Charlie Owens walked past the reception desk in the lobby of Tyler, Dallas and Harrison, trying to look as nonchalant as he could. If the fair-haired twenty-one year old was lucky, anyone would assume he was just back from a coffee break, and not coming in two hours late. He had just about made it when Brenda Peters, the law firm’s receptionist, looked up from the papers she had been reading and called out his name.
“Shit, I am so busted,” the clerk thought as he came to a sudden stop.
Turning to face the middle aged woman, Charlie had to admit that he had no one to blame but himself. No one had forced him to stay out so late on a Wednesday night, and then fall into a dead sleep that a dozen alarm clocks wouldn’t have roused him from.
Going out to see the new gangster film starring Marlon Brando hadn’t been in his plans when he’d sat down to dinner last night, but a call from Mark Willis, one of his best friends since grade school, had changed all that. Recently back from a tour in Vietnam, Mark was one of the few people he couldn’t say no to.
Then, after the film, which both of them agreed has been great, especially that new actor that had played the Godfather’s son, Mark had suggested they stop at Clancy’s on the way home and have a drink. Unfortunately, once the old time veterans who frequented the bar heard that Mark was recently back from the ‘Nam, they insisted on buying him round after round. Thankfully they hadn’t been as generous as far as Charlie was concerned and he managed to stretch out his drinks, while Mark got totally ripped. Mark, however, didn’t need to get up for work in the morning.
“Oh, hi, Brenda,” Charlie said, trying to sound innocent while he put on the best smile he could manage.
“Late start today?” the buxom woman said with an equally wide smile.
His first reaction was to laugh and say he’d been in for hours, but then he thought better of it. Brenda had been with the firm since before he’d hit puberty and it was generally known that she was better than a time clock in keeping track of everyone’s comings and goings.
“Oh, don’t worry, honey, I’m not going to turn you in,” she said with a soft laugh, pausing just long enough to watch the look of concern on his face to turn into one of relief. “Late night?” she asked.
Charlie didn’t answer, but the look on his face said it had been.
“I hope she was worth it,” Brenda offered.
“Thanks, Brenda, I really owe you,” Charlie said, his gratitude genuine as he remembered how angry his boss had been the last time he was late.
“You know, one of these days, Chuck,” Brenda said with a grin that could only be described as mischievous, “I might have a mind to call you on that, and you never know what I might want in return.”
Charlie smiled again, wondering not for the first time if Brenda was actually serious or just jerking his chain. Despite being old enough to be his mother, she always referring to him with terms of affection, as well as making remarks that could be considered inappropriate. He never really thought about it much at first, but noticed over time that he was the only one in the office she acted that way with. Deciding that now was not the time to really try and figure it out, he turned to head in the direction of his desk, but was again stopped by Brenda as she explained why she had called out to him in the first place.
“Mr. Harrison asked me to watch out for you this morning and to make sure that you got the message that he wanted to see you after his eleven o’clock meeting,” she said, glancing up at the wall clock and noting that the aforementioned meeting had started a few minutes before.
“No problem, I’ll just head over to Steve’s desk now and wait for him to come back,” Charlie said, still relieved that the day wasn’t turning out as bad as he originally thought it would.
“I’m not talking about Steve,” Brenda said, clarifying her statement. “I’m referring to Mr. Harrison, senior, and he wants to see you in his office.”
“What?” Charlie said in surprise. “Are you sure he meant me?” he added, a sense of worry now back in his voice.
“He meant you, Chuckie boy. I asked him that same question,” Brenda replied, “and since his eleven o’clock is only supposed to be a fifteen minute meeting, I suggest you take that cute little ass of yours over there mighty quick.”
Now actually worried about what was going on, Charlie didn’t even notice that comment about his ass. All he could think of as he rushed down the corridor towards partners’ row was, what had he done wrong?
Brendon Harrison was the uncle of Steve Harrison, whom Charlie had met in college and had helped him get his job. One of the founders of the firm and the only name partner still practicing, Charlie had only met the man three or four times, of which two had been short introductions by his nephew. In fact, if they passed in the hall, Charlie would’ve bet his paycheck that the senior lawyer wouldn’t have known him from the kid they usually sent out for coffee.
“I was told that Mr. Harrison wanted to see me,” Charlie said as he stepped up to the desk of the partner’s personal secretary, trying hard not to show his anxiety.
“And you are?” Paula Madison, who was about ten years older than Charlie, said with a look of annoyance.
“Charlie Owens,” he said.
“I don’t see anything on his schedule,” the light-skinned black woman said after checking the appointment book.
“I was given the message by Brenda out at reception,” Charlie added, as if using her name gave it more authenticity. “She said he wanted to see me at eleven fifteen.”
At that, the expression on the well dressed woman turned from irritation to disapproval. In her mind, showing up at the last minute before a summons, and at his level it really shouldn’t be considered anything other than that, from a man of Mr. Harrison’s stature, could only be interpreted as a lack of respect.
“Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll let you know when he’s ready for you,” Paula said coldly, instantly dismissing him as she returned her attention to the papers in front of her.
Not more than a minute later, the door to the right of Paula opened and two of the firm’s other partners stepped out of Harrison’s office. Neither of them took any notice of Charlie sitting there; and simply went on their way, sharing a quiet but animated discussion as they did. From what Charlie could see of their expressions, neither of them looked any too happy.
Another minute passed, after which Charlie almost jumped out of his seat when the buzzer on Paula’s desk went off. She answered it, replying to the question that had been asked, and then added that Charlie was outside and claimed to have an appointment with him.
The line suddenly went dead, which surprised Paula, as she could never remember that happening before. She was even more astonished when the office door opened and out stepped Brendon Harrison.
“Charles, good to see you again,” the sixty-two year old said as he approached the young man with an outstretched hand.
Charlie’s first thought as he automatically reached out with his own hand was that Mr. Harrison had to have him mixed up with someone else. Then again, he had called him by name. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Paula was almost as confused as he was by the partner’s behavior.
“Please see that we’re not disturbed,” Mr. Harrison said as he led Charlie into his office.
As he stepped into the expensively decorated office, Charlie’s eyes were drawn to the large, antique desk in the center rear of it. If Steve was to believed, and Charlie had no reason not to do so, his uncle had the habit of celebrating a big win for the firm by bending miss prim and proper outside over that desk and fucking her brains out. If only for the moment, that image dispelled Charlie’s worry about why he was here.
“Can I have Paula bring you in a coffee or something?” Mr. Harrison asked as he directed Charlie to one of the comfortable chairs in front of his desk.
“No, I’m fine,” Charlie replied as the older man walked around the desk and sat down in the large leather chair behind it.
“I guess the first thing I should say, Charles, is that you’re not in any kind of trouble, so please relax,” Mr. Harrison said with a laugh as he made himself comfortable. “By the way, do you prefer Charles or do your friends call you something else?”
“Most of my friends call me Charlie,” he replied automatically, a sense of relief washing over him. He’d been certain that somehow he’d screwed up big time, even if he had no idea what he could’ve done wrong. Especially on a scale that would involve someone like Mr. Harrison.
“Charlie it is, then,” Mr. Harrison replied as he picked up a piece of paper from an open folder on his desk and glanced at it for a few seconds.
Charlie took that pause to take a better look at the room around him. It was a far cry from the little cubicle he worked in.
“You’ve been with us some time, haven’t you, Charlie?” Mr. Harrison asked as he put the paper back down. “Do you like it here?”
“Not really,” Charlie said, then corrected himself. “I mean, I’ve only been a regular employee a bit over a year, but I was part of the college intern program six months before that. And yes, I like it here.”
“Good, very good,” Mr. Harrison said, after which he paused as if considering what he was going to say next. “Are you married, Charlie?” he then asked.
“No, sir,” Charlie quickly answered, “I just got out of college,” he added, as if that somehow negated the possibility.
“That’s good,” Mr. Harrison continued. “It might have complicated matters a bit if you were.”
Totally at a loss as to what the hell he was talking about, Charlie considered simply asking what the senior partner wanted. Then he decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valor and whatever it was that Mr. Harrison wanted to talk to him about, he would get around to it in his own sweet time.
“Any girlfriend?” Mr. Harrison asked, which as strange a question as the first one seemed.
“No, not really,” Charlie replied, again wondering what, if anything, this had to do with his job here at the firm.
“You do date girls, don’t you, Charlie?” Mr. Harrison asked after what seemed a very long pause.
That, had to be the strangest question of all, and it took Charlie an even longer pause to realize the implications of it. In a very strong affirmative, Charlie said that he did, just that he didn’t have anyone he considered a girlfriend. The answer seemed to please the old man.
As he had given that last answer, Charlie noticed a few framed family photographs on the desk, reminding him of something else Steve had mentioned during a night of bar-hopping. He was complaining about how his mother was again on his case about setting up his fat cousin with one of his friends. Referring to her to her as “Elsie”, after the cow in the old Borden milk commercials, he’d told Charlie that he didn’t dislike anyone enough to do that to them. Since Mr. Harrison was Steve’s only uncle, then “Elsie” had to be his daughter.
“I’m not sure I like the way this is going,” Charlie thought as, putting the questions he’d been asked in terms of finding someone to date an unwanted daughter, they now began to make sense.
“Charlie, I want to be honest with you,” Mr. Harrison said, once he began speaking again, “and just lay out the situation I’m faced with, and then let you decide how you might help resolve it, and incidentally possibly also help your career here at Tyler, Dallas and Harrison at the same time.”
“Shit, it has to be his daughter,” Charlie thought, and that little bit about advancing his career probably means that he’s talking about a lot more than just taking her out a few times. Caught in a moment of panic, he found himself wishing he could reconsider his answer on whether he dated girls or not.
“Are you familiar with Orzeskowa Industries?” Mr. Harrison then asked, unexpectedly changing the topic of discussion.
“Of course, sir,” Charlie answered, wondering what that had to do with Harrison’s daughter.
“And are you aware that Orzeskowa Industries accounts for almost forty percent of this firm’s billable hours?” he added.
Charlie explained that he was aware that it was one of the firm’s most important clients, but didn’t know it was responsible for that much of their revenues.
“Well, there’s actually no reason that you should know,” Mr. Harrison said. “It’s not like we advertise it.”
“Then why mention it now?” Charlie thought, even more confused about what was going on here.
“You do know, however, that Mrs. Orzeskowa was in here yesterday evening for our annual meeting concerning our firm’s representation of their interests.”
That was a simple statement of fact, not a question, since Charlie, along with most of the other clerks, had spent the better part of last week doing research and assembling files for the meeting. In fact, just before he’d gone home for the day, he’d even been called into the conference room for a few moments, to bring an updated report that one of the partners had asked for.
“Well, what I am sure you don’t know, because no one outside the partners have been told,” Mr. Harrison said, the tone of his voice becoming much more serious, “is that yesterday’s meeting didn’t go very well. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it went quite badly.”
Charlie couldn’t imagine what had happened; his own involvement in the matter had been so minor and peripheral. What he did understand, especially since he now knew the extent of Orzeskowa Industries’ value to the firm, that the loss of their account could be catastrophic.
“Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, Mrs. Orzeskowa was unhappy with the way our firm handled what can only be described as a minor administrative matter,” he said, stopping for a breath before continuing. “Then, despite the mutually beneficial relationship that has existed between our companies since the stewardship of her late husband, the suggestion was made that perhaps it was time for Orzeskowa Industries to seek different representation.”
Charlie didn’t have to ask who had made that suggestion, but evidently Mr. Harrison felt the need to expand on the subject.
“Sadly, Eliza Orzeskowa, who is now the primary shareholder and chairwoman of the board of Orzeskowa Industries, does not share the confidence Alexander Orzeskowa had in Tyler, Dallas and Harrison, and it’s my belief that she was looking for any excuse to sever any future relationship.”
Even at his level, Charlie knew a company didn’t need an excuse to change law firms, but if they changed one because of some fault in their representation, it could reflect badly on the offending firm.
“Naturally, this is an outcome we would very much like to avoid,” Mr. Harrison concluded.
With still no idea where he fitted into all of this, or what all that business at the beginning about his marital status had been about, Charlie nevertheless stated that of course he was willing to do anything that he could to help the firm. It was an automatic reply to an unasked question. One which he wondered if he should’ve been less forthcoming with, the moment he’d said it.
“I’m very glad to hear you say that,” Mr. Harrison said as he got up from his chair and moved from the desk to a small cabinet a few feet away. The cabinet opened to reveal a fully stocked bar and the partner, announcing that he was going to have a drink, asked Charlie if he would also like one.
Last night being a notable exception, Charlie wasn’t much of a drinker, but when the senior partner suggests something it is a good idea to follow that suggestion. So he said yes.
As he began to pour the drinks, Mr. Harrison remarked that, as little as ten years ago, he wouldn’t have had to hide the bar in his office. No one would’ve thought anything of it being there. More deals were concluded over a shared drink than across the conference table. But the world changes, he said, and you have to change with it, dealing with the people that you had to deal with, and not the ones you wish you could.
Charlie was still having a hard time following him, but nodded knowingly as he took the drink and had a small sip.
“Now where was I?” Mr. Harrison asked out loud as he took a much larger belt of his own drink. “Oh yes, I remember.”
Sitting down on the edge of his desk, Mr. Harrison told Charlie that he had used all of his powers of persuasion to try and convince Mrs. Orzeskowa to give them a day or two to fix what was wrong. At first, she didn’t want to hear it, saying she was planning to fly back to Boston this morning. He pointed out that the change was so minor as to be a forgone conclusion that it could be set right, and there was no reason why she couldn’t sign a short term extension there and then and an amended agreement could be sent to her in Boston by messenger.
Charlie found himself paying rapt attention to the words coming out of the older man’s mouth. Not only did he hope they would finally provide a clue as to what he was doing here, but it was a glimpse into the business world that they didn’t teach in college.
“I had thought that would settle it, but she said she still had some reservations,” the partner continued. “But since her husband had such a good relationship with the firm, she would give us the time to correct it all and then make up her mind once it had been corrected.”
Mr. Harrison paused again and took another drink of the amber liquid in his glass before going on.
“We did of course say we would pick up the cost of any additional expenses related to her extended stay in the city, including a dinner at the best restaurant and tickets for any Broadway show that she might like to see. After all, it wasn’t like we expected her to spend the night in her hotel eating room service and watching the Mod Squad.”
Charlie nodded his head. That was a standard practice, and not a few times he’d had to go pick up a client’s tickets. This couldn’t have been all about that, he knew. If it had been, he simply would’ve been told by someone much more junior to go and get them.
“That seemed to settle matters,” Mr. Harrison added, “but then a small problem, well, not really a problem really, more like a concern, was expressed.”
Charlie listened as Mr. Harrison said that, without really directing her comment at anyone in particular, Mrs. Orzeskowa mused out loud that, now that she thought of it, she couldn’t imagine whom she might ask to accompany her to dinner and the theatre. Concerned that their victory might be short lived, several of the partners had quickly offered the services of themselves and their wives as escorts for the evening.
It was quickly obvious that prospect didn’t appeal to Mrs. Orzeskowa at all. Not for the first time, Brandon Harrison longed for what he thought of as the good old days. Back then, every firm had its own little list of accommodating young ladies that they could set up with a client and who, surprising enough, could be written off as entertainment expenses through a bit of creative bookkeeping. After all, that was what they were. Some firms even had a similar list of young men, for clientele with atypical tastes, or for those even rarer occasions when the client had been a woman.
Not willing to let it all slip through his fingers after he had come so close, Mr. Harrison said that if she would give them a bit of time, he was sure they could find an acceptable escort.
That was at that moment that Mr. Harrison saw a smile come to Mrs. Orzeskowa’s lips. One that he couldn’t help but interpret as one heralded potential danger.
“You know, now that you mention it,” the chairwoman of the board had said, “I do have a thought as to that.”
The tone of her voice told the senior partner that his initial assessment was correct.
“Earlier, just when we where getting started here,” she had pointed out, “a rather handsome young man brought in some papers for Mr. Wolcott. I’m sure you know the one I’m referring to, short light blond hair, cute smile, wearing brown slacks and a tan shirt. He struck me as perhaps an interesting sort, and I think he might make an excellent dinner companion.”
Charlie took a loud, deep breath that caused Mr. Harrison to stop his narration. Yesterday, he had been wearing the outfit just described. All the pieces suddenly came together and it now all made sense. Or did it?
“There’s something more to this,” Charlie said to himself, “something I’m not seeing.”
“If I understand you correctly, Mr. Harrison,” Charlie said, choosing his words carefully to be sure he understood what was going on, “you’d like me to escort Mrs. Orzeskowa to dinner and the theatre. Is that it?”
“Basically,” was his single word reply.
The brevity of his answer was totally at odds with what Charlie knew of Brendon Harrison. There had to be something more here.
“Of course I’ll be glad to do it,” he said nonetheless.
“Excellent, I’m glad to hear that, Charlie,” Mr. Harrison smiled, “and of course the firm will cover any costs you might incur.”
“Sir, is there something that I’m missing?” Charlie asked, figuring that now was finally the time to be direct.
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Harrison said, the tone of his reply less than convincing.
Then, like a flash cube going off in his head, it suddenly became as clear as could be to Charlie.
“Sir,” he said as respectfully as he could, “just how far does the firm expect me to go to make Mrs. Orzeskowa happy?”
“I don’t understand,” Mr. Harrison said, his professed lack of understanding carrying even less credibility.
Although he would never say it out loud, the expression on Charlie’s face said that he didn’t believe the senior partner. That must’ve finally come across, as the older man provided an addendum.
“Well, of course we would never ask you to act in any way that you wouldn’t think appropriate, Charlie,” he said. “We are, after all, Tyler, Dallas, and Harrison.”
“You don’t know how glad I am to hear that,” Charlie said, having imagined the worst possible scenario for a few seconds.
“Still,” Mr. Harrison said, as if he was just musing out loud rather than still speaking to Charlie, “it would be a terrible shame if, after all our efforts to smooth over the situation, Mrs. Orzeskowa were to come back into the office tomorrow in anything but an agreeable mood.”
“Fuck!” Charlie said under his breath as he realized the situation he was being put in.
His under the breath comment must’ve been louder than he thought, because it was obvious that the partner had heard him.
“Be assured that whatever contribution you might be able to make in helping retain the Orzeskowa account won’t go unnoticed,” Mr. Harrison said as he slid off the desk and took a step toward Charlie, his hand outstretched. A clear indication the meeting was now over.
What also hadn’t been said, but clearly was just as apparent as if it had been, was the fact that if he wound up being the cause of the account being lost, that wouldn’t go unnoticed either.
“Like I said, Charlie,” Mr. Harrison said as they reached the open door, “it won’t be forgotten that, when the team desperately needed someone on base, you stepped up to the plate.”
As the door closed behind him, Charlie caught Paula Madison’s eyes viewing him with suspicion. Passing her desk, he turned slightly and gave her a knowing smile, certain that would irritate her even more.
When he got back to his desk, Charlie found an inter-office envelope with his name on it waiting on his desk. It caught his attention because, unlike the multi-use ones that were closed with a small bit of string, this was a single use version that was sealed with tape and marked confidential. He glanced around to see if anyone was looking, then opened it to find a two page memorandum, two orchestra seat tickets to Grease, and two bundles of twenty-dollar bills that had ‘spending money’ written on the paper bands. He didn’t need to count it to know it was more than he normally took home in a week.
The memorandum, which uncharacteristically was written on plain paper rather than the company letterhead, began with the address of the midtown hotel where Mrs. Orzeskowa was staying, along with the restaurant where a six o’clock reservation had been made in his name. Since only a few minutes had passed since he’d left Mr. Harrison’s office, the envelope had to have been left while he’d still been in there. Evidently, the idea that he might have said no hadn’t even been considered a possibility.
“I could go back and tell him I’ve changed my mind,” Charlie thought as he sat at his small desk, no longer feeling the intimidation that had surrounded him in the senior partner’s office. “Just walk right back there and drop this envelope on Harrison’s antique desk and tell him that my services are not for sale.”
He sat back in his chair and imagined himself doing just that.
“Right,” he said silently, “and then I can march myself right down to the unemployment office and fill out a claim.”
His dismissal, of course, would never be for the reason discussed behind those closed doors. No, it would be for any of the dozens of reasons that people got fired every day. They wouldn’t even have to look too hard to find one that applied to Charlie.
No, he was trapped and he knew it.
“You know,” he said to himself, “Harrison really didn’t come right out and say that sex was part of the deal, just that I should be sure the old lady comes into the office tomorrow morning in a good mood. Who knows what really makes her happy?”
Giving it a few more minutes of thought, Charlie almost half convinced himself that Mrs. Orzeskowa might just enjoy the company of young people around her. You saw successful older men attending parties with younger women all the time, and that didn’t mean that they were sleeping with them.
“Yeah, and those hot women are with them ‘cause they all just like older guys,” he countered his own argument.
It then occurred to Charlie, that he had no idea what Mrs. Orzeskowa even looked like. There had been a few women in that conference room yesterday, but he’d been so nervous about being sent in there to begin with, he hadn’t given any of them any notice.
Stuffing the envelope into his top drawer, Charlie got up and headed back out to the reception area. The first thing he’d learned back when he was an intern was, if you needed to know something, Brenda was the one to ask. All he had to do was figure out how to ask her without really asking her.
“So, things go okay with old man Harrison?” Brenda asked him after the usual pleasantries were out of the way. “You’re not in any trouble, are you?”
“No, not at all,” Charlie smiled, hoping that was true. “He just had a little problem that he needed my help with. I figured I’d cut him a break and told him I’d take care of it.”
“Yeah, right,” Brenda laughed.
They chatted for another minute or two on another subject and Charlie managed to steer the conversation to yesterday’s big meeting. He said that when he had brought the papers into the room, he was hoping to meet the mysterious Mrs. Orzeskowa, but there were a couple of women in the room and he didn’t know which old lady was her.
“If all they had were old ladies in the room, then she mustn’t have come in yet,” Brenda commented as she split her attention between Charlie and a note clipped onto an envelope a passerby had dropped on her desk, the note explaining who was to pick it up. “Eliza Orzeskowa is hardly an old lady.”
“Really?” a visibly relieved Charlie asked.
“Not at all,” Brenda said as she put the envelope with the note to the side. “I would guess that she’s maybe in her mid to late fifties.”
“And that’s not old?” Charlie said, his relief fading.
“I don’t think so,” said Brenda, who was herself approaching her mid-fifties, said. “What do you consider old?”
Charlie didn’t answer, but if he had, he would’ve said that to him, his mother might be what he considered old, and she was six months shy of her forty-seventh birthday.
“Charlie, are you okay?” Brenda suddenly asked. “You look a little pale.”
“No, I’m fine,” he lied.
He asked a few other questions about the woman he would be escorting to dinner in a few hours, but all he got were answers that really didn’t tell him anything he actually wanted to know. That was until Brenda stopped for a second and, after making sure no one else was too close, crooked her finger to tell Charlie he should come a little closer.
“You know, I really shouldn’t be saying this,” Brenda said in a voice that dropped to a whisper, her habit when sharing gossip, “but I have a friend up in Boston that works for one of the daily papers. As I heard it from her, even before her husband passed away, Eliza Orzeskowa was notorious for appearing at functions with a young man on her arm. And never the same one twice.”
Hearing that, Charlie got just a little bit paler.
Returning to his desk, Charlie took out the envelope back out of his drawer and gave the memorandum another look. According to the timetable, he would have to be at the hotel no later than five o’clock. It was now just after twelve thirty and he still had to run home to shower and change. Seeing as how he was operating on the instructions of the senior partner, Charlie didn’t think anyone was going to say anything if he left now and went home. Still, at the same time, he didn’t want to draw any attention to himself when he did. So he gathered up a few envelopes and displayed then conspicuously as he left, giving the impression that he was making some personal deliveries as he sometimes was called to do.
It was fortunate that Charlie’s older brother, who lived in Manhattan, had given him a key to his apartment and let him keep a few changes of clothing there. Since Charlie still lived back home in Brooklyn, it would’ve been near impossible to get there and back in the time he had.
Of the two suits he kept there, only one was suitable for a fancy restaurant. It hadn’t been dry cleaned since the last time he’d worn it, so he carefully checked the dark blue suit to make sure there were no stains on it. Then he took a clean shirt from the dresser and laid out socks and underwear to go with it, along with a pair of black loafers.
The clock on the wall said he still had time, so he made a light snack out of whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator, his thinking being that, even though he was going out to dinner, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a little something in his stomach now.
He listened to Don McLean’s American Pie on the radio as he shaved, taking care not to nick himself since there was no styptic pencil in the medicine cabinet. By the time he finally climbed into the shower and turned the water up as hot as he could stand it, the station had switched to the sounds of Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack.
The hot water felt good against his skin as he soaped his body up and then rinsed himself clean. When he stepped back onto the bathroom rug, he took a long look at his naked reflection in the cheap mirror attached to the back of the door.
Hardly the body of an athlete, he thought, but still not in bad shape. What body hair he had was so light in color as to be barely noticeable, even around his cock, although sometimes he worried that the scarcity of hair made it look more like that of a teenage boy than a grown man. Still, he’d done well enough with girls to now consider himself experienced in matters sexual, or at least as experienced as most guys his age. The semi-erect manhood between his legs was, he’d always felt, about average. At least that was the impression he got when he stole a quick look at other guys in the locker room. Those comparisons, which he was sure other guys made as well, had out of self-preservation been as brief as possible. A much better indicator, he’d later decided, was that no girl who had ever seen it had complained, or worse, laughed.
As he began to dress, he thought of a saying one of his history teachers was fond of using to describe actions born out of a sense of obligation that might also apply to his situation, “For King and Country.” He whirled the words around in his mouth a few times, then decided that it was too noble a phrase. Buttoning his shirt and reaching for his tie, a better description came to him, one that built on the baseball analogy that Mr. Harrison had used earlier. What he was doing was, “taking one for the team.”
Reaching the hotel at ten to five, Charlie stepped into the lobby and confidently walked up to the front desk, asking the man behind it for Mrs. Orzeskowa’s room. The desk clerk looked at him with an expression that reminded Charlie of Paula Madison, and then asked him if he was expected. When he said that he was, the clerk asked his name and then picked up a phone to announce his arrival. At the last second, Charlie remembered to say that he was from Tyler, Dallas, and Harrison, reasoning that Mrs. Orzeskowa might not know his name, just his face.
The conversation was brief, no more than a few seconds, but when it was over the desk clerk’s tone was noticeably more accommodating. “You can go right on up, Mr. Owens,” he said with a well practiced smile, “Suite 812.”
The elevator ride was short and it only took a minute, after which he mistakenly walked the wrong way down the corridor and had to double back to find the room he was looking for. Before he could knock on the door, it swung open and he found himself facing a stunning, twenty-something blonde-haired girl in a traditional maid’s outfit. Charlie thought that, nowadays, people only wore that sort of uniform at Halloween parties. A second look told him is wasn’t exactly like the costume party version, but it certainly accentuated every curve on the girl’s body. And there were definitely a lot of curves.
“Madam will be with you shortly,” the girl said with an English accent, closing the door behind Charlie as he stepped inside. “Please be so kind as to wait in here,” she added as she guided him to an adjuring room with a large couch and several overstuffed chairs.
“The Holiday Inn this isn’t,” Charlie thought as he took in the opulent furnishings.
“Can I get you anything while you wait?” the young woman asked.
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” Charlie said, surprised by the question.
“Very well,” she concluded before excusing herself to go back to whatever task Charlie’s arrival had interrupted.
As she walked out of the room, Charlie couldn’t help but admire the way her ass swayed as she walked.
“God, why couldn’t she be the one I’m taking out to dinner?” he said to himself.
He was still watching when a noise from behind him told him he was no longer alone. It took a moment for him to recognize the sound; it had been one of those forced coughs that people made to let you know they were there.
“Oh damn,” he thought as he turned around in the direction of the cough, “please don’t let her have caught me checking out her maid’s ass.”
The woman standing a few feet behind him was about an inch shorter than his own five foot seven, with short hair that was a mixture of steel gray and white highlights. She had a very slim build that bordered on skinny and a bust that could almost be called non-existent. In trying to approximate her age, Charlie decided that the upper range of Brenda’s guess was closer to the mark.
“Don’t worry, young man,” the woman said with a slight smile. “Bridget tends to have that effect on most men. I won’t hold it against you.”
Charlie felt a surge of relief. For a second, he had a vision of the night ending even before it had begun. How would he even explain that to Mr. Harrison?
“Mrs. Orzeskowa, I’m Charles Owens, from Tyler, Dallas, and Harrison,” he said, trying to sound as cheerful as he could.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Charles Owens from Tyler, Dallas, and Harrison,” she replied, with a cheerful tone that didn’t have to be forced, “but I’m afraid I’m not Mrs. Orzeskowa. My name is Jacqueline Foster-Brown; I’m Mrs. Orzeskowa’s executive assistant.”
“Oh,” was all Charlie could say before another woman came into the room from a different entrance, speaking as she did.
“Jackie, be sure that those letters go out with a messenger tonight, I don’t want them to wait until tomorrow,” said the new arrival, who was dressed in a flattering but conservative blue dress that came down to just below her knees. A beaded bodice covered the top half of the dress, and that in turn was partially concealed by a matching jacket that definitely hadn’t come off the rack at Sears. “And I want you to call Jerry Irving in the morning and confirm our appointment with the board next Monday.”
She paused and looked up from the watch band she had been adjusting to see Charlie standing there. A moment passed as she carefully checked his appearance; then a smile of approval formed on her lips.
“Mrs. Orzeskowa, I’m Charles Owens, from Tyler, Dallas, and Harrison,” he said, this time the words coming much easier.
“But of course you are, dear,” she said as, stepping past him, she picked up a small black purse that had been resting on the coffee table.
Miss Foster-Brown presented an open leather bound folder to Mrs. Orzeskowa so that she could sign the letters she had just mentioned. As unobtrusively as he could, taking a cautious lesson from the way he’d checked out the maid, Charlie took a careful look at Mrs. Orzeskowa and tried to balance what was in front of him with the mental image he had formed over the long afternoon.