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Peace by Piece

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Glancing up from her watch, Abigail Callaghan found herself glancing out past the restaurant’s window and into the busy streets of San Fransokyo amidst a rare summer downpour. It was almost captivating to watch people scurry by in raincoats and couples huddling together under umbrellas, their brightly colored coats offering splashes of color across the gray scene that painted the city streets. These days she delighted in the mundane parts of life quite a bit, given everything that had happened in the past few months. Putting her life back in order bit by bit- signed document by document was a daunting task, but she’d hit the ground running right after being discharged from SF General.

 If nothing else, the people-watching offered a brief respite to the reason she was sitting here waiting to meet with a representative from her former employer. Ironic how eager they’d seemed to meet with her through their emails, but now they were the ones lagging behind by 20 minutes. Which wouldn’t be terribly out of sorts were they not representing a technology giant like Krei Tech. She would’ve thought punctuality would be of upmost priority when it came to representing Alistair Krei and all that he’d built.  

 Turning towards the sound of door she was somewhat surprised to see the man himself simply walking through the doorway. Her mild surprise turning to bewilderment when she realized he’d come alone.

 There was no sign of the legal team she’d expected to meet. Not even so much as his personal attorney flanked him as he awkwardly fumbled with his umbrella and scanned the restaurant for her. In that moment, in the cheap dim lighting- Alistair Krei almost looked vulnerable. Like he was just a normal San Fransokyan caught in the downpour and late for a downtown lunch appointment. Like he was her father’s bumbling GA again, and all the money in the world still couldn’t hide those big ears and prominently pointy nose.

 Unsure of calling him out by name, Abigail scooted a chair out for him and the movement caught his eye. It was only when he got closer did she realize that his suit was as soaked as his sleek black umbrella, causing her to relax further for reasons she could quite discern.  After fighting to ring out his umbrella Krei sat down unceremoniously, only to realize he was dripping on the table.

“I do apologize, I had quite a time finding this place- and then the rain…” He started to explain, nearly forgetting himself.

Her goal had been to do this on her terms, and in her territory- to unsettle and humanize whatever corporate minions he would call upon to take care of this. However, just ruffling him personally hadn’t been in the cards, as she hadn’t expected this to be personal in the slightest. Abigail adjusted her sweater and smiled politely but said nothing.

“Ms. Calla- Abigail.” Krei cleared his throat and stumbled over the words, suddenly remembering how she’d always insisted upon ‘Abigail’ to everyone at work.

“Afternoon, Mr. Krei.” She gave him another small smile.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it is to see you out of the hospital and getting back into the swing of things, so how’re you-”

“Welcome to Tornino’s! Can I get you both started with something to drink?” Their waiter and his sunny disposition suddenly swept over to them, cutting the blond CEO off abruptly without realizing it.

 “Water’s fine for me.” Abigail could only grimace at his unfortunate timing, anticipating his reaction to realizing he had just cut off the richest man in San Fransokyo midsentence.

“Okay and how about for you, sir?” The waiter was now looking Krei in the face, but if he recognized Krei he made no notice of it.

“Oh, just water.” Krei didn’t look too annoyed at being cut off either, in fact Abigail thought he seemed almost relived.

“So, do you need a few moments?”

“Pardon me?” Krei was taken aback, seemingly forgetting that he was sitting down at a restaurant.

The waiter’s young smile didn’t falter. “Do you need time to review the menu or do you think you know what you want?”

“Right! Yes of course. Let’s see here…” Krei speedily opened the previously untouched menu set out on the table.

“I’ll have the chicken parmesan and a side of breadsticks.” Abigail hastily ordered, hoping to give Krei ample chance to decide and prevent the waiter from making an extra trip back to their table. The waiter finished writing and immediately looked back to Krei.

“Do you have any salads? Like a Panzanella or Caprese?”

The young man looked a bit dazed. “Uhm… Well, we have a house salad. Uhh- or a Caesar salad.”

“Oh, never mind. I’ll just get the spaghetti marinara- but hold the meatballs.” Upon realizing he said the last bit rather fervently Krei added on a “Please.”

Their waiter blinked at him as if he’d just requested a trip to the moon but wrote it down nonetheless. This was clearly not the kind of place where special requests were the norm, especially not ones that involved holding meatballs.

 “Alrighty, I’ll be right out with those. Anything else?”

“No I think that’ll do it, thanks.” Abigail gave the waiter a friendly smile as he shuffled away. He was surprisingly chipper- likely a fresh graduate working a summer job.

Watching their waiter walk away, Krei turned to her and interlaced his fingers.

“So Abigail, I was hoping to talk with you about a settlement that would go beyond the compensation you’re already receiving from our private carrier.” So easily he seemed to slip back into the charismatic employer she’d come to know during her brief time at Krei Tech.

“You mean the stuff from Fairfield?”

Her life had been a sea of paperwork for the past 8 months, but the worker’s compensation documents from Fairfield United Services stood out to her, mostly because of the sheer number of them.

“Yes, but I mean something beyond that. As a true expression of our appreciation for your contribution and service to Krei Tech. I personally reviewed and approved it.” He began to fish inside the inside of his blazer for something.

“So I take it you’re not giving me my job back.” Abigail shot him a tiny pout.

“I-what?” His baby blues widened to comical proportions as he stopped all movements to gape back at her.

“Kidding, kidding! I’m only kidding.” She said through forced laughter, not realizing he’d take it so seriously.

“Ehehe- You had me there for a second Abigail. I suppose it was still presumptuous of me to assume you would no longer be interested in working for us as a test pilot.”

“Nah, I’ve been looking into an opening elsewhere.”

“Ah, one of our competitors?” He was all smiles as he quirked his brow. They both knew there were no real competitors in that particular field to speak of, and even if there were she wasn’t that petty.

“No, more of an academic setting actually.” Abigail decided she’d rather keep her newest developments under wraps for now, especially since nothing was certain. She felt he wasn’t being entirely genuine in dealing with her, even if he didn’t send a legal team to handle this.

He looked like he was about to inquire her further before thinking better of it as he pulled a thin folder from his crisply pressed blazer.

“I brought this draft along for your consideration, and we can finalize it here.”

 As Krei slid it across the table, the waiter returned with their dishes. She’d been coming here since her youth and though not her favorite restaurant, she could certainly say it was up there- suffice to say she was excited to dig in. 

She took bites of her meal here and there while she read through the document, looking up to find Krei twirling his pasta but barely touching it otherwise. 

Continuing until the end, Abigail could hardly contain her surprise when she read over the yearly payout sum. Her dark browns raised considerably before turning downward in a slight frown at the man across from her, her suspicions confirmed.  

“How does this sound to you?” Krei just continued to twirl his pasta. He almost looked nervous.

Putting it all together, she now realized why he’d had an additional settlement drafted for her, and likely why he’d also wanted to meet with her personally. It was simple; he was trying to avoid a lawsuit and thought he could buy her silence and compliance. A cheap move, but one that she’d expect from a man in Krei’s position.

“How does this sound to me?” She took another bite before insolently leaning back in her seat to regard him. “Well, it sounds like you’re trying to cover your ass- which I get.”

He visibly paled for a moment, and stopped fidgeting with his noodles. She knew he was considering her, sizing her up. Abigail was well aware that Krei knew she had pluck and a keen mind, that’s why he’d hired her above all other outstanding applicants. She also remembered who he’d been; as her father’s GA and briefly her tutor, but all that seemed a lifetime ago as she watched him study her now. 

The billionaire only straightened his blazer before narrowing his eyes and leaning across the table. As if he meant to challenge her.  “Are you telling me that you are unhappy with the settlement we have put forth? I could easily arrange for more-”

 “Is there any way to prevent you from pressing charges against my father?” She brazenly blurted out, cutting Krei off abruptly. If he wanted to play with higher stakes she might as well see if she could get what she truly wanted from him.

 “Robert Callaghan is a danger to society.” Krei didn’t waver.

“You knew his motivations. You knew him.” It was a futile effort, she was almost certain, but felt compelled to try nonetheless.

“You would be hard pressed to convince a jury of that. The legal team is not only speaking on my behalf, but also the group of investors he terrorized at the ceremony.” The CEO tightened up, steeling his posture.

“So- even taking me out of the equation, they would still be pressing charges as mere innocent bystanders. And then there’s the matter of the SFIT fire, with the newly recovered security footage and all…” Krei just casually explained, and she nearly hated him for it.

But he was right.

“Yes, of course.” The brunette punched a defeated sigh. From a logical standpoint, she knew he was right.

But by a cruel twist of irony, she found that she needed to stop herself from painting Krei as her enemy in this. Catastrophic portal accident notwithstanding, the man was attacked by her father, and her father was a grown man capable of discerning right from wrong.

“Abby, you know I idolized your father. This isn’t easy for me to do.” He leaned over and spoke in a conspiring whisper, as if anyone in the restaurant was listening over the mundane Tuesday din.

He hadn’t called her Abby since his brief stint as her tutor- as her father’s last desperate hope to help her get back on the right track. But she wasn’t buying it, she knew he wasn’t to blame but her petulance wasn’t entirely unwarranted either.

It was at that exact moment their server decided to present them with the bill.

“Well, you came all the way out here, it’s the least I could do.” Abigail reached for her worn brown satchel first. Richest man in San Fransokyo be damned, she wasn’t taking anything from him-including lunch.

 “You’re kidding right?” He looked incredulous.

 “No no, I insist.”

“Abigail, please. It’s the least I could do.” The CEO pulled a thin carbon fiber device from a different pocket and ran his thumb along the edge.

 Apparently it was a fingerprint scanning wallet as it opened with a click and he pulled a card from it- handing it to the waiter with a speed that brooked no arguments. The athletic brunette just put on the best forced smile she could muster as she watched their waiter hesitate before suddenly dashing off- presumably to process their order.

“Well thank you Mr. Krei, for taking the time out to meet with me. I know you’re a very busy man. I’ll be seeing you in court I suppose.” She wouldn’t take her anger out on him directly, but she was clearly over humanizing their interactions.

“In court?” Krei’s demeanor suddenly shifted back to a dumfounded fearful gaze.

“Yes, my father’s trial.” As she reached for her bag and raincoat, she made it clear she was purposefully toying with him.

“Ahah well, if he knows what’s good for him there won’t be any need for all that. Now about those-”

 “Nice seeing you again, Mr Krei.”

Abigail reached for his hand before he could continue. For a man who had probably attended 3 dozen private workshops on ‘the lost art of crafting the perfect handshake’ his hand was remarkably limp and his wooden smile did little to cover the turmoil written on his face.

“Abby, those papers-”

 As she headed for the door their waiter came rushing past her with his manager in tow.

“Oh my god you are Alistair Krei!”

“Well, I uh-yes. Yes I am. Abigail just wait a minute!” Krei stood up but now had the neighboring table’s guests attempting to speak with him as well.

Noting Abigail was still waiting by the door, he took a moment to turn back towards them. She heard him ease into the compelling, generous, down-to-earth persona that was expected of him, but Abigail wasn’t particularly interested in hearing them fawn over his charismatic charm.

Seeing him turn around gave her the chance to slip back into the rainy street without causing a scene, leaving Krei and his unsigned documents behind. 

The downpour was still in full swing as she adjusted her coat and turned towards the underground parking garage. She didn’t have time to feel guilty over shrugging off a man like Krei and his misguided attempts placate her. It was time to get home, have a cup of tea and get busy.

After all, she had an application to work on.