This story is a prequel to "The Weight Loss Surgery Support Group, Part 1." It fills in the backstory of Mickey, a character in Part 1 of the series. That’s an unconventional sequence, but this character wanted me to tell his story. Who was I to refuse?
Meeting Ms. Dos Campos
Perched midway up the curving rows of seats in the lecture hall at Harvard Business School, Mickey Dougherty half-listened to the panel discussion. His mind wandered as he listlessly took notes. The panelists took turns telling the audience the nuances of investing in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China. China drew the rapt attention of listeners in the auditorium at Harvard Business School. Mickey had heard it all before, and he’d been there, sleuthing out investment opportunities to pitch to the high-risk-tolerant clients of his investment firm.
Instead of hearing what he already knew, Mickey thought, once again, of Harvey Weinstein.
Harvey was stupid, a talented buffoon with excellent taste in film properties but also a self-destructive streak. The stories appalled Mickey, reports of coercion, threats, investigations, careers made or destroyed when a young woman collided with Weinstein’s bludgeoning style. As his Irish grandmother would mutter in a serious Gaelic insult, "Níl Tada Níos Measa Na Bód Ina Seasamh"—There's nothing worse than a standing prick. Harvey could pay for the world’s most stunning escorts, hungry actresses would fling themselves at him. But no, he had to act like a brute and use his power like a cudgel on the vulnerable. Jacking off in planters while women watched? Mickey was OK with whatever would float your boat but he had his limits and discretion. Don't make a public spectacle. Leave no actionable hard feelings at the end of the affair. Harvey (Mickey could call him Harvey, their social circles overlapped in the fetid spaces where finance and entertainment mingle) finally met adversaries who wouldn’t back down. Good for them, very bad for Harvey and his ilk.
Mickey took a different approach. He offered all carrots and no sticks. Not for him the grabby wrathful mogul shtick.
Mickey put down his pen and paid attention when the last speaker took the microphone. Clarissa Dos Campos rose to the occasion with a calmly reasoned pitch for Brazil. Her work as an investment strategist for one of the country’s largest banks gave her the knowledge of financial and economic trends that she molded into a cautiously positive, if long-term, message. Her employer, footing the $100,000 bill for her six-month stay at HBS’s executive education program, benefited from her presence as much as Clarissa did. She was a smart, sophisticated voice for her bank and long-suffering country. Her message won the attention of future corporate leaders attending HBS and the executives, managers and entrepreneurs in the lecture hall, listening to Clarissa’s clear, slightly accented English. Her height, honey-colored complexion and striking figure beneath a conservative business suit ladled visual dessert next to the intellectual meat and potatoes.
Mickey yawned. He had arrived from Zurich that morning from a sales presentation to Swiss gnomes, then crashed at his apartment off Tremont Street. After a snooze and shower, he swung by his office and briefed his superiors on the presentation (a billion coming in from here, a billion from there, he liked to say, pretty soon we’re talking about real money). By late afternoon, he scooped up business cards and headed for the HBS panel. As a source for investment leads and smart women, HBS offered an ideal fishing hole.
Ms. Dos Campos impressed him with her financial analysis and speaking style. She kept the deadly PowerPoint slides to a minimum so she could engage the audience, not plod through slide after slide. He figured she had just arrived on campus for the next session of the international executive program. Her appearance, too, raised his animal spirits.
She attracted others' attention, too, at the post-panel cocktail party. She stood in the center of a circle of men and women, half a head taller than most of them, putting out the good word about the Brazilian prospects, taking business cards, listening to pitches about presentations to investors and lunch discussions. Mickey knew the drill. Clarissa was tall, but he was taller and that could get him into the magic circle.
Holding his plastic cup with white wine, he eased to the back of the circle. Clarissa held forth in her lightly accented English, a passion in her voice unusual for the cocktail hour. He could imagine her in the executive education sessions, bringing logic and fire to the case studies and group projects.
The circle thinned as the evening went on. Other events or the commute home called, conversations about potential deals wrapped up, and Mickey stood alone with Clarissa.
"Great discussion, Ms. Dos Campos, I liked your views of the long-term potential of Brazil. Maybe your new president can get the nation back on track. Time for a fresh beginning," he told her, holding out a business card. "Michael Dougherty, but you can call me Mickey."
"Thank you, Mickey, Clarissa Dos Campos and for now you can call me Clarissa." She gave him her card and smiled, for once looking up at somebody talking to her.
"For now?" Mickey asked. The phrase struck him.
"Brazilians always have nicknames, but we reserve those for friends," she said, sipping a cup of what looked like Champagne.
"Can I get you a refill of your Champagne?" he asked.
"Seltzer, actually, no alcohol for me," she said.
Mickey got the seltzer as the barman closed up for the evening. Clarissa and Mickey moved into an open area outside the lecture hall, with half-circles of couches and chairs where teams could work informally.
"How do you like Harvard B-School, learning from the best?" he asked.
"It's meeting my expectations, but we just started. I've got six months to go."
"And then what are your plans?"
She smiled. "I could return to Brazil, of course, but I'm hoping with my studies I could get a job here in the U.S."
"That shouldn't be a problem, you sound very competent and you speak great English."
"Thank you but I need more practice."
"Your English is much better than my Portuguese. Why not a job in the U.S. with your bank? It's big and I know it has some offices here."
Clarissa frowned and sipped her cup of seltzer. An outline of her lips colored the cup's rim; the unconscious reminder of her gorgeous mouth turned Mickey on, something she left without any thinking that he would notice. Or was she leaving a lipstick bat-signal for him in the red outline? Her face resembled a Latin American version of Mona Lisa, inscrutable.
"Brazil is a country in economic and political crisis. My employer is no exception. Resources are scarce and my personal preference counts for little. My mandate is to build my credentials and return to São Paulo to continue working there to grow the bank. I am very grateful for the opportunity to study in the United States, but the bank says I cannot stay. The nearest office is in New York."
The stubborn ways of the corporate world sounded familiar. Mickey could imagine the conversations, the suits looking askance at the beautiful, talented woman who would dare to flee their span of control for the U.S.
"Being the lead investment strategist for a global bank sounds like a good deal to me," he shrugged. "That must put you way up in the society."
Clarissa sipped her drink, more lipstick glowing on the rim like an invitation to a kiss.
"Have you been to Brazil, Mickey? You see pictures of the beaches and Carnaval and the Amazon but the daily reality, perhaps you miss that. The murder rate is the highest in the world. My apartment building looks out on the most violent favela in São Paulo. On most nights I hear the gunfire, drug gangs fighting themselves or the paramilitary death squads. My friends have been kidnapped, my car stolen at gunpoint. How do the top executives of my bank get to work? By helicopter. They fly over the chaos. Those below them have armored cars and bodyguards. The Olympics in Rio were a financial catastrophe."
"Life can be tough here, you know," said Mickey.
"Tough is relative. Have you ever lived in a military dictatorship?"
"I can't say I have. But I live in Trump's America, does that count?"
"That's a vile thing to say," Clarissa snapped. "You should be ashamed. Nothing in your country is remotely like a military dictatorship. Americans do not appreciate what they have. My parents were married during the military rule in Brazil. They lived in fear every day for 21 years. They told me stories about the disappearances. People vanished. My father saw classmates seized out of college classrooms and they were never seen again. Not even a body. Men were tortured and castrated. Women were raped. Executions. Thousands had to leave the country. None of the criminals came to justice, they were all amnestied by the government. Trump's America? What's the phrase you use here? Give me a break."
Mickey swished the wine in his glass. The flashing look in Clarissa's eyes, her tense body language, told him he'd said something incredibly stupid and insulting.
"My apologies, I honestly did not know," he said. "I'm sorry for your parents' fears. It sounds terrible. You're right, we don't appreciate what we have. Can we start over? No politics?" He tried to smile and coax back the woman’s calm charm.
"That's not necessary," she said, again surprising him. "Politics is a component of the work I do. I don't separate politics from investment trends. But I look at policy and regulation, what they mean to the economy. Hysteria about personalities does not factor into what I do."
"Wise attitude, and I can see why your bank wants you here to make connections."
"Here for the time being, then back to Brazil." Clarissa locked her eyes on Mickey's, as if she were daring him to . . . what? Mickey felt oddly off-guard with her. He shifted his bulk in the chair, trying to get comfortable.
"I tell you what, Clarissa. Do this, if you want. Send me your resume and give me an idea of what you would want to do here. What's the next job for you? Who would you want to work for? Do you have any publications you could send?"
"In what language?" she smiled finally. "I write papers in English, French and Portuguese. I've had other articles appear in translation.”
"You know how Americans can’t read foreign languages, so send me some PDFs in English. Really, you made a great impression on me in your discussion and you'd be an asset to anybody you worked for. Maybe I can mention your name to friends, in case they have ideas on openings in the U.S."
"That would be wonderful for you to do. Thank you. You are a good ambassador for your country."
They both stood, Mickey an imposing 6-foot, 3-inches, matched by Clarissa, 5 feet, 11 inches in her heels. The students studying in the HBS building looked at the two towering executives, sleek, well dressed, athletic, confident, engaged and utterly different.
Go Sell Some IRAs, Tiger
The next morning Mickey arrived at the office early, even before his executive assistant, Roselilly. What could he do, without her answering the phone, keeping his schedule, editing and printing his presentations, thinking across multiple global time zones and working so smoothly with the other executive assistants? He set a sumptuous selection of Cailler Swiss chocolates on her desk with a note: "Thanks for keeping this show on the road, Rosie!"
Mickey settled behind his deck with a cup of coffee from the Keurig machine in his office. His schedule had a rare moment of quiet after his return from Zurich. The late summer sun already rose over Boston Harbor, filtering soft light through the shades of his floor-to-ceiling windows. He planted his elbows on his desk to read the resume and publications that Clarissa sent the night before. "She moves fast," he thought.
Her resume and publications legitimately impressed him. The Olympic beach-volleyball figure and Brazilian complexion he put in another, more personal box for future reference. University of São Paulo as an undergrad, graduate studies at London School of Economics, McKinsey consultant for three years advising financial institutions in Paris, then back to Brazil and the bank for the past four years, rising through the investment strategy and forecasting department. Her publication credits spanned the Financial Times, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Institutional Investor, South China Morning Post, and Foreign Policy, along with the Brazilian newspapers and magazines.
Clarissa clearly was worth her lissome weight in gold. Unless she was leaking insider information or sticking her hand in the corporate cookie jar, he could see nothing to indicate she wasn't a star performer. If she wanted to work stateside, Mickey thought, why not accommodate her?
He thought corporate politics was the most likely culprit, the inside game of personalities, ambitions and connections that pushes issues of performance and merit to the sideline. HBS executive education gave Clarissa yet another layer of credentials, highly impressive for an executive in her early 30s, but it also exiled her thousands of miles from the HQ in São Paulo and kept her busy with class projects and networking. If she belonged to a clique at the bank, she had limited ability to maneuver. Six months in Boston would pass and she'd return to the home office after any political wars had been settled.
Or, he thought, Brazil's cracked economy limited her mobility. In between calls that morning and a staff sales conference, he ordered up research from his firm's competitive intelligence team about her employer. The bank was, in fact, under pressure, from bad investments in sovereign debt, struggles with revenues from its domestic clients and the threat of sanctions from the U.S. for playing footsie with the Iranians. That was dumb, a risk, Mickey knew, that would eventually bite you in the ass, no matter how many layers of camo you wrapped around that ass. The bank wasn’t going to fail, but it wasn’t thriving.
Pay demands? Talent didn't come cheap in global banking circles, and Clarissa struck him as a tough negotiator in compensation discussions. Mickey considered whether her comp package compelled her to stay at the bank. She might get pay in stock or options that required her to remain employed there for a certain period of time, such as five years, before she could cash out, get her investment back and leave. But that sounded implausible, he thought. Those deals only apply to the heavy hitters making investments and running continent-sized divisions, those who bring in the income, like Mickey. Options to tie down the investment strategist, even the lead strategist? He couldn't see it, but then, he didn't know the business culture in Brazil.
Maybe somebody in the corporate suite wanted to play with Clarissa, quid pro quo, a weekend in Copacabana for a long-term foreign secondment or, hell, continued employment. Macho bastards, he thought, that got you on the front page of the newspapers in the U.S., stupid Harvey Weinstein stuff that is like putting your cock in an animal trap. You go for the sweets and keep grabbing them until . . . Snap! The razor-sharp metal jaws close around your cock and you're neutered.
What if the HBS gig were an advance on what she could get if she became somebody's lover? Let her enjoy life in cultured cozy dynamic Boston for six months, then jerk her leash back to the urban hellhole of São Paulo to think about her options. Set up a long-term long-range relationship and get the green card and job in the U.S. With corporate jets and globe-hopping schedules, that could easily be arranged. That assumed Clarissa wanted that kind of relationship at that kind of price; he couldn't see her as a kept woman, not with her accomplishments and international awareness. A 23-year old model could jump for those terms, but not a 30-something executive who could name her own price these days.
Mickey slid the papers into a Clarissa folder and locked it in his desk. He made a mental note to call Clarissa to thank her for the materials and ask if she'd like to talk over opportunities.
The day creaked along through the bureaucratic sludge that bogged down the corporate environment. The conference calls, the daily dramas, the compliance training on everything from IT security to the literal fire drills that required immediate gatherings by the elevator bank—Mickey did what he had to do to clear the decks for his professional love, moving the financial merchandise. He excelled at his job and the suits at his firm gave him leeway and resources to talk up the mutual funds, annuities, ETFs, hedges, swaps and mindcrackingly exotic financial instruments that could make him and the firm wealthy, so long as the economy cooperated (and the hedges worked out).
The products also made Mickey's wife, Maura, very wealthy, even as they struggled to wrap up the details of their divorce after 25 years of marriage. They married young, after he graduated from Boston University's MBA program a year after Maura graduated from Boston College. They both worked, but Micky's natural touch for sales fast-tracked his income in financial services, so Maura gave up her insurance brokerage job once they had their first baby and stayed firmly on the mommy track for two more kids. Maura celebrated her 30th birthday with three children and a sales superstar with a wandering eye as a husband. Ten years later she had had enough of playing second fiddle to the girlfriends and roadtrip pickups.
Mickey popped his a high-end Swiss chocolate. The caramel center melted in his mouth, a soothing feeling interrupted when his cell phone rang. He sighed and swallowed, the caramel washed away by a sour taste triggered by the caller ID on the phone: his divorce lawyer, Lantz.
"Mickey, Maura's lawyer contacted me today. The child support check, the alimony check? They were due yesterday. Missed deadlines do not help your case in our negotiations."
"I was flying back from Zurich. Maura knew that. I'll wire her the money today, right into her bank account."
"That's good to hear, Mickey, very good," said Lantz. "You could consider setting up automatic payments so we can avoid this exercise in the future. I don't like getting calls on this matter any more than you do."
"Cash flow issues," Mickey shrugged, even if Lance the lawyer couldn't see it. "Market's down, commissions aren't as high now as they were six months ago. That's a stiff monthly nut for me, you know that."
"That's a question for your financial advisors, you have some smart guys doing that at your firm. Get on a budget, careful with the expenses. I don't need to tell you that, Mickey."
"This call is costing, what, $1,000? For 15 minutes of banter?" Mickey could see dollars with wings flying out of his bank account heading straight to his lawyer's wallet.
"For you, Mickey, $900 for an hour of total attention, after I contact Maura's honorable counsel and we smooth the ruffled feathers. You get the full hour of my undivided attention. I'm always straight with you on our bills and I'm sensitive to your financial picture."
"Honorable counsel, ha!" Mickey couldn't resist a bitter laugh, given that Maura's attorney was her father, a star of the Boston matrimonial bar. He was a loving and generous grandfather and he had had a decent relationship with Mickey during the marriage. Since Maura asked for a divorce, family gatherings had assumed a chilly air. And that decent relationship with the father-in-law fell into icy formality. These days, family gatherings took place only in conferences with lawyers leading up to the day (not long now, Lantz assured him!) in divorce court. His almost former father-in-law made it his zealous task to do a rectal exam on Mickey's tangled finances, his future earnings and his ability to support Maura, who had given up her career in insurance brokerage, to maintain the house and the health and welfare of their three kids.
And college expenses coming up in a year for the last of their three kids, most likely at Amherst College and not within commuting distance of the family home in Newton.
"I'll leave the family issues to you and the therapists, Mickey. I know how awkward the family dynamics could be. Anyway, I can confidently tell him the money will be in Maura's bank account by close of business today?"
"Yes, counselor, even if I have to bust open my piggy bank," Mickey told him, wondering how quickly and at what price he could sell his ski condo in Vermont, with Maura's OK to dispose of marital property to pay the legal bills. Or he could sell the classic cars sitting in the temperature-controlled storage garage in Milton, near where his mother still lived.
"That's what I like to hear," Lance said. "Now get out there and sell some IRAs, tiger."
“I’m on it, Lantz,” said Mickey. He hung up, with every “Lantz the Lawyer” crack he could think of running through his head. Well, Lantz carried a sharp spear in the divorce negotiations, Mickey credited him with that, for keeping the proceedings civil and moving given the size of the assets involved. Still, he was ready to lance the divorce boil and move on.
Mickey needed another caramel to wash the bile out of his throat, but the taste of the call lingered. He could use a drink, but HR frowned on alcohol in the office. He walked to his office mini-fridge where a cream soda waited for him.
A call to his bank had the money scooting to Maura's account, peace purchased for another month, then he could focus on the endless but invigorating task of moving the financial merchandise. Like a general on a battlefield, Mickey thought about his institutional clients and targets, his products, the opposition and sometimes allies depending on the deal (everybody from Fidelity to Citi to Vanguard to BoA and all points in between). Swinging in his chair, working his phone and computer, calling in the research team and Russia- and India-born quants for quick consults, setting up appointments through Roselilly just outside his door, Mickey felt like Capt. Kirk on the deck of the Enterprise. Enough adrenaline pumped through his veins to make the jet lag barely noticeable, the grumpy chat with his divorce lawyer simply another task he checked off, the open evening a respite between work receptions, conferences, client dinners, trips, sports events with his kids.
If only he could have sex tonight. That would take the edge off the day. I wouldn't become a great day, marked by a massive contract or a hot tub encounter with a fresh new lover. Something pleasant, that’s all. He frowned as his attention drifted to the sun setting to the west over gauzy western hills, from the financial to the carnal. The Clarissa file emerged from his locked desk safe for another look. Yes, she had outstanding record as a financial analyst and great potential as a romantic interest, younger, athletic, different, maybe a lonely soul from Brazil in the increasingly cold climes of Boston.
Mickey dialed her phone number to thank her for sending the materials.
The call went voicemail. He said, "Hi Clarissa, it's Mickey Dougherty, thanks for sending over the CV and writing samples. I'm impressed. You'd be a great asset. I have some ideas to talk over with you. In person, to get you out of the HBS study hall. Give a call back." There, he thought, always ask for the sale. Get that long tall woman in a more comfortable environment, then let the coconuts fall where they may.
That evening Mickey was at home, parked in front of his 88-inch Samsung TV watching the Red Sox push toward the World Series. The luxurious corporate suite at Fenway was open for him for the night’s game against the Yankees, but with the jet lag he wanted to be home, bathed in warm glow of the wall-covering TV, where the players appeared almost life-size and he could count the leaves of grass in the infield. The TV pulsed at the center of his home electronic center, one of the big-boy toys that made his move from the family home in Milton more bearable. He pimped his duplex condo off Tremont Street the way he wanted it, with the TV, the sound system, the high-end video cameras tucked away in every room—for security and fun—and bedrooms for kids when they visited. His own bedroom with the king-sized bed and Egyptian linen sheets, along with sleek Euro-style furniture his interior decorator ordered from Madison Avenue shops, created a playpen within his condo castle. The extensive home security camera system, as suitable for DIY Hollywood productions as for safety, was his own private and invisible touch. Nobody knew about it but him.
He thought Clarissa would warm up to the place. Her worldly tastes, a blend of Latin America and Europe, would like the style, the coolness, the tasteful extravagance, not to say his own hard-to-resist charm and masculinity. Latin women liked a man's man, didn't they? That had been his experience, and with his height he had presence to spare. He didn't need to throw his weight around and threaten and shove and stalk like Harvey. Dumb, just dumb, Mickey thought, the subtle and graceful approach worked better and left decent, if rueful, feelings all around. And no misunderstandings or threats of litigation. So far.
Mickey's iPhone X-S rang at exactly 8 p.m.—he noticed the precision of the call's timing, a woman on a schedule.
"Hello, Mickey, I got your call while I was at a study group. I keep my phone off, no distractions, it’s so rude to leave it on," she said.
"Totally, you need to spend your time learning, not looking at cat videos," he joked.
"I don't look at cat videos. Waste of time," she said. He noted her literalness, a dogged quality that may be related to her grasp of idiomatic English and American humor. He'd watch his tongue, and hoped he could use it for more than talking.
"Anyway, thanks for sending the CV and writing samples. I was very impressed by them. You have a strong grasp of financial trend issues, and for expressing them. The comments yesterday on the Brazilian investment outlook were very smart and I mentioned them on a call with our investment strategists today. The way the markets are these days, we're always interested in diversifying our holdings in international markets."
"Our new president will take that as a vote of confidence if foreign direct investment increases," she said, sounding more like the young strategist than a potential romantic partner. The stiffness of tone struck him.
"Look, I'd like to talk over career ideas. With your abilities, you could be a great fit for any number of heavy hitters in Boston, or elsewhere if you want a change of scenery. I can make some calls and send your materials around, if that's what you have in mind. I pull some weight in the industry."
"That would be very thoughtful on your part."
"Have you seen much of Boston since you arrived?"
"Very little. I came here to study and network. I want my employer to know that I appreciate this chance and the bank will benefit from it. I'd like to see more, since I have studied American history, especially your revolution. Being in Latin America, I know about revolutions. And Boston is the best place to learn about your revolution. Bunker Hill!" He could hear a smile behind her enthusiasm. "Reading about history gets me away from the numbers of my work. I look to the past and hope to learn about the future."
"No better place than Boston for history. You must be living in the grad student housing. Tight quarters."
"Yes, but it's comfortable and meets my needs. I don't need much."
"Would you like to meet this Saturday? The weather should be great and I can show you the town. I'll be your American tour guide. Plus, I know the places for Boston's best food."
"That sounds very pleasant. I will be up to date on my projects and a vacation day in your city will be relaxing."
The details fell into place. Clarissa would look through city guides to get ideas for what she wanted to see, Mickey would pick her up at 11 a.m. and they would get started. The end point, Mickey hoped would be a bar and then a stroll to his apartment. He doubted anything would happen on a first date, if she even considered it that, but—fortune favors the bold.
Midnight Rides and Lobster Rolls
By Saturday, Mickey was ready, his Tesla detailed and his first date clothes selected for casual elegance—sports shirt, tasseled loafers, sports coat, a spritz of Allure sport cologne that was so faint he could barely smell it himself. What mattered was Clarissa's response.
He texted her before he left from the garage in his building, so she could expect him promptly. She had that vibe of Teutonic precision and respect for timing. He texted her again once he parked in front of the graduate student housing, at 10:58, hoping she would invite him in. Clarissa bounded out the door with a smile and a wave, then with long strides came to the car. A colorful scarf in the Brazilian national colors of green and yellow held her dark honey-colored hair in place, like a 1950s movie star on a Roman holiday.
"Bom dia!" she said in Portuguese when Mickey pushed open the car door. She took a deep breath, settling in the the new-car bubble refreshed by the detailing. Call it automotive perfume, mechanical pheromones on wheels for men making a move.
"The day is ours, you've got the agenda, where do you want to go? Boston is your oyster!" Mickey said. Clarissa looked at him quizzically. He sensed another idiomatic gap. "We can do anything you want in Boston," he said brightly.
"I would like to start the Boston Common," she said. "It sounds like a very good place for a walk."
"Boston Common it is," said Mickey, steering the silent Tesla out of Cambridge heading to the heart of Boston.
The Tesla passed expertly through the winding and illogical 17th century streets of Boston. Mickey could have been a cabby or ambulance driver with his sense of the cowpaths that became the city's street grid. After finding a parking garage, Mickey opened the passenger and gave Clarissa his hand.
"Obrigado," she said, flashing a smile that gave Mickey's tough-skinned heart an extra beat. He wondered how he could steer the day into a night together.
"Let's hit the streets of Boston, I'll show you some history," he said.
They strolled, arms bumping, through the rolling common, stopping to read plaques about statesmen and artists buried in the park, historic concerts and its history from cow field to urban gem.
"So clean, and everybody behaves," said Clarissa. Her head swiveled as she took in the green sweep, with dappled trees adding yellow and red of changing leaves in early autumn.
"I wouldn't come here at night, lots of skeevy types on the side streets, but days are OK," he said. Their walk took them to the Freedom Trail, the brick path on the streets that took them past historical sites.
"Ready for a walk, or shall we grab a Lyft and go to a museum? What do your guides say?" asked Mickey, stopping for a large pretzel he broke in half for them both to munch on.
"The day is beautiful, let's walk on the Freedom Trail. It goes through so many sites I have heard about," said Clarissa.
"Fan of U.S. revolutionary history?" Mickey asked, bumping lightly against her as she folded a map open to the stops. He liked the physical contact, however light and innocent.
"I love American history, it inspires me," she said. "And I studied the literature of the era. 'Give me liberty or give me death!' You like that?"
"I learned that in high school, I don't remember who said it," he admitted.
"Patrick Henry. I can recite the entire speech, I have a good memory. Listen: ' Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?' You like that?"
"You know more of American rhetoric than I ever learned. And I don't know anything from Brazil." Her enthusiasm was both endearing and alarming, she'd be well suited to be a Boston tour guide if the investment strategy career didn't work out. Mickey, however, had ideas to keep her in the industry, and, maybe, in Boston. They'd talk about it later, he hoped at his apartment.
They strolled north, meandering along the brick path that started at Boston Common, stopping at graveyards, the State House, the site of the Boston Massacre and more. The walk stirred memories in Mickey of middle school field trips, places he walked by that others only read about. He told Clarissa he had visited all the sites, but not since his was a hormonal kid.
"I was more interested in girls than history," he told her. "We were young, acted silly. The teacher could barely keep us all together."
"We were all young at one time. You get older, you appreciate history and what happened," she said.
"And the history you learn ain't always the history that happened," he said.
"What do you mean?" she asked as they walked shoulder to shoulder on a narrow sidewalk, body heat from her uncovered arm sending sparks across to him. Mickey wanted to grab her hand, but the moment didn't feel right, too public, too obvious, he needed a better read on her emotions. The blundering approach would push her away. Anyway, he had the job angle to work.
"I mean, every kid has heard of Paul Revere, right? But the poem kids read wasn't the accurate history. I like a good yarn as much as anybody, I spin them all day selling investments. But I need to be accurate, I guess poets can bend the truth a little for effect."
"You disappointed that your history classes didn't tell you about Paul Revere's ride?"
"It wasn't a big topic in our class."
"Come on, we're getting close to the Old North Church. That's where you get the real story."
They threaded through the streets, past a graveyard with a metal fence around it. And then—the iconic steeple of the Old North Church rose above them, austere, white, tourists milling around the entrance.
"Yes, yes, the Old North Church, this is the place I've heard of," she said. "America began here."
"I wouldn't go that far. The pressures had been building up. . . "
Clarissa wasn't listening. Instead, she stood transfixed before the steps leading to the church, gazing up to the belfry, her brow wrinkled as she absorbed a scene that had a hidden meaning for her, something Mickey couldn't identify. With her height and beauty, she stood still amid the swirl of tourists. And then she started to speak aloud:
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."
In a smooth and passionate voice, her Brazilian-tinged accent coloring the familiar verses, Clarissa recited the entire poem, something Mickey thought not one person out of 100,000 in Boston could do. As people heard her, they stopped to listen. A circle gathered around her, Clarissa's movements and urgent tone creating a theatrical piece that floored Mickey. Her talents, he realized, went beyond financial analysis and what he presumed was her world-class fuckability. . .
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
With a shy smile and a slight bow, she finished. Enthusiastic clapping brought Mickey out of his reverie of Paul Revere.
"That was awesome, when's the next show?" a goggled-eyed boy said, as much interested in her carriage as her recitation skills. "Do you give tours?"
"Oh no, no tours, one-time-only show. I love American poetry and have always wanted to come here to say the poem. It is very inspiring," she smiled at him in an innocent way that he would remember 50 years later.
Once the crowd scattered, Mickey and Clarissa joined a tour of the church, with its rows of ancient pews and boxes along the sides. The plaques about church members and events made for a leisurely tour. History leapt off the book pages and into reality. Clarissa’s brow scrunched with concentration as she listened to the guide.
“Now I’m getting the real story,” she whispered to Mickey as the tour wrapped up. “This was wonderful. I could spend all my time here going on history tours and skip Harvard.”
“That could be arranged, but your employer may not like it. We could go on other history tours. Salem witch trials, Plymouth Rock, The Red Sox at Fenway if you're into local sports. You can’t swing a cat around Boston without hitting a piece of history.” He checked the time on his Vacheron Constantin watch (worth 50 hours of divorce lawyer billings, he thought) and saw it was almost 2 pm, time for at least a snack.
“What’s next, milady?” Mickey asked Clarissa. They sat on a bench near the church, the cool late summer breeze fanning them. They had been on their feet for almost three hours.
“I could use a light lunch, if you have a place in mind. What’s the specialty of Boston? Your pizza?”
“Every city in the U.S. thinks its pizza sets the gold standard. I’m a Chicago pizza guy myself. But I can think of a place you can get a real New England treat. Want to take a Lyft? It’s about a mile from here but I’m in the mood for a little pampering.”
“I will go with your suggestion. Make it a surprise! And yes, I’m happy to drive there. Pampering can be good after a hot day like this. I like the idea of sitting down,” Clarissa said, beads of sweat slipping from her neck into her cleavage. Mickey tried not to look too hard, but he imagined Clarissa was used to male attention, and the sun made her glow. She had taken off the Brazilian-colors scarf so her wavy hair hung to her shoulders. With a rubber band she expertly pulled her hair into n unruly ponytail.
The Lyft car steered south along the waterfront until it reached a set of umbrella-shaded picnic tables and trailers pushed together at the foot of a bridge.
“Last stop, everybody out,” Mickey said. “Time for a Northeastern treat for milady.” Swinging over to Clarissa’s side of the car, Mickey opened the door and offered his hand when she stepped out. Gallantry, he knew, could break through relationship ice. Just a touch can start them thinking, even as he was thinking steps ahead.
“Let’s go inside and order, then we can sit at the table to nosh,” he said as they bounded up the steps to the trailer of James Hook & Co. Mickey considered it his go-to lobster roll source when entertaining friends and romantic prospects. The scruffy trailer retail store brought Boston a little bit of Southern roadhouse feel combined with Down East lobster delights.
“Nosh?” she said. “Another Americanism?”
“Yiddish, I think but it’s as American as apple pie, at least in Boston. What’ll ya have?” Mickey’s business voice was slipping more into his blue-collar tones. He barely noticed it but, hell, he was tired of business and wanted to be more his authentic self with Clarissa. Maybe that would tease out a more relaxed Clarissa. She’s already taken the scarf off.
They both ordered lobster rolls on hot dog buns, French fries, clam chowder and drinks at the counter. Mickey, thirsty for a beer, stayed with a soft drink since he knew Clarissa would avoid alcohol. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want to accentuate the difference. They took trays laden with food out to the shadiest picnic table. The shade felt good since the clouds had thinned and Boston felt warmer than usual for mid-September.
The lobster rolls were a treat, finger licking good. Mickey wanted to lick the lobster-flavored mayonnaise off Clarissa’s slim fingers, but he knew that would wreck the mood. No, he sensed she wanted intimacy built layer by layer, a gradual revelation of feelings, no surprises, nothing gross or even inelegant. She was a lady, he decided. Opening doors, appreciating her charms and smarts, and the job search all fit into his plan for being the anti-Harvey, the welcome lover where you slipped into the relationship and between the sheets as naturally as breathing. Clarissa was worth it, he told himself.
Over lunch they talked about their backgrounds, what led them to finance and investment, then the long road-weary push to high levels of achievement. Mickey related his early marriage, the slog of divorce, the posh new condo (with subtle hints she was welcome to visit), the garage full of classic cars; he figured she noticed the wrist-candy watch. Clarissa had a more middle-class background, father a bank manager, mother a teacher, siblings scattered around Brazil. trying to hang on to middle-class status. Her degree from University of São Paulo punched her ticket to move up the narrow ladder of economic success in Brazil, with the glittering resume and accomplishments that brought her to HBS and, for the moment, James Hook & Co.’s lobster rolls at the picnic table.
“Tell me more about yourself, Clarissa, your spare time. Brazilians like to enjoy life, right?” he asked, struggling to find more common ground.
“There’s not much to tell. I like all kinds of music and, yes, I go to the beaches in Brazil. I have a condo in a beach town called Guarujá, about an hour’s drive from São Paulo. That’s when I want to get away from everything. Friends and I go there for long weekends. We don’t have lobster rolls but the seafood is incredible.”
“I can see you in a little bikini getting a great tan. You have the skin for it.”
She smiled awkwardly. “I’m not much for bikinis. That’s for other Brazilian women. This must disappoint you but I’m modest. I don’t display myself. At least, not in public. I belong to a church that stresses modesty.”
Her mention of religion surprised him. “Strict Catholic?” he asked.
“Evangelical Protestant. My church is very popular in Brazil. People want a faith with a core, that guides them in life. A church with a moral code. My parents belonged and I grew up in it. That’s why I don’t drink alcohol. The church does not approve of of alcohol or drug use. Brazil needs all the moral help it can get.”
“Can’t you slip up once in a while?” Mickey sensed an opening, a chance to thread the romantic needle with humor. “Nobody can be perfect all the time, you know.”
“When I slip up, that’s a private matter, Mickey!” she laughed in a teasing tone that told him to not pursue the matter.
“I like to knit, although knitwear was more practical in Paris than São Paulo. But shawls and scarfs will be useful in Boston, from everything I’ve heard about your winters.”
“They can be tough, no kidding about that. Can you make me a scarf in the Brazil colors, yellow and green?”
“If you’d like one, it may not be very good,” she said, gazing past him to the crowds walking over a nearby bridge heading to the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
“It’ll be fantastic. I don’t know anybody who knits. My dear Irish grandmother was an ace at it, she could do it with her eyes closed.”
“I’m very far from that stage. Some people knit and watch TV, but I need to concentrate. These days, Harvard keeps me busy enough without knitting. If we weren’t doing this, I’d be either studying or knitting on a park bench, enjoying the sun.”
The conversation paused. The awkwardness separating two people at different places in life, with agendas that only slightly overlapped, bubbled underneath their silence. Mickey’s frustration level ratcheted up a notch. He wanted to take action.
“OK, lunch is done, that was good. Tasty. What say we cross the bridge to check out the ICA? That’s a great museum, right on the river, in a part of town that’s been completely rebuilt. Construction everywhere,” he said.
“I’d like that,” Clarissa said. “Let me go freshen my lipstick first, so I don’t look like I just ate a messy lobster roll.”
She headed to the ladies room with her purse. Mickey sat at the table, nibbling the last of the French fries they ordered. He couldn’t sort out his emotions. The animal spirits were going forward and backward. The more time he spent with Clarissa, the more she intrigued him. He would sleep with her in a New York minute, but she seemed more reserved than he encountered in most women. He didn’t like to waste his time. His radar felt off-kilter.
“All ready,” she said, returning with fresh lipstick and other touch-ups that made his heart thud. The feminine arts always intrigued him, no matter how often he observed them, before and after the application.
“Let’s go,” he said, extending his hand like a gallant to help her up from the picnic bench.
They strolled the ICA, then took a break in the bleacher seats in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the harbor, sailboats and tugboats on the move, white clouds scudding across the late summer sky, a tourist cruise boat full of young people waving and drinking at the sailboats passing by.
Looking at the shifting scenery, Mickey said, “Oh, I’ve sent your resume and publications to friends of mine in the industry, local people. I told them what a great asset you’d be. Banks, investment firms, consulting houses. You could fit in anywhere. The next move is up to them, of course.”
“Of course, thanks for alerting me. I do hope they call. That would be exciting, a way to stay in the U.S.”
“You could still recite poetry at the Old North Church, what a scene you made!”
She blushed. “I might have gone too far. I didn’t mean to be a public spectacle.”
“You did fine, Boston can use some shaking up by a beautiful Brazilian.”
“You are too kind, but thank you for the compliment. Getting a new job may be awkward at the moment, since I just started the Harvard program. It was a major investment by my bank. It would look bad for me to leave so soon after they showed their confidence in me.”
“People do it all the time. Leave, that is. Take advantage of what’s here. You may not have the chance again.”
“Ingratitude is a kind of corporate sin,” she murmured.
That caught his attention. Mickey knew all about malfeasance, backstabbing, law-breaking, double-crossing, badmouthing, finagling, and plain old fucking-over, but talk of “corporate sin” was something new to him.
“That’s one way to look at it. Tell me more,” he said. “Is that your church’s morality talking?”
“I’ve said too much. I’m thankful for what you’ve done and I won’t look too far ahead. I will keep my options open and, what is the phrase, ‘not look a gift horse in the mouth.’”
“Good girl. Want to look at more exhibits?” When a conversation hit a dead spot, Mickey preferred to get up and go rather than sit and struggle to find a topic.
“Yes, let’s keep looking, I’m refreshed,” Clarissa said, eyes following the boats on the harbor rather than glancing at Mickey.
The ICA kept them going until 5 pm, a good day of walking, eating, tourism and some revelations. Mickey shook his head as they left the ICA and stepped into the windy plaza in front of the museum, a flat expanse that reminded him of Red Square without the Kremlin for color, only modern condo towers and offices that lacked personality. They had spent six hours together.
“What’s next on the agenda? Movies, comedy clubs, a dance club? I know it’s early but we can pull some plans together,” he said.
“Let’s get in one more round of walking. This will have to be my exercise for the week,” Clarissa said, avoiding his question.
Their long legs covered the mile and a half and they found themselves at the garage.
“So, on to our next adventure?” Mickey said while the valet was getting his Tesla. Now she had to answer.
“Mickey, this has been a lovely day, I’ll always remember my introduction to Boston. I’m afraid I need to study this evening. I have projects for classes, and the bank still expects me to keep reporting on the trends. I have a report in mind on U.S. perceptions of investments in Brazil. The responses I got from people at the panel gave me some ideas that I want to explore. It would show my managers that they are getting a bang for their buck, as you say,” she paused, breathless after her statement, which sounded to Mickey like she had worked it out in her mind before they reached the garage.
“I understand, but can I at least give you a ride to your apartment? I don’t want you to, you know, get lost on the way back to Cambridge. I know the way.”
“That would be terrific my feet are a little sore. I haven’t done this length of a walk in months,” she said.
Once the Tesla arrived, he got in, but held off on the gallant gesture of opening the door for her. He simply unlocked the doors and she climbed in.
“I give great foot rubs, just so you know,” Mickey said as they turned out of the garage. He couldn’t help himself from coming on to her. Was she interested and playing hard to get, or was Clarissa simply a beautiful but chilly fish out of the Amazonian waters?
The Boston dusk crept over the buildings on the short drive to Cambridge. After a day of talking, they rode in silence, somewhere between comfortable and awkward. Clarissa gazed out the window of the silent electric car, the lack of engine noise creating an alarmingly subdued environment, two people with seemingly little to say in an expensive bubble on wheels.
Mickey steered to the front of the graduate apartment building where that morning he picked up the Brazilian woman in the green and yellow headscarf.
“Here we are,” he told her. His hand reached out to hers, a last gesture of human connection. “Walk you to the door?” That would get him closer, so if she wanted to be polite and invite him in for a nightcap . . . who was he to refuse? The evening was still young and he thought the night could grow old with Clarissa, for a few hours at least.
“Yes, of course, Mickey,” she said, exiting the car. Her keys jingled as her long fingers fished them out of her purse. Walking up to the door, Mickey watched her rump twitch back and forth, like a samba dance in Rio. She paused so he could catch up to her. She lightly took his arm, jolting Mickey straight to the groin. He didn’t expect that, the touch or the ping of electricity in his nervous system.
Clarissa unlocked the entryway to the building. “So,” she said, “This was a lovely day. Boston isn’t such a stranger to me now.”
“And you can always get a second job as a tour guide at the Old North Church,” he said, smiling casually.
“That would be pleasant. I need to finish my Harvard studies first and then see about staying here.”
“I’m ready to help with that.”
“That is so kind. So now, let me put aside pleasure and return to studying.”
“Not even a little pleasurable cup of coffee? It’s only 7 o’clock,” he said, rolling the dice.
“I’m not much of a coffee drinker,” she smiled.
“What kind of Brazilian are you, not to like coffee? I’m a little shocked!”
“I like my Brazilian coffee, but I have enough going on here that I don’t need extra stimulation.”
“OK, but we’ll have a Brazilian coffee tasting some other time, promise?” he said, trying not to riff on the idea of “extra stimulation” with Clarissa.
“When I have a break in the studies, yes.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek, squeezed his arm and that was that.
“Ate ja, as we say, until we meet again,” she said stepping into the foyer.
“Until then, Clarissa,” he said as the door closed with a silent click in front of him. She passed on into the lobby and, he imagined, studying and then some extra stimulation he would love to help her with.
The evening beckoned with no hope of an encounter. The long hopeful day with Clarissa ended with the door closing, the bashful love interest on the other side of unbreakable glass, like a beautiful museum exhibit. Mickey found he wanted her and could taste her. What would Harvey do? Most likely he would have stuck his foot in the door before it closed and slipped into the lobby. Or he could have played his movie-role cards in a blunt tit-for-tat manner, getting the tit by offering the tat of a role, any role to get a hungry young actress’ name up in lights. And he delivered.
But Harvey was wrong, on tactics and morals. With the surveillance cameras and cell phones everywhere, the eyes in the skies, he’d be dead meat with his gropes and grunts. Harvey survived unscathed as long as he did by primitive technology as by his legal and industry armor. Mickey figured Harvard covered the campus with eyes everywhere, except Clarissa’s bathroom, and even that may not be off-limits.
And on the moral front, Mickey had a nagging sense that bad behavior ultimately catches up to a man. Call it Catholic guilt, or call it a ruthless risk-benefit calculation. He’d seen the scales swing toward punishment in financial chicanery, like insider trading, as well as sexual strong arming. Infidelity ate at the base of his marriage, until the termite-scarred structure crashed around him, and kept imploding with every expensive call from Lantz the lawyer. Your actions catch up with you, even if you ask for forgiveness in the confessional, as he sometimes did when he took his mother to mass at St. Agatha’s in Milton. God forgives, the state courts don't.
If Clarissa wasn’t in play, he mused once he returned to his lair and flicked on the wall-sized TV, he’d look elsewhere for willing female companionship--consensual female companionship. Everything on the up and up, no coercion other than sweet talk and help in the job market, no he-said she-said career-crushing death matches.
That autumn kept him on the road, talking, hustling, wining, dining, presenting, selling, taking contracts, getting commissions, flying home in time for a round of sports events, weekends with his kids who mostly wanted to grab the controller of his enormous TV. He caught some Red Sox play-off games in the corporate suite. He called Clarissa to check on the studies and the job search. He had put her in touch with pals at major financial firms and she said, yes, thank you, some were interested in her for investment strategy and analysis positions. She had quiet interviews arranged. She politely pushed off his suggestions that they grab coffee and dinner, apologizing for the crush of her work. “The bosses are watching me closely. They want me to make contacts and raise the bank’s profile,” she told him in a brief conversation late one afternoon.
“Is that how it’s working? Your profile must be rising, too. I hear you’re getting some strong interviews, I”m glad you followed up on the leads I sent you,” he said, reaching for a cough drop on his desk, a substitute for wanting to break into the supply of high-end chocolates.
“Yes, I have had some meetings, and they went well. Thank you so much for the leads, and for mentioning my name to your friends.”
“They’re big names in the industry. I saw some matches with your skills. I did that because you have a real talent for analysis and ideas,” he said, a hot feeling of professional pride and sexual frustration stirring in him. He’d called in a lot of markers to get those calls of interest for her. Sports tickets, deluxe dining, trips to corporate conferences around the world and—in very special and desperate circumstances—high-end escorts can go a long way to opening doors and closing deals, he had discovered early in his career. It had worked on Mickey so he knew first-hand the value of spreading the customers’ wealth.
“The process takes a long time at this level. I’ll be here another four months for the program,” Clarissa mused. “A lot can happen in four months.”
“Let me know when you want to recite poetry at the Old North Church again,” he said, hoping that a look back at their long good day in Boston would stir her up.
She laughed. “That was a one-time-only performance. I was embarrassed.”
“Maybe you need more material, I’ve been known to do a poetry reading with a beer or two in my system,” he said, thinking back on Irish ballads and William Butler Yeats classics.
“For now I’ll fill my head with global economic trendlines and their impact on the Brazilian investment outlook, balance of payments, inflation rates.. Then I’ll think about poetry. I need to focus!” she said, a firmer tone in her voice.
“Let me know when you’re ready to do a reading. I’ll be the audience.”
“You’re sweet. Ate ja, Mickey,” she said.
“Catch you later,” he said and hung up. He reached for another cough drop to suck and he pretended he had his lips around Clarissa’s earlobe, revealed under the green-and-yellow Brazilian scarf, an alternative nipple eager for his attention.
He shook his head. Fuck, Mickey thought. Give it up. Find somebody else.
He tried. Travel gave him one-night stands with globe-hopping female executives, their wary exteriors relaxing enough after he won them over with his business function and mildly bad-boy air. He kept the encounters light and noncommittal, no scenes, just two yachts passing in the night at the airport in Tokyo or Mexico City or London. Sometimes they’d swap emails afterward, vowing to keep in touch for the next time their paths crossed at a conference or sales opportunity. He preferred the catch-and-release style of encounters rather than looking too hard in Boston for something more lasting. The divorce grind and the lurches of Wall Street left him little energy for the locals. They’d always be there if his mood changed, he told himself. He wouldn’t look until he wanted to look.
The News from Ms. Dos Campos
He burned off steam at his health club with a brutally efficient trainer. On weekends he took long bike rides along the shorefront, before the autumn closed in with slippery leaves and icy patches. Sexually stymied or not, he felt good and looked solid in the mirrors at the gym and in his condo. Clarissa didn’t know what he was missing.
And then one Thursday he had a text message from her.
“Hello Mickey, I hope you are well. Would you like to have lunch tomorrow if you are in the office? It’s been so long! We should catch up on our lives.”
Her message surprised him to the point of gobsmackiness. Their exchanges always started at his enc. For her to ring the lunch bell suggested something big. Not much surprised Mickey about Clarissa any more, but this did. He wrote back and suggested a subdued French restaurant near his office where they could dine in private. He cleared his calendar for the rest of the afternoon in case the lunch went in a surprising direction. He knew the staff well at the restaurant, since he threw them a lot of corporate business, and his call for a reservation included a request for a corner booth.
With the nervous edge of a restless schoolboy, Mickey settled into their booth, plush red sets and a table so polished he could see his reflection in it. The white napkin had enough starch that it crackled when he spread it on his lap. A bottle of wine appeared and the waiter poured some into his glass. Opposite him sat the empty glass and the tent-like napkin waiting for Clarissa.
She arrived on time and he kissed her on each cheek.
“Wine?” he said, holding the bottle like an offering fit for a pagan goddess.
She shook her head. “You know I don’t drink alcohol, Mickey. My moralistic church.”
“Sorry, I’m still trying to corrupt you just a wee bit. Obviously you are incorruptible. I thought a business lunch at the best French restaurant in town would be an exception.” He dropped his voice. “What would the neighbors think if you just got seltzer water?”
Her puzzled look told him he had fallen into another linguistic tar pit.
“The neighbors? What neighbors? Nobody can even see us here,” she said, looking a little annoyed at the gap between them. The humor Mickey hoped to use to prod her fell utterly flat.
“Not a problem, get whatever you’d like. I like the wine here. Anyway, I’m very happy to see you.” A bright recovery would steer the conversation back on a smoother track. He’d let her talk.
For once, Mickey didn’t let his curiosity get the best of him. The comparison to a bull in a china shop came to mind, but he would never voice that; he’d keep the idiomatic gaffes to a minimum so Clarissa could say whatever was on her mind. He hoped they had something to celebrate. Through the appetizer and main course, they enjoyed 90 minutes of leisurely banter about travel, HBS executive program assignments and socioeconomic trends, enough to make it a legitimate expense account entry. Nobody ever challenged Mickey’s expense filings, anyway; you don’t argue with the top producer over peanuts when he brings home the giant slabs of financial bacon.
The plates disappeared, cappuccinos arrived and by mutual agreement they ordered eclairs and madeleines to share. Mickey squelched his desire to tell her to put her cards on the table, or shit or get off the pot, or some mechanism to move toward the purpose of the lunch invitation. His male-o-meter told him she had something on her mind and he was going to hear it soon.
“You must be curious about our lunch,” she finally said, dabbing a bit of eclair cream from her lips that Mickey had fantasized about, his own cream there. Focus, he told himself.
“I’m happy to see you and hope all is well,” he said, studiously neutral.
“Things are very well. I wanted to update you on the job search,” she said, a small smile on her face, not cautious enough to cover a sparkle in her eyes.
“Yes? Good news, I hope. You have had contacts with great firms, I should know!” he said, a blunt reminder of his role in nudging those contacts along.
“The interviews went well and some had gone to more discussions, about my role and how I fit into the company’s strategy. Everybody is looking for an edge. I may be the woman to provide that.”
“Present company included, if you have any hot stock tips for me,” he said, sipping his wine with a noticeable gulp. Clarissa noticed how tightly Mickey grasped the stem of the wineglass, as if it were a weapon or a life jacket. Having sat through her share of tense corporate and consulting meetings, his nervous tell was telling.
“Some of the jobs were very intriguing. I could move to the U.S. and kept doing what I enjoy. The money would be very attractive,” she said, the reveal dancing on the edge of her tongue. Mickey wondered if she enjoyed stretching the moment like a rubber band, to the point of a rifle-like snap.
“WERE intriguing? It sounds like you have made a decision,” Mickey said.
“Well, I tried to keep the discussions quiet, but international banking is very gossipy. I only mentioned my interest to a few people, nobody at my bank. Then last Friday I had an email that the chief executive for North and Central America was going to be in Boston. He wanted to meet me. I thought he wanted a report on the Harvard program. It was unusual for him to be in Boston because we don’t have an office here.”
She paused, then sipped her camomile tea.
“We met for breakfast at the Fairmont Copley on Monday. I had been preparing what I thought he wanted to hear about all weekend. I even had class papers. That was silly of me.”
“Why was that silly?”
“He didn’t ask about the class or my networking. He asked about my job search.”
Mickey’s eyebrows arched. He studied her, looking for a clue to the direction of the conversation. “Was he angry? Did he demand an explanation?”
“No and no. Mickey, you know the level we operate at. People have careers and things they want to accomplish. If one feels blocked in making progress, then it is natural to look for another direction. I explained my actions in those terms and said I had no offers, only exploratory talks.”
“You told him you wanted to work in the States?”
“Yes, I told him. I did not sugarcoat, as you would say, my goals. I would return to Brazil, I said, but working in the U.S. is the next logical step for me. I have seen no opportunities to do so given the bank’s challenges, so I wanted to look elsewhere.”
“That was open of you. Are you still employed, for the time being?” Loss of the job, he imagined, would make her more inclined toward him, eager for his offerings. He could be critical in moving her toward a new job.
“He said he understood and that I had a realistic view of the bank’s situation. Realistic, but limited. He smiled when he said that.”
“Oh?” The surprise crept across Mickey’s face. Cats and mice played in other cultures, too.
“He told me the bank is dealing with many challenges, that is true, but with the new government in Brazil, the time had come to act more aggressively. No business ever shrank into growth. As a result, he had been reassessing our footprint in North and Central America, especially in light of trade agreements and the growing economy in the United States. My analysis of the investment outlook in the U.S., he said, impressed him enough to support his thinking to expand our investment services and raise the bank’s profile here, which had been lacking in recent years because of our political and economic troubles.”
“And there must a way you fit into this,” Mickey said. She saw his tells vibrating.
“He told me the Harvard executive program reflected the bank’s confidence in my abilities. While we had talked about it, in the planning part, as a way to give me more advanced skills and meet more global executives, he had always expected me to return to Brazil. As did I. But the bank’s strategy is changing. My work has been very impressive, he said, and he wanted to discuss relocating me to the U.S. after the program ended and I was in Brazil again. But when he heard I was looking for a job, he decided to move faster with his idea.”
“Which means . . . “
“He does not want to lose me to another bank, especially a competitor in the Americas. So he said, he said he very much wanted to retain me at the bank with a position in the United States! I couldn’t believe it. This was wonderful news.”
“How did you respond? I mean, the financial houses I put you in touch with would probably snap you up for even more money.”
“My salary would increase, also, and I am thrilled at the idea of staying at the bank. I have built up connections there and feel loyal to it. The Harvard program meant a lot to me and I would not respond to that with a move, if I can avoid it.”
“So what happens to the interviews you’ve had, the people who also want you?” Mickey felt his face turning red, from the wine and the rising sense of lost control and input into the situation.
“I will politely tell people that I have decided to stay with my current employer and thank them for their interest.”
He was silent, then said, “Your bank lacks a Boston office. Will you go to New York?”
“Part of the expansion strategy is a Boston office, small to start, but with growth potential. My strategic analysis work is ideal to perform here because of the financial institutions and also the academic programs, where I have already been visible, like at Harvard. I want to branch out to speaking at other business schools, like MIT, Yale and Columbia. We can build a pipeline of talented students interested in international banking. I’d spend time in the main office in New York every month.”
“So all my calls and work for you don’t mean shit then, do they?” Mickey snapped. “Was I a pawn in your game all this time?” He couldn’t stop talking, the frustration of their dealings washed over his common sense like water smashing an earthen dam. “Did you want your boss to learn you were looking for a new gig?”
She looked puzzled. “Mickey, what do you mean? I always appreciated your offers of help and job leads. Those gave me confidence when I was feeling concerned about my future, going back to Brazil. I value what you have done for me and see you as a dear friend.”
One part of Mickey’s brain ordered him to stop acting like a lovestruck teenager. He could get laid any day of the week, if he so wanted. Something about about Clarissa—her youth, her Brazilian looks, her sheer smarts—grabbed him, but Clarissa didn’t grab back. That pissed him off. He was used to getting what he wanted.
What would Harvey do? Mickey mused. He’d keep pushing, he’d get her alone, he’d look for leverage to work her into a place not so easy to wiggle out of. He’d show her.
However, a tiny but furious corner of Mickey’s superego told him those days and plays were ending. Even if that approach worked, the risks were rising like a rocket against the possible benefits. And anyway, he could get those benefits any time he wanted. His charm, position and resources made the soft-sell approach effective and vastly safer. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose—but you don’t want to get thrown out of the game.
He pulled on his sheepish face. “I’m glad you see me as a friend,” he finally said, shifting gears from angry to contrite, mostly sincere. “I didn’t mean to snap at you and be an asshole, pardon my language. I hoped for more between us but if we can be friends, let’s be friends, and I’ll help you if I can. You’re incredibly talented and I’m glad those humps at your bank realized what a good thing you had.”
“Thank you, Mickey, I don’t want there to be tension between us. You’re a romantic man and I am sure you can find a woman who wants what you want. I'm at a different stage of my life. You do not strike me as a man who, what’s the phrase, lets grass grow under his feet.”
He chuckled. “You’re getting better with English idioms, you’ll do fine in America. Just keep learning.”
They talked some more about the process of getting a work visa for the U.S., moving personal goods across borders and finding a place to live in Boston. The bank's expatriate department could handle the details when the time came.
“Back to the office for both of us,” he said after signing the bill. “Money never sleeps.”
“I always have papers to read and reports to write, now my boss wants to see more productivity. Bang for his buck,” she said.
“Just keep that at the metaphorical level, OK? No real banging.”
Clarissa smiled. “Don’t worry about that. I know my way around men.”
“I'm getting that impression. I’m sure you have a lot of practice beating them off with a stick.”
She laughed again, that musical sound that cut into him no matter how much he wanted to close his ears to its echoes.
“My study of Brazilian ju-jitsu can be a very useful tool in moving a conversation in a different direction.”
“I don’t want to find out!”
They chastely kissed outside the restaurant, Mickey went back to the office to pick up the afternoon chores. Clarissa, hips swinging and head held high enough to see the future, walked away to return to Cambridge.
Once in the office Mickey wanted to close his door and eat chocolates. His calendar had no calls so he could work on administrative BS and plan the week ahead.
He looked at his computer screen to scan the voice mails. He listened to one, a call from Harvard Business School reminding him of a reception that evening for prospective students, and he would be very welcome as an HBS sponsor to mingle with the prospects and share his views on what employers thought of HBS. He needed some munchies and diversions so he wrote back to his sponsorship contact that yes, he’d be delighted to come.
The second call came from Lantz the divorce lawyer.
“No, not today, not Lantz,” Mickey muttered, but he had to return the call. Lantz always meant business—expensive business that brooked no delay.
“Mr. Dougherty,” he said.
“Mr. Lantz, bearer of good news on this Friday,” Mickey replied.
“Bearer of news, let’s leave it at that. The accountants and I met today to review the latest offer from opposing counsel. We’re getting very close to the terms the two of us discussed, for child support, alimony and property. Just one more push on the give and take side..”
“I give and she takes?”
“That’s a crass way to describe this painful process. The asset relocation needs to bump up for them to be satisfied. I realized you’ve moved the settlement up several hundred thousand dollars, but the accountants took another look at your future cash flows. We reviewed your non-cash assets and . . . “
“Here it comes,” Mickey said. He had dreaded the moment.
“ . . . and something’s got to give. Based on your assets, that can be the ski lodge, the car collection or the Basquiat original.”
“A deal with the devil. Could I cut the Basquiat in half and give her part of it?”
“That’s a very solomonic approach but that’s not the way it works. And the sooner you put the definitive offer down, the sooner we go to a final agreement and you don’t have to hear from me again.”
“She’d love the Basquiat. She’d love the ski lodge. She doesn’t care about the cars, just their value.”
“Each asset has pros and cons for you in terms of ease of liquidation and potential future value if you keep it. And if you wanted to replace an asset in the future, what would be the simplest to acquire?”
“Land is everywhere. I like the cars but they are a hassle to maintain and I can buy others. Basquiat? The appreciation on his work kicks ass, but it would be the quickest to sell.”
“Think about it, Mickey. It’s your call. It’s OK to be sentimental, but don’t go overboard.”
“I’ll think it over and call you on Monday. And that’s a firm decision.”
“Good to hear that, Mickey. After that’s decided we’re just nailing down the language.”
“Enjoy your weekend, Lantz.”
“You too, Mickey. You’ll feel better after you decide.”
He hung up. The box of high-end chocolate came out of the office mini-fridge. He slowly unwrapped one and put it in his mouth. Rather than chomp on it, he let the chocolate melt, lest he slip into a chocolate frenzy and finish off 10 pieces in a row. Pacing mattered at points like this, when he badly needed some kind of release but the only indulgence at hand sat in that that stash of chocolates.
He flipped through his phone to contact Clarissa about this turn. The day tumbled with surprises and choices, all of them going against him. His outburst at Clarissa, which she took in such amazing stride, almost laughing him off, surprised him. His inability to connect and move the relationship ahead baffled him. Whatever mojo her church preached, it gave her a stiff spine and kept her on the straight and narrow in a way that wining, dining and job help couldn’t corrupt. Well, Harvey could be in a better place if he had learned that lesson a long time ago. I may have blue balls, Mickey thought, but no jury is going to cut them off and nail them to the wall in a sexual harassment case.
Fuck it, he thought. Clarissa’s not happening. He didn't both to call her. She’ll stay in Boston, maybe she’ll come around. If nothing else I can get an in at her bank for some presentations. Play nice with that.
He looked at all the options. What had high value and ready buyers? They could split the ski lodge, the kids liked going there; the value wasn’t enough, anyway. Keep the Basquiat. That left the cars. He wrote down a list. The Cord. The Ferrari. The Viper. The gull-winged Mercedes. The Stingray. The Bentley. The other Ferrari, the expensive one. The Bugatti. The Tesla. The Porsche. The Mustang. What magnificent vehicles they were, but what a pain in the ass to store, maintain and insure. On a scale, they almost balanced the value of the Basquiat.
His fists squeezed until the skin turned white. He wanted to bring his fist down on his desk, break a pen in two, call Clarissa and beg for dinner. Instead, he popped another chocolate and wrote on a notepad: “Sell the cars.” After he called Lantz on Monday, he’d alert the auctioneers, packagers and auto enthusiasts who would salivate at his museum of automotive muscle. Potential buyers who pleaded for a look never got beyond a mouth-watering tour of the storage facility, but now he was in the mood to reduce his holdings, with a discount for a package sale.
His stomach churned from anger, horniness and the pressure of tectonic plates grinding in his life. The Harvard reception sounded like a break, if nothing else. He’d go in, mingle, chat up the prospective students, even do the empathetic mind meld with another Clarissa who could use encouragement to apply to HBS.
Before he left, Mickey did his social drill: brushed his teeth, combed his hair, refreshed his supply of business cards, changed into a clean starched shirt instead of one wrinkled and a little sweaty under the armpits from the day’s jolts, tucked in the shirt tail tightly to show off his flat abs, pulled up his socks and locked the door to his office, which felt less like his executive sales lair and more like a cage from which he needed escape.
Same Place, Different Woman
He floored the silent Tesla toward HBS through the thinning Friday traffic toward the temple of corporate insights.
Crowds of prospects young enough to be Mickey’s kids thronged the conference center, gathering up plates of food and glasses of wine from the bars. Mickey flashed back to the same scene where he met Clarissa months earlier; HBS had the catering, mingling and networking scene down to a science. The mix of youth, chatter, smarts and snacks revived his spirits. He moved around the perimeter, his name tag drawing comments from college seniors and early-career go-getters eager to get his views and his business card. Still smarting from the lunch with Clarissa, her firm and friendly dismissal of him as anything but a friend, he didn’t want to dive into the first starry-eyed opportunity that came his way; anyway, the prospective students were either still in college or new graduates. Mickey was many things but potential sugar-daddy wasn’t one of them. He had enough bills to pay without supporting a young, cash-strapped mistress.
After an hour a restlessness crept in, the wine spritzers failing to tame the emotions. The reception went full blast as the Friday spirits rose. HBS students and administrators fanned out across the room, answering questions, talking up the incredible learning experience. He recognized some of the business school staffers, some sleek, some rumpled in an academic way that pointed to IQ rather than corporate flair.
Then his scan locked on to a new face, with a new figure, in a circle of prospects. The students looked young and eager, hanging on her words. Mickey couldn’t tell what she was saying but he liked the way she said it. Red curly hair framed a broad face with luscious lips, an intense gaze and nodding head focused on the student asking a question. Her name tag perched on a smartly tailored jacket over a silk blouse. Even from a distance Mickey could see the shadow of her deep cleavage. The rapt attention of the male students in the circle told him the youngsters noticed, too—the MILF of their dreams with her professional look and enticing hint of perfume. He knew the type.
Like an animal at a watering hole, the woman shifted her attention just enough to notice Mickey gazing at her. With some deft body language she held him and moved most of the students along until Mickey walked over. He swished the ice in his spritzer and felt 20 years younger, like an bear sniffing the air during mating season.
The woman’s eyes sparkled as she gave her jacket a little shake to smooth it down, pressing it against her chest so the cleavage stood out just a bit more.
They glanced at the name tags.
“Mickey Dougherty,” he said, shaking her hand in proper corporate man-woman mode. With his height and presence he cut the last two star-struck undergrads away from the woman. The blunt message from the alpha male sent them skittering off to another conversation circle.
“Hi Mickey, Marci Bronshteyn, from the foundation relations team,” she said.
“Enjoying yourself?” he asked.
“I am now.”
“Me, too. Nice skirt.”
The two-word comment would be jarring, even risky, in another setting with another woman, but Mickey sized up Marci fast, that vibe she broadcast to men attuned to her message. And Marci had no trouble with Mickey’s tall, athletic, perfectly groomed signal back.
“Shall we find a table and get acquainted? I always like meeting the school’s biggest supporters. And these heels are killing me.”
“Let’s grab some drinks and talk,” said Mickey. “Take a load off your feet and put the load on . . . I’d better bite my tongue. We just met. I won't be like Harvey Weinstein. I’ll be the proper Bostonian.”
“Bite your tongue, Mickey?” laughed Marci, heading for the bar. “Maybe I’ll do that for you.”
Copyright (c) 2019 by Direct Seer.