Pal o' Mine

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"Dolores" restaurant was one of the more luxurious in Esterberg. It wasn't quite as unique as Ambrose, but it did have its charm — and an important quality. "Dolores" was in the Administrative District, a stone's throw from the town hall. This place is often visited by people in higher positions in the city, thanks to which it gained fame in the nouveau riche environment and further publicity, which reached even the richest.

You want to discuss street names? Meeting at "Dolores". Are you facing a serious business decision? Consult with someone at "Dolores". Proposal for a loved one? Nothing beats prestige of getting engaged at "Dolores". Your close friend has passed away from this world? Good news! In "Dolores" you could also rent a hall for a funeral meal.

Stefan Chyce, one of the most important officials in Esterberg, was sitting at one of the tables. He looked out the window listening to the soft melody played on the piano in the corner of the restaurant by an elegant elderly man. Stefan glanced nervously from time to time towards the door of the place - although he had just arrived here, he was waiting for someone very important to him. His good old friend Emil Wędzyński wanted to meet him.

The last time Stefan saw Emil, he worked in "not necessarily legal" businesses, trading "not necessarily legal" products from "not necessarily legal" sources, however, it was a few years ago, you couldn't judge a man by his questionable past alone. What surprised Stefan, however, was that Emil himself had proposed dinner at "Dolores" tonight, something he had not expected from his familiar moneylender. Stefan remembered the elegant business card his friend had left and took it out of the pocket of a stylish jacket to look at it a little more. Decorative amethyst accents on the background of the night of Cairo, in the center, the inscriptions drawn in silver, exquisite font and light italics. "Emil Smokensky, MC&D". Stefan smiled slightly to himself, Emil was never too good at inventing alternative identities - maybe that's why he was never able to work truly illegally.

Finally Stefan noticed him - Emil was wearing a gray plaid suit and a fedora of the same color. He strode into the restaurant and smiled slightly, then took off his hat. Charisma and confidence simply radiated from this man, which attracted the Fae waitress. With a friendly smile, she approached him to offer a free table or to ask for a reservation, but to her surprise, Emil took her gentle hand carefully and kissed it. The woman was speechless and blushed a little, but the man did not stop there, handing her an beautiful rose. The stunned waitress stared at the flower and slightly backed away from Emil, who had already started walking towards Stefan. What ordinary observers might not have noticed, but what did not escape Stefan's attention, was the ring on the waitress's finger - or rather its absence.

"Emil, maybe you are wearing suits now and giving people decorated business cards, but you haven't changed a damn thing." Stefan said, shaking his head slightly with a gentle laugh under his breath.

"Stefan, my friend, how is your fear of women?" Said Emil, who sat down in an empty seat in front of his companion. "I can see that you are doing quite well in life - the office at the Free Port, well, well, well," he said with a soft kiss and unbuttoned one button on his jacket for convenience. Stefan just shrugged his shoulders slightly and did the same.

"And you … I think the last time I saw you tried to sell a stolen watch to some policeman in Prague1." Said Stefan with a soft smile wandering on his lips.

"Whoa, long time ago and not true" Emil waved his hand dismissively, although there was a slight amusement in his voice, he stopped speaking the moment he noticed the waitress approaching the table.

"Are you gentlemen ordering something?" A woman of delicate build stood near the table, holding a small notebook with a pen in her hands. Stefan was already opening his mouth to speak and place an order, but Emil beat him to it.

"Please forgive me, however, this is the first time here and I have not yet worked out my preferences." He nodded his head embarrassed, but Stefan, already trained in guessing his friend's intentions, knew immediately that it was not a genuine embarrassment. "I would like to rely on someone's infallible instinct, what would such a beautiful lady recommend to us?" Emil asked, giving the woman a charming smile.

A little embarrassed, the waitress hid behind a small notebook and menus, answering in a hurry. "Today we recommend grilled octopus with new potatoes and cherry tomatoes."

Emil looked at Stefan with a smug smile, while Stefan, resigned from the inability to speak and already heartily sick of his friend's charms, merely nodded. The other man looked back at the waitress and began to continue, "Dish of the Day times two then. Plus - I couldn't help but notice that you have some Oregon wine on the menu, so we would have asked for a bottle of that." As the waitress came a little closer to Emil, he pointed to one of the items on the menu. The woman quickly wrote down the order and, nodding her head, hurried away from the table. Stefan sighed deeply, rubbing his face with his hand tiredly.

"I'll never understand how you do it so naturally." His voice was resigned, but not a hint of jealousy.

"Someday I'll teach you, Stefan." He winked at his friend and laughed heartily. "Anyway, you better tell me how are you?"

Two friends started a lively conversation full of memories: first about how Stefan got a job in the town hall, then move on to the story of how Emil left Poland and went to Chicago, where he lived for several months of his life. His next stop turned out to be New York, where he didn't stay long - just a year - but he did get in touch with an organization called Marshall, Carter and Dark. The next city Emil went to was San Francisco, where he stayed for longer. Time passed relentlessly on the conversation and before they looked back, a waitress appeared in their field of vision with the ordered food.

"Your orders." She said and began to bend down with the plates, but Emil beat her to it and reached for the dish to set it down himself. After that, he hurriedly bent under the table at which they were sitting. Stefan also picked up the plate from the woman, not wanting to strain her, and thanked her softly, looking wonderingly at his friend.

"Oh, you dropped something." Suddenly Emil said and straightened up immediately, not giving the waitress a chance to bend down and see what her client was talking about. The man opened his fist and her own ring appeared on his open hand. "You're welcome."

The woman held her breath and immediately looked at the hand on which she was wearing it. Only a ring of a slightly paler and smoother skin was left of this - there was no trace of the metal rim. "My ring…" She said in a slightly absent voice, then reached for the ring with her hand and slipped it over her finger, taking a breath and sighing with relief.

"My ring, thank you very much, someone else would probably take it" replied the waitress, Stefan watched the whole scene in shock, he once witnessed Emil's theaters, but each time they amazed him. Immersing in thought, he didn't even notice when the waitress was gone.

"I noticed that you have quite a lot of damage in some parts of the city." He knocked Stefan Emil out of his thoughts.

"Oh, yes, there was some unpleasant situation a few years ago but there are rebuilding plans, some of them even started."

Emil leaned a little closer to Stefan.

"What if I told you I have a different idea?"

"I'm hearing." Said Emil as he sliced his dish.

"Well, you know what irritates me a bit in this city? You have to walk everywhere, no cars, but that's nothing, there is no Free Port with cars. But here? There is no communication whatsoever. Look at Warsaw, you have buses, trams. Oh! You should see what they are like in San Francisco, man, this is America, baby. I have to take you there sometime, you have life there"

"What are you up to?"

"The tram line, here in Esterberg. Look, some dilapidated buildings will be demolished, they will be bought by the city if they are not demolished, and then leveled to the ground, and as they say in France, voila. You have a place to build tracks. I can arrange the machine and everything for you, yes? You just throw a project to expand the public transport, I'll take care of the technical issues."

The official cut another piece of octopus, took it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed, wondering how to convey his concerns to his friend. He pressed his hands together, lacing his fingers together, took a deep breath and looked his friend in the eye.

"I see some one problem"

"What is it, my friend?" Emil was pouring wine to himself. He also offered a refill to Stefan, but Stefan refused for the time being, shuffling his thoughts in his head. After a moment's thought, he began to speak again.

"I doubt buying buildings would be as simple as you say, my friend." Stefan said, reaching for a glass of wine. Emil's smile didn't fade away, and the unyielding determination was still evident in his gaze.

"Ha, I knew you would say that." Emil replied, taking out a briefcase from which he took out a neat, clean business card with a bony color and black ornaments. "I have a good friend here in town who runs a real estate agency. As soon as there is information about the city plans, know that I will talk to her and you will have all the buildings taken care of in a few months." He backed up a little in the seat and crossed his arms over his chest, while Stefan reached cautiously for the business card his friend had given him. "I promise nothing, but citing our good friendship, maybe she will little lower in price a bit."

Natalia Estle's Real Estate Agency

Real estate at affordable prices

Stefan looked at the little cardboard box that read "Natalia Estle's Real Estate Agency." The business card did not make a special impression, it was not as stylized as the one belonging to Emil, but it was neat and eye-catching. Simple but sizable handwriting, blunt and without further ado, strongly promoting what it is. Stefan turned it over and found the address where the company was located - in exactly the same font.

"What about …" He paused for a moment, playing thoughtlessly and shifting a piece of cardboard in his hands. "You know, the current residents?"

"You know how to tell you this …" Emil scratched his already slightly graying black hair. "They are very convincing and effective. Anyway." He waved his hand dismissively. "Don't worry about that, it's important that you have these buildings almost instantly"

"You sure?"

"Sure, trust me, they're professionals." Emil extended a hand towards his friend, smiling slightly. "So what, deal?"

A moment of hesitation. He wasn't sure what credibility this whole Natalia Estle's company had, nor was he sure about his friend's assurances. He had known him for ages, which did not help him, on the contrary, even hurt his debts. But he knew that Esterberg needed change. It was a beautiful city, full of historic buildings and slightly more modern architectural wonders, but the infrastructure was never easy to move around. If I agreed to such a move, it could drastically raise the standard of living in the city, attract new people, stop people contemplating leaving, damn, how many businesses would it benefit? Stefan pursed his lips slightly and reached out his hand, squeezing Emil's hand


Emil grinned and after a while he let go of his friend's hand, settling himself more comfortably in the chair and saying how much benefit they would gain by reassuring his friend that everything would be taken care of for him, in fully legal. Then he took the glass of wine they were enjoying and lifted it slightly towards his friend.

"So, to the trams in Esterberg?"

Stefan took his glass uncertainly. He hoped that this one decision wouldn't haunt him at night.

"To the trams in Esterberg."

The echo of the glasses rattled around, the sound of the contract being sealed.



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