Lou Rowan

                                 for James Tierney  

  The building is near Union Station. Good move guys, V thinks, you can get cheap labor here easy. The lobby is dominated by a series of black marble slabs, water dribbling over and bubbling up between them.

    The receptionist is a Black woman poured into a skimpy halter and a cowgirl miniskirt, her face a mask of gray-purple makeup, her manner so stylized and self-involved he can't even begin to buddy up to her the way he has to so many girls who've given him tidbits on entering so many corridors of power. The coffee she implies he'd better drink is putrid, and he's about to ask for the Men's when the receptionist's seeming twin scoops him up and he struggles to match her long strides through a corridor in black and white stripes ending at glass inserted like a flat plug to the hall, giving a stunning view as he nears overcoming confusion the stripes running by him and the women instill, suddenly turning right down a corridor he hadn't noticed to the row of executive offices, each of which is plugged by the same giant pane giving on the hectic panorama of Seattle's origin.

    He's wondering if he should have gone for the white collar and sharp cuffs with the black pinstripe, when she stops, and he strides past her towards a man he can't see clearly in the glare of his glass, but knows is Victor Vector himself, and V thinks he's got the job if he's already in with the company's driving force.

    Vector ignores his outstretched hand, continues typing on his minicomputer, talking softly into a mike attached to his collar. His assistant steps behind his massive black slab-marble desk to untangle the wire from his left cufflink, which flashes in the brightness from the now-cloudless sky and the blue bay.

    V strains to hear Vector, groping for tidbits, but the voice is like an indivisible white noise.

    The seats are backless black benches, and V takes one uninvited, leaning in to take this guy on.

    Vector's preoccupation lasts long enough that V strains to hold his aggressive poise, concentration muddled by his bladder. Vector removes the little mike and still typing murmurs, "Yes?"

    "Sir, it's a privilege to meet you. I'm here to help you grow your vital business."


    Vector is fair-skinned, and if he were white would be called a nerd, the kind of ordinary man the technical industries have held up, as in the amorphous persons of Paul Allen and Bill Gates, to be the visual symbols of modern business. But because he is Black, his features grate, do not compose themselves into the routinely undistinguished Americanism on the covers of the business press. When Vector speaks, something happens in his nasal cavity that sounds like an insucking of phlegm, and V can't resist his disgust with a Black nerd with rhinitis.

    "I think we can grow this exciting enterprise right into the Fortune 500."


    "I think China and the Tigers and Europe are great markets for you. I'd avoid the expense of Japan."


    "Mr. Vector, those markets are believers in the old US of A. They're huge investors in our debt."

    "I know. What does that have to do with growing Vulgate?"

    "Sir, you've got to go a. where you're wanted and b. where there's a scarcity of your product."

    "Obviously. Proceed."

V knows Vector will not notice his flush and moisture because he's not raised his eyes from his little screen.

    "Well, when I take over sales here, I'm going to use my culture and experience to find salesmen from each market to grow your lines."

    "That didn't work in Africa."

    "Excuse me, but I think Africa and Latin America are not ready for your products."

    "Why not?"

    "You need to go where there's an established or a newly-growing middle class."   

    "OK, go on."

    Vector continues to type. There is no change in the pace of his fingers. V cannot tell if Vector is recording his ideas, ignoring him, what.

    "In Asia I'd raid the computer service sector for talent ready to make the next step."

    V is proud of himself for thinking of that one. Vector types on.

    "In Europe I'd do what we do in America, raid the big banks-they're great breeders of talent they can't keep."

    Wow, he's on a roll. He decides to stop and wait Vector out.

    "OK, thanks, we might call you."

    "Mr. Vector, I'm eager to work with you. Is there anything else you would like to know about me?"

    "No thanks."

    "May I plan on calling you next week, Sir."

    "Fine. Fine." The "i's" elicit the sounds in Vector's nose.

    V turned the wrong way in the hall, but righted himself after emerging into a vast bright amphitheater of sloppily-dressed ugly young people working on black benches at black pods randomly-placed on gray industrial carpet. Their voices were low, and V felt he was passing out of consciousness, but his nervous anger and the pain below sustained him until he found his way past the preoccupied semi-naked receptionist, into the impressive atrium, where he felt that his long experience in business was a sham, he was idiotic to think he could compete in today's market, his shirt chafed his neck, and he hoped his fucking family was grateful to him for exposing himself like this, he'd never do it if it weren't for them.

    That night he dreamed was visiting his mother and stepfather, and he was happy to be home. He walked briskly to his stepfather, whom he hoped was proud of the business career he'd sustained after so many false starts in life. He embraced his stepfather, who submitted to his enfolding arms reluctantly, and at the last instant thwarting their closing with hands to his biceps, and turned from him to something behind V's left shoulder. V turned and saw the parents of a girl he'd dated long ago waving and pointing at V. His stepfather admitted them to the sunroom giving on the bay, where yachts like the one he and V had sailed to Catalina Island maneuvered in a tight race in the brisk breeze.

    The parents were followed by the young woman, who was crying, her head drooping abjectly.

    "What can we do? What can we do? Look at her cry. She's been weeping and waiting all this time for your son to marry her."

    The homecoming was no longer the joy he'd permitted himself to hope for, a flood of celebration for his promotion at the big bank.

    His stepfather asked for an explanation, his mother stationed at the door to the sunroom.

    V forced a laugh, and used all his sales skills. "Surely no one believes the offhand remark of a teenager to be a commitment for life, surely you jest."

    He thought that was a good one that would carry the day with his stepfather and restore joy to the homecoming because his stepfather was nothing if not sensible. But no his stepfather silently turned his head from V to the outraged father who was saying, "Why? Why do so many women find him attractive?"

    V decided to take a walk, to let them all sort it out. None of the streets connected as he expected them too, and the renovations by his schoolboy friends to  homes whose outsides and patios he had adopted and counted on during his walks when he still lived here and needed to get away expanded them to such vast styles they became part of the road-system, which tunneled under them or elevated itself to ramps around them, affording V no place to walk, and so he went home and looked in the window at the girl, who being still as young as she was 25 years ago appeared very attractive, and he decided to solve his life's problems and please everyone in his home by marrying her, but his best friend met him by the door, his best friend who had always succeeded in business from the time he read V's stepfather's castoff Wall Street Journals as a precocious preteen, and reminded V he was already married and had 5 children. "That's not a good idea, V."

    V never knew why he remembered some dreams and forgot others.