“You could really use some pussy, kid,” said Sean’s uncle.
“Bart!” Sean’s mother snapped, “Language!”
“Or cock!” said Uncle Bart, his hands raised in front if him in mock surrender. “I don’t care either way. Just do something to celebrate.”
Sean raised a forkful of seared salmon to his lips, but his mother’s hand secured his arm before he could finish. “Smaller bites, Sean,” she told him. “You’re almost thirty. You should know better.” She added, “And, regardless of his vulgarity, I think your uncle is right.”
“You agree with me?” Uncle Bart snorted. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Sean dusted the pink flakes off of his fork and decided to saw off a slice of asparagus instead.
His mother glowered. “I agree that a celebration is in order, Sean. You’ve made company history; nobody has been able to secure that account. Not even that creepy fuckface, Harima.”
Sean chewed, swallowed, dabbed his lips with a napkin, took a sip of sparkling water, and said, “It had not been brought to my attention that this client was the focus of an intercompany war.”
Uncle Bart grunted, “The way that fat bastard struts around, you’d think he owns the place.”
“He is responsible for over half of this company’s revenue,” Sean said, contemplating whether he should again attempt a bite of the salmon or go for a sample of the risotto. Based on his experience, the latter was normally a forgettable byproduct of the otherwise exemplary dish, but rumor had it that a new hire in the kitchen staff was a little more creative with sides than his predecessor. “Some of Harima-san’s swagger,” he concluded, “is duly earned.”
“I’m just saying someone needed to take him down a peg,” Uncle Bart insisted.
Sean decided on the risotto. What the hell; life is short. “I don’t put quite that much value on Schadenfreude,” he told them before he took a taste.
“This isn’t about Schadenfreude,” his mother agreed. “It’s about success.”
The rumors were true. The risotto now ranked above the asparagus when it came to the flavors on this plate.
“And success deserves a reward,” Uncle Bart added.
“Yes, it does,” agreed his mother.
“Evidently there is a second time for everything,” Sean muttered. More loudly, he said, “I find a 10 percent commission for an transaction of that magnitude to be sufficient reward.”
Uncle Bart shrugged. “Maybe if you threw in some pussy.”
“It’s not like I can buy him a drink!” Uncle Bart snapped.
“That’s not even remotely funny, Bart,” his mother growled.
Sean groaned. “I am going to explain this in a manner I hope the both of you can appreciate: I am paid for a skill at which I excel, so anything less would be a disservice to the company. It just so happens that my talents were better suited to woo this potential client than Harima-san’s.”
Uncle Bart shook his head, and his mother rolled her eyes.
Ignoring them, he continued, “Therefore, the business I’ve just conducted will not be validated by another’s genitalia, nor by any other frivolous gesture either of you could concoct.”
Uncle Bart put his hand gently on Sean’s shoulder. “I worry about you, kid. You’re always so… I don’t know… glum.”
“There is no cause for concern,” Sean explained. “I’m not dour. I merely am.”
“It’s those pills you got him on, Amber,” Bart said. “They made him into a zombie.”
“They saved his life!”
Sean wasn’t particularly hungry, so he switched his attention from the table to the restaurant in general, specifically the men. Some were plump like caesars, and some were fit like movie stars. Most wore ties. All wore starched collars and polished shoes. Some even wore vests. Sean wore a vest and a tie. His color was stiff, and his shoes shone.
He noted that few ties made it over to the bar, and all that did were loosened. Sean’s remained snug.
He tried to ignore the women, particularly the ones in crowds, because the ghost of the last person he ever wanted to see tended to drift among them. But his eyes looked anyway and were immediately haunted by the uneven edges of her dirty fingernails, the threadbare scarlet of her favorite long-sleeved T-shirt, the sexy tangles of her hair, the denim-clad superiority of her strut, and wicked curve of her smirking lips.
Her apparition smelled like stale cigarettes and bourbon, and it whispered his name. Actually, though, it never used his proper name–it called him asshole, just like she did.
Whenever she possessed him like this, his fingers took the opportunity to act of their own accord. They dismantled one cufflink and had already begun working on the second when his mother’s hand clamped on his forearm.
“Don’t embarrass me,” she whispered.
“Then perhaps I should depart,” he replied, “before I do that.”
“Really,” she said. “Really?“
“I could always remain here,” he told her, “but there is an itch in my wrists, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes unbearable.”
She released him, and he stood, reaching for his wallet.
“Put that away,” she said. “Uenishi-san told me the company should treat you for your hard work.”
“That was very generous,” he replied. “I’ll make it a priority tomorrow to express my gratitude.”
As he made his way to the coat check, he heard his uncle tell his mother, “Nice work with your kid there, Amber.”
“Bart,” she replied, “you know as well as I do what’s under those sleeves.”
“Still,” he muttered.
Sean didn’t hear the rest, because all of that was behind him for now. And the very instant his feet touched the sidewalk outside, he tapped a ten-digit number into his cell phone. “Deuce,” he told the voicemail that picked up immediately, “it’s Fancy-pants. I’d like to have a conversation.”
A few moments later, he received a text. He hailed a cab and read the contents of it to the driver: “Suffolk and Rivington.”
“Are you sure? That’s maybe a hundred blocks from here.”
“Eighty-six,” Sean replied as he slipped into the backseat. “And I am sure.”
As they drove south, Sean watched for her phantom in windows and doorways and on corners, but she didn’t show.
After about forty-two blocks, the driver cleared his throat. “You don’t really look like the kind of person who would hang out in that area.”
“And how would you describe the ‘kind of person’ who might ‘hang out’ in that area?”
“I am young,” Sean told him.
“I mean, acting young,” he clarified. “You know, with the funny clothes. And the hair.”
“I agree,” Sean said. “I am not that ‘kind of person.'”
The rest of the ride was silent.
Deuce waited on the corner of Suffolk and Rivington, a crumbled a paper bag in his hand. In exchange for it, Sean gave him a large wad of cash and twenty-five minutes of his time, during which Deuce boasted of and described his sexual conquests and the methods he used to achieve them. Eventually, he got bored and returned to whatever it was he did when he wasn’t selling drugs.
At long last, Sean had no family, no business, and no friends to crush him; he was truly alone. He smiled. “Hello, darling,” he said to the city that reared him. “It’s just you and me now.”
He’d wandered less than a block before his phone went off. He sighed and read the display. No name appeared, but the area code belonged to the client whose future transactions Sean had just secured. He looked at his watch. The person on the other end would either be very happy or very upset; only extreme emotion would prompt a call at this hour.
“This is Sean McCoy.” He waited for the phone to talk before replying, “Hello, Mr. Clark.” The phone barked, and he told it, “As a matter of fact, I am the agent who conducted the sale. If I remember correctly, you were present when negotiations began. I hope, in that case, your question was merely rhetorical.” He held the phone away from his ear. After a moment, he said, “We’re professionals, Mr. Clark. That kind of volume, tone, and language is unacceptable.”
The phone asked a question, which Sean answered, “Because it creates a sizeable profit margin, which is beneficial to my company, but does it in a way that your company is able to afford our rates comfortably and indefinitely. I thought that was obvious. Was this also rhetorical?”
It answered his question with a question. “I am indeed being condescending, Mr. Clark, because this phone call serves no purpose other than empty bluster.”
There was more such bluster, and Sean allowed it. “There is a contract, Mr. Clark, that was signed and notarized this afternoon.” Sean looked at his watch. “Technically yesterday afternoon, but only by thirty-three minutes.”
He resumed walking north while the phone, with a great deal of gravitas, told him something. Sean replied, “Given that your company is called Clark Industries and you are the majority shareholder, I had surmised that you were the owner, but I appreciate your clarification of that point.” He interrupted when it tried to talk again, “However, sir, you had explicitly given Mr. Franklin full authority to act and make decisions on your behalf, a duty he performed remarkably, if I do say so myself.”
As the phone went off on a lengthy rant, he crossed Houston Street into a neighborhood of bars and college students who laughed and flirted and huddled together. Her ghost was everywhere. This only strengthened his belligerence. “I would advise against that, Mr. Clark. The attorney my company has on retainer happens to be my mother, and she is nearly twice as ruthless in court as she was at home.” He added, “To grant you perspective, I should inform you that she was exceedingly ruthless at home.”
Sean stopped in his tracks with a frown, not caring that he was standing the middle of the road as he did so. “Yes,” he replied cautiously, “I am familiar with that television franchise.” The phone asked a follow-up question. “It’s been years since I’ve encountered it, but I seem to remember that the character in question was an artificial life form with no emotions that was baffled by humanity, but drawn to it nonetheless.” Amused, he resumed his journey, saying, “I can see the resemblance, Mr. Clark, but there is one key difference: While I do find humanity baffling, I am otherwise ambivalent toward it.”
He rounded the corner onto to First Avenue, scanning the area for taxicabs; it was late, and he wanted to enjoy some of the marijuana in his pocket before work tomorrow. Besides, it was really obvious how tired he was getting: the ghost he just saw on the corner didn’t look like the others that usually followed him around. This one’s hair was longer, its clothing fit better, and the last edges of its youth had eroded beautifully away. It was definitely time to bid his phone adieu. “Our business partnership goes into full effect at the start of the next quarter. I suggest that, between then and now, you grant Mr. Franklin sole contact with my company, inasmuch as you can’t be trusted to …”
Behind him, the ghost spoke. It said, “Wait a fucking minute! I know that asshole’s voice!”
He turned back around, and every single thing inside of him simultaneously froze and burned. She was not the will-o-the-wisp had been daydreaming of all this time. She was real.
“Sean?” she whispered.
Holy shit. She. Was. Real.
“Fuck me in the ear!” he replied before dropping his phone and running like hell.
What’s next for Sean?