I’d been at the Wolf’s Lair til closing the night before. Not for any special reason. Just because. I dragged myself into the office. The place had a foggy, unnatural air. I sat down. The message light on my phone was blinking. It made my head hurt. I checked the voice mail, to make it go away. Nothing urgent. That was a relief. I deleted a few dozen e-mails. Maybe some of them were important. I couldn’t really tell.
The phone rang. Please hold for Mr. Warwick.
Shit. Please hold for Mr. Warwick. The lard-ass can’t dial four digits for himself. Has to delegate it.
I heard an unsubstantiated rumor.
They’re the best kind.
Someone resembling you was seen in the elevator this morning. Yes?
At ten forty-five.
Well, yes. I’ve got plantar fasciitis. Very painful. Something to do with tendons in the arches. Common in basketball players. Anyway, I change my shoes when I get to the office.
Well, I don’t doubt you, Redman. I really don’t. Well then. But we’ve got to think of morale.
All right then.
Yes. I’ll think about it. Morale, that is.
Good. Good. You think about that.
Yes, I will.
Jesus. What was wrong with these people?
I’d never figure it out.
My stomach hurt. My head felt light and heavy at the same time. I thought about the hours of my shrink’s time my conversation with Warwick was going to eat up, at two hundred dollars per. Time that could much better be spent talking about my sex life. Why I didn’t have one.
All I could do was close my door. Pretend it wasn’t there. This job. My life.
And call Dorita.
Guess what now? I said.
Don’t tell me.
But I must. Listen here, darling. They’re monitoring my appearance in the morning.
Them. They. You know, the ubiquitous, omnipotent, omnivorous They.
I do. I know them well. Pesky.
Yes. Get over here.
In seconds she was at my office door.
Ricky? she inquired.
Her legs were impossibly long. Her back was army straight. Her breasts, voluptuous. To be desired.
But not for me. No. I’d thought about it, more than once. Something in my wiser self had held me back, appraised the situation and realized, as clear as vodka in a martini glass, that this was not a good idea. Not at all.
So, we were friends. And friends we would remain.
Dorita closed the office door behind her.
Why did I ever get into this business? I asked.
Because you’re brilliant at it. Come on, Ricky, do I have to tell you that every day?
Well, yes. If you don’t, who will?
You’ve got a point. Anyway, what’s today’s little crisis?
That damn Warwick again, what else? He thinks I’m bad for morale. Dorita pulled out a cigarette and a platinum blowtorch of a lighter. The blue flame shot a good six inches toward the ceiling. She sat down, took a generous haul of the smoke, blew it decisively about the room.
That’s a laugh, she said.
Of course it is. How can wearing sneakers in the elevator compete with five-page memoranda about how to train your secretary to stop wasting file folders?
They’re a scarce resource.
So I understand. Damn, why did I ever get started in this business?
We already resolved that question.
That was a resolution?
As much as the topic merits.
I should have been a poker pro.
Yes, darling. And how does your poker bankroll stand today? Don’t lie now.
Minus eighteen thousand. But that was tuition. I don’t lose anymore.
That’s some expensive school you went to.
Yes, well. I did some stupid things.
Nobody never loses at poker.
You know what I mean. I’m in control now. I almost never lose. Long term, it’s a lock. I know that if I stay at the table long enough I’ll be up at the end of the night.
Let’s see. Maybe you could quit your job. Minus eighteen thousand times two – it’s been six months, right? – that’s minus thirty-six thousand a year. You could probably live on that. You’d have to cut back on those happy lunches at Michel’s though.
That’s what I love about you. Always a sympathetic ear.
The fact was, she was a sympathetic ear, in her twisted way. Or, rather, more than that. She was my eccentric anchor in the heaving seas of temptation. Had I been less embarrassed about it, had shared with her, somewhere along the way, my bad luck streak, and that my cure for it had been to raise the stakes to get back all that money quick, it never would have happened. Or at least it would have stopped somewhere short of eighteen thousand. She’d have kicked some sense into me.
I’d like to kill him, I said. I really would.
That’s quite a segue.
Isn’t it, though? I rather liked it myself.
Twist my arm.