He watched her sleep. It was seven in the morning and both of them had the day off. He’d woken to piss and trudged back to bed thinking he’d be out right off. But after half an hour he was still awake. Instead of staring at the ceiling, he thought he’d stare at something much better. He turned on his side and looked at Lee.
was being totally
redeveloped. Between cranes and work crews and long pyramids of pipes and piles
of debris, new buildings rose. The biggest was the Marriott, this one brand
new. He got off the bus and hurried across the partially paved street for the
lobby. He was ten minutes late thanks to a disturbed passenger who got into a
screaming match with the driver, who ended up calling the police. He’d called
ahead and informed Mr. Pomoma’s secretary, who kindly told him it wasn’t a
Jordan gave him a look of
understanding that went much deeper than their minutes-old acquaintance had any
was waiting for him there.
“No, I’m talking about the CEO. The
Big Kahoona himself.”
towards the hall Ronan came down when he first arrived. “Down that hall to
reception. It’ll be the door on the other side. No need to knock when you get
there; just head on it, okay?”
Ronan walked down the hall, crossed the reception area, and stood before the door he was instructed to go to. He adjusted his tie, went to knock, stopped himself just before he did, and reached for the handle.
She seemed quite peaceful. That wasn’t a given. Often her sleeping face reflected anguish, especially the past year. But not now.
He thought of the speech she gave last night. It was nothing short of heroic. It deserved a bloody medal. He considered that she might have actually reached a few folks; that because of her courage she might have given some of them the courage to press on with their sobriety.
It didn’t seem so far-fetched. That by itself was remarkable. The world careened on for hell in fifth gear because people refused above all things to look inward and change.
Six inches from him was direct evidence that it could be done. Would it last? Two hundred eighty-nine days—now two ninety—was a good, long time. If that didn’t mean change, no matter how slight, no matter how fragile, he didn’t know what did.
He wondered what the priest said to her after she finished. She didn’t share it with him. She had sobbed and sobbed, then dropped off. He got undressed and climbed in with her. Later he woke to discover she’d gotten undressed too.
They hated getting up early. Both their jobs required it. Left to their own devices, they’d wake around nine and get up an hour later. When he managed the
he’d get in most days around ten and worked until seven. It was perfect.
Tomorrow he’d be back on schedule and would have to open the Topaz with Mack, the manager, at five-thirty. Lee would be up half an hour later so that she could get to Tesco by eight, where she would be put to work stocking for an hour before the store opened. It was pure luck that they both got the same day off. It probably wouldn’t happen again for a long time.
He laid back, put his hands under his head, and thought: What would I do with my life if I had all the time and money in the world?
It wasn’t a new thought. It was one, in fact, that had become more and more insistent the older he got.
He didn’t have an answer. He got Divinity and Botany degrees at university because he very much enjoyed the study of both. But the jobs each offered? He had no desire to be a priest; and he had no desire to teach. That’s pretty much all Divinity and Botany offered. “Priesting or teaching,” as he called it.
“No thanks,” he muttered.
Lee shifted and turned over.
What was his passion? What was his calling? Was it possible he didn’t have one?
He was pretty good dealing with people. He knew how to get through to them, or, when necessary, when to kick their ass. He considered it was something he picked up from Mum. She definitely knew how to deal with people—especially Dad, who was impossible to deal with most of the time. He had watched her and had learned.
As a result, the Carlingford Inn became, slowly and haltingly, an efficient and happy place to work. As a result of that, it grew. First slowly, then in leaps and bounds.
Mr. Toquist, the owner, loved taking credit for it, which used to make Lee mental.
“You are the reason that bloody shag-and-snooze is on the map, Ronan, not that overfed lump o’ gross!”
“He hired me. So yeah, he is the reason, in fact.”
At which point Lee often punched his arm.
The staff loved him. Somehow, without consciously willing it, he inspired in them great loyalty and effort. Even though Mr. Toquist paid them like paupers, they were more than willing to do more than their station required. Toquist refused to reward or even recognize that effort, so Ronan often paid them under the table from his own pocket, or threw parties for them at the pub, or gave them plaques and framed certificates of his own making. All, again, at his own expense.
It wasn’t enough.
“Your services are no longer required or wanted at this establishment, Mr. Sutton. I will have Mrs. Bentley mail your severance check first thing tomorrow morning. Good day to you.”
That was all the message said. Two days later he received his last check.
Inn employed twenty-six. When word of his firing came,
ten quit in protest, leaving it severely shorthanded. He learned of the mass
resignations as he began his job search in the weeks and months afterward. He’d
run into his former colleagues here and there. Always it was the same refrain,
one he very much appreciated hearing: “You were the best boss, Mr. Sutton. I
enjoyed working with you. It really sucked what Toquist did.” Oftentimes they
added: “Give your wife our best.”
He looked at Lee.
Times like these made any effort toward “giving her his best” appear wanting. No, the word was pathetic. But the truth was, he had given her his best. Was it adequate? No. Was it perfect? Not by a long shot. Was it even consistent? He couldn’t even claim that much. Still ... it had been his best.
He reached and stroked her hair.
Last night she had given not just him her best, but everyone else at that meeting, too. She had opened herself up and shown the world her insides. It was a brilliant, astonishing act of courage that, he was certain, would inspire him the rest of his life.
It took another hour and a half to get back to sleep. When he woke at ten-thirty, it was because his cellphone, still in his work trousers, was ringing.
“That’s me ...”
“Mr. Sutton, my name is Paolo Pomoma. I’ve been looking for some time for you.”
Ronan had dug the phone, whose ringer he thought he had turned off before bed last night, out of his trousers pocket as quickly as he was able. He hurried out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Lee didn’t stir.
Naked and cold, he sat at the kitchen table, on one of the frigid seats, cursed silently, and hunched up into himself.
When he heard, “I’ve been looking for you,” he thought it had to be the mortgage company who, despite being ordered by the courts not to harass them, still on occasion did.
“It’s against the law for you people to harass us,” he said as quietly as he could. He didn’t want Lee to wake up to this. She was already depressed enough, and he was as determined as the bloody Terminator to make sure she kept to her record-setting sobriety.
What a shit way to start this day! He could feel his temper slipping and thought of hanging up. He was putting pressure on the red end-call button when he heard:
“I’m not from the mortgage company, Mr. Sutton.”
He stared at the phone, brought it back to his head. “Sorry?”
“I’m not from the mortgage company, Mr. Sutton.”
“Who are you with? And how do you know about the mortgage company?”
“I’d be happy to answer that later, if you are interested. I’m with Yank-Willow Associates.”
Ronan sighed. “Shit.”
“I take it you’re the lawyer that fuckin’ mortgage company has hired to go after people like me?”
“No, Mr. Sutton. I’m associated with no mortgage company, and I’m not calling to harangue you about a debt you may or may not owe.”
“Would you mind telling me why you’re calling then?”
“Of course. I’m calling to invite you to a job interview.”
That was the very last thing he thought he’d hear. The cold was instantly forgotten. “A ... job interview?” Without realizing it, he unbent and sat up.
“That is correct, Mr. Sutton.”
He chuckled. “Really. What’s the job?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss it over the phone. I can give you full details if or when we meet.”
Ronan chuckled again. “That doesn’t sound dodgy, not at all.”
He went to hang up.
“Please, Mr. Sutton. Just agree to meet with me. That’s all I ask!”
He glared at the phone, then brought it once again back to his ear. He was going to hang up, he really was. But then he spied the cockroach in the corner next to the banged-up oven just a couple of inches beyond the small puddle of water that had formed overnight from the leaky pipe under the sink, one which the landlord refused to fix. He glanced up at the blood stain which, though barely visible, was now obvious every time he looked in that direction. He sighed.
“This a con?”
“Not at all. I know this means nothing to you, Mr. Sutton, but you have my word. I have been with Yank-Willow Associates for twenty-four years. If you would like, I’d be happy to forward my CV to you. Do you have an email address?”
Ronan held up. He bit his upper lip and swore silently. “It’s ... not necessary. Forget about it. When and where would you like to meet, Mr. Pomoma?”
“The where is at the Marriott at
, room 1636. The when
I will leave to you. When can you meet me?” Bridge
Ronan was already thinking ahead. He had to open tomorrow at the Topaz, but got off at noon. Every day after that would be a bitch.
was at least forty-five minutes by bus. He calculated: Home by twelve-thirty, a quick bite for lunch, a shower, dressing, waiting
for the bus ... Bridge Park
“Uh ...” he said, filling the silence, “how about 3 tomorrow?”
“Three it is,” said Paolo Pomoma. “
Marriott, room 1636.
See you tomorrow, Mr. Sutton. And Mr. Sutton?” Bridge
“No need to bring a CV yourself.”
“See you then, Mr. Sutton. Good day.”
He hung up. “I’ll be damned.”
He stared at the phone until the cold intruded on his consciousness. He stood and quickly tippy-toed to the bathroom and crawled into the shower.
Lee woke at noon.
“An interview? Really?”
He turned the bacon over. “Really.”
She stared at him from the table. Her uncertain smile faded, returned, faded. “Did he ... Paolo, was that his name?”
“Funky phone call.”
“And he didn’t tell you what the job was?”
He stared at the bacon. “Nope.”
“What’s your gut tellin’ you?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. Yours?”
“Just that it’s hungry. When’s that bacon gonna be ready?”
“Good news, ye think?”
He shrugged again. “We’re at rock bottom here, baby. Almost anything sounds like good news. If Mr. Pomoma is playing me, I’m gonna punch him in the nose.”
That didn’t mean anything. Not after the Carlingford Inn. Mr. Toquist had always patted him on the back and told him this or that wasn’t a problem. Then, one day, it was. In an instant he had gone from Toquist’s favorite son to pond scum. Ninety percent of the time “not a problem” meant “definitely a problem, and you’ll pay for it in short order.”
He hadn’t worn a suit in more than a year. The one on him now was an old favorite, but now felt alien. That was a shame, because he really liked it. In fact, he had liked dressing up for work. Beyond helping him feel the part—in the case of his old job, that of a respected hotel manager—it gave him something of a psychic buffer against the world at large. He could face the endless injustices better wearing a suit.
But no longer. The past year had been so hellish that the psychic buffer felt totally stripped away. It wasn’t coming back. The tie around his neck felt like a noose. He loosened it. Despite it being a cool, damp day, he couldn’t keep from sweating. He eventually had to strip off his jacket. He could feel perspiration running down his sides. It would leave a visible stain if he didn’t wear the jacket at the interview. Fucking hell.
He hurried into the lobby, which was quite posh and smelled new. There were check-in desks. Two had lines. The third, to his right, was open and staffed with a pretty young woman who smiled in his direction. He went to her.
“I’m looking for Mr. Pomoma with Yank-Willow Associates?”
“Mr. Pomoma. Yes,” she said. “He’s in room 1636, top floor. First bank of lifts on your right as you leave the lobby.”
That’s right, he thought angrily. Room 1636. He told me that yesterday. And now I’ve wasted another minute. Fuck me ...
He tapped the counter twice—“Thank you”—and half-ran, half-jogged towards the indicated lifts.
The top goddamn floor. Of course it was. He exited the lift, blazer back on, to a reception area as posh as any he’d ever seen, even in magazines. It was far from overdone or ostentatious, but in the kind of exquisite good taste that only came with heaps of dosh.
He glanced around. The entire floor was “room” 1636?
The receptionist sat behind an artfully curvy counter with
Dublin – Berlin
– Tokyo – San Francisco
- New York
in big gold letters on it. She was middle-aged and heavy-set, with cat glasses complete with a bejeweled chain hanging off the temple tips and accenting her reddish-gray hair. She was already looking at him and smiling.
He approached. “Hi. I’m Ronan Sutton. I’ve got an interview with Mr. Pomoma? I’m afraid I’m a little late ...”
“Mr. Sutton. Excellent. Please have a seat. Mr. Pomoma will be available shortly. I’m afraid he too is a little behind. Please ...” She motioned to the seats against the floor-to-ceiling glass wall that looked out over the city.
“Thank you,” he said, and walked to the seats and sat.
This was precisely the kind of place that wouldn’t just demand a CV, but a physical copy at that, one that had been painstakingly and professionally put together and printed on the finest linen available. Hell, just walking in here from his lowly station was already unheard of!
A woman approached from the right hall. Drop-dead beautiful. (The woman, not the hall, though it looked like it belonged in a top-shelf corporate headquarters.)
“Good afternoon, Mr. Sutton,” she smiled. “I’m Gail. Will you follow me, please?”
Her Jamaican accent was as pleasant as her stride and flawless dark skin.
He stood and followed her, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible while straightening his blazer and working to free himself of facial sweat by desperately thinking cool thoughts and considering cogent and interesting answers to standard interview questions, which were apparently just seconds away.
She stopped at an unmarked door on the right and turned to face him.
“Please,” she motioned at the door. “And—” she touched his arm and smiled very genuinely—“there is no hurry whatsoever, Mr. Sutton.”
“Thanks ...” he said, puzzled, and reached for the door latch. “Thanks ...”
He pushed down on the latch and stepped in. The door closed behind him.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Sutton.”
An older gentleman in casual attire approached. He looked impressively fit for his age (70? 80?).
The older gentleman held out his hand as he got close. “Jordan Page. It’s a real pleasure meeting you.”
He glanced down at Mr. Page’s waiting hand and cautiously took it. “Mr. Page ...”
please,” said the impressively fit older man, who had a rock-solid grip. He
released Ronan’s hand and stepped back and appraised him. “I’d say body
temperature ninety-nine or triple digits, blood pressure one fifty over
ridiculous, a favorite suit drenched with nervous sweat, and, of course, abject
bewilderment.” He shook his head companionably. “No need for any of it. This is
all legit, Ronan. May I call you Ronan?”
“Sure,” he mumbled. “Sure. Anything.”
Jordan Page gripped his upper arm. “Come on. Mr. Pomoma told me you might be a little blown away by all this, and asked that I do what I could to help you relax before you go in to talk to him. This way, Ronan.”
It looked like one of those spas one read about in travel magazines and were only for the extremely wealthy. Brass and marble, expensive wood paneling and huge shower stalls, a hot tub, a pool for swimming laps just past a partition, seats for breakfast around a table, a kitchen somewhere cooking something that smelled positively delicious, and a jaw-dropping view of Dublin.
“You’ve got an American accent,” said Ronan as Jordan Page motioned him through the foyer.
“Born and bred in the
Ronan held up. “You’re ... seventy? You look no more than fifty.”
“Very kind of you, Ronan. Good living, I suppose. Which means, of course, three gin and tonics and someone soft and cuddly every day.”
Ronan chuckled. He was still completely flummoxed, but noticed that the reins on his nerves were loosening ever so slightly. “No cigarettes?”
“They never took,” admitted Mr. Page. “Neither did the whacky tobaccy.”
They approached what looked to be the door into a bathroom or locker room. “Why not pop in for a soak? While you’re relaxing I’ll give your suit a quick clean and press. Hang it up next to the door and I’ll take care of it. Care for a drink? A little late lunch?”
At the mention of food, Ronan’s stomach growled, loud enough for
Jordan to hear. Ronan had grabbed
only a couple of handfuls of peanuts before he hopped on the bus, and was
“I’ll take that as a yes,” chuckled
“What sounds good? Name it, and we’ll have it ready.”
“I could really go for scrambled eggs,” said Ronan, still waging war with disbelief. What the hell was going on? This was an interview? Jesus feckin’ Christ!
What the hell, thought Ronan. “Bloody Mary? Virgin—?”
“Of course. You get in there and relax. No hurry. You’re in good hands here.”
Ronan opened the door as Jordan Page turned and left him alone.
Somehow he managed it, despite the mind-blowing strangeness of it all. Somehow he relaxed.
He slipped into what looked like a hot tub but not so large, more like an oversized bathing tub set into the fine tile, all marble, with gold fittings and multiple water inlets. A man came in, white towel over one arm, virgin Bloody Mary in his grip. He set it down with a smile, asked if Ronan were comfortable, said, “Excellent” when Ronan responded with a flummoxed nod and smile, and left.
Ronan took a sip. Excellent. And—spicy!
He could hear someone swimming in the pool just around the corner, and two other men talking. They were far enough away that he couldn’t make out what they were saying.
He soaked for half an hour (there was a clock on the far wall), forcing himself to stay in for the amount of time he thought demonstrated gratitude and good manners, then climbed out and reached for one of several enormous towels hanging nearby. He dried and wrapped it around his waste and went to the dressing room. It had carpeted floors and large, individual cubby-holes complete with floor-length mirrors and a whole range of top-shelf toiletries and shaving products. On a gold hook was his suit. His socks and underwear were folded neatly and lying on the bench.
He chuckled, fighting the shame that welled up in him. His socks were threadbare; so too his underwear. They had that gray dullness that spoke of hard times and no money to replace them. Even so, here they lay, cleaner than they had probably been since he purchased them, somehow laundered and dried in thirty minutes. He put them on, noting their breathy warmth, then finished dressing, taking a quick whiff of the colognes on offer and knowing their price tag was more than he made in a month.
He gazed in the mirror.
The truth was, though all of this was utterly fucking crazy, he felt much better.
“I’m still standing, fuckers,” he murmured at his image. “You knocked me down, but I’m getting up. I may be in the fucking basement, but I’m still fighting. So is my bride. Fuck you all.”
He turned and made his way to the dining room.
“Now that’s more like it,” he commented approvingly, looking him up and down and nodding. “A dip, a drink, a little time to compose yourself ...” He motioned toward a single table covered in fine linen. “And now a little breakfast. Please.”
Ronan sat. When he did a stocky man in a chef’s hat hastily approached with a plate teetering with a small mountain of scrambled eggs and sausage. A woman just behind him set down toast and poured him coffee. Both waited, hands clasped deferentially before them, as Ronan gawked at the meal. It smelled so good that his mouth watered. He glanced up at Jordan, who smiled at them. “Thanks, guys.”
Both bowed shortly and left.
motioned at the chair opposite. “May I?”
Ronan had a mouth full of eggs. They were so good that he nearly missed the question. He swallowed. “Sure. Yeah. Please.”
“All right,” he said, clasping his hands on the table. “Let’s get you up to speed. We got word from our CEO about you. He’s the one who initiated the search for you. We’ve been looking for you for some time now, as you know.”
Ronan took a sip of coffee (also amazing), and set the cup down. “Mr. Yank? Mr. Willow? Or is one or both of them female?”
Ronan shook his head. “Never met him.”
“Are you sure?”
“I live in a slum,
Jordan. A man
with the means to run an office like this ... well, let’s just say we don’t run
in the same circles.”
“And yet you’re wrong. You have met him.”
Ronan waited. When it was clear
wasn’t going to say anything more, he asked, “What’s his name?”
“Let’s see how you do in this first interview, okay? Maybe you’ll figure it out on your own. In the meantime, would you allow me to give you some advice?”
“Yeah ... sure ...”
“Be yourself in there. You’ve got nothing to prove. It won’t be like interviews you’ve gone to in the past.” He shook his head disdainfully and sat back. “ ‘What are your goals for the next five years? What’s your mission statement?’ Sheesh. None of that crap.”
Ronan nodded, took another sip of coffee, and wiped his mouth. “Yeah ... okay ...”
He stood, as did Ronan. He extended a hand, and Ronan took it.
“The CEO has yet to be wrong about a candidate,” said
Jordan, grabbing Ronan’s hand with
both of his. “I’d bet my salary that once again he’s hit the target dead
With that he released him and walked the other way.