Ms. Strawberry says, “I’m insulted you don’t remember me.”
I give Cutie Pie the full-boat Carr grin. Either I’m a better liar than even I thought--impossible--or this reddish-blond-haired stockbroker is pulling all three of my legs. No way Ms. Strawberry didn’t notice I was staring at her like hungry crabs at a sick fish. “That’s not what I said. More like, this woman is so incredibly attractive, she can’t be real.”
Ms. Strawberry doesn’t blush or blink. Instead, she crosses her legs, showing me enough thigh to arouse dead men. Wonder if producing boners is how she grossed $800,000 last year? She certainly has all the qualifications for leadership. Put Ms. Strawberry in a corporate boardroom, they’d elect her chairman and chief executive. When they voted, more than hands would go up.
“Perhaps your assessment was blurred by too many martinis,” she says.
I roll my chair up close to the desk. Don’t think Ms. Dahler’s quite ready for a complete frontal view of my lap just yet. My appreciation for her thin summer dress is quite formidable.
“Perhaps I was over-served,” I say. “I did have a lot on my mind.”
“You mean Shore’s A.A.S.D. troubles?” She grins, a startling display of pure white, perfectly capped teeth. Another movie-star-quality ranking for Ms. Strawberry’s physical nature.
Wait. How did she know about the A.A.S.D. investigation? Was Ms. Strawberry close enough last night to hear me talking to myself? No, wait...I know what happened.
“Walter mentioned the A.A.S.D. investigation around Jaffy Ritter?”
Ms. Strawberry nods, bouncing her chin-length, wavy blonde hair. “More like he gave lectures on the subject. To me and regular luncheon crowds.”
Sounds like Walter. The bastard. I thought we were pals, so I kept his departure secret two days. Meanwhile, he used that weekend to work on Shore’s client list, including two of my biggest clients. When I lived in California, I might have talked about hurt feelings. In Jersey, we say Walter made me his bitch.
“So why would you want to move to Shore?” I say. “There could be bad publicity, plus you know Shore can’t afford the kind of bonus a big wire firm could pay. Right now, Shore can’t afford to pay any kind of bonus.”
Let’s see how she handles obstacles. And in case she jumps this puppy, I’ve got another one growing in my pants. It’s nature, ladies. Survival of the species.
Franny’s gaze searches mine, then holds me tight. Her chin’s set, too. Like the larger, vertical keystone of a brick window arch. “I don’t want a big bonus,” she says. “I want a bigger percentage of commissions and mutual fund trailers.”
Okay, that figures. Franny Dahler, alias Ms. Strawberry, the Nicole Kidman of Branchtown, knows Shore Securities might flounder without Walter. She’s trying to seize me by the short hairs.
Strawberry saying, “And I’m willing to stick long enough to make the deal pay off for both of us.”
I glance at my empty bourbon glass. I like this blonde lady. And I mean over and above my not-so-secret lust. I know she can sell, for one thing. I know I’d never say no to her. Damn. All of which means I’m probably going to let her squeeze my nuts. My only real hesitation, I sense Ms. Strawberry’s not telling me everything about her desire to change firms. It’s more than money. Swear to God, I’ll bet Walter got her corner glass office overlooking the Navasquan River. Something like that.
“How about fifty percent for five years?” I say.
But white lies and hunches can’t matter in Shore’s current situation. Once I start letting back-office people go, I’ll lose more salesmen. Could become an ugly cycle. Mr. Vick will return next fall to find me and Carmela working in a camper with cell phones.
“How about sixty for three?” she says.
It’s strictly business me wanting to hire her. I’m paying absolutely no attention to whatever is lifting my makeshift desk. The table with three computers and four monitors on it.
“Fifty-five percent is the best I can do, Franny. And that’s if you’ll sign a contract for four years.”
“Commissions and mutual fund trailers?”
“Done,” she says.
I stand in my enthusiasm to shake hands on the deal. Her eyes throw me a slow once over, waist to hairline, roots to flower, then back to roots.
Franny Dahler, Ms. Strawberry, leaves my office grinning like a circus clown.
Think she noticed my enthusiasm?
I have more crap paperwork to sign than a U.S. Army supply sergeant. It’s eight o’clock before I close up Shore Securities for the weekend and begin to dream of Luis’s place, Umberto’s green-chili burritos.
A motion sensor illuminates the back parking lot as I walk to my Camry, but the neighboring businesses are closed, and a solid ring of darkness encircles the well-lighted parking area.
Like a spotlighted performer, my skin tingles with the sensation of being watched.