mirrored, noting that his chair was a touch larger than the others in the restaurant. It was nice, being able to sit comfortably for a change. “So, Mr. Micah? Got a thing for prophets I take it?”

                “I simply like to commit to my themes,” Jeremiah replied. “I feel many of our kind are too lax in that practice. You have to find the fun where you can. Wine?” He gestured to the open bottle which was chilling in a bucket next to the table. From the level remaining, Jeremiah had already gone through a fair bit by himself.

                “No, thanks,” Owen replied.

                “Ah right, where is my head? You’re a beer man. We’ll have to get you a menu when the waitress comes by. They have some excellent craft choices.”

                “I’m not really here for the beer,” Owen said.

                “Yes, I’m perfectly aware of why you’re here, but if you’ll recall I had you show up incognito, which means we are ostensibly two friends sitting down for dinner.” Jeremiah’s tone never lost its friendly tone, his smile never wavered. All the same, Owen took the hint.

                “Right. Maybe I’ll try a glass of wine after all.”

                Jeremiah smiled, plucking the glass from the table and pouring Owen a generous helping. Once he tasted it, Owen was surprised to find it wasn’t all that bad. Not a beer, but not terrible.

                “So then, would you like to know why we’re here?” Jeremiah asked.

                “Is it safe to talk?”

                “That’s my job to worry about, and I assure you we’re fine. Now then, I called you here for two reasons: the first being that there was an interesting break-in at a cutting edge lab two days ago. That in itself isn’t so strange, thievery and corporate espionage do occur, but what’s fascinating is that the robber didn’t loot the place. Only a few, easily replaced, prototypes for a new type of high-powered portable battery were stolen, along with a generous amount of data. This speaks to someone stealing knowledge, not equipment.”

                “You just said corporate espionage,” Owen pointed out. “Maybe someone is trying to get a leg up on their competitor?”

                Jeremiah shook his head. “This was a facility under government contract, one of those that technically don’t exist. Any technology replicated or gleaned from their research will have whatever company releases it brought up on charges ranging all the way to treason. Adding in that the technology didn’t have many weapons-level applications, at least none that trump what’s already out there, and it seems to me like someone was looking to build a better robot. This is largely conjecture, of course, but you did request to be kept in the loop as much as possible. My loop often includes speculation and dead ends; such is the burden of those in my field.”

                “No, I appreciate it,” Owen said. “You never know what clue is going to be the one that cracks things open. I assume that’s why we’re here tonight? A lead on someone that might be able to confirm some link?”

                “Hmm? Oh, no, nothing like that. We’re here because of the second reason I wanted to meet you for dinner,” Jeremiah replied.

                “Which is?”

                “Which is simply that you likely wouldn’t have come if I’d just asked you out on a date.”