Next to Lydia, K anxiously rapped his fingertips against a handrail. He was biting his lip, unsure which made him more uncomfortable, the cramped elevator or the smiling man squeezed between him and Lydia. The man had not taken his eyes off the tiny display above the elevator door once ever since the door had closed. K wasn’t sure he had even blinked.
“Are you unwell, Mr. Karloff?” the man asked without diverting his stare. K, who had attempted to wipe sweat off his brow, jumped at the sudden voice. “I’m fine,” he said, attempting to hide his embarrassment by coughing into his fist. “I’m just tired after the flight.”
The other man turned his face to K and his rictus smile grew ever so slightly wider. “Mr. Klingman thought you might be, Mr. Karloff. That is why he chose to give you the honor of using his personal elevator.” The smiling man’s gaze made K feel like someone had replaced his spine with an icicle. “Well, please deliver our thanks to him,” K said with the most unconvincing nonchalance. “There will be no need,” the man said as the elevator’s door slid open with a bright ring of a bell. “You will be able to thank him personally in just a minute.”
K and Lydia stepped out of the elevator to roomy reception area. A waist-high statue in the Greek style poured water out of a vase into a small pool in the middle of the room. Two sofas with fat crimson cushions sitting on a gilded frame stood on opposite sides from the pool. Both walls to the left and right were lined with the same palms as the reception downstairs. In the middle of the wall adjacent to the elevator was a wide mahogany double door with ornate handles.
Just to the left of the doors a man in a tuxedo stood behind a small marble desk. He perked up as the smiling man approached him, tailed by K and Lydia.
“Good evening, sir!” the man greeted them warmly in a thick accent. “Good evening, Ricardo,” the smiling man said, leaning on the desk. “Would you mind letting us in?” “Not at all, but…”
The tuxedoed man glanced over the smiling man’s shoulder at K and Lydia.
“Mr. Klingman has not informed me of guests,” he said gravely. “They are unplanned guests, his personal invitation,” the smiling man said. He stood up straight, turning to give what he no doubt thought was a reassuring expression to K. Lydia was suddenly reminded of a recent nightmare and K wished for someone to shoot either him or the other man in the face. “Business partners who have travelled a long way to be here,” he continued. “Also, they are with me.”
“Very well,” the receptionist said, pulling out a thick notebook from under his desk. He set it on the table and offered a pen to K. “They will still have to sign in.”
K signed the book and passed the pen to Lydia, who also scribbled her name on the page. “Thank you, Ricardo,” the smiling man said, pushing open the double doors. “Mr. Klingman will appreciate your understanding.” The receptionist put the book away, smiling to himself.
The murmur of quietly composed conversation filled the air as K and Lydia followed the smiling man to a raised alcove overlooking Caligula’s massive main dining hall. Lydia made a quick estimate of 200 people sitting in the moodily lit space. A jazz pianist was playing on a gigantic white grand piano in a corner. Red-vested waiters moved expertly between tables set with purple tablecloths.
The alcove itself was separated from the hall by a wooden railing, held up by statues resembling the one pouring water in the reception. Above the alcove hung a large chandelier. Below it was a round table with three chairs and three sets of utensils. In one of the chairs, directly opposite of the door, sat a gaunt man (in his late forties, Lydia thought) in a tan suit. He raised a glass of red wine towards K and Lydia and smiled amicably.
“Mr. Klingman,” K said, offering his hand to the man. The smiling man nearly grabbed K’s arm, but, noticing Klingman gesturing to him, backed off. Klingman stood up and shook K’s hand. “Very good to finally meet you face to face, Mr. K,” he said.
Klingman ignored the shock on K’s face and turned to Lydia, who looked equally horrified. “Rolf Klingman, at your service,” he said, grabbing Lydia’s hand and planting a quick kiss on her knuckles. Flattered and slightly scared, Lydia gave the man her best curtsey, introducing herself as Lydia Karloff.
Mr. Klingman raised his eyebrows and turned back to K. “I would have never thought one in your profession would have time for parenting.” Before K had time to answer, Klingman gestured towards the chairs. “Please, sit. Could you please ask the waiters to come in?”
The smiling man bowed his head quickly before leaving the alcove. K and Lydia sat down, waiting silently as Klingman seated himself and took a sip from his wine. Two waiters entered behind the smiling man, offering menus to K and Lydia. Klingman watched, smiling behind his crossed hands, as K and Lydia ordered their dinners. The waiters left as quickly as they had appeared. The smiling man reluctantly followed them after Klingman gestured him to leave.
“So,” Klingman began while K and Lydia stared at him in silence. “How was your flight?” “Cut the crap,” K said. “How do you know who I am?” Lydia nodded furiously in agreement. Klingman chuckled. “Now now, what kind of an employer would I be if I didn’t even know the people who work for me?” “How?” K grunted, his right hand tightening into a fist.
Klingman threw up his arms. “I am shocked at this hostility, I truly am. You call me yourself from your own phone, and…” “That line is encrypted,” K cut him off. “There is no way you could have accessed it, or found out who I am, without…”
“Without what?” Klingman asked before K could finish his sentence. “Do not underestimate me, Mr. Karloff, though I’m certain that is not your real name. I contacted your little organization to have a person killed. I think it only right I know who does my dirty jobs for me.”
Lydia’s eyes darted from K to Klingman as the two men engaged in a staring competition with each other. She didn’t know what to do. Klingman knew about K. He was dangerous. Lydia scanned Klingman with his eyes, counting several ways she could have killed him right there. Should she?
“My question to you is,” Klingman said, finally breaking the silence, “what are you doing in Vegas?” He leaned back in his chair, relaxing as if nothing had occurred. K sat back too, but remained ready to act. “Oh, so that you don’t know?” he asked. Klingman pulled a small notebook out from his breast pocket and flipped through the pages. “I know you have declared yourself to be ‘off’ for a week and that you will be…” He looked up at K. “Here.”
K let out a short laugh. “I’m on vacation.” “Vacation?” Klingman asked. “Vacation. Though if I had known you owned this hotel, I would’ve picked better.”
It was Klingman’s turn to laugh. “Oh, I don’t own this place.” He raised his wine class at K. “They just really like me.”
The waiters returned, pushing three plates on a trolley. K got his grilled salmon with avocado salsa, Lydia her pasta carbonara. For Klingman, they brought some kind of thick reddish soup. The waiters left and the dinner commenced in silence.
K opened the door to their room. Once he and Lydia had left the dinner, during which no further discussion had happened, the smiling man had told them they had been moved to a suite on the 50th floor.
Two large beds stood next to the right-hand wall. In a space behind them were two white sofas with a glass table between them. The back wall was practically nothing but a large window. Their luggage was set neatly at the foot of the beds. On the table was a large bowl of fruit. Leaning on the bowl was a note reading “Regards of Mr. Klingman.”
“At least the room is nice,” Lydia said, fingering the dark wooden paneling covering the walls. “Right. I’m going to take a shower,” K said, peeking into the spacey bathroom. He grabbed Lydia by the shoulders and pushed her out into the hallway. “You had to use the bathroom, right? Be a dear and go use the one down the hall.”
K threw a small toiletry bag to Lydia, ran his fingers through his hair, and shut the door in Lydia’s face. Confused, she opened the black leather bag and pulled out a cell phone with a large gadget attached to it, and a small note. In K’s handwriting, the note read: “Get Thomas, arrange secure call. KM infiltrated Alphabet.”