Jameson’s plane was delayed twice in Nevada, and once in Illinois, before it finally touched down just south of Connecticut a little after midnight. Jameson was flying back with Rickter from a three-day trip to the Grand World headquarters in Las Vegas. Their client there, a VP by the name of Crumley, was a displaced Texan who had alternately called Jameson “son” and “dude,” though he had only called Rickter “Rickter.”

Rickter just wasn’t the kind of guy people called “son” or “dude,” even though he seemed to call everyone else, especially around the office at Paragon Associates, “buddy,” and, depending on his mood, “babe” or “baby,” and every now and then, “dog,” but never “bitch.” That was Rickter, one of the smoothest people Jameson knew, especially for a guy who stood only 5’ 5” in his Ferragamo loafers. Rickter was a sharp dresser, too, his good hair gelled up in front, never a strand out of place.

Jameson usually traveled with Rickter on these trips, though Rickter was one notch higher on the Paragon food chain. Jameson had been with the firm since college. Rickter had joined only two years ago. He was a program man, had come from the investment banking side, and he possessed the tunnel vision peculiar to that crowd. Fifty, sixty hours a week to Rickter was laughable. He showed no fear, was already managing projects.

Grand World was a new client that Hugh Freelake, a Paragon VP, was trying to reel in. Hugh didn’t mess around when it came to selling work. He told Grand World’s VP that Paragon was very experienced in the gaming industry, that they had completed dozens and dozens of projects in gaming. The truth was they had never done one, though Hugh did tell Jameson and Rickter that he once sat next to a casino executive on a plane to LA.

“Has to count for something,” he had said.

Hugh told Jameson and Rickter the project had top priority. Paragon had to get into Grand World’s comfort zone. Jameson and Rickter had been on-site all week, conducting interviews and gathering data. They stayed in rooms right down the hall from each other, would usually grab dinner in the hotel restaurant and maybe a drink at the bar. They didn’t hang around much afterwards. Jameson would go back to his room, do a movie On Demand. He had no idea what Rickter did.

There was a lot of work ahead on this Grand World project back at the office, and they wouldn’t have to travel for a while. For this, Jameson was grateful. He could only take so much of Rickter on the road. Rickter was great for short periods of time but over the long haul the appeal began to wear off.

Jameson did feel like there were certain things he should be learning from Rickter, especially his skills with females. Rickter worked some kind of voodoo magic on their stewardess, the lovely Cindy from Tennessee. Rickter had gazed deep into Cindy’s big blue eyes for a little too long, nodded his head slowly at the things she said. He had run his manicured hand through his frosty hair.

Rickter only smiled when attractive women were around, and it wasn’t any nice guy’s idiotic grin. Rickter’s smile was over-confident, even borderline menacing. This was how he had smiled at Cindy, and dozens of other girls in the last three days. Rickter worked Cindy slowly the entire flight, then, just before they landed, he handed her his Blackberry. It was no surprise to Jameson, who had seen Rickter do this on many occasions, that Cindy took the phone, pushed her number in, and handed it back, all without hesitation, and sort of admirably, without missing a beat from her stewardess duties. She moved through the aisles, holding up the trash bag.

They hailed a cab at the airport. Jameson was used to the drill. They stashed their bags with the Paragon dog tags in the trunk, and rode quietly back to the office where they left their cars. Rickter busied himself with his Blackberry, and Jameson stared out the window as the road passed by. They usually left their lives in the hands of a driver, as was the case tonight, this one with a head piece, jabbering in a language.

Their destination was Walhaven, Paragon Associates’ world headquarters. Walhaven was home to more than just Paragon. It had become a hub for the Fortune 500 set. There was some heady tax breaks there, and a modern downtown area that had sprung up after a large investment bank had established a beachhead. A brand new commuter rail station had been built for the express line into the City, but Paragon had shown some restraint and kept their offices on the outskirts. They were based out of a cubular office building with reflective glass windows, overlooking the freeway.

Most of the consultants, like Jameson, lived close by the office, just off Satellite Road, the main drag in town where all the chain restaurants and car dealerships were. Jameson drove down Satellite Road every morning on his way to work, and then at night when he came back to his empty house.

“You going to call that stewardess?” Jameson said now.

“She’ll call me, buddy. I don’t even have to call. She’s already thinking about what our kids are going to look like.”

“How do you know?”

“Did you see the way she was looking at me, did she see her lick her lips?”

“Not really.”

“That was because you weren’t paying any attention. It was all going on right there for you to watch. You want to know the secret to getting laid, buddy?”

“What’s that?”

“You got to smile more. That is a cardinal rule.”

Jameson stayed silent for the rest of the ride, but secretly brooded over the fact that Rickter didn’t think he smiled enough. He smiled. That was something he did. The only sounds interrupting these anxious thoughts were the driver mumbling into his head set, and the emails that kept binging into Rickter’s Blackberry.

The driver let them off at the office park that housed Paragon’s offices, along with law firms, accounting practices, investment management branches. All the offices were empty and dark, except for one office up on the fifth floor. Jameson knew that Hugh was up there, plotting new ways to sell work. His black Mercedes was parked up front. It was the only car in the lot, aside from Rickter’s roadster and his Chrysler. Secretly Jameson suspected that Hugh never actually left the office. He slept there, and did his ablutions in the men’s room.

It was hard to tell if it was because he was trying to make all the money back that his wife had split with, or if he was just lonely, bored. Either way, Hugh was always there in the morning when Jameson arrived, and he was there late at night when Jameson left. Now he was there at 1 AM on a Saturday morning. The Big Man had lost his mind.

“Good old Hugh,” Rickter said, as they stood in the parking lot, appraising the lit office.

Rickter wheeled his bag over to his roadster, and dropped it in the trunk. The roadster’s metallic silver finish shined under the parking lot lights. It was a lot cleaner than Jameson’s white Chrysler.

“See you on Monday, baby. We’ll do it all over again.”

Jameson watched as Rickter backed his roadster out. He put his blinker on and executed a flawless left turn onto the empty road.

Dave Englander attended the MFA writing program at Columbia University. He’s currently at work on a novel, “Jameson’s Quiet Period” which “Jameson” is an excerpt from.

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