Having endured the Project Sinister presentation I hoped dearly to avoid Armin until a day or so passed. Maybe he would neglect to quiz me on the team. I feel guilty giving poor reports, a characteristic that could, in a more severe form, make me quite unsuited for this line of work. I have no problem whatsoever doing it in the ethereal confines of my own thoughts or to someone's face. Reporting back to the partnership, however, feels an awful lot like telling the teacher in Kindergarten that the kid who picks his nose in the back of the classroom peed in his pants when she wasn't looking. If I just left it long enough the teacher would see the soaked pants on her own. Why should I intervene? Involve myself in the nastiness that followed? Be a direct party to it? Why get involved?
Because I wasn't given a choice.
And so, back on the estate the next morning, an elegant note written on engraved stationary laying atop my desk in the library.
"Lunch? - A."
Such a simple note in the midst of all that white space always throws me.
One didn't really reply to these notes. It was a given that you would accept and anyhow there wasn't any clear mechanism to indicate your approval. Like getting a card with "prière de répondre - regrets only" except there's no phone number. Eventually, the butler would announce something like: "Mr. Armin has asked you to join him in the reception," and I would finish what I was doing and find him there, dressed for a formal business lunch.
Sometimes these kinds of invitations meant Armin took me out to eat, studiously ignoring the subject that would eventually be the focus of our lunch until we were seated and well into the main course. Other times they meant a glass of wine while I watched him cook, he refused all offers of help, and emergence of the point in the Estate's cavernous and otherwise empty main dining room.
Each time it was a bit agonizing. You knew it was coming. Almost like the traditional Christmas family fight during dinner. What would spark it this time? Who would be the trigger this year? My mother's soft, wistful sigh taken by my grandfather as a subtle slight to his childrearing abilities? (So subtle, in fact, that no one else noticed it until he stiffened and grew silent). Mention of the family dog that my mother had put down before my father returned home? ("Everyone knows you always hated that dog!") Discussion of the economy, leading without fail to the subject of my decision to go to business school? (My parents had wanted me to pursue a more "intellectual" career, whatever that meant). I could only entertain myself by speculating in the hours before the line was crossed.
This time it was out to eat. We flirted around a dozen discussions in the back of the car, over salads and bisque until he finally broached the issue in the midst of my lobster risotto.
"I understand you had an eventful meeting with Sinister's sales team." I have no idea how he would know that. Surely, none of them would have told him.
"I suspect this was among the most important meetings Sinister will have this year. Don't you agree?" I was uncomfortable immediately and the tension had been bothering me. I could almost feel the sweat on my back.
"Actually, I do."
"Tell me, Equity, do you think we put our best foot forward?" I could see already where we were headed. Armin was calm. Resolved. Pensive. Deeply calm. He was using the sedate Britishlike accent. The one that reminds me of the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law Character, "Vulturo." Tom was history.
"I am afraid not." With this Armin acted surprised. The briefest of eyebrow elevations.
"Oh?" I was, unfortunately, expected to elaborate. And so, as Armin gestured for the waiter to fill my glass with more red wine, I did. I described the hotel fiasco, my suspicions about Linda, my ruse to find the team, the state of the presentation before and after my work at the hotel, the latte in the morning, the bag of food, Dave's performance, everything. Several times along the way I was tempted to downplay the comedy of errors that was the Sinister sales effort, but I found that Armin's polite attention made even this kind of deception impossible for me. He did not nod in agreement, or shake his head in bewildered horror. He just listened. Almost, but not quite, passively. He always seems to receive such reports this way. It is unnerving. There was also the sneaking but totally irrational suspicion that he had somehow gotten the story already and the fear of the consequences that might follow my giving anything other than a faithful rendition. So I was brutally honest instead. It was painful. When I finished Armin was silent only for a brief, thoughtful moment before speaking.
"I am glad I sent you, Equity." I still don't know how he meant this, but I heard it as "I am glad I sent you, and not someone else, Equity." I was still pondering this during the long pause that followed when he, suddenly as unconcerned as if he had not even heard the tale of woe I had just woven, caught the eye of the waiter again.
"I would like an espresso, please."