I hate job interviews.
In my belly swarms of butterflies the size of pterodactyls careen and out of control. My heart fibrillates like a battering ram, and the blood rushes past my eardrums like a breach in Hoover Dam.
It's the fear of not measuring up to expectations that sends my blood pressure soaring, and not necessarily those of the interviewer. For what do they know? Really, I ask you. How can they possibly think they could know my heart and soul after twenty minutes and ten inane questions? No, I don't care about them so much. A job interview is as much about me deciding if I want to work for them as it is them wondering if I'm good enough. No, it's the possibility that I won't measure up to what I expect of myself that is the most soul-destroying part of the abysmal process. What if I make a mistake? What if once again I say "yes" to the wrong employer?
It had been one of those days; three interviews and three strikeouts. The first was a lecherous accountant. After ten minutes of having my cleavage the sole object of his leering eyes, I wouldn't voluntarily stay alone in the same room with him for another minute more. The next interviewer was a cruel, sadistic bitch, a little Hitler of an insurance office, who I knew would make life a misery. The third was an indecisive IT consultant who, I believe, would have driven me insane in five minutes if I'd have taken the job he offered.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not an arrogant know-it-all little miss. I'm a good, quiet lass, my late ma always said. "More talented than some and not as talented as most," she'd say with just a trace of disappointment marring her Irish lilt. It's just that I know what sort of position would suit me best.
I was thinking such thoughts walking toward my fourth interview of the day. Could it be lucky last? I hoped so because I was dead tired -- one can only tame a squadron of pterodactyls so many times in one day. I found the right building; it was of an older type from the 1940s not yet renovated in the modern style of glass and aluminum. As I took the first step up to the wood-trimmed revolving door, a body shrouded in dark gray hurtled past me in full flight. It was a young man wearing a hooded sweatshirt. I don't think he even noticed me as he clipped my shoulder and sent my resume folder flying.
He sped up the street, showing scant regard to the luckless pedestrians he ruthlessly pushed aside. I swore at his back and bent to collect my papers before some passerby stepped on them, or the wind blew them into the traffic. As I reached for a letter of reference that had become detached from the rest, another's hand, a helping hand, brushed mine.
I jumped at the jolt of electricity that passed between us. I gasped, not at the spark, but at the blindingly white aura that enveloped the hand, a dazzling purity the like of which I had never seen before or since.
My gaze followed the hand with its long and graceful manicured fingers to the tanned wrist, where wisps of fine dark hair showed at the cuff, and along the arm of a dark blue business suit, which barely disguised impressively bulging biceps, and up to encouragingly broad shoulders. Then an impossibly handsome face swam into view. The bright gray-blue eyes shone through the translucent aura like they were made of the summer sky. The tanned face was about my age or a little older, maybe twenty-eight or nine. The jet-black hair was parted on the left. His straight, uncomplicated nose lent an air of decisiveness to his countenance. His lips were perfectly curved and created, I could tell, for kissing. The square jaw possessed a small dimple in the chin that gave him a timeless movie star quality I couldn't quite identify. Swirling all about him, this magnificent aura pulsated with energy. It quite took my breath away. The sheer beauty of the man was beyond my experience.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, his voice smooth and sweet in my ear.
I couldn't answer. I was mesmerized. My body reacted, though. My face flushed and those pterodactyls in my belly, no doubt influenced by his magnificent aura, transformed into flights of white doves. Their effect on my inner balance, however, was the same whatever their color.
"Miss? Are you okay?"
"Oh, yes, I'm fine."
He handed me the letter of reference. His eyes had not left mine, and there was that single moment I thought he was going to say something significant, something I'd longed for a breathtakingly handsome man to say to me all my life. Instead, he said something so ordinary I almost cried out at the banality of it. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go."
"Sure," I muttered, as he rose and set off in pursuit of the hooded punk. I watched his radiant mantle rush down the street even though I could no longer see his body through the press of the afternoon throng. It amazed me how fast he could run through a crowded street and not collide with anyone, unlike his quarry who had knocked at least three people down.
I collected the rest of my papers, straightened my jacket, and proceeded through the old-fashioned revolving doors. The building was a relic of the city's past, like something out of a museum, and I felt I'd walked back in time as I entered the elevator car and slid closed the metal cage. I got out on the third floor. The staccato clatter of my interview shoes on the linoleum of the wood-trimmed hallway reminded me of countless black and white movies I'd watched alone in my apartment. A few moments later I was standing outside the offices of the Dogberry Detective Agency.
I tried unsuccessfully to put my brush with male perfection out of my mind. I still had an interview to get through, after all. I managed, with difficulty, to push the afterglow of his impressive aura to a less prominent corner of my mind. I straightened my jacket once more and regretted my decision not to let it out. It was straining at the seams, the predictable consequence of too many chocolate-coated marshmallows. There's no time for regrets, my ma would have said. "You can't change the past unless you're one of the Norns, unraveling the threads of fate beneath the boughs of Yggdrasil." Big on mythology was my ma, but she was right. I can't change the past. So I took a deep breath, cleared my aura, gave the nameplate on the building's third floor door a second glance, and smiled. At least the owner had a Shakespearian sense of humor, and that gave me a very good feeling about the Dogberry Detective Agency.
I knocked on the frosted glass.
There was no answer.
I knocked again, and upon not receiving acknowledgement, I turned the brass knob experimentally and pushed the door open. The small room, an outer office I assumed, was empty and the secretary's desk unoccupied. That was not surprising. I was being interviewed for that very position. Off to one side of the desk was a closed door. The nameplate beneath the frosted glass proclaimed in bold white letters: Adam Verges.
"Hello?" I called. I was answered by silence. Before I could call again the telephone rang. It rang three times more.
I stepped inside and put my bag and resume folder on the corner of the untidy desk. I looked at the telephone. If it rings once more, I told myself, I'll answer it.
It obliged and rang once more.
Adopting my professional persona, I picked up the receiver. "Good afternoon, Dogberry Detective Agency, Colleen speaking."
"I wanna speak to da man!" a gruff male voice shouted.
"I'm sorry. Mr. Verges is in a meeting. May I take a message?"
"I wanna speak to him now."
"I'm sorry, he's not available at the moment. If I can take your number, I'll have Mr. Verges return your call as soon as he is able." I searched the desk for a pen and paper.
"Listen, sweet lips, he has to speak to me now."
"That's just not possible, Mr.... I didn't catch your name." Found it. I sat down, ready to write.
"That's because I didn't say it."
"Sir, how can I have him return your call if he doesn't know who it is?"
"He's not going to return my call. He's gonna talk to me now!" The voice was loud and definite, but not threatening in any way. Here was a man, I thought, who was used to getting what he wanted. He was used to it because, as a child, people usually gave in to him when he threw a tantrum. I'd seen similar cases before. He wouldn't have lasted five minutes with my ma.
"You still there?"
"Yes I am, sir. If you give me a number, I'll have Mr. Verges return your call."
"How about I give you my number, and you return my call later tonight, and we'll do something interesting together?"
"I'm sorry, sir. As flattered by your interest as I am, I'm afraid it is against company policy for me to do that. Mr. Verges will not permit it."
"Mr. Verges will not permit it," he parroted. "Huh! How come I haven't heard your sweet voice before? You new?" His voice had weakened considerably. Facing implacable resistance, the force behind his bluster faded like mist in the sun.
"That's for me to know and Mr. Verges to find out. Now, sir, I have to participate in a meeting myself and I really must go. If you..."
"I know, I know, give you my number and Mr. Verges will return my call. Tell him Joey, his erstwhile brother-in-law, called. He's got my number."
"I shall do that, sir. Goodbye."
"Bye, sweet lips."
I replaced the receiver. The silence coming from behind Mr. Verges' door was emphatic. There was no one in. I was sure of it. I knocked, opened the door a crack and peeked inside. My suspicions were confirmed. I was alone.
His office was spartan in the extreme: an old oak desk, a battered leather chair, a black enamel telephone of the old sort, a single visitor's chair, and in the corner stood a rusty antique fan on a tall pedestal. That was it. There were no pictures on the wall, no blotter on the desk and, thank the stars, no ashtray.
As empty as it was, the office was virtually crackling with his presence. He was a man of great energy, and the glimmering glow emanating from his chair told me it was all positive. It was clear who the Adonis who'd stopped to help me on the street really was. It also explained his absence from the office which was left unlocked and unattended. He had, I assumed, been in hot pursuit of the thug as part of a case. How exciting.
I couldn't help but nod in approval. Oh, to work for a man of action. This job opportunity was turning out to be very suitable indeed.
I closed the door and returned to the secretary's desk. In contrast to Mr. Verges, there was hardly any of the previous incumbent's presence left. She must have been an insipid creature not to have left any trace at all. The untidiness suggested that, while Mr. Verges himself kept a tidy office, he was a stranger to efficient office procedure, and in the void between secretaries, had helped himself to the files and not returned them to their proper place.
I hoped he would return soon. My feet, unused to wearing heels, throbbed pleadingly at me, so I took the secretary's seat and kicked them off. The chair was comfortable enough, and with growing interest, I considered closely what I hoped would be my new workspace. A modern plasma computer screen took up more than half of the available space. Next to it were three trays, each marked in felt pen. To be filed was filled with dozens of newspaper clippings. Correspondence to be typed was also full. Not surprisingly, given the situation, To be signed was empty.
From the correspondence tray, I picked up the sheath of shorthand notes written, I noticed, by Mr. Verges himself. I could tell by the firm masculine hand and the brightness of the symbols glimmering on the page. I deciphered the awkward shorthand and decided that, while I was here with nothing to do, I might as well get a feel for my future employer. To say I was confident this was the place for me would be an understatement. I was feeling very, very positive.
I gave my glasses, which I need for reading and close work, a quick clean, turned on the computer and tut-tutted when it was clear that the machine was not password protected. What was my predecessor thinking? No wonder she no longer occupied this chair. I opened the word processor and, after creating a folder to save my work, started typing.
After only a dozen reports and letters, it was clear to me that Mr. Verges was a diligent and resourceful investigator. He was meticulous in the manner in which he chased down small details that, even though on first glance appeared tangential to the main matter, allowed him to come to a compelling and sometimes surprising conclusion. He had been involved in all manner of investigations: fraud, infidelity, missing persons, murder, cold cases and investigating wrongful convictions. My respect and appreciation of him were growing with every sentence. I trusted he would not be offended by my interpretation of his shorthand, for in places I had to use my imagination.
As I typed, my good feelings regarding the absent Mr. Verges grew and blossomed into a warm sensation in my belly, extending to the juncture of my thighs. You may think this is atrocious hyperbole, for how could the typing of someone's indifferent shorthand result in thoughts most erotic? Well, that's hard to explain. Suffice to say that his shorthand (written in fine blue ink) glowed on the page as if the letters were the same as those that shone from the one ring when the gray wizard extracted it from the fire. The only difference was that Mr. Verges' script glowed white and not gold, making it a tad difficult to read against the white of the notepaper.
He wrote with a certain poetry too, with a lively and catchy rhythm, and as the glowing symbols translated into words inside my head imbued with the honeyed tone of his voice, the warmth of his prose traveled to my belly and made my center tingle.
Forty blissful minutes later I had finished the letters and notes and had printed them out. Luckily the printer was filled with blank letterhead, for I had no key to the stationery cupboard that stood beside the three-drawer filing cabinet occupying the corner of the room.
I looked at the press clippings and decided their untidiness offended my sense of order enough to do something about them. I tried the top drawer of the filing cabinet marked X and again smiled at my future employer's sense of humor, for the clippings involved themselves with sightings of ghosts, demons, sasquatch and yeti-type creatures, unexplained deaths and supposed miracles. The drawer opened. The drawers marked Accounts and Case Files were locked. I was relieved. At least there was some office security, although I was still unhappy about the computer.
The top drawer was quite full. I filed the clippings in the appropriate folders and closed the drawer. There was a coffee pot behind my desk so I made a cup of coffee, thinking that it was the least reward I could expect after doing a day's work in an afternoon.
As I drank, I thought about Mr. Verges, and those sultry sensations returned with a vengeance. Had I been in the privacy of my bedroom, I certainly would have done something about it. As I wasn't in my fortress of autoeroticism, I just had to put up with the delightfully frustrating feelings of unfulfilled sexual arousal.
I forced my thoughts away from matters sexual to something less provocative; those intriguing press clippings. The letters I had typed were all down-to-earth, one might say prosaic, cases of human frailty and mundane evil. The clippings, however, suggested my future employer had a more supernatural side to his nature, and that interested me a lot.
I heard voices in the corridor and the door swung open. Two men entered, one tall and well-built and the other short and weedy. They were, it seemed, at the tail end of a one-sided discussion.
"Ah, come on, what d'ya say?" the short, weedy one whined.
Those white doves flocked together again in my belly as I recognized the blinding aura of the Adonis from the street. I'd been right. He was my new employer, Mr. Adam Verges.
"I said no yesterday and I say no today," he replied in a thickly toned voice that sent warm tendrils of lust coursing through my veins. Now I'd had a good look at it, my first impressions were mostly confirmed. His aura was one of power and innate goodness, dazzling me with its brilliance. It was not a completely pure mantle, for within its glorious brightness pale shades of imperfection ebbed and flowed like beautiful strands of sea life decorating a coral reef. For all that, it was the most perfect aura I had ever seen. Could I possibly measure up? My heart skipped and those doves turned back to pterodactyls and took flight.
The short man stopped in his tracks when he saw me and his formerly pleading face transformed into the countenance of a lascivious Lothario. "Ah, the sweet-voiced Colleen," he greeted me.
Mr. Verges shot me a glance and his gorgeous gray-blue eyes widened in a flash of recognition. Apart from that, he didn't miss a beat as he took in my occupancy of the secretary's chair, the steamy coffeepot behind me, the tidy desk now devoid of files, the empty in-tray and the full out-tray. In mid-stride he picked up the typed correspondence and, without interrupting his step, proceeded to his office door. He opened it and said over his shoulder, "There's nothing more to be said, Joey. Close the door when you leave." He cleared his throat. "Colleen. Bring your steno pad. I have some letters I want sent out today."
I gave his broad back a brisk, efficient smile. "Of course, Mr. Verges."