Writers Tears, Part 1
Our first day with clients, I awake with a cavernous hangover. There’s no other word for it. Someone’s barrelled out my body.
Stumbling, I discover that the maid’s doubled my towels. I reread the guilt-inducing notice regarding water conservation and confirm that I did, indeed, hang yesterday’s towels in the proper place to indicate I would reuse them. Further investigation shows that she’s also replaced the half-roll of toilet paper with a new one and arranged my toiletries into a neat cluster by the sink. I spend the first half of my shower vacillating between anger and confusion, thinking she’s stolen my soap, only to discover it on the opposite side of the stall as where I left it.
I arrive at the hotel’s buffet breakfast wearing sunglasses, ready to stuff whatever there is down my throat. The empathetic hostess spots me a mile away, speaking softly and leading the way to a secluded table. Conor’s voice ringing in my ears, I mistakenly sign the receipt as Champion. She either doesn’t notice or forgives me outright.
Thick slices of ham dripping in grease. Short, fat links of sausage. Irish butter and soda bread. These are the all-stars of the breakfast team. Less so are the scrambled eggs (bland enough to suggest they come from a box), broiled tomatoes (somehow flavorless?), and diced fruit (glory days, long forgotten). Admittedly, my taste buds might be casualties of the past two nights in Conor’s care. My balance surely is. It takes a Herculean effort, returning a third time from the buffet, not to fall over on a pair of swollen Germans drinking espresso from miniature cups.
I thought my first night here represented Conor at peak enablement, but without Aoife and Siobhan last night to ground us, I was awash in a sea of whiskey. Simply thinking through all I consumed sends the potatoes spinning on my plate.
At some point, shoveling food down my throat resembles tossing rocks into the ocean. Nothing’s shoring up this body.
I slink upstairs to my room, insert the key card into its slot on the wall, and the room springs to life. I shake off my placeholder clothing. The air conditioning on my skin is the first thing that’s helped. I embrace this discovery, step out of my boxer briefs, and stalk around the room buck naked.
Naturally, the maid chooses this moment to enter — knocking must not be a thing here — and we stand facing each other for an inordinate amount of time. Finally, the shock wears off. She exits hurriedly. I glance down. At least I’m showing well this morning.
Dark blue suit. Purple tie. I stuff my shoulder bag full of files, shoot a longing glance toward the bed, and force myself out the door.
The maid’s in the hallway, ranting in a hushed voice on her cell phone. She falls silent when I approach.
“Hey,” I say. “Sorry about that. I probably should have put out the Do Not Disturb sign.”
The man on the other end of the phone speaks, and she answers rapidly in what sounds like Russian.
“Anyway,” I say, after a moment, “I’m okay on towels if you want to skip my room.”
“More towels?” she asks, reverting her deep-set eyes to me.
“No, no more towels.”
“Right. No towels.”
She smiles a scared-shitless smile and busies herself with the bottles on her cart. Whoever she rushed to call speaks again, she hushes him. I leave, wondering whether I’ve inadvertently caused some trauma.
Our first meeting is in one of the new-ish buildings along the Liffey — walking distance from the hotel but the sidewalk behaves like a treadmill. Conor’s sitting in front of a cubby hole coffee place, looking fresh as day. In lieu of hello, he points me inside. I order copious amounts of espresso over ice. The kid at the counter looks dubious — I end up guiding the barista step-by-step.
“You’re in rag order,” says Conor when I finally emerge.
Every muscle in my body groans as I lower into the opposite seat.
My boss grins, leisurely sipping his tea. “Welcome to Ireland.”
An Amazonian woman strides past us, clad all in black, latte in hand. Conor’s gaze follows her down the block.
“So,” he says, swiveling back, “choosing to wear purple, day one.”
I mutter something about trying to add color.
“Artist,” he says, dismissing the notion like a half-eaten bagel. “Know what purple signifies, don’t yeh? Sexual frustration.”
I check the couple beside us, they’re occupied with an oversized map of the city. “I thought purple meant royalty?”
“Not for naught like, but Aoife and Siobhan talk every day,” he says, clearly enjoying himself, “and I’m not seeing a crown on yer head.”
I attempt to match his laugh, then hand him the file I’ve compiled for our first meeting. He waves it away as though swatting a gnat.
“Got their own departments to do the numbers stuff. We’re the bells and whistles like.”
“The bells and whistles?”
He leans closer. “Anyone can tell them how to make money. We’re the ones who tell ‘em how to make more of it.”
“Okay. But…” For a country that prides itself on dull weather, the light this morning is so very bright. “I’ve only had a week to dig into this, but they seem to be overleveraged on some of the assets we’ve been pushing.”
“Grand,” says Conor. “Push them onto something else.”
“It’s, it’s not that simple.”
He sits back. “Enlighten me, Nolan.”
Is using my real name supposed to indicate something? “Right,” I say. “Well… They’ve had a good run, that’s for sure. But, if the market turns, or even thaws —”
“Market turning now?”
“I mean, it’s cyclical.”
“Aye,” he says. “And we’re top of it now, you’re saying.”
“It’s sort of impossible to predict.”
“Certain of that?” he asks.
I sip my chilled caffeine. “It’s not going to crash tomorrow.”
He lifts the teabag out of his mug and tosses it onto the table. “So. What d’yeh want to go in there saying?”
“That’s what I wanted to go over,” I say, shifting the files to avoid them getting wet. “I drafted some recommendations —”
He grabs the copy from my hand. Scans the first page. Flips. “You’re proposing they make less.”
“It’s not. You can’t look at it like that.”
“But I am,” he says. “They will.”
“It’s about survival, long-term.”
“Do well putting mind to our contract’s survival.”
“This is, um. This is pretty much how I prepared for our meetings here,” I say, struggling to hold his stare.
“What happens when another outfit comes in singing a sweeter song like?” he asks. “Won’t be around long-term, find out if yer right.”
I take a sip of coffee and realize I’ve already finished it. Shots upon shots of espresso now in my system.
“Look,” Conor says, shifting his tone, “you’re no tool, understand? Hired yeh because you’ve got a mind and a fire. So. If you stand behind yer work here,” he says, pile-driving his finger into a pie chart, “go on like. Need a deputy with the power of his convictions.”
[To be continued…]