“Walter, there is no point getting agitated. I am your wife, so, sit back and let’s go over this together.”
He was running his hand over the stubble on his neck. She was glad that he hadn’t changed much since she had first met him. Was it five years already? He, sitting towards the rear of the class, looking at her once, rather only once through all the tens of times she had checked him out. He was bound to become a great manager although a weak man. She had done it then and she would do it now. With his other hand he was playing with the handle of the briefcase. Though the soft thuds against the leather of the case were annoying her, she needed them to measure his panic.
“Rita and you have been together for 3 weeks now, right?”
“Yes, but she is just Dmitri’s secretary for Christ’s sake!”
Dmitri always got himself a secretary every 2 years but maintained his wife for longer.
“I agree and that is why I am saying there is nothing to get agitated about. Now listen.”
The thuds were noticeably faster.
“When you two were preparing the report for GM through the night last week, do you recall what she was wearing?”
“What? How the hell does that matter? Now are you…”
She raised her hand against his protests and while he quietened down, she recalled how Rita had shut the door of Dmitri’s room with her butt. Those curves couldn’t go unnoticed.
“Do you, or not remember what she was wearing?”
“God! I don’t.”
“Run me through her combos.”
“Are you crazy, Liz!?”
“What are you afraid of, Walter?”
“Afraid!? Are you … ok. I don’t remember her suits much. She is mostly in greys… trousers and on Fridays she might wear a short skirt. Sometimes browns…”
“So you did notice that she wears short… short skirts on Fridays?”
“Most of the girls do, Liz. What’s up with you? Fridays are when there might be parties or the like and …”
“But she wears skirts on Fridays? Grey, flesh-coloured, perhaps?”
“I don’t recall any…”
“When I had come to meet you before we headed for Jordan’s wedding, she was helping you with some data for Saab’s report.”
“Probably… yeah, right. So?”
“She was in a lilac shirt, flesh-coloured skirt… and garters.”
“Come on, she would never show off …”
“Oh! you notice that she doesn’t?”
He gulped down the words that tremulously hung on the tip of his tongue. He looked away at the picture that hung beside his graduation certificate. That woman in there had convinced him into marrying her. How, he wasn’t able to recall.
“Walter,” she said as she went over to the fridge to get some water, “women would show off their garters either explicitly or let the skirt be thin and tight enough to reveal the outline. Rita is quite classy, isn’t she?”
He didn’t answer but continued to play with the handle of his briefcase. He recalled his lunch with Rita and Dmitri down at Brigg’s today. He never thought a girl kept track of the baseball season’s play and she even knew the records of each of the hitters in the Boston RS that year. Burgers, baseball and business at the Brigg’s, they had called it. That is what he had called it when he was telling Liz about the day’s events. How did that come to this?
“Listen, Walter. I am not saying that there is something cooking, but it is vital to recognise things upfront. Rita is a,” she paused, “hot woman, shall we say?”
“I don’t think of…”
“She is a presentable person.”
“And how many of Dmitri’s secretaries have earned that? They were always babes and bimbos, right?”
“So she is different, so what? That doesn’t mean I want to…”
She raised her hand again. Never let a man state the truth as what is spoken takes firm root. As she watched him swallow this one too, she searched for the right words to drive it in.
“So she was probably in grey when the GM report was being prepared?”
“Maybe,” he snapped.
“And while both of you sat at the same side of your table, you didn’t …”
“She was not sitting at my side of the table.”
“I thought you said you didn’t remember that night.”
“I do remember if I let a person come to my side of the table. She was basically…”
“Whatever, and you noticed her and her clothes – though you don’t remember them now – and you surely felt something, right?”
“Come on, Walter. A sexy babe always makes a man more so. A presentable one makes it seem more ethical.”
“Rita was doing her work and I was…”
“Also doing your work but you did notice that she was presentable and sharp, too. Quite efficient, right?”
“The kinds you like.”
“I prefer efficiency in my office. If a person can’t…”
“But such a combination in woman is surely desirable, you would say.”
“How does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, like finding the winning lottery ticket, but it sure is something we wouldn’t give up.”
He was getting tired of this conversation and she knew she had to move fast.
“Don’t you like her?”
“Doesn’t she appeal to you?”
“Not in the way you think.”
“I am not thinking for myself, but for you. Trust me.”
He seemed to settle into the sofa and that relaxed her just enough.
“You do like her, the way she does her work, the way she talks guy stuff and makes a man feel like a man.”
“She is a nice person, Liz. You should really…”
“I don’t want to meet her, because that won’t help what you are getting into.”
He simply stared at her.
“Walter, the more you interact with her, you are going to realise that she doesn’t provide any reason for you to not like her. She will be what you can slip into. She is smart, she is here to grow, to climb the ladder, and a patron is always welcome. But think about what it does to your life, your reputation. Think about it, she is just a secretary and why is Dmitri loaning her to you if he hadn’t sensed the danger she poses to his marriage?”
“Nothing like that. We can’t afford two…”
“Whatever. She isn’t going to help you beyond fetching data sheets and putting 2 and 2 together although she can do…”
“Nothing of that stuff. She knows her stuff. She is good.”
Liz widened her eyes and recognised that Walter realised that his interrupting her was his last piece of armour falling off. She slowly smiled and got up, not taking her eyes off Walter.
“Hmmm. So this is what it has come to. Cool.”
She slowly walked to the fridge taking ten handle thuds at each footstep. She replaced the bottle of water before turning around to face Walter.
“Liz, I don’t understand how you get to do it.”
Mercia was biting into her frank while Liz happily drew on her Camel.
“Mercy, you really need to know what makes Dmitri trip. Every man has this little nerve which when you tap, leaves him faltering and then all you need to do is watch him stumble while your Camel glows red.”
“But how did you get him to send Rita off to another sector? Dmitri is now looking out for another babe, but he says he will never be able to replace Rita.”
Liz was tired of Mercia’s stupidity and ridiculous tolerance – which she called trust – of Dmitri’s ways. She stubbed out her Camel and rose.
“Guilt is what makes this world go around. Induced guilt is what makes it go around the way I want it to.”
*The title means “the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty” in legal parlance.