Jack found his dinning experience changed. When he first came in, he was in the company of friends but the place was so busy that they were more or less reduced to self-service. Now Jack was dinning alone in a mildly busy restaurant with three waiters vying for his tip. Just so that he could see Bob whenever she returned, he had moved to the other side of the table to watch the restaurant even though that meant he had his back turned to the great view of the golf course outside. His conspicuous solitude was interrupted when his cell phone chimed, a waiter served his salad and another waiter offered ground fresh peppercorn simultaneously. "Yes, thank you," Jack told the waiters while he answered the phone, which allowed John to speak first.
"You left it up in the air," John said, "you know you want it."
"Oh I don't think so, John," Jack replied.
"Sheeeeez," John hissed. "Dad! Ugh. Man. Think I have a nubile Nebari on the other end of the phone and it's my hairy old dad. Sheez that's embarrassing."
"That's not possible son," Jack told him. "Remember the time I came in and you and Olivia were-"
"-Dad. Just. Stupid kids. It is embarrassing. You were some dad's kid once, come on. Why couldn't you let me forget about that. Why couldn't you forget about that."
"I'm not able to son," Jack explained, "as a father and ruler of the world in a prior life, survival instinct triggered memory retention for future shame and blackmail uses against potential usurping offspring."
"Look dad," John began.
"Just tell me when to look and when not to look," Jack kept riffing, "and think twice before telling me to look." John sighed and Jack finally told him, "What's on your mind son. As far as you'd talk about."
"A girl," John said. "Not my kind, actually. A wanton lass. Downright dangerous. Capricious. Enigmatic. Skinny. No big ol' jugs of joy to bounce. Grey as a ghost. And yet. A power over man so inexplicable and so great that it could not be of this Earth. Oh tell me, old wise one. Do you know where this being may be found? Is she alone? And is she, as testified to by my friend, wearing the hottest shorts on Earth?"
"Use the force John," Jack told him. "Your teacher has exhausted his."
"Las Vegas," said John. "You've flown the coop to Vegas. Where you're at now they use nipples as jewelry hangers. What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas. It'll be annulled in the morning for nineteen-ninety-five. I've got nothing to worry about and we'll never speak of it again."
"If the General ran my life," Jack muttered to himself.
"What?" John asked.
"I'm at the club house son," Jack told John, "just where I said I'd be at. Your unfathomable fiancée has shown up here very unexpectedly playing a very different game and knocked two old guys you're acquainted with right out of their mouldering socks. She has been in the restroom for a while now, gosh I hope she went in the right door."
"All right," Jack confessed, "I'm joking. She's talking to a friend of mine. There are people alot more qualified than I to ascertain the relative hotness quotient of her apparel I'm sure. You might ask Jim, he seemed delighted. She's certainly scandalizing your old man. Although how you survived being alone with her for any length of time back at the cabin is a deepening mystery. How went the signing?"
"Swamped," John described it. "These things are hit and miss, based on the love we get from recent media coverage. It's presently hip to be talking about IASA. By the end of the week, no one would show up if I were shaving my butt live."
"Don't worry son, Bob would be there," Jack assured John.
John was silent for a moment before he restarted, "Let's back away from that picture for just a minute-"
"Let's make that forever."
"Okay," John restarted, "but! The point is, it's a career with a bipolar personality anymore dad. I go from zero to hero in public depending on the political weather and that's better than home turf. Unless it's bad news, it's like nobody wants to get involved at the IASA where you'd think I'd be most you know, kind of valued."
"I wouldn't know son," Jack told him, "I was valued for my ability to occupy a chair on an exploding roman candle not smaller than forty stories high."
"Yes yes by the seat of your flight suit," John interrupted him, "I know. Thing is, I'm really not sure I'd get anywhere if I had to. You've heard the rant, sorry dad."
"At least it makes more sense now," Jack told him, "though that's not exactly a comfort."
"Not to be rude dad," John interrupted, "seriously, can I talk to Pip?"
"No I was serious," Jack assured John, "she really is talking to friend of mine." 'Or so I hope', Jack thought.
"Or so we hope," John said almost synchronously. "Fine," he said and hung up.
The human looked silly still waving his hand and he had an even sillier smile plastered on his face as he kept watching her walk away. Bob paused at the bottom of the steps to the back door of the clubhouse to wave back at her admirer across the lawn and repeat, "Bye Ted."
"Bye Roberta," he repeated, still wearing that silly smile.
At first Roberta was only something amazing to see, but the more he watched her and talked to her, the more intriguing she had become. Now that the cute little thing was about to vanish from his life more mysterious than she was when she'd entered.
A few things were running though Ted's mind. One thought was how odd it was that she seemed so selflessly pleased that he had tried to make up to his would be bride. He knew it was easily possible that Roberta just didn't care about him. But it seemed to him that she was a little interested and somehow had a poor sense of jealousy on her own part. A strange girl. That part of his brain was still working and he made a decision and gestured her to come back over to him. The other thoughts were taken up by her inhuman resemblance to an airbrushed fantasy model come to life, an impression that wasn't hurt by her outfit. That part of his brain was overwhelmed and kept a big stupid grin stuck on his face.
Before she reached him, his cell phone started ringing the tune of a song he was trying to get promoted. Instinctively he answered the phone and turned around. Seeming to have no sense of privacy, Roberta kept coming and soon was right there at his side in his space with undisguised curiosity as he answered the call.
With her acute Nebari hearing, Bob was able to hear parts of what the other person was saying as well as Ted's subtly uncomfortable breath. Nothing said was of any concern to her at first so she looked around in her annoyance at the noise coming from some kind of motorized device. Over her shoulder she spotted a male human in overalls who was using the device causing the noise, a pole with a bulky polluting motor on one end, to shave some weedy grasses in the landscaping along the side of the clubhouse. She glared at him but he didn't react even though he was staring right at her with his mouth open. The human just kept staring while absently continuing ahead and shaving a flower bed.
Ignoring the flower pulverizing human, she looked over her other shoulder and was swept away by a bird soaring gracefully through the sunny blue and white cotton ball skies and the swaying of lush trees in the warm air. Tears immediately came to her eyes and her lips parted.
"Now just a minute Mr. Han," Ted defended himself to the caller and tried not to stare as Roberta swooped around the grassy area with her arms stretched out like a bird, "that wasn't my fault. I think Taylor would know about the status of payments."
Some time during the ranting or threatening or both that followed, Roberta reappeared at his side, flicked the gold eagle pin in his oversized wide white lapel and said, "I love your bird."
"Thank you, it's just a fake thing I picked up at a pawn shop though," Ted said without thinking about his image or the man overhearing him on the phone. "I mean I agree," he told the sputtering Mr. Han. Ted cringed from the tirade Mr. Han followed with. "The venture had a little setback is all," Ted told him, "it's not the end of Aquatica. And I think you mean I'm incompetent not impotent."
"What's Aquatica?" Roberta asked, "And you're impotent?"
Ted covered the phone and told her, "Please let me finish." But Mr. Han hung up before he returned to him and Ted sighed as he closed his cell phone.
"S-sorry," Bob told him, not because she was sorry but because saying so seemed to be the human thing to do.
"Just as well," Ted grumbled. "That wasn't going anywhere." After a troubled scowl he looked at her and smiled. "Um." A little fishing around in his pockets and he found a card and pen. Looking her over again and then smiling charmingly to her cute face he told her, "I don't mean to bore you, I'm sure as attractive and fascinating as you are, you must weather more than your share of crude passes but....Allow me. To introduce myself. I'm Ted Milleon, of Milleon Air Productions. We have a foot in nearly every door of the um, entertainment world if you're ever interested in um, anything." He held a business card up for her to look at a moment before writing on the back, "Let me give you my um, my number so you can speak directly to me."
"Did your toes get caught in Aquatica?" Bob asked.
"Oh you must have read the papers," Ted grumbled. "You know what they say," he said with a smile, "the only bad publicity is no publicity."
"That's a load of crap."
"Um. Yes," Ted admitted. "But true in this case. More people have heard about Aquatica because of this than all our publicity could manage. Notoriety is good for discos. It'll be a success. Maybe I'll see you there some time?"
"Sure. If you have a position for a mermaid," Bob quipped. "Look. I'm busy, I was just, I just think you need to talk to this lady you're supposed to be marrying," she reminded him while her hand slipped his card into the little pocket of her polo shirt. "I didn't come here to frel- mm, muck things up. Good luck," she wished him, turned and walked back toward the club house.
A few moments later, Ted's father, who always seemed to have a glass of wine attached to his hand, appeared from a nearby shaded seating area as the first of a group of his friends to gather around Ted. He slurred the question, "What was that?"
"An angel, Rob," Ted answered. "I'd like to think."
"Wish," his dad Robert said. "After that little devil finally catches those insidious shorts and gets some of that arse covered, you might want to get back to Stella."
"Not before," Ted said.
"Well no," Robert mumbled and both guys stood there watching and grinning. A few moments later, Bob absently tugged the little shorts back up and both of the guys grunted their disappointment. Since that only obscured about a third of the behind, both kept watching her anyway.
"Aw," one of the group, now numbering around ten, tore his cell phone from his ear long enough to flippantly complain, "we'd been enjoying a full view since she came out here and now Rob has to mention it and spoil our luck. Right Dingo?"
Dingo, a stubble bearded man in sunglasses beside him, nodded and proposed in his thick British accent, "Ten to one, it'll be right back down before she's half up the steps. She'll walk straight in and won't bother."
"You're on," Rob said and produced a ten dollar bill. "She's a wild one but won't be going on let alone in there with them slid off that far."
"Ten?" Dingo sneered at it and dug into his pocket, "I've more than a buck here." When he glanced down at what his hand brought out of his pocket, gum wrappings and other trash which outnumbered the bills, he accepted, "But I'll take it."
"I'll take that too," a short man with long hair agreed and produced ten dollars of his own. "She's makin' a scene on us, or Ted more like. She won't go in like that, right Knuckles?" He looked to the tall guy with short hair next to him, who nodded no and produced ten as well.
"Thanks mates," Dingo said and kept smiling, "That's the smart thing about never being the groom at weddings. Everybody else pays and I, a guest, show up and get a windfall. That one has nerve and zero care what shows. Say Ted, boy why don't you try that little devil, you two looked real sweet together. Real cute. Strange and much too 1977 on your part that is, but real cute."
"You'd have to have been invited to be a guest mate," Ted pointed out to Dingo.
Dingo wondered, "I wasn't?"
"Who invited the dynamite?" the short man with long hair asked.
"Not here for the wedding," Ted explained.
"Pity," the short man with the long hair said, "me and Knuckles was looking forwards to an introduction. We could use a faun like that too, right Knuckles?" The tall man with short hair smiled and nodded. "Besides," the short one continued, "you could use a new girlfriend Ted. I mean dancer. No, I mean singer. No, I mean performer. I mean, a new act."
"There's a difference?" the guy on the cell phone asked then remarked, "Pity, but what he can use now is Stella's old money roots."
"Who said?" Ted bristled slightly.
"Don't be a dick," his dad Rob said. "Get practical. See about the little nipper later after you're set."
"Maybe so," Ted replied, smiling as he returned to watching Bob walking away. "Sorry about your ten, Rob."
Pausing on the stairs moments later, Bob looked back to see if the silly human was waving again. Sure enough he was, Ted and a whole bunch of guys that had gathered around him, all making silly waves with silly smiles plastered on their faces. The exception was a guy with a stubble beard and sunglasses, who was also waving to her, between gleefully collecting currency from some of the others. After waving back, Bob turned, shrugged to herself and continued up the stairs, but smiled to herself fondly at the friendly if silly humans.
Philip unfolded his arms and stepped away from the wall he was resting against when he saw Roberta returning. "I was hoping you um-," he said. Glancing down along Bob he tried not to stare. But her sparkling curious black eyes stole his attention anyway.
"Um?" she asked.
Philip smiled at her eyes and said, "I was hoping you hadn't gone." She shook her head to herself and started walking past him. Philip followed over her shoulder. "Seems the groom was begging the bride briefly while you were out," Philip updated her.
"Yeah," Bob said. "He was? Oh. I ah, must have missed him. I walked all over the place!"
"I guess so," Philip grinned glancing down. She sneered at him over her shoulder and tugged the shorts back up, for what it was worth. Philip snapped his fingers in disappointment but followed her into the convention room happily enough. A bunch of couples were dancing and plenty of attention turned to Bob when she started dancing a strange but sensual solitary dance. That finished numbing his mind. His attention certainly wasn't on conversation by the time she rejoined him and began to dance with him.
"So," said Bob, "your dad was friends with Jack?"
"Huh?" Philip struggled to give conversation a minimum of attention. "The Crichtons? Gah. Yeah, sure. They were in IASA together, trained together sometimes, competing units I mean. You dance great. Great shape," he told her with a wink.
"Think so?" Bob asked, feigning coyness and struggling to keep a straight face since his hands were being so bold. "I get teased, worse some times than others but enough, bein' skinny and all."
"Oh that's just insulting," Philip poured it on thick, "you're fit and trim, lovely and captivating, is what you are. I like that. I don't need any T and A, er I mean, uh I mean I like yours, uh I mean the bimbo look is over-rated, and I don't judge how I like a lady by their T and A, is what I mean. To heck with those people. You know what I mean?"
"Actually," Bob blinked a couple of times and answered, "I've no frelling idea what you just said, but thanks. I like me too. So did they train together or compete? I don't get it."
"My dad and the Crichtons?" Philip asked. "Why are you with these Crichtons anyway? They had to train together sometimes but ended up in competing teams. They develop programs and compete for assignments, these teams. I never made it into one, edged out by somebody that you know. Didn't joker John tell you all about it in mind numbing detail?"
"Ah no he," Bob found it difficult to say, "barely talked to me, a-allot of the time."
"I bet," Philip said under his breath then continued, "That's how it worked. I think the General was behind that, Morrison. He knew they were uh, competitive more than co-operative, so he arranged it accordingly. It actually goes back in the family for generations. The Crichton family has a habit of that, you should know. My dad's friend Seymor, Seymor Gramm, was on the council in Sydney and he said the Crichtons were run clear out of Sydney way back. It's not my business Roberta, but you might want to be asking questions before you get in any further with them. Not that I have a problem with any of them myself, not at all. Jack seems like an honest guy to me. John I suppose did what he had to for himself. The rest of the family is nuts but it's nothing personal, not at all. I can't tell you too much more than that, my dad didn't speak much about it. Payne Adams might have a thing or two to say, maybe you should talk to him. He works at IASA."
"I bet," Bob said with a tiny smirk. Since this guy had probably said everything he was likely to say and the idea of frelling around on John was bothering her again, she immediately started thinking of how to get rid of him. The guy kept feeling at her and clumsily bumping her into him, which was getting annoying now that she was done with him. But one of the bumps reminded her of the card in her little shirt pocket. She fished the card out and looked sadly at the business card the groom Ted Milleon had given her with his name, possible occupation of Producer for Milleon Air Productions and his personal number hand written on the back of it. She moaned at herself, but she just couldn't let that woman possibly marry that guy without being a little wiser. "I gotta go," she said and walked from Philip.
"Wait, wait Roberta," Philip urged and took her hand. He was surprised when she yanked her hand free.
"I have something to give someone," she told the man who started to follow at her heels but was soon lost in the crowd gathered around the would-be bride at the opposite end of the conference room. Bob ignored the glares and fuss and cut through the humans to approach behind the bride. Outside and below, Ted was back pleading his case to the bride as she half leaned from a window with a crowd of a hundred of her closest friends listening in the conference room behind her. Only Bob's hand appeared from around the side of the bride, holding something. The bride withdrew from the window, took a look at the card and covered her mouth. Her look at Bob said alot of things, but she only spoke, "How can I thank you?"
Looking at the ground instead of meeting the bride's face she smiled, tilted her head and told her, "You can't. At least you'll know a little more about what you're doing." Bob watched as the card was dropped from the bride's fingers and the bride fled with the crowd in her wake.