“Does your mother know what you do for a living?”
Gina had been out last night. She and Pigeon danced their brains out at Surface 21, which meant hours of what Pigeon called martini infusions. At work, Gina’s brain and body were shaky. So she wasn’t sure she heard the question right and blew past it, staying on script.
Script 2B, intended for the ones you kept on the line but were not quite cooperating, or not yet cooperating. Some of her work-mates kept print-outs of the scripts thumb-tacked to the walls of their cubicles. Gina didn’t need any priming. She knew them all by heart, which now that she thought about it was a strange way of putting it. Heart did not come into the work.
“Mr. Dixon, as a member in excellent standing of our Preferred Associates Club, I know how you value your time, and I want you to know that we value it, too.”
She stopped for breath, and to focus. That was martini blowback. No biggie, it was always like this. Something had been taken out of her. It would come back.
God damn it, she missed what the old fart said. The shoes the shoes the amazing blue Perrugios on sale for fifty percent off if she applied for their credit card. Those shoes were tap dancing on the screen of her phone, which peeked at her discreetly from her purse, left open for moments like this one when she absolutely had to think about something that wasn’t the script.
She did not need another credit card. Another credit card would be another mistake, it was that simple.
Pigeon was a cool name for a person who didn’t know who she wanted to be, or what. Left all kinds of doors open, which also was cool. Pigeon was hot.
“Old school,” the man was saying.
Ambrose Dixon was 66 years of age, according to the target profile data Gina was using. He had paid off his mortgage. What the fuck kind of name was Ambrose?
Nah, he didn’t really say Peruggio, that was her martini-infused brain.
“Gina Infantino. I’m not married.”
You weren’t supposed to give up personal stuff like that, but she had learned that sometimes it was useful in establishing trust, and Bill wasn’t going to argue with results. Not to say that her supervisor wasn’t an asshole because he was.
A thought crossed Gina’s mind. Dangerous territory, that. The thought was a question: was she still drunk? No. Maybe. Sort of. It didn’t matter.
All around her, in neighboring cubicles, men and women with mediocre credit ratings were saying exactly the things they were supposed to say, in the order they were supposed to say them. Staying on script, it was called. Someday, it would be really nice not to have to work in a cube farm.
Back to the script.
“I’m sure you and Mrs. Dixon would love our Anchors Aweigh getaway package. It’s customizable.”
“Mrs. Dixon is deceased. We lost Marjorie three years ago.”
Gina scribbled a note. They were supposed to update the target database if they turned up mistakes, or new information, as long as what they learned fit one of the fields. Gina knew those fields really well, every last one of them.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Dixon.”
In a way, she was. Specifically what way, she was unable to say. Not now, when her sentences kept scrambling.
“I bet you haven’t taken a vacation once in those three years.”
Silence on the line then, but he did not hang up.
“We have a getaway package designed for mature individuals,” she said carefully. “It’s for people who share similar life experience, and a similar lifestyle.”
“You mean singles with a certain income level.”
“Well, yes, I guess I do.”
“I’m not a single, I’m a widower. Listen, Ms. Infantino, I’m going to hang up now.”
Wait? That wasn’t in the script. Blame Surface 21, or the martinis. Not Pigeon. Nothing going on in Gina was Pigeon’s fault.
Dixon said, “I understand that your company gives you a script, and you have to follow it. That’s how all of this works.”
It’s not my company, is what Gina thought, I’m merely one of their flesh-bots. What she said was, “The reason for the script is to make sure we cover all the necessary information.”
“No, it’s not.”
“What do you mean?”
“The reason for the script is market research. It’s what you people think will be effective. Just out of curiosity, where do you work?”
“We operate out of Cincinnati. Why?”
“I spent a long weekend there once. This was years ago. I remember it snowed hard, and I got lost downtown. They record all your calls, don’t they?”
“For training purposes, and for quality control.”
Also, she did not add, just in case Bill felt like messing with her. Messing with her was his idea of a great day at the office.
The kicker was, Gina was good at her job. Damn good. Sometimes management used her calls to train new hires. Listen up, people. This is how it’s done. She was a top-tier performer.
Speaking of performance, here was another question: how come she could not bring down what she owed on the plastic below $14,000? Shoes were not the whole answer, they couldn’t be.
“If anybody’s listening,” said Ambrose Dixon, “I want them to know that people like me — I believe there are lots of us around the country — are turned off when someone reads from a script over the telephone. If they want us to buy their vacation trips, they might consider allowing the employees to have a regular human conversation.”
Was he daring her? Nah. He was just being himself, an old guy who’d lost his wife and owned his home free and clear. No credit card debt for Mr. Ambrose Dixon, that was for sure.
“What did you say about my mother?”
“Before. When we first started talking. You said something about my mother.”
“Does she know what you do for a living?”
Now was the time to get back on script.
“I’d like to send you some literature in the mail,” she told Dixon. “I think you’ll find it interesting, and hopefully a little exciting, too. Let me just be sure we have your correct address.”
She read the address that was on her screen.
Ambrose. The name was growing on her.
“Shakespeare? Charles Dickens?”
“You said you were sending me literature.”
She definitely had a headache. It was definitely not going away. She felt an intense longing to be somebody else, in another place. We could die in Cincinnati, that was one thing she remembered Pigeon saying last night.
There was something about the silence on the line when Ambrose stopped talking. Mysterious was the word that came to Gina, but she was not entirely sure what she meant by it.
It was time to end the call. Nobody who knew this job would estimate the chances of selling Ambrose any of their products above three percent. That was what top-tier performers learned early on. If the customer wasn’t buying, you weren’t selling. Move on. Every minute you spent not selling was a minute robbed from your next prospect, who might be golden. Besides, if Bill happened to be listening in — he did that fairly often, sometimes just for grins — he would be salivating at the chance to rip her a new one.
It was not like she planned to stay with the company forever. The day she paid off her credit card debt she was out of there.
“My mother thinks I do graphic design.”
“Of course,” said Ambrose.
It was not an insult. There was a hint of sympathy in the words. Not too much, not too little.
“Nobody knows what I do for a living,” she admitted to him. “Not my family, not even my friends.”
Pigeon knew, of course, but what was the point of blurting that out? Anyway Pigeon had her own strange gig. She gave Brazilian wax jobs to rich ladies at a super expensive spa. She believed herself to be an artist, and who was Gina to say she wasn’t? If women had had their pussies shaved back in the day, in the Old World, maybe Michelangelo would have been into it.
“I think we ought to hang up now,” said Ambrose.
“If they’re taping this conversation, it’s not going to do you any good, is it?”
He was gone. Why in the world that would bring tears to her eyes, she had no frigging clue.
Because he was the supervisor, Bill had an office with a door he could close and open and then close again to suit his managerial purposes. He had this thing he did, exactly like what you saw on cop shows, where the captain stepped out into a room bustling with detectives and uniformed policemen and sketchy criminals, called somebody’s name in a hard voice, and then, “My office. Now.”
Gina’s cubicle faced away from Bill’s office — a mixed blessing — but when Ambrose hung up somehow she knew her supervisor was opening his door, he was standing in the threshold, he was opening his mouth to say it.
“Infantino. My office. Now.”
“Be there in a ‘sec,” she called back.
First, a quick text to Pigeon. Promise me we won’t die in Cincinnati. Then she wrote a few quick sentences on a piece of note paper. It was not really a script, but it would work like one when she had her conversation with Bill. When that was over, however it came out, she was ordering the blue Peruggios.
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