Taylor here… So, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a certain character of Nicole’s at the local IHOP here, and I thought I would share with you the experience.
I walked into the small restaurant right on time. It was eleven o’clock during the school year, so the place was empty save for a few individuals scattered about. My hands clutched my purse strap like they normally do when I’m nervous. And holy hell, was I nervous.
Granted, I feel like I had good reason to be. It’s not every day that I go out to meet up with a mafia boss. Actually, it’s not every day that I go out in general… So I could’ve very well been uneasy from the forced social interaction.
The girl, who I’d known for a couple of years since we’d gone to high school together, working at the host stand smiled and greeted me amiably, and I did my best to smile back through my grinding teeth; yet another nervous trait of mine. Her head tilted slightly as she sensed my unease, and her brows only furrowed more once I told her I was here to meet someone. Apparently, she’d already met the man I was here for. I do suppose the entire situation would be even stranger from an onlooker’s perspective; someone that had none of the background information.
I was escorted through the restaurant, passing a man here, a mother with children crawling over her there. Finally, my eyes found the man of the hour.
Max Adorite’s gaze lifted to mine and he offered a business-friendly smile in my direction. I’m actually almost positive I did not smile back. Not because I didn’t want to, but I had bigger things on my mind at the moment. Like trying to relearn how to breathe without throwing up.
The girl swept her arm out in a motion meant to show me to my seat, but it felt more like she was strapping a ball and chain to my leg, letting me know there was no turning back now. Mumbling something that I assumed involved when our waiter would arrive, she refused to look into my eyes as they begged her to find me an excuse to run out of there. Without glancing up to look at either of us, she scurried off back to her post with her head down. I believe it was at that exact moment that the friendly memories of us became considerably less friendly.
Before I could sit down, Max stood, greeting me verbally with an extended hand that I shook and then regretted because I was pretty sure his hand was now coated in the sweat from mine, although he kindly didn’t show it.
So, from that point on, we both sat, he was polite, I was awkward as hell, the waiter came and made me feel better because he was even more awkward than I was… All in all, it wasn’t a totally horrible experience. It took me a few minutes, but I started to become slightly more relaxed and comfortable as we made small talk, realizing that he wasn’t so scary. At least not right then.
After our server came back with my Splashberry and Max’s coffee, we began the interview.
Waiting for anyone, especially an eighteen-year-old girl who wanted to pelt him with questions wasn’t the ideal way to start a morning by any means, but somehow Max managed to hide his irritation. For whatever reason, maybe because Nicole had told him this interview was non-negotiable, Max had arrived early. Taylor, Nicole’s daughter, arrived right on time, so technically it wasn’t her fault. He tried to remember that as she greeted him.
When she shook his hand, he’d noticed how clammy and small hers was, but he masked his expression, smiling in an effort to ease her obvious discomfort. She was nervous, there was no doubt about that.
“Did you have any problems finding the place?” Taylor asked, her smile forced, her voice breaking slightly.
“You mean, aside from driving down to Austin from Dallas?”
Taylor smiled. “Well, there was that. Was the drive okay?”
“It was fine,” Max replied, sipping his coffee, willing her to get on with her questions.
“Nicole wanted to be here, but she’s writing at the moment.”
“What’s she workin’ on?”
“Umm…” Taylor glanced around as though this was top-secret information. Lowering her voice and leaning in closer, she whispered, “She’s writing your sister’s story.”
“Which sister?” Max inquired, not sure he liked the direction this was going. He didn’t want his sisters to have a story. If they did, that meant they’d have a happily ever after and he wasn’t quite ready for that yet. In fact, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be quite ready for that. He was a very protective man so the thought of either of his sisters getting hurt didn’t sit well with him.
Taylor’s cheeks turned pink as she said, “Ashlynn.”
“Who does she fall in love with?” Max realized his question had come out a little harsher than he’d intended, so he forced himself to relax a little.
“I can’t tell you that,” Taylor replied.
“Why not?” He wasn’t used to anyone denying him an answer to his question.
Taylor’s hands were shaking as she gripped the glass in front of her. “You’ll have to ask Nicole?”
“Is that a question or a statement?”
“A statement,” Taylor said with a choked laugh. “Definitely a statement.”
“Fine. I guess while I’m here in Austin, I’ll stop by and talk to Nicole before I head back, make sure she and I are on the same page.”
“What’s wrong?” Max asked, concerned by Taylor’s odd expression.
“It’s just…” Taylor cleared her throat. “Never mind.”
“No, tell me.”
“Well … I know you’re a gangster and all, and I’m sure there’re a lot of people who are scared of you, but I don’t think my mom is.”
“So you’re sayin’ she won’t share any details with me either?”
“We’ll see about that.”
Taylor relaxed somewhat. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
For the first time, Taylor’s smile seemed genuine. She was clearly confident in how Nicole would react. Max decided he liked that about her.
After the waitress came by and took their breakfast order, Max turned his full attention back to Taylor. “You ready to do this?”
Max cocked his head slightly. “Did you have something else in mind? I mean I didn’t come prepared to play cards or anything.”
Once again Taylor laughed. “Yes. Okay. The interview. Yes, I’m ready.”
Max waited for her to continue, but she only stared back at him. “Well, since you’ve got the questions…”
“Right. I do.” Taylor turned to her purse, rummaging around briefly before retrieving an iPad, which she quickly turned on.
After a moment, she cleared her throat and read what was obviously on the screen. “So, do you like being a gangster?”
Taylor’s eyes widened and she looked as though she hadn’t actually planned to ask that question. Almost as though it just popped out of her mouth.
Max lifted his eyebrow, waiting for her to elaborate. When she didn’t, he said, “Is that like asking whether or not I like having brown eyes? I think what you meant to ask was, ‘Do you like being a successful businessman?’ In that case, yes, I do.”
Taylor smiled sheepishly before continuing. “Okay, maybe an easier question then. What’s your favorite brand of gun?”
“The one that’s loaded and ready when I need it.”
“Oh, well…” Once again, Taylor appeared extremely nervous, which surprised me somewhat. After all, Nicole knew more about me than anyone so it would’ve only made sense that Taylor had talked to her mother prior to the interview.
“How many people have you killed?” Taylor blurted out.
Max glanced around briefly, wondering why Taylor had thought to practically yell that particular question so that most of the restaurant heard it.
Rather than worry about the few heads that turned their way, Max responded with, “Today? Or in all? Either way, the answer’s always none.”
“None? Really?” Taylor did not look excited about his answer. “Then what’s the point of being a gangster?”
“Businessman,” Max corrected.
“You say gangster, I say businessman.”
“Right.” Taylor grinned, clearly getting the point. “Okay then.” She peered down at the iPad again before lifting her gaze back to meet his. “Do you always drink whiskey when meeting with a client?”
Max smirked as he reached for his coffee. “Seems to me you’ve been watching some movies prior to this interview. If it’s business, I don’t usually drink. If it’s personal, I prefer single-malt scotch.”
“Well, there you go. Okay next one,” Taylor glanced down again, “Have you ever strapped someone to a chair and interrogated them in dim lighting?”
“Did you come up with that all on your own?” Max inquired.
“No,” she admitted.
Max waited patiently.
“Colt actually wanted to know.”
“Colt?” Max didn’t know who Colt was.
“Nicole’s husband? My dad? You know who he is.”
“Aww. Yes. Well, that explains the additional reference to gangster movies.”
“So? Have you?”
Max shook his head slightly. “The answer’s always no.”
“Well, if that’s the case, this interview’s not gonna be all that interesting.”
“Do you have the cops chillin’ here in the restaurant?” Max glanced around slowly. “Because I’m startin’ to wonder. Maybe IHOP is an acronym for something else, I don’t know.” Meeting Taylor’s gaze once more, he continued. “I think the key to this interview will be for you to ask questions a little less … incriminating. You wanna chat about what I do and don’t do, we can take this interview back to Nicole’s house, let her explain some of it. But then again, you might not like the answers there either.”
Taylor swallowed hard, clearly perturbed by the thought of finding out the truth behind some of the questions. He seriously doubted she’d expected him to answer those questions, but he had to give her props for trying.
Physically shaking her head as though trying to clear the fog from it, Taylor forced a nervous smile and proceeded to change the direction of her questions.
“What are you thinking at this exact moment?” Her eyes squinted at him as though she’d be able to read his mind before he had the chance to speak.
“I’m thinkin’ that the cops are gonna raid this place any minute and I’m gonna have to figure out a way to get them to focus on you.”
Taylor’s jaw dropped and she glanced around the place nervously. When her eyes settled back on his, she lowered her voice. “Do you think there might be cops here? Do they follow you around often?”
Max grinned, leaning back when the waitress returned with their food. After she’d placed everything on the table and asked whether they needed anything else, she was on her way.
“I don’t make a habit of bringing the cops along, no,” he told her, pouring more coffee into his cup from the carafe on the table. “Why, are you worried? Have you done something illegal?”
“No,” Taylor said quickly. “I mean, nothing more than not wearing my seatbelt in the car. But that was only once. And I was little. I think.”
Not knowing what to say to that, Max picked up his fork, holding it above his plate while he waited for Taylor to continue. He pointed the fork toward her in an effort to signal her to get on with it.
“Oh, right. Sorry.” She peeked over at her iPad again. “Have you ever used your position as a pick-up line?”
“My position?” He chuckled. “I’ve used many positions, but not generally for a pickup line. Those are usually reserved for after I’ve picked her up.”
Taylor’s face flamed bright red and Max had to laugh at her innocence.
“You’re definitely one of my mother’s characters.”
“That I am,” Max agreed. “Keep going.”
After taking a bite of her pancakes and chewing slowly, Taylor asked, “Do you have any pets?”
“No.” No reason to elaborate, it was a simple question, so a simple answer.
“Did you ever want any?”
“Me, personally? No. Unfortunately, I don’t have time for pets.”
“Do people in your line of work really sleep with a gun under their pillow?” she asked, deadpan.
“In my line of work? I’d like to think that most people sleep with a gun under their pillow. In that case, yes, I’m one of them.”
Taylor’s eyebrows formed a V on her forehead.
“What?” Max asked, wondering what he could’ve possible said to confuse her.
“It’s nothing. I’m just making a mental note to start checking under people’s pillows when I visit.”
“Or, don’t show up uninvited, or go in their bedrooms,” Max said. “That’s the logical thing to do.”
Taylor paused, studying him again before blurting out her next question. “Are you carrying a gun right now?”
“Of course.” He leaned in again and smiled. “I’ve also got a license to carry.”
Taylor’s eyes narrowed as she looked over at the table across from them.
“Is he with you?” Taylor asked.
“Maybe.” Max didn’t bother looking over at Dane, who was sitting in a booth by himself with a newspaper.
“Who reads the newspaper anymore?”
“Who said he’s reading it?”
“Fine. Is he carrying a gun?”
“No,” Max said simply. “He’s carrying more than one gun.” Max nodded toward another table. “And so is he.”
“Do you really feel like you need a gun inside an IHOP with an 18 year old girl?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so until I sat down at this table with you. Now, I’m not so sure.”
Taylor pursed her lips while obviously trying not to smile.
“Amusing, am I?”
“I find it funny that a mafia boss would think he needed protection from me. It’s actually kinda flattering, considering I was the one scared out of my mind before coming here.”
“You are, after all, a teenager. Aren’t they all to be feared?” Max took a sip of his coffee, grinning behind his cup.
“That’s what my mother would say,” Taylor replied. “Okay, next question. If you weren’t born into the ‘family business’ what would you like to do?”
“I don’t know anything else, so that’s hard to say. I’m a businessman and I’m damn good at it. I’d like to think I would’ve taken the same path regardless.”
“Do you feel like you didn’t have a choice in your life’s path?”
Max sat up straight. These questions he could deal with. “In a sense, yes. Family is family and I was raised to respect it. Because of who my family is, I was expected to act a certain way, which generated various outcomes. Those outcomes led me here.
“To IHOP with an eighteen year old girl?” Taylor asked.
Max rolled his eyes. “No, to this place in my life.”
“It was a joke. Get it?” Taylor seemed to be waiting for him to answer, but Max kept his mouth shut.
“Whatever.” Taylor peered over at her iPad again. “Do you want kids?”
“Yes, I want kids.”
“Wow, nothing seems to faze you. I thought I’d stump you with that, but you just keep going. Will your kids be required to be in the family business?”
“No, they will not be required to be in the family business. I want my kids to be who they want to be and I’ll help them get there. They may want to be in Courtney’s family’s business, taking down the bad guys. But, if they do, either way, I’m good with that.”
“Do you think anyone can be… in your line of work?”
Max smiled. “Are you thinking of a career change? From what I gather, you’ve got a level head; you’re dedicated, loyal, and motivated. I’d say you could easily be a … businessman. Or woman as is the case here.”
Taylor apparently appreciated his answer because her smile widened.
For a few minutes, they finished eating. Taylor continued to cast curious glances over at Dane, but she didn’t ask anything more. After they were done, Max paid the waitress, finished off his coffee and then looked at Taylor again.
“What else you got?”
“That’s it,” she said. “I’m all done.”
“Good. I’d say that was fun, but it wasn’t.”
“So what do you do now?” Taylor asked.
“I thought you said no more questions.”
Max laughed, easing out of the booth and getting to his feet. As he adjusted his suit jacket, Dane stood, as did Sal, who was two tables down. “Now, I go talk to your mother before she gets too far into writing my sister’s story.”
Taylor got to her feet, stuffing her iPad back into her purse. “Have fun with that.”
Oh, he fully intended to.