“Monty Got a Raw Deal,” he said.
“What?”she asked quizzically.
“It’s the name of an R.E.M. song,” he answered with a chuckle.
She stared a him, shrugged her shoulders, and picked up her knife. The waiter had just set down two plates of obscenly large steaks at their table. Taking a deep breath, mentally fortifying herself for the task at hand, Catalina dug in.
She’d always been ravenous about her red meat, but something about this dinner was different. It was as if she was eating against some invisible clock, racing through her medium rare bone-in filet as if trying to finish it before it left too big a pool of blood on her sparkling white plate. About five minutes after the food had been delivered, Butch asked, “Do you have somewhere to be after this or what?”
“You know I can’t tell you that,” she replied, her annoyance palable. It was not the first time they needed to have this converstaion. After their first date two years ago, Catalina had made it clear the questions that could, and more importantly, could not be asked. Butch should know better by now. She placed her fork and knife neatly on her plate and pushed it towards the edge of the table. She was done.
And, by done, her steak was actually gone, fully consumed. The only things that matched Catalina’s mysterious nature and impatience were her appetites: for food, for sex, for a thrill, for danger. While Butch had been around the game long enough for his own once-legendary craving for action ease slowly into a longer race with moments of intensity, Catalina was still in close touch with those yearnings. Yearnings that had, more than once, put her in harm’s way.
“Whatever it is, or isn’t, just be careful,” Butch said. “Don’t tell me about it. Fine. But I don’t want to find out about it is in the paper tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, Butch,” Catalina said affectionately. Her eyes studied the man seated across from her and took him in. His kind eyes that looked genuinely concerned were the only sign of the real man hiding underneath the trying-too-hard tough guy exterior he worked hard to maintain. “Eat your steak.”
Yes, yes I will, thought Butch. After all, the last time he’d had a steak this good – at this joint called Jocko’s, somewhere on the central California coast – he’d lost it after three bites when Vucevic’s henchmen burst into the dining room, firing their AK-47s indiscriminately. At that time, as he ducked quickly under his table, pulling Catalina down with him, he’d thought, “Fuck, I finally get a quiet night away from everything and this steak was so damn good!” They’d had to shoot their way out of that mess, of course. So, now, even though Catalina was condescending to him, he thought, “Absolutely, I will eat this damned steak, every last bite, and I will enjoy the hell out of it.”
Catalina watched him eat, slowly sipping her drink. She needed to keep her head clear for later and could already feel the two she’d had before dinner going to her head. Tonight was important. And that’s why her dinner with Butch mattered so much right now. She didn’t want him to have read about her in tomorrow’s paper, because that would mean something would have gone wrong. Very, very wrong.
Since they’d arrived in Belgrade, they had taken the tack of hiding in plain sight. The Serbs already knew they were in country, so what was the point of going deep cover? Instead, they were staying in the city’s top hotel, eating at the best restaurants, hitting all the tourist destinations. These were all places that Vucevic would never think of trying to take them down. It would be a bad PR move – both for him and for his beloved homeland. But, where Catalina was headed later – well, that was a different story.