Brankton palmed the keys to the rental and his room and nodded a terse thanks to Pete who still had those rays of energy -- powerful enough to sterilize unsuspecting passersby -- projecting out in Brankton's general direction. As he wasn't sporting his lead underwear, Brankton tried putting enough distance between himself and the desk where others in the Baron's party might also be checking-in.
He settled behind a large desert plant with several dark red flowers in full bloom from where he could regroup and assess his next move. It seemed like a lifetime had passed between yesterday's casual Friday at NBCUniversal and today, standing in the Driskill's lobby with a large knot pitting in his stomach.
Brankton jumped in spite of himself; so much for keeping a low profile. He'd been caught spying, and looked back over his shoulder to Pete with an annoyed and guilty head gesture of "yeeesss?"
"Elevators are just around the corner, sir!" Pete pointed with a crook in his arm. "Shall I show you the way?!"
The top-half of Pete began to move from out behind the desk, but Brankton didn't wait for the lower-half of his energetic escort to appear as well. He bolted around the plant and headed for what appeared to be the way. In the same instant he remembered that the Sabbath was over and reached for his phone to call his office. He glimpsed Pete giving up the cause and was momentarily relieved as he turned the corner.
"Hey!" It was a woman's voice, with an accent. There wasn't enough time for another word to be spoken so Brankton couldn't place its origin just yet.
The side of Brankton's face met with the top of his ex-mother-in-law's head at an odd angle, emanating a sound not too dissimilar of two bowling balls bumping into each other in the rack after their trips down the local lanes. The pain and bruising would subside, but the hollow thud both heard would not soon be forgotten by either Brankton or the Baroness. Insult to injury was the shattered screen of Brankton's iPhone as it landed flat on the tile floor.
"Ooooh, oooh! Oh, darling!" The step-mother to Brankton's ex was rubbing her head as if making a wish on a genie's lamp. A more lithe figure could not be cut by a 50 yr-old woman. She was legs and leisure and embodied about the only class in the Baron's immediate circle, save for his daughter, Brankton felt.
"Sh*t!" Brankton bent to pick up his phone, which surprisingly was still intact, though the screen was cracked in several large sections. He also picked-up two tiny envelopes with rental keys in them as well. He looked up to make his apologies. "I am so sorry. Are you all right? That was my fault," he said. "I think this one belongs to you," he extended a small envelope in her direction.
"Oh, not to worry, darling," said the Baron's wife miffed. She reached out blindly to Brankton, feeling for this stranger with her keys and asked, "Are you okay?" She put the the envelope in her purse.
Their eyes met for the first time, and in spite of concussed senses each recognized the other.
"My God! Oh, my God! Brankton, darling!"
"Hi, Dominique." It was Brankton's turn to rub his injury, and because he had about a 3-minute head start on expecting the Baron's family to be in Austin, he wasn't as surprised as she about ramming his cranium into her's.
"What in the hell are you doing here, darling?!"
"Well, it's good to see you, too," Brankton deadpanned.
"I'm sorry, Brankton, but do you know that Sophia is getting married?"
"I just found out," Brankton pointed back toward the front-desk and felt like a complete idiot that a glorified bellhop had informed him that the love of his life was remarrying.
"Surely, you must know that this, your being here," the Baron's third wife, with a silver clutch in her hand, waved her arms around in a swirling motion as she looked about, "is quite unexpected, darling." She was about twenty years younger than the Baron who was almost 70, and yet she could pass for late 30's.
Brankton noticed for the first time that the trip-hop ambient chill soundtrack favored by most upscale hotels had begun its evening shift. He liked it, even if it was a bit played out. All of a sudden he needed a drink.
"Dominique, I just checked-in. I'm in town on business." Brankton pointed again back in the direction of no-period P, which reminded him that he had to call the office which was two hours ahead; he pushed the power button on his iPhone to see if he needed to be more pissed off than he was currently. Please work, he thought.
"Darling, but how did you know that Sophia was getting married this weekend?"
"I didn't. Swear," said Brankton a bit irritated. Divorce had many attendant negative consequences, but one of the more ungainly had to be the creation of a new class of hyphenate family members. The iPhone's home-screen finally appeared to the relief of Brankton who looked back to his ex-step-mother-in-law. "I'm here to sign a new act, and have to go out tonight to see him at some club just down the street."
"Oh, really? So you just decided to stay at the Driskill?" Sounded a bit fishy to Brankton now that he heard it put like that, and with the English lilt of an islander no less. The Baron was a man of wealth and taste. And his taste in women leaned toward the Caribbean: Olive-skinned, tall, beautiful, and well-spoken. Brankton had to give the Baron that at least.
"Fine, darling. Whatever you say," Dominique pulled Brankton toward the elevators. "Meanwhile, you can tell me your version of the truth over a drink as you and I get away from the lobby."
For a brief moment, it looked like the bartender on the second-floor veranda was actually reading the recipes of the drinks he was pouring. He'd read a bit, turn the page, then walk over and make a drink. Then read some more, pour a few more drinks. Brankton watched this for a few minutes before he confirmed that the bartender was most likely the second-string crew, probably a local college kid trying to get some reading done for class while working what would ordinarily be a slow shift. The A-team would be downstairs working the wedding or the rehearsal dinner or whatever his ex had planned.
"Clink-clink, darling!" said the Baron's wife, shaking Brankton's empty glass with ice rattling to that area behind the bar where waitstaff do her bidding.
"Another Jack-n-Coke?" said the bartender. Brankton took the span of his hand and inverted it vertically for visual aid.
"Make it tall," said Brankton.
The bartender looked at the Baron's wife. "She'll have another Bellini," said Brankton, who personally preferred the blackcurrant of the Kir Royale over the peachy, summery Bellini as far as Champagne drinks are concerned. He pulled his glass from her hand.
"We have one of these every Sunday afternoon at the club," said the Baron's wife now with only her rightful drink in-hand. "Some traditions are good, wouldn't you agree, Brankton?" He did agree, but he didn't like the traditions that screwed him over.
"What's it been? Three years?" asked Dominique.
"Not quite 150 Bellini's," said Brankton pointing at her Sunday afternoon drink, calculating. Plus three Bellini's from today is 153, he thought.
"You look amazing, Brankton, darling." The Baron's wife threw one leg over the other, with her open-toed pump pointing at her former ex-step-son-in-law. Brankton pulled another ice cube from his glass and rubbed it on his cheek bone.
"So, I have to know ... who's the guy?" he finally asked the question that no ex wants to really know the answer to.
"Here. Try one of the these."
"What's that?" he asked.
"For my back. Does wonders for the pain, as well as rehearsal dinners," she said. She placed a silver pill box on the bar and opened it revealing nine elliptical Vicodin pills lined-up 3x3. "You're going to need it."
"Yeah? That right?" Brankton looked at his watch; he had a little over an hour until the set would start. "Two please," he said.
"Two? Why not?" said the Baron's wife. One neat little row of life-numbing capsules disappeared; two for him, one for her style as they toasted with freshened drinks.
"Clink-clink," said Brankton.