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The new blade, one of a sharp twin pair, slices skin and lets blood out. There’s hardly even a sting at first, before the foamy shaving cream turns pink, then red, and here’s the sting, for real now, as if let loose by blood. Foam redder still. It’s a pretty deep cut.

“Damn.”

His right hand passes the razor to his left then dives into a blue box of paper napkins by the basin and brings one—two actually, they tend to cling together—out. He presses them against his skin. Holds them there for a few seconds, then tests the damage done by removing. Blood keeps oozing. He dabs the cut a few more times, checks again: the bleeding does not stop. These are precious minutes. “Damn,” again. It insists on bleeding.

He throws the bloodstained napkins in the toilet bowl and grabs another pair from the box. Dabs the cut again. Less blood this time. Dabs again. Even less. Finally. Leaves a strip of napkin stuck to the cut to help the blood settle and seal.

Then he finishes shaving, carefully now. The cut still stings and it will show. “Damn,” for a third time. Then the after shave, which smarts like hell. It sizzles the cut, now a small red smile smack in the middle of his right cheek. It looks ridiculous and it still stings.

The aftershave reminds him of Alice.

Aramis.

The scent brings her face along with it. Alice of the long red hair and the many freckles. Alice of the great smile, of the wedding bells, or else. Now-with-some-malice Alice.

He-said-no-not-right-now-so-she-took-off-and-left-him-to-rot Alice.

He had not even heard of Aramis until she brought him a very large bottle—he had no idea that after shave came in a liter size—from the Amsterdam airport on her way back. Back from that vacation. I love the way it smells on you, she said. They had just met. She had to go to Europe for three weeks. Vacation. He sulked. Already planned, she said, for months. Sorry. Can’t cancel now. I’ll be good. He missed her terribly. Longest three weeks on record.

He inspects his face again. With that cut he now looks more like a like a worse-for-the-wear price fighter than a sales representative. His other cheek looks hurt too, as if sympathizing with its injured twin, reddish from these new, enthusiastic little blades.

But he’s not a boxer. Far from it. He’s a sales representative, or an account executive as they like to call them nowadays, name du jour. And a good one at that. One of those people that people buy from. And that’s the truth: People buy from people. Lesson number one.

People buy from people. The truth. His mantra: People buy from people. He adjusts his tie. The dimple is not right; too far to the left. “Damn”, again. He undoes the tie and starts from scratch. People buy from people. From people. But do they buy from guys with cuts on cheeks the size of small lips? That does not look good.

He got wind of this deal last week. Duran, McClennah, et cetera, et cetera big downtown law firm is replacing all their copiers. All forty-two of them. As in four times ten plus two, forty-two. As in can you say “huge commission?” No request for proposal, no nothing. Just word on the street. He plucks a nose hair with his tweezers. “Damn.” That hurt. Forty-two. He had called their office manager the moment he heard about it but sorry, no, we’ve already made our decision. Don’t throw your money away, he’d replied. Believe me, you will if you don’t see me. Then he begged and argued and begged some more and in the end did secure an appointment, a chance, a one shot to dazzle them, rope them in, get a signed contract.

The appointment was set for today; this was the morning.

The dimple cooperates this time—much better—and he pulls the knot tight. Adjusts the collar. Cool. Except for the stupid cut. He examines it again, with a grin. It grins back at him.

Shoes. He picks them up and inspects them under the bathroom light. People judge you by your shoes. Another truth. Tilts them this way and that. They are a sparkling black, a perfectly shined sparkling black. He had spent fifteen minutes last night making very sure. People buy from people, judge you by your shoes. By the shine of your shoes, he corrects, by the shine.

He puts them on. Steps out into the bedroom, then walks back into the bathroom, adjusts his tie again, checks the cut again, leaves the bathroom for real this time. He picks up his briefcase and his laptop then realizes that he’s jacket-less. He puts the briefcase and laptop down again to free up his hands, then puts on his suit jacket. Checks the tie again—you can never be too sure—in the bedroom mirror. Adjusts it again, just so. Inspects the cut again. Another  “Damn.” He re-picks up his briefcase and laptop, twin leather cases, both with optional—and very handy at times—shoulder straps. All set now. He leaves his apartment.

People buy from people. Down the elevator. He checks the tie in the elevator mirror, his hair as well. Looks good. Looks great. Steps out of the elevator into the sub-level garage. Over to his not-a-scratch-on car. Six hundred ten a month in lease payments, people damn right better buy from people, from this very people, specifically.

He places his briefcase and laptop in the back seat then slides in behind the wheel, fits the key into the ignition, turns it. A soft murmur from under the hood. Sweet. He checks the time on his watch, then the clock on the dash. Eight fourteen both ways. We’re in sync. Good. He’s got, let’s see, forty-six minutes to get downtown, park, set up the laptop, the overhead projector.

The overhead? He turns quickly and surveys the back seat: “Damn,” again. No, he takes that back, Rod is bringing the overhead. Forty-five minutes to go now. There will be no accidents on the freeway. There will be no accidents on the freeway. People buy from people and judge you by the shine of your shoes and the freeway will be accident-less.

There are no accidents on the freeway. Traffic’s in his corner, behaves. He arrives at eight forty-four, sixteen minutes to go. He hands the car keys to the attendant, a very small South American man of questionable driving age. His eyes tell the kid to take damn good care of the car or else, or else no tip. The kid smiles, he’s most likely a damn site better driver than Mr. Owner here, and knows it. Don’t worry, señor, says the smile, I’ll take good care of your car. You see Mr. Gringo, I live on tips. Don’t even get minimum wage down here for sitting three floors down in the ground twelve hours a day among gas fumes and self-important Gringos like yourself. Believe me, I need the tip. Very white teeth sparkle back at him as he hands him the keys.

He doesn’t trust the kid. Remains while the kid whips the car into a tight spot with mountains of space to spare each side. Not a scratch. The kid steps out, smiles again, different meaning this time: So you don’t trust me you Gringo Fuck, is the new meaning.

Seeing his car is okay he heads for the elevator, his twin cases hoisted onto the same shoulder. Heavy. He’s got a four degrees list to port. Moves the laptop to the other shoulder, which straightens him up. It’s hot though. Already. He can feel the first signs of perspiration and slows down.

Then slows down some more. He breathes deeply. Aramis, faintly. Alice, somewhere. People buy from people.

People buy from people. Judge you by the shine of your shoes.

The elevator arrives, swooshes open, swooshes closed behind him, arrives at the lobby floor and swooshes the doors open again. Well-oiled swooshes these.

He gets out, looks for the other elevator banks. Finds them. Finds the right elevator for the twenty-fourth floor. Embarks with a bunch of strangers. Would you look at her. Be still my heart. She doesn’t even look at him. Perhaps she’s checking out his shoes? The perfect shine? You wish. She disembarks at twenty. Oh, well. Larger doors, equally well-oiled, swoosh closed behind her. Oh, well, indeed.

He gets out at twenty-four. The five or so named partner’s law firm occupies the entire floor. He walks over to the receptionist.

“The conference room?”

She looks up, a not in the least friendly girl. He’s obviously a vendor. That’s a dreaded label, that: Vendor. He is one. Unfortunately, she can’t see his shoes from where she sits.

“Happened to your face?”

“Cut myself shaving.”

“Ah. Looks bad.”

“It’s not too bad.”

“It looks bad.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Welcome. Down the hall to your left. Third door. Sign here please.” She tosses a glance at the ledger of sorts on the reception counter. The visitor’s log. He enters his name and firm and she hands him a stick-on paper badge. It doesn’t have his name on it, just a number. He’s visitor (vendor) number 4. Number 4. Number-4 People, which people will buy from.

He does not thank the not-in-the-least-friendly receptionist.

People will buy from people down the hallway and to his left. Third door. Heavy door. Solid wood this. Nothing less for a firm this size. Almost hard to open solid. But open it does, onto the conference room, and here’s Rod setting up the overhead projector. Good. We’ll be all right. Rod, according to his paper label, is visitor Number 3. Number-3 People.

“Mr. Three,” he says.

“Huh?”

“Your badge.”

“Ah.”

Rod is his sales engineer—another name du jour (yesterday it was Systems Engineer and before that it was Technical Consultant and who knows what tomorrow will bring?), is his technical nerd and right-hand man, is what he is, and he normally doesn’t smile.

This morning is no exception.

But he’s good at what he does and he’s got the projector up and working. “Let’s connect your laptop,” he says.

“Okay.”

He unpacks and boots up the black computer. Rod strings the monitor cord from the projector over to the PC and plugs it in. Fiddles with the display a bit and voila, there’s the first slide. Brightly on the wall. Rod produces one of his rare smiles. Should have had a camera.

People buy from people. It’s five to nine. So far the only people in the room are Numbers 3 and 4. Those two along with the six sets of handouts he brought and now places around the table. He looks at Rod who seems to wonder where everyone is. Then re-counts the handouts. Still six sets. He is about as ready as he’s ever going to be to have people buy from people.

He worked all weekend on his presentation, on this masterpiece.

He worked on the cost justification, on the benefits—financial and otherwise, on his shoes. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Another sales truth. A big one. The people-impressing-people one. One he can hear Alice laugh at. She could never get it through her head that selling is war. That he’s a copier samurai.

“A copier samurai?” It took minutes, literally, for her to stop laughing. He was getting worried about her. And hurt. She was crying, she was laughing so hard. She had trouble breathing. “A copier samurai?” Yes, actually. She couldn’t stop.

At precisely nine o’clock (had they assembled outside and waited?) they march in, six lawyers led by Mr. Alfonzo Duran, five foot two if an inch, gray hair, sideburns, esquire. Sideburns? Stern-faced, way too much sunshine or a tanning salon more likely. Not even a suggestion of a smile, not a flicker, could be Rod’s legal counterpart. Goes to the head of the table. Doesn’t sit down right away, so neither does anyone else. Law firm ritual. Finally does and so do the others. Mr. Duran definitely the man in charge. He turns to the slightly taller and balding man to his left. Whispers something, is whispered back at. Understands. Looks at Number 4:

“Mr. Morgan,” he says, then he looks at his watch, making the point, underscoring it: “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

Mr. Morgan hands his business card around. Duran does not shake the offered hand. Instead, he looks at the card. People buy from people. Judge you by your shoes. By the shine, that is.

People buy from people. He puts on his very best smile and begins: “First I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule this morning…”

His legal highness interrupts, “What happened? Cut yourself?”

No, actually. It’s a tattoo. But since people buy from people, especially people who doesn’t offend lawyers, “Yes.”

“Looks bad.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“Looks bad.”

“I’ll survive.” He watched for reactions. That could have been offensive, construed that way, but no, his highness doesn’t scowl, Number 4 is still cool. “As I was saying, I’d like to thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me, and my partner here, Rod Curling, this morning. I know you are all very busy people.” He takes a deep breath and continues. “I know the legal business is especially pressed for time these days, and…”

His legal highness are not particularly amused and interrupts again, “I’m sure we’re all very interested in how thankful you are, yada, yada, yada, but can we skip the niceties and get to the point.”

“Ah, why, sure.”

He displays his first slide which glares as follows in large red letters on a very light blue background:

 

Duran, McClennah, Anderson, Picuck, Pheran, Bartlett and Marcell.

Copier Replacement Project.

 

He leaves it up for the prescribed ten seconds without comment.

He clicks on the next slide, which glares as follows in the same large red letters on the same light blue background.

 

The copier is at the core of the legal business.

 

“We have found this to be the case time and time again,” he says. “The legal business is very paper intensive, as you know.”

No one agrees or disagrees, but they’re all looking at the slide, which is a good sign. He clicks for the next one, which glares its same large red letters on the same light blue background.

 

The choice of copier can have a drastic effect on the bottom line.

 

“With large briefs and discoveries to be distributed to all and sundry, you know what a drain the copier costs can be on your bottom line.”

No one agrees or disagrees, but someone shifts, someone else clears his throat, someone else sips his coffee from a Styrofoam cup. He clicks for the next slide, which glares its regulation large red letters on its light blue background.

 

The right choice will greatly improve your bottom line.

 

“Need I say more?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Duran. “You do.”

“Right.”

He clicks on the next slide, which glares the following large red letters on light blue background.

 

You should choose your copier more careful

than your computer equipment.

 

“Shouldn’t that be carefully?” The voice is female and belongs to a blonde, finely boned, gray-suited woman of indeterminable age. He looks at her, at his slide and back at her again.

“Sorry?”

“Careful is an adjective. You need an adverb there. Should be ‘carefully,’ shouldn’t it?”

He looks back at the slide. Oh, damn. Damn. “Oh yes, you’re absolutely right. Sorry.”

Duran leans forward on his elbows and clears his throat. “How many of these do you have?”

“Pardon.”

“How many more slides?”

“About twenty.”

“Can we please skip them and get to this bottom line you’re so on about. Why should we buy from you? What is it going to do for us, and how much is it going to cost?”

“I’m getting to that.”

“Let’s get to it now.”

Duran doesn’t look around to harvest other opinions. Instead he picks up the pencil he had brought and begins bouncing the eraser end against the shiny table top. It makes a DA-Da-da sound which just keeps going. Then he misses once and it makes a pencil-falling-over-on-shiny-rosewood kind of a sound. He picks it up again and back to the DA-Da-das.

People buy from people, absolutely, yes they do, but someone else in this room is wearing Aramis and the scent is pretty loud, so loud, in fact, that at that moment Alice steps right into his presentation and all he can think of is her.

He looks Mr. Duran straight in the eyes and all he can think of is that he misses her more than he can contain. Alice giggles and throws her rather large head backwards casting the mane of red through the air and back against the bedpost. She has such wonderful breasts.

“Bottom line?” he says.

“Yes, yes. Bottom line,” says his Legal Highness. “The bottom line. Get to it.”

And she giggles again as he reaches for her nipples with his tongue, finds one of them which turns hard on contact.

“The bottom line…”

“Right, the bottom line.”

Rod manages to kick him under the table and he whips around to that other smile-less face. What the fuck are you doing? says Rod’s face.

Yes, what the fuck is he doing, Alice? Good question.

“Okay,” he says. “I have a slide here. The last one.” Alice realizes that this is getting serious and takes a bow. He is left with the tongue mid-air and tousled hair. He can hear her giggle in the bathroom. He straightens his tie and makes sure the dimple is just so and dives into the presentation’s summary display, finds and double clicks on slide number twenty-one and displays in large letters, still red, still on a light blue background:

 

Duran, McClennah, Anderson, Picuck, Pheran, Bartlett and Marcell - 28

The Competition- 14

 

“Excuse me.” Duran stops bouncing his pencil. “But what the hell is this?”

“You win,” he says.

“We win? We win what?”

“The ball game.”

“We’re not a baseball team, Mr., Mr. …, what was it?” Then looks down at his card to find out.

“Morgan,” says Number 4.

Mister Morgan,” says Duran as if he had never forgotten. “We’re a law firm.”

“I know that.”

“And what you can do for us is to win us a baseball game?”

“This is not baseball. It’s a football game. This is a football score.”

“What?”

Rod kicks him again, harder this time.

Duran has now taken offense, that’s clear enough and now he looks to Number-4 people more like a reddish plant than a lawyer. Alice must have overheard for she waltzes right back in from the bathroom. She still doesn’t wear a bra.

He looks at Duran again, then at the other five lawyers. Inscrutable faces all, except for the blonde woman in gray who is definitely enjoying this. Viciously. People buy from people.

Fuck this people buy from people shit. That’s Alice talking. Now-with-some-malice Alice who quickly dons a dress and shoes and straightens up and looks back at him with a wink. An I’ll-fix-this wink. Then she turns to Duran and looking down at him, straight into his eyes, she says (pressing his people-buy-from-people voice into service), “Look. Are you in the copier market or not? Ours is a state-of-the-art, digitally programmable, fax and word processor compatible, guaranteed for 48 months—that’s forty-eight, four eight months—ballgame winning mother of all copiers that can and does beat the shit out of any other system on the market, and for less money.

“Howzat for bottom line?”

Rod is now examining the conference room table surface for scratches, closely. He’ll have no part of this, Number 3. Hardly even here.

Duran is silent.

“It’s a simple enough question,” she says. “You want it or not?”

Alice, he says, shut the fuck up. She giggles again and whirls around, the back of her dress rippling as the slips out the door.

Duran remains silent.

“Sorry,” he says. “I got carried away. But she’s right. We can beat any price and our performance will beat any competitor’s. Our payback period is less than eighteen months. You can’t lose with us.”

She’s right?”

“Alice.”

“Who the hell is Alice?” Duran looks around him. Astonished. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No,” he says.

Duran leans over to a large, nearly bald man to his right and whispers. The large man whispers back.

“Well, Mr. Morgan. It’s been enlightening. Thanks for coming.”

“Well, do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Want to buy our copiers?”

“No, Mr. Morgan. I do not want to buy your copier?”

“But it’s the best.”

“Good morning, Mr. Morgan.”

Duran stands up, collects his pencil, and begins to leave.

No, Alice, you have to stay out of here, and you have to be quiet. I have to salvage things with this lawyer fuck here.

“Mr. Duran,” he says. “On page thirty-one of the handout you will find a complete cost-justification, including future value of money projections and the payback schedule including the cost of current lease buyout. We will help you dispose of the current equipment, and I believe we can realize a small profit on that as well, since we already have a potential buyer for your existing system. A smaller firm, upgrading.”

He gets this out in pretty much one breath, but it’s well-rehearsed, clearly enunciated and delivered with practiced confidence. And without Alice’s help.

Duran stops and looks at him as if he has just arrived. Then he opens up his handout to page thirty-one and takes a look. The other five lawyers do the same, well, four of them anyway, the gray-suited blonde is looking at Morgan looking at Alice. Alice is leaning against the door frame. Red dress, red shoes. No bra.

Duran turns to the large bald guy who really looks more like a body guard than a lawyer, much less a managing partner, and they have another brief tête-à-tête. Morgan is begging for Alice to stay put.

Duran looks up at him. “These figures good?”

“Yes they are.”

“I’m not sure I like your style, Mr. Morgan,” he says. “But I do like these numbers.”

Morgan says nothing. Alice is no longer staying put at all and is rubbing up against him. He’s now getting a hard on which no one but the gray suited blonde has noticed yet and he’s got to act fast before it becomes obvious to one and all. He sits down abruptly. “Sorry,” he says. They look at him. “Antibiotics,” he adds.

Duran who seems to have gotten used to him by now, says, “Whatever. By chance bring a contract?”

He has. He opens his briefcase, takes it out, hands it to Duran.

“Thanks, Mr. Morgan. We’ll look this over. And get back to you. Good morning.”

“So you…”

“We’ll get back to you, Mr. Morgan. I have your card.” And left.

The rest filed out as well. The really heavy door eases shut behind them. When they’re alone Rod says, “Jesus.”

“I got distracted.”

“By what?”

“By Alice.”

“Alice?”

“I haven’t told you about Alice?”

“No.”

“Well,” he says, taking in the oak paneled walls, the large rosewood table top, the projector, the laptop, the briefcase, Number 3, the cables and the many chairs all but one of which are nicely tucked in beneath the table: his battle field; and Alice now opening the heavy door and peeking in, her long red hair streaming in waves from her tilted head. Her eyes are green and he misses her terribly. “This is getting too weird. I’m gonna have to find her again. Even if I have to marry her.”

Rod shakes his head that he doesn’t understand, doesn’t understand anything about him, packs up the overhead projector instead. Folds the cables carefully.

Alice throws her copier samurai a kiss from the doorway.

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