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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Enjoy Chapter Five of The Blessings of Mr. Watson






Chapter Five
The First Interview
~~*~~


“Good afternoon, Mr. Sutton.”

   It was the small person at the meeting a couple of nights ago!

   Ronan caught himself in mid-gape. This is a feckin’ job interview! Get hold of yourself!

   Paolo Pomoma approached from around a spacious desk, hand extended.

   Ronan took it.

   “Judging from your expression, is it fair to say you’re a bit surprised?”

   Mr. Pomoma’s grip was strong. Ronan released it. “Yeah. Sorry.”

   Mr. Pomoma shrugged. “I’d’ve been blown away too. Please, Ronan, have a seat.” He motioned to one of two seats arranged next to the desk.

   Ronan noticed just then the desk had been made for Mr. Pomoma’s height and reach, and that, just like everywhere else in this eye-popping operation, there was none of that cold corporate lighting. Mr. Pomoma’s office was pleasantly lighted with yellow ambient lamps that made it feel very homey.

   Mr. Pomoma’s accent was odd. It sounded like a mix of proper King’s English and maybe something from ... hell, Africa?

   Ronan sat and adjusted his tie as Mr. Pomoma came back around the desk and sat. “Excuse me,” he offered, and did some quick tapping at the computer’s keyboard. That finished, he stood again and went to sit next to Ronan. Both arranged their seats so that they were facing each other. Mr. Pomoma settled, gave Ronan an Ain’t it all shit? shrug, then chuckled.

   “That was the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I ever went to. If it isn’t impertinent, please allow me to say I’m very glad I chose that one. Your wife was very inspiring.”

   Despite having earlier managed to relax, at least a little, at the strangeness of all of this, Ronan found himself back where he started—overwhelmed and nervous.

   Mr. Pomoma waited for him to respond, which Ronan did after a full ten seconds of silence. “You were looking—for me?

   Mr. Pomoma chuckled. “It was the damndest coincidence. I took a chance, and it paid off.”

   “You ... know about Lee? About her alcoholism?”

   With some hesitation, Paolo Pomoma nodded. “We knew you had moved to Dublin, but I’ll be damned if we couldn’t locate your home address, else I would have knocked on your front door and introduced myself! The courts—or someone—did a remarkably good job of hiding your whereabouts.” He cocked his head. “Ostensibly from the mortgage company you thought I was with?”

   It was Ronan’s turn to chuckle, which came out of him darkly. “Like it matters. They still have my cell number, and they still harass us, even though it’s against the law.”

   Mr. Pomoma studied him. “I’m so sorry you’ve gone through all the ... well, forgive my language, but shit. I’m sorry you’ve gone through so much shit, Ronan.”

   Ronan was again taken aback. “Thank you.”

   “May I ask after Lee? How is she?”

   Ronan thought he’d say “fine,” as he almost always did when asked such a question, but stopped himself. Jordan Page told him that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary interview. Perhaps “fine” was an answer that would be evaluated against more honest or insightful ones he could give. Perhaps what was being evaluated wasn’t his capacity for a job, necessarily, but him, his character. Something told him that was the case.

   Mr. Pomoma patiently waited with a concerned smile.

   Ronan went all in. He shrugged tiredly and shook his head. “She’s sober. At least she was when I left this afternoon. Two hundred ninety days. God love her, ye know?”

   Mr. Pomoma nodded contemplatively. “I was going to ask if you believe in God, but that would be against the law.”

   “That’s all right. I do.”

   “I thought it possible since you’ve got a degree in Divinity—from Trinity College no less. In any case, your answer has no bearing on our interest in you. Yes or no: either is fine.”

   “Definitely yes.”

   “And Lee?”

   “It was no for a long time. Lately, though, I think she’s been having a bit of a change of heart. It’s nothing obvious, just something I detect deep inside her. I think it kind of thrust up through the asphalt a couple nights ago.”

   “I agree, I agree,” said Mr. Pomoma. “I saw it, too. That’s kind of a big deal, because our CEO, who is very much a believer, is looking for a personal nurse. He knows about you, of course, but not about Lee. I took the liberty of reporting to him what she said at the meeting, and suggested she might be a good fit.”

   This entire fucking day was full of surprises!

   Ronan was so over his head that he could only stare blankly. He somehow found the presence of mind to murmur, “I ... seriously, I don’t know what to say ...”

   And then he did, and sighed. Mr. Pomoma waited.

   “She had her license to practice nursing suspended for drinking on the job. I think that should be out there from the off.”

   Mr. Pomoma rubbed his chin as he regarded him.

   “Do you have a mission statement, Ronan? A five-year plan?”

   Ronan blinked.

   Mr. Pomoma’s stone-cold-serious face held for an uncomfortable moment, but it broke, and he laughed. “Sorry. I had to ask. You know, for the shits and giggles.”

   Ronan chuckled. “No. I don’t. On both counts.”

   “My experience suggest that those who need to make five-year action plans and draw up mission statements are those who end up most unsuitable for a position in our company. They are rudderless, directionless, and are forcing fake purpose into their lives instead of ... I don’t know ... co-creating the real thing?”

   Ronan considered. “With God?”

   Mr. Pomoma shrugged. “Call it what you will. Those people always end up leaving or being dismissed. They do just the amount of work expected each day and take off. That’s not us. That’s not what we’re looking for. Never has been.”

   Ronan waited. Mr. Pomoma went back to studying him. Ronan, more because he was uncomfortable with the silence than anything, said:

   “I have to admit, Mr. Pomoma, that I’ve yet to find my purpose. I think about it all the time. I feel myself struggling for it—inwardly, you know? Almost daily. I really do.”

   “I hear you,” said Mr. Pomoma. “You get to the end of the day, one that was just like the thousand or ten thousand before ... you look in the mirror ... you’re getting older. You see friends and acquaintances succeeding ... You think they must be so happy, so fulfilled ... Their bloody Facebook profiles are all sunshine and smiles....”

   “Yes,” murmured Ronan. “Yes. It’s one reason I never signed up on Facebook.”

   Paolo Pomoma leaned forward. “It’s all shit.”

   Ronan honestly didn’t know what to think. He was so out of his element that everything felt fake, or like he was watching someone that looked just like him on a movie screen.

   Mr. Pomoma leaned back. “Our CEO has been seeking someone like you, Ronan—someone who is struggling to find himself. I mean, truly struggling, who hasn’t given up looking despite his or her circumstances. He’s been looking for a while now. We’ve been really pushing on the search recently due to ... well, let’s just say he has been struggling with some health issues.”

   “Jordan told me I met him—the CEO.”

   “You did. Karl Watson. He was very impressed by your willingness to help him in what he described as ‘a goddamned deluge.’ ”

   “That was him!”

   “We’ve been looking for you ever since. By the time we found your address, you had moved. You won’t believe how many Ronans live in or around Carlingford. Our team really struggled securing your address. I assume an agency was hired to muddy the waters, so to speak?”

   Ronan shook his head with disgust. “We were getting death threats after Lee’s license was suspended. Somehow it got out that she had been working on the job drunk. There were a few people whose relatives Lee nursed who died, so they decided to take it out on her, even though an official enquiry found that she wasn’t guilty of any actions that led to their deaths. I borrowed a thousand pounds from her mother and we had a professional ‘make us disappear,’ as that person put it. It was a very ugly time. We nearly divorced.”

   “That professional did a very good job,” said Mr. Pomoma. “Good enough in fact to thwart the resources of one of the world’s largest corporations, one the American government actually enlisted to locate bin Laden! But we couldn’t find you!”

   “Wow. I didn’t know that.”

   “I took a chance that night. We had the basics on you, and probability models that suggested that you would likely be in no more than a handful of very poor districts in Dublin. I picked the one the model indicated held the strongest probability, picked the five-square-block area it thought you most likely in, and then picked the first AA meeting smack-dab in the middle of it just after I got there, purely on a lark. There you were. The hand of God, perhaps?”

   He waited for Ronan’s answer.

   “I couldn’t explain those odds any other way,” admitted Ronan.

   Paolo Pomoma held up his hands. “So where do we go from here? What the hell kind of job is this anyway? Is that what you’re wondering, Ronan?”

   “I suppose,” said Ronan awkwardly. “Sure.”

   “As you might expect, we’ve done some research on your past employment. Admittedly we haven’t had the time to dive too deeply, but believe it or not we’ve spoken to several former colleagues of yours at the Carlingford Inn. I would say their praise of you was effusive, but frankly I don’t think that’s a strong enough word.”

   Ronan never knew what to do with such information, especially in situations like an interview. He smiled humbly and offered a congruent generality. “The staff and I had a good working relationship.”

   “Why do you suppose that was?”

   Again, that moment of gravitas settled the silence of the air and made it tense. Modesty—be it true or false—wasn’t what Mr. Pomoma was looking for.

   “I think ...” Ronan began “... I think I know how to deal with people. How to get through to them.”

   “Do you like people?”

   Ronan chuckled. “Not really, no.”

   “So how is it that you can ‘deal’ with them, you think, so effectively?”

   Ronan stared blankly out the big windows and shook his head. “My mum, I suppose. I watched her. My dad was ...” he shrugged “... difficult.”

   “She was a good role model?”

   “The best.”

   “Go on. It seems you’ve got something to add.”

   “She used to sing ‘Cheer Up, Charlie,’ you know, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? You know the song?”

   “Indeed.”

   “She even looked a lot like Charlie’s mum. And she’d change the name from Charlie to mine. She had a good singing voice, too. It had a big effect on me.”

   “The movie?”

   “That too, of course, but especially her singing that song. And ... well, I guess just everything she did. I watched her very carefully. She seemed to be able to reach anyone, even my father. Not all the time, but enough, you know ...” He held up. “I watched and I learned.”

   “Mr. Watson isn’t exactly a fan of people either,” remarked Mr. Pomoma. “ ‘There are people,’ he told me once, ‘and there are persons. Ninety-nine in a hundred belong to the first group. Only one belongs in the second.’ Do you agree with that, Ronan?”

   “No. Not really.”

   “Oh? What about that do you disagree with?”

   “It’s not ninety-nine in a hundred,” answered Ronan. “It’s more like nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine in ten thousand.”

   Another heavy silence descended. Mr. Pomoma seemed surprised by his answer, which concerned him, because he thought he might have crossed the line.

   Mr. Pomoma rubbed his chin. “Actually,” he said, “Mr. Watson didn’t say ninety-nine in a hundred. He too said nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine in ten thousand, as you just did. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, Ronan, from all over the world. Maybe thousands. You are the first to answer exactly as Mr. Watson did. People, Ronan. People.”

   He stood. “Excuse me.” He went around his desk and began typing again.

   The day outside had darkened. Dublin’s lights were flickering on, orange, distant, and indifferent. The sky had descended, gray and forlorn. Rivulets of drizzle ran down the big window panes, streaking the lights and giving everything a lonesome, angelic feel. Ronan thought that Lee might be worrying about him. He was, after all, quite overdue.

   Mr. Pomoma came back. “Mr. Watson is very concerned to bring persons into his fold, Ronan. When he made his fortune, he was betrayed by many, especially by several in his own company. They sold his secrets to competitors. Some were friends he had grown up with. He spent the equivalent of two decades in various courts around the world fighting them. Much of it you may know about. But much of it the public isn’t aware of at all. He won those cases, and the criminals were punished.

   “After that he became very concerned, one might even say obsessed, with finding persons. He perhaps more than anyone else on Earth knows just how rare they really are. Some mega-wealthy men seek treasures: ancient statues or Medieval art or what’s known colloquially these days as ‘experiences’—venturing to hard-to-reach places or eating some exotic, impossibly expensive dish. Whatever. That’s not Mr. Watson’s obsession. His obsession is finding persons. Not to collect, don’t get me wrong; not to treat as possessions or things. Never to objectify or demean or dehumanize. You can do that to a statue—treat it as a thing. That’s what almost everyone would do, even if it were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr. Watson knows that persons require freedom and the ability to become themselves. He wants to protect them with his fortune, and if they are so interested, to protect and further his interests.”

   Ronan was fascinated. This was so outside anything he’d ever experienced in the past—never mind job interviews!—that he couldn’t keep his curiosity at bay.

   “Mr. Pomoma ...”

   “Yes?”

   “Forgive the impertinence, but ...”

   “Ask anything, Ronan. I won’t be offended.”

   “Do you consider yourself ... a person?”

   Paolo Pomoma gave a single silent chuckle and glanced up momentarily at the ceiling. “I’d like to think I am. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? As soon as you become sure of it—that you’re a person—is the exact moment you in fact are just a ‘people.’ Your certainty stops the striving, the living, active humility, the struggle, the spirit. You freeze like those ancient statues. Am I a person? I don’t know. But what I do know is that with everything I am, I struggle for that ideal every day. Mr. Watson trusts me. He hired me—he hired Jordan Page, and Mrs. Alcott at reception, and Gail, and thousands of others since those legal battles.”

   “Have any of them let him down?”

   “Oh, certainly,” said Mr. Pomoma with a shrug. “It’s infinitely easy to judge individuals wrongly, which means it is as difficult to judge them correctly. Letting each other down is what humans do to one another. It doesn’t necessarily mean that individual is a people. The converse is true, too. Someone who doesn’t let you down isn’t necessarily a person. It’s much more complicated than that. It’s why, I believe, the search for Mr. Watson has become so singular.”

   “I’d think a battery of psych tests, that kind of thing, would be his preferred method.”

   “But that’s just it, don’t you see, Ronan? That’s just it! It isn’t necessarily about one’s psychology, but about one’s ontology, one’s deontology, one’s teleology. It’s about, at core, an individual’s soul. And while psych tests can point to such things, they are shallow pointers at best, and often quite deceptive. We are not determined automatons. We are free moral agents.”

   Ronan listened. He agreed, and so nodded. It wasn’t a sure nod, but one that had to have reflected his general astonishment.

   “So here’s the thing. Mr. Watson empowers me to make the critical decision to decide if an individual might be a person, someone worth knowing, someone who lives by his or her own dictates and not by the herd’s. My track record is by no means perfect, but it is one of the very best in the entire company. You never really know, of course, because individuals aren’t statues or fine works of art, and someone you’re sure is a ‘people’ sometimes, perhaps not often, but sometimes surprises you. That said, I have a very strong feeling about you, and so would like to offer you a position here at Yank-Willow Associates.”

   He had woken up this morning—a morning just like all the others in its desperate dismalness and isolation; a morning that promised in every way that the hours following would be no better and likely worse than those that came before. He had taken this interview for the shits and giggles; and he still didn’t know what the position being offered was, what it entailed, what its duties were, anything! He had woken this morning and now, just after sunset, found himself in an entirely different world.

   “I ... Mr. Pomoma, honestly ... I don’t know what to say. I guess I ... Thank you. Thank you. I ... uh ...”

   “You’re wondering what the hell you’re signing on with. You are signing on, Ronan? May I assume you are accepting our offer to join our company?”

   Ronan blinked. “Maybe I should hear ... uh ... more about what I’d be doing? I mean, I think I’d be terrible at sales....”

   Mr. Pomoma laughed. “You won’t be selling. You won’t be manning phones and harassing people to buy our products. You are being hired to further Mr. Watson’s business interests around the globe. Your exceptional people skills are going to be utilized, trained, and maximized. You, Ronan, are going to be the face of Yank-Willow Associates.”

   A morning just like all the others.

   Lee was going to flip her lid!

   “Ronan?”

   He came back to himself. “I’m sorry, Mr. Pomoma. This is all a bit sudden and difficult to take in.”

   “Just Paolo. You’re one of us now. Shall I discuss your compensation?”

   “Sure. Sure,” murmured Ronan.

   “It’s on a by-job basis. You have five initial or probationary assignments to undertake, along with two more interviews as you advance. As you complete each assignment, your project compensation increases. The first one will take you to Berlin. You will receive one hundred thousand pounds to start.”

   A morning like all the others!

   “A hundred...?”

   He couldn’t bring himself to speak the last bit of that number for fear that, like fairy dust or something else equally unlikely, it would evaporate into thin air.

   Paolo smiled companionably. “The days of starvation wages are over, Ronan. Even if you fail this first task, you get to keep the money.”

   “If I fail ... am I fired?”

   Paolo studied him. “Doubtful. You really do seem like someone Mr. Watson would cherish and respect. Those are our ultimate criteria. If you fail this first task, we will almost certainly reassign you. The money won’t be as eye-popping, but I can assure you that your days living in a slum and struggling to get out of debt are over. Let’s see how this first task goes first, shall we?”

   “Absolutely,” said Ronan. “Hit me with it. What do you want me to do?”

   “Jordan Page will be your permanently assigned mentor. He will accompany you on all five tasks, and will advise you before the following interviews should you make it so far as to attend them. Hit him up for information, logistical support, anything. He’ll be your guide and friend. Learn from him, Ronan. He’s a great man.”

   “Got it,” said Ronan, excited to find out about his first task.

   “The second thing is to ask how long you need to leave your current job.”

   Ronan almost couldn’t keep from bursting out with laughter. He snorted, then stopped himself in the middle of it. It must have looked and sounded quite silly.

   Paolo sat back patiently and watched him. He had been entirely serious.

   In Ronan’s mind echoed people versus persons.

   He pretended he had to cough, and did so, thinking how fake it must have sounded, then cleared his throat. “Uh ... Well, the manager’s a good bloke, and I’d hate to leave him short-handed. The standard two weeks should do it.”

   Paolo smiled. “Two weeks. From tomorrow?”

   “Tomorrow,” replied Ronan, taking in a huge, hopefully inconspicuous lungful of air. He’d just dodged a bullet, and knew it.

   “Give the office here a call to confirm that, would you?”

   “Absolutely.”

   “As for the job, as I said, it’s in Berlin. We need you to give someone some bad news and have him sign a contract.”

   “All right,” said Ronan, intrigued. It almost sounded like he was being hired to perform a mafia hit!

   “The man’s name is Gaupos Goutlos. Ever heard of him?”

   Ronan smirked. “ ‘Gallows’?” He was still processing the fact that the debts he and Lee owed to the mortgage company and other creditors were paid.

   “Goutlos,” said Paolo. “G-O-U-T-L-O-S. The ‘t’ is silent. German billionaire investor. We’re taking one of his prized subsidiaries—and at a bargain basement price too, and very much against his will. He won’t be happy to see us—you—walk into his office. You, on the other hand, Ronan, I suspect will be very happy to see him.”

   “Why is that?”

   “Because,” smiled Paolo, “Mr. Goutlos owns a number of companies, several here in Ireland, including GG Mortgage and Lending—who recently foreclosed on your home in Carlingford.” 

~~*~~

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