COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part Two: 16 (Cont'd)
The Scotch buzz began to fade, and this humming low note of anxiety, a pedal note, was slowly growing louder, gradually getting higher-pitched, like microphone feedback, high and ear-splitting. By the time Seth came back, he'd forgotten what we were talking about. Seth, like most guys, tends to focus more on his own stuff than on anyone else's. Saved by male narcissism.
"God, women love bartenders," he said. "Why is that?"
"I don't know, Seth. Maybe it's you." I tipped my empty glass toward him.
"No doubt. No doubt." He glugged another few ounces of Scotch in there, refreshed the ice. In a low, confiding voice, barely audible over the din of whooping voices and the blaring ballgame, he said, "My manager says he doesn't like my pour. Keeps making me use a pour tester, practice all the time. Plus he's always testing me now. 'Pour for me! Too much! You're giving away the store!' "
"I think your pour's perfectly fine," I said.
"I'm really supposed to write up a ticket, you know."
"Go ahead. I'm making the big bucks now."
"Na-ah, they let us comp four drinks a night, don't worry about it. So, you think you've got it bad at work. My boss at the firm is always giving me shit if I'm like ten minutes late."
I shook my head.
"I mean, Shapiro doesn't know how to use the copier. He doesn't know how to send a fax. He doesn't even know how to do a LexisNexis search. He'd be totally sunk without me."
"Maybe he wants someone else to do the shitwork."
Seth didn't seem to hear me. "So did I tell you about my latest scam?"
"Jingles! There—like that!" He pointed up at the TV, some cheesy low-production-value ad for a mattress company with a stupid, annoying song they were always playing. "I met this guy at the law firm who works for an ad agency, he told me all about it. Told me he could get me an audition with one of those jingle companies like Megamusic or Crushing or Rocket. He said the easiest way to break in is by writing one of them."
"You can't even read music, Seth."
"Neither can Stevie Wonder. Look, a lot of the really talented guys can't read music. I mean, how long does it take to learn a thirty-second piece of music? This girl who does all those JCPenney ads, he said she can barely read music, but she's got the voice!"
A woman next to me at the bar called out to Seth, "What kind of wine do you have?"
"Red, white, and pink," he said. "What can I get you?"
She said white, and he poured some into a water glass.
He circled back to me. "The big bucks is in the singing, though. I just got to put a reel together, a CD, and pretty soon I'll be on the A list—it's all who you know. You following me? No work, mucho bucks!"
"Sounds great," I said with not enough enthusiasm.
"You're not into this?"
"No, it sounds great, it really does," I said, mustering a little more enthusiasm. "Great scam." In the last couple of years, Seth and I talked a lot about scamming by, about how to do the least work possible. He loved hearing my stories of how I used to goof off at Wyatt, how I used to spend hours on the Internet looking at The Onion or Web sites like Bored-AtWork.com or ILoveBacon.com or FuckedCompany.com. I especially liked the sites that had a "manager" button you could click when your manager passed by, that killed the funny stuff and put back up whatever boring Excel spreadsheet you were working on. We both took pride in how little work we could get away with. That's why Seth loved being a paralegal—because it allowed him to be marginal, mostly unsupervised, cynical, and uncommitted to the working world.
I got up to take a leak and on the way back bought a pack of Camel straights from the vending machine.
"Again with this shit?" Seth said when he spied me tearing the plastic off the cigarette pack.
"Yeah, yeah," I said in a leave-me-alone tone.
"Don't come to me for help wheeling your oxygen tank around." He pulled a chilled martini glass out of the freezer, poured in a little vermouth. "Watch this." He tossed the vermouth out, over his shoulder, then poured in some Bombay Sapphire. "Now that's a perfect martini."
I took a long swig of the Scotch as he went to ring up the martini and deliver it, enjoyed the burn at the back of my throat. Now it was really starting to kick in. I felt a little unsteady on the bar stool. I was drinking like your proverbial coal miner with a paycheck in his pocket. Nora Sommers and Chad Pierson and all the others had begun to recede, to shrink, to take on a harmless, antic, cartoon-character aura. So I had a shitty first day, what was so unusual about that? Everyone felt a little out-of-their-element on the first day in a new job. I was good, I had to keep this in mind. If I weren't so good, Wyatt would never have chosen me for his mission. Obviously he and his consigliere Judith wouldn't be wasting their time on me if they didn't think I could pull it off. They'd have just fired me and tossed me into the legal system to fend for myself. I'd be bent over that bunk in Marion.