258,525
07.03.2019

Men are the same way. It’s so going to happen again. But she doesn’t need to know that at the moment.

“Okay.”

“Good.”

“Great.”

She whispers, “Fine.”

Fine’s a funny word, don’t you think? I don’t think there’s another like it in the English language that says so much while actually saying so little. How many wives have told their husbands, “I’m fine,” when they really mean, “I want to cut your balls off with a butcher knife”? How many men have told their girlfriends, “You look fine,” when they really mean, “You need to go back to the gym and work out—a lot.” It’s the universal way of saying we’re just peachy—when we’re really anything but.

“Fine,” I repeat, looking down at the papers on my desk.

And then she’s out the door, and I spend the next ten minutes staring after her, replaying last night over and over in my mind.

Hey, you know another word that can mean the opposite of what it’s supposed to?

Fucked.

Which is exactly what I’m going to be if I don’t get my head out of my ass and back in the game by seven o’clock tonight.

Our dinner meeting is well under way. Although I’ve done a lot of the talking, it’s Kate that has Saul Anderson completely charmed. If I wasn’t in such a pissy mood, I’d admit that she’s working this meeting like a pro. But I am, so I’m not telling anyone but you.

She laughs at some story Anderson just finished telling before he excuses himself to go to the john. I take a drink of my wine, wishing it was whiskey.

Kate turns to me, freshman excitement dancing in her eyes. “So this is going really well, isn’t it? I mean, I definitely think he’s interested, don’t you?”

I shrug. “Depends on what you’re trying to sell him.”

“What are you talking about? I’m selling us—our proposal, our investment firm.”

I’m being a prick—yes, I know.

“Really? ’Cause it seems like you’re offering him something else entirely.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Come on, Kate. You went to Wharton. I think you can figure out exactly what I’m saying.”

“I have been completely professional…”

“You’d be more subtle if you ripped open your blouse and shoved your tits in his face.”

Okay, that was uncalled for. And I actually consider apologizing.

But before I can form the words, ice-cold liquid seeps through my pants and into my crotch. From the glass of water Kate just poured into my lap.

“Are you f**king crazy?” I whisper harshly, trying not to make a scene as I jump up and wipe at the stain with a napkin.

“Everything all right here?”

It’s Anderson. He’s back and looking from me to Kate. I shrug awkwardly as Kate smiles and tells him, “Everything’s fine.”

There’s that word again. See what I mean?

“Drew just had a little mishap with his water glass. You know boys—can’t take them anywhere.”

Anderson laughs and sits back down, while I weigh my chances for an acquittal. The one I’ll need after I strangle Kate Brooks.

An hour later, we’re waiting for coffee and dessert. Kate has left the table. I’m thinking her bladder must have been seconds from rupturing for her to actually leave me alone with Anderson.

He observes me for a moment and then says, “I like what I’ve seen here tonight, Drew. Very impressive.”

“Thanks, Saul.”

In business, always use first names. It’s not disrespectful. It shows that you’re an equal—in the same league. That’s huge.

“And based on what you’ve shown me, I’m ready to give Evans, Reinhart and Fisher my business.”

Yes! Break out the champagne, baby.

“I’m pleased to hear that. I think this deal is going to be very profitable for both—that is, all of us.” Can’t forget Kate, right? As if she would let me. “You can put your complete confidence in Kate and me. We won’t let you down.”

He fingers his crystal glass. “Right. About that. Before I sign, I have only one contingency.”

This kind of thing happens all the time. Not a big deal.

“Go ahead, Saul. I’m sure we can provide whatever you need.”

“I’m happy to hear that. So, why don’t you have that darling girl of yours—Kate—bring the contracts by my place tonight, around midnight.” He hands me a business card, and I feel like there’s a boulder in my stomach.

Can you feel it too?

“Here’s where I’m staying. You have her bring the papers…alone.”

You know on TV when there’s one of those awkward, shocking moments and all you hear are the crickets in the background?

Well chirp-f**king-chirp. This is one of those moments.

“I’m not sure I…”

“Oh, sure you do, Drew. You know how it is. When a man’s working late and needs a little…comfort. A distraction.”

How about my foot up your ass, Saul? How’d that be for distraction?

“And that girl of yours is one prime piece. My business will bring your firm millions in revenue. And that’s not including the additional clients you’ll get once word gets around that I’m with you. I’d say a little after-hours servicing is a small price to pay, wouldn’t you?”

He makes sense—in a sick, perverted, registered-sex-offender kind of way. But do you think that matters? Hell no. I stand up. I’m afraid of what I’ll do if I have to look at his smug, shit-eating grin another minute.

I throw a dozen bills on the table and tell him, “That’s not the kind of business we’re in. If that’s the sort of deal you’re looking for, Forty-Second Street is about ten blocks that way. I’m no pimp, and Katherine Brooks is certainly not a whore. This meeting is over.”

Aren’t you proud of me? I am. Though what I just said was in no way satisfying, it was professional—dignified. I kept it together. I didn’t even call him the ass-licking, dick-bag piece of steaming dog shit that I think he is. Go me.

I walk toward the bar area in the next room, and I’m fuming. Can you see the steam coming out of my ears? No? Well, obviously you’re not looking hard enough. That guy’s got some set of balls. To f**king suggest that Kate…Kate is more than just a pretty face. She’s brilliant. And funny. And—okay, maybe she’s not nice, but I’m sure she could be if she didn’t hate my guts. In any case, she deserves better—more respect—than what she just got. So much more.

That’s when I see her, walking past the bar on her way back from the restroom. She spots me and walks over, a smile spread across her face.

“So? How’d it go? He’s with us, isn’t he? I knew it, Drew! I knew the minute we showed him our projections he was done. And I know working together hasn’t been the easiest thing, but I think your father was right. We do make a pretty good team, don’t we?”

I swallow hard. I look down at her hand on my arm and then back up into those sweet, innocent eyes, and…I just can’t do it. I can’t tell her.

“I blew it, Kate. Anderson’s not interested.”

“What? What do you mean? What happened?”

I stare at my nine-hundred-dollar shoes. “I screwed up. Can we just get out of here?”

When I look back up, her face is a mask of confused sympathy. Here I just told her that I blew the account—our account—and there’s not a trace of anger in her expression. God, I’m such an a**hole.

“Well, let me talk to him. Maybe I can fix this.”

I shake my head, “No, you can’t.”

“Let me at least try.”

“Kate, wait…” But she’s already walking away, toward the table where Anderson still sits.

You ever been on the freeway, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic? And when you finally get to the head of the line, you realize the backup is because of an accident? Maybe not a bad one—maybe just a fender bender that’s already been moved to the side of the road. And all that traffic—all that wasted time—is because every driver who passes the scene has to slow down and take a look.

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? And you swear that when you pass by, you’re not going to look—just on principle alone. But when you get there, and you’re driving past the dented doors and flashing lights and smashed bumpers, what do you do?

You slow down and look. You didn’t want to, but you can’t help it. It’s morbid. Absurd. But that’s human nature for you. Watching Kate walk up to Anderson feels just like looking at the aftermath of an accident. And no matter how much I want to—I just can’t look away.

She stands next to his chair, a perfect, professional smile on her lips. If you look closely, you’ll see the moment when what he’s asking for registers in her mind. See how her smile freezes? Her brow wrinkles slightly because she can’t actually believe he’s suggesting what he is. And then she’s stiff and unsure. Should she tell him to go f**k a duck? Should she laugh it off or politely refuse? While the wheels are turning in Kate’s head, Anderson takes his finger—can you see the slime dripping off it?—and trails it slowly down her bare arm.

And that’s it. I snap out of my stupor. And I see red. Bright, neon, Technicolor red.

You ever see A Christmas Story? You know toward the end when Ralphie beats the ever-loving shit out of the bully? I hope to God you’ve seen it. Because then you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say I’m about to go real f**king Ralphie on this son of a bitch.

I walk over and put myself in front of Kate. “Touch her again and I’m going to throw you through that windowpane. They’ll be picking pieces of you up off Fifty-Forth for days.”

He chuckles. Sounds like the Crypt Keeper, doesn’t he?

“Calm down, Son.”

Son? Is this dipshit for real?

“You know something, Drew. I like you.”

Now there is a concept that scares the piss out of me.

“I need a man like you around,” he continues. “Someone who’s not afraid to speak his mind. To tell me what he really thinks. It seems as though my…contingency isn’t going to be met. But I’m going to sign with you and your firm anyway. What do you think of that?” He leans back in his chair and takes a sip of his wine. Completely confident in the fact that I will disregard anything he’s said or done for the chance to get my hands on his money.

“I’m going to say a great big no to that, Saul. See, we have this company policy: we don’t deal with limp-dick, Viagra-popping, dirtbag motherfuckers who try to use their position to coerce women—young enough to be their daughters—into bed. Go peddle your shit somewhere else. We aren’t buying.”

Our stares are locked on one another like two wolves on the Discovery Channel when he says, “Think carefully, Son. You’re making a mistake.”

❮❯