fiction

Certainty

“Where are you?” Jon’s voice filled James’ Mercedes.

“On Madison.”

“Downtown already?”

“No on the West Side. It’s slower than the expressway, but gives me more certainty. There’s a lot of lights but little traffic. I’ll be there right on time. I have a call at 9.”

He heard Jon sigh. “Yeah I am just sitting here. By the way, I can’t picture the neighborhood. What’s over there?”

“It’s behind Greektown. It used to be industrial but it’s almost all residential now. I almost bought  a loft over there a million years ago.”

“Can’t picture it. So there’s a lot on the 100 south block of Morgan. Park there and the building is to the south. Apartment 4B. I’ll get there when I get there. Thanks.”   

Before the radio could even come on dashboard rang again. He recognized the number of his CFO.

“Hey Mark.”

“Hi Jimbo. You said you had a question about the wire transfer.”

“Yeah. I just wanted to see if they do a test transfer before they send the money.”

“Usually not. Why?”

“It’s a big bonus. I just want to be sure it hits the right way. Can you ask?”

“I can ask. I think you are being a little anal retentive.”

“Thanks.

As he passed east of Austin Avenue, the quality and cleanliness of the street changed. There were small groups of men in front of boarded up stores and just before Central he had to wait for a shopping cart lady to pass in front of him before he could go.  Jim knew the city and knew at 8;45 in the morning there was no reason to worry about driving an expensive  sedan down Madison Street. So he calmly let her pass while dialing the phone.

“This is Vic.”

“This is James.”

“Hey Boss. Good morning.”

“I’m on my way to a photo shoot but I want to catch up with you on the shipment to Dubai.”

“It’s a mess.”

“Well yeah it is. I hope you learned a lesson. Never let them get away with that quotes may change BS. Always get it in writing.”

“Yeah.”

A call cam in from home. “Hold on a second Vic.”

“Hi”

“Hi”

“The contractor is here and he wants to know if we have the permit for the demolition and.. wait  a second” he heard muffled voices “ and if  he can delay the new driveway until  Monday.”

“No. We’d have to put the cars on the street all weekend.”

She spoke away from the phone, “He says no. We’d have to park on the street all weekend.” She returns. “Okay.”

“Make sure he understands: the driveway is done by Friday.  Make him say it back to you.”

She was annoyed. “Okay bye.”

“Vic. Sorry it was home. I’ve got contractors overrunning the place.”

“Another project?”

“My wife seems to thrive on it. She’s not working  and the kids are gone so it fills up her time. So what’s he saying?”

That he can’t possibly do it at this price. It’s below his cost.”

“But he admits he made a mistake.”

“Essentially. He won’t say the word mistake but he admits that the quote was wrong.”

“Then you’ll be fine. Don’t back down. It’s his screw up. Threaten to go over his head. If you want to add a carrot tell him we can commit to another shipment next month at the other price. But this has to get out the door. I’ve got new customers starting and I have to be certain the product is there for the rollout.”

“Okay boss”

 In a way, Jim felt happy about the situation Vic  had gotten himself into. He needed to pay more attention to detail and this was a great lesson.

James was making almost every light and passed the stadium, moving along nicely.

He thought about calling the Mercedes dealer to schedule service. They were supposed to call him back to let him know if there would be a loaner available and they hadn’t done so. He wasn’t going to bring the car in unless he knew they had one available. But he had called at the end of the day and it wasn’t quite 9 yet so he decided to wait. 

Jon had been ambivalent about the instructions for arrival but he wasn’t worried. Sure enough,  when he pulled into the lot, a young lady walked up to the car and asked are you “James Bergesson?” It was good to be the client.

She was deferential but he was kind and they engaged in small talk up to the 4th floor. The elevator opened directly into the apartment. The space was large and airy, with 12 foot ceilings and wall height windows. It was an overcast day but it was still very bright. Photographers, assistants, stylists (of several stripes), chefs swirled in and around lighting equipment, textiles, electric cords pots and dishes, plants video equipment. The center of the shoot was an island countertop which was being fussed over by several people. There was food being prepared and dishes constructed with it. Music that was both ethereal and heavily percussive added to the maelstrom.

His phone rang again. It was his CFO again. He hung a Bluetooth on his ear.

“Hey Jim. I have been on the legal team and sales management. They want to go over some concerns about Hart Scott Rodino before we sign papers.”

“I’ve been dreaming of this call. It’s what I live for.” Mark snorted and the lawyers laughed. It may have been obsequious but he didn’t care. A voice he should have recognized said, “Well before we sign any papers on this deal, we have to  understand what the rules are.”

“Oh I get it.”

Mark interjected, “I know you’ve heard this before Jimbo. But try to keep the snark to a minimum.”

McCarthy, one of his  people, laughed. “Good luck.” And everyone laughed.

Jim wondered if the laughter was based on a consensus that was warranted; did they laugh because he was in charge? He dismissed the thought. There was a preponderance of evidence that people found his  irreverence charming.

The lawyer began to intone about the basics of anti-competitive behavior before closing on a deal. Jim paid attention. The sale of the company, while bittersweet for him would also be a reward and affirmation for a lot of people. Then there was his own personal financial windfall. 

As he slowly surveyed the area he saw a tremendous amount of art throughout. There was a great range: there were primitive and found art pieces, Keith Haring pieces that may or not have been originals, a Matisse which surely couldn’t be, objets d’art of various kinds and even some kind of box that seemed like something important. Some combination of taste and money had decorated this place in an impressive fashion.

The lawyer continued. He was reviewing the information for those not familiar with the law. He turned slowly and settled back on the island in the center of the kitchen. A woman in a red dress and black top was standing at one end, her back to him, as  the photographers made preparations for the shoot. She was instructed to stand taller and less, tall, on a box and off, turned to the left and then to the right, this way, then that. She had hair that was perfectly black, full with a slight wave as it flowed down her back.  She made another turn so  that he could now see her  face in profile.  He had seen her picture before of course as they had picked the model to use.. They aimed for someone attractive but also someone who might believably prepare food. But this was not what he expected.  Her skin was white as he her hair was dark. He nose may have been a bit too short  but her large  eyes, both dark and sharp,  and full lips were enough dynamics. He felt something like a spark. The room lost light, darkening everything but the face in his focus.

“Right Jim?” a voice addressed him. He wasn’t sure  what had been said.

“Um, you broke up a bit. I am in a high rise.”

The lawyer reiterated points about various customer details that may or may not be shared. To help himself refocus he stepped onto the balcony. The air was thick and warm, warmer than it should have been even in late summer. He looked down and recognized the building across the street where he had, in fact, almost purchased a condo loft 25 years before. He started to think but brought his attention back to the legal discussion. The balcony faced downtown just a mile away. There was something static about the grey sky and the solid towers. It seemed utterly predictable, obvious, eternal. He found it comfortable, utterly understandable, manageable. He listened carefully.

Eventually the call ended. Before it did he said something about always taking the law, but not lawyers, seriously. Again everyone laughed.  It occurred to him that being funny was little about what was said and more with the confidence of the delivery.

He stepped back inside. Jon had arrived and was now by the kitchen island talking to the model. His back was to him and was obscuring his view of her. As he came closer it seemed he couldn’t get a view of her, as if Jon’s body was rotating to prevent that.  He felt a strange pang of jealousy. He veered off to speak with Carol the advertising manager.

“Hi” she said, smiling, happy, he surmised, to see the culmination of her hard work.

“Hi. Are you getting what you wanted?”

“Yes. I’m glad you could make it.”

“It was easy for me. How was your commute?

“Long. Happy I don’t have to come downtown every day.”

He had his back to the shot and normally, since they were still very much in prep mode, he wouldn’t have cared. He would get his opinions known and influence the outcome. He still wanted to know what was going on behind him.

“For me it wasn’t bad. I like coming downtown. If I buy everyone a drink will you stay a little while after the shoot?”

“Hey Jim.” Jon wandered into the conversation.

“You made it”

“Yeah just a few minutes after you. Traffic was terrible.”

“Things seem to be coming together.”

“Yes. Looking good.” Like the photographer, like the food stylist. The model is really nice. We both went to U of I.” This relieved Jim from the task of trying to figure out  a way to ask what they were talking about.

Carol added, “I didn’t know you knew how to flirt.”

Jon blushed slightly, “You’re not giving me any credit.” And when neither Jim or Carol spoke for a moment, he added, “She’s really nice to talk to,” thereby indirectly proving Carol’s point.

“Just offering to buy drink afterwards. Let the ad agency people know that if we get out of here at a reasonable hour they’re are on me. It should be motivational.”

“Sure. Remember we have a call with the brokers at 11.”

“Yep.”

Jon introduced him to the crew starting with the photographers and working through the whole crew and last, standing patiently, waiting for instructions by the island was the model.

He didn’t wait for Jon to end the last conversation to introduce himself.

“Hi I’m James Bergesson.”

Hi I’m Samantha ______.” It was something complicated and Italian and he stopped listening half way through her first name anyway. When she accepted his handshake, she seemed serious. Her eyes were a dark woods but a moment after she took his hand and she broke into an ostentatious smile, her large eyes brightened and the corners turned up warmly.

“It’s nice to meet you. Things seem to be going well.”

“Yes it’s a great crew and a great space.”

“Do you do a lot of shoots?”

“I don’t know what  a lot is but I guess.”

“Jon says you went to school together.”

“Well the same school. He’s five years older than me.” Whereas I am probably 15 years older, he thought.

“Where did you grow up?”

“Really, where?”

“Around 79th and Pulaski.”

“St. Bede.”

“St. Denis.”

“St. Bede for me.”

“Not possible.”

“Why not?”

She looked surprised but didn’t answer than took an expression of dubiousness. Her face was incredibly expressive; she was the opposite of cool, seemingly unconcerned about his opinion or anyone else’s but rather engaged in the moment. She frowned, smirked, questioned but always returning to that subverting smile.

 

 

“82nd and Lawndale. You?”

“7850 Kolmar.”

“High School Mother McCauley?” The default for these neighborhoods were always the Catholic schools.

“Absolutely not. Queen of Peace.”

“Can of Peas. I dated three girls all named Maureen from the same graduating class at Can of Peas.”

Though James hadn’t noticed Jon had joined the conversation and laughed. “What are the odds?”

She almost snorted “Not as great as great as you might think. We were lousy with Maureens. How about you?” She said, returning to James. “What about you?”

“Well I went to Marist for a couple of years and then they invited me out.”

“For what?”

“They never caught me doing anything. However they never caught me doing homework either. I used my Aunt’s address and finished at Curie.”

“Miami Bowl High? I don’t believe you.” She had an energy that he didn’t quite comprehend. Was she teasing him? Did she think she was catching him in a lie?

“Yep. Let’s see. Know anybody named Pendergast? “

“No.”

“O’Brien”

“None of the first, tons of the second.”

 “I’m a lot older’n you.” For some reason he lapsed into a speech pattern from his upbringing. Then he knew why. He wanted to connect with her. But he had then said something he didn’t want to say.

“But I didn’t hang out very much in the neighborhood. I got involved with dance at an early age. I have almost no friends from there.”

“But you went to Groucho’s after midnight mass.”

“Bingo”

A voice called her name. “Can we get you back in the shot?”

“Sure.” And she smiled and turned away.

James needed to check his messages. He checked his pockets, shirt then pants, for his Bluetooth, then looked in his briefcase. For as much time as he spent on the phone it was much better to use the Bluetooth. He always put it in his dress shirt pocket. He was annoyed he couldn’t find it. 

Carol noticed him looking. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for my Bluetooth.”

“It is still on your ear.”

“Huh” He wasn’t embarrassed as much curious how he could be that scattered.

He checked his messages on the balcony, looking again at the building across the street. He felt a sense of strength, knowing his position in life in counterpoise to how he felt when he was last there. He stepped back inside again behind the shot. In fact it occurred to him that if he stepped the wrong way when coming in from the balcony he might actually end up in the background and so made a note to control his direction. He walked back towards Jon and Carol, trying to steal a look at Samantha posing. She of course caught him and smiled back.

At 11 there was a conference call with his regional brokers. The call was easy in one sense, he had a script describing the impending sale of the company.  Business was to be conducted as usual, no deal is done until it is done, professionalism required us all to operate in good faith, etc. But for most if not all the acquisition would lead to a loss of an important client. They knew it and they knew he knew it, but couldn’t address it head on.  Even though he had known many of them for a long time, his request for questions at the end was met with silence.

 

“Let’s see. Fourth floor corner, right there. Incredible view of downtown.” he pointed, “In the space of one hour I swear I decided seven times  to buy, and then seven times not to buy, that unit. It was really cool . Raw space. 14 foot ceilings. I knew the neighborhood would come around.” He was on the balcony again, this time with Carol and Jon eating lunch.

“So why didn’t you?”

“It was an eleventh hour thing. My realtor put in a bid that was way below asking and the seller accepted. But I had already put a deposit down on the 2 flat in Wicker Park and I felt obligated.”

That was the story he told people but while the details were true and relatively plausible, it left out the important details. His memory was of pacing, literally walking around in circles in the space, listening to his footsteps echoing, completely uncertain over what to do. First thing that Friday morning, he had gotten the call that the bid had been accepted. He asked the realtor to see the space one more time and met him there at noon. But right after he picked up another message, from his girlfriend Terri, sobbing hysterically that she was pregnant. He called her back over and over without an answer.

So he paced the floor while the realtor kept on reiterating the value of the opportunity, the qualities of the space and relative meaninglessness of his previous deposit, thinking he could convince James to sign the agreement to purchase. But it wasn’t indecision as much as uncertainty. He hadn’t considered marriage yet let alone fatherhood. He couldn’t get her on the phone to see what she wanted.  Did he love her enough? Did she love him enough? Even still they never lived together; could they make it work? The loft would be completely impractical for a family. The other house had bedrooms and a yard and even rental income. But it was perfect for a single guy, close to downtown and nightlife, very fun trendy. They wanted an answer and he walked away, knowing it would be lost opportunity.

He stared at the windows., Things worked out. 2 boys now grown. Financial stability. A stable relationship. No surprises. He was happy and he correlated that to certainty.

 

“Now they have you standing on a box?’

“We are trying to get different angles on the shot.” She held the pose without turning to look at him

“You’re not short.” But he noticed now that she was curvy.

“Even on a box I feel short next to you.”

“La Dolce Vita.”

“Cosa intendi? What do you mean?”

“You speak Italian.”

“Si.”

“Well I don’t. You could have been in La Dolce Vita. You are the kind of woman that Fellini would have cast, would have adored. And everyone knows he had wonderful taste in women.” He regretted the entirety of the statement. It was like a line and though he believed it, it felt like bullshit.

And she turned her head and  smiled and all of a sudden he had a notion that there was something undone, something that he had not taken care of. She went back to posing and he went to check email and to do lists. But he couldn’t find anything he was missing.

Finally the collaboration resulted in a shot that all agreed upon. She got the right pose with the right food and the right lighting and the last hour was spent on taking as many shots as possible with small adjustments to lead to the final ad. James then got involved with the photographers, checking on the monitor and then the physical shot and then back to the monitor and then back to, well her. He really had little critical assessment and he faked input, but with a practiced air of authority. But it was an opportunity to look at her. She continued to smile fiercely, defiant of the hours.

There was consensus among the creative, agency and James team that they had the right shot

The photographer asked, “Which of these do you like?” He flipped through a several pictures of the same pose with small nuances of difference.

While the creative aspects of photographic process were pretty foreign to him, he knew what he wanted from the ad. He had the vision.

“This the moment before the party starts.” He paused. “She has prepared all these dishes. She has agency. She is confident in the food she made and now is confident that the party will be a success. While he spoke he looked at her. The lights slowly faded and he could see only her face. “The key is the product she is showing us. It is the key. She is certain it will be a success.” He felt a little like the onset of a fever. He turned his head to stop the feeling and the photographer took it as cue to flip through the picture again. “I want…that one. I want charmingly… arrogant.” The crowd around the monitor was quiet and then murmured in assent.

At last she was set free. She stepped away from the counter island waiting to see if there were more instructions but gravitated towards James.

“Do you like it?”

“Very much. I am very pleased. It is going to be a great ad.”

“I’m happy. It was a really good day. These are such nice people.”

“It is an amazing setting too, isn’t it?”

She seemed to swell with enthusiasm. “Oh my god yes, The artwork! The Harings, the Matisse prints,  great found art. Also an actual Cornell Box. Although there’s a Remington in the other room, believe it or not, the usual animal in pain crap. Kind of a disappointment.”

“That’s what it was! A Cornell Box.” He paused for he couldn’t think if anything else to contribute off the top of the head. He loved art but particularly painting and yet hadn’t been to a museum in years. That made him a little sad but also self-conscious compared to her familiarty. He changed the subject,“I’m inviting all over to the Betty for a drink. Can you come?”

What’s the Betty?”

“A cocktail bar. Kind of high end I guess.”

“Well I have a date tonight but I think I can have one. I’ll change first.” He wasn’t sure what to say and instead said nothing. She kept he coy smile and turned to head into another room. He felt momentarily lightheaded and went to gather this things.

It ended up being a group of 10 so 2 cars and a cab were taken. James volunteered to drive, at first wondering if she would be impressed by the Mercedes and then was challenged by the notion that it would have the opposite effect: she would likely be bored with such conspicuous consumption. But she ended up in his car anyway. She was charming with the 2 ad agency people, playing contact bingo, trying to see about mutual connections but doing so in a light flippant way.

They all ended up at the bar at the same time were given a large table Through direction, misdirection, desire, authority and will he managed her next to a seat next to him.

The waitress appeared. This was an opportunity to show off, an area of expertise as a man who entertained for a living. Perhaps he could regain his bearing.

“What would you like?” He then directed the same questions the 2 young ladies sitting on the other side of the table, trying to make it slightly less obvious that he was interested in nothing else in the world.

No one else seemed to know what they wanted “Do you have Whistle Pig rye?”

“Actually we have a signature Old Fashioned using Whistle Pig.”

“That sounds great. Samantha, you have to try this.” She agreed.

“So what kind of dance did you study?”

“Ballet. 17 years of it. Do you like dance?”

“Not really. But it doesn’t like me either. Two very large, very left feet. But I can appreciate the incredible athleticism and grace of ballet.” He compulsively looked down at her feet, “I’ve never thought about it but is it better to have smaller feet or larger feet in ballet.” It felt like a stupid question. But she laughed

“In my case, it would have been better to have feet that didn’t break.”

“Oh that sounds terrible.”

“Long time ago now.” He said cheerfully.

They conversed with others at the table. He talked to other and stole glances at her, at her profile, at her black hair, at the dancing of her  eyes. The drink came in a special little bottle that allowed the guest to mix the drink themselves. They conspired to steal one.

“So you can’t do photo shoots every day, what else do you do?”

“I act. I sing. I do voice overs.” She said this with a matter-of-factness that revealed a sadness he hadn’t seen before. He wanted to ask but felt that maybe it was too personal explore.

“What kind of acting.”

“Mostly tv and commercials.”

“Anything I would have seen?”

“Do you watch cop dramas?”

“No. I don’t watch a helluva lot of anything in specific. But I’ll find it if you tell me what is.”

“I have a website. Let me see if I have a card or you can write it down.” She started digging through her purse.

“Do you have your singing on there too?”

“Yep.” As she continued to look

“While you do that, here’s mine.”

She gave up. “That’s fine. I’ll reach out to you. Look I have to go. I have to go on this date. I am not looking forward to it”

“Don’t sell yourself short kiddo.” He wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. He wasn’t certain of really anything.

She stood up. She said good bye to everyone. He dispatched with decorum and gave her an  embrace .

“Text me.” He whispered. Her dark eyes looked up at him. Her smile dissolved into something more poignant. He sat down. The floor of the restaurant began to tilt. He thought he might fall off his chair. 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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