“It’s unfortunate, is what I am saying. Like, that it’s so… accurate… I guess. Like, it looks, intentional. Like you know how sometimes you can look at a cloud, and like one guy will say, ‘yeah, that looks exactly like a dog’ but then another guy will be like ‘no that’s a truck,’ it’s not like that. There’s no mistaking it, really. The sack’s seam is even depicted quite accurately. Poor guy.”
The long oaken table sits empty waiting for them to arrive. The appointed time has not yet come. No one mills about the room. Theirs is a practice of ritualistic tardiness, bosses always come last. There are tiers, too. Not all bosses are created equal, after all. Howard Prescott Gilliard has been with the firm since inception and has hung in there by never getting all bent out of shape or acting all put-out when the petty aggrievances that always pop up during a career, popped up. He could weather getting passed over with the best of them, and these days, he arrived to meetings third to last. The room smells of medium roast coffee which had been set there by somebody no Associate ever sees. There are two carafes of coffee flanked by two serving trays of danish (exclusively danish and no other pastries — William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk loves danish), next to which sits a stack of white napkins with the company’s Double-S logo, and a stack of paper cups — the NY kind that are white with blue and orange and vaguely Greek. Howard Prescott Gilliard is the first of the Sr. Associates to enter and the Jr. Associates still regard him as a kind of, but not really, equal. No one ever mentions the face to him, not directly, though he does know that it is a topic of regular discussion, when he’s not around. He often considers what role the face’s abnormality has played in his slow, multi-decade ascendency within the firm. It is possible (probable?) that he would be the last to enter the room, the last to take his coffee and doughnut (chocolate-dipped cake is Howard Prescott Gilliard’s preferred pastry), and the last to sit, everyone falling silent as he does, waiting for him to speak and not William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk, if it weren’t for the face. They all still talk when he enters the room, no deference shown. He likes that.
“So, I said to the guy I said, ‘dude, don’t even sweat it, total diversity hire. Seen it a thousand times, she checked like four boxes for them, it’s the same wherever you go now. She’ll move up, sure, that’s true, but only so high. Then, eventually, she’ll stall out and get frustrated and move on, feeling disrespected. Your time will come my man, trust,’ but does he listen? Hell no!”
Two men are now seated at the table, but not seated next to each other despite that they walked into the room together. Their configuration seems unthoughtful and haphazard, but it is not. There are three chairs between them and they have to speak slightly above their normal speaking volume to be heard by each other. The chairs are of the same wood as the table and do not have any cushions (leather wrapped or otherwise), and are not comfortable when sat in for extended periods of time. The firm is an old firm and very little has changed, ergonomically. The two men who are seated have recounted to each other weekends spent apart (they do not associate outside of the associating they do at the firm), but largely doing the same thing. The game, after all, was highly anticipated and had been a good one, was the consensus. A rare instance when the hype matched the thing itself. In the middle of the table a conference-call speaker device sits almost flat against the wood, its three peninsulas jutting out into the table’s ocean. Sometimes the most Sr. Associates have to conference in and don’t show at all (in person), and yet, are still late. Dominance. One of the men seated at the table leans back precariously, and the wood of his chair’s leg creaks. He’s been warned about this before. These two have been around for a while and are feeling pretty good about life, right about now. They are both very hungover but are hiding it with a professional’s aplomb. When the speaking stops, a natural conversational break and low point, one makes a familiar gesture at the other in which he circles the ball of his cheekbone twice with his index finger, then draws an elongated shaft down to his chin’s point and back again. They are suppressing laughter as more men (and the newly hired woman (Jiya Faheem)) enter the room.
“The scar though is what makes it, really makes it. Like I get how the natural gradation of the port-wine pigment accounts for the ballsack’s seem. But that scar’s placement is just something else entirely, and it really gives it the prototypical vein that makes it a true masterwork. If it were graffitied on a bathroom’s wall, I’d hang a fucking frame around it.”
Jiya Faheem takes the seat to the immediate right of the seat that Howard Prescott Gilliard will eventually occupy, and she sets in front of herself her leatherbound notebook, three pens she straightens just so, a danish on a logoed napkin, and a black half-caf in one of the paper cups. She leans back in her chair, too. Creak. The two men stop talking altogether, now, and the laughter they had been suppressing fades from them and the room is silent and awkward as Jiya looks from one to the other, and she can see that they aren’t uncomfortable, but are somehow put out by her. The presumption in her lateness. She shifts her weight to her chair’s seat’s front, and lets it crash back to all four legs with a bit of a bang, before shoving the entire danish in her mouth while continuously sweeping her eyes from one man to the next. She chews, violently, taking sips of coffee to wet the pastry before swallowing. The danish she consumes is blueberry. Another man enters then and she smiles a purplish smile at him, flashing teeth. Dominance. The talking resumes with his appearance, as does the juvenile laughing, as they are all now addressing the abnormality, directly. The consensus is that it is, indeed, most unfortunate. Jiya Faheem participates. And her cruelty about the abnormality goes just a shade too far and the room goes silent for a long moment. Everyone sips coffee. Another enters. A quorum is met, but there are still no bosses. Howard Prescott Gilliard will arrive soon, they know.
“He said that? Really? Look, I’m not gonna sit around here and BS you, that’s not me, who I am. I’m a straight shooter, from the old-school, my father taught me to be tough. I don’t get offended. I don’t get disrespected. I’m here because those assholes they hired before me couldn’t hack it, and old Dickface knows it, too. They brought me on because the Jr. Associate track has been middling for some time, and they needed someone of my skillset to get the bullpen back in line. Back to earning at the level the firm is used to. Look, I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I’m unaffected by their bullshit, I am a person, but what I will say, is that I’m also a goddamn killer. I will rip their throats out before I quit.”
Howard Prescott Gilliard’s face proceeds him though any door. The abnormality was small when he was a child, undefined. Rorschach. Could’ve been anything, really. It was in the eye of the beholder. His mother, in his infancy, thought it rather distinctive. Cute, even. As he grew, so did the abnormality. Purpled, over time. Became defined. And, in a truly cruel twist, it took its distinctive shape around the time Howard Prescott Gilliard entered Jr. High. Which, he attended at an all-boys boarding school on the Connecticut river in rural New Hampshire. There was nowhere for him to run, at the time. The teasing was relentless. But that was a long time ago. His own notebook and pens and danish and coffee had been placed at his seat before he entered, and when he took his seat the conversation that had only momentarily ceased when he entered the room, resumed, but with what he assumed was a wholly different topic than the one at hand just prior to his entering the room. Now they talked again about the game. He opens his notebook and starts preparing his remarks. The quarter has been exceptional. His new girl’s (Jiya) a real getter, and she can look him in the face for more than a few moments, which, he appreciates. William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk walks past the open conference room door, but not seeing Lyle McManus-Holyoke seated yet, walks on. There are name plates at the table. William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk’s at the head, Lyle McManus-Holyoke’s to his immediate right, and Howard Prescott Gilliard’s to his immediate left. Howard Prescott Gilliard and the Jr.s saw William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk walk by, and HPG shakes his head and checks his watch. It’s fifteen after. Egregious. Lyle McManus-Holyoke must be making some kind of a move.
“He thinks the face is the reason he’s only the third shit? That’s not it. The face’s got nothing to do with why old Howard is the third amigo. He’s a fine guy, whatever, and he’s been around since Moses and the short-pants, whatever, but he’s a giant pussy is all. A big pussy. And what’s worse is it’s not just WTT-Spunk and LM-H that knows it either. He lets the Jr.s talk all sorts of shit, whatever, pretends he doesn’t hear it, whatever. If it were me, and people where openly talking about the face, whatever, to me, about me, I’d smash their fucking heads in and leave em dead in the halls so the others know what’s up, whatever. And WTT-Spunk and LM-H, they’d do the same, whatever, too. Dickface will never be top-dog at Solomon and Solomon. Never gonna happen. He’s nice enough, whatever, doesn’t ride ass the way the others do, whatever, but nice never put food on the table. Know what I’m sayin?”
He grew a beard once, and that covered it, partly. The problem was that the beard had a couple of strategically placed bald patches so the face’s dick’s ballsack was never covered, and the way the face’s sideburn framed it (the ballsack), looked like pubes. The bald patch also exposed part of the shaft, just covering the head of the face’s dick, so, all the beard really accomplished was shaving a quarter-inch off the face’s dick. He’d tried growing the beard extra-long, to see if, eventually, the ballsack’s pubes would grow over the ballsack, but William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk said that that looked unprofessional, and furthermore, William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk had said he knew exactly why Howard Prescott Gilliard was growing the long beard, and that that knowledge just drew more focus to the face’s dick. It was the one and only time anyone at Solomon and Solomon ever addressed the abnormality directly to Howard Prescott Gillard’s bephallused face. Lyle McManus-Holyoke enters and takes his seat and all conversation stops dead and remains stopped dead. He checks his watch after he sits and asks a Jr. Associate to page William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk’s office using the table’s conference-call speaker device to get an ETA for William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk. Unprecedented. So bold. Howard Prescott Gilliard is absolutely besides himself at the effrontery, internally. He says nothing. The Jr. Associate hesitates. Lyle McManus-Holyoke asks what the hold-up is and to just do it already, times awasting, and is, after all, also money. William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk enters the room and takes his seat and the temperature of the room seems to drop. Lyly McManus-Holyoke actually says glad you could make it. All breath is held.
“Dude’s dicked up face actually turned the same color as the face’s dick when it happened, I mean McManus-Holyoke is like way Jr. to him, seniority-wise. And he just pantsed him right there in conference room 7. Took his balls, so to speak. And Faheem, being in on it, goddamn cold is what it was. Everyone knew she was Gilliard’s girl. His pick. Took her out of the slush and made her someone at S&S. And he just took it, all ugly red-faced and repressed. Shaking. It was, honestly, fucking amazing, unnerving, but amazing. He was so pissed. The irony? William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk and Lyle McManus-Holyoke would’ve probably respected him more if he’d’ve freaked out, flipped his shit, showed some sack. If HPG would’ve stood up and called them all a bunch of cocksuckers and assholes and ingrates who never appreciated his contributions to the staying-power of S&S, and that they can all just go fuck their mothers right in the place where mothers are fucked, well, I think he’d’ve left that room not only with some dignity, but like also some grudging props, even from the Jr.s. But, he didn’t, because that’s not him, he’s not a killer, he’s just some dickfaced loser.”
With all present and accounted for and quorum having been more than met, William (Tommy-boy) T. Spunk begins the meeting by asking if Jiya Faheem would read the agenda, and she does. Everyone present goes a certain kind of stiff. Jr.s stare forward. Blank. Lyle McManus-Holyoke slouches in a practiced and deliberate way and exhales audibly. The table’s conference-call speaker device cackles and pops as a connection is made. No voice from there is forthcoming. Nobody seated actually sees who distributes the memo, but it is now on the top of everyone’s stack as if from nowhere. Howard Prescott Gilliard smiles, unaware. Absolutely devastating.