Next time he'd come here during the week, when a pedometer wouldn't clock the seven Sabbath miles he walked in the Austin, Texas, heat. That was the thought that was running through Brankton's head when someone's shadow provided momentary shade from the sun that was bathing or barraging his squinting punim with a warm glow or harsh glare of its damaging or darkening rays. Depends on one's perspective thought Brankton. His mother never went in the sun without a hat on and SPF and the occasional parasol. His dad couldn't be bothered, and since he wanted to emulate his father, whether he admitted it or not, neither could Brankton.
"So, dude, are you ready for Jackie to drop you off at your hotel?" asked a somewhat optimistic Nelson.
"Dude! Don't call me dude, dude," said Brankton in monotone irritation, eyes closed. "You call your father the Rebbe "dude" with that mouth?"
The shadow didn't answer. It just hung over Brankton with an air of expectancy.
"That a no then?"
"It's dad or sir," said the voice providing the shade. "Sometimes 'pop'."
"But, never dude, am I right?" Brankton's eyes remained closed, but the squint was gone; he could hear the eternal smile in Nelson's voice. "So, do you have three dates for this evening now?" asked Brankton more as a pretext.
"Nah, their idea of fun isn't quite on the same page as mine."
"Do you mean not quite on the same side of the plate?" Brankton's eyes opened. He wanted to see Nelson's face for this answer, shade or no shade. He was instead offered a large hand and pulled to his feet. A silent Nelson examined the stippling and indentations on Brankton's back made by the concrete as Brankton trudged up the walkway. He found his clothes where he left them hanging on the small oak like some Mark Twain character fixin' for a swim down by the watering hole.
"The offer stands," Nelson finally said. "You really don't need to hike it back. We can drop you."
After a few awkward moments of a wrapped towel around his waist and struggling out of wet trunks and the slipping on of khakis trying not to expose himself to sexually aggressive coeds and ambiguous Chaucer-loving beefcakes, Brankton turned his back to Barton Springs and walked to the Driskill Hotel.
The Driskill with its six million bricks was a place that tried to shutdown every few decades or so. Built just after the Civil War -- or as they say in the South, the War of Northern Aggression -- the Driskill Hotel was the vision of a cattle baron who sold cattle to the Confederate Army and made a tidy little fortune. If the war was his mint, the Driskill was his sinkhole. Two years after losing the Driskill in a poker game, Colonel Jesse Driskill died broke.
From one baron to another, only a century apart. A Confederate cattle baron built it, and now an Italian Baron with a portfolio of luxury hotels around the globe, also owned the Driskill. Brankton knew this, but he didn't. Like so many things about his ex-wife's life, he "heard" that the Baron owned a luxury hotel in Austin, but didn't "hear" that it was the Driskill. There was a reason his ex lived in Austin, yes, and there was a reason she called him obtuse. Some things just didn't stick. Things that had to do with her family's wealth mostly. With her trust fund, yes, but more to do with their privilege and condescension.
It wasn't that he didn't want to know about his wife's family and life. It was that, well, yeah, Brankton didn't want to know about his wife's family and their forcing a prenup on him last minute like that. He forced himself to not know. To unremember. To be a dimwitted dullard when it came to her Baron father, which was tough considering that he was standing in front of him, off to the side, between the lobby and the bar not 30 feet away.
Brankton recognized his accent and resonant voice, even from a distance, over the din of what? Definitely something was going on in Austin. Brankton sneaked left to check-in with the front desk where he found a man who was as still as a wax figure.
"Hi, there. Brankton Newhan."
"I'm sorry, you must have me confused. I'm Sarell P Goodworthy. My friends call me Pete on account my middle name is just an initial, "P" -- no period --so they named me Peter in the 5th grade ... which I have always hated." Brankton looked blankly at the man to make sure he was serious. Was this perhaps an animatronic like Abe Lincoln at Disneyland that came to life when spoken to? Brankton began to say something.
"I'm just joshin' with ya, Mr. Newhan. But, now you know a little about me, and we're lookin' forward to learnin' about you during your stay with us."
The energy that exploded from no-period P almost sapped all of the remaining strength from Brankton. It reminded him of when he used to crouch around corners and jump out and frighten his mother. Several times she nearly fell reacting to his antics and once she even cried, which put an end to the fun of scaring the hell out of one's mother.
"Welcome. We've been expecting you, sir."
Brankton would have preferred a simple "good evening," but whatever. "Hello," was all he could muster back to ole Petey.
"We have your car for you parked just outside. And we've already taken your luggage which arrived FedEx today upstairs and unpacked for you." A freakishly small yet bespoke envelope contained his room key and another the keys to his rental. Pete presented them to Brankton hand-over-forearm like a sommelier would a fine Cabernet.
"Say, Pete, what's going on tonight? Isn't that the Baron I spy with my little eye?" Brankton felt the sarcasm creeping in with alacrity.
"You know the Baron, sir?"
"Yes, well, let's just say I used to be apart of a subsidiary of his vast empire. Based in Los Angeles."
"Oh, very good. Well then you must know our GM, the Baron's daughter, Sophia. It's her wedding this weekend." No-period P seemed to rise on his toes several inches as if he were trying on heels for a bridal party dress.
"You don't say." The universe was telling Brankton something he was sure of it; he just wasn't sure if he was hearing it right.