The Cuban restaurant Linus picked for lunch is hard to find from the street. The door’s tucked around the side of the building and the only sign’s on the door itself. Linus promised he’d pick a place in Zach’s area and he wasn’t lying. Only a ten minute walk from the shop he didn’t bother to call his driver. The fresh air lifts his spirits. Upon arrival he regrets not having the extra set of eyes to help him figure out where to go. He walks past the place three times before finding it. His phone’s GPS app says he’s arrived but he can’t see a restaurant. His knee’s throbbing so he breathes easier when he notices the side door, tucked out of sight in shadow down an alley.
Opening the worn door, he descends a steep staircase where he ducks his head to avoid the ceiling. He’s grateful for the sturdy railing so he can lean on something when his knee hums with pain.
At the bottom of the staircase he finds a dim room, though a light sits on each table so the diners can see each other without issue. There’s fifteen or so tables and each one’s full. A woman emerges from the back carrying drinks but she notices him across the way and gestures that she’ll be with him in a minute. Dropping the drinks off at a table, she walks over to him. “What can I do for you? We’re all full at the moment.”
“I’m meeting someone here. A Linus Setterberg?”
Nodding, she wipes her hands on her apron. “Oh ya, he’s already seated. Follow me.” She leads him around a corner to a table which is concealed by a half wall. Linus is eating a giant platter of plantain fritters. There’s twenty of them on the table and from the look of the crumbs there were originally twice as many.
Linus extends a handshake which Zach takes. He turns to the woman who led Zach to the table. “Thanks for bringing him over Samara.” She nods and walks away. He gestures for Zach to sit on the other side of the table. There’s two other chairs. “Glad you found the place. Try these Bolitas de Platanos, they’re awesome.”
Grabbing one and popping it into his mouth, Zach has to admit they’re very good. Maybe not so good he needs forty of them but he understands the appeal. “Took me awhile. Almost had to call you for help. Why are they so hidden?”
Linus shrugs and pops another plantain ball into his mouth. “They’re pretty much always full and they don’t have a ton of room. If they were easier to find they’d only turn more people away. I think they like being the little hidden place people love. They could move but they’ve been here forever.”
Zach nods at Linus and picks up a menu. He has limited familiarity with Cuban food so he’s not sure what to order but everything looks delicious. “Why’d you want to meet? You said something about planning next steps.”
The waitress returns and interrupts them. Linus orders a sandwich and asks Zach if he wants the same thing. Without a clue what to order he goes along with the suggestion. Before she leaves, he makes a point of asking her not to hurry the food. Weird. When the waitress walks away, Linus turns back to Zach. “So, I want to talk about a few things. Next steps, how things are going, but let’s start with money.”
Eyes narrowing, Zach wasn’t expecting this. He’s gone through almost twenty million so far being a vigilante but he’s worth billions and that’s not much in the grand scheme of things. “What about it?”
Swallowing another plantain Linus says, “Well, you’re spending a lot. Not that you can’t afford to, and considering you’ve spent almost nothing for five years now this isn’t a major deal, but we need to slow down at least a little.”
Zach puts a hand on his forehead. He considers objecting but he hates confrontation. “Slowing down’s good. I’m trying to do so. I think I’ve slowed down the last few months actually.”
Another plantain ball disappears. Zach takes a second before they’re gone. Suddenly he feels the need to eat. Once Linus finishes chewing he says, “Ya, I’ve noticed but not as fast as I’d like. I was thinking we could hire a financial planner to work with you.”
That grabs his attention. He eats another of the plantain bites. As the conversation continues he feels more and more glad Linus ordered so many. He can’t deal with this. A financial planner means reporting to someone about everything he buys. He wouldn’t be able to hide where the money’s going and he’d be found out as a vigilante. “It’s my money, I don’t think I need permission to spend it.”
“No, you don’t. I’d like to help though. Going from nothing to this kind of spending overnight can be overwhelming. I want to make sure you’re prepared.”
Trying to smile, Zach’s pretty sure he only manages to look strange. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine. I’ll tell you if I need help. Can we talk about something else?”
Linus stops smiling and eats another snack. “Fine, but I’m going to keep tracking your spending. If you don’t slow down then I’m going to bring this up again. That sounds awful so get yourself under control.” He leans around the corner and looks toward the door. He checks his watch. “Let’s talk about the last board meeting. I thought things went well.”
Zach turns and looks toward the door as well but nothing stands out to him. “Are we waiting for someone?”
“Don’t worry about that. The meeting went well. I liked that you got involved with one of the presentations. Maybe not my favorite but you established yourself as someone the board has to take seriously. That’s a good move. You really liked Charley’s presentation though?”
Eating another of the bites, Zach takes a moment to think over his response. He can’t tell Linus why he really likes it. “VR’s huge right now. I think there are a lot of potential uses down the line, either as it’s own technology or for licensing.”
“I’m glad you’re already out ahead thinking about things like licensing, but I think it’s going to take a long time to reach that level and cost an awful lot of money on the way. Still, we’ve signed off on the funds and we’ll continue to do so. I want to make this your project though. It’ll give further products you support additional clout. Follow along, give support where needed, I’ll get you Charley’s number so you can check in.”
Looking down, Zach realizes he’s earned himself additional work. His goal with the board’s been to do as little work as possible. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate. If she wants me to have her number, she’d give it to me.”
“That’s awfully presumptuous when you’re her boss. Don’t worry, I checked with her, she’s waiting to hear from you.”
Looking at the table, Zach notices they’re low on their appetizer. Linus again looks around the corner toward the door and Zach can’t help but notice. “Seriously, are you waiting for someone? We can wait if someone else is coming.”
“Don’t change the subject Zach.” Linus pauses for a moment, eating one of their last few bites. “Over the next few weeks, I need you at every board meeting. We need you invested and making contributions if possible. Nothing major. It doesn’t need to be what you did this week. I want you felt every time in some way though.”
That wasn’t the deal. This was supposed to be easy. Linus promised he could show up, listen in and drift into the background. “What happened to no pressure? I can make an impact, but every time?”
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on you. If you’re really not comfortable speaking up, that’s fine. You took initiative though and that changes things a bit. People are going to look to you now. Before you could take a back seat, assess, then step in later as needed. If you fade now people will think you made a mistake. It’s going to make you seem weak when you step up later.”
Putting his head in his hands, Zach groans. “What do I have to do? I’m not good at all of this.”
Linus smiles and reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder. “That’s okay. We don’t need anything crazy out of you. Support a project, or vote against the majority on something every time. You don’t need to care about the vote. Wait until near the end then vote against the majority. It won’t matter since the thing lost but people will start looking to you to try and get a measure of your support. That’s huge.”
This is all going to be too much. He squeezes his eyes shut and steadies his breathing for a moment. He wishes Linus would remove his hand but he can’t ask him to, too much risk he’ll take that the wrong way. The only choice is to accept the man’s well meaning gesture, though doing so makes him want to scream. Footsteps approach from behind them. Nobody’s checked on them since they ordered so he assumes the waitress is coming back. He can’t let her see him like this. He doesn’t even like Linus doing so.
Looking up, his mind goes blank. He thought his stress was at about a level nine out of ten. Now he’s escalated to level 50. The blonde haired girl, dressed in khakis and a tank top hovers over them with her mouth wide. A small yellow purse is wrapped over her shoulder. She looks him right in the eye and her shock turns to anger. Her eyes go thin and the edges of her mouth curl. Her fist tightens and the first clear thought Zach has comes in the form of fear she might hit him.
Her gaze flashes to Linus who doesn’t look at all surprised to see her or afraid of the consequences. “How dare you do this. What gives you the right?”
He takes a long drink from a glass of scotch before smiling and answering her. “Well, as the person who spent the last five years taking care of you, that gives me the right. You wouldn’t do this on your own, I did what I had to. Sit down and eat with us. You love the food here, I’ll split my pork belly with you.”
What has Linus done? Zach tries to think of something to say, something to make up for all he’s done wrong and everything he wishes he could change. Nothing comes to mind though so he stares in silence. She turns to him, her anger rising. She reaches toward him, grabbing toward his collar, but she pulls her hand back and locks it behind her head. “Did you know?”
Words don’t come. He manages to shake his head no which is going to have to be good enough.
Linus nudges a chair out to provide her an opportunity to sit. “At least have lunch with him, you might find what’s left of your family does better together than they do apart.”
Even after five years, Zach knows what to expect. Linus lived with her for this long and hasn’t figured that out? People don’t change that much. She kicks the chair away and turns to go. He could say something to her but what can he say to make up for all that’s happened? Tears gather in the corner of his eyes but he tries to blink them away. He hasn’t cried in five years and he’s not ready to start now. Before she storms off they lock eyes for a moment. She notices but she doesn’t say anything. She breaks eye contact and looks down before rushing away.
“Wait Catherine, don’t rush off.” A few moments pass while Linus watches her go. Then he turns to Zach. “Go after her.”
It takes a moment for him to realize Linus is talking. The man reaches out and shakes him a little. “What?”
“Go after her. You need to talk to her now. Why do you think I invited you both out here? Your spending’s a concern but not so bad we had to have this talk yet.”
Shaking his head, he looks at the man, still having a hard time finding words. “Why would you think this was a good idea? She doesn’t respond well to being pushed. She’s been with you five years and you haven’t figured her out?”
“Of course I have. What other choices did I have though? You’ve both pushed each other away for so long that if someone didn’t push you together this would never have happened.”
“Did you ever think that’s for the best?” The silence between them lasts a few moments, the sadness in Linus’ eyes growing. Is that pity he sees behind them? That’s the last thing he wants. “I stepped away at the worst time. That wasn’t fair and —”
“That’s all well and good but everything you’re saying to me right now, you’d be better off saying to her. She’ll call a car and in this part of town they’ll take at least a few minutes. If you hurry you can still catch her. Your sister’s stubborn as hell. If you go after her, she might not want to talk to you, but she’ll at least recognize the effort. If you don’t try this time, I don’t know that she’ll give you another chance.”
Blinking, he looks at Linus and considers his response. He wants to yell, maybe to shove the man. He’s right though. This might be his last chance. Is he willing to write his sister out of his life forever? She’s the only family he has left. He doesn’t deserve her forgiveness but if he’s trying to put his life back together, wouldn’t that eventually include bringing her back into it?
Without another word, he stands and heads for the exit. He should scream at Linus but he’s not going to cause a major confrontation in public. That he can tell himself that while rushing toward what’s likely to be an even bigger public confrontation isn’t lost on him but what else can he do?
Climbing the steep stairs to reach the street, he fights through the pain in his knee. Hopefully any car service will have as much trouble finding the place as he did. He’s blasted by the heat as he pushes the door to the street open. How hot is today supposed to be?