Jonathan watched the hall in surprise. There were people inside, lots of people, more than two hundred maybe, but no one seemed interested in one another. The usual buzzing sounds of a party was absent. The only human sounds came from behind him, from a restaurant where employees were talking in loud and quick Dutch. From the hall came nothing but the clicking of keyboards. Most people were male and most of them wore faded Tees or wrinkled shirts. And all of them had a large square badge on a lanyard, dangling on various sizes of potbellies. At every table stood three, four, five men and the occasional women, all hammering away on laptops. He spotted more men, sitting on the floor and leaning into the walls, laptops or smart phones clutched in their hands like a life line.

The smell of a large group of people huddling together drifted up. That and the overwhelming number of people, made Jonathan step back. He didn’t feel comfortable in groups anymore, avoided them as much as he could. In the corner of his eye, he registered a woman breaking away from a clutter of men, the only group where no one was looking at a laptop or a smart phone. In a split second, the fierce and deliberate ticking of her stilettos silenced the keyboard symphony, like a director silenced the orchestra with a flick of his baton.

“Dallas!” the woman exclaimed.

Jonathan froze.

She was with him in a second and seized his arm, before he could summon his legs to make a run for it. A soft and excited murmur rose up from the hall but died down immediately, again causing a silence that almost felt like it could break.

“So! Glad! You! Made! it!” The woman spoke with an almost palpable exclamation mark at the end of  her every word. “We’ve been waiting for you!”

“Hi,” Jonathan muttered. He pushed the Crumpler forward. “I’m not…”

She pulled him into the hall and away from the doors, and before he could object, they arrived at the end of the hallway.

The curious looks that now followed him, too, freaked him out. His shirt stuck to his back. A drop of sweat released itself from his hair and slid down his forehead, along the bridge of his nose and into his eye.

“Let’s register you!” The woman stopped at a desk, where a handful of lanyards with badges waited with stacks of paper beside a huge glass bowl with memory sticks and a pile of neatly folded Tees. She took one of the lanyards and hung it around his neck. She smiled, her head tilted in admiration as if he was her child.

Jonathan wanted to wipe the drop of sweat from his eye and the tear it had caused. He wanted to tell her he wasn’t Dallas Bard, that he didn’t have clue who Dallas Bard was. He wanted to give her the bag and forget about his own. He wanted to tell her that he’d never seen anyone so petite and yet so intimidating, that she looked like she’d walked away from a photo shoot rather than a hall with sweaty and overweight men. But he couldn’t get his mouth to form the words. All he could do was watch her and the tight black skirt that accentuated her curved ass when she turned and bend over the desk to grab a shirt. She couldn’t reach it, stretched. Her top slid up and showed a small triangle of lace above the waistband, clinging to her pale back like it was inked, the string lost to sight in the cleft of her perfect round buttocks.

Jonathan flit his eyes to his hands when she turned and silently cursed the heat that spread up from his neck.


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