She had cried. It was impossible for him not to as well. She didn’t speak; she held him; and later they made love. That felt real to him. In a day whose shapes and colors bled together and passed like a dream, their passion felt like an anchor. She insisted that he not move off of her when he came, but stay. She fell asleep soon after, her arms wrapped securely around him. He feared he might crush her, but she didn’t seem to notice. When his shoulders began to fall asleep, he gently moved off her and went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet for a long time.
Jordan held out
his hand. Ronan took it. “Well done, my friend, well done. Shall we?”
half-filled both glasses and handed him one, then handed him the plate. Ronan
took a slice of lime and squeezed it into the glass. Jordan held up his glass.
back. “It feels good to be alive, doesn’t it?”
“I was in a gang when I was a kid. They don’t give you any trouble, do they?”
He extended his hand, and Lee took it. “Please, Mr. Page, come on in.”
Did what happened today actually happen? Did he just get offered a job—potentially a career—with Karl Watson’s company? A job—maybe a career—that started at a hundred thousand pounds? An opportunity that manifested simply because he took the time to help an old man change a tire in a downpour as everyone else drove by?
He stood, wiped, flushed the toilet, and stepped into the shower. It was past ten o’ clock and he was getting hungry, so after drying off he tip-toed into the kitchen to make a grilled cheese sandwich. He glanced at Lee as she slept. Her face was angelic and untroubled.
As he ate he replayed everything that happened this impossible day.
He didn’t have to take the bus home after the interview. Jordan Page was waiting at the entrance with a smile.
“I think I’ve been hired,” answered Ronan.
“You’re not taking the bus home. C’mon.”
They got into the lift. A minute later they walked through the lobby. A navy Mercedes-Benz limo waited at the curb.
motioned. Ronan goggled at him, then the limo, then back. “Really?”
“We do things in style,” offered
The driver opened the back door, and Ronan climbed in, followed by Jordan, who said, “Thanks, Stan. Know where to go?”
“No problems, Mr. Page. You comfortable there, Mr. Sutton?”
“Y-Yeah, thanks? ... Thanks ...”
Stan closed the door, came around, and got in. He was a big man, black, with a closely cropped moustache and goatee. His accent was American, not far off from
didn’t wear servant’s clothes or a cap, but a very nice tailored blue suit.
Ronan wondered if he didn’t also double as a bodyguard. He looked like he could
easily hold his own in a fight.
He pulled away from the curb. Ronan watched as the Marriott disappeared from view.
“A little celebration snort?” offered
reaching for a fine crystal decanter and two glasses.
Ronan eyed the decanter. “Uh ... I better not.”
“Oh, no,” said
Jordan with an
apologetic glance. He held up the decanter. “Sparkling mineral water.” He opened
a small door in a fine wooden cabinet in front of him and pulled out a plate of
sliced lemon and lime. “With a vitamin C kick. Whaddya say?”
Ronan chuckled with relief. “Absolutely. Thanks.”
They clinked glasses and drank.
It didn’t taste like generic mineral water, but something vaguely similar and entirely surprising. Whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t Perrier.
finishing his glass in two gulps. Ronan continued drinking his slowly. Jordan gave his
knee a couple of hard slaps. “I feel really good about this, Ronan. I really
do. I’ve got a feeling you’ve got something really terrific to offer
The limo was whisper-quiet and smooth as silk. Stan was an excellent driver.
“Uh ... sure,” replied Ronan.
“What’s your pleasure?”
He thought of Mom then, quite unexpectedly, and so said, “Some American swing, maybe?”
That seemed to impress
greatly, who nodded approvingly. “Stan the man,” he called out, “how about some
“You’ve got it, Mr. Page.”
Stan said, “Glenn Miller, Earl. And keep ‘em comin’.”
A moment later “Moonlight Serenade” came on.
“I haven’t felt that in quite a while,” admitted Ronan, wondering who—and where—Earl was. All of this was so damned extraordinary that it felt, genuinely, like a dream.
“It isn’t supposed to be such a shit-show,” grunted
Jordan. “Ninety-five percent of the
suffering and misery in our lives doesn’t have to be there. It’s there because
other people want it to be there. They profit off it. Ever think of that?”
Ronan chuckled humorlessly. “All the time.”
“Let’s talk about the next two weeks, whaddya say?”
“Absolutely,” said Ronan with a ready nod.
“We’ve got two ways we can go. It all depends on your schedule. If you’d like, we can begin to get you up to speed, get you outfitted and all the rest of it after you get home from work. We’d need, say, three hours a day. If that’s too much, we can wait until you’re done at the Topaz two weeks from now. I completely understand how it feels after a long day and you just want to get home to the missus and hang out and relax. What are your thoughts?”
Ronan considered for a moment. “I typically work mornings and early afternoons. I get home by two each day—I think; I’ll have to check the latest schedule to be certain—so I’d be up to getting me up to speed, sure. I don’t think Lee will mind.”
“She’s more than welcome to join us,” said
“I’ve yet to make her acquaintance. Paolo says she’s a firecracker.”
Ronan gave a quick grin. “I think she’ll be working those days. Still, I’m sure she’ll be grateful for the offer. I’ll at least tell her.”
“Do. Give me a call when you’ve got a handle on your schedule. We’ll go from there.”
The limo pulled up the apartment building and stopped. Ronan felt certain no one in this neighborhood had ever seen a limo anywhere near here. A group of teen boys with a couple of girls, all covered in tattoos, piercings, and wearing straight black hairstyles and plenty of similarly colored leather, glared in their direction.
“Naw,” said Ronan as Stan got out, walked around the car, and opened the door. “A couple of ‘em pop in to the Topaz to buy smokes.” He extended his hand and
Jordan took it.
“Thanks for the lift, Jordan.
I’ll call as soon as I check my schedule.”
“I think this is going to be a great partnership,” said
Jordan. “See you tomorrow, Ronan.”
Ronan waved again as he got to the building’s door. One of the kids piped up, “Runnin’ drugs, white?”
“Not today,” chuckled Ronan, and went in.
“Do you think I should?”
Ronan shook his head. “I suppose it could all be a big pile of shit. I just don’t think so.”
“What if you find out in ten days that you don’t want it after all, even despite the money? What then? What if they’ve hired you to do real shit work, or to take the fall for one of their own mucky-mucks? Maybe you’re being set up.”
“I suppose that could happen. I doubt it, though. Look,” he leaned forward and grasped her hand, “it could all be crap, yeah. We could find ourselves on the streets, sure. You having a crap job and me being jobless won’t stop that at that point. So yeah, I think you should. Have some faith. We’ll be okay. Don’t forget—this might just work out. It’s not a hundred large clams per year, but per job!”
“No tellin’ how long that job will last, though, or when you get your first check, or what you’re supposed to do for that money.”
“Know what? Right now I don’t care. C’mon, Lee, take a chance. Quit that shit job tomorrow. Have some faith with your husband, eh?”
She held up, then leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder. “Okay.”
“I think that’s a first,” grumbled Mack as he came around the counter to shake Ronan’s hand.
“A first?” asked Ronan.
“Not a single employee has ever given me a two-week notice before. Makes me feel like a proper executive-type, it does. Thanks for that, Ronan.”
They held the grip for a moment longer. “I wouldn’t have felt good leavin’ you in the lurch like that, Mack. You’re a good boss.”
He thought of how, in the interview, just how close he’d come to doing just that.
“And you’re a damn righteous employee,” returned Mack. “Tell me more about this new job of yours.”
Ronan thought for a second. “I’m going to be a company rep.”
“Nah. More like ...” he had to guess at what he thought he might actually be doing “... more like a project guy who sees that things get done for the company.”
“You said it was ... who again?”
“Who the hell is Yank-Willow?”
“It’s one of Karl Watson’s companies.”
“The Karl Watson? The trillionaire? The battery guy?”
Ronan chuckled. “Yeah. That one.”
“How the hell did you get a plum gig like that?”
He thought he might tell him about changing Watson’s tire, but immediately vetoed it. Who would even believe that story? He had trouble believing it!
“I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who works there. That kind of thing,” lied Ronan, shrugging.
“Well, thanks for giving me a few months of honest, hard labor, Ronan. No stealin’ from the till, no eatin’ from the snacks without payin’, no shirkin’ cleanin’ the loo, none of it. Good things never last, I suppose.”
He dialed Lee from Mack’s office phone at lunch and was surprised when she picked up right away. “Where are you at?”
“On the bus home. I quit.”
“I thought we agreed that you’d give them two weeks, like I did here.”
“My fuckworth manager decided to get into it with me. I was all nicey-nicey: I went up to her and asked if I could get a minute of her time, gave her my big kiss-ass of a smile, the works. When I sat down with her in the break room to tell her, she got all pissy with me, like she’s got no one else in the whole of feckin’ Ireland to fill my shoes! She demanded I give her a month—a month!—to quit, and then tried to tell me if I quit in two weeks, I won’t be paid for six after that because of some sort of paperwork backlog bullshit. Six weeks! That was the final straw. I told her I’d be suing her and the company if I didn’t get my final check next week, and that I wasn’t quitting in two weeks, I was quitting right then, and that she could pucker up and kiss my pasty-white ass!”
“Christ,” muttered Ronan.
“Yeah! She followed me out, and when I got to the bus stop kept yelling at me and demanding I go back in, and that she was going to see to it that I couldn’t draw benefits by claiming she fired me!”
“I’m really sorry, babe.”
“I think I’m having a panic attack, Ro. I can’t breathe, my heart’s beatin’ like a fucking jungle drum, I’m sweaty and exhausted and so fucking scared. I just want to drown myself in a fifth of bourbon, I do.”
“I figured I’d go to one before I went home. It’s back in that sad candy shoppe.”
“Will you be all right?”
“I don’t want to believe any of it. It’s all a scam. That’s all the back of my brain is screaming. It’s a goddamned scam! We’re on our last legs and we’re gonna end up eatin’ canned soup in an alley. I can’t stop the images. I can’t let myself believe any of it!”
“I’m struggling too, baby, believe me.”
“Did you give Mack your two weeks’?”
“Yep. Went well.”
“It feels like a precipice. Like a feckin’ cliff.”
“That’s because it is. I’ll see you in a couple of hours, all right?”
“Yeah. Okay. Love you.”
“Love you too. Have a good meeting.”
and gave him the schedule for his final two weeks at Topaz.
“Got it. Last day the thirteenth, then?”
“That’s it,” said Ronan.
“Today you’ll be home by ... 2?”
“How about I come by and pick you up around 4? That gives you time to kiss the firecracker if she’s there and collect yourself, get some lunch, that sort of thing. Whaddya say?”
“No problemo. See you then.”
Ronan put the phone down and gazed up at the clock. His lunch break was over. (In truth it wasn’t a lunch break as much as it was a brunch break: it was just past 10 in the morning.) He stood and took one more big gulp of cold coffee from the styrofoam cup and went back out to the cash register, where he relieved his soon-to-be-former boss.
Lee was waiting for him at the door. She didn’t look panicked; if anything she seemed at ease. He kissed her and asked.
“I don’t know ...” she shrugged. She didn’t let him go, but held on to him like she hadn’t seen him in months. “I don’t. Faith? Panic that has gone beyond all feeling? Maybe it’s true what they say about the condemned as they walk to the gallows: that they experience a final fearless resolve. Maybe that’s me. A few of the same people who were at the meeting the other night were at this one. They kept looking at me hopefully, as though they wanted me to lose my shit again. I felt bad for them.”
“You inspired them. You inspired me, too. Hell, you inspired a mucky-muck from one of the world’s biggest corporations!”
She squeezed tighter. “Jesus, Ro. Just be honest with me. How close did you come to driving by that Rolls like everyone else? Be honest. Please.”
Ronan thought. The truth was, he had driven by loads of folks stranded on the side of the road in the past. Some were fixing tires; others had their cars’ hoods up while radiators boiled over; still others were completely carless but looking like they needed a quick lift. He had picked a small percentage up, sure; and he had given assistance when he could. That was a smaller percentage still. So why did he stop for that car, the one that just happened to be driven by none other than the world’s wealthiest and arguably most influential man?
He was late for a phone interview! He had a solid, no-bullshit reason for doing what everyone else did, and pass that Rolls right on by! So why didn’t he?
“I came very close,” he whispered.
She squeezed him even tighter.
Lee kept a steady eye on the street from the balcony. At 4:25, according to their kitchen clock, the limousine pulled up. Lee hurried inside. “A limo just pulled up and a bald guy just got out! Is that
Ronan nodded nervously. He adjusted his tie—he had no idea how he should dress, so he went for the full business formal look—and glanced at Lee. “Well, shut the door. Don’t want to make us look any more desperate than we are!”
“Oh yeah, right,” she murmured, and quickly closed the door.
She looked quite good. She had dressed in a conservative skirt and blouse—the same she had worn to her interviews for nursing. “How do I look?” she insisted, pulling her short hair over her ears and smiling nervously.
Ronan nodded approvingly. “Perfect. You look perfect.”
They heard the lift, heard it stop, heard footsteps approach, louder and louder from the dingy hallway, and then: three strong knocks at the door.
Lee gave him one final look of desperation. It quickly changed into panicked determination. She forced a smile to her lips, quietly cleared her throat, and went to the door and opened it. Ronan stood a few steps behind her, which was basically in the kitchen.
“Hello!” came Jordan Page’s voice. “You must be Lee! It’s a real pleasure to meet you!”