I lean over the arm rest of my black swivel chair and look past him at his red Ford pickup truck. Like him, it’s old and its appearance gives me the vague, unexplainable feeling that he’s one of those guys who is pitifully alone in the world. The “handyman-with-nothing-to-do” type. There are some long planks of wood sticking out the back of the truck-bed, being held in by several feet of cording. A decal on the driver’s door reads “Cappy’s New and Used Billiard Tables.” I can’t make out what else is on the logo and I still don’t know his first name because it’s not on the business card he’s slid across the desk to me.
“If you and your boyfriend ever want to buy a pool table, you should stop in,” he says. His smile bothers me.
“Sure,” I say. I wish I could see me from his perspective, because I want to know whether I am as intimidating as I’m trying to look. I doubt it. My equivalent to a dog’s hackles consists mainly of a cold demeanor, a lot of scowling, and not-so-subtle verbal cues. In most instances, people don’t seem to be affected. I wonder if he really doesn’t see my discomfort, or whether he sees it and just chooses to ignore it.
“So. Married?” he asks. His nonchalance might have fooled me a few years ago, but at twenty two, I’ve had enough guys feign virtuosity in order to score a date with me, to know that’s what’s going on.
I shake my head, very small movements to the left, to the right, to the left again and focus my eyes very firmly on his. “No,” I say and despite my effort to sound emotionless, it comes out both questioning and angry. The former because I’ve already made the mistake of telling him I don’t have a boyfriend and can’t understand why he might continue implying that I do; the latter because I don’t think my romantic situation is any of his business.
“Well,” he says, “I guess you’re better off, right?” That smile again. I’m beginning to feel nauseous and it’s not the entire mug of hours-old coffee that I just guzzled. He continues, “Most young girls these days are all getting married to fat young slobs”—he claps his hands together—“then they’re pregnant, their husbands take their money and they’re miserable.”
My palms are starting to sweat so I wipe them on my dark slacks. The man seems to be implying that if I were with him, I could escape such a fate. I can see the proposition in his eyes.
“It’s better to have an experienced guy, isn’t it?” he asks. I can’t help but wonder what world this guy lives in, where he thinks that I might possibly be attracted to his sad, wrinkly old self. At least he’s not missing any teeth. For some reason, that would make the situation so much worse. If that were the case, not only would he be old and ugly, but he’d lack proper hygiene as well. My vanity won’t allow me to be preyed upon by someone who has quite that many strikes against him.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I have plenty of great men in my life. My older brother got me a job here.” I can only hope that making mention of my big brother might scare him off.
“What’s that?” he asks, but he doesn’t really want an answer. He says, “Your brother? Is he the one who owns the place? Young fellow, Matt is it?”
“No,” I say. I’m playing with my hair. I look at the strand twisted between my middle finger and thumb. It’s all split ends from doing it so often. Nervous habit. “Matt’s my boss, Daniel’s my brother.”
“Don’t know him,” he says. He leans forward onto the upper ledge of the desk and rests on his forearms. Since it’s hard to be intimidating from a seated position, I square my shoulders and lift my head. The brave don’t fear their enemies. Or at least, if they do, they hide it well.
“Listen, sweetheart,” he says. “I talked to your boss. He told me he hired a new girl for the weekends. I guess that’s you right? I’ll probably have to come in all the time and keep you company, won’t I?”
“I’m sure I can find things to do,” I reply. Now, I’m angry with Matt for having told this creep anything about my summer schedule, and perhaps more angry with myself for not being able to get rid of him. The guy was here last weekend too, informed me that he was our landlord; that he’d like to buy me lunch; that he’d just bought a lottery ticket and expected to win the $2 million jackpot. I’d politely declined the offer and given him a nod, the sarcasm of which he’d ignored.
“Can you imagine what we’d do with that much money?” he’d asked.
“Sure, a person could do a lot,” I’d said.
“No,” he’d replied quickly. “I mean you and me, us, what we could do with it.”
I try to shake off the feeling that this guy is, right now, imagining me in a string bikini on the deck of a cruise ship and I laugh nervously. “Well, I guess I’ll see you around.”
He says, “Perhaps. I’ll definitely see you.”
In the bathroom, I discover a tiny white wire, painted to match the wall, which is attached to a black camera hidden in the ceiling directly above the toilet. The red blinking light indicates that it is recording.