“Nothing depreciates faster than computers and Cadillacs,” quipped the late middle aged man seated across the large square glass coffee table from Mog. When the man laughed at his own joke, his wrinkles rippled upward, framing his mouth and eyes like multiple parentheses.
The waiter sighed, swiping the man’s credit card through his tablet’s scanner again, studiously watching the machine try to register and verify the card’s data.
A younger man, probably in his early thirties, Mog guessed, smiled indulgently at the older man. “I’ll bet this nice lady has never heard that joke before,” he stated, looking apologetically Mog’s way.
Mog, ever skeptical about other people’s motivations, smiled back. “Actually, I have,” she said quietly.
“Married to an accountant, are you?” asked the older man, barely stifling his leer. The waiter had to tap him on his shoulder to get his attention when he tried to return the man’s card.
Mog pulled back her cardigan to reveal the NSA badge pinned to her blouse. “I am an accountant,” she stated firmly, almost challengingly to the older man. She turned a smile to the younger man.
“In D.C. for the National Society of Accountants convention?” the younger man asked, smiling back.
“Yes, I am,” Mog stated, clearly and succinctly. She really did loathe excess and people who stated the obvious—such a waste of time.
“Well done,” the older man clapped his hands, then picked up his drink, taking a big swallow.
The younger man, nicely dressed in a dark grey pin-striped suit with a dark purple paisley tie that contrasted starkly with his pastel yellow shirt, turned his torso more, so he faced Mog more directly. “That’s right!” he exclaimed. “You were at the awards luncheon. You won the award for Best Senior Planning Accountant for this year, didn’t you?”
Mog blushed lightly, feeling her cheeks become warm and rosy. “Yes, I did.” She nodded, smiling broadly, a bit flustered at having been noticed.
“You don’t look old enough to be a senior,” the older man tried to joke. He visibly shrunk in the large black leather lounge chair when neither of the others laughed. “Sorry,” he said, rather quietly. “Sometimes I can’t help myself.”
Mog suddenly felt pity for the older man, imagining him desperately alone because of his feeble sense of humor.
“Ha, ha,” Mog laughed humorlessly. “I know you know what the award means, since you’ve been attending these conventions for at least the last ten years,” she stated. She sipped her own drink, a bit flustered that she had said so much.
“Oh?” asked both men at the same time. Mog shrugged.
She had come down to the bar after dinner because she couldn’t stand being alone in her hotel room. For the last few months, she had been feeling increasingly restless. When she had complained to her mother and her older sister about the feeling, they had both dismissed it as normal. “Your biological clock is ticking, dear,” her mother had said. “Your body is pushing you to find a mate and start a family.” Her sister had followed her out to her car. “You know Mom,” she said. “She just hates seeing you alone and worried you’ll die alone.” “She’s alone,” Mog had pointed out. “Dad died three years ago.” “That’s why she doesn’t want you to be alone,” her sister had said, hugging her, despite the fact that they both were uncomfortable with physical contact.
Now she wondered if she would have been better off staying in her room. Perhaps she should have gone down to the Wharf to watch the Dragon Boat Races.
“I’ve seen you,” Mog said accusingly, then realized how that statement might sound to the men.
“Oh?” asked the older man, suddenly visibly flattered.
“You gave a speech in Florida at the first NSA convention I attended,” Mog hoped the explanation was enough.
“So you know who I am,” the man stated. He moved to the chair to the right of hers. “But I don’t know who you are,” he stated, extending his hand.
She hesitated, looking at the younger man on her left, before extending her hand to her right. “Mog Dolni.”
“Mog,” the man repeated, holding her hand with both of his, trapping her. “What an interesting name. Is it short for Margaret?”
Mog tugged her hand free, conscious of the man watching her wipe her palm on her pants leg, nodding. “Yes.”
“I’m Ben Shilman,” the younger man stated, holding out his hand.
The older man smiled indulgently, shaking Ben’s hand. “Buck Minister.”
“Ben,” Ben said, holding his hand out to Mog.
She smiled, wiping her hand on her pants again before taking Ben’s. “Mog,” she stated.
Noticing that Mog didn’t seem to mind holding Ben’s hand, Buck interrupted. “Why do accountants make good lovers?” he asked. He was gratified to see Mog pull her hand from Ben’s grasp. “Because they’re great with figures,” Buck laughed.
Mog looked shyly at Ben, but turned a doleful look at Buck. “I hope you don’t mind my saying so,” she stated with a quiver of anger in her voice, “but you’re not as wise a man as I thought you were ten years ago.”
Buck was taken aback. He had always heard women loved men with a sense of humor, but this woman was more stiff than a crisp dollar bill.
Ben cleared his throat, changing the subject. “Do you work for a large firm?” he asked Mog.
“It’s not terribly large,” Mog answered evasively. She realized she had both men’s undivided attention. “There are three of us with our own little firm in Omaha, Nebraska.”
Ben nodded. “I thought you had a Midwestern accent.”
“How did you manage to win the Senior Planning award? Surely Nebraska doesn’t have as many retired folks as Florida,” Buck wondered.
“You’d be surprised,” Mog countered. “Besides, the award isn’t based on quantity, but quality of service and planning. I’ve helped quite a few people, professors mostly, plan for their retirements, so they can retire with … comfortable nest eggs.”
Both men smiled indulgently, and Mog felt her irritation gather strength just below her skin. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” Mog stood, picking up her small handbag from her chair. “I should call it a night.”
Both men stood as well, remembering their manners. Buck swallowed the last of his drink and set the glass down on the coffee table.
“I should go, too,” both men said at the same time. Mog rolled her eyes. Do all men think alike?
Ben considerately stepped away from the table, allowing Mog to slide between their seats to escape.
Afraid they would be like lost dogs and follow her up to her room, Mog refused to turn back or smile. She didn’t want to encourage them. So she was mildly surprised when she stopped at the elevators and discovered that both were right behind her.
Mog glared at both men, then pushed open the exit for the stair well, and began walking up the cement steps. Mog, trying to distract herself, thought about how the stair cases in old hotels used to be grand, sweeping marble affairs, but have become, instead, sewage piping, hidden away and unelegant.
Stepping out on the third floor, Mog began walking down the hall, but stopped when she saw a well-dressed male figure leaning against the wall next to her door.
“How did you know which room was mine?” Mog demanded, anger simmering through her words.
Ben smiled. “I asked at the desk earlier today,” he admitted without even blushing. “Why?”
He shrugged, but smiled mischievously. “I wanted to congratulate you on your award.” “Oh, really?” Mog asked skeptically.
Ben held up a bottle of champagne and two champagne flutes. Mog noticed a Rolex watch on his wrist.
“So you believe in the NSA?” Mog asked, using her card key in the door. Ben seemed taken aback, but he entered her room anyway.
“What do you mean?” he asked as he set the glasses on the table by the window.
Mog kicked off her shoes and shed her cardigan, pinning her NSA badge to the wallpaper. “No Strings Attached,” she emphasized each word.
Ben tried to hide his relief. He smiled and popped the champagne, pouring out generous amounts in both glasses.
“What did you think,” Mog asked, standing close enough to him that she could put her foot over his. “That I thought you worked for the National Security Agency?” She took a glass of champagne and clinked the glass against his before she sipped from it.
Ben smiled coyly, but said nothing. He slipped his free hand down to her waist, applying gentle pressure with his fingers to bring her closer.
Mog touched her nose to his, rubbing it seductively, before kissing him lightly on the lips. They pulled back to look at each other’s faces.
“No Strings Attached, hm?” asked Ben. “What if it’s so good you want more?” “Terms of the contract can be renegotiated,” Mog whispered. “If both parties agree.”
Ben chuckled, setting both glasses of champagne down. “What happened to planning for our golden years?” he asked, teasingly, pressing her body against his, and kissing her again.
“Not everyone lives to old age,” Mog reminded him huskily.
“Wait!” he urged, pushing her gently back. “Are you telling me you’re going to die soon? That you don’t have millions socked away in the Cayman Islands?”
“Who said anything about the Caymans?” Mog asked, putting her hands on his chest as though to force him away.
Ben laughed guiltily, stepping away to open the curtains covering the sliding glass door to the balcony. He stood looking out at the night.
“Ben?” Mog asked, stepping closer to him.
Just as Ben turned to speak, someone pounded loudly on her room door. “Ms. Dolni!” hollered Buck. “Open up, Mog!”
“Don’t,” Ben started to say as Mog stepped to the door. “Don’t open it.”
“What on earth is going on here?” she asked. She opened the door a few inches. “Buck? What are you doing? You’ll wake everyone on the floor.”
“They’re after me,” Buck whispered desperately. “Who’s after you?” Mog asked.
Ben tried to push the door closed over Mog’s shoulder. “Ben!” Mog growled, “What are you doing?”
“Ben’s in there with you?” asked Buck. “You’ve got to get out of there. He’s one of them!”
Mog elbowed Ben to get him away from the door. “One of who?” she asked breathlessly. She had thought the men couldn’t be more fake or irritating than they had been at the bar, but this was ridiculous.
“The NSA, the FBI, the CIA, MI6, who knows?” gasped Buck.
Mog opened the door wide, and Buck fell into the room. “Why on earth would secret intelligence agencies want an accountant?” she demanded, hands on her hips.
“Because you know where the money has been hidden offshore,” said Ben, seated at the table, sipping his champagne.
“What?” Mog shook her head as though to clear it. “That’s ridiculous.”
Buck grasped her arm, pulling her toward the open door. “You have no idea what danger you’re in,” he whispered. “Just come with me.”
Mog shook his hand free, rubbing her arm. “I’m not going anywhere, but to bed,” she stated firmly. “And you two are leaving. Now.” Mog pointed out the door.
Buck glared at Ben.
Ben smiled, raising his glass. “But what about our NSA?”
“I wouldn’t share my inner most thoughts with you, let alone my inner most sex organs,” Mog glared. “Leave. Now. Before I call hotel security.”
Ben handed the bottle of champagne to Buck. “Nice try, Buck my boy, but we can’t win them all.”
Buck took a swig from the bottle, looked sadly at Mog, and stepped into the hallway.
As Mog closed the door on the pair, she heard Ben lament, “women just aren’t as gullible as they used to be.”
By Ruth J. Heflin from the United States