"Who the hell was that?" A tall, slim man wearing a North Face jacket steps into the crosswalk, speaking over his shoulder to his lagging companion -- a much shorter, much stouter, and much balder man.
"Only some people," the companion answers.
"What do you mean by 'only some people,' Warren? How do you get off knowing anyone who rides around town in a limo?"
"It's just as I said. Only some people. Some people I used to know. Let's leave it at that."
"Let's not leave it at that," says the man in the North Face jacket. "I'm not going to have lunch with a guy who leaves it at that."
Warren smiles. "If you would agree to pick up the tab for our upcoming meal," he says, "I will relate the entire sordid affair."
* * *
It began a great many years ago (says Warren), when I had a position in the accounting department of Schmeltzer Industries. The Elder Mr. Schmeltzer had died of an aneurysm six months prior to my taking employment, and the business had fallen under the ownership of his son, the Younger Mr. Schmeltzer. The Younger Mr. Schmeltzer was full of all the callow zeal of a recent graduate of the Wharton School of Business. He seemed intent on disturbing the onerous but familiar status quo -- the delightful grist for our mill of daily complaints in the company break room.
For example, it was not in the memory of the most experienced employee, an African-American gentleman named Jedediah Jones, that the Elder Mr. Schmeltzer had ever spoken to him in over thirty-five years. This despite the fact that Jones had encountered his employer daily in the men's room, the former attending to his business in a literal sense while the latter did the same figuratively. So it came as a surprise when all seventy-six of us received with our paychecks an invitation to a company party at the ballroom of the Presidential Hotel.
As you know, I am not accustomed to attending parties. There are few things that I endure with less gusto than parties. In fact, faced with the choice between a medical exam by an overly zealous proctologist and going to a party, I would unhesitatingly choose the exam. But, as I had pinned my career hopes on one day obtaining the position of CFO of Schmeltzer Industries, I returned my RSVP and steeled myself for the ordeal.
My worst fears were realized. In the center of the ballroom was a long red table holding a crystal bowl from the edge of which depended a circle of wan, previously-frozen crustaceans. Next to this were plates of out-of-season fruits, supermarket cheeses, and fuzzy toothpicks. Beside this scene of gastronomic horror stood a forlorn mass of humanity, grasping plastic cups and paper napkins, hoping to avoid meaningful conversation at all costs.
I was reckoning the possibilities of a graceful escape when I heard myself being summoned. "Warren," said the voice of the Younger Mr. Schmeltzer. "There is someone I want you to meet."
My youthful employer was standing beside a middle-aged woman of immense proportions, both vertical and horizontal, with a markedly equine countenance. "This is my Mom, Ruth Schmeltzer," he said displaying filial pride. "Mom, this is Warren Borman, one of our best men in Purchasing."
"Accounting," I corrected him.
"Cool," he said.
The woman was looking at me rapturously through several layers of mascara. "You look like a man who appreciates a good home cooked meal," she said in a husky voice. She took one heavily bejeweled hand and began rubbing my mid-section in a circular motion.
I was dumbstruck. It was the first time my abdomen had been in contact with a female since tripping over a kneeling cheerleader in the eighth grade.
"Why don't you come over to my place for dinner tomorrow night, Warren," she said, inclining her magenta lips toward my ear. Then, winking, she grabbed hold of my trousers and yanked them so forcefully I experienced an intense abrasion across my perineum.
"He'll be there at eight," said the Younger Mr. Schmeltzer.
* * *
The next day around one p.m. the phone rang, rousing me from my usual Sunday hours of repose.
"Warren, this is Mr. Schmeltzer. I was calling to remind you that Mom is expecting you at eight o'clock."
"I wouldn't want you to forget."
"The appointment hasn't left my mind for a moment," I said, rather too truthfully.
"Good. These past few months have been a real drag for Mom. I wouldn't want anyone to let her down. She would be bummed out if anyone let her down."
"And I would be bummed out if anyone let her down."
"I can only imagine, Mr. Schmeltzer."
"Well, I'm glad we've had a chance to shoot the breeze a little, Warren. You seem like a pretty cool dude."
"I try my best," I said.
* * *
With my career in the balance, I arrived at the Waldorf Arms Apartments precisely at eight. As luck would have it, I had passed a wedding party exiting a nearby church and was able to nip in and pinch several long-stem lilies from the altar.
"I'm here to see Mrs. Schmeltzer," I said to the doorman, a slight fellow with a Hitlerian moustache.
He narrowed his eyes. "Mrs. Ruth Schmeltzer?"
"The very one," I replied.
He took notice of the flowers in my hand. "You taking those to her?"
I assured him that was my sole intention for the bouquet.
"You got a date with her?"
I was becoming irritated at this inquisition. "If you must know, sir, I am dining in with the lady."
What he said next was he did under his breath, a consideration for which I was grateful. He allowed me to enter and pressed the call button. "Somebody in a mismatched suit here to see you, Mrs. Schmeltzer," he said as if she were an unfortunate homeowner and he a termite inspector. "Says he's your date."
"Send him up, Ralph," came a dark voice through the speaker. And up I indeed went.
I had no need to knock on her door as she was waiting for me at the threshold. It was not so much her gold lamê dress, cut low enough to reveal the majority of her prodigious bosoms that made me shudder. It was her substantial forefinger, protruding and bending in a come-hither gesture. "Come in, Warren," she said. "Don't be afraid."
I did, but I was.
The apartment appeared as large as a person of Mrs. Schmeltzer's dimensions required. I was not able to see much of it, however, because she seemed to have forgotten to turn up the lights. When I pointed this out to her, she only laughed -- rather like a panther clearing its throat.
"Sit down and have a drink, Warren." She indicated a long leather couch, draped in shadows of a scented candle. "I'm going to slip into something more comfortable."
It so happened that my knees were beginning to buckle, so I did as I was bid. On the glass coffee table was a crystal goblet and a bottle containing what I made out to be banana brandy. I poured myself a generous helping and sloshed it down, hoping it would take the edge off my anxiety. The position of CFO, I repeated to myself, paid nearly twenty-nine thousand dollars a year.
The silence of my meditation was broken by the sounds of a crooning voice that I was able to identify as that of the late Barry White accompanied by the Love Unlimited Orchestra. I downed another drink.
In a few minutes, my date returned to the room. Mrs. Schmeltzer wore what appeared to be a loose gray sweat suit and red high-topped sneakers. I'm not certain, because at that moment the room began to spin, and my date seemed to be at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. Oddly, the tunnel grew narrower around her face, which was grinning like a thoroughbred who had won the derby. Then all went black.
* * *
I woke up with a torturous throbbing in my cranium. My first thought was that I had been roundly beaten with a club. When I aroused myself I discovered I was still lying on the couch in the Schmeltzer penthouse apartment. Light was pouring in through the curtains. The blue wicker clock on the wall read twenty minutes past ten. I sprang to my feet only to totter backwards.
"Mrs. Schmeltzer?" I whined, holding my throbbing cranium.
There was no answer.
In fact, there was no one in the entire expanse of apartment. After walking around aimlessly searching for some clue to what had transpired, I left, locking the door behind me.
"So it's you," said Ralph the doorman as I attempted to make a discreet exit from the lobby. I assured him that I was truly me.
"You just leaving?"
I wanted to say that it was not one moment too soon, but I held my tongue. I had no desire to discuss the vicissitudes of my love life with the public.
* * *
I went straight to work, not taking the time to return to my own apartment. There was a large yellow piece of paper taped to my computer commanding me to report to the Younger Mr. Schmeltzer immediately upon my arrival. I was disheveled from sleeping in my clothes. I hadn't eaten in nearly twenty-four hours. My face was unshaven and my teeth unbrushed. But I hoisted myself upstairs to the president's office.
"Kind of late, Warren," he said, putting the tips of his fingers together and rotating them.
"Please forgive me, sir," I said to the whelp. "It won't happen again. You may dock me for the entire day if you like."
"The entire day? Ha! That's a laugh." There was something unsettling in his tone. "You spent last night in Mom's apartment."
I was at a loss to respond.
"Don't play games with me, Warren. I know all."
I brightened. "You do, sir? Then perhaps you can explain it to me."
He stood up. "I'll explain it to you, Warren. You took advantage of a dinner invitation from a lonely, vulnerable widow and turned it into an opportunity to get laid. I'll admit that Mom's a hottie, but that's no excuse for satisfying your disgusting cravings by hopping her bones. They've invented a term just for guys like you, Warren. It begins with 'mother' and ends with 'ucker.' Now get out of here. You're fired."
"But, Mr. Schmeltzer ..."
He slammed his fist on the intercom button. "Maureen, get Jedediah in here right away. I have a piece of garbage I need removed."
* * *
To say I was distraught would be an understatement. My career hopes appeared dashed forever, made all the more bitter because I hadn't done a thing to deserve it. I cleared out my desk like one in a trance, bade farewell to the boys in the break room, and left the dirty white stucco offices of Schmeltzer Industries for the last time.
For hours I wandered the city, horrified by the specter raised by 'help wanted' signs in windows of greasy spoon restaurants. By nightfall I had stirred myself to such a degree of self-righteous indignation that I my steps irresistibly led me to the grand entrance of the Waldorf Arms Apartments.
The doorman was not to be seen, but I slipped in behind a snow-capped octogenarian with a key. In a trice I was pounding on Mrs. Schmeltzer's penthouse door.
She opened it a crack. "Oh, it's you," she said.
"Enough of 'it's you,'" I said, "and more of what-in-the-name-of- Hades is going on. First you extend an invitation to dine and instead slip me what is colloquially called a 'mickey.' Then your son tosses me out on the sidewalk. What I want to know is why?"
She sniggered. "You've been a pawn, Warren. There was a man who I was in love with, but couldn't get to make a move. I figured if he knew there was another man making time with me, he might get jealous enough to do something about it. And I was right. He did."
I was outraged. "But why? Who?
"Ruth, dear," came a voice from within, "are you coming back to bed?"
"Right away, Ralphie," she said.
I pushed the door open far enough to see the doorman, clad in nothing but his cap and an expression of delight, readied for love.
* * *
"A month later," Warren says to the man in the North Face jacket, "I received a wedding invitation from the happy couple. Along with it was a Help Wanted ad for the position of doorman at the Waldorf Arms Apartments. I responded to neither."
The man in the Northface jacket leans back into the booth. "And you're telling me that's who we just saw in the limo? The mother of your old boss and her husband, the doorman? That story sounds pretty fishy to me."
Warren just smiles, pats the corner of his mouth with his napkin, and picks up the check from the edge of the table. "I believe this is yours," he says.
-- Jonathan D. Scott