Moof was trying to suppress the grin with a lockjaw grimace. “Why’d they send you?” he asked rhetorically. “Because SOME damn fool ACCUSED YOU of being the BEST!”
And with that he brought his right arm up to an arm-wrestling pose and flexed his biceps. The grin came out. “Huh? Heh?” I didn’t take the bait. I didn’t even get the joke for another five minutes.
“I’m a little surprised to see you, Moof.”
“I know, right? What a crazy world. Step on in here and have a seat. Travel okay? Car ride okay?”
“Can’t complain, I suppose.”
“Well, you could complain, but who’d give a shit?”
We sat in the tweedy chairs alongside the table. Not directly across from each other; Curtis sat at the end and I sat across the corner from him. Or at least, that was the initial pose. He shot out of the chair almost as soon as he’d touched down, like he’d sat on a tack. “Wow, it is good to see you!” He turned toward a bland cabinet. Everything in the room looked like it had been picked up from the as-is section of IKEA, except the Miller High-Life which now appeared. He sat back down and popped his.
I stared at him.
“I know, right? Of all the gin joints, in all the towns.”
“Mind telling me what’s going on here?”
He stared back. “That’s your assignment, after all.” I nodded. “Well tough tittay. You have to visit first. Drink your beer and let’s ketchup, mou-tard.”
“Lettuce Beef Friends, is that what you’re saying?”
“Woo fucking hoo. Now we’re synchronized. How’d you like my man Boyd?”
“Was he the one at the plane, or the one that drove? Pretty boring.” I held the unopened can of beer in my hand and rolled it along my thigh. It was warm. “What are you doing here? I thought you had moved on to academia or something. ‘Swat I heard, anyway. Professor Curtis.”
“A part-time adjunct position, you could say. Limited student body, you could say. Plenty of time for research sabbaticals and extracurricular activities, and, what am I looking for…”
“Intramural sports, you could say.”
Curtis laughed. “Intramural sports, yeah. Yeah. Speaking of, your hip still shot? Knee? Was it the left?”
“Right knee, or…?
“No, you’re right, the left knee, and the hip is still shot.”
“Well, serves you right for giving up sales.”
“Speaking of sales…”
“Oh for CHRISSAKES. Relax, would you! It’s old times and lullabyes! We go back! Way Back! Why can’t we just sit here and drink beer and shoot the shit? What’s the matter with you? Where’s the old geekface nerdatron? I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”
I rolled the beer. He smiled a little, that winning grin that always closed a sale.
“Not that anyone ever expects…”
“Moof, I always liked you. I did. Even when you stole my skateboard.”
“I borrowed that skateboard.”
“You stole it. Where’d it go? Where’d it end up? Not at my house.”
“I think I traded it for weed.”
“This is my point. You always have a hustle. I always fall for it. Everyone does. HR sent me out here because you’re meeting your numbers but they can’t figure out how. If I knew it was you, I could’ve saved a flight. I would’ve just told them you had some kind of hustle going on, and then I would’ve asked what braindead asshole thought it was a good idea to let you run a sales office, much less one more than about thirty feet from home. Now I’m out here and you’re going to get me fucked because I always liked you and I’m going to be in some kind of position where I’m going to get fucked. And then you’re just going to walk away golden. Because that’s what you fucking do.”
He leaned forward. “You gonna bark all day, little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?”
“Look, I’m sorry. You started talking ‘positions’ and ‘getting fucked’ and I got all excited. I earned everything I ever got, including your goddamn skateboard. I’m here in Analbeads because they thought I could get the numbers up, and I did. I’m excelling. I’m motivating. I’m delivering in ways they can’t even see yet, because I am building for the future. And I’m doing it on budget. Fast, good, and cheap.”
“Nobody does anything fast, good, AND cheap.”
“Think about this for a minute. What do they want to see? What do they not want to see? Do you think they really care about how or why, or for that matter, who?”
“I think you mean whom.”
“No, no, I think you’re wrong. In this case it’s who. Because I’m not talking about a specific person, I’m literally saying who could be anybody and they don’t care whom. You going to open that beer?
“Fine.” And I popped the top, and with a loud pfft it sprayed up, foamed over, and the unmistakable smell of American Stank spilled over my hand, on the table, and all over my lap. Curtis didn’t look surprised, and made no effort to get me a towel.