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--- D A N I E L M E L T Z
Carol came with a warning.
"She is one sick bitch."
"She makes people cry - sob, in fact - awful."
"I didn't leave till nine last night - that's right - nine PM -- doing her work, and she was breathing down my neck the whole freakin' time."
So when at last the call came (and sooner or later, they all call the Help Desk), and I saw her name, extension alongside it, on the caller ID, I steeled myself in the only way I know to, while still remaining professional - "Carol!!! How goes it!!!" I w as brutally chipper.
"You're the new guy."
"Well...new guy." Her tone was seductive - harshly so - like she was perched on her desk with a cigarette and a cat o' nine tails. "My computer just died. My computer is fucked. Come up here and defuck it."
"I'll be there in a few!!!" I sang the last sentence. I knew it sounded fake. Aggressively fake. That was the key. I'd had experience with her type, back in rehab education, teaching Lotus and data entry to the mentally bungee - corded.I took the grillwork staircase (perfect for looking up dresses) two at a time, thinking, you don't know what bargained for, Carol.
I'd seen her in the hall. I knew what she looked like. Tall, slim, erect, severe, with high high heels and a brisk mannish haircut. Her signature outfit was a jacketed suit - either blue, white, hot pink, beige - with brassy gold buttons and a skirt so short it made me wonder about her IQ level. She was, after all, as I soon came to realize, a shade shy of fifty.
"I am forty-nine years old!" she was baying into the phone as I entered. "I've had plenty of bullshit flung my way in those forty-nine years so don't try and weasel your - yes, yes, you said that already! How can you possibly listen to me when you don't even bother to listen to you!" Though I only saw her back, I sensed she could sense I had just come in. She twisted her leg out (long, sleek-stockinged), acrobatically contorted, kind of hiking her skirt, a bodily hello. "All right, keep your shorts on, we'll talk about that later. Somebody's here to fix my thingy. Gonna come to my event? You better, you dick!" She let out a laugh so splashy and crude I thought of an oil well gushing.
She slammed down the phone and reeled around to greet me. "Ah! Steve." Everything was hard, her smile, her dimples, her thickly mascaraed eyelashes. "I'm Carol Pepper." Her hand sprang out and her skirt rose a bit. (How did she do that?) She shook my hand sitting. She felt like a car jack.
"Nice to meet you," I said. "What seems to be the problem?"
She snorted. "Tuh! How the fuck should I know? You're the damn repairman."
"Just tell me, uh..." Shit. I was stumbling. Damn.
"Well, I turned the fucker on - haven't turned it on in weeks -" What does she do all day, I wondered. "-and it asked me my password - I forgot it, hey - what's a password to me? So I tried some combination, whatever came to mind - CAROLP, I think - but it didn't get me in. Then I tried another combo and that didn't work, and I - oh, who cares, just fix the piece of shit for Christ's fuckin' sake. Do I have to re-cap every sorry-ass detail!" (Our firm, by the way, is the ACRD, renowned for its commitment to eradicating intolerance.)
I decided not to wait out the full three strikes. "HEY COOL IT ALREADY!!" I said with fire, the same kind of fire I used to blare at the schizophrenics, when they dealt me their threats, wielding plastic cafeteria knives. Then, sanely, I dropped it. "Mind if I sit?"
Carol started to stand - to let me take her place - but she couldn't get up. She was trying too hard to hold down a laugh. "You're right, you're right, I should cool it, you're right!" Not the ball-busting, big-money nack-nack laugh she'd blasted at the guy on the phone a minute earlier, but something more unguarded, something babbling brookish, a teenager's laugh.
She said, "I want to watch you fix it. Take careful notes. I want to do this myself if it happens to me again so I won't have to bother you. All right, Steve? Hm?" I was astonished at the change, astonished and pleased, by her new personality, the beseeching, humanized inner Carol Pepper.
"No bother," I said, standing bossily over her. "But if you really want to learn, you ought to stay right there, in the driver's seat, and I'll walk you through it."
She nodded deferentially as she readied a notepad, flipping written-on pages in back of the clean ones, and unceremoniously widened, by a foot, the space between her legs. This did not seem conscious!
I walked her through the steps of reentering her password.
"Okay, hold on, take that slower," she said, focusing on the pen tip. "I'm a lard-ass at this shit."
"Don't call yourself names. Myyy. Compuuuuter," I repeated, at a snail's pace. "Control Panel. Passwords."
"Myyy. Compuuuter." She was writing it. "Control Sample. Bastards." She turned to me and grinned.
Afterwards, she thanked me with utmost poise, like a boarding school miss,her voice all curtsy, throwing her earlier violence into nutty relief. (I began to get a sense that her violence was really excitement, wild joie de vivre, and that I'd jumped the gun in thinking that I knew the inner Carol.) She made a quizzical face (I saw, to my surprise, that her front teeth were crooked) - suggesting, among other things, a girlish thank you Daddy and a high-school-girlish the whole world hates me - what's with you ?
Meanwhile her skirt'd hiked so high that I could see the darker regions of her pantyhose.
Logging her call, I remembered her handshake - bony, butch - though I could still feel the Jergensy softness of her skin.
And the fact that she knew my name. Ah! Steve. As soon as I entered her office. I would never have expected that from someone so reviled.
Wind blew down from the upper floors later.
My boss (a mother-hen type) was on the phone to an upstairs secretary. "Complain to personnel. Do what you have to. She's crossed the line, Barbara, no question about it."
Carol had reduced one of her people to tears.
Sammy T. came barreling toward me. Him, too, I'd seen in the halls. He looked as if he might run me over, a human truck, though he wasn't big. Riveted, I just sort of stood there.
"Ah! You! Where the hell have you been?" He clapped his hands on both my shoulders, a lunatic slappy cornering assault, and I saw that his cheeks were pockmarked, flushed, the color of a heart attack.
"I had some fires to put out," I retorted, defensive. Had his call slipped my mind? I looked at my clipboard. Nope. No Sammy.
"Well help me first!" he playfully growled. I imagined a German Shepherd tug-of-warring with its master over a drooled-on Frisbee. He led me upstairs.
In his office - a mess - there were three booted systems.
He folded his arms across his chest. "Command central. Impressive, no? Does anyone else here work from three computers?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Course not? Why would they?
He sped things up, maybe sensing my reproach. "This one here's a 400 megahertz. Pentium 2. Tops for the internet. Literally rip the hair off your pecker. Ever tickled one of these?" He piano-slammed the keys of his aerodynamic keyboard.
He'd be easy to hate - too easy, I thought. Technical know-it-all with penis-length issues, as fragile in his way as the clueless Carol Pepper. How could he possibly need all this? I said, "I have one at home."
Sammy switched gears. "You're thinking to yourself, what's he need all this SHIT for? All these goddamn toys. You're thinking that, aren't you?"
"No no, not at all. So but what did you want to ask me?"
"Oh." He smoothed the hair on the nape of his neck. "Just a couple of quick things. Nothing too taxing. I'd like my system to create self-backups every night. Well, every other night. That's number one. And I want my email routed through to two different places, depending on the project, what I'm working on, you know? That's number two."
These were typical questions from a low-level big mouth. His fractional understanding, grandiosely enlarged to the dimensions of his ego, misled him into thinking that requests like these were fiendishly simple. After all, everything else (changing screen savers, downloading porno) was fiendishly simple - why not these?
What he wanted couldn't be done within the perimeters of our system but I liked Sammy T. I wasn't sure why. He was loud and rude and would hound me about these "couple quick things" until I asked for a consultant.
I said, "Off the top of my head, that's a dizzying wish list. But I'll see what I can do."
One of the payroll women, Mercia Miller, a certified honeybunch, came up to me in the hallway later.
She often mouthed the things she said, using exaggerated lip action, like people do when they talk to the psychotic. (I'd seen Mercia talk this way on other occasions, like when I'd first got my check via direct deposit - thanks to her paperwork - and we passed in the hall. She'd mouthed to me, "That direct deposit is nice, right?" like we were doing something criminal.)
"I heard how he talked to you." Her eyebrows arched absurdly high.
"Sammy T. And then he slapped you like that. "
"On the shoulders."
"Oh. Yeah. Right."
"You ought to take that to the union. "
Next time Carol Pepper called I was eager to see her, despite a jolt of dread. (I wasn't always sure I could repeat my successes; what if she ran her truck-driver mouth and I didn't have a comeback?) But primarily I was eager, wondering how much of her stockings would be showing when I entered her office.
Lots, as it turned out!
And in duplicate to boot. She had a full length mirror, which I hadn't noticed the last time. It was angled against the wall, in front of her desk, so she could catch quick glimpses of her fast-paced self - on the phone, with a donor, before and after lunch. I sensed that it wasn't a vanity thing. She seemed like the kind to gaze at herself and take no satisfaction. She had a weak self-connection, an emotional short circuit, and needed constant reassurance that she was still in fact there, still plugged in.
"Steve, come in, come on, cop a squat!" She was clearing a place on a chair stacked with business cards and banquet invitations. "How are you? How are you? My personal tutor. You've been so fuckin' patient with me. How the hell do you do it? It's because you worked with those nut cases isn't it? In your previous life? That's how you figured out a way to work with me!" She let out her big-money raucous laugh. It was hard not to join her. She glanced at the mirror.
"Oh Carol, come on, you're not what I'd -"
"So of course I forgot how to open a stinkin' document, simplest thing in the world, jever meet such a dope?"
"Why call yourself names?"
"Because the sneaker fits, baby." She moved to let me take her seat.
"No. Stay put. It's better if you do it."
I talked her through the steps of opening a file but then her body started spasming, clear out of nowhere. "Shit!" She jumped up. Everything was wriggling, like a caterpillar dangling from a branch by a thread.
"What's the matter? You all right?"
"My back. Oh Christ. I have back shit. Fuck." Suddenly I saw all the tension under her clothes, as if she were one of those lumpy sculptures with rocks along the spine.
"Anything I can do?"
She was frantically grabbing at books and padded envelopes and wedging them into her chair for support. "I'm okay, I'm all right. This should - ow ow ow!" She sat down slowly, as if sliding into a scalding tub. "I'll be fine. Let's go."
"Come on, professor. What?"
"Well now here. Click. Click right over here."
She clicked without looking. "My husband thinks I should go and get the surgery - ouch!" Husband? What husband? "No fucking way. Traction for a month? What does he think? I've got the attention span of a gerbil. I'd go out of my so-called mind. What would I do off my feet for two months? My husband's a maniac. Ju hear him this morning?"
"Teplitsky. Sammy's my husband. Didn't you know? Ow-ow, ow-ow." She glanced at the mirror. Measuring her pain? She was making more sense by the bucketful suddenly.
"That's - huh. That's - Sammy?"
"I thought you knew. I thought everyone knew. But right, you just started. We met here six-no-seven, EIGHT years ago. He was married at the time. But that's another story. Oh look who's here." It was my boss's boss, the division head, appearing in her door. "Cappazetti! Big guy!" Jimmy Cappazetti (in truth, quite short) was a good-looking fellow, yet it surprised me to hear all her brazen innuendo. She was married. To a colleague.
Her skirt rose higher and she was all flirty-flirty and in the background somewhere, not five doors down, I could hear a low bellow from her husband Sammy's office as he issued directives to his loyal-dog staff.
"Steve! Steevo! Come to my event." Carol accosted me in the hall a week later. She was asking me to come to one of her fundraising banquets. "Here's an invitation. I'd love for you to come. You've been so nice, so goddamn patient. Next Tuesday after work. You'll have fun, guarantee it. Food, dancing, women, you'll love it. And no squirt cheese on crackers and beer, for fuck's sake. We're talkin' chateaubriand. Here. It's at the Waldorf."
"You know I wouldn't miss it."
I was up on Carol and Sammy's floor the day of the banquet when I heard them screaming out of Sammy's open office.
"NO FUCKING WAY!"
"I'M WARNING YOU CAROL!"
"I WON'T, I REFUSE!"
"YOU BETTER THE HELL!"
"YOU WANT ME TO THROW YOU DOWN THE STAIRS!?"
"YOU WANT ME TO CALL THE FUCKIN' COPS LIKE THE LAST TIME DAMN IT???!!!"
Though the door slammed shut, you could still hear them fighting.
I picked up my placecard at a table in the lobby being run by Carol's staff.
"Hi Steve!" Carol's platinum-haired fiftyish a-go-go girl secretary (Barbara Berlin) smiled her three-color-lipstick smile. "Just go on in."
I came upon the gatekeepers assigned to the cocktail hour. They were dressed, unaccountably, in sailor suits and Gibson Girl gowns and Edwardian top hats. They made mindless welcoming chitchat such as, "Step right up!" and "Ready to par-tay?"
I slid into the ballroom, greeted by strings over a foxtrot beat. The smorgasbord was set under a heavy chandelier. Carvers were serving up slivers of turkey and char-burnt filet to the flammable guests, who wove a bee dance from the bar.
Carol zoomed up to me, her smile as bright as the light in a slide projector. "Steeverino!" She hugged me, all bosomy, and kissed me on the jaw. (I pictured Sammy T. but was sure he wasn't here. Not the schmooze-and-booze-at-a-banquet type.) (Would she have put so much tit into the hug if he were?) Carol's skirt was about as scant as it gets. In honor of the party she'd worn it a little fuller - the skirt had a kick - like those twirlable jobs on figure skaters.
"Have a drink," she said. "Isn't this great? What are you drinking?"
"Uh, Red Label and soda."
"I'll get you one, come on. I am so glad you came. Oh wait a sec. Caramba. Here comes my chairman. And my hair looks like somebody jizzed in it, fuck. Honest, tell me, how do I look?"
"Terrific." I was laughing. "Don't worry yourself."
She smiled warmly, quickly, absently, and yanked on her sideburns, as if tugging down a wig, then sashayed over.
The chairman was whoever had the pull to pack deep pockets into ballroom tables at fifteen grand a pop. Her chairman was suave-looking prince-of-an-emirate type (she thrust up her breasts at a howdy-do angle), so I left her to him, feeling inexpressibly grouchy, and scouted out a drink.
Over ornate carpet.
Under high peach ceiling.
Noticing, again, the sailor-suited, bugle-beaded, Sergeant Pepper extras strolling around the periphery of that upscale salad bar. They were twirling canes, drawing opera gloves higher, laughing theatrically, fakely, into their handkerchiefs.
I ran into a work person, Deirdre, from Community Outreach. "Oh good," she said. "Someone I know."
"Deirdre. Hey! What's with these clowns?"
"Oh that's just Carol. Usually these dinniz [she had a Staten Island accent] are nonstop tedium. Utterly tee-jiss. But Carol does it different. Carol does themes. Tonight it's the Titanic. The extriz are supposed to be, like, passenjiz strolling the decks before we hit the frickin' iceberg."
"Outrageous!" I said.
"Isn't it? Carol's the greatest. Come awn. What are those? Are those asparagus puffs?"
Carol's the greatest.
The sentence just hung there. Although an ACRD neophyte, I was used to folks like Mercia Miller noiselessly mouthing behind Carol's back, or behind Sammy's back, about how out of their gourds and vile they were. ("He is one mean bastard.") ("She browbeats her people.") But Deirdre here, one of the salts of the firm, considered her the greatest.
Had I allied myself with the tight-ass brigade? Was I stuck with the losers? Could I switch sides at random? Maybe Carol and Sammy were that rare breed of couple whom you hated or loved, no in between, like comedians who do charity standup and trash their hotel rooms afterwards.
Then the thought of her husband smashing Waldorf side chairs put a chill on my neck.
Carol materialized, starved for reassurance. "So?"
"I know it for a fact now. You're out of your mind!!!"
"This is one wacky pawty," Deirdre declared, chewing the straw of her heavy-on-the-syrup tequila sunrise.
"Order another round and hurry in to dinner. You won't want to miss this."
The Titanic extras had changed into different costumes and were scattered about the proscenium of the banquet room. They were done up as mermaids, mermen, Neptunes, fish and sea captains (one of the mermaids was smiling beatifically, through her forties-red lipstick). Posed in tableau, they started snaking in place like Balinese dancers, arms writhing skyward, to the airy-fair rhythms of synthesized pop, punctuated by nautical glug-glugs. A lightshow skittered across their costumes, making lava-lamp patterns.
"Wow!" I said.
Deirdre just laughed, shaking her head.
As the diners found their seats (Carol jauntily herding them), the moog music mixed with a vibrating dance beat and the light patterns morphed into disco-ball strobing. The sea people gradually reshaped their interpretive styling in time to the shifting beat, which was now a frisky gallop. Soon all of Atlantis was hardcore pumping and cocktail-shaker prancing a la Studio 54.
Carol danced to our table, delightedly herky-jerky. "Is this a blast or what?" she shouted over the music. Her dancing turned shaggy. She gestured like a hitchhiker. "What are you drinking? Where's the fuckin' water? Let me squat for two minutes."
A roving photographer stopped at our table and Carol draped herself like a big cat across me, her legs up on Deirdre. I beheld her luscious form. We all burst out laughing.
The photographer yodeled, "Okay everybody! Say 'Mastercard accepted!'"
As the flash went off, Carol called out, "My boobs were in the way! Take it again!"
We all danced for hours, wearing Carol's crazy party favors - dayglo necklaces, bobbling bug antennas, plastic leis and sunglasses sized for the heads on Mount Rushmore. When Carol and I at last had our dance (I had to work up the nerve, for some reason, to ask her), she brought her elbows together, ballooning her tits. She reached for the slime-green dayglo necklace around my neck and yanked it off so she could wrap it around her ankle. Laughing all the way.
Later, one of the female extras, bursting out of her bandoleer top (wardrobe change number three, and counting), danced with me, her hair flying wild, a phenomenal bombshell.
And a pretty-boy extra, in Speedos and sneakers, shook it up with Carol.
Carol Latin-hustled right up to me next morning. "What a night!" she exclaimed.
"Best party I ever went to."
"You were dreaming about that bombshell weren't you? She was beautiful, huh?"
"Mm. Yeah." Actually, I'd been dreaming about Carol. I looked beyond her, for the likes of Sammy. And my mother-hen boss, who hated Carol Pepper.
I was walking back to work after lunch the next day and there was Carol, crying in the gutter.
"I tripped, shit, my back, crap, my stockings, look." A rip in the knee was sticking to a cut, already scabbing. I helped her up. "I tripped. Just-twisted-look at this, torn! GO FUCK YOURSELVES, FUCKERS!" She aimed the last at some T-shirted jerks who were absently watching her from a truck they were loading. "None of them helped! YOU LAZY SCUMSUCKING ASSHOLE SHITS!"
I helped her up to her office. Her platinum blonde a-go-go-girl secretary (Barbara Berlin) was filing from a stack of papers. "Carol!" she cried. "What happened?"
Carol entered limping. "You got an extra pair of pantyhose?"
"I think...You all right? Oh, my, God!" She saw the cut.
"Go find your extra L'eggs," Carol commanded. "Oh and put on the - uhn!-" [Grunt.] Despite the limp, she thrust out her hip like she was dancing the bump and then hamster-wheeled her hands around. "Put on the radio."
Carol said, "Some party, huh? I am so glad you went. You shaking it up!" I was beginning to think that her party at the Waldorf was all we had in common. I was starting to go nuts with her nonstop teasing. She shifted her weight from hip to hip, groping for the tempo. "Find something disco, what are you doing!!" Barbara was dialing. Carol kept dancing, right through the static. "I've got another one next week, up at the Pierre Hotel, why don't you come! Today Barbara, shit!" She can sure play the bitch when she wants to, I thought. Barbara stopped tuning. Something funky snapped out of the crackling speaker. "Oh Christ, that'll do." Rhythm and blues. Out of nowhere, Carol leered at me. "Christ, she was skinny."
"The bombshell." She wrinkled her nose. Quick peek in the mirror. Disgusted pout. "I have got to lose Ten Ugly Pounds."
"And where are you going to lose them? From your eyelids?"
She smiled. "Oh I don't look as glamorous as this in the raw, bubby, trust me."
Barbara ahemed, put down her papers, said "Gotta try and track down some-what?-some..."and left.
Such judicious timing made me wonder if Carol didn't act like this around other men, right here in her office.
I imagined her naked, high heels only. Tremendous bazongas, legs for days, only signs of aging in the strain of her neck.
She sat in her chair and examined her cut.
I figured what the hell. I mean, she brought it up. "Oh I'm sure you look great in the buff, and how."
Her legs uncrossed. Meaning what?, I thought.
"Like, like..." I was stumbling. Shit.
"Steve. Hey..." How doleful she looked then, head on a tilt. I'd never seen her look like that. The harshness drained out of her. Sorry for something...Christ! No! Was she sorry for me?
Then Barbara was back. Amazing. So fast. With a fresh stack of Post-Its. "They're looking for you Steve. Rhoda down the hall."
Had I made a mistake? Was Barbara's discreetly judicious disappearance all in my head?
Saving face, smoothing awkwardness, Carol said brightly, "We should all go for drinks Friday night, whaddaya say? Me, you, Deirdre - Barb? Wanna come with us, Barb? And everyone from the banquet? Have a shitkickin' time."
"Sure!!!" I said.
Friday at five, Carol was corralling us. She wanted me to help. We stopped near Sammy's office. I didn't go in. I didn't pass in front. I didn't want Sammy to know I still existed.
He shouted, "YOU'RE NOT GOING OUT FOR A FUCKING DRINK, CAROL!"
"Yes I am! And you're coming with us."
"WE HAVE A BABYSITTER WAITING AND WE ARE NOT KEEPING HER OVERTIME EVER AGAIN. I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE HER FUCKIN' WAIT AGAIN, CAROL!"
"Just half an hour, no, just twenty minutes. Come."
"NO!" It was the loudest no I'd ever heard, like a gunblast in an alleyway.
Carol hammered out of his office. "Let's go, Steve. We'll call him from the bar. He's got some work to finish up."
All I wanted was to hightail it home and forget I'd ever met her.
Carol, Tim Prince (one of Sammy's staff) and I found a table in the back at McTeague's Bar and Grille. (Tiny-sized group, as it turned out.) I'd come to think of Tim as Carol and Sammy's resident jester. He was always anxious to crack them up and thereby gain their incalculable favor.
"Carol, send back your drink! The bartender left his uppers soaking in it!"
"That's an orange slice!"
"Didn't you order a Polident rocks?"
"No, a planter's punch. HA HA HA HA HA!" Carol seemed to enjoy the little imp.
I liked him myself. He was merry and energetic, and, in the chilly halls of work, he always said hello to me.
He held up Carol's drink to the light. "Yes but isn't that the waitress's cherry?"
"Stop it, Tim!" Carol pounded her fist on her thigh, which shimmered through her pantyhose. "You're hurting me!"
"That's your first, sugar, not mine."
"HA HA HA HA!"
My spirits were finally rising. Thanks mostly to my scotch.
"You better call Sammy," Tim said abruptly.
Carol's head went up-like a deer hearing a twig snap.
"There's a payphone-over there." Tim ducked his head.
"What should I tell him?"
"To hurry on over. Just one drink."
"Just one drink..."
"You want me to call him?"
"No no. I'll call." She stood up to go but turned back, on second thought, and shot me a look and tossed back her head, shaking her tits back and forth, up and down, like a pair of maracas.
"She and Sammy are my heroes," Tim Prince whispered.
What a sap, I thought.
I glanced at Carol, over on the phone, talking to her husband, finger in her ear. Sammy arrived maybe ten minutes later. His face was red and his eyebrows had merged, like nasty streams of traffic, but I gauged him as just past the crest of his anger. "Did you fuckin' call the sitter?"
"I told her half an hour. Chill out. Whatchu drinking?"
"Nothing! Let's go!"
Carol stood and waved her arms. "Waitress! Hey! This boy needs a whiskey!"
Carol's skirt jacked up.
Sammy's hand, a horny puppet, appeared like magic and slid up her skirt.
Carol laughed her fool head off. "Waitress! WAITRESS!"
"I heard you, lady!"
Sammy tugged her hem. "She heard you, baby!"
Carol plunked back down in the seat beside Sammy. She puffed out her cheeks.
"I'm glad you decided to haul your ass down here."
Her husband half smiled. "We've got two girls waiting back home, for Christ's sake!" Two daughters. How hopeless that sounded.
"That's why-twenty minutes-that's why I said. You notice I didn't order another?" She held up her empty.
Sammy grabbed her arm. "Just one of those rums and you'll be going all night."
He glared at me-shit!-then addressed his words to Tim: "Miss Low-life here wouldn't schtupp me last night!"
Tim deadpanned. "Must've been some fight."
Sammy and Carol looked at each other. It was the knowingest look I'd ever seen pass between two people, although it lasted half a moment, and its meaning wasn't clear-Tim's right? Tim's wrong? we're caught? let's fuck? that fight was so hot?? I had a scotch and a half in me and knew I could take this wherever I wanted. "You know, I will never forget the first time I met you," I said to Sammy, who was instantly listening. (He's where I had to go, I determined. Make him forget that I wanted his wife.) "You jumped me like a mugger, right in the hall."
Tim sprayed his drink, convinced this was all a lot funnier than it was.
"I thought you were some kind of psycho off his meds." Now Sammy started laughing. "You grabbed me by the shoulders and started shaking me and shouting 'Where have you been! You've been keeping me waiting!' but you'd never even called me, and I thought to myself, Here's a guy who knows how to fuckin' get what he wants!"
Carol smiled wide, showing her crooked teeth. "Isn't Steve the greatest?" Then she chatted me up, stressing my work with "all those loonies and crackpots" in my previous life. (No hint at all that I'd failed at seducing her.)
I thought of Deirdre, from Community Outreach, calling her the greatest.
"I was a psychiatric nurse once," Sammy said.
"You're kidding!" I cried.
"Was that before or after your radical hippie days?" Tim asked. Then he looked at me. "He was one of the Madison 11, you know."
I slapped the table. Tears stung my eyes. "NO! NO WAY!"
Mouthing in the style of that honeybunch Mercia, who worked down in payroll, Sammy made an X with his finger across his chest and said, "Cross my heart."
© crossconnect 1995-1999
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania kelly writers house |