December 15th, 2008
Metropolitan Pavilion, NYC
Charity: Ball 2008 for Charity: Water
For an event that boasted national media coverage, the attendance of selected celebrities, and the patronage of some of New York’s finest, the 2008 Charity: Ball was trying very hard to disguise itself as a mere gallery showcase – except that instead of artistic endeavours, the images lining the parallel walls of the South Pavilion depicted, without equivocation, the realities of Man’s reliance on water.
Having only just detached herself from the party she had been in the company of, Sophie Conrad strolled along a wall of LED televisions, absently moving a suede clutch between the grasp of both her hands. The pointed heels of her black pumps were quiet against the polished parquet floor, all but drowned out by the noise around her. Alongside her, the images of impoverished men and women, the fact and figures about the earth and its water, and the evidence reinforcing how every dollar donated to the cause of Charity: Water could change the lives of the people whose faces were flashing across the screens drifted past.
While the bright lights of the Big Apple attracted 50 million visitors every year, it failed to entice her; for despite the undeniable allure the city possessed in its finer moments, she found it an insolent, almost-vulgar egomaniac in its constant high-speed hurtle towards trumpeted eminence. And although her vicious assessment of New York City amused her, she conceded that it was undoubtedly brought about and intensified by the eagerness she had for the next morning when a short flight would deliver her back to the comforting familiarity of Boston and the quiet of her Beacon Hill apartment.
So it was, that when a voice spoke up behind her to interrupt her thoughtful dalliance, she found herself surprised.
“Water, water everywhere, and they only seem to serve wine.”
Turning with a questioning brow already raised, she met the gaze of the man who had approached. Good-looking, his hair was russet-coloured under the warm spotlights, his voice was level and friendly, and his lighthearted grin smile-eliciting. Taking a moment to deliberate his appearance and the glass of wine in his hand, she was inordinately serious when she replied, with a slight nod of her head at his drink:
“It takes a hundred and twenty litres of water to make a single glass of wine.”
The statement hung between her and the stranger for a moment. And then, realising the censure that could be read in her words and eager to dispel the hint of mortification she sensed from the man, she relented. Her solemnity fell away and ease and warmth took their place with a smile.
“Good evening,” she said in a brighter tone, as she extended a hand, “My name is Sophie Conrad.”
“Chase Devineaux.” The introduction was returned smoothly as they shook hands. If he had taken offence, nothing was betrayed. “I’m with the, uh…”
She tilted her head and considered him carefully as he hesitated and sipped from the glass of wine in his hand.
“The third secretary of cultural affairs. I came with that group,” he concluded.
She nodded politely, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Devineaux.” She found herself passingly wondering about his genealogy.
“Are you enjoying the gallery?” he asked.
Instinctively, she turned her gaze towards the length of wall behind her. Though all she thought of Charity: Water and its annual Charity: Ball were certain to her, she took a minute to contemplate how she would respond to or convey her thoughts to this Chase Devineaux.
“The exhibition is very effective,” she replied with decision, returning her attention to Chase and giving him an elfish smile, “And, dare I say, far more entertaining than a speech.”
“How about you?” she ventured, waving her hand out as a silent invitation for him to join her as she restarted her leisurely perusal along the length of the South Pavilion, putting some distance between them and a boisterous group that was slowly but surely moving nearer. “What do you make of all this?”
She glanced back at him. He looked deceptively relaxed with one of his hands in the pocket of his pants and the other casually holding his glass of wine. She remembered his comment about being a part of a party of others: “Are you not a patron of Charity: Water?”
The question must have amused him, somehow. He chuckled and shrugged and took another sip from his glass.
“I work with a law enforcement agency, ACME, in San Francisco,” he said. “We’re mostly… passive, when it comes to charity. You’ll have to forgive me if I sound ignorant.”
“ACME?” she stopped in mid-step and turned to acknowledge his words with a bemused frown: “You’re a detective?” It was almost a statement.
Chase hesitated, “No, not quite.” He appeared slightly surprised by her reaction. “I’m the Field Director. I take care of field agents.”
He retrieved a name card from his wallet and handed it to her, “You’re familiar with ACME?”
She looked at his card, murmuring a perfunctory, “I see,” before lifting her eyes towards him and shaking her head in response to his question. “I’m afraid that I only recognise the organisation’s name. Nothing more…”
She opened her clutch and tucked his card in.
“I work at the Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.”
Sophie handed one of her name cards to Chase. She did not bother to elaborate on what she did at the hospital, for it was all neatly printed onto the card. Instead, even as Chase scanned it, she regarded him with unhidden curiosity, formulating her own theories about him as - she was sure - he was doing about her. Field Director of ACME, indeed.
“Doctor of Medicine.”
After the pause that he took to contemplate her occupation, Chase raised his brows and pocketed the card. “You must be in high demand?”
Sophie smiled but remained silent. She had anticipated some comment on her profession – there always seemed to be – but to have someone actually read out her qualification was rather unexpected. Amusing, even. Nevertheless, the question Chase had posed was to her more rhetorical than one requiring an answer; to deny it would be lying and to confirm it pompous. There was no possible satisfactory reply. She was certain that individuals like him, who played a role in maintaining social order and public safety, were as equally in demand as individuals in her profession were.
He took another sip of the wine and she tilted her head slightly to consider his action and its result. Chardonnay, though a very versatile wine, was best enjoyed chilled and Sophie could only surmise that the drink must now be too warm to be enjoyed: He had lowered the glass and now held it with his fingers upon its rim, seemingly quitting its contents. A moment later, he spoke again:
“So, are you here on behalf of someone or is this purely personal interest?”
She realised, then, that she had remained silent for too long.
“Both,” she replied, with a wry shrug. More important than the function she was currently in attendance, she had agreed to come to NYC to visit an old classmate from Harvard who now worked for the Mount Sinai Hospital. They had research which overlapped. “Charity: Water is the adopted beneficiary of my department. And, you?”
She afforded a mere second of contemplation before a sparkle of mischief lit up her blue-green eyes, and she took a small calculating step towards him. “You aren’t a patron of the charity nor are you representing your organisation---” She lifted a brow and nodded in the direction of the abandoned wine glass, “You don’t seem to be enjoying the wine nor the company of your host… So,” she teased, “why are you here?”
Chase smiled, unruffled by the provocation in her words: “To meet important people I haven’t met in awhile…” There was a pause, and then, “That doesn’t seem like a very good reason, does it?”
Sophie shook her head, laughing lightly, and restored the physical distance between them. His answer was so simple it required no elaboration. “Not at all,” she demurred, graciously.
Before more could be said, however, a low beep sounded, commanding both their attentions.
Chase reached into the inner pocket of his dinner jacket and extracted a handheld device. Sophie regarded him in silence, tepid curiosity in her gaze as she watched him read the message shown on the device’s screen. His casual demeanour gave way to austerity, a mien he seemed more practiced at.
“Miss Conrad,” he smiled apologetically as he looked back at her. “I have a flight to catch but it looks like you’ve given me reason to be here after all.”
Sophie marked the difference that had overcome this curious stranger as a result of a text message and disguised her amusement as she watched him juggle the device, his wine glass, and the task of handing her another business card.
“This card belongs to Dr. Zimmerman, Chief of Medicine at the ACME Medical Centre in San Francisco,” he said.
She relieved him of the card quickly.
“I don’t usually recruit for that wing, but we’re understaffed and looking for management positions. If you know anyone decent, please pass that on for me?”
Not entirely confident of his intention, a brief frown flickered across her face. She gave the card a critical glance: “Certainly.”
Then, she returned her attention to Chase. She accounted for the current occupations in his hands and weighed the options of shaking his hand goodbye or letting him leave of his own device. She decided on the latter. And, despite her detachment, her smile and her wish were genuine. “Have a safe flight, Mr. Devineaux."
* * *
Author's Notes: Co-written. Chase Devineaux used with permission. Thank you, CJ.
First published in March 2010. Edited in February 2012.
- By Nevon 1139 Days Ago
- By Tanya 1142 Days Ago
- By Chief 1143 Days AgoThis reads very well, good job to both of you. *puffs pipe* And quick thinking, Chase, we needed a doctor on our team.
- By Chase 1143 Days AgoFor the record, we wrote this out together in an RP and I gave editing rights to Scarlet -- who did a spectacular job adapting it to a singular point of view. Thanks!