Paranoia (052 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.

Part Three: 26 (Cont'd)

I introduced myself by my real name, told them I was checking the place out, didn't mention Trion. They seemed relieved I was there. I think they assumed from my Yonex titanium pro racquet that I was really good, though I assured them I was just okay, that I hadn't played in a long time. Basically true.

We had one of the outdoor courts. It was sunny and warm and a little windy. The teams were Alana and Drew versus me and the other woman, whose name was Jody. Jody and Alana were about evenly matched, but Alana was by far the more graceful player. She wasn't particularly aggressive, but she had a nice backhand slice, she always returned serves, always got the ball, no wasted movements. Her serve was simple and accurate: she almost always got it in. Her game was as natural as breathing.

Unfortunately, I'd underestimated Pretty Boy. He was a serious player. I started out shaky, pretty rusty, and I double-faulted my first serve, to Jody's visible annoyance. Soon, though, my game came back. Meanwhile, Drew was playing like he was at Wimbledon. The more my game returned, the more aggressive he got, until it was ridiculous. He started poaching at the net, crossing over the court to get shots that were meant for Alana, really hogging the ball. You could see her grimace at him. I began to sense some kind of history between the two of them—some serious tension here.

There was this whole other thing going here—the battle of the Alpha Males. Drew started serving right at me, hitting them really hard, sometimes too long. Though his serves were viciously fast, he didn't have much control, and so he and Alana started losing. Also, I got onto him after a while, anticipating that he was going to poach, disguising my shots, hitting the ball behind him. Pretty Boy had pressed that same old competition button in me. I wanted to put him in his place. Me want other caveman's woman. Pretty soon I was working up a sweat. I realized I was working way too hard at it, being too aggressive for this mostly social game; it didn't look right. So I dialed back and played a more patient point, keeping the ball in play, letting Drew make his mistakes.

Drew came up to the net and shook my hand at the end. Then he patted me on the back. "You're a good fundamental player," he said in this fake-chummy way.

"You too," I said.

He shrugged. "I had to cover a lot of court."

Alana heard that, and her blue eyes flashed with annoyance. She turned to me. "Do you have time for a drink?"

It was just Alana and me, on the "porch," as they called it—this mammoth wooden deck overlooking the courts. Jody had excused herself, sensing through some kind of female windtalking that Alana didn't want a group, saying that she had to get going. Then Drew saw what was happening, and he excused himself too, though not as graciously.

The waitress came around, and Alana told me to go first, she hadn't decided what she wanted. I asked for a Tanqueray Malacca G & T. She gave me a startled glance, just a split second, before she regained her composure.

"I'll second that," Alana said.

"Let me go check and see if we have that," the waitress, a horsy blond high-school student, said. A few minutes later she came back with the drinks.

We talked for a while, about the club, the members ("snotty," she said), the courts ("best ones around by far"), but she was too sophisticated to do the whole boring what-do-you-do? thing. She didn't mention Trion, so neither did I. I began to dread that part of the conversation, wasn't sure how I'd smooth over the bizarre coincidence that we both worked at Trion, and hey, you used to have my very exact job! I couldn't believe I'd volunteered to join their game, vaulted myself right into her orbit instead of keeping a low profile. It was a good thing we'd never seen each other at work. I wondered whether the AURORA people used a separate entrance. Still, the gin went to my head pretty quickly, and it was this beautiful sunny day, and the conversation really flowed.

"I'm sorry about Drew being so out of control," she said.

"He's good."

"He can be an asshole. You were a threat. Must be a male thing. Combat with racquets."

I smiled. "It's like that Ani DiFranco line, you know? ' 'Cause every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.' "

Her eyes lit up. "Exactly! Are you into Ani?"

I shrugged. " 'Science chases money, and money chases its tail—' "

" 'And the best minds of my generation can't make bail,' " she finished. "Not many men are into Ani."

"I'm a sensitive guy, I guess," I deadpanned.

"I guess. We should go out some time," she said.

Was I hearing right? Had she just asked me out?

"Good idea," I said. "So, do you like Thai food?"

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