“Can you make lunch, Robert?”
Bob Haas, who likes to be called “Bob,” not “Robert,” looks up from the Cardinals batting averages on his computer screen. “Make lunch?” he asks.
Clinton Barrymore, who likes to be called “Clinton,” not “Clint,” chuckles and says, “Actually, I didn’t mean literally to make lunch. I meant, ‘Can you join me for lunch?’ Or are you too busy.”
“You kidding? I’ve been here a week and haven’t had squat to do.”
Clinton chuckles. “And you’re doing that very well. Better than you realize, actually. I had in mind a little Italian place. Milano. Know it?”
“In Purchasing we never went out for lunch. Too busy.”
Clinton stands up from a leather swivel chair bigger than some recliners. His slate-topped, walnut desk, dominates the office to Bob’s right, facing the office door left of Bob’s gray-metal, corporate-issue table equipped with three squeaky drawers. Behind Clinton looms a cascade of shelves made of the same wood as his desk, bearing books and crystal figurines above a credenza, also matching the desk, on which sits a brown-tone globe in a walnut stand. Clinton spins the globe.
“Busy,” he says. “Ah.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Bob says, “what is it I’m supposed to be doing here?”
Clinton pivots to face Bob and grins, eyes bright as headlights on a new BMW, the white shirt he always wears brighter still and wrinkle-free, his tie—new each day and expensive—unnecessary in a company where, according to Human Resources, every day is casual day.
“Excellent question, Robert,” Clinton says. “We’ll let that be our conversation starter.” He leans forward and switches off a brass lamp overhanging his leather-edged blotter, on which sit a marble-based pen stand, brass-trimmed pencil holder, and matching little rack bearing Clinton’s business cards. From one of these cards, a visitor might learn that he or she had found his or her way to the Office of Executive Development, Grover Power Solutions, Incorporated, Clinton Barrymore, Manager. In the week Bob has spent doing nothing in this office, no one has visited. Fluorescent ceiling lights make Clinton’s desk lamp unnecessary. The only development in evidence is of Clinton’s collections of intricate crystal and luxurious office accessories, on which he spends much of every workday speaking by phone with suppliers he obviously knows well.
“Shall we?” Clinton asks. He snatches a smart umbrella with a crystal handle from a walnut coat tree next to the credenza.
It isn’t raining.
“They have a nice Chianti Classico here—”
“I never drink at lunch,” Bob blurts.
“Ah,” Clinton says and orders a glass. “What will it be, then, Robert? Iced tea, I suppose?”
“Water with lemon, thanks.”
The bow-tied waiter raises thick, black eyebrows matching his moustache, jots the order, and withdraws into savory essences of garlic and smoldering hickory. Clinton scans the cozy restaurant, its neat tables with checkered cloths and bulbous glassware at ready, half of them occupied. He grins. Occasionally he nods, greeting acquaintances.
“My table,” he tells Bob. “Actually, not literally my table, but where they know to seat me.”
“You must come here a lot.”
“You’ll want the veal scaloppini,” Clinton says. “It’s not on the menu, but you’ll want it.”
“I was thinking of a salad—”
The waiter brings drinks. Clinton orders veal scaloppini for both of them. “And a Classico for my friend with another for me.”
Bob shrugs. “Why not?”
Clinton holds his glass by the stem, contentedly scans the restaurant, sips Chianti. His face is lean and tan, his brown hair neatly trimmed and starting to show gray. He plays tennis.
“Nice place,” Bob says to break the silence.
“Actually, I know a nicer place, but Milano doesn’t require neckties.” Clinton says this while glowering at Bob’s neck.
Reflexively, Bob pinches his open collar. “To be honest, you’re the only manager at Grover Power who wears a tie every day.”
“Ah,” Clinton says.
A stout man in a navy-blue suit approaches with a two-octave grin.
Clinton stands, extends his right hand, and says, “Dale. How nice.”
The men shake hands.