How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Or, A Good Accountant Is A Terrible Thing To Waste
The Venom Club resembled no other gentleman's club Walter had ever experienced. Not that he'd experienced any in the flesh, as it were. His ideas about such places came from bad cop shows accompanied by even worse TV dinners, but he was pretty sure how it was supposed to go: a bevy of bored, half naked dancing girls on nonsensical stilts, mostly comprising of leg as far as his world view was concerned. He’d imagined cheap perfume masking more disturbing smells, and near-black lighting to hide the clientele and the stains.
How it was not supposed to go: a tasteful townhome amidst a row of identical townhomes, on a street of similar. It was not supposed to include mellow, genteel street lighting and an inconvenience of parking. Walter was an accountant. A good one. And this, he feared, did not compute.
The others of his party seemed to agree, in which he found unexpected relief. Big, barreling men in big shiny suits with bigger, shinier wallets and ties like snakeskin drifting down their invaluable fronts in lazy lengths. All with names like Jack, Jim, and Jerry. Only his boss, John, showed any confidence in the place. John's suit was the biggest, his wallet the shiniest, his tie the snakiest. His smile the widest.
Walter, short and slightly balding, drifted forgotten among the outskirts of this school of sharks, even though this was ostensibly his party. A party he did not want, for a promotion he did not want. He wanted his gray cell-block office back, with its field of small grey cubes, and reassuring murmur of keyboard keys tick-tick-ticking away the time. He only wanted to be an accountant.
He tripped over the bottom stair. No one noticed.
A musical trill when the front bell rang, followed by a cultivated buzz. John opened the door, and ushered his guests in. "Come, come, Wally," he boomed. "It's rude to keep the ladies waiting."
Walter hated to be called Wally. He trailed behind the sharks and dreaded his fate.
The ladies, as he suspected at this point, countermanded all his expectations. Barefoot and draped in different jewel-toned silk kimono, eight ladies of varying coloring and size draped in varying languid poses among the collection of arm chairs and sofas the parlor, a room of muted elegance. A ninth woman, robed in black to match strange eyes, drifted forward to greet them.
"Punctual as ever, Mr. Crassman." But her eyes found Walter, froze him in place. "Is this our guest of honor?"
"And a new addition for membership, I hope," Walter's boss removed an overcoat speckled with iridescent rain. Someone came forward and took it from him, though Walter never saw. The languorous atmosphere of the room worked its way into his blood stream.
"As always, sit and make yourselves comfortable. Walter, I hope we can make this a memorable visit for you."
Walter couldn't speak. Again, no one noticed, except for her.
He could move, though. And his coat was suddenly gone. Two women apiece latched on to one member of his party, and drew them away to the couches and chairs. As ties were loosened and shoes removed, Walter found himself drifting behind their hostess. As he passed through the room he thought he perceived a flash of elongated incisor. But then it was gone, and he forgot all about it.
The dark-eyed woman drifted down a narrow, dim hall. He followed her into a study with a fire blazing at a temperature he reckoned appropriate for melting iron into tempered steel.
"Feel free to sit, Walter." A cushion prodded him in the sensible suit pant. He wasn't entirely certain how it got there. "Drink." A small snifter of honeyed garnet appeared at his elbow. It burned going down, but not unpleasantly.
She sat across from him and waited for him to finish his drink. "I congratulate you on your promotion, Walter. How long have you been looking forward to it?"
"I wasn't." Walter tried to swallow the words, but they wouldn't stop coming. "That is to say, it was all rather sudden."
"Yes, I imagine it was. What are your dreams, Walter?"
He blinked, nearly surprised out of his stupor. "Dreams?"
"Everyone has them, Walter. Even you."
"Me?" An image flashed in his mind, sudden as a suspected incisor. Miss Halperin had a beanpole figure, dish water curls, and a mind like a steel trapped calculator. When she leaned against her cubicle wall to speak with the top of her neighbor's head on the other side, she resembled nothing so much as an upright mop after a thorough going over.
"Your dreams are not the dreams of your friends, granted. Theirs are rich fare, and there's rather a lot of it. They believe they dream like kings. How do you dream, Walter?"
"I'm not sure." He felt unaccountably shocked at the truth of it. "I’m just an accountant."
The black-eyed woman's eyes filled his world. He could see himself in them, floating. "Would you like to find out?"
A moment or an hour and an eternity later, Walter shrugged on his coat in the front parlor. The room was empty, with no sign anyone had been there all night. Yet he felt certain there had been company just moments ago.
Of course, it was no business of his. He was merely the private accountant of the establishment, and paid overly well for his services. But now work was over, and he was meeting Suzanne Halperin for the third time this week. He had a mind to hire her away from his old firm by offering her a partnership.
The gray drizzle had tapered to drips and drabs. He strolled down the dark, damp street, whistling.
It looked like being a beautiful night.