When I met Jeff, I hated him instantly. Everything about him was wrong. When he spoke he purred like a cat. When he listened he nodded a lot but he didn’t agree. He wore a baseball cap with a business suit and he was short and cocky. He seemed almost familiar, as though I’d hated him somewhere else, before.
We met when the venture capital firm he worked for bought a controlling share in the software house I worked for. Our Managing Director was Aedan, a mixed up Irishman from Dublin who had married a Scottish girl and had lived in Glasgow for years. Aedan made a short announcement.
“And dat’s all Oye focking know,” he concluded. “It’s really fer de best. Dey’re sendin a man te come an tell us a wee bit more aboat it.”
The next day Jeff arrived in a two-tone Porsche. He didn’t tell us more about it, not even a wee bit. Instead he made a feel-good speech using nothing but corporate jargon. He was touching base and keeping us in the loop and hoping that we’d all be singing from the same hymn sheet ASAP. He said all these things in the calm and superior way that only an ignorant person can pull off.
After his speech he met with department heads. Seeing him up close confirmed everything I’d hated when he was making his speech. He wore an ugly Rolex and his suit whispered when he moved. His aftershave smelled like a bag of coins.
“Nice tie,” he remarked wryly as we shook hands.
I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
“It came with the jacket,” I replied.
He massaged my hand for a few seconds and then he moved on.
“What are you doing?” he asked a few days later.
He’d wandered into my cubicle and pulled up a chair.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He sat down, glanced at his Rolex and checked his cufflink.
“It’s a simple question, really,” he sighed. “What are you doing?”
He clearly hated me too.
“In the fullness of time,” I asked, “or right now?”
Jeff pinched the lobe of his ear and looked around my cubicle.
“Let’s start with this instant,” he said.
Once, when I was in the 4th grade, I sat with my lips puckered against the window pane while I watched cars passing in the street outside. Miss Mentz appeared in the aisle beside me and demanded to know what I was doing that instant. I didn’t have an answer then, and I didn’t have one now.
“I’m digesting my lunch,” I said.
Jeff did a pico-smile and waved this away.
“At the macroscopic level,” he suggested.
From where I sat, I estimated, I could punch him in the nose.
“What am I doing that you can see?”
Jeff’s cell phone vibrated and he took his time to look at it. Then he got to the point.
“What are you doing that I can charge to our customers?”
I was right to hate him. He didn’t care about the venture. He only cared about the capital.
“I filled out my time sheets,” I said.
Jeff stroked his tie and inspected his cufflink.
“I looked at them,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
He leaned forward in his chair and spoke under his breath.
“You’re the lead architect, for fuck’s sake. You can’t put thinking on your timesheet.”
“But that’s what I did.”
He sat back and surveyed me.
“I doubt that,” he said at length. “What would happen if Alex Wilmot had to see that? We cannot charge for your thinking.”
I’d never met Alex Wilmot but the name was synonymous with trouble. Alex was the financial director of our most difficult customer and apparently someone you didn’t mess with.
“Sweet Jaysus,” Aedan had once complained. “It’s not Wilmot. It’s focking Won’tmot.”
I couldn’t care less about Alex Wilmot nor about Jeff’s time sheets.
“I’m paid to think,” I said.
Jeff took a deep breath.
“Use one of the approved codes,” he purred, “like everyone else. Think, if you must, but dress it up as design.”
He got up to go.
“I wasn’t designing,” I insisted. “I was thinking.”
He buttoned his jacket and looked at his Rolex.
“Use the codes,” he said, and left.
A few days later a woman walked into my cubicle.
“I need some help,” she said.
I had a deadline that afternoon and a lot to do before then.
“I’m busy,” I said without looking at her. “Go away.”
“I’m Sandy,” she continued. “Jeff sent me.”
I stopped what I was doing and turned around.
“Hi,” she said.
She looked less friendly than she sounded, but more attractive, perhaps because of that.
“Hello,” I said. “Jeff should know better. I’m busy right now.”
“It’s about time sheets,” Sandy said. “I need help with the codes for design. Jeff said you know all about them.”
Jeff had clearly decided to hound me through someone else.
“Do you work for Jeff?” I asked.
“We work together,” she smiled. “Please?”
“Look,” I said, “you couldn’t pay me enough to like time sheets. Jeff knows that.”
“It’s very important,” she said.
“I’m sure it is,” I replied, “but it isn’t to me.”
Sandy studied me for a moment and while she did I began to envy Jeff. She was quite beautiful.
“I can be very persuasive,” she said.
It was getting silly.
“It’s not going to happen,” I said. “Please go away.”
I actually wanted her to stay but the idea that Jeff had sent her made me angry. I turned to my computer.
“I always have my way,” she insisted.
I couldn’t believe this. What annoyed me even more was that I found her increasingly alluring, the more irritating she became.
“Always,” she emphasized.
“Well,” I said, “maybe you’ve had your way with Jeff. Maybe you’ve had your way your entire life, up to this very moment. But that all stops right here, right now.”
“Are you serious?” she said.
“I am,” I said and ushered her out of my cubicle.
Aedan arrived a minute later, with Jeff in tow.
“What in under fock were ye tinkin!?” he roared. “Are ye insane?”
“How can ye tell Alex Wilmot te fock off?”
“I didn’t! Jeff sent some woman—”
“Ye gobshite! Dat was Alex Wilmot!”
For the second time that week I remembered Miss Mentz. I had a single line in the school nativity play—Behold, a star!—and I kept forgetting it. “You’re useless,” she shouted. “Just keel over and stink!”
“Her name was Sandy,” I stuttered.
“Sandy is short for Alexandra,” Jeff intoned.
“Jeff is short fer a focking numpty,” Aedan cut in. “Ye could’ve warned him.”
“I thought he knew,” Jeff said and stroked his tie.
“I thought Alex was a man,” I mumbled.
The next day, Jeff and I went to apologize to Alex Wilmot. Aedan made us do it.
“Ye tree stooges will kiss her arse till it’s snow focking white,” he said. Then he turned on Jeff. “And don’t think cos ye’ve bought some shares Oye cannae crack yer bollocks!”
“Who’s the third stooge?” I hesitated.
“Sweet Jaysus,” he said. “Ye’ll have to dobble up, laddie.”
We drove across town in Jeff’s Porsche. We didn’t talk much. Jeff smelled of coins and he wore a pinstriped suit I hadn’t seen before. In a brand new lapse of judgement I’d put on a T-shirt that bore the slogan WHEN TWO WRONGS DON’T MAKE A RIGHT, TRY THREE.
“Nice tie,” Jeff said as we pulled up outside.