Dante leaned back and took a sip of wine.
"Dave, I don't understand why Giovanni is interested in you, or even how he knows you."
Zoe chimed in, "And I want to know why you spilled the beans to Mercy of all people."
"It's complicated," said Dave.
Samuel gave the others a quelling gesture then turned to Dave.
"You don't have to tell us anything, David. But the more we understand the better we can help you and work with your goals and motivations in mind."
Dave took a deep breath, "Before I started playing conquest, I was a filling station attendant, on the evening shift. I was riding my bike home after work one night when a drunk driver swiped me. The impact sent me flying and I was knocked out. When I came to a little later I saw the car smashed into a tree nearby and the engine was burning. It was late at night, no one was around. I dragged myself to the car and pulled the driver out." Dave stopped and rubbed his leg as he remembered.
"Anyway, I didn't know it at the time, but the driver was Mercy. After I pulled her out and dragged her away from the burning car, I lost consciousness again and woke up in some hospital.
"Sure enough, no good deed goes unpunished. As soon as I woke up two men in fancy suits visited my room. They wanted me to take the blame for the accident, to sign something saying I was driving the car and crashed it. One of them showed me a gun. They said my hospital bills were paid for and I would get twenty grand to keep my mouth shut. The gun or go along, it was an easy decision.
"Zoe, remember in the auction house where Mercy almost assassinated me?"
"Yes," Zoe answered.
"Mercy looks just like the driver of the car that hit me. My memory from the accident is pretty fragmented but I have a vivid picture of her face in my mind. I confirmed it was her the next time we met in-game. But, I lost my temper and blew up at her, that's when I slipped up and said too much. You guys know everything after that. So, now here we are."
Dave drank some of his wine. He'd never cared for wine or beer, but this was good stuff. He thought it tasted similar to the wine served at the restaurant with lunch.
"Do you know why Giovanni wants to meet with you?" Dante asked.
Dave shrugged, "I don't know what they want, all I know is these are not nice guys. The less I have to do with them the better."
"I see," Dante said looking up and talking almost to himself, "It doesn't make sense, you didn't snitch or rock the boat. If you had he'd just put a contract out on you, not ask for a meeting. Your avatar is popular, he could want to use that fame, but it's not really his thing. No, we're missing information, probably something only Tivo Giovanni knows. Samuel and I are having a business dinner with him tomorrow, maybe we will learn something then.
Dante looked around, "All this serious talk has made me hungry. Something smells good, let's move this party to the table and chow down."
There was a general assent to Dante's statement, so they stood and made their way to the dining room.
Unsurprisingly the food was exquisite. Most of the dishes were things Dave seldom ate or had never tried before, but each was distinctive and delicious. The conversation was lively and full of laughter; stories about Zoe's childhood, escapades from the Silvana brothers' past, movie quotes and trivia. Dessert was some French thing he'd never heard of before, it was delicious also.
But for Dave, the highlight of the meal was the after-dinner coffee. When he took the first sip Dave closed his eyes and almost moaned in ecstasy. He resisted the urge to hug the cup to his face like a new lover. Instead, he inhaled the fragrance and savored each taste of the liquid gold. He asked what the ambrosia was and Dante informed him it was brewed from Extra Fancy grade, 100% Kona Peaberry coffee beans.
They were still at the table when Dave's phone vibrated, he checked and saw it was Ralph.
"Excuse me," he said, standing and moving back to the living room.
"Hey bro, are you okay? I went to your place, it was trashed!"
"Yeah, I'm alright, Ralph. Long story. I don't live there anymore, I moved to the city."
"Fantastic, man! The reunion is starting soon, where are you? "
"You forgot? Damn, dude, the class reunion. Vanessa will be there, remember Vanessa?"
"Oh, man, I did forget. I'm having dinner with some friends, I'll be done in a while. Send me the address."
"Who was that?" Zoe asked as he hung up. She'd followed him to the living room to see if everything was okay.
"That was my friend Ralph. My high-school class reunion is tonight. I'm going to check it out after we finish dinner."
"Ha! It's a good thing we got you spa-ready and suited up, then. I'll drive you when we're done here," she said.
"Okay," Dave said.
They returned to the dining room and finished their coffee. Talking and joking with the Silvana brothers.
"Davey, it's eight, You will be late for your school reunion we should go!" said Zoe as she dragged Dave by the hand.
They took the elevator to the underground garage.
"Let's take the Camaro," said Zoe.
"Are all these cars yours?"
"Yeah. Well, daddy's, of course. I bought the cute little Mini over there. But I don't drive it much, it's too cute, I don't want it to get dinged and you know how New York drivers are."
Dave shook his head. He took his phone out to call Ralph.
"Hey, I'm on my way, I'll be there in a few."
"Okay bro, I'm inside the club."
Lone drove them through the Manhattan Eastside and pulled up to a club called The Underground.
They got out, Zoe handed the keys to a valet and followed Dave to the club entrance.
Two door-men were checking people against a list at the red-velvet roped doorway. Dave gave one of the door-men his name.
"And the lady is with you?"
The man checked his name off and unclipped the rope to let them pass through.
Laser light and holographic images lit the club interior. The bar was in the center of the floor and private alcoves lined the walls. Techno music was playing and people moved to the beat on the dance floor.
Most of the people dancing were former classmates and many of the people standing or sitting in the bar area were also. Dave had been something of a loner in high school, he definitely wasn't part of the popular crowd that every student recognized on sight.
So when Dave walked through the club looking for Ralph with Zoe in tow, none of the people recognized him. But people were taking long looks, which puzzled Dave a bit. The women's glances were admiring until they saw Zoe. The looks from men were neutral or guarded as if sizing up competition, but turned admiring or lustful when they saw Zoe.
Dave kept looking around until he finally spotted a tall buff-looking guy in jeans and a tight t-shirt munching down on the food from the long buffet table. Dave smiled and moved toward him.
"Ralph, easy on the food, leave some for everyone else."
The man turned and shouted with a mouthful of ABC food, "DAVE!"
Dave dodged away from the spray of wet crumbs. But not the bear hug from the larger man. Dave was not a hugger, but he'd long ago given up trying to avoid Ralph's overly physical displays of friendship.
Dave laughed, "S'up bro."
Ralph swallowed the big lump of food in his mouth and held Dave by the shoulders to look him up and down then slapped him on the back.
"Whoa, dude. Niiiice duds man, you look like a million. And WHO is this lovely creature?" Ralph said, turning to ogle at Zoe.
"This is Zoe Silvana. Zoe this is my best friend Ralph. Despite his terrible table manners."
"Pleased to meet'cha, Zoe. Dave's been awfully mysterious lately, I'm beginning to see why."
Zoe blushed but held out her hand.
Ralph went in for a hug of course. That was just the way he was, plus Zoe was cute as a button. Zoe took it with grace, at least he was sincere, not trying to grope her or anything, and it was better than the fake smoochies from the frienemies in her usual social set.
"Dave how about I go get us some shots for us while you catch up with Ralphie."
"That would be great Zoe, thanks!"
The boyhood pals watched Zoe walk away, maneuvering through the crowd as she headed for the bar. Ralphie wolf-whistled and punched Dave on the shoulder.
"Niiiiice pull, bro."
"It's really not like that, man."
"Listen, Dave, You know I am one of the Devastators' team leaders now, right? I'm going to invite you to the Devastators. You'll be able to join in high-level quests and dungeon raids. I know it's tough in the city, but we'll get you making enough gold to move you into a decent place and make a good life," Ralph waggled his eyebrows at Zoe, then turned back to Dave "You'll be able to fix your injuries. Wait, you aren't limping anymore. And your hands! What happened?"
"Long story Ralphie, I met some really good people and my life turned around."
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