9. Dinner

Reese chose a blue tie to accentuate his eyes, glad that he had worn a charcoal-gray shirt with his black suit which matched just about anything. As he came out of the cloakroom, he saw the elderly couple whom he had encountered before (in the elevator) waiting to be seated, and smiled at them in recognition.

“Well, hello!” he called out cheerily with a wave of his hand. “So we meet again! And may I just say, you look stunning in that dress!”

“Why, thank you,” the woman said, her cheeks turning pink with pleasure. “You look quite dashing, yourself!”

“Oh, you’re too kind,” Reese replied demurely. “I needed a little help from our friends, here,” indicating the attendant, “because Harold forgot to tell me that we would be going out tonight. It’s a mercy I even had a suit packed… Men!” he joked with a titter, giving the couple an excuse to laugh outright. “Of course, Harold just doesn’t think of such things, since he’s practically welded to his tie and three-piece. But he’s so good to me, I really can’t complain. Are you folks waiting for somebody? Well, I hope you enjoy your dinner. I’m not sure what Harold’s ordered for me, but I’m sure it will be marvelous. Ta-ta!”

He could not resist walking out to the table behind the maître d’ with a noticeable swing in his hips, smiling broadly when he saw Finch’s eyebrows rise in consternation.

“I thought we had agreed on a more… low-profile cover for tonight,” Finch pointed out in an undertone after Reese had been seated.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Harold! I had so much fun picking out a tie that I forgot,” Reese replied with a straight face. “I’ll try harder, I promise!”

As this was delivered with a stroke of his ankle against Finch’s shin, hidden by the long tablecloth, Finch could only sigh and resign himself to what was to come.

“I didn’t know if you would care for the Dover Sole (my personal favorite) so I ordered the Tournedos Rossini for you,” Finch informed him. “It comes with potatoes and asparagus. I also ordered oysters and smoked salmon for our appetizers – you can choose whichever you’d like.”

“Or we can just split them and try a little of both,” Reese smiled, his ankle still rubbing against Finch’s as he gazed upon him fondly. “I’m glad you ordered the oysters, though…”

Finch opened his mouth to speak, but paused as the significance of Reese’s statement sunk in.

“Ah… I only chose them because this place is known for their seafood,” he insisted, wishing that he did not turn red so easily when flustered. “I hadn’t even considered their… supposed aphrodisiac qualities.”

“Of course not,” Reese purred with a half-hidden smirk.

The waiter returned to pour their wine, a chardonnay label that Reese did not recognize but could appreciate nonetheless.

“Delicious!” he declared after his first sip.

“I’m glad you like it,” Finch said, inhaling the aroma.

“Oh, Harold! You know me – I’m happy to drink cheap liquor straight from the bottle,” Reese remarked, his eyes twinkling with glee. “You don’t have to buy a hundred-dollar bottle of wine to impress me!”

“Four hundred. But I’ll keep that in mind for the next time.”

Reese ogled him for a moment before sniffing his glass with renewed respect.

“Well. You certainly know how to treat a guy right,” was his dry comment.

Some movement caught Finch’s eye and he observed a party being seated not far from them.

“Interesting,” he murmured, almost to himself.

“What’s that?” Reese asked.

“Oh, nothing… I just recognized that man over there – the older one – as former Senator Russwood. The other man I believe is the CFO of Rolex USA.”

“Are they, really? How on earth do you know them?”

“I read the papers, Mr. Reese. The Senator was in charge of a subcommittee that… let’s just say I was very interested in their decisions.”

“I see. Well, I’ve only spoken to them briefly, but his wife seems to be a lovely lady.”

“You’ve spoken to them?”

“We rode up together in the elevator, after I went shopping. I had to apologize for smelling of all those lotions!”

“Ah. I see…”

Here their appetizers were brought out, so for a while they were busy with switching halves of the portions and ascertaining that the restaurant did indeed deserve its reputation for seafood. However, when Finch happened to glance at the other table, he was shocked to discover that the retired Senator was looking straight at him. Since their eyes had locked, Finch managed a small, awkward nod of acknowledgement, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and turned to Reese.

“John, why is the Senator staring at us?”

“What? Oh, he probably wants to see what you look like. I told them all about ‘my Harold.'”

“You did what?

“Oh, I didn’t tell them anything personal, of course! At least, nothing about our sex life…”

Finch’s lips pursed while his eyebrows shot up as high as they could go. Although Reese had made his statement with aplomb, he burst out laughing at Finch’s expression of horror.

“Honestly, Harold, I didn’t tell them anything! Just that you’re my honey and the sweetest man alive, that’s all!”

Finch contemplated this, trying to will his heart rate to return to a more normal pace, and took another sip of wine. He was further disconcerted when Reese placed a hand on his.

“Relax, Harold. We’re just two people out on a dinner date. Chances are we’ll never meet the Senator or his wife or friends again. So just have more wine and enjoy the oysters.”

Their main courses arrived and Finch did relax somewhat as his first bite of fish melted like butter in his mouth. Reese was also relieved to find that Finch had ordered him a straightforward dish of meat-and-potatoes, albeit a very expensive version, with filet mignon for the steak and white truffles flavoring the potatoes.

“It’s all… exquisite,” he assured Finch with another nudge of his long leg under the table. “But really, you don’t have to be so extravagant on my account. When I was in a remote area in the Middle East, I was invited to dinner at the house of the chief elder of the village – a very great honor, of course. What I didn’t know was, as the guest of honor, I was expected to eat the eyes of the sheep that they’d just slaughtered for the feast. I told myself that it was protein, and even managed to chew it before swallowing it down with the local brew, but the texture was something else! The guys I was with gave me a lot of credit for that one.”

“There are many cultures where the eyes are considered a delicacy,” Finch replied calmly. “And in areas where there are few sources of protein, I’m sure they’re a valuable food item. I’ve read that in some countries, the larvae of insects are a regular part of the diet.”

“Roasted or fried?”

“Neither. I believe they’re consumed raw.”

Reese chewed on this bit of information along with a succulent bite of asparagus.

“Well, I can honestly say that I don’t envy them their lifestyle.”

A ghost of a smile appeared on Finch’s face as he agreed, “Neither do I.”

For dessert Finch broke down and ordered the Crème Brûlée – “I must admit, I have a weakness for it,” he said with some embarrassment – while Reese chose the Warm Blueberry Crumble.

“This is wonderful, Harold – you should try a bite!” Reese teased, extending a forkful. To his surprise, Finch ate it off of his fork without any hesitation.

“Yes, it is quite good,” Finch stated very matter-of-factly. “I suppose you would like a bite of mine, as well?”

“That would certainly be a nice gesture,” Reese answered, still a little taken aback. He was even more mystified when Finch offered him a spoonful of his Crème Brûlée, but leaned forward to take it in his mouth.

“Mmm… heavenly!”

“My sentiments exactly,” Finch said, a wry smile curling the edges of his mouth. “And for your information, our friend the former Senator happened to be watching just now. I saw him in the reflection of the window.”

“Really? So you actually put on a show for him? Harold, I’m impressed!”

Finch shrugged. “It would seem that you’ve piqued his interest, Mr. Reese. Or perhaps (unlikely as it may seem) he simply hasn’t seen a gay couple before. Either way, as you mentioned, we will probably never see him again, so what’s the harm?”

Reese’s smile grew like the Cheshire Cat’s across his face.

“Mr. Finch, I think there might be some hope for you yet. You’re beginning to enjoy going undercover!”

“Please, John, it’s ‘Smith’ while we’re in public.”

“All right; but then you have to remember to call me ‘John,’ too.”

“Agreed. It’s harder than I realized to change my habits, though…”

“You should just make it a habit to call me ‘John’ all the time” Reese grinned. “I don’t mind it.”

“Well… if it doesn’t seem too… unprofessional…”

“Oh, Harold! I think we’ve crossed that line a long, long time ago.”

“You mean around three-thirty this afternoon?” Finch said with a droll expression, referring to Reese’s hand job.

“Either that, or over nine years ago when we first met,” Reese answered sweetly.

Finch paid for the dinner and finished the wine while Reese sipped his espresso, after which they headed out to the reception area. While Reese was in the cloakroom returning the borrowed tie, the party from the other table also came out. Finch could not avoid looking at them, so when he met the gaze of the older gentleman, he nodded again and murmured, “Senator Russwood. Nice to see you looking so well.”

Startled, the former Congressman scrutinized Finch more closely.

“Thank you. I was wondering, earlier, if we hadn’t met before… You seem familiar, and yet I can’t for the life of me remember where we might have met.”

“Ah… We might have crossed paths in D.C. when I was lobbying for the Energy Policy Act, back in ’04 and ’05,” Finch suggested. “I was following your work in the subcommittee rather closely, as I had a vested interest in the bill.”

Reese came out of the antechamber and beamed at the gathered group, hovering just behind Finch.

“A vested interest? How so?” Russwood asked, now obviously curious.

“One of my companies had just started research on wind-generated power. Thanks to the subsidy provided for in the bill, Pneumatech Power has grown steadily – enough to be listed on its own on the NYSE.”

“I’m glad to hear that! We’re always encouraged to hear about American innovations, and the success of entrepreneurs like yourself,” Russwood said with a sincere smile. “But you did say ‘one of your companies’ – how are your other enterprises faring in this economy?”

“Some, not as well,” Finch confessed. “My main focus now is on developing several smaller businesses offering a variety of security services – surveillance, computer firewalls, server backups, that sort of thing – as a total package. I believe it will be the fastest-growing need in the next ten to twenty years, as criminals become more technologically savvy and intellectual property becomes harder to protect.”

“Is that a fact,” the gentleman said with a thoughtful, piercing gaze. “Do you know, I’ve been wondering about our home security service lately—”

“Oh, Fred,” his wife interrupted, “don’t stand here talking shop all night! You mustn’t impose on their time…”

“It’s no imposition, Mrs. Russwood,” Finch assured her. “Because of your husband’s work, I was able to make a small fortune off of research that might have been abandoned otherwise. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I owe him one.”

“Well, if you’re sure it’s no trouble…” she began, dubiously.

“But you’re right, my dear – we shouldn’t keep them standing here,” Russwood agreed, then addressed Finch again. “We were just heading down to the jazz bar with our friends. Would you care to join us? I do have something that I’d like to pick your brain about, if you really don’t mind…”

Finch turned to Reese with the query written in the silent arch of his eyebrows.

“That sounds lovely… I just love jazz!” Reese smiled, slipping one hand around Finch’s arm. The gesture did not seem to catch anyone by surprise – not even Finch – and the three couples filed into the elevator together, making their introductions on their ride down to the basement level.


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