In a sleep rough voice, Alex answered her ringing telephone, "Yes?"
"Alex Reardon, please?" the female caller asked.
Not caring to offend the caller, Alex did not clear her throat, although the temptation to do so was great. "Yes, may I help you?"
"I am calling to confirm today's 10:30 appointment with Mr. Aeolus P. Cerigo."
"Yes, I can confirm that time," Alex said, prepared to answer further questions, hoping her rough voice did not make her sound ill.
"Thank you." The caller responded and ended the call. Alex blinked her eyes upon hearing a click, and then the dial tone, somewhat surprised at the short and impersonal phone call.
Alex groaned as she sat up and put both hands on her cheeks idly brushing the mass of hair out of her eyes, finally able to clear her throat. "Damn," she croaked, and walked across the room to close the window. When she stayed up late, she slept on her back with her mouth open and woke up with a raspy voice and a dry throat.
After a shower, extra time spent French braiding the sides and back of her hair, and a light application of makeup, she was moving from her dresser drawers to the open door of her closet, mumbling to herself. "Suit, make that a dark suit, white blouse, no cleavage, plain underwear, dark stockings, and low heels." Finally closing the latch on her wristwatch, the last thing she looked for was a piece of jewelry to wear on the lapel of her suit. She wanted something plain, sedate, but definitely not frivolous, "Oh yes, the antique silver filigree bow. Now where are those silver earrings?"
Standing in front of the full-length mirror, she took a deep breath and a critical look at herself. Although she was slender, at less than 120 pounds, the double-breasted suit hid some of her figure, which was the intent. It was impossible to hide that she was a female, but the cut of the coat, which she had tailored to fit, disguised her generous breasts without allowing the front of the coat to gap. It was well worth the expense. The slight flare of the skirt, rather than being pencil thin, hung straight, without being skintight and fully covered her knees. If she did not stoop, her 5 foot 9 inch height would not intimidate any man, unless he was very short, and there was no solution for that problem.
Alex considered wearing the dark framed glasses, to appear more business like, but she didn't put them on. Instead, just in case she changed her mind, she put them in her briefbag. She used glasses for a small amount of magnification when doing close work, not vision correction. In her opinion, she looked as much like a businessperson as was possible, for someone her age. Short of drawing artificial lines to her face, she couldn't hide that she was just barely twenty-two years old. It was, after all, her first job application. She had no work experience, absolutely none, not even flipping burgers in high school, or even a research assistant in college.
Catching the door before it closed, Alex went back into her apartment, and picked up her large artist's portfolio case, too. She submitted the drawings the letter asked for, but Aeolus P. Cerigo may want to see more of her work. She could show him all of the sketches done before she selected the four to send with the application.
Although Alex had suffered through the typical job application process, most of which she managed to do by mail and telephone, she hoped this personal interview was the final step. She arrived a few minutes early and although the middle-aged woman sitting at the desk seemed a little unsure Alex was in the right office, she did look at the list of names on a printed sheet at the corner of her desk and acknowledged that Alex did have a 10:30 appointment.
Alex sat quietly through four other applicants going in and out the door on the other side of the room. One after another, each applicant followed the middle-aged woman who opened the inner office door, announced the applicant, closed the door behind the applicant, and then returned to her desk. During the interim, the woman sat, typing on a computer keyboard, while listening to a dictation machine. Without exception, each of the four applicants to precede Alex remained in the inner office for less than fifteen minutes. Alex sat, as patiently as possible, growing slightly more nervous as the minute hand on the clock crept slowly upward.
A few minutes before 11:00, the woman stood and asked, "Alex Reardon?" Alex followed as the woman turned and walked to the inner office door, opened the door, stepped inside, and announced "Alex Reardon."
Across the room, a man was sitting behind a desk, with several large sheets of vellum spread on the surface of the desk. From behind one drawing, which he was holding up to eye level, in a heavy accent he announced, "This job you will have, if you match this signature. This drawing, I like. Others, they are childish trash."
"That is my drawing," Alex acknowledged. She could see through the vellum. It was her drawing of a staircase inside a historical building downtown.
The hands holding the sheet of vellum slammed the paper on the desk as the man rose to his feet, "A girl? You are a girl?" His eyes flashed at Alex, his anger obvious. Had she been standing any nearer, Alex felt certain the flames of his anger would have singed her.
Alex swallowed, lifted her chin, and announced, "Actually, I am a female. I am a little old to be called a girl."
Growling, the man advanced around the desk, "This position, it is not for the female." His accent made each word hard and crisp, leaving no doubt to his preference. He did not want a female as his artist. His slightly lopsided mouth smirked at her. She suspected it was an effort to intimidate her.
"That, Mister Cerigo, is discrimination." Alex reminded him. Her knees were wobbling. She was sure of her information, but the man's size and anger was startling.
Alex had expected to meet a man much older than the one she saw standing before her. Aeolus P. Cerigo had a local, national, and international reputation, for the work he did in designing private residences for the famous and infamous. He was at least 6 foot 4 inches tall, or more. Dark haired and dark eyed, the suit he wore made him look like he had football pads on the shoulders, if not on the thighs, hips, and across the chest. The man was intimidating. He knew it, and he was using it-at that very moment-against her.
Tempted to take a step back, because the man was towering over her, Alex stood where she was.
This was the best job she could ever hope to have and if she had to challenge this man, she would do so. Before applying for the position, Alex had studied Cerigo's work, spent hours in the library looking through reference books and out of date magazines, at descriptions and photos of some of his creations. His style, use of materials, design, and follow through on his projects, was legendary. To work with a man like him would be a dream come true. Alex was not going to allow a little fear to keep her from giving every ounce of effort needed to convince him she could do what he wanted.
However, in none of her research did she learn anything about the man, personally. From her research about his experience and the volume of his work, Alex had expected to meet an older man. Instead, the man before her appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties. There was no feathering of executive gray at his temples. The straight lines of his square jaw showed no fleshiness. Aeolus P. Cerigo was in his prime, aggressive, and beyond intimidating.
"What is this name, Alex? Is this the feminine of Alexandria, Alexia, Alexis?" He spit each name out, disdain in every syllable, as he waved one large hand in the air.
"No. My name is Alex Maria Reardon. Alex is not a shortened form of any other name."
"Who would do this to the girl? The father, he would do this, expecting the son?"
"I'm not sure that is any of your concern, but I will answer. I do not have a father."
Grinning, instead of laughing out loud, the man looked her up and down. "This is not possible. The woman does not have the child without a man."
Gritting her teeth at the sexual innuendo, Alex stared at him, "He was killed before I was born." She was not going to give him any more information.
"You," Cerigo commanded, pointing to a chair in front of his desk. "Sit."
Alex took two small steps forward and stopped because the man stood in her path to the chair he wanted her to occupy. "Excuse me?" Alex looked up at his dark eyes, indicating she wanted him to step aside. She was not going to give him the satisfaction of walking around him and the chair to do as he asked.
His about face would have satisfied any drill sergeant. Although he returned to the other side of his desk, Cerigo did not sit down. Instead, he lifted the 24x36 drawing and turned it, sliding it across the desk. "This? This is your work? You sign this, again. Now. I watch."
Alex slid to the edge of her seat and held out her hand. As if it was not a part of her body, she dared her hand to tremble. "May I have a pencil, please?"
Rather then place the pencil in her hand, the man slapped it on top of the drawing. Alex picked up the mechanical pencil, tested the lead on the lower right corner of the paper, where several other test marks appeared and easily signed her name, directly below the signature she had applied before she submitted the drawing. Rather than return the pencil to the man, she put it down and slid back in her seat. She crossed her ankles, moved her feet to the side of her chair, and folded her hands loosely in her lap.
.... There is more of this story ...