“Have a seat.” She showed me to an empty, black, leather chair with a high back and chrome armrests at a small conference table just to the right of her desk. Another identical, empty chair stood on the opposite side of the table. “I hope the traffic getting here wasn’t too bad,” she said with a smile that didn’t rise above her cheekbones. “Can I get you anything? Water?” She was putting me at ease, getting me to relax. It was an old trick — trying to put me off guard with a casual, friendly air — that I knew well. She knew that I knew, but she followed the script anyway because that’s how these things are supposed to go and, after all, we were both pros.
“No, thank you. That’s very kind of you, but I’m fine.” I played along. “The drive took only about a half hour, so it wasn’t too bad.” I lied. I’d left an hour and twenty minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, not taking any chances.
“Good! Let’s get started.” She wheeled the other chair around the table to the same side as mine, its casters made a zip sound on the silver and blue carpet. “Is this okay?” she asked.
“Of course. Whatever works for you.”
“It helps me to judge a candidate better when I can not only hear their answers, but also feel their energy. Does that make sense?”
“I have to admit, it’s not something I’m used to, but I think I understand. You’ll have to teach me your technique sometime.” I smiled, covering. I hadn’t seen that coming and I was annoyed at myself. But such an aggressive move, made so early, put me on alert. I would not make the same mistake again. She sat down, put on a pair of Oliver Peoples horn rims and crossed one knee over the other, her skirt riding up and exposing perfectly smooth, tan kneecaps. For the first time since we shook hands as I walked in, I caught a hint of her perfume. Chanel? I made a mental note to go to the counter at Macy’s later and find it.
“You have a very impressive resume.”
“Thank you. Are we starting now?”
The slap came fast and hard. Her hand, though small and delicate-looking, felt heavy, like it was filled with a dense liquid, as it sounded a loud crack across my left cheek. My face felt hot and the sting made my eyes well. I opened them wide to hold back any tears.
“Yes, we’re starting. When I ask a question, you answer it. That’s how this works. Don’t interrupt me again.” She said it like she was explaining a disappointing truth to a small child. “You went to Princeton.” I nodded. “Majored in English, minor in French. Summa. Impressive. Useless, but impressive.” She was trying to goad me into defending myself. She was good.
“So, you’re smart and experienced. What makes you think you’re right for this job?”
“You mean besides being smart and experienced?”
A cloud of gray, filled with pulsing, blurry stars, exploded in front of me and through it I could see the truncheon as she let her perfectly manicured hand fall to her side and drop it on the floor. It caught me so completely by surprise that I didn’t feel the blow itself, only its aftermath. The pain enveloped my head like a large hand trying to squeeze my brains out through my eyes and my nose and I thought, so this is what it’s like to get cold-cocked.
“I ask the questions, okay?” I put my hand up and bowed my head. I was signifying assent, but also defending myself against another possible swing of her hand while I gathered my wits.
“Okay,” I said. She put her glasses back on with the same hand with which she’d just bludgeoned me.
“Let’s try that again. Why you and why here?”
I smiled and said, “Because I’m smarter than the average bear.” I knew it was coming and caught her by the wrist in mid-swing, but I didn’t realize that I was already at least two moves behind. A black, leather, Christian Louboutin, peep-toe pump with a four-inch heel nailed me mid-chest and knocked my chair backwards. I tried to roll away and get to my feet, but no sooner had I hit the floor than she was on me. One of those perfect knees dug into the small of my back while one hand held me in a wrist hold and the other held a bunch of my hair.
“You think you’re cute?”
“Actually — “
She cut me off by slamming my already aching head into the floor.
“That one was rhetorical, no answer needed. Or desired.”
Then she went to work on me.
Exactly 48 minutes later, she stood at the window, which was cracked, looking out at the evening sky and smoking a Marlboro Light. “Sorry for smoking,” she said. “It’s a filthy habit, I know.”
“Quite all right,” I said. “Do you have a business card?”
She exhaled a plume of smoke through the crack in the window and tossed the butt through as well. “Yeah, right there on my desk.” She smoothed the front of her skirt and brushed a few cigarette ashes off. I took one of her cards and slipped it into my suit jacket pocket.
“So,” I said, “Anything else?”
“No, I think we covered it all. I think you’ll find our offer quite satisfactory, but take your time and talk it over with your family. Feel free to call or email if you have any questions.”
“Thanks. Will do.”
“Great. Let me just say in advance: welcome aboard.”
“Thank you. Have a great evening.”
I let myself out and headed for the elevators.