When Conor saw Roy and the captain sitting at the table of Maloney & Porcelli with the two other crew members, anger colored his thoughts. Everyone stood up as he approached. He shook the captain’s hand, followed by the first mate and doctor of the ship. The other two were the same age as the captain or maybe a little older. He nodded his head curtly towards Roy and sat down.
None of the officers had a drink, but Roy had a martini. Conor smiled at the crew. “No drinks? This is a celebration.”
The captain started to say, “We thought it might be too early…”
The first mate grinned and said with a thick South African accent, “I told him it’d be all right. But that’s how we survived when our instruments went down—strict observance of the rules.”
“Excellent,” said Conor waving the waiter over. “But today, we can relax.” He had a discussion about Scotch with the waiter and settled on a fifty year old bottle that was pushing $1000.
“I told you he’d spare no expense,” Roy said to the crew, but his smile did not go to his eyes.
They also ordered their meals. Everyone ordered the dry-aged prime rib by Conor’s suggestion.
The captain fidgeted with his fork as they talked about being lost at sea. Conor wasn’t sure if Armand’s nervous behavior was because of what had happened with Charisse or something else. Roy interjected at a couple parts of the story like a proud father. Maybe Armand and Marie had hit it off.
After the Scotch and steak arrived, Conor decided to press. “Do all of you have dates to the banquet tonight?”
Armand cut into his steak as if he had only just been saved from being lost at sea. But his officers beamed. The first mate, a burly man with golden hair said, “Yes, Captain Nell is taking Mr. LaRouche’s daughter, and she introduced us to two of her friends. We’ve all been enjoying New York City these past two days.”
“No offense,” said the doctor, “but it was hard to leave them behind to come to this lunch.”
“I know what you mean,” said Conor, thinking of Charisse at the salon instead of in his penthouse. He looked at Armand, “I’m glad you and Marie hit it off.”
Conor reached for the tumbler of Scotch the waiter had just refilled and noticed silence had settled like a crash on the stock market.
“Marie?” asked Roy, gazing from Armand to Conor. “You’re taking Charisse to the banquet,” Roy told Armand, almost like it was a question.
Conor tightened his grip around the tumbler. The misunderstanding had better be on Roy’s part.
Armand cleared his throat, blanched at the glare of death Conor was giving him and said, “Charisse is dating Mr. Grishin, which I found out when I went to pick her up for dinner. But Marie was also there, and we’ve been inseparable. It was a happy misunderstanding, at least for me.”
Conor loosened his grip on the glass and shot the liquid to the back of his throat. Charisse was his. Even that one moment of doubt still had him ready to punch someone.
Roy said, “What do you mean? You’re supposed to be with Charisse.”
“She’s with me,” said Conor.
Roy finally turned to stare at him but didn’t cower as Conor had expected. Instead, Roy’s skin changed to the color of an over-ripe plum. “I told you to stay away from Charisse.”
“Your daughter is a grown woman and can choose who she wants to be with.”
“If she wanted to be with you, she would’ve told me at lunch when I set her up with Armand.”
“Please, gentlemen,” said Armand with calm certainty like he was in his element. “Everyone is happy. I saw Charisse with Mr. Grishin, and believe me, it is not against her will. And Marie is exactly the kind of woman I’ve been searching for.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me from the beginning?” roared Roy.
“Marie said it would be better to just show up at the banquet together. She seemed to think you’d be upset…”
Conor wanted to laugh. He should’ve known Marie had orchestrated all this. Though maybe she’d been sincere in wanting everyone’s partner to be revealed at the banquet, where Roy was less likely to blow up. He glanced around to see if she was sitting in the corner somewhere enjoying the spectacle. He only saw strangers and a few business associates.
“But you were out with Lana, the supermodel, last night,” said Roy. “You’re already cheating on my daughter, which is exactly why I wanted you to stay away from her.”
Conor leaned in close to Roy. “How we conduct our relationship is our business, not yours.” He nodded to the officers and said, “I’m glad we had this chance to meet. Thank you again for your rescue of the ship and its crew. Please have dessert, more Scotch, anything. Roy will get the bill. I’ll see you tonight.”
He could sense Roy wanting to tear into him as he left. At least that was out of the way. He wanted Charisse to enjoy the banquet. She already didn’t want to go, and a huge scene would’ve been a disaster for her.