Liam was in a stable relationship with Ariane, an extremely shallow flight attendant, that had lasted more than a year. It was the perfect arrangement for him, because it left him free to pursue his consuming interest, Molloy Data Systems. Ariane was only in town twice a month or so; she called, he met her at the airport, and they had sex in his apartment. She was a big-haired, easy-going blonde girl from Michigan; he supposed that ultimately she would marry one of her first class passengers and that would be the end of it. Ariane had as much as told him that the man she married would have to be much richer than Liam, and that was fine, because he disliked her and would not have cared to spend more time together. Ariane undoubtedly had Liams in other cities; he had no other Arianes, because one was quite enough.
He was not really glad when he heard Darcy's voice on the telephone. Either she wanted to get back together, in which case old longings and resentments would awaken which he was no better equipped to deal with than he had been before; or she would just want to be friends, and the same longings and resentments would come back to life without any outlet. His smart younger brother Aidan had once spent an hour explaining a game theory concept to him called the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which two people whose fate is shackled to one another's decide whether to betray each other, and he had immediately recognized that his relationship with Darcy was a Prisoner's Dilemma. "Very good, Jones," Aidan had said.
Liam felt even more uncertain when Darcy said she had been back six weeks. "Why didn't you call me sooner?"
"Just getting back on my feet, I guess."
"What will you do now?"
"I have my old job back at the gymn."
"What about your artistic friends?" Liam's lip curled as he said it and he hoped Darcy couldn't hear the acerbity in his voice.
"That group is totally dispersed. Gregg is the only one still acting. He's in Canada. All the other men have given up and taken full-time jobs. Most of the women have given up and married. Kind of like I did, actually."
"You could still get back into it."
Darcy sounded listless. "Oh, I haven't done anything in years."
"Well....Will I see you?"
"I'll call you in a couple of weeks."
Meanwhile, he had a disappointment at work. John Grogan, a senior systems architect whom he had deployed several times on temporary contracts at international banks, had proposed to him that Grogan join Molloy Data as a full-time employee and lead a software development team. Liam had more than one hundred people deployed on such temporary contracts; he paid them an hourly rate and their employment with Molloy Data ended when Molloy's client no longer needed them. The company had more than eighty competitors which also fielded temporary data processing people. Liam wanted to break out of that pack, and the best way he could think of to do it was to hire the best of the contractors on salary, then scout his clients for true out-sourced projects.
Rick Bauer, his attorney and close friend, had introduced him to several investment bankers who had confirmed his fears: Molloy Data, despite being a healthy, growing company, was not a candidate for a public offering because the Street didn't find the contract programming business sexy. "You have a nice business here," one banker had told Liam in the most insulting tone: "Why don't you just keep growing it?" By contrast, software development, especially if specializing in the hot end of the marketplace---object oriented languages and client/server systems---made for successful IPO's. Such firms often faltered or failed because they couldn't staff up quickly enough. Liam knew that he had that piece solved; he could use his thirty-five recruiters to build a high technology company. He just needed someone to tell him what kind of company to build.
He made a preliminary tour of his clients to ask if they would give him project work if he acquired experienced staff. The response was disappointing; though two said they would, seven or eight others had a hard time believing that a recruiting and contract programming firm could transform itself into a company capable of taking full responsibility. Liam learned that he would not be able to ensure success through his contacts; the solution would be to hire someone with project experience who would attract business. Rick, who worked with high tech companies, helped him identify a few candidates. For years, since first persuading his ex-partner Sol Heymann to take a chance on him, Liam had felt like a big dog in any yard he entered. Now he felt little and denuded, as well-known software people, the kind who could command a mid-six-figure consulting fee from any bank they approached, told him he had absolutely nothing to offer. Grogan, who was a lesser figure in that industry, heard Liam was looking and approached him.
Grogan at least had the credibility to get in the door at places like Singer Bank and J.P. Morgan, though Liam doubted he had the ability to close work by himself. Afterwards, Liam felt he had acted a bit desperately. He always told his recruiters that a good salesman convinces himself first. Liam believed Grogan when he said that it would be six months before he could come aboard, then agreed to build the team ahead of time so that they could "hit the ground running". He broke one of his cardinal rules: you don't spend money on an applicant who hasn't yet signed the contract. Grogan would come over one or two evenings a week, to spend a few hours strategizing with Liam and Rick, and interviewing people for his team. Liam had hired five developers with a variety of skills when Grogan told him he wasn't coming aboard after all: he was leaving his wife and moving back to Ireland to take a job with a bank there. Liam, who rarely showed strong emotion in the office, ranted at Grogan for an hour but got absolutely nowhere. He was left with a headless team of people he couldn't hope to deploy; several were too junior even to be sent out to client sites as contractors. Late that night, he decided to fire them all; but when he came in the next morning, he couldn't do it. It was not compassion that stopped him, but the fear of losing face. He decided to keep them on the payroll and find another solution.
Rick Bauer tried to help by arranging a meeting with Tom Truant of Galacticorp. Liam had very mixed feelings about Truant. On the one hand, he admired the man, who by several external indications was more successful than he was: he was better manicured and looked like money; he wore expensive suits and a Rolex watch. Whether or not his annual income was actually much larger than Liam's, he operated in a wider world, in a large international company in which he had access directly to the famous CEO and founder, the former Basic programmer popularly known as the Galactic Overlord or G.O. Liam bitterly told Rick that he himself had become successful in a backwater, a large frog in a relentlessly small pond. The technical managers and human resources people at New York banks and brokerages respected Liam, but no-one in Tom Truant's world even knew him. "I own a recruiting firm in New York City" was not a passport to respect.
On the other hand, Liam detested Truant because of the latter's condescension to him. Truant was a phony; but he was the kind of slick phony Liam aspired to be.
Truant knew Rick from school and apparently came in as a favor to him. Rick had positioned the meeting as a combination of "please help my friend Liam" and "you may see something which interests you." Truant mainly handled sales of Galacticorp's business software in the New York City financial community, but he also spent part of his time looking for acquisition targets. In this capacity, he was wired directly into the G.O.
The day began to go wrong at the very start. Liam saw Truant turn his nose up at the unadorned offices with the second rate carpet; he wasn't impressed by Liam's office or the expensive conference room. Liam loved meetings where he was completely in charge, and hated ones in which he felt like a supplicant. Rick had counseled him to present Molloy Data as if to a potential client, but not to regard the conversation as being about anything in particular. "Let the ideas come from Truant."
Rick and Truant sat at the conference table while Liam gave his usual slide show, turning to the optical overhead to whip the foils aside as he completed each one. He felt maddened that he didn't have a computer-based slide show. Certainly Truant himself would make a much better presentation, using a Galacticorp product. It occurred to Liam that he could create a slideshow using his brother's IdeaPile software, except that it didn't handle graphics.
When Rick had finished, Truant said, "Well. Good presentation". Which means it sucked, Liam thought. He waited for Truant to offer him wonderful ideas.
"Rick calls you Liam but your business card says Lee."
"I use Lee because its more mainstream and I don't have to spell it for clients."
"Liam is such an interesting name. If I were you I'd use it. Its memorable." Liam really hated Truant now.
"What do you think of Molloy Data?" Rick asked, probably because he was aware his friend was angry.
"Its a nice thriving business you have here. To be entirely blunt, I don't see much synergy with Galacticorp. We don't use recruiting firms---people are falling over themselves to work for us. We don't use contract programmers."
"What about our outsourcing operation? Perhaps we could apply to become a Galacticorp partner."
"Well, its kind of unmanaged, isn't it? Rick told me about the architect who bailed." (Thank you Rick, Liam thought.) "Also, it seems like you've hired the wrong skills for us: all Sun people. You know that Scott McNealy at Sun has gone out of his way to offend the G.O. Galacticorp prefers to partner with people who really specialize in our stuff."
There was a silence in the room while Truant yanked his pants legs preparatory to standing up. "Anything else you wanted to tell me?"
"There's this one product we represent." Rick was looking at him strangely, but it was not quite a lie; Aidan had several times conciliated his brother by vaguely agreeing that Liam's new team could do IdeaPile consulting (if there was any to be done.) "Its called IdeaPile, from Montauk Software. The company is owned by my brother and sister. Molloy Consulting is their exclusive partner."
He finally had Truant's attention. "It was written up in PC Magazine a few months ago, wasn't it?"
"Yes, in December." Got you, Liam thought. He led Truant to his office, gave him the amateurish brochure, and fired up IdeaPile on the desktop PC. He demonstrated his card pile of client leads, while Truant watched with interest.
"Hmmmm....I can imagine that nicely integrated in Galactiword."
The way I can imagine a roast beef sandwich nicely integrated in my stomach, Liam thought.
"All right....I'll email the G.O. about this. I'll let you know in a day or two if there's any interest."
Truant left and Rick looked at Liam as if he was crazy. "I'll be interested to see you approach Aidan on this one."
Liam wasn't worried. "I was drowning, man. I had to pull something out."
Truant called two days later to say the G.O. was potentially interested and wanted a copy of the software. Liam overnighted his own copy of the disk and manual to an address Truant gave him.
Truant called back to say that the G.O. had played with the software and was definitely interested. Truant now wanted to meet Aidan. Liam called his brother and summoned him into the city.
Darcy phoned him and he took her to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant near Lincoln Center. Liam was in a good mood after hooking Truant. He was fairly certain that the best role to play with Darcy was to be wise and kind (the anti-Liam). He worked hard at it and, after some initial suspicion, saw Darcy relax and glow. He made an effort to listen, not talk, and she told him of her marriage, the stepdaughter with Down's syndrome, the husband who was never home. He thought: when she asks if I've been seeing anybody, I will take her hand. But she never asked that question.
They remembered old friends and places, without ever being too specific about what had passed between them. Darcy had two glasses of wine and was in a nostalgic fog, when suddenly she asked, "Are we friends?"
"Are you saying you want to be just friends?"
"No. I'm asking a question. Listen carefully: are we friends?"
"We were lovers."
"Don't evade. I have to know if we're friends."
Liam remembered: wise and kind, wise and kind. He gently relinquished his expectation that he would make love to Darcy tonight, and said, "Yes, we are friends."
"Friends do things for each other, right?"
"Would you do something for me?"
"Don't push me." Possibly the wine had made her assertive. But she began to call him regularly, sometimes every other day, and always booked him for one evening or day on the weekend. The same way that in earlier years, he had waited for Darcy to call him after a fight, he now waited for her to come to him sexually: his ownership of her would then be more complete. Darcy had a little religion of who chose whom. He wanted to be able to say, "Remember, you chose me."
And so they were friends. He dropped Darcy off at her apartment and she shook his hand or kissed his cheek. Liam had himself completely in hand, and suppressed every sign of his annoyance. It helped that Ariane existed and would be here again in a few weeks. Liam was not desperate. To his surprise, time with Darcy took on a new character, more even and pleasurable, without anger or passion. They laughed at old jokes and visited places that had been meaningful before. Liam played his role, thinking of how to be thoughtful, writing lists of things to remember to ask Darcy about when he saw her next. It was important to remind her he was interested in her life, as one of her great objections before had been that he was only concerned with himself.
Darcy began to rely on him as a brother, asking advice about some decisions she had to make. Teaching in the gymn was something she had done to earn money when dance and performance was to be her vocation. Back then she had answered the question, "What do you do?" by saying, "I am a dancer." Now she couldn't say, "I am an exercise instructor." She was poised indecisively on the verge of several choices: She could seek a menial job as an administrative assistant in the dance world in the hope of becoming involved on the creative side. She could resume her artistic life, which would involve finding new collaborators and a new space. Or she could go to social work school, as her mother was urging her to do.
Liam gave her a part-time job in his office, to provide her some more income while she made her decision. She came in three afternoons a week and sat at a computer displaying a cardpile of contractors whose contracts were expiring soon. She called the clients to try and get the commitments extended; if not, she called the contractors to ask for updates to their resumes. She worked very diligently at it, with a friendly, pleasing phone manner. It made Liam happy to have her in his office.
Aidan arrived a few days later and Liam took him to dinner with Darcy. He felt the old jealousy, watching them enjoy each other's company in ways he couldn't share. When he came back to the table and understood that Aidan had invited Darcy to Montauk, he was so annoyed that it took a great effort to remain wise and kind. It helped Liam to remember that he had never really been worried about Liam taking his girl. For that matter, he knew Darcy wouldn't harm him in that way.
The following morning, Aidan met Truant alone in Liam's office, then was curiously unresponsive when Liam wanted to know everything that had happened. Liam was so unsatisfied he called Truant, against Rick Bauer's advice. Truant took the call, but this time his cheerful tone contained a hint of irritation: he's done with me, Liam thought, and wants to deal directly with Aidan. Liam became insistent: "Before this discussion goes much further, I want some clarification."
"What's that, Lee?"
"If you purchase IdeaPile, I want a finder's fee."
"Lee, the G.O. doesn't pay finder's fees. He's naturally grateful for the introduction, and as you probably know, the good will of the G.O. is a major thing in this industry."
"I don't think I can buy groceries with the good will of the G.O."
"Let me call you back."
Truant called the next day to say that Molloy Data would be added to Galacticorp's vendor list for recruiting services in the New York region.
"I thought you said people are falling over themselves to work at Galacticorp."
"They are, but we use a few recruiting firms to look for special skills."
Liam told Truant he would think about it. The more he did, the less attractive a proposition it became. There was a significant chance Truant was fucking him: he could put Molloy Data on the vendor list, never hire an employee through him, and then drop him from the list without a dollar changing hands. Even if he made a few deals at twelve thousand dollar fees, the money would be insignificant compared to the two million he imagined Aidan and Deirdre would receive.
Rick Bauer called to say Liam had annoyed Truant. Liam didn't care. He was maddened by the thought that something major was about to happen in which he would not participate. He was angry with himself for not thinking to impose himself as Aidan's negotiator.
Truant scheduled a visit to Montauk, and Liam persuaded Rick to take a day off from work and drive out with him. "We're not invited," Rick said. Liam couldn't be dissuaded, and Rick came in order to buffer Liam and Truant, and prevent a disaster.
Truant was so annoyed to see Liam that he made little attempt to maintain his pleasant persona. "Soon he'll be grimacing whenever I speak," Liam thought. It was an uneasy afternoon. Deirdre ostentatiously went into her study to write code. Aidan, Truant, Ewas, Rick and Liam sat in the living room; Aidan answered Truant's questions, consulting a spiral bound notebook. Liam sat on the floor, leaning back against the couch, which he did not wish to share with Ewas. She was there, he was sure, in her capacity of watchful hawk, protecting Deirdre's interests. She had brought some notes for a game or a novel, and corrected them with a pencil as she listened. At one point, an index card slid to the floor. As Liam reached for it, Ewas said: "If you touch that, my boot might just intersect your head." He drew his hand back, astonished, and said to Rick later: "She's psychotic, she ought to be on medication. Who talks to people like that?"
After Truant left, it became abundantly clear that Aidan, Deirdre and Ewas didn't want them around. Liam drove Rick over to Alana's. His mother wasn't expecting him and had a very nervous reaction ("almost as if we found her with a man.") Alana settled down and spoke to Liam for almost an hour about Darcy, who had visited her a week or two before. Alana said Liam was over thirty and that it was time to think about marriage. He had now been in love with Darcy for nine years, and she was available. It would be insane to let her slip away again. Alana advised him to take Darcy to a really nice restaurant, preferably Lutece, and after dinner, to get down on his knees at table-side and present her with a ring. "Do it tomorrow," Alana said, scrabbling in a jewelry box on the armoir in her sickly-sweet-smelling bedroom. "Here, you can use my engagement ring," handing him the modest ring with emeralds and small diamonds which had been all the twenty-two year old John Molloy could afford.
Liam pocketed the ring to quiet her, but made no promises. On the way home, Rick drove, and Liam dozed. He woke to deliver a vituperative commentary to his friend about "my moron brother and his crazy lesbians," then dozed again.
Liam called Truant to say that, although he would like to be on Galacticorp's vendor's list, he still wanted a finder's fee. "Congratulations," Truant said. "You have now officially become an irritation to the G.O. I guess in your little niche of the industry, that doesn't matter."
Saturday Ariane was scheduled to fly in at 10:30 p.m. Darcy called and wanted to get together. Liam decided he could see both women in one day. Even if he had dinner with Darcy, he could drop her off, as usual, by nine p.m.
He met Darcy in the lobby of her Upper West Side apartment building at eleven. She wore her outdoors outfit, blue slacks and sneakers without socks. Liam surreptitiously admired her lovely calves as she walked towards him.
Darcy wanted to stroll in Central Park, which was a few blocks away. She took his arm as they traversed crowded 72nd Street, but no matter how much Liam wanted to, he could not infer any sexual intent; her arm perched too lightly on his, without any pressure. It was a muggy, oppressive July day; Liam had no desire to go into the park, but he went anyway, in order to be wise and kind.
The last day he had spent in the park with Darcy , he had mentioned marriage to her, five years before. He was sure Darcy remembered, but she said nothing.
He looked sidelong at her and thought, not for the first time, how bizarre it was to stand in such a tentative relationship to someone who had been your lover. Perhaps if enough time went by, you got used to it.
They were at the lake now, and Darcy wanted to rent a rowboat. Liam now felt a definite foreboding that the day was slipping from his control. He saw three views of the day's possibilities: Alana's, Darcy's, Liam's. The Darcy plan was unknown. The Alana plan would involve him having the ring with him (he did not) and proposing to Darcy in the rowboat. The Liam plan was to spend the day being wise and kind, with no ulterior motives, and then go meet Ariane.
In Liam's business life, there were two kinds of deals: the ones you pounced on brutally, like the Galacticorp finders' fee, because if you didn't secure them now, they wouldn't exist; and the type you merely kept warm, because you weren't ready for them and were saving them for later. The Darcy deal was of the latter type. He wasn't sure why; he had pounced on Darcy many times in the past. Their long affair had started in college with a pounce, and there had been many occasions of spirited action later when they were apart and Liam wanted to get back together with her. Looked at in this light, Liam found his hesitation now inexplicable. For years he had been sure that if Darcy got divorced, he would go right after her again. Perhaps he had been deterred, for once, by the clear signal she had given him that she didn't want to resume. Or perhaps he was too busy being wise and kind. His dislike of the ambiguities and tremulousness of women. His detestation of sudden changes of direction, especially in emotional matters. Perhaps more of his energy was in the business these days, leaving less available for entanglements. Undemanding Ariane made it possible.
The rowboat was a disappointment. Hardly had they pushed off from shore when a few raindrops splashed into the lake. Liam was willing to brave them. The younger Darcy would have endured a drenching, with a sensuous smile on her upturned face; but the real and present woman said timidly, "Perhaps we ought to go back in?"
They spent the afternoon in the Metropolitan Museum, looking at early Jackson Pollock sketches, and other things that didn't interest Liam. Afterwards, they browsed in a bookstore, then went for Japanese food: graceful Darcy plying her chopsticks; heavy Liam longing for silverware. He took her home in a cab and Darcy said, "Come up for a while."
She had kept her large, bare, rent-stabilized apartment even while married in France; she had had the place since she graduated college. Liam was not sentimental, but his heart nonetheless hurt to see it for the first time in five years: it was the scene of their lovemaking, fights, reconciliations, declarations about love and the future. He did not feel equal to the challenge of being in Darcy's apartment as her friend. He calmed himself and appraised the changes: the furniture was the same but now threadbare, and some of the old objects were missing. But the living room, big and empty enough to be used as a dance studio (there was a barre in the corner) was still a museum to her performances. Hanging on the wall were masks and costumes she had worn, photographs of Darcy in action, toe shoes and a drawing by her friend Gregg which had made him extremely jealous at the time.
They had drunk too much sake at dinner. In earlier years there had been no surer way into Darcy's bed than to put a bottle of wine in front of her. Liam knew he had refilled her sake glass a few too many times for someone being wise and kind.
They sat on Darcy's couch and turned on the old black and white television. As they speechlessly watched a trite detective show, Darcy subsided onto his shoulder like someone toppling over. Liam turned and kissed her with sudden wild arousal, but it was already after nine o'clock and he felt he could not stand up Ariane It crossed his mind that if he had worked out the timing more carefully and brought Darcy home earlier, he could have achieved his old goal of having two women in one day.
"Please hold that thought," he said, and started to get up. "Don't go, Molloy," Darcy replied, her arms around his neck. "I'm meeting a business contact at the airport," he said.
"Oh, boo." The moment passed and Darcy was self-possessed. At the door she kissed his cheek and said, "Goodbye, Jones."
The near-miss with Darcy ruined the weekend with Ariane. Liam was guilty and jumpy, as if being unfaithful to Darcy. When did I get so fucking sentimental, he asked himself.
When he saw Darcy in the office on Monday afternoon, she was friendly but part of her had gone away; she gave him nothing but surface. Liam began thinking about ways to get her back. With Darcy, timing was everything. If you missed your cue, she punished you and it took a very long time to recover.
Liam was distracted by a phone call from Truant, to whom he had not spoken since the unpleasant conversation after the Montauk visit. Truant needed his help; he and Aidan were stuck, and Truant wanted Liam to influence his brother. Truant had the incredible nerve not to mention a finder's fee, so Liam brought it up.
"I told you the G.O. doesn't pay finder's fees."
"Why should I help you then? Fuck the deal. It means nothing to me."
"Careful. Being in the G.O.'s good graces could mean something to you in the future."
"Fuck the G.O. I'll just stay in my little backwater, as you said, recruiting Sun people."
"I said 'niche'. You're a hell of a guy, Liam. I'm tempted to patch in the G.O. and you can tell him to go fuck himself to his face."
"OK," said Truant, deciding not to play the game any further. "Here's what we'll do. The G.O. has authorized me to go to 1.4 million. If you can bring Aidan in under that, you pocket the difference."
Liam said to Rick, "Isn't there a kid's game, 'Whack the Gopher' or something, where the animal's head pops from a hole and you hit it with a mallet? I have such an urge to whack Truant, just club him down."
That afternoon, Liam exerted all his craft to set a hook in Aidan and play him into the shallow water. He told Aidan that Truant's angry final offer was 1.1 million, and Aidan believed him. Two weeks later, Liam showed Rick Galacticorp's colorful check for three hundred thousand dollars.
In the early fall, Liam attended two weddings of Darcy's. She married a Brazilian entertainment promoter twice, once at the county clerk's office with Liam as sole witness, and again at an Italian restaurant near her mother's home in Connecticut. The first wedding was on impulse, and the second was to please her mother; Darcy even obtained two marriage licenses, the first from New York and the second in Connecticut. Her new husband had been in the background since her return to New York, taking Darcy out on Saturday if she saw Liam Friday. She had met him through the French husband, Claude.
Liam was sitting at the bar in the Italian restaurant when Aidan came downstairs and said that Darcy wanted to see him. Liam went into the ladies' room while Aidan stood guard outside. Darcy, very drunk, was wearing a short white wedding dress. She had been crying, but was back in control. She said, "There's something I have to know." Facing the mirror, she was redoing her lipstick as Liam stood behind her. "If I had asked you to marry me that day in the park, what would you have said?"
"I thought so. Shit," and she redid her lipstick.
"Why didn't you?"
"I didn't just want to be married to you, but in a particular way."
She took her lipstick off with a paper towel and started to apply it again. And said: "If this doesn't work out, maybe I'll marry you next time."