Anna’s father, Ernesto, had taken the day off from his practice in order to give the keynote address – more by the profit motive than by support of his daughter. Ernesto’s business practices book sold out at the Homunculus of Desire performance, and Lopez bought another 500 copies for his management and sales staff. Within months, the book hit the non-fiction bestseller list at #25 in Mexico. One of its rules – not entirely original – that Anna practiced to her benefit in the first two sales seminars she had held was to underestimate the house. If the turnout would exceed expectations, the problem of supplying the unexpected crowd was a happy one; if the event bombed, but places were only set for a fraction of the expected house, people would be impressed with the good planning of management. In this case, Anna was clearly overwhelmed, and despite all efforts by her friends from the theater company, the good businesspeople had taken to attributing to Anna the lack of punctuality they had come to expect out of their countrymen. César was the first to note this to Anna in person.
“I thought about paying for my secretary and my intern to come with me. I think I still could. If you need them, let them come for free and they’re your slaves.”
“Interns, Sr. Castilañez. Remember, we are all learning to build relationships here. To get me to say “yes,” you have to show me how you are offering value. When you offer me value, I will look for a way to provide value to you in return. If you provide me with slaves, I’ll just look to see how I’m being used.”
“Señorita Garcia, tienes razon. Of course, I was just kidding.”
“César, may I call you that, here you will use every contact to maximize the value you build for other people. When you create value for others, you may increase the belief that clients, prospects, employees, and even your volunteers have in you – in the value you provide.”
César’s business eyes pierced his own muchacho-on-the-make gaze. “Crear para creer,” he assented.
“Punto. You don’t have slaves, you have skilled interns. You are negotiating with me a meaningful role for your junior colleagues as you seek the value that we can provide by training them. You will bring this value back into your firm. Not to mention,” Anna punched César in the bicep in the manly gesture of an auto mechanic, “you want to keep Señor Arguello’s junior architects and draftsmen out of the ring with me.” Her wink toward César’s amigo made it clear that she was de modo with the sports and political worlds travelled by Arqueo’s near-namesake, worlds that were, at least in the Spanish-speaking world, exclusively travelled by men.
The architect, upon hearing his nickname used in such an overtly competitive fashion, shot his own eyebrow up faster than you can say, “Fascinating, but highly illogical!”
“Okey Señorita Garcia. If you will provide my bookkeeper Magdalena and my co-op, Armando, with your attention, and assure me that they will report directly to you,” César proposed, noting that Arqueo’s copy of El Economista had disappeared under his arm faster than a breakfast taco at a construction job, replaced by a small black tablet with a keypad on it, “I promise that you will have the time and capacity to communicate more effectively with your clients and prospects, of which we are clearly two.” Arqueo grumbled. César had been beating him up since both men were eight years old sparring partners in a gym in which, Anna would have chuckled slyly to know, the career of Alexis Arguello was celebrated in every detail from the packed dirt paths of Managua to World Champion in three weight classes.
“Arqueo,” Anna practically giggled, “cierre el cellular. Good idea, but César was first in the ring. César 1, Arqueo 0. TKO. Now,” she turned back to César, tell me about each intern in a way that will make me want to give you the best deal possible, and under that, will not bore me.” Anna switched to English, paraphrasing the well-known bromide used to teach sixth-graders the difference between adjectivos and gerundios en Inglés: “I do not like to be boring.”
All three laughed like brigands.
“Armando Frias works for me as a draftsman-detailer, but his heart is in graphic design. I hired him on the spot at his senior gallery at BUAP. He has the eye for detail of an Escher. I take him on client calls, and inevitably he comes up with a revolutionary idea that would cost me my shirt. Although I like my shirts, I admire the precision he employs in executing the more manageable designs I give him.”
“Well spoken. What about the other?”
“ Magdalena da Silva, my bookkeeper, is a lot like you, Anna. She runs the commercial sourcing end of her father’s produce business. Xtalplagpwsfhui bzyfondre, como galvcycbreniamo sobre Albdhv. Rsajgb en OFG, esterlvualy aqursnvfu, en aofnruh, Magda sdjkdacbd. Ninciu, en su vida vieqbofboqb como o2chfbo. Okwhdhvbobhdovhcfdobvvohabbirihfhhcb whbcds…
There were syllables, words, even. Some syntax fragments. Several sentences in it dawned on Anna that César had finished trumpeting the virtues of Magda da Silva Hjort, Anna’s best friend since childhood. It had been six months since Magda and Anna last spent an evening on the rooftop, discussing Magda’s need for a second job and listening to Puebla go to sleep.
The man is cute. And he certainly impressed Magda, enough for her to take another job with him. I wish I knew what she was thinking about him – but no, she’s a lesbian, she says, so she might see him like I do, or she might not. Maybe I can get her to go out with me and double-date Arqueo. I had better re-engage in the conversation; it’s my convention, after all.
“I went to BUAP.”
“When did you graduate?”
“From which major? I have two.”
“Really, what are they?”
“Communications, of course, and…”
A flash of self-doubt crossed Anna’s brow.
“Theater? What’s wrong with that?” César offered. “Isn’t this all theater? Aren’t we all actors,” now both quoted Shakespeare in unison English, “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, signifying nothing?”
“Hilario! Tu inglés es exelente!” Anna slapped César just under his left shoulder, on his chest, It was solid. It reminded her of Hector. César’s and Anna’s eyes met. César’s eyes were deep, soft, subtle – in short, everything that Hector’s were not.
Anna remembered the time. “César, here is my card. You may call me.” When she flipped her curls to end the conversation and return to business, César saw what other men had seen, César saw the perfectly styled, thick, shiny hair, just beyond shoulder-length. César noticed the aquiline, Conquistador nose, the thin but expressive lips, the long, statuesque neck. He took the proferred card, fumbled for his own, and offered it with a smile and a slight bow.
Mentally, César removed Anna’s pinstriped suitcoat, and tasted her rose colored bare shoulders, ruing that she had chosen to wear a strapless bra under her white cotton blouse with its embroidered white frill on the neckline. César’s gaze slipped to her trim but healthy waist, cumbered by a wide patent leather belt with a brass buckle that would have suggested naquismo on a man, but served to tie together woman and outfit. The skirt, a matching pinstripe, hit Anna’s shapely thighs above the midpoint. César wondered how long Anna had shopped to find a banker’s suit with a miniskirt instead of a standard issue midcalf dress. The legs that pivoted away showed an almost insanely perfect sense of proportion – an anatomist placed the long, thin hamstrings tying to the knee, each head of the large calf muscle perfectly defined but not bulging, and tapered down to the grey suede strap on Anna’s perfectly fitted pumps. How César wished that he could see more! How he wanted this woman!
“Callate, gorilla! The line is moving – we are next.”
Arqueo’s voice shocked César out of his reverie.
“Beside, César, you’re here to learn about relationship marketing, not about relationships.”
César turned toward the registration table, but shot a glance back at the departed empresaria.
“Padrísima. Múy, múy padrísima.”