Comdex - 1 - Prelude to Change
They say that everyone has a twin somewhere. What happens when your twin is dead, as well as being a lady. The following story is fiction, more or less. Enjoy.
This series began a couple of years ago, and like many I set it down unfinished, uncompleted. The original Title was Comdex, Clothing, and Confusion. The first few chapters are rewrites.
Comdex — Prelude to Change
Copyright 2003 Beth Williams
I want it clearly understood; there I was, minding my own business, bothering no one, and no one bothering me - that was important to me. You see, I’m 6’ tall, weigh in at 374 pounds, and I am a transgendered. The evening this all started I was wearing a black floral dress with a purple sweater. I had no fears of passing. I'd worn this outfit to church. I have found that once you reach a certain degree of obesity the differences between male and female body types really starts to blur. I knew that with acceptable breast forms, as long as I conformed to the image of a fat chick no one would pay me the least bit of attention — except to bemoan the fact that such a “pretty woman” was so fat. And yes, that comment had been made about me.
It was Monday, the 12th of November, 2001, in Las Vegas; I was attending the annual Comdex computer show. Yes, among other things, I’m a computer geek. I worked as a senior systems manager for a university in California. The crowds were lighter than previous years, a result of the 911 attacks I suppose. I had traded my pumps in for sneaks after a long day in the exhibit halls, and had taken the Comdex shuttle over to the Cox Pavilion for the annual HP-Chili fest — one of my favorite annual events. The Chili fest was in its 12th year — and all the proceeds went to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. I had no sooner arrived than this man bumped into me. He was at least 6’3” , and VERY skinny - a real bean pole. I could have ignored him but was drawn by look on his face. He looked as if he were in shock, TOTAL shock and I thought for a moment he had suffered a heart attack. Staring at me he took a step or two backwards, burst into tears, and ran for the ranks of Taxis. This was definitely a different sort of experience. I took a quick check of myself — was I somehow “read”? Was my slip showing? Why such an extreme reaction?
The woman behind me on the shuttle asked what was going on and why the man ran off like that?. I simply shook my head, and the two of us headed towards the ticket counter. Sue, my new found friend proved to be a delightful conversationalist, and we found much in common. It turned out that she worked for the University of Massachusetts in Amherst — near where I had attended graduate school. Sue however, was a chili novice, and had no idea that chili could be anything other something you served out of a can (shudder). I decided it must be my mission to introduce her to real chili. I encouraged Sue to sample some of the more exotic recipes. I had no problem getting Sue to try a white chili. She was a little bit concerned about the fat content in the pork chili, but absolutely refused the rattlesnake chili. I just laughed. As always, the chili's were great. We sampled as many as we could, drank coronas, listened to the music, and compared notes on our respective schools. If she suspected I was a man, she never once then, or later, let it show. Towards the end of the evening, we were both a bit buzzed, and decided to share a taxi back to our hotels. The lights and action of Las Vegas were, as always, mind numbing and I was glad to drop Sue off, and get back to the Excalibur Hotel. A quick shower and I was headed to bed. Lying there, I couldn’t get the image of the horror stricken man out of my mind. When he looked at me, it was almost as if he had seen a ghost.
The next morning, Tuesday, I took it easy, and spent some time in Kristina’s — the Excalibur salon. I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure, followed up with a leisurely breakfast in the Sherwood Forrest Café. It’s corny, but I love the whole King Arthur medieval thing about the Excalibur. I was just finishing up when this man walks up to my table and asks if he can join me. Yep, you guessed it, the terror stricken man from the night before. He had red puffy eyes, an unshaven face, and wore clothes that looked like he had slept in them. I wasn’t sure if I should scream or run. As I began to frantically look for help, he lowered himself into the chair opposite me, and began to softly weep. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to be afraid of someone when they’re weeping. Call it a misplaced maternal instinct, or whatever, but I couldn’t help wondering what was wrong, and why I triggered such powerful emotions in this man. After a moment, he looked up, and tried to compose himself. Saying nothing, with great difficulty, he took out his wallet, removed a picture, and handed it to me. I turned the picture over and found myself staring at a picture of me — wearing a dress I know I’d never seen before. As I looked back at the man, he explained: “my name’s Hal, that’s my wife, Kate. She died in September in New York. When I saw you, I couldn’t help myself. I thought Kate had returned from the dead. I’ve spent the night wandering around trying to understand, trying to find you. As I was returning to my room, I saw you through the window. Forgive my disturbing you, but can I ask your name?”
It was without a doubt the beginning of the weirdest day of my life. Forgetting that I was in femme, I blurted out “John” in a baritone no one could mistake as feminine.
Now I thought I’d seen this man distressed before. This time, his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, he shuddered all over, and passed out. Not a good move on his part. Think about it. I’m sitting, in femme, in a hotel restaurant with a disheveled man passed out at my table. Fortunately this was Las Vegas, and I guess disheveled guests passed out at tables were not that uncommon. I called to my waiter, paid my check, and asked if he could help me get my “husband” back to “our” room. The waiter called a bellman, and they helped Hal to his feet (you would have thought he was totally drunk the way he staggered), and the bellman helped me get Hal to my room.
Why my room you ask? Well, I didn’t want to search his pockets in public, but I definitely wanted to get him to a less conspicuous place. The maid had already tidied up the room. Hal still was not able to focus very well, so we laid him down on the bed. I tipped the bellman, and waited for Hal to come around.
I was glad the room had a well stocked bar. Two Bloody Marys’ later I was felling mellow, and Hal was beginning to remember who he was. I made my third Bloody Mary, and figured, why not, and made one for Hal. As I started to hand it to him, I gave him a little smile. Again, he did the shuddering act, his eyeballs rolled back, and he was out like a light. I am NOT used to this reaction. You might not like fat chicks, but I’ve NEVER had someone: a - run away screaming in terror; b — pass out at my table; or c — faint dead away simply because I smiled at him. I simply had to find out what the deal was with Hal. I sat the Bloody Marys down, turned on Oprah, and waited for Hal to come around again.
Half an hour later, more or less, Hal showed signs of returning to the land of the living. This time, I simply pointed to the Bloody Mary, and said not a word.
“You’re a man?” I simply nodded. “I can’t believe it.”
“If I talk softly, will you promise not to pass out on me again?” This time he nodded. “By the way, if it makes you feel any better, when I’m dressed like this, my friends call me Beth.”
“Thanks, Beth.” Again, he unconsciously shook his head.
“Do you suppose you can tell me why you keep on taking naps? “
“Ah…. Yeah, I have been a bit out of it. Okay, first your voice did me in. There I was sitting with the twin sister of my dead wife and it turns out she’s her twin brother. Or whatever, then, as I wake up, you hand me my favorite drink, as Kate did a thousand times, smiling with Kate’s smile, and I lost it again. You are absolutely and incredibly identical to her in your looks, your smile, your voice, and your mannerisms. I just can’t believe it.” His eyes misted, and he gave me a sort of twisted half smile.
“You do realize you’ve more than sufficiently weirded me out?” I asked teasingly. “Here I am, minding my own business, enjoying Comdex and relaxing in my own special way and YOU drop into my life, scaring me speechless, fainting at my table, causing me to tell the waiter “my husband isn’t feeling well…” my HUSBAND????” I began to giggle uncontrollably, and oh how I hate it when I giggle…. “And now in my room, you’re in MY bed, drinking my Bloody Mary….” At which point I lost it, sitting back on the couch, laughing like a mad woman.
“Can I ask you a question?” Hal said.
“Why not, what else could happen?”
“Why are you dressed like a woman?”
If you’ve ever met a friend in femme, this has got to be the number one question of all time. “Normal” people just don’t quite understand. “I suppose it’s because I feel at peace this way, I enjoy being feminine, it’s when I’m dressed, feeling confident, being accepted as I truly am that I am best able to relax and be myself. As for others I say: “To hell with convention, to hell with political correctness, and to hell with what other people think!”
It was getting to become an annoying habit. His eyes rolled back, once again, and it was nighty night time for Hal.
Oprah was over, so I turned the channel to Oxygen. There was an interesting interview with Dorothy Chandler on her new romance fantasy. It was a mindless and fun way to waste another half hour….
Hal began to stir once again. “Okay…. What was it this time?”
Sheepishly, he smiled “Kate gave me virtually that same lecture when I asked why she wore dresses when most women were wearing pants. Your tone of voice, the feeling and sincerity were Kate incarnate once again. Woman, you’re beginning to really scare me!”
‘Woman’ I thought. Well we’re past the “weird transgendered freak” stage I hope. “Uh, Hal? You know it’s nearly noon?”
“Lord, I forgot about the time. I’m an exhibitor, and I’ll bet my staff is frantic wondering where I am. Can I use your phone?”
I pointed at it and told him to go ahead. It seemed the easiest way out of what was beginning to make Alice in Wonderland coping with the Mad Hatter appear sane.
I wondered off to the bathroom, took care of the Bloody Marys and freshened up my face. By the time I returned, Hal had finished with the phone and had this strange look on his face.
I began to look for a way to get him to lie down before he passed out again, urging him back on to the bed. For the first time since I met him, he responded with a genuine laugh.
“Nope, I’m not going to pass out again. Since you’re at Comdex, are you in the computer industry?” His question caught me off guard.
“Well yes, I work for a university; I have a modest staff that handles several mission critical UNIX applications.”
“Really?” I didn’t like the mischievous gleam in his eye.
“What flavor of Unix do you work with?”
‘Uh oh….’ I thought, I don’t know where this is going, but suddenly all kinds of alarms are going off in my head. “ HP, Linux, BSD, SCO, a few others, why?”
Hal had a shit eating grin on his face and I'm beginning to think this is really NOT good. “Why that’s perfect!” he said. Do you do consulting at all?”
Is this an innocent question? How do I best answer this one I thought? “Yes, sometimes, doesn’t everyone? Why do you ask?”
“Oh I don’t know. Maybe because my company works with HP and their UNIX products. Would you be willing to help out from now till Friday? I’ll pay you your normal consulting rate and a bonus.”
“I’m not going to lie. I miss my wife. You’re the next closest thing I’ve found, and I’m willing to pay to be in your company for a couple of days. I need to “relax and be myself” and my employees need me that way also.”
Geez, I hate it when someone uses my own words against me. I thought perhaps I could still scare him away. “You haven’t asked what my consulting fees are.”
“You know, if it’s HP-Unix, it’s probably in the $150 to $300 dollar per hour range. How about we go with the high end?” Again, he had that miserable twinkle in his eye.
Since my normal rate was $180 per hour, this would be a premium gig. Forget the weirdness, “How many hours?” I asked.
“Oh 8:00 in the morning till 6:00 at night; call it 8 hours on Wednesday, but there’s also an evening get together on Thursday, so call it 14 hours, and maybe another 8 to 12 on Friday, and don’t forget, you’ve been taking care of me all day today” he said.
Now, I’m not greedy, but by my calculations, close to 40 hours at $300 dollars an hour is the next best thing to $12000.00 for three days work. A sum any BOFH would respect. “And you want me to dress how?” I asked.
“Why dressed as you are now. For the next three days would you mind if I called you Kate?”
Maybe $12000.00 was not enough. Was Hal serious, or a serious nut job? “Hal, Kate’s dead. Do you really want someone else in her place?”
“Beth, I know you're not Kate, Hell, you're not even Beth, it's John, right? So you're not Kate, but you'll do. There were many things I didn’t get to tell her, and she was the heart of my company. Many of the employees would give anything to have her back, even if it's just for a few days. When she died in New York, no one could believe it. They never did recover her body.” For the millionth time today, his eyes misted. I really have this thing about tears, I can’t seem to resist them — though till now I thought it was only my wife’s — and every other woman’s — but it never occurred to me that a man could reduce me to jello by tearing up.
“Hal, why don’t you go get cleaned up? I need some time to think. And one thing I know is that YOU need a nap. You’ve been on your feet for the last 24 hours at least — not counting the naps you’ve had with me. Go take a shower, take a nap, and we’ll talk about this later.” I was hoping that a few hours would give friend Hal a better perspective. I needed to do some more of Comdex to justify my expense account, and Hal definitely needed time to clean up and sort things out in his own mind.
“Okay Beth,” he said, “but I’ll expect you to be ready to continue this conversation over dinner. Will 7:00 be acceptable?”
Uh oh…. Now I have a date, maybe, with a man who thinks I’m his wife returned from the dead. “Just for dinner and planning” I asked?
“If that’s the way you want it. Oh, by the way, I’ve asked my driver to be available for you this afternoon. He has instructions to take you shopping for a couple of little things for the rest of the week, if you accept. Is that okay?”
Shopping? Are you out of your mind? I love shopping, but almost NEVER get to go as Beth. It’s a matter of being responsible with family finances — vs. — what I want.. “Hal, that’s sweet, but are you sure it won’t be an imposition?”
“Well, look at it this way. If you accept, you’re going to need more than I think you’ve brought with you. Do you have a “formal” gown for Thursday’s night party? Friday will be hard and sweaty work, did you bring casual clothes? And, if you are Kate, you’re going to need jewelry appropriate to the part. Don’t you think?”
Formal; jewelry? What am I letting myself be in for? “Uh, Hal…. Isn’t that something to be included in tonight’s discussion?”
“But of course, my dear. Nevertheless, time is short, and I would rather be prepared for any eventuality. Besides, it’s only money.”
The way he said that left me cold. “It’s only money???” I’ve spent my whole life scrimping and saving. And Hal tells me “It’s only money”. Sheesh. “Hal, you are seriously in need of sleep. I’ll accept your driver, but we are going to talk about this, I mean we are REALLY going to talk about this, understand?”
Love? Oh My Gosh…. Hal took my hand, gave it a gentle squeeze, and then brushed his lips against it. “I’ll see you this evening.” With that, he made his way to the door, and I closed my eyes wondering if I would ever escape the Mad Hatter’s Party? Or was I forever ensconced in the March Hare’s world?.
The answer was no, The March Hare was in control. It was 12:15 when Hal left. At 12:30 Jeeves arrived. I really REALLY wish I could tell you I was making that up, but his name actually was Jeeves. His knock on the door was gentle but insistent. When I opened the door, his eyes opened wide, nearly bulging out of their sockets.
“Madame Kate. I had no idea. I was instructed to accompany you shopping. Mister Stevens instructed me to help you with certain purchases. If you are ready; we can begin.”
‘Stevens?’ The plot thickens… “Please, call me Kate, where are we going?”
“Well, Mister Stevens told me about your harrowing ordeal, the problems with your memory, and the loss of your wedding bands. His instructions are to purchase a new set. He specifically instructed that the engagement ring was to be a solitaire, of suitable size in yellow gold. The wedding band could be in what ever setting you desired.”
A ring? I couldn’t imagine what Hal was thinking. He scared me the way he said ”suitable,” - for Hal I'm sure this meant BIG. You know diamond rings that cost more than the gross national product of some small countries. I followed Jeeves down to the car. Car? Limousine was closer to the truth. Jeeves took me to Boulevard Mall. My first destination: the jewelry stores. Jewelry stores plural, as in six different stores. Jeeves took his instructions seriously; his employer told him ”suitable”, and nothing less would do. After the sixth store, I told him, to stop, and I went back to Bailey Banks and Biddle jewelers and selected the wedding set I’d most admired. Jeeves protested the stone was barely 3 carats. Tongue in cheek I said I thought I could live with it (even if I still couldn’t believe it!). I asked if they could size it while we waited. I suppose I wasn’t supposed to see it, but Jeeves took the jeweler aside and paid him $500.00 to do it now.
That’s how I managed to wind up at 1:30 in the afternoon with a diamond ring the size of Gibraltar on my left hand ring finger with a matching wedding band proclaiming my heart’s true love’s devotion. Oh Vey! Jeeves also insisted on a couple of other “little” things, like matching 1 carat ear rings, necklace, tennis bracelet, and a new watch that cost more than my car.
Jeeves next took me to “Gowns are Us” (can you believe the name??). I asked him what we were here for. His reply was “Mister Stevens wishes you to be the most beautiful woman at the company reception tonight. He also specifically requested that you be suitably attired for Thursday’s dinner and reception.”
Uh oh… Reception?? Did anyone say anything about a reception? I knew I must be in Wonderland, and began looking around for Alice and the White Rabbit — and a way to escape.
“Uh, Jeeves? What is this about a reception tonight?”
Ummmm. “It’s a company tradition Mrs. Stevens. Tonight you and Mr. Steven's announce the year’s profit statement in a private reception for your senior managers.
Before I could escape, Jeeves asked the manager to personally help me and supervise my choices. Amoment later a young woman joined us. First she greeted Jeeves with a huge hug, a BIG smile on her face. Annie then turned towards me, gave me a quizzical look, and smiled. “It’s SUCH a pleasure to see you again Kate, you know how SELDOM I get to help one of America’s richest women in choosing a new gown,” she said this like it was an inside joke, with a twinkle in her eye, a kiss on the cheek, and a gentle hug.
‘Gulp,’ “One of America’s richest women???’”
It struck me as being an overly intimate greeting. I wondered what was going on.
Have you ever had a suddenly sinking feeling? The kind that all of a sudden, without warning causes you to believe there’s no such thing as reality? I just know the look on my face was the same as a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car. Annie just smiled again, told me no one would know who I was, and proceeded to tell me about “the collection.”
I learned an interesting lesson. When you are presumed rich, size limitations no longer exist. In the past, I settled for shopping at The Avenue, or Catherine’s. Not today. Gowns R Us, despite the name, was indeed a haute couture fashion house, and one that believed in satisfying it’s clientá¨le.
Annie checked my measurements, consulted her computer, and then asked if I would like tea or water while we waited for the models. Models? It just keeps on getting weirder. Think about it. Hhere I was, sitting on a divan (much to nice to be called a couch), chatting with a 20 something clothing designer sipping Earl Grey tea while 4 plus size models “presented” “the collection.” Surreal.
Annie and I finally settled on a platinum colored dress with matching duster, and a black beaded evening gown with matching cloak. She finished writing the order, picked up her teacup and casually asked, “oh, and by the way, who exactly are you anyway?”
My life had gotten completely out of hand. Have you ever been in an express elevator, the kind in a really tall building? The kind that when it goes down you feel like you’re weightless? That’s what my stomach felt like. “Excuse me?”
“Hon, I’ve known Kate and Hal for most of my life, they are my foster parents” she said with a wistful smile. “They helped me start this business. Five years ago I was Kate’s assistant, and had an idea for a new kind of clothing pattern software. Kate spearheaded the development, I worked on the concept, and Cendar developed it. When it was done I founded Gowns R Us. You are remarkably like Kate in every possibly way, except one. You had no idea who I was,” she giggled, “you were given away as soon as you walked in the door. Now again, please, who are you?”
“Alice, and I’ve fallen through the looking glass. And I’ve just figured out you must be the Mad Hatter,” I sighed. “Since I met Hal last night, my life has been absolutely crazy!”
Annie laughed outright, “Hal can do that to you. He’s been really down since Kate disappeared. I was afraid he would do harm to himself. I even looked for someone to seduce him, hoping to break through his depression. I’ll tell you this, when he called to tell me you’d be by I could hear the smile in his voice. I don’t know how it’s happened, but you are just what he has needed.” Annie came over and gave me a hug, “thank you for helping my dad.”
“You can call me Beth, so, where do we go from here?”
“Just keep on being nice to Hal, I’ll be here to help you if you need anything.”
With that, Annie asked that I return in 2 hours for a final fitting. I told Jeeves I was done, and suggested we find a place to have a cup of tea; but Jeeves was a man on a mission, “Two hours Madame? Good, we have time to find matching shoes.”
Back to Boulevard Mall. “I don’t suppose we could just stop in Payless Shoes could we Jeeves?” Jeeves just shuddered and shook his head. Fortunately, Macy’s was not beneath his notice and I knew from past experience they often carried larger sized shoes. I wound up with a pair of rather elegant strappy black sandals with a modest 1- ½ inch heel, and a pair of silver pumps, and, thanks to good ' ole Jeeves matching handbags.
I still had half an hour before Annie was expecting me. Jeeves kindly stopped at a Catherine’s, and I was able to pick up some casual clothes for Friday, and a black slip for tomorrow’s reception.
Back to Gowns R Us. Annie was as good as her word. I don’t know how, but they had managed to get both dresses completed in that two-hour period. I hadn’t planned on it, but Annie had matching underwear for both dresses selected. The platinum dress fit perfectly, the black one however needed some minor alteration. I could sense that Annie was fit to be tied! She had confidently expected both to be perfect. Jeeves waved his Master Card; Annie smiled, and promised the black gown would be delivered first thing in the morning. Jeeves collected the platinum set, and once more we headed back to the Excalibur.
I noticed something. As Jeeves drove, he spoke of Hal’s company, and of the relationship Hal and Kate had with each other and with the people who worked for him. It really seemed to be more of a family atmosphere the way Jeeves spoke of how he and the other employees related to Hal and Kate. He seemed genuinely distressed over the way Kate had disappeared, and terribly relieved when I just happened to reappear today. He ignored my protests, and my lack of memory of things I should have known. I suppose he attributed it to my recent “ordeal.”
When I arrived, I found a large bouquet of roses had been delivered to my room. After depositing everything in my closet, Jeeves left, and I collapsed onto the bed. Half an hour later, the phone rang, waking me from a well-deserved nap. It was the hotel salon, Kristina’s reminding me I had an appointment at 5:30 for a complete makeover — and did I wish to come to the salon or would I rather they came to my room? Hal again, it had to be him. I looked at the clock, saw I barely had time for a shower and asked that they come to my room. I jumped up, quickly threw my clothes off into the closet, and ran to the shower. Yeah, I know, I’d prefer a bath, but there simply wasn’t time. I ran a razor over my legs, and then closely shaved my face. I had barely pulled my clothes on when I heard the knocking at the door. Opening it, I saw Tracy from the salon; Tracy was the one who did my nails that morning, pushing a cart laden with cosmetics.
“Hi Beth,” she said. “I didn’t know you had scheduled a makeover this morning, we could have done everything this morning!” I told her it was a sudden impulse and that I had a rather elegant reception to attend that night. I won’t go into details, but after looking at the platinum gown Tracy worked her magic, and by 6:45 had completely changed my look. I was astonished at how nice, actually how beautiful I looked. I praised her work, added a large tip (obviously Hal could afford it), and made a reservation with her for Thursday's reception.
I took a few moments to admire the roses, and for the first time noticed the card. It was a simple white note card: “Thanks for bringing beauty back into my life — Hal.” I sighed. I picked up the phone and called home. Linda answered, and I told her a little of my experiences with Alice, the March Hare, and the rest of the inmates on this side of the Looking Glass. Linda just laughed, and said, “That’s what happens when you get what you wish for!” I asked her to give our kids, Timmy and Lisa, a kiss good night for me, as I would be out late. Looking at the clock, I told her I loved her, and hung up the phone.
A minute later at precisely 7:00 I heard a knocking at the door. When I opened it, there was Hal. His eyes bulged out as his gaze swept from head to toe. “Lord, you’re beautiful! Thank you so much for seeing me this evening.” With that, he handed me a bouquet of white roses with baby’s breath.
“Hal, don’t you think you’re overdoing it?” I asked, “I mean, the flowers earlier were nice. And these are gorgeous, but geez, the flowers, the jewelry, and the shopping? I think I could have done just as well with a simple black dress from Catherine’s or the Avenue. Do you have ANY idea what this has cost?”
Again, with the goofy look. “Kate, I don’t care about the money. I just wanted to see you as I remembered. And seeing you here, now, has made it well worth the cost.”
“Hal,” I gently said, “remember who and what I am. When we leave this room, I’ll pretend to be Kate. But you need to remember that I’m not her. I’m a man, perhaps I should have been born a woman, I certainly think so. I love to spend time this way, but I am a man. I’ve a wife and 2 kids I love more than anything in life. You seem to be a good man. Certainly the way Jeeves speaks of you would indicate it. I’ve had a wonderful day, shopping in a way I never possibly could. I’ll spend the rest of the week with you, as Kate, but please, please remember who and what I am when we get to the end of the day.”
Hal just smiled, bent over and kissed my hand “whatever you say, my dear. Can I help you with your wrap?” It’s hard to sigh, tingle at the touch of his lips, and shudder at the predicament I found myself in, I suppose I probably looked like a dog shaking off water.
“Yes, thank you.” He held out the duster, and I slipped my arms in. Picking up my handbag, I took his arm as he led me out the door. ‘Somewhat like a lamb to slaughter’ I thought to myself. “What’s this about a reception tonight” I asked, “I thought we were just going to dinner and discuss the rest of the week.”
“Well, I sort of forgot about the reception this morning, what with passing out and everything” he explained with that same damned twinkle in his eye. “It’s really no big deal, just 30 or so senior managers for dinner and a little announcement.”
“I keep wondering when I’m going to see a large White Rabbit looking at his pocket watch.”
“What do you mean,” he said.
“All through the day I’ve felt like Alice falling through the Looking Glass. You have to admit; from where I sit things have been really strange. I’m not sure if you are who you say, or the White Rabbit about to throw an unbirthday party for me.” Hal just laughed.
When we reached the entrance to Excalibur, Jeeves was there with the car. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the Venetian, I’ve reservations at Emeril’s restaurant there.”
“Isn’t that the Delmonico Steakhouse?”
“Yes, it’s fancy enough for a party, and the food is great!”
The ride to the Venetian passed in gentle banter back and forth about Comdex, the Las Vegas Strip, and Emeril’s TV show. It turned out that Hal was something of a chef wannabe who avidly watched Emeril Live! whenever he could spare the time. Me, I’m more a beans and franks kind of cook, I cook well, but I use prepared foods most of the time.
If you’ve never been to the Venetian, I feel sorry for you. Words like elegant, awe-inspiring, magnificent, etc… simply do not do it justice. Jeeves dropped us off at the main entrance, and we entered another world, and another time. We walked in and turned toward the casino floor. On our left was the Guggenheim Museum of Las Vegas. A joint project between the Museum and the Casino, it showcased original works of art. Only in Las Vegas could something like this exist. Gold everywhere. Throughout the resort complex you could see art reproductions from the time of Michelangelo and Di Vinci, and a staff whose courtesy has to be experienced to be believed.
Dinner was superb, traditional American fare with a Cajun overlay is the specialty of the Delmonico. Reservations had been made for 28, though someone didn’t show up. For the entree I chose a petite filet mignon, which considering the situation I thought appropriate. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered Kate was no stranger to eating. Throughout dinner, person after person came up to me and told me just how grateful they were that I had survived the “accident.” The sense of love and family were evident in the way the entire party treated one another.
Throughout dinner, Hal was attentive to my every word. I mentioned the sense of family, and he gave me a rueful smile. “You know it’s your entire fault Kate,” he said, obviously speaking for those around us. “Do you realize that of the 27 people here, 23 of them work for us? That’s 11 couples in the senior management team that work for the company. You seem to have a positive knack as a matchmaker!”
‘Oh ho,’ I thought, ‘Kate must have had more than just technical ability on her mind when recruiting.’
After dinner, the 27 of us trooped across the hall to one of the Venetian function rooms. I chanced to remark to Hal that next time I was in Las Vegas I would be staying here. I just couldn’t believe how opulent the entire hotel and casino complex were.
I excused myself for a minute and made my way to the ladies room. The place absolutely screamed “money.” The fixtures were all marble and gold. I took care of business, and fixed my makeup. Joining Hal at the head table I encountered that look I was learning to be frightened of. That mischievous gleam that indicated something was up. I nearly ran back to the bathroom to see if I’d stumbled through the looking glass one more time.
The hotel staff had provided wine and snack foods. The meeting began to more resemble a party than a senior management team meeting. I knew Hal had more money than sense, but after his presentation of the last year’s profit and loss statement I began to understand just how little Hal cared about the money he had spent today. Someone proposed a toast to the company. Then someone toasted Hal. Then Jeeves got up the nerve and toasted my “return.” I fear I blushed rather more brightly than I would have cared to. Someone started gently tapping on his wine glass with a spoon, and then others joined in. I looked at Hal with a resigned sigh as he reached over and kissed me.
‘Back to weirdness central’ I thought, but the sensation of his kissing me was all together different than I was expecting. It was just the briefest of kisses, hardly more romantic than kissing your mother. But I was on the receiving end, and to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it — or maybe it was just the attention I was getting. A bride at her wedding could hardly have been more the center of attention. We separated, and the toasts went on, there must have been a dozen of them, each one with a little more wine.
By 10:00 I was more than slightly tipsy. I asked Hal how late the party would last. He just smiled and assured me I would be back in my room before I turned into a pumpkin. He turned to the rest of our guests and offered one final toast — to me. I smiled, hoping I would finally be getting to the end of the day’s weirdness. After the toast the tinkling of silverware on glass again gave Hal the opportunity to kiss me. Perhaps it was the wine, but this one went on a little longer, and was nowhere near as chaste as the previous one. I could feel his breath, smell his aftershave, and allowed my mouth to open a little to his advances. It was wonderful. Then of course I remembered who I was, where I was, and went back into panic mode. I nearly bit his tongue off. Hal just smiled that infuriating smile, and gently wrapped his arms around me in a warm embrace.
We thanked everyone for coming, and then left the function room. I was tipsy enough I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to where we were going. We turned and took an escalator to the second floor, and from there, an elevator to the 11th floor. It was just Hal and I walking down a luxuriously carpeted hall. About halfway down, he produced a key card and opened the door to one of the Piazza suites. “What’s this,” I asked.
“It’s a hotel room. As a matter of fact it’s your hotel room,” he replied.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, when you said you’d like to stay here I just sort of made it happen. While you were in the ladies room I called Annie at Gowns R Us and asked a favor of her,” Hal said, grinning with his infuriating smile.
“How do you know Annie?” I really wanted to check on what Annie had told me.
“Actually Annie is Kate and my foster daughter; she used to work with Kate. She developed an idea for using computers in manufacturing women’s clothing. Kate and I financed the project, and Annie’s our partner in the venture. Kate was her guinea pig, and has gone to her many times. I arranged for today’s shopping before my nap. Annie would do anything to keep Kate and I happy. I just asked her if she could deliver some things to make your life easier.”
I opened the closet and found a modest collection of clothes that were obviously in my size. In the bathroom was a tasteful selection of cosmetics. And in the dresser drawers were the undergarments to go along with the rest. Before I could turn and start yelling at Hal someone knocked on the door. It was a bellman with my luggage from the Excalibur. I was steaming mad while Hal grinned, tipped the bellman then turned back to me.
I had drunk enough wine to be confused. But Hal was already breaking our agreement from this morning.
“You bastard! What right do you have to run my life like it was your play toy? I was fine at the Excalibur, and yes, I did say I wanted to stay here sometime. But that would be with my wife! Think carefully Hal. If you want me to be Kate for the rest of the week then you had better damn well remember your agreement. Don't forget who I am!” I stepped towards him, I really wanted to slap a little sense into him. Instead, with all the wine I had guzzled at dinner, I tripped. Heels, even modest ones, can reach out and bite you in the ass at just the wrong instant. And Hal, remember Hal? He laughed, caught me, and helped me gently to the bed. The situation was so blasted ridiculous I had no choice, I began to laugh with him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, straightening his face. “I really was only trying to make you happy. I would have done the same for Kate, and I thought you would appreciate it.” Then his eyes misted. Please don't leave, I promise I'll try to do better. It's just so hard to keep things straight,” then the tears began again, softly running down his cheeks and falling onto the carpet. Hal turned away, and it became clear he was a man unable to come to grips with the loss of a beloved companion and partner.
“I only look like her Hal,” I said, reaching out to rub his back.. “I would never really be able to replace her. You have to accept that.” I changed the subject and asked, “Do you and Kate have any kids?” He shook his head no. “We wanted to, but life intervened.”
I sensed the pain behind the answer, but couldn't think of anything that might ease it. Instead I told Hal I had to go to bed. Yawning, I asked, “What time do I need to be to the Convention Center in the morning?” He told me 8:30, but not to worry about it Jeeves would pick us both up. He then told me that appropriate credentials would be delivered first thing in the morning, and I should review them before we left. I kicked off my shoes, and walked him to the door. “Where are you staying,” I asked.
“Here,” he said sheepishly, “I’ve the suite next door. Will you join me for breakfast at say 7:30?”
I sighed and agreed, and suggested room service. “I’ll see you in the morning,” I said.
Before I could react, Hal took me in his arms and kissed me goodnight. I really was too tired to fight, and too tipsy to argue anymore. Besides, he really was a good kisser.
Hal left, and I discovered the zipper on the back of my dress was stuck. I opened the door, and called out to Hal as he was entering his room. “Uh, could you give me a hand?” Hal returned, and I explained the problem, and my reluctance to damage the dress — it was simply too beautiful.
“So are you,” he said.
Damn him, he did that twisted grin thing again. I turned my back, and Hal carefully worked the zipper down, and I was about to turn and thank him when he leaned over and kissed the back of my neck and shoulders.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” he grinned and turned towards the door. “Is there any other service I can provide My Lady?” He turned back to me and wriggled his eyebrows, “Anything at all?”
Growling, I advanced on him, holding the dress in place to preserve what little dignity I had left. Hal wisely chose discretion and laughing fled before I got to the door.
I hung the dress in the closet, removed my clothes and grabbed a nightgown out of the drawer — I wouldn’t admit it to Hal, but the clothes were a distinct cut above what I normally wore. The nightgown looked and felt like genuine silk, what’s more, it reached my ankles. Usually I find with nightgowns I’m lucky if they reach past my knees. I washed up and moisturized my face. I unpacked my suitcases and noted that whoever gathered them up had been very careful. With the receipts from the Excalibur was a note from Sue, remember Sue? She left her number and asked that I call her whenever I got in.
I dialed her number, and she answered right away. “Do you know who that man was from last night” she asked. “That was Hal Stevens! Hon, I don’t know why, but he was out looking for you all night.”
“Slow down Sue, I know, he found me. You simply would NOT believe the day I’ve had.”
“Oh my gosh, you’ve got to tell me all about it. Do you have any idea how rich he is?”
“Uh, actually, yes, he took me to the annual profit report party tonight.”
Silence greeted me from the other end of the phone. “Beth, that’s not even funny. Do you have any idea how crazy that sounds?”
“Not NEARLY as crazy as it was to live it! Sue, honest, I’d love to tell you all about it. I started this morning at the Excalibur, and now I’m at the Venetian, and you could not begin to believe how weird this day has been.”
“You’re at the Venetian? What room?
When will I learn to keep my mouth shut? “1135.”
“I’m on my way!” The phone clicked as Sue hung up. Damn! I looked in the closet and found the robe that matched the nightgown. I grabbed a bra and put my breast forms back on. I slipped the nightgown on, then the robe and tied both ties closed. I put on a pair of slippers, poured a couple of glasses of wine and tried to relax, waiting for the inevitable.
In less than twenty minutes, Sue arrived. She was carrying a briefcase. I offered her a glass of wine, and explained I really needed go to bed. I told her I would be working at Comdex tomorrow. She pulled out a copy of Forbes and showed me a picture of Hal and Kate. “That’s why he was shocked when he saw you Beth; he thought you were Kate, his dead wife.”
Now I had enjoyed chili, beer, and conversation the night before with Sue, but I hadn’t noticed till now how hard it was to get a word in edgewise. “Sue, slow down. I already know. Now do you want to hear what happened or not?” So I began…. The manicure in the morning, Hal finding me at breakfast. His passing out at my table, and my taking him to my room. His passing out again. Our conversation. His passing out AGAIN, and finally my agreement to pose as Kate for the rest of the week. The shopping trip, the makeover, and the dinner. His moving me to the Venetian and my plans for the next two days. I told her pretty much everything, except my true gender.
Now I know Sue is pretty bright. But it wasn’t till I started showing her the results of shopping that she began to believe. The ring put it over the top. I had avoided knowing what the ring cost. Sue about fainted when I told her it was a nearly flawless diamond and just over 3 carats. “Hon, do you have any idea what a stone like that is worth?” she asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Well hold on to yourself, but if it was less than $100,000.00 I would be very surprised.”
Sue looked at the ring again, she told me how beautiful it was, and then she asked about the wedding band. I hadn’t paid much attention; I chose it because it was a matched set. The engagement ring was a round solitaire; the wedding band sort of surrounded the engagement ring and had a number of diamonds that complimented it. “Beth, you’re probably wearing two year’s salary on that finger. Was there any other jewelry?” I told her yes, Jeeves had purchased a new watch, matching bracelet and necklace.
“Jeeves? Now I know you’ve got to be telling the truth, no one would make up a name like that. What do you plan to do?”
“Well, I promised I’d be Kate this week, and I try very hard to always keep my promises.” I flopped back on the couch, I just hope he’ll let me go back to being Beth after the week is done.” I again told Sue I needed to get some sleep, and she finally left after making me promise to tell all. She also asked if I could get her invited to the banquet Thursday evening. Smiling, I told her I thought I probably could arrange it, after all my “husband” was the host
Laughing, Sue gave me a hug, and left. I called the front desk and requested a 5:30 wake up call. It had definitely been the weirdest day of my life, and tomorrow looked to be more of the same.
The phone rang. It was my wakeup call. I moaned and rolled out of bed. For a moment, I forgot where I was. Then it hit me. Comdex, Hal, Kate, and working the rest of the week as a woman. I smiled as I gazed at the rings on my finger. It was hard to believe how beautiful they were, and how incredibly expensive. I picked up the Forbes magazine Sue had left the night before and went into the bathroom to relieve myself. I was shocked to discover Hal’s company was in the top 50 technology stocks on the Dow Jones. His estimated income absolutely stunned me.
I showered, shaved (lots of places this morning), and powdered myself dry. I knew I’d never do my makeup as well as Tracy did the night before, so I settled on a subdued business look for the day. After brushing my hair out, I pulled it hair back into a loose ponytail. I opened the closet to select what I would wear for the day. Fortunately, Annie had included a couple of black suits. I pulled on my underwear and nylons, selected a crisp white blouse, pulled on the skirt and slipped my feet into a pair of black kid-glove pumps. I don’t know how Annie did it, but everything fit perfectly. A final spritz of Chanel and I was ready for the day.
At seven, I called home. The kids were just getting ready to leave for school, and Linda was going nuts trying to get them out the door. I could hear my daughter Lisa complaining that if she had a car they wouldn't have to take the bus. I heard the door slam and quiet prevailed. I told Linda all about last night, and asked if there was any way she might get a couple of day off and join me — I told her I really needed her support.
Now please understand: Linda is wonderful. She does however, have one serious flaw. When I’m down and floundering, especially when it's all my fault, and even more when it strikes her funny bone; she can’t even begin to do anything but laugh. Once, while we were engaged, it nearly caused us to break up. I thought she was laughing at me. Instead, she was laughing with me. Perhaps a subtle difference, but I understood when all the answer I received was laughing. For probably 30 seconds I endured her laughter, and as so often in the past, I wound up laughing with her.
“Hon, you got yourself into this mess. I can only say I’m glad you’re profiting by it,” then she was laughing again, “I don’t think I can get away, but I’ll ask. Do you suppose your mom will take the kids?”
“Promise her ANYTHING,” I told her, “ I need you!” After a few more minutes of more mundane conversation on things like how the kids were doing at school, I told her I loved her, and hung up the phone. I called down to room service and ordered the “All-American” breakfast for two.
At 7:30 I answered the door to find Hal in a business suit. “Have you ordered breakfast yet?”
“Yes, it should be here any time.” We sat down at the table and Hal pulled a thick envelope out of his inside coat pocket.
“Here,” he said, “this should be all you need for the next few days. I had my attorney courier it here last night. ”
I opened the envelope and nearly fainted. There was a Massachusetts Drivers License with what looked like my picture on it. Katherine Elayne Stevens. There were also a few credit cards, some business cards, a social security card, U.S. Passport, checkbook, and a PADI dive card. I was very surprised to find concealed weapons permits. Massachusetts is the most restrictive state in the country for issuing weapons permits. However, from the permit itself, it seemed that Kate had “carried” for almost twenty years. Even more difficult to obtain were the Federal Licenses. From his other pocket Hal handed over a Comdex exhibitor badge that simply said Kate Stevens, Vice President Employee Relations, Cendar Corporation.
“Hal, isn’t this a bit more than I need? I mean sure, I enjoy shooting but what the bloody hell do I need this Federal license for? And I don't think I going out of the country or applying for a job. Do you realize that I could steal Kate's identity with this? I mean this is overkill!!” I was beginning to get a bit paranoid. Were Hal, and Kate gun nuts or what?
“Not really Kate, All I’m doing is giving you what’s yours. Well, Kate’s anyway. Damn! This gets confusing. I’m sorry Beth, but I do have a hard time keeping the two of you straight in my head. I guess my lawyers got carried away. I told them to send me all of Kate's IDs.” Hal looked at the mess of documents on the table “You're right, you don't need all of this, but, why don't you keep it for now. That way at least I will know where they're at. I'll say this for them though, they sure are thorough.” Hal noticed the Forbes article, “So, have you been trying to figure out who I am?” Hal smiled as he flipped through the pages. “What do you think of Cendar and Hal Stevens now that you've read the article and met him personally?” Hal just turned on that damned grin of his.
“Hal the man is spoken well of by his employees — but you probably already know that. The author of the Forbes article seems to like you. Hal the husband of Kate seems to be head over heels in love with her even though she's dead. Hal the man who is responsible for the weirdest day in my life is still an enigma. I think we will become friends, probably very good friends. But that can only take place when you realize I can never bring Kate back, nor could I ever replace her.”
Hal smiled ruefully, “I'll try. I really DON'T know if I can do it, but I'll try.”
Hal pulled a small jewelry box out of his coat and handed it to me. Inside was a pearl necklace and earrings. “I knew you’d choose a black skirt and jacket, and I thought pearls would set it off nicely.”
“Hal, I shouldn’t accept this. You’ve already entrusted me with far too many dollars worth of jewelry. I hope you can get your money back when I go back to being me.”
“Entrusted?” Hal laughed. “Kate, errr.. Beth, uh John, whoever! I just said I'd try to keep who's who straight. But, on this, let me be me! I’ve no intention of returning them. I gave them to you, and I do not take back gifts. Anything I’ve spent, I’ve spent of my own free will because I wanted to, I have given them to you to make ME feel better, not you. It also helps to make you look more like Kate. Get used to it. I did it all the time for Kate, and for others I care about, and I’m not about to change on THIS point. Besides,” he grinned, ‘here it comes’ I thought, ‘he’s got that evil grin again,’ “they look beautiful on you.”
I didn't know what to do.
With that, he came over and pulled me to my feet. “Kate, I’m going to kiss you, please let me.” With that he pulled me into his arms and gently kissed me on the lips. ‘Why not,’ I thought, ‘he’ll be kissing me in public for the next few days.’
And for the first time, I let him kiss me and kissed him in return. This was no “sisterly” peck; I think for the moment, in his mind, I truly was Kate. My arms wrapped around his neck, and my mouth opened to him. His hands strayed down to my butt, and I could feel him gently kneading me while his other hand drew me closer.
I don’t think it would have gone any further, but I was profoundly grateful for the knock on the door and the call of “room service.” I answered the door, while Hal wiped lipstick off his face. We sat and ate our breakfast in silence, neither of us wanting to spoil the moment. Afterwards, Hal opened the jewelry box, took out the two-stranded necklace and fastened it around my neck. I removed my diamond studs and placed the pearls in my ears. Hal smiled and said, “They were beautiful when I bought them, but they are even more beautiful when you are wearing them.” Then he reached down and kissed me briefly before pulling me to my feet and urging me out the door. “Wait,” I said, “I want to drop my diamonds off in the hotel safe.” Hal chuckled when he heard me say “my diamonds” and led the way to the hotel lobby.
After dropping off the diamonds, we met Jeeves outside and rode to the Convention Center. “What are my duties Hal,” I asked.
“Actually, amongst other things, you’re our corporate “headhunter,” I expect you’ll meet a lot of people interested in working for Cendar. There’s a standard set of interview questions you can ask candidates. Just take notes, and write down your impressions.”
“What kind of job openings do we have?”
“ Our largest number of openings are for people with UNIX experience, particularly HP-UX. That was one of the factors that led me to ask you to fill in. Kate always handled initial interviews, and had an uncanny knack for finding individuals who would fit into our family.”
“Hal, this is going to be easier than I expected. I’ve done a lot of interviewing and hiring over the last 5 years, and I think you’ll be pleased.”
“Kate, you’ve always pleased me….”
Serious weirdness again, now he’s losing track that I’m not Kate. Perhaps I’m not through wandering through Looking Glass Land.
Having someone drive for you is a MAJOR benefit with something like Comdex. Jeeves dropped us off, and we entered the main hall. Cendar’s booth was impressive. It was a mixture of product hype and small conversational areas. Hal escorted me to an office area on the second floor of the booth, and told me to get comfortable. He came back a few minutes later with an expensive looking leather briefcase. “This was Kate’s, so now it’s yours,” he smiled as he gave it to me. “Inside are a few things to make your job easier. I opened it, and noticed a Sony Vaio notebook computer, and a device that looked like a cross between a tape recorder and a digital recorder. Hal noticed my puzzled look, “that’s a voice stress analyzer, It gives you a high level of confidence when someone is telling the truth. We try to record all interviews, and we ask all candidates for permission before we start. It is not a condition of employment, but my feeling is if the candidate is unwilling, there may be something hidden that we need to know. In that case, if the candidate is in the running for the job, we hire a firm to do a complete background check. For those, the turn-around time is 4 hours for a preliminary, and 2 weeks for the complete report.”
Hal started his evil twisted grin, “would you like to see your preliminary report?”
I was floored. He handed a manila envelope to me, and I opened it to find copies of my latest tax return, my college and graduate school transcripts, a complete listing of my previous employment, a note from the Defense Investigative Agency that I’d had a Federal security clearance at one time, but that it had lapsed, and a myriad of other pieces of information I thought were somewhat secure. “All this in 4 hours?”
“Well, they actually did this one overnight. I was certain it would be clean, but I owe it to my employees to be careful. I can’t let my heart run away and ruin other people who are dear to me.” With that he pulled two more manila envelopes out and handed them to me. “This is what a complete report looks like. I thought it might help you understand Kate and I better.”
The report was labeled “Katherine Elayne Stevens,” the second “Harold Thomas Stevens.” Where mine was the best part of 50 pages, these were books, very thick books. “Hal, you don’t have to do this. I don’t want to pry into your life, and no one voiced any questions last night, did they?”
“Well, yes. Bill Thompson and his wife Debbie asked why you didn’t seem to remember them. They accepted the story of some memory loss, but they were still asking questions. That report goes into far more detail than normal. It also includes all the personal information the investigators could get from the sources. I was one of the sources,” he said with a sad smile. The first hundred and fifty or so pages are the full report from the agency, the remainder was added a couple of years ago to supplement, and serve as a source of information for our eventual biographies. Also, I am digging into your life, and it is only fair that you have the information on mine.”
”Anyway, here are the interview forms, and an instruction manual on the recorder. Why don’t I leave you to review them? I don’t expect any applicants until after 10:00. That gives you a bit more than an hour. When Abbey gets here, I’ll bring her up and introduce you to her. She’s your personal assistant,” he said, “maybe you ought to read that portion of the report first?” And again his twisted grin. I thought to myself ‘does he even know how that grin drives me crazy? How to I tell him how infuriating it is?’
“Hal, do you know how infuriating you can be? And that grin of yours just makes it worse.”
“Kate always said the same thing,” he said grinning, “I’ll see you later, please keep those reports safe,” then he left me with a kiss.
The reports made interesting reading. I started reading about Abbey in Kate's book. It was clear we were complete opposites. Where I was tall and fat, Abbey was petite, almost tiny and 5 foot even. Where I was dark haired, she was startlingly blond, almost platinum. And at 24 years old, I was certain we would have little in common.
She arrived at 9:30, and her report did little to reveal her personality. She was so friendly and bubbly it was hard not to immediately like her. I couldn’t help but think of a skittish, frolicking wood's colt. But she was also extremely efficient, and took Kate’s return in stride. I don't know who was originally scheduled to handle the interviews, but Abbey laid out the day in a way that made it productive without becoming too intense. One interview after another can quickly wear you down. I was glad to see that Abbey tried to squeeze some time in for me to take in some of the show.
Throughout that morning, I conducted 3 interviews. Each of the candidates brought strengths and weaknesses to the table. I found the voice stress analyzer helpful, but not critical.
The second candidate was a recent female graduate from USC. Janie Roberts seemed to have everything Cendar required. In addition to her BS (Bachelor of Science) she actually had a complete HP Systems Administrator certification. The only problem was that she was a geek. She was a computer GEEK, all in capital letters, with underlining, italics, and bold facing. She was also extraordinarily shy. I asked what her goals were, and what she expected of Cendar.
“Ms. Stevens, I’m looking for a company that will take me at face value. I know my computer skills are top notch. If I were willing to fight the rat race in Silicon Valley, I’d make $150 K a year easily. I’m applying to Cendar, hoping to find a soul mate; a male who will value me for who and what I am.” At that she blushed, “uh, do you understand?”
I would be a churlish cur if I had giggled, as was my first response. I giggled instead (so I told myself) at the memory of Kate’s reputation as a matchmaker. “Yes Janie, I do understand.” I cherished the fire in her soul. “I don’t know everything about tomorrow’s banquet, but would you be available?” I asked. Janie accepted.
About 11:30 Hal showed up and invited me to lunch. He suggested Spago’s at Caesar’s Palace. We split a spicy chicken pizza, and returned to Comdex.
The afternoon was split between interviews and visiting the booths of other companies. It was an interesting contrast. Monday I had visited as Beth, today as the Mrs. part of Mr. and Mrs. Hal Stevens; my treatment was spectacularly different. The red carpet was certainly rolled out, and I had the opportunity to meet several CEO’s, and many senior VP’s. I know it’s silly, but I took inordinate pleasure in the trinkets I was given by these various companies. I think my favorite was a heavy gold-filled pen that also contained a stylus for my PDA and a pencil.
At 5:00 I finished up my last interview of the day, Jeeves picked us up and we returned to the Venetian. I was looking forward to a relaxing evening. Hal had other plans. He suggested taking in a show, and hinted he had “connections,” and asked what show I would like to see. I suspected his “connections” were dead presidents in large denominations. I mentioned I hadn’t seen Mystá¨re by Cirque du Soleil and asked if his “connections” would extend that far.
“No problem, my dear,” he said; “and for dinner?”
“Whatever, something in the same hotel maybe?”
“Certainly, can you be ready by 6:00?”
“Sure, a bit more casual than last night?”
“Whatever you’d like, I’ll see you then.”
I kicked off my shoes and flopped down on the bed. I called home, and Linda answered the phone. “Hi honey, I’m home,” I joked.
“Well Miss Alice, how are things on the other side of the looking glass?” Her sense of humor would be the death of me yet. She just giggled into the phone.
“Not bad, I’ve a Platinum Visa that could buy our house without stressing the credit limit, a driver’s license with a picture of a woman that looks like my identical twin, a man who can’t separate me from his dead wife in his own mind, a dress maker that thinks I’m wonderful because I’m helping HER old friend, and a brand new string of pearls that are simply humongous. Did you talk to my mom? How are Timmy and Lisa? Can you get away tomorrow or Friday? Please!! I buy you anything; I’ll take you anywhere. Can you jump through the looking glass and join me?”
“Why Miss Alice, I do believe you want me.”
“Oh geez, hon, you’ve NO idea how much I want you, I need you here, I’ve no idea how I’m going to escape the White Rabbit and his company.”
“Well, I don’t know….” Linda teased.
“Okay, what will it cost?” I asked.
“Well, your mom wants a new Porsche, Timmy wants a new baby brother, and Lisa wants a pony. Me, I’ll settle for your new pearls.” Then she started laughing again.
“I’ll call and make a reservation for tomorrow. The office was great, and said it would be no problem to take Thursday and Friday off. Do you think I should fly out of Los Angeles or Ontario?”
“Uh, how about Corona?”
“Corona? There’s no commercial service in Corona.”
“Actually, I thought I’d see if Hal would send the corporate jet.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Suddenly Linda wasn’t laughing.
“No,” and then I started to laugh. “Welcome to my world. It’s a short hop, so I doubt they’ll serve a meal, but would you prefer Godiva or Ethel M. chocolates for a snack?”
“This I’ve got to see. What time should I be at the airport?”
“I’ll check, but I’ll try to have the plane there by 10:00 in the morning. Thanks hon. I need to go, Hal is picking me up for dinner and a show in a little bit, and I’ve got to get ready.”
“Really, what show are you seeing?”
“We’re seeing Mystá¨re by Cirque du Soleil. It’s playing at Treasure Island. Listen, I’ve got to run, give the kids a kiss and tell them to be good for grandma.”
“Okay babe, hang in there, I’ll bring a breathe of sanity back to your life tomorrow. See you soon!”
I changed into a soft light blue sweater and a denim skirt. That and a pair of flats were as dressy as I was willing to go tonight. I grabbed a white cardigan. I dropped the pearls off at the hotel safe, and selected a gold locket that I’d always loved. It contained miniature pictures of Linda and the kids. I needed the reassurance of their presence. Hal was punctual; I swear you could set a clock by him. A final spritz of perfume and it was out the door.
Hal took me downstairs for dinner at Lutá¨ce’s, the French restaurant at the Venetian. “I hope you don’t mind, I’ve wanted to try Lutá¨ce’s and the concierge was able to make reservations for 6:15.”
“I don’t mind, but no escargot if you please. Wow!” I said, looking out over the Grand Canal, “the view is spectacular. Are those real gondolas?”
“Yes, would you like to ride one after dinner?”
“Hmmm, that might be nice.”
The maá®tre d' seated us at a balcony table overlooking the gondolas circling the Grand Canal. I selected the Black Angus sirloin with potato "au four", and a crispy salad with maitake mushrooms. Hal chose the casoulette — a dish containing duck, lamb, ham, and several varieties of beans. Hal told me it was the forerunner of American casseroles, and a favorite of his. We enjoyed our dinner with a nice bottle of Chianti. For dessert, I selected canoli, a favorite I could seldom find.
After dinner, we stepped out to the Grand Canal, and Hal purchased tickets for us. Hal stepped in then the gondolier helped me down into the gondola. It was at that point I realized, the only way to ride was snuggled close to Hal. He wrapped his arm around me, and I snuggled close as we began our “graceful and romantic glide down the Grand Canal in an authentic Venetian gondola.” Our gondolier sang romantic Italian ballads as he propelled the gondola. It was romantic, and I couldn’t help but feel safe and secure in Hal’s arms. We spoke of little things, chatted about nothing really; we simply enjoyed the night, the ride, and our closeness.
What a contrast that was to Mystá¨re by Cirque du Soleil. One was quiet, the other raucous. The gondola was romantic, the circus hysterically funny.
Afterwards, we stopped and shared a sundae at Haagen-Dazs in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Hal. It was the first time I’d been on a date as a woman; it was hard to believe just how much fun I’d had. Hal surprised me with his wit, his humor, and his ability to make me feel special — without spending a ton of money. The day before he tried to please me by spending money; this time he made our time special by focusing on me. I loved it — but it was disconcerting.
It was a little after midnight when I returned to my room. Hal kissed me at the door, long and languorous, I found myself responding to his kisses in way I’d never expected. I felt both regret and relief when the kiss ended, and I entered the sanctuary of my room.
At breakfast I asked Hal if he could send the corporate jet to pick up Linda, my wife. For just a moment he looked confused, then grudgingly (it seemed) granted permission. That deserved a kiss, which brought the confused look back to his face; this time with a smile.
“Thanks Hal, you have no idea how confusing this whole thing has been for me. Could she also attend the dinner tonight?”
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” he shrugged; “have her go see Annie for something special to wear.”
I called Jeeves and asked him to make the arrangements for me. I told him that the lady being picked up was very special too me, and asked that he take special care of her. I also asked that he be sure the jet was stocked with Godiva and Ethel M chocolates, and a dozen long stem red roses. What he thought of all this I’m sure I don’t know. He was however, his usual efficient self.
Next, I called Annie, explained that Linda would be coming in to see her and asked that she treat her like she would me. I told her it was important to me that Linda be able to attend the banquet tonight, and that Annie should help her pick out something that would make her look and feel special. The only condition I asked was that her dress not be black, I’ve never liked black on Linda, and wanted Annie to accommodate MY tastes as well as Linda’s.
Annie assured me that all would be fine. Next, I called the spa at the Venetian, and ordered the works for Linda. On the way out, I stopped at the front desk and requested a key to my room be made ready for Linda when she arrived.
Later I learned that Hal had made his own arrangements. His instructions to Jeeves were to treat Linda like a royal princess. Her every whim was to be catered to.
Linda had no idea what was coming her way, and I laughed all the way to Comdex wondering how she would react to falling down the rabbit hole to Looking Glass Land.
Abbey had my appointments scheduled, and it looked like today would be extremely busy. There were 3 interviews in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.
Jack Mooney was the first. I liked him the moment I met him. There was a quiet competency about him that suggested his resume was understated if anything. He was married, with 3 children. Currently lived in the Seattle area, but hoped to move back to New England to be near his wife’s family. His professional certifications were all top notch, and I asked if he was free that evening. “Could you and your wife possibly attend our company banquet?” I asked. He seemed genuinely flattered, and assured me they would be there. I suggested if he needed a tuxedo, to see the concierge at the Venetian, give that notable my name, and ask that he adequately clothe him. Then, inspiration struck. “Jack, could your wife visit a boutique I could recommend?”
He looked a bit uncertain, and then said he would ask her.
“I guarantee if you take her to “Gowns R Us” and ask for Annie, she will be treated like a princess. And Jack, this one is on Cendar.” And I just smiled.
The next two interviews went predictably, but neither of the candidates really had the personalities I was actually looking for. They just didn’t seem like they would be able to fit into the corporate family I was trying to understand.
Abbey and I had a quiet lunch, at one of the concession stands. She was fun to watch, constantly scoping out the men, and commenting on their bodies. By the time we finished, I had figured out Abbey was really all talk when it came to men, but Lordy how she could talk! Jeeves called, and informed me Linda had arrived, they’d been to Gowns R Us and she was in the hands of the Venetian spa staff. I just grinned and thanked him for his help.
The afternoon interviews were a repeat of the last two of the morning. There was nothing spectacular or really interesting about any of them, until the final interview of the day. His name was Hiram Jones. Tall and gawky, he seemed to be much younger than his 28 years. His experience was impressive, even though he’d only been in the work force for a few years. He impressed me with his competency. The only reservation I had about him was how quirky he seemed. We got to the end of the interview, and as usual, I asked if he had any questions about Cendar. His question took me completely by surprise.
“Is it true that you interview candidates with an eye for matching them up with employees of the opposite sex?”
“Uh…” ‘not a very coherent response,' I thought. “Actually, no. It does however work out that we look for people who will fit into Cendar’s corporate climate. Naturally, with a similarity of thought and outlook we have found many of our employees wind up finding their special someone in the company. Why do you ask?”
“Well, basically, I’m a geek. I’ve never really developed a lot of interpersonal skills, especially with women. I’d give anything to be in an environment where I might have a better opportunity to meet someone who understands that same things I do.”
‘Odd,’ I thought. He and Janie were opposite sides of the same coin. “Would you like to attend tonight’s company banquet? There’s someone there I’d like you to meet.”
Hiram agreed to come. I asked if he had a tuxedo, and his shoulders drooped as he admitted he didn’t. “Not to worry,” I said, “rent one and give me the bill tonight. This is on Cendar.”
Hiram left, and I called Janie on the cell phone number she had given me. “Janie, its Kate Stevens. I believe we would like to extend an offer of employment to you. You will attend tonight’s company banquet won't you?”
I listened carefully. Her first response was an almost inaudible gasp. Then, wistfully, she admitted she had nothing suitable to wear other than business clothes. I couldn’t help it, I burst out giggling. “Honey, if you don’t mind a prospective employer treating you, could you tell me where you are at, and what you’re doing for the next three hours?”
Janie admitted to being at Comdex, and though there were exhibits she wanted to see, there was nothing pressing on her calendar. I asked her to come to the Cendar booth.
Meanwhile, I enlisted Abbey’s help. “Hon, I want you to take a prospective new employee to get a gown for tonight’s banquet — and, I gave her a sheepish grin, one for yourself as well. Could you make arrangements for a complete makeover for Janie and yourself with the Venetian? Then, take her to see Annie at “Gowns R Us. Make sure she has appropriate shoes and accessories. I want her to feel like an appreciated Cinderella, ‘cause at the banquet, I hope to introduce her to an under appreciated Cinderfella.” I couldn’t help it, I started laughing uncontrollably. When she arrived, I directed Abbey to take her to see Annie, and told them both I expected them to look their best that night.
As soon as they left, I called Annie. I’m sure Annie thought I must be out of my mind. Not only had I sent Linda, but now Janie, and Abbey. I patiently explained that it was important to me. And taking care of this would ultimately be beneficial for Hal.
Annie didn’t push the point. Instead, she giggled and said, “This will certainly be a field test for my new software won’t it?”
I agreed, and reminded her of her promise to me. “I’m juggling eggs Annie. I need all the help I can get! Err…. You want to attend too?”
“I’ll be there with bells on my fingers and rings on my toes! Though I was already invited, I’ll be there for you. You go, girl! I’ll do all I can to help,” was her reply.
I left Comdex a bit early. I wanted plenty of time to get ready for tonight. Earlier Abbey had called Tracy (remember Tracy from Excalibur?) and arranged a complete makeover for me in my room. There was an hour before she was to arrive, and I needed a bath. I walked into my suite, and found Linda’s gown and luggage. I quickly stripped, and ran a warm bath, mentally thanking Annie for including bath oils when she stocked my room.
I carefully cleansed my face, shaved extra close, and allowed myself 15 whole minutes to just sit and soak. All too soon it was time to get out and start getting ready. This time, I dried carefully, and powdered myself to a silky finish. Tonight I would be wearing black, so I chose black lingerie. I’d barely finished pulling on my panties, bra and slip when there was a knocking at the door.
Tracy was early. She took a moment to look at the gown I’d be wearing, then proceeded to work miracles. She did my hair in an up do to accentuate the length of my neck (and in so doing, making my neck and face look thinner). The makeup was more dramatic than I’d been wearing during the day, but again made me look better than I actually do look. Finally, she removed the color on my fingernails and toenails, and replaced it with a deep dark plum that complemented both my gown, and my makeup. After everything was dry, I pulled on sheer black nylons, and Tracy helped by zipping me into my gown. Altogether, I looked fantastic. Fat, yes, but fantastic. I tipped Tracy lavishly, and promised to call her the next time I was in Las Vegas.
7:00 arrived, and with it, Linda. Her hair and makeup were perfect. She was as beautiful as the day I’d married her. She walked into the room, looked straight at me, and began to apologize for being in the wrong room. This was too rich, and I lost it laughing. Her eyes went wide as she realized it was I, and then slowly took in my appearance from head to toe.
“I never would have believed it, but you clean up right nice Miss Alice. Where are the Mad Hatter and the March Hare?” Then she started laughing too. I told her Annie was apparently the Mad Hatter, and Hal, aka the March Hare,would be picking us up at 7:20. I hurried her along, and helped her into her gown. Her gown was a rich royal blue with a plunging neckline and nearly bare back. She looked gorgeous.
“I can’t believe the way everyone has taken care of me,” she said. The spa here is fantastic. I’ve spent the last 5 hours being pampered like you cannot believe. And Annie, my gosh, look at this dress. It fits like a glove. Hon, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve buried the bodies, I don’t care, I like it!” Note to my readers: did I mention her twisted sense of humor?
Hal showed up promptly (not that I ever doubted). I was just finishing zipping Linda up when he knocked on the door. I waited a moment while Linda stepped into her heels, took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Good evening Kate,” he said, kissing me lightly on the cheek. “And this must be Linda. You my dear are lovely. Thank you for lending Kate to me this week.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a slim jewelry case. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought, ‘here we go again.’ I asked Annie the color of your gown, and bought a little something to go along with it, I hope you don’t mind?” Hal at his charming best is hard to resist, he handed it to Linda, and she gasped as she opened it.
“They’re beautiful,” she said, “I really can’t accept them though, they’re much too expensive.”
“Honey, don’t waste your breath, just thank the nice man and show me what he gave you. I’ve tried arguing with him about jewelry, and you’re doomed to lose.”
Linda turned the case around and inside I could see Hal was doing it again. There were a pair of huge sapphire earrings the exact color of her gown, a diamond and sapphire cocktail ring, a slender sapphire (and diamond I thought) bracelet, and a magnificent sapphire pendant on a platinum necklace.
The look on Linda’s face was priceless. “The March Hare has exquisite tastes, doesn’t he Hon?” I asked. I took the case from her and placed the necklace around her neck. She slipped the other pieces on and I turned to Hal.
“That was very thoughtful, I appreciate it.”
“Oh just wait till you see what I’ve got for you!” And, of course, he pulled out another slender case.
I opened the case, and found a beautiful strand of Black pearls, along with a double strand bracelet and earrings. He reached into his coat pocket, and handed me a ring box. I’m sorry it’s separate, but it took a bit of time to get it sized right. Inside was a Black and White pearl ring in platinum.
I just sighed, I was getting used to this, “Hal, they’re beautiful, but you’ve got to stop doing this!” He just smiled, and fastened the necklace around my neck. I took out my white pearls, and inserted the earrings; the bracelet balanced the look of my watch.
Hal took my hand and slipped the ring onto the third finger of my right hand. Naturally, it fit perfectly. He leaned over and kissed the back of my hand. “Now ladies, will you join me for the evening?” Hal held out an elbow to me and to Linda — and with that we were off!
Jeeves was waiting at the curb, and smiled to Linda and I while holding the door open. “You look superb tonight Madame,” he said to me. He closed us in, and then drove us to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The company banquet was, in theory, a fundraiser for the Kate and Hal Stevens Children’s Charity. I found out this charity was one Kate had insisted on when the company first broke $1,000,000 in profits. It funded after school care, a shelter facility, and numerous other child and family centered community initiatives. The banquet was always sold out, at $500 per plate, with 1200 seats, it easily cleared $500,000 a year after expenses. The banquet room was decorated in a severe art deco theme, and the waitresses were all dressed in 1930’s period dresses.
Hal escorted Linda to the head table then returned to my side at the entrance. We greeted each guest as they arrived. Annie arrived early, and Hal asked her to keep Linda Company. Janie arrived with Abbey, and Hal directed them to one of the company tables.
Soon after, Sue arrived. Laughing to myself I introduced her to Hal, “Hal, this is my friend Sue Collins. She didn't believe me when I told her how we met.”
“Really? Well Sue, the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Now that you're here do you believe her?” Hal asked, grinning like the Cheshire cat.
Sue was speechless. Something I would not have believed.
Hal bent over her hand in a very continental gesture, and I thought for a moment he was going to kiss her hand, but she jerked her hand away, blushing furiously. Sue stammered a greeting in reply, and I took her by the elbow to lead her to her seat.
“There!” I laughed, “I told you so!, now please, PLEASE I need to keep 'Beth' a secret. Only a handful of Cendar Management know I'm not Kate. Can I trust you?”
Seeing Sue speechless or tripping over her tongue was something I could not have imagined. She finally managed to reply, “Hon, I'll keep your secret, but you've got to tell me everything when this is all over!” I smiled at her, and lead her to a table near the front of the hall.
This was getting fun!
Jack Mooney and his wife Rachel arrived, she looked slightly stunned at the opulence around her, and I tried to put her at ease. “Your dress is wonderful,” I told her. “I hope Annie treated you well?”
Rachel smiled, “Yes, thank you very much; I’ve never been treated quite like this.”
“Welcome to Cendar Rachel, we hope Jack will accept an offer we will be tendering tomorrow.” Jack’s eyes went wide, and his jaw dropped open for a second.
“Thank you Ms. Stevens, you won’t regret it.”
“It’s Kate Jack, allow me to present my husband, Hal Stevens.”
“Hi Jack, welcome to the company, I believe you’ll fit in well based on Kate’s notes. Enjoy your evening, please.” Hal reached out and shook Jack’s hand.
The Mooney’s walked to the table where Abbey and Janie sat. “Well, I’d say that’s one happy couple, what do you think Babe?” Hal said, pecking me on the cheek. “Good job on that one.”
The guests continued to arrive; it was nearly time to begin when Hiram showed up. His tuxedo fit immaculately, and it appeared he’d stopped for a haircut on his way to the banquet. I introduced him to Hal, then said, “Come with me, I’ve a seat reserved especially for you.” With that, I tucked my hand into his elbow and let him “lead” me to the table where the Mooney’s and Janie were seated. “Hiram Jones, allow me to introduce you to Jack and Rachel Mooney, Jack’s going to start with Cendar soon, I hope. And you remember Abbey?” He nodded. “And this is Janie Roberts. I believe you two have a great deal in common. Actually, your questions at the end of the interviews were remarkably similar.” With a wicked grin, I left the two of them sputtering, and returned to Hal’s side.
“What was that all about?” Hal asked.
I just hummed a tune from Fiddler on the Roof; Matchmaker Matchmaker make me a match….”
It was worth it. Hal’s eyes bulged out of his head like a stepped on toad, his mouth opened and closed like a beached fish, and I gracefully turned to greet our next guest. After a few seconds he responded, “Kate, you are indeed a wicked, wicked girl!” he said with that all to familiar twinkle in his eye.
“Relax, they will both be incredible assets to Cendar, and they both are looking for someone, and I believe they will find that someone tonight.”
The banquet went predictably. Everyone enjoyed their dinner and dessert. The speeches were kept to a minimum. The program describing the year’s accomplishments was interesting, and a wonderful time was had by all.
Hal escorted Linda and I to my room. He kissed her hand and wished her a pleasant evening, and then he took me in his arms and kissed me. Linda clapped her hands over her mouth, smiling with her eyes, as his kiss went on. Finally, he let go and I caught my breath.
“That was for what you did to that poor boy Hiram and Janie.” With a twinkle in his eye, he bowed to Linda and I, “goodnight sweet princesses, may flights of angles sing thee to they rest!” He said, miss-quoting Shakespeare. . Then laughing, he walked down the corridor.
Linda and I went into our room. As soon as the door was closed, she was all over me. “I want you so bad I can’t stand it,” she said as she began rubbing up against me. “That was so terribly romantic tonight, Cinderella and Prince Charming” she pulled me down on top of her on the bed, and began to undress me. “I am so horny! I can’t believe how turned on I am by this whole experience.” She had managed to unzip my dress, and caressed my body through my underwear. “Hurry up and unzip me!” I did my best. She was frantic, and all too soon, we were both naked, except for the jewelry. I began to take off my necklace, but Linda just pushed me back on the bed and climbed on top of me, smothering me in kisses. “Leave it on please. I love the contrast with your white skin.”
This may have been one of Linda’s fantasies; it certainly was one of mine. We climbed under the covers and enjoyed each other. I’ll not go into any more details, suffice it to say that I’m either a gentleman or a lady, and neither kisses and tells….
Friday was casual day, yeah right. I was so tired after the previous night that I felt like a zombie. I stumbled out of bed, showered, did my makeup and dressed in a gray skirt and jacket over a silk camisole. I liked the way the lace of the cami peeked out from under the jacket. By 8:00 I was dressed. Linda was still sound asleep, so I slipped next door to Hal's suite and had breakfast with him.
Hal was clearly nervous about something. I asked what was troubling him and he replied "I don't want to loose you again, that's all. I'm dreading tomorrow and finding myself alone again, without you."
I reached over and took his hands. "Hal, I’m not Kate, you knew this was only an illusion. I'm not really Kate, I just look and sound like her. I've come to like you a great deal. More than that, I'm regretting not being a part of Cendar. I truly love the way your employees interact with each other. I hope I've made some contributions this week, and really wish I could be a part of your company, part of your world. Unfortunately, I've a life of my own. I've a wife of my own, and I've children that I treasure."
Hal's eyes misted up, "I'm not through with you yet Kate," he said. “I don’t know if I can go on without you.” With that, Hal silently, evidently deep in thought, finished the rest of his breakfast.
After breakfast Hal asked "can you see if Linda would join us for lunch?"
"Sure, do you have anything special in mind? Or should I just tell her it will be a surprise?"
"Oh, tell her it will be a surprise," he said. This time his mouth quirked into a half grin, and he had that gleam in his eye that I had come to associate with trouble.
"What's going on inside your head Hal?"
"Nothing, nothing at all to trouble your pretty little head about,” and he just grinned at me with his Cheshire Cat grin, all teeth, hiding the rest of his expression.
With that, I left, telling Hal I'd be ready to head to Comdex as soon as I was able to wake up Linda.
Linda, true to form, did not want to wake up. "I'm on vacation, you said so yourself!" she groaned.
"Hon, I've got to leave for Comdex. Hal wants you to join us for lunch. Can you be ready by 11:30?"
Linda just pulled a pillow over her head and mumbled agreement before turning over to go back to sleep.
Abbey had the final three interviews lined up for me when I arrived. Two were in the morning, and one in the late afternoon — The second one flew into Las Vegas just for the opportunity to interview with Cendar.
The first morning interview went well. I would have been comfortable hiring him, but he did not approach the level of Hiram, Janie, or Jack Mooney.
The second morning interview was different in every way. First, rather than a programmer or finance type, the position was for a System Administrator. I have very specific ideas about this type of job and was looking forward to meeting the candidate. The other difference was the interviewee had flown into Las Vegas just for the chance of interviewing for this position. His resume was impressive; the uptime on the systems he administered was unbelievable.
Simon arrived right at 10:30. He wore an outrageous tee-shirt that parodied the O’Rielly Computer Book series. It looked like the cover of a typical O’Rielly book except the picture was of a bomb and the title was “Practical Unix Terrorism.” I looked at him, and asked “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Simon looked at me and said, “I figured we could skip all the bullshit and reach a meeting of minds first thing. You want a systems admin, and I want the job. You know my credentials, so I guess the best thing is for you to get to know me as I am.”
I’ve interviewed 50 or 60 people in the last 5 years, but no one had ever taken such a provocative approach before.
“Is this some sort of anti-social behavior, are you trying to make a point, or do you really consider yourself a BOFH?” I asked looking him straight in the eye. [editor’s note: for more information do a Google search on bofh]
He blinked. “Oh crap,” he said, “are you actually technically competent or just a management lackey?”
“Simon, I AM the BOFH with better people skills. And that is what the person I’m looking for will be. Someone both technically competent AND able to tell a user no — and then make it stick. But, hear me clearly, you will treat the lusers — I mean users with respect. Now I’ll ask the question one more time. Is this some sort of anti-social behavior, are you trying to make a point, or do you really consider yourself a BOFH?”
He grinned, “you know, I’ve never really had a competent boss before, might make a decent change of pace. Yeah, I was making a point. I’ve little respect for an operation that expects you to cater to every user’s desire. I believe my role is to make the system available at all times, develop backup and data recovery plans that minimize any loss of data, and to provide an appropriate level of support — meaning I’m not a bloody help desk — to users.
We talked for the remainder of the hour, and I had the impression that despite the packaging, Simon would make a great addition to Cendar.
Linda made it to the booth about 11:15, and I had fun showing her around Cendar’s display. She had never been to Comdex before, and had trouble believing the size of the show.
Hal was at his most charming when he showed up. He complimented Linda on her appearance, visibly preened when she complimented him on Cendar’s booth.
“Shall we go to lunch now ladies?” Hal asked.
With that he lead the way to the second floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center. He lead us to a small meeting room. Inside, a string quartet was playing softly. The room had been decorated in an art deco style. Hanging on one wall were several Dennis Abbe posters. The opposite wall seemed to be a solid wall of differing types of glass brick, lit from behind. The patterns of shadow and light that changing constantly. A third wall contained elegantly framed pictures of famous art deco buildings. More importantly, the room contained a single dining table.
A rather impressive waiter seated Linda while Hal held my chair for me. A sommelier approached and waited attentively on Hal. “Champagne ladies?” Hal asked. Linda and I smiled and agreed that would be nice. “Do you have a Dom Perignon ’80 or perhaps a ’73?”
“I believe we have the ’73, a very good choice sir.” He left, and the waiter presented us with menus. I simply could not believe the extent of the menu. There were at least 50 different entrees. The only place I had seen a menu like that was in the old Rosemont Grill in Sacramento back in the 80’s. I turned to Linda and asked if she remembered the Rosemont. She smiled and nodded.
I chose a small green salad with extra tomatoes, fresh teriyaki marinaded grilled tuna and wrapped with bacon, on a bed of rice pilaf. Linda chose a petite filet, and Hal surprised me and ordered what he claimed was an authentic Hungarian goulash, made with a heavy dose of paprika. I wanted to ask Hal how such a menu could be served in a meeting room at Comdex. I didn’t solely because I was sure I knew the answer. When you’re willing to spend anything, anything is what you will get…
The sommelier returned and opened the Champagne. After Hal approved the selection, our waiter poured for the three of us.
“A toast,” Hal said, “to Kate, and to you Beth, for you have accomplished a great deal this week for Cendar, and for me.” I sat my glass down blushing, while Linda and Hal drank their toast. “And now to a little bit of business. I promised you consulting fees and a bonus. The first envelope contains your consulting fees. It got too difficult for me to separate when you were and were not working, so I instructed our accountants to figure on all the hours since 8:00 am on Monday to 8:00 am on Sunday. That’s 144 hours, so the check is for $43,200.00. Additionally, I promised a bonus. We typically pay 6 months salary to a headhunter firm for new technical employees — that is, after they’ve been with the company for 6 months. That works out to about $55,000 for each employee. The second envelope contains paid up stockoptions for Cendar preferred stock. You’ve hired 4 new employees. I’m giving you those stock options for $220,000.00 worth of Cendar at today’s market closing price, paid up, free and clear, effective 6 months from today — assuming your new hires stay with the company.” With that he sat back in his chair and sipped champagne.
Linda let out a whoop! “Honey that will pay off the house and then some!” I just groaned. Having been through some of Hal’s flights of fancy before, I waited for the other shoe to drop. Let’s see jewelry and clothes close to $200,000 this week, $43,200 in outright fees, $210,000 in stock options — that was roughly the equivalent of 5 years salary at the University. Linda looked at my face and started to laugh, “There you go Miss Alice! See what happens when you fall through the looking glass?”
“Hal,” I asked, “when is the other shoe going to drop?”
“Why honey, whatever do you mean?” Hal just sat there and gave me his twisted grin.
“You didn’t set all of this up,” I waved my hand around the room, “just to serve lunch and do, what did you say “a little bit of business.” I know you better than that by now you son of a bitch. What’s going on?” I glared at him. Linda laughed. Hal just grinned.
“All of that my dear will be made clear after lunch.”
“If you think I’m going to eat lunch with you now or ever while you’ve something hanging over my head, you’ve another think coming.” With that I threw my napkin on the table and began to get out of my seat.
“Please Beth, don’t go. I really would like to wait till later, but hear me out?”
“Now Hal, or I walk out that door.” I poured another glass of Champagne and downed it in 2 or 3 large gulps, I know, not very ladylike, but I was getting pissed.
Hal sighed, “Okay. I wanted to wait till after lunch because my attorneys flew out from Massachusetts yesterday and are drawing up some documents for you to read through. I would like you to come to work for Cendar — you already said you wished you could, so I know you’d like it. I’d like you to take over Kate’s old job, at her salary, for at least three months. At the end of three months, I would have the option of extending it for three more months. If, six months from now you decide to make it long term, I will guarantee a minimum of two and a half additional years. Further, I will open an office on the West Coast, and purchase a suitable home so that you can spend every other month near Linda and your children. You have no idea how valuable you have proven yourself to be this week. You will earn every penny as vice president for employee relations — and you’ve demonstrated your competency already to fill that position. More than that, you’ve single-handedly stopped my own self-destruction. Surely Annie, Jeeves and other’s who know me have told you how much I’ve changed this week. I owe it to them, and not just to my own selfish desires, to do everything in my power to keep you at Cendar, and in my life.”
Linda asked, “How much did Kate make anyway?” I poured another glass of Champagne
“Kate’s official salary which really didn’t cover everything was about $750,000 per year. She also received a bonus and stock options that pushed the total official package to a bit over a million dollars most years, but that doesn’t count equity, stock options, or company paid expenses. Rule of thumb would be least twice her base salary plus bonuses. So, when you add it all up, with the stock market being where it's at, it's a little over $2 million a year.”
With that, I pulled a page out of Hal's book, I fainted dead away.
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