The moment Vinnie walked into the room, he knew something was wrong. His boss was standing behind his desk, surrounded by scattered papers, watching the numbers on his fancy atomic clock tick upward: 8:43:10 . . . 8:43:11 . . . 8:43:12. This was not an ordinary Wednesday, the last day of a bright September.
But the dead giveaway that something was wrong was the way Dan greeted Vinnie: “A complete fucking screwup.”
Vinnie froze. Dan didn’t curse—never cursed. In fact, he was offended by others cursing, and Vinnie’s own cursing had almost cost him his job.
Learning not to curse had been Vinnie Briggs’s first lesson from Dan. Two years earlier, Vinnie had approached the interview chair, looked out the window behind Mr. Dan Livorno—senior executive at DV&N—and sung out, “Fuckin’-A view. You can see fuckin’ Queens.”
While no other job applicant would start an interview with that kind of language, Vinnie couldn’t help himself—which was probably why he was so desperate for a job. To Vinnie, cursing was like breathing: it just happened. But apart from this unfortunate proclivity, Vinnie was otherwise an astute, polite young man, barely twenty-two.
Dan sat in his prestigious corner office in the Hawthorne Building, above Second Avenue and Forty-Fifth, with a spectacular view of the East River, Queens, and on a good day, planes in flight at La Guardia. He fixed his interviewee with a stare. “Mister Briggs, there’s no need to curse. Lacing an opinion with curses reveals nothing meaningful about a person’s thoughts. And I would prefer that you not curse in my office.”
Fuck, Vinnie thought at the time. So much for getting the executive assistant position at Del Vecchio & Neale. After that, Vinnie saw no reason to sit—his interview was doomed. He knew that Dan had only included him among the final eight—culled from two hundred—because Dan’s sister-in-law, Rachel, had twisted the man’s arm. It had been a lucky break, and ten seconds into the interview Vinnie had already blown it.
“I’ve fuckin’ screwed this, haven’t I?” he said. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time, sir. I’m truly fuckin’ sorry.”
Squinting his eyes, Vinnie waited to be dismissed, watching the seconds click by on the atomic clock that sat on the executive’s desk. But Dan extended his hand. “No, Mister Briggs, you can sit. You’ve just expressed your thoughts very succinctly. Let’s continue and see what surprise comes next… with less cursing, please.”
Three days later Vinnie called Rachel: “Rach, you’re talking to the new administrative assistant at DV&N! I fuckin’ told Dan he wouldn’t regret it, and he said, ‘Let’s hope I fuckin’ don’t.’” For two years after that, Vinnie liked to tell people he was Dan Livorno’s last “fuck.”
He wished now that had remained true.
Dan never regretted hiring Vinnie, despite his foul mouth—and to be fair, Vinnie did manage to curtail his cursing by perhaps seventy percent. And two years later, they were best friends. Vinnie knew Dan’s ways as well as he knew his own, so to see Dan’s office in a mess was a surprise, and to hear him cursing was a shock.
Bending down to pick up some papers strewn on the floor, Dan mumbled to himself. He turned to Vinnie and his mouth slightly opened, but then it closed again, holding back whatever he had been about to say.
“Talk to me, Dan.”
Dan sighed and looked at his computer screen, frowning. “I was working on my economic model, and Bill’s voice came booming across the room. He burst in here with his usual yappy good morning…”
Vinnie’s mouth barely opened. “And? Are you okay?”
“He came in and stood there.” Dan pointed to the door. “Had the nerve to say, ‘Good morning, Dan.’ Good morning, my ass.”
Vinnie’s head shook.
“Told me the proposal presentation has been moved from Monday.” With his fingers pulling on his lower lip, Dan made a contorted grimace. “You know what he said? I’ll tell you. ‘I know it’s a bummer, but you’ll be fine.’ And then he laughed. ‘Har har, har har.’” Dan imitated Bill’s notorious laugh with its harsh R sound, a good imitation. “I heard him belch from across the room. Big man Bill Barrington, fucking executive VP at Del Vecchio & Neale, Incorporated, and he belched. He’d been drinking before nine o’clock. The man I report to, drinking before noon.”
“So, how long’s the delay?”
“Delay! No, Vinnie, not delayed. The meeting’s been moved forward. Moved to tomorrow. Bullshit. This is plain bullshit.”
The presentation was the final step before the DV&N board decided whom to promote to the new Executive Director position—heading up the newly created European Operations office in Paris. Dan was one of two finalists; the other was Linda Lords, his counterpart at the DV&N California office.
Vinnie thought Dan looked capable of eating him, the furniture, the entire thirty-fifth floor.
“No way. That’s fuckin’ ridiculous. He can’t change it in one day.”
“That’s what I said. I argued, but Bill had all his bases covered. I reminded him about the delays in retrieving the crucial European data—data I’ve been promised. I’ve waited weeks for that data, as you know. And it was Bill who promised to fix the delay in the first place!”
Again Vinnie’s head shook. “Son of a bitch. Dan, let’s talk to Gary.” Gary Del Vecchio, co-founder and president of Del Vecchio & Neale, could overrule Bill Barrington.
With his head bowed toward the desk, Dan sighed. “You know what else he said to me? He said, ‘Dan, you’re always prepared. You’re an Eagle Scout. I have every confidence in you.’” Dan looked up. “He’s a bullshitting drunk, that’s what he is. He told me the rescheduling couldn’t be helped. All due to some crisis in LA with our Northrop Aviation account.”
The rest of the story came in spasms, but Dan had already hit the high note: the Paris presentations would be tomorrow morning—ready or not—and would be followed by the board’s decision. A decision that was suddenly looking not at all favorable to Dan, seeing as he didn’t even have his core data yet. Apparently they needed to accelerate the schedule so that Linda could be back in California on Thursday night, followed by Bill on Friday. They wanted to show Northrop that DV&N’s senior executive VP could make on-site decisions.
“He said it’s the same for Linda as it is for me,” Dan continued. “Level playing field; might even be worse for her. Reminded me that Northrop is our biggest West Coast client, even cited the DV&N motto, ‘Clients first, that’s the DV&N way,’ as if I don’t know.”
Dan had suggested to Bill several alternatives that seemed, to him at least, far more reasonable. “But nothing I said convinced him,” he finished.
“Anything… else?” At this point, Vinnie was almost afraid to ask.
Dan picked up a ruler, letting the sharp edge roll over his shirtsleeve and then slapping his palm with the flat side. “The usual Barrington gossip. Gave me Gary’s itinerary. Next week Argentina, then a Miami break. Bill said, ‘Screwing his boyfriend up the ass.’ Classic Bill.” The ruler slapped twice. “Asked if Gary forced me to hire you to increase the number of office faggots. Told me what I need is an assistant with big tits, not a little queer. I hate that man, and he’s my supervisor.”
Vinnie rocked quietly on the balls of his feet. Did he imagine his squeaking rubber heels reverberating through all thirty-five floors above New York’s canyon at 9:15:42 a.m.? The telephone squealed, went unanswered.
“I’m sorry, Vinnie. I shouldn’t have repeated that.”
Each man knew evil had been in the room. Vinnie wanted a declaration of war. Dan slapped his palm, ran the edge of the ruler over his forearm. Vinnie thought, When you’re fucked, you’re fucked.
“I’ll stay all night,” Vinnie said. “You’ll still outshine Linda. And as Bill said, it’s the same for her as you. Stop worrying over the missing data. Big deal.”
Leaning across his desk, Dan said, “Vinnie, you’re missing the point. The data…” He inhaled, sputtered. “The goddamn data. My forecast model is a breakthrough—it predicts what happens when markets collapse. But I need the 2001 and 2008 data to prove it. Without it, all I have is extrapolation and speculation. I’ve invented a completely new way to respond after market crashes, against convention. But in today’s investment climate, no financial services company would try my model unproven. Even Gary’s belief in me won’t go that far.
“I put DV&N at the head of the financial pack. Now this is my shot to set a whole new paradigm. And you and I both know the board won’t accept my word without data. They won’t risk Europe. It’s over. I’m screwed.” Dan’s hand moved swiftly, wiping moist eyes, a Vinnie move.
“I still believe you’ll win,” Vinnie said quietly. “But if not, you’ll have this job—and a quarter-million salary plus the bonuses, I might add. Sure, matters are complicated if Ginny takes her Bloomingdale’s Paris job, but you can afford to commute. You’ve said you don’t see her much during the week anyway. What’s with the feeling so fuckin’ sorry for yourself?”
The ruler flew from Dan’s hand across the desk. Vinnie ducked. “It’s not the goddamn money, Vinnie. I don’t want to talk about it. Please leave, I need to think.”
Vinnie backed away. He knew it wasn’t the money, knew it really had to do with Dan’s marriage. And knew better than to tell Dan that he knew.
With a pause before he closed Dan’s office door, Vinnie turned to catch a glimpse of his boss swiveling in his chair to look out the window. What’s he see? Paris?
Back at his desk, Vinnie muttered aloud. “I fuckin’ love my boss. Best boss ever. Best friend, too. There’s more to this than Northrop, more to Dan’s upset. Look at him, hunky, handsome, with a cute bubble ass…”
Using a slightly higher voice, Vinnie answered himself: “Now, Vinnie, keep your mind off Dan’s ass.”
Vinnie snapped back: “Yeah, fuck you.”
Vinnie made a resolution. “I’ll help Dan and I’ll find a way to screw that homophobic Barrington.” After all, Bill had screwed Vinnie over, too, in addition to denigrating him.
Joining Dan in Paris had never felt right for Vinnie. He had told Dan, “I’ll never leave the City.” So Dan had somehow arranged a DV&N scholarship for Vinnie to attend NYU’s Stern School for a master’s in marketing. And Dan had been emphatic that the scholarship stood, independent of Dan winning Paris. But Vinnie didn’t see it that way. In his mind, his fate depended on Dan moving to Paris. Dan would start his new life, and Vinnie would start his own.
His future, his friend’s future, and his own dignity depended on finding out what Bill Barrington was up to. Vinnie would show him who was getting screwed up the ass.
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