Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
A Newton's Gate Series
Series: The Delivery Mage
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Kurt Carter, portal delivery specialist, poured his sometime sidekick, Marci, some more wine as they sat at a table for two at Vallegia’s Italian restaurant in downtown Baltimore. This had been the third night in a row they’d gone out to eat together. Overall, Kurt enjoyed the shift in their relationship.
They both decided to take things slowly from a physical standpoint. It made sense on two fronts. On his end, Kurt still dealt with the challenge of finally getting over his divorce from Clara. He didn’t realize how attached to her he still was.
Then there was the change in the way he viewed Marci. He’d known her since she was a teenager. Though she had grown into a capable woman and valuable colleague in his delivery business, it was a little awkward for him. Plus, it was going to be beyond awkward when her father, Kurt’s best friend and job broker, found out the two of them were romantically involved.
Kurt picked up his glass and took a sip of the house red. “This is an excellent bottle of wine, I have to say. I’ll have to remember that brand. It would be nice to pick up some from the corner liquor store to keep at home.”
“I believe it’s from a farm in the northeastern part of Maryland,” Marci said. “I’ve had it before. Their Pinot Grigio is also quite good.”
“I meant to ask, how have you been feeling since you got back from the last mission. It looks like your bruises have healed nicely.” Kurt scanned her arms and shoulders as she sat across from him. She wore a light purple sleeveless blouse. He could barely see any signs of the injuries from their last job.
Marci smiled. “Not everyone is afraid of getting stem cell regenerative treatments, K.C. I look good because I went ahead and had it done. It doesn’t hurt, you know. You should do the same, especially at your age.”
Kurt laughed. “At my age? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing. I just know that it takes you a little longer to get back on your feet after a hard mission like the one we just had. You should really take advantage of modern medicine.”
“I’ll take advantage of it when I think I have a strong enough need,” Kurt said. “I prefer to let things progress naturally.”
“You act like it’s magic. Modern medical science is amazing, but you do have to go in and avail yourself of it to make it work.”
Kurt shrugged. “I’m fine, really.”
“Well if you’re too sore to stay out tonight perhaps you should go home and get to bed early.”
Marci’s grin as she said the last spurred Kurt to decide to take the plunge and say what was on his mind. “Is that an invitation?”
It was Marci’s turn to laugh now. Hearing it brought a smile to his face.
“I think we’ll have to see how things work out, but I’m not averse to a nightcap back at your place if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Kurt smiled. “Do you want to get dessert? We could get something here. The tiramisu is excellent. If not, I know we could grab some of the fresh homemade ice cream they make at that small creamery down the street from my place. We could grab a pint or two and take it back home.”
“Oh, a nightcap of ice cream sounds delicious. Why don’t you get the check? I’m going to go to the ladies room and freshen up.”
Kurt nodded and turned in his seat to try to flag the waiter down and get the bill. Marci got up and left towards the back of the restaurant.
The waiter saw him make a checking motion in the air and brought the check over. Kurt checked the price on the waiter’s small data pad, then tapped his wrist computer to transfer the credit from his own account. He added a generous tip as well. The guy had worked hard to make the evening nearly perfect.
Kurt felt generous this evening. Things were definitely going his way. He got up and headed out to the restaurant’s lobby to wait for Marci. He glanced down at his wrist computer and bumped into someone as he passed through the arched opening into the lobby. He stopped just past the hostess stand.
“Uh, excuse me,” he said without looking up from his wrist.
“Kurt?” a woman’s voice said. “What a pleasant surprise. I’d heard you were out of town.”
The voice startled him. Kurt turned to see his ex-wife Clara standing there. She looked stunning in a short skirt and a blouse made of some shiny synthetic material. He found his eyes tracing the way it clung to her curves in all the right places.
Kurt jerked his eyes away and met hers. He saw a glint in them and he knew she’d caught him looking.
A smile crossed her lips.
Kurt tried to change the subject. “How did you hear I was out of town? Were you looking for me for some reason?”
“Oh, I had a few things I needed to chat with you about. Nothing too urgent.” Clara looked around past Kurt into the restaurant behind him. “Are you here by yourself?”
Kurt stammered a reply feeling uncomfortable with his answer. “Um, no, uh, I’m here with…”
“Marci,” Clara said, finishing his sentence as Marci stepped into the lobby. “Why you look simply lovely, my dear.”
Clara stepped back as Marci came into the lobby and stood next to Kurt. She arched an eyebrow and seemed to be appraising the two of them. It made Kurt even more uncomfortable as a lead pit formed in his stomach. Why did she have to be here of all places?
Marci seemed oblivious to the exchange between Kurt and his ex. “Hello, Clara. It’s nice to see you, too. Have you been here long?”
“No, I was just on my way back from the gallery and stopped in to order some food to take home. Are you and Kurt out meeting a client or something? You two look awfully dressed up to be returning from one of your missions together.”
“Um, we are just out having a bite to eat, that’s all,” Kurt stammered out a hasty reply.
“Oh, well then, I’m glad I ran into you. I wanted to catch up with you, Kurt, because I had a few little odds and ends that needed tidying up. I was hoping you could help me out with them.”
Kurt knew Clara, while running a completely legitimate art gallery in Baltimore, also dabbled in the black market, along with stolen artwork and magic artifacts from both Earth Prime and worlds on the other side of various portals up and down the entire east coast of the U.S.
On more than one occasion, she’d had Kurt make deliveries and pickups for her while they were still married. Since their divorce, she’d managed to get him to take on the occasional job, usually getting him into trouble whenever she asked him for one of those favors.
He knew he should say no and be done with her. But he couldn’t. “I’d be happy to help if I’m available, Clara. Why don’t you send me the details of what you need and I’ll see if I can work something out for you.”
Clara reached out and brushed away a stray lock of hair that had fallen down over one of Kurt’s eyes. The gesture wasn’t missed by Marci. He glanced her way and caught the glare she gave his ex-wife.
Kurt stepped back to put some distance between himself and Clara and nodded. “Yeah, let’s catch up and you can tell me what you need another time. Marci and I were just leaving.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. It would be nice if we all went back to my place and had dinner together.”
“We already ate,” Marci said, stepping into the conversation. “We’re not hungry for anything else right now, are we, Kurt?”
“Um, no, we’re not. Thank you, though. I’ll be in touch about those errands you need help with, though. Talk to you soon.”
Clara nodded and Kurt turned gestured to the door. Marci headed out the entrance to the street outside. He followed right behind her.
Marci stood waiting for him on the sidewalk outside the restaurant as he stepped down from the entrance.
“Kurt, you know I like Clara a lot. She was there for me when my mother first sent me to live with my dad. That doesn’t mean I don’t realize what kind of a conniving, controlling bitch she is. You need to cut all ties with her. She’s no good for you. She only sends you on the jobs no one else is stupid enough to take.”
“Look, Marci, you just don’t understand.”
“Why? Because I’m too young? That’s ridiculous. Stop treating me like a little girl, Kurt. Anyone can see she’s using you. Do you ever get paid for the jobs she gets you to do for her?”
“It’s not about the money, Marci. Some things you just do for old time’s sake.”
“That’s bullshit, and you know it.”
Kurt tried to salvage the evening. Everything he’d felt inside before Clara showed up was slipping away from him. “Look, why don’t we head over to the creamery and pick up that ice cream we planned to get? It’s still early. We can forget all about Clara.”
Marci stared at him, meeting his eyes. She shook her head. “No, I think I am full after all. Maybe next time, K.C. I think you need some space to get your life in order before we have any ice cream together.”
Kurt knew he was being shut down and felt the wind going out of his sails. The evening had been all but perfect. Everything had gone his way. Until, that is, he bumped into Clara. Why, of all the places in the city, did she have to walk into this restaurant tonight.
“I understand,” Kurt said, trying to put on a calm exterior, despite the roiling torrent he felt in his gut. “Let me take you home. It’s the least I can do.”
Marci raised her wrist and tapped a few hidden keys on the thick silver bangle bracelet she wore. He knew it doubled as a connection to her pocket computer.
“Too late, I already called myself an auto cab. I’ll get myself home. Unlike the other women in your life, K.C., I know how to take care of myself without asking you for assistance.”
The driverless automated cab pulled up to the curb next to Marci before he could think of a reply. The door popped open and she climbed inside.
Marci pulled the door closed as he tried to come forward to say goodbye. The cab pulled away from the curb and drove off into the night.
“Damn,” Kurt muttered. He wondered if this ruined everything permanently between the two of them. Was there a way to salvage this somehow? He needed to figure that out.
Kurt glanced back at the entrance to Vallegia’s behind him. He also needed to get out of here before Clara left with her carry-out dinner. He knew all too well, if she invited him to come with her back to her place, he’d probably say yes.
Kurt shook his head. He definitely had a lot to sort out just as Marci had said.
Rather than wait for another cab, he started down the street towards the Inner Harbor. He’d catch a taxi once he reached the National Aquarium. It would only be a short drive home from there. As he walked through the dark city streets from streetlight to streetlight, Kurt pondered how he was going to resolve this situation.