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"I was starting to think you were avoiding me?" Hope Brady said with a wink, as she took a seat opposite John at the Brady Pub.

"You, babe?"  John raised an eyebrow.  "Never."

"But you were with Bo and Roman," she said with a knowing glance.  "Which means that you figured I was persona non grata."  He gave a small shrug, an admission.  Hope always did have a way of seeing through him.  "Look, Bo and I may not be together, but we still talk.  We have children together and we work together, and. . . ."  She hesitated. "There's no point denying it.  Part of me will always love him." 

John could see through her as well.  From the way she spoke, he know it was more than a small part of her.  "Sorry, I should have seen you already.  This little trip was kind of unplanned," he added, as if that provided an explanation.

"You came out for Sami?"

"Marlena came for Sami.  I came for Marlena."  At least he could be honest with Hope.  She smiled, and he knew she understood.  "So how are you?  I heard you had a bit of an accident."

"It wasn't a big deal," she muttered.  "Except my bosses are being their typical pig-headed selves, and have me at a desk, but this is not the time or place for that discussion.  Tell me about you.  You're back on your feet and looking as good as ever."

"Hanging in there," John said, and they fell into amiable conversation, with each updating the other on family and friends.  He learned that Maggie was getting along pretty well after Mickey's death, and was sorry to hear that Hope's grandmother, Alice, was in very poor health.  For as long as John had lived in Salem, Alice Horton had been the lifeblood of the town.  Hope also pulled out recent photos of her daughter, Ciara, and John hemmed and hawed over them, doing his best to hide the fact that he had already seen the same photos when Bo had played proud papa.

"Uh oh, bogey at 10 o'clock," Hope said, stowing her photos away.  John turned in his chair to see Victor Kiriakis in the doorway.  The older man scanned the room and his gaze immediately latched onto his two former children-in-law.

"John," Victor said in his most gregarious tone as he approached the table.  Less pleasantly, he looked across the table.  "Hope."  Ignoring her, he turned back to John.  "Brady told me that I could find you here.  I'm quite surprised that you came to Salem and didn't contact me.  We have a great deal of Titan business to discuss."

"Save it for the next board meeting."  He stabbed at Caroline Brady's shepherd's pie.  John actually could not tell why he felt such animosity for Victor at the moment.  At times, they had been on decent terms, sometimes even supportive of one another.  Perhaps being away from Salem and not encountering Victor on a regular basis had caused him to think more about the past and Victor's crimes.  Or maybe it was just a gut feeling.

"Now that is hardly the reception that I expected from a friend," Victor said.

John almost told Victor that they had quite different interpretations of the concept of friendship, but figured it was pointless.  John's "friends" were people for whom he would lay his life on the line -- and would not hesitate to do the same for him.  Victor seemed to consider a "friend" to be anyone willing to carry on a conversation with him for more than 10 minutes, unless they were on his payroll, in which case, they were just subordinates.

"Victor," Hope said slowly.  "Why don't you just leave us alone?  John and I are trying to catch up on some things, and you're interrupting."

"I would never want to do that," Victor responded, but he did not move.  He kept his eyes on John.  "So how long will you be visiting?  I assume you are here to see Samantha.  Such a terrible ordeal that must be for her and Marlena."

"Yes," John said, curtly. 

"So you'll be returning to Switzerland after that?"  Victor's question gave John the distinct impression of being probed.

"Maybe.  I'm not sure right now."

"Perhaps you and Marlena might consider doing something to celebrate your miraculous recovery."  Victor had a half-smirk.  "I would think work at this point would have no attraction to either of you.  Perhaps I could assist.  My yacht, The Dolphin, is down in Miami.  It's yours for as long as you want.  Take Marlena, cruise the world.  Consider it my gift to celebrate your good health."

John took a bite of mashed potato and thought.  Hope was watching him, a curious expression clear on her face.  That woman would never be a good poker player.  Setting down his fork, John looked back at Victor.  "I'll pass along the offer to Marlena, but suspect we'll have to decline for now."

"Oh?  I thought you had no real plans."  No doubt about it.  Victor definitely wanted to know what John was doing.  He took another bite of his lunch, knowing it annoyed Victor to have to wait for a response.

"Our only plan is to go see Kimberly in L.A."

That seemed to take Victor by surprise.  "Kimberly?  How is Kimberly?"

Hope gave John a quick glance, and he knew someone had told her about Kim's illness.  There was no need to share that information with Victor.  The last thing she needed was any 'assistance' from Victor, quite possibly Kim's least favorite person in the world.  "Kim's fine.  Marlena thought it was time for a visit.  L.A. weather right now is a lot better than a Swiss winter."

" I see," Victor said in his all-knowing way that gave no idea if he actually did see anything or if he was just being a pompous ass.  For the moment, John leaned toward pompous ass.

"Well if you do, maybe you could try seeing things on the other side of the pub," Hope said, with a sneer.  "John and I were having a conversation."

Attagirl, John thought.

"Very well.  I know when I'm not welcome."  Victor turned his gaze back to the other tables and then caught sight of his son coming through the door.  John thought that unusual.  Philip was not someone he expected to see at the Brady Pub.  The fancy restaurants downtown were more his style.  Victor seemed surprised also, but motioned for Philip to join him, thankfully, at a table that Caroline Brady set for them across the room.

"You weren't looking, but I gave Caroline a signal," Hope explained.  "You'd think after all these years, I would have learned to handle Victor, but just being within 10 feet of him makes my skin crawl."  John's eyes followed her gaze toward the other table. 

Across the room, Victor appeared to be lecturing Philip, but the younger Kiriakis was paying little attention.  Philip had come here to find John Black and tell him about his father's interest in the Donovans.  Dumb luck that Victor would have chosen today to come to the Pub.  He snuck a glance at John, seated with Hope Brady, and noticed that their eyes kept wandering in Philip's direction.  "Dad, give me a minute."

"So you can go chat with our old friend, John Black?  You seem to be taking quite an interest in him and Hope."

Philip smiled placidly.  "He is on the Board of Directors of Titan, so it would be useful if I played nice."

"True," Victor acknowledged.  "Be warned, though, he seems to be rather uncivilized at the moment.  You would think he had spent the past year living among savages, not the Swiss."

"I'll take care to keep my hands away from his teeth," Philip said, wondering what he had missed before entering the restaurant.  He stood up and crossed over to John's and Hope's table.  "Hope.  John."

"Philip," they said in unison, and waited to see what he wanted.  He stood there silently for a moment, as if debating whether he even was going to say a word. 

"Just pretend that we're chatting about business," he said in a low voice so as not to be overheard by diners at nearby tables.  They both looked at him in confusion.  John quickly covered, his expression changing so he looked like a man having a chat about nothing consequential.  Hope still looked baffled until John gave her a quick glance.  Then she smiled and feigned a little laugh. 

"So what do you want, Philip?" John asked.

Philip chewed his lip slightly, obviously nervous.  "We can't talk here, not in front of my dad, but we need to.  Privately."  He held out his hand, and John played along, giving it a shake.  Loudly, Philip added, "Well have a very nice visit, John.  I'll see you at the next Board meeting."  He let go of John's hand, turned, and returned to his father's table.

As Philip took his seat, Victor looked at Hope and John.  The brief exchange seemed innocuous enough, but Philip had been rather edgy the past few days.  Given how angry Philip had been over Melanie's shooting and his intention to blame Victor for the incident, there was enough to make Victor wonder.  Perhaps he needed to keep a closer eye on his son.

Similar suspicions were being voiced at the other table.  As soon as Philip left, Hope leaned across their table and whispered.  "What was that all about?"

John shook his head.  "Not a clue, but we're talking about a Kiriakis here.  You can never truly predict a Kiriakis."