"As an assistant bookkeeper, Warren, you must already be aware of the problems facing the company." The man behind the desk with the gold plaque reading CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER drums his fingers in the manner of someone anxious to get through an unpleasant situation.
The slightly older, slightly stouter, and slightly balder man on the other side of the desk picks at a tiny wool ball on the sleeve of his sweater. "Well, sir, I don't know what to say."
"There's nothing to say," says the man behind the desk, pausing his drumming long enough to pick up a piece of paper. "It's not as if you haven't done good work here. Looking at your qualifications, I'm sure you can find a better job somewhere else. In fact, Warren, I'm surprised you ever settled for this sort of position in the first place."
"Actually," says Warren, "there's a very interesting story behind my decision to join this company."
The finger drumming resumes. "Yes, I'm sure there is. It's just that I have several more ... "
"I know you do, sir. That's why I requested your secretary Rosalinda to make conversation with the other poor fellows in the waiting room until we're through. They won't mind a bit. As you know, she has a very agreeable voice."
"You don't understand, Warren."
"But I do, sir. I understand far more than you may realize."
I had just cashed my final unemployment check from my previous employer (says Warren), and was facing the inevitable drama of the next encounter with my landlady. The woman had developed a bothersome habit of loitering in my hallway with a waiting list of tenants in one hand and a cast iron frying pan in the other.
So, under such pressing circumstance, I responded to a newspaper ad stating that a large firm was then accepting résumés. I brought mine in person with expectations of gaining an advantage. But when I walked into the offices of the financial department and handed it to Rosalinda, I realized I had not gained, but just the reverse. I had lost -- lost my heart, utterly and completely.
"Gracias, señor," she said in her sultry Latin accent. "We'll begin interviewing next week." Just seven words -- their meaning couldn't have been more mundane -- but they were spoken in the most mellifluous voice I had ever heard. With a single sentence, I had been made a prisoner of love.
"I'm sorry, señorita," I told her, feigning an onset of momentary deafness. "Would you be so kind as to repeat that?"
"Just call back if you haven't heard from us in a week."
"Call you?" I asked, barely containing my enthusiasm.
"Sí. Call me."
And that I did. Every day thereafter. Sometimes two or three times a day. Even when filled with exasperation -- which it was most of the time -- her voice infused me with a bliss that is impossible to describe.
Then one day my phone rang. "Hola, Warren. This is Rosalinda. We have filled the job of senior accountant, but we still have an opening for an assistant bookkeeper. Are you interested?"
"W-would I be working in your department?"
"Sí. But the pay is only one half of the senior accountant."
The thought of having to continue to sacrifice gourmet desserts merely for the sake of a roof over my head flashed across my mind, but only for a moment. A vision of being greeted each morning with Rosalinda's "Buenos días," clinched the decision.
"When do I start?"
The humiliating experience of having menial tasks foisted upon me by a pimple-faced graduate of a non-accredited community college was more than offset by the sheer pleasure of listening to Rosalinda speculating on embarrassing secrets of other employees around the water cooler. At night I would fantasize I were a bed-ridden patient and she my nurse reading the complete works of Jose Luis Borges. So it was no surprise my knees shook when one afternoon she buzzed me. "Hola, Warren," came the dulcet tones of the voice. "Would you like to go out for a drink after work today?"
"I'll be there pronto," I said, not even worrying if she would expect me to pay.
Within hours we were ensconced around a table in a local cantina noted for its colored lights and garish dé cor. I was on the verge of asking her to read the wine list aloud, when her dark eyes suddenly focused on the distance behind me. "Ah, Warren," she crooned. "Do you know my amiga Prudence? Prudence, I would like you to meet Warren. Warren, this is Prudence."
Before I was able to complete the 180 degree turn required by manners, there came a voice so nasal, so abrasive, so like two Styrofoam chests being rubbed together, that I grabbed the table edge for support. "I've heard so much about you, Warren," was the meaning I was able to decipher.
I completed my turn to face a slight woman wearing a pair of thick glasses sitting atop a nose that seemed far too small to accommodate the monstrous adenoids her voice suggested.
"Prudence works in our IT department. She's is muy inteligente, just like you, Warren."
"Oh, Rosalinda, you're exaggerating," the woman said and then lapsed into a sort of chortle that resembled a bullfrog with an artificial larynx.
"And look, here's Ricardo from Engineering. Sit down, Ricky. You, too, Prudence. You don't mind, do you, Warren?"
I was too stunned to speak. This tall, rugged, despicably coiffed engineer used one arm to pull an empty chair from an adjoining table and placed the other around Rosalinda's shoulders. "Yo," he said to me.
A waitress materialized behind me. "May I get you folks something to drink?"
"As a matter of fact," said Rosalinda, "Ricky and I have to get going. His tia Luisa is having something removed from somewhere and we have to take her to the hospital. Don't we, Ricky?"
The pair of them stood up with completely unashamed nonchalance. I was appalled. "You can take Prudence home, Warren, por favor?"
"But ... "
The engineer winked at me. "Yo," he said.
The rest of the short evening was taken up primarily by a monologue on my part covering my life from birth to the moment I had ordered the drink in my hand. I talked long, hard, and continuously, petrified that Prudence would speak again. If I had ever complained about the sound of fingernails dragged across a blackboard, I regretted it. I gladly would have traded the voice of Prudence saying, "That's interesting, Warren," for an armada of fingernails across an ocean of blackboards. Somehow I found the strength to endure Prudence's directions to her home as well as her enthusiastic appreciation my company. "Thanks for a great evening," she said.
"My pleasure," I lied. "You are a most charming young lady." It was a terrible mistake. She giggled. A kind-hearted fellow pulled up beside us to ask if we were having car trouble.
"Prudence said that last night was maravillosa, Warren." Rosalinda popped her head around the flimsy partition that serves as a wall for assistant bookkeepers. "She's muy lista with computers and has a great personality."
"I'm sure she is, or rather, she does."
"The thing is, Warren, Prudence is my very special amiga. I wouldn't want any to ever hurt her. She's so sweet. And she thinks you're muy guapo."
"Ah," I said with appropriate modesty.
"Are you going to ask her out?"
"Well, I actually hadn't thought ... "
"Oh, Warren. It would mean so much to me if you did." Her voice -- that voice that flowed like nectar from gossamer clouds -- overwhelmed my senses and my sense. "I would be so grateful if you did. I would do anything for you. Anything! "
"What's her extension number?" I asked like a man in a trance.
"Whats'matter wich you, Warren? Been eating too much cheese again?"
I wasn't surprised that Burgess from Research and Development noticed my distress. Not only was I in the break room holding my head in my hands, but my Belgian chocolate tiramisu torte sat in front of me untouched. I told him I was wrestling with a difficult personal problem.
"Wrestling? I didn't think a guy like you would be interested in wrestling. I got a couple of tickets I can't use to the big match dis weekend down at the Trocadero. You want 'em?"
It was as if a compact fluorescent blub switched on in my mind. First, a slight delay, then illumination. My mistake had been to allow my personality to charm this woman. All I needed to do was convince her I was undesirable and she would leave me alone of her own accord. And what could be more undesirable to an intelligent woman than an evening watching muscled men in shiny briefs pretending to hurt each other?
"Sounds fascinating," I said. "I'll accept your offer.
"That'll be thirty-five bucks," said Burgess. "Each."
Of all the things that could be said about Prudence -- her urgent need for nasal surgery being primary -- one couldn't say she wasn't a good sport. Initially I needed to explain exactly what a professional wrestling match was and why its grotesque melodrama was so entertaining -- the latter requiring a great deal of imagination on my part. But I eventually convinced her the event was one of my most treasured ways of spending an otherwise perfectly good evening.
But in hatching my plan, I hadn't calculated on one thing -- my own lack of tolerance for such an abominable spectacle. Burgess' tickets may have been overpriced, but they gave us ringside seats, close enough that we were occasionally dowsed with showers of sweat. That was a mild inconvenience compared to the howling of the rabble in the audience, the trembling of the floor, and the roar of the near-human creatures they referred to as contestants.
I endured it stoically until a man in a striped shirt announced it would soon be our pleasure to meet the champeen, a gentleman named Donny Destructo and his arch-enemy, a youth known as The Masked Mysteriotron. I excused myself on a plea of needing to use the rest room, to which I took myself as quickly as possible, dodging a volley of popcorn and onion rings which were being hurled at the champeen.
In all fairness to myself, I had intended on remaining only long enough to calm my overwrought nervous system. But slumped against the less-than-sterile floor of the men's room was a man holding a brown paper bag who expounded the most extraordinary views on the decline of capitalism and a secret alliance of the Pope, fanatical Zionists, and hybrid car manufacturers to fluoridate American breakfast cereals.
By the time I returned to Prudence, the festivities were ending. I apologized energetically and repeatedly, but she seemed distant and subdued. In the welcome but oppressive silence in the cab on the way home, I began to feel guilty for my aversion-therapy scheme. She seemed, after all, a sincere and sensitive soul, and shouldn't be faulted for having the largest set of adenoids east of the Mississippi. When we arrived at her apartment, I went so far as to suggest I wouldn't object to a cup of coffee, but she wouldn't take the hint.
We ended the evening with the limpest of handshakes.
During the rest of the weekend I grew increasingly ridden with guilt. Monday morning I slipped into work early with the cleaning crew to avoid seeing Rosalinda who, I was certain, would have heard the details of my date. I lost count of the number of times I reached for the telephone to dial Prudence in the IT office to apologize, but was at a loss to put into words the effective sentiment.
At five minutes to five, I resolved to face the woman in person. I had progressed no further than to stand when I heard what I first took to be a goose being forced into a food processor. It was Prudence. She was standing behind my partition crying.
"My dear woman, what's the matter?" I asked, hoping to quiet her before someone summoned Building Security.
"Oh, W-Warren. W-when you left me alone at the wrestling match ... "
I offered her a tissue of which she made maximum use. "It was inexcusable ... "
"I ... I don't know w-what to say."
"Please, my dear, say nothing at all. Please."
"L-let me explain, Warren, Right after you left, Donny Destructo came into the ring. The crowd started shouting the meanest, most awful things about the shape of his nose and the size of his ears. It was horrible!. Even while he was growling back at them, I could tell that Donny's tiny eyes were filling with tears. Inside that monstrous shaved chest beat the heart of a tender little boy.
"From the first bell, the Masked Mysteriotron was all over him, urged on by that foul crowd. Poor Donny kept taking fake fall after fake fall without mercy. Then, at the end of the third round, the Mysteriotron lifted him by his feet and threw him out of the ring. Donny came down on his back and his head landed in my lap. For one terrible moment, I was afraid he might have broken his neck. 'Wake up, Donny,' I cried. He did.
"When our eyes met, something magical happened. It was as if we had known each other all our lives. The ref was counting him down and out, but all he could say was 'What's your phone number, doll-face?' Yesterday he called and proposed. I've quit my job to become his road manager. We're leaving right after work today. I'm afraid you and I will ... will never see each other again."
She pulled me back into my cubicle, took my hand, and stared into my eyes through her industrial strength glasses. "Oh, Warren. I hope you will be brave. I know I must have hurt you intensely, especially after you were so sweet to me. If it weren't for you, I never would have met Donny." She reached for what was left of the tissue and the sound of tortured geese began again. I was afraid her nasal passages were nearing critical mass. "What can I do to make it up to you?" she whined.
I was too stunned to speak. I was still trying to imagine how 'Prudence Destructo' would look on her driver's license when she pushed me aside. "I know," she said. She sat down at my desk and picked up my mouse. "You're linked into the company's financial database, right? Ever heard of VRACORD? It's a neat little utility I installed on the system. Voice Recognition Access Control of Root Directories. Where's your computer's microphone? Oh, here it is. Now just make up a password, Warren and speak clearly."
The man behind the desk with the gold plaque stops drumming his fingers and puts his hands behind his head. "VRACORD? The root directory of our entire financial database can only be accessed by your voice? That's a good one, Warren." He laughs "Everybody says you're a great storyteller, but this one's rich. Really a hoot."
Warren picks again at the fuzz ball on his sweater. "The woman was feeling extremely grateful."
The man behind the desk shakes his head and picks up the phone receiver. "Rosalinda, I know this will sound crazy, but have you ever heard of something called VRACORD? Yeah, VRACORD. Huh? You have? We do? It is? Since when? Oh, no, I just wondered ... "
The man puts down the phone and starts drumming on the desk again. "Well, Warren, I don't know what to say."
"There's nothing to say," says Warren, rising. "When I see Rosalinda on the way out, I'll ask her to set up a meeting for next week. I think it's time we discussed a promotion."