The elevator door opened to a deserted lobby. In the distance a floor polisher whirred its way over well-worn tiles. Closer, faint “dings” announced elevators opening on floors above. Faint music and voices drifted in the distance.
Instinctively, Zöe checked her hair in the elevator lobby mirror and strode purposefully to the Grand Ballroom.
It was a medium sized crowd for a large conference, maybe a hundred people or so. Zöe spotted the bar immediately and soon had a cool chardonnay. Mmmmmmm, that first sip hit the spot. She glugged it down in one and picked up a second to last her through the evening. She felt a warm glow flow through her body and began to relax a little.
“Food, must have food,” she thought and headed to the buffet.
The buffet was better than usual, a nice mixture of savory and sweet, spicy and mild and shrimp on ice. Zöe loved shrimp on ice. She was impressed with the spread. The hotel really pulled out all the stops. The presentation was inventive and detailed, staff refreshed plates that didn’t even need refreshing and even the ice was sparkling. Zöe eyed the dessert tableau planning on a long, satisfying stop there later. She loaded her plate with shrimp, sauce, paté, a couple of vol au vents, a wedge of quiche, then looked for a quiet corner away from the hubbub to have her picnic.
After her third shrimp she felt a presence, looked around and there was Aaron, aka Coffee Guy, only inches away.
Instinctively, Zöe took a half-step back. Aaron inched forward just a bit.
“Feeling better I see,” Aaron said, looking at the shrimp tails on Zöe’s plate.
“Yes, I am,” Zöe said, “I’m looking forward to getting back home and to the old routine. Get my dog out of the kennel, she’s going to be a mess. Well, emotionally, that is. She’ll be groomed and clean, the kennel is really good about that, and probably up a few pounds and missing walks. It’s always quite a palaver getting her home with all the doggie kisses and whatnot.”
Zöe realized she was babbling. Aaron stepped forward.
“I’ll be glad to leave this dump, too,” Aaron said, “Just look at this buffet. It’s a total disaster. I’ve seen better at a Travel Lodge. I’m sure we could find better than this.”
Zöe stepped back, looking around at nowhere in particular, just at the crowd. She said, “Well, the shrimp is good,” and took another to the tail.
Aaron stepped forward, “If you are content with frozen,” he said.
Zöe stepped back, and this time scanned for the restrooms. There they were, back and to the left. “Well, when it comes to shrimp, I guess I might not be all that discriminating. The sauce is good, though, don’t you think?”
Aaron stepped forward. “Yes, it’s an adequate commercial brand. Tell you what, Zöe, I know a place where the shrimp comes right off the boat and the sauce is made by the owner according to a family recipe. What do you say we blow this two-bit pop stand and go someplace real?” He took another step forward, reaching out to take Zöe’s plate.
Zöe blinked and turned.