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Shaving by Rowan Wolf
published in Volume 6, Issue 4 on December 31st, 1999

The new blade, the second of a twin pair, cuts a small groove in the skin and blood escapes. First, the sting tells him. Then the blood. The foamy shaving cream turns pink then red. A pretty deep cut.

"Damn."

His right hand turns the razor over to the left then dives into a blue box of paper napkins and brings one out. He presses it against the skin. Tests by removing. Still bleeds. He dabs the cut a couple of times, but the bleeding does not stop. Precious minutes. "Damn," again. It will not stop bleeding. He throws the bloodstained napkin in the toilet bowl and grabs another from the box. Dabs the cut again. Less blood this time. Finally. Leaves a strip of napkin stuck to the cut to help the blood settle and seal.

He finishes shaving, more carefully now. The cut stings and it will show. "Damn," again. The after shave smarts like hell. Sizzles the cut, now a small red smile smack in the middle of his right cheek. Looks ridiculous. And stings.

The after shave reminds him of Alice. Aramis. The scent always brings her face along. Alice of the long red hair and the many freckles. Of the great boobs. Of the wedding bells or else. Malice Alice. He said no not right now and she took off and left him to rot Alice.

He had not heard of Aramis until she brought him a bottle from the Amsterdam airport on her way back. Back from that vacation. Love the way it smells on you, she said. They had just met. She had to go to Europe for three weeks. Vacation. He sulked. Already planned, she said. Sorry. Can't cancel now. I'll be good. He missed her terribly. Longest three weeks he can remember.

He inspects his face again. He looks more like a like a price fighter than an account rep. His other cheek looks hurt too, as if sympathizing with its injured twin, reddish from the new blade.

But he's not a boxer. Far from it. He's an account rep. And a good one. One of those people that people buy from. And that's the truth: People buy from people.

People buy from people. The truth. His mantra. His religion. People buy from people. He adjusts his tie. The dimple is not right. Too far to the left. "Damn", again. He undoes the tie and starts from scratch. People buy from people. From people. But from guys with cuts on cheeks the size of lips?

He got wind of it last week. Duran, McClennah, et cetera, et cetera big downtown law firm is replacing all their copiers. All forty-two of them. Forty-two. No request for proposal, no nothing. Just word on the street. He plucks a nose hair. "Damn." That hurt. Forty-two. He called right away but sorry, already made our decision. Don't throw your money away, he said. You will if you don't see me. He begged and argued and got an appointment. A chance. A one shot to dazzle them, rope them in, get a signed contract.

The dimple cooperates this time and he pulls the knot tight. Adjusts the collar. Cool. 'Cept for the stupid cut. He examines it again. It grins back at him.

Shoes. He picks them up and inspects them under the bathroom light. People judge you by your shoes. A sparkling black. Perfect shine. He spent fifteen minutes last night making sure. People buy from people, judge you by your shoes. By the shine of your shoes, he corrects, by the shine.

Puts them on. Adjusts his tie again, leaves the bathroom. Picks up his briefcase and his laptop. Remembers his jacket. Puts them down again. Puts on his suit jacket. Checks the tie again in the bedroom mirror. Adjusts it again. Checks the cut again. "Damn," again. He picks up his briefcase and laptop, twin leather cases. Leaves his apartment.

People buy from people. Down the elevator. Checks the tie in the elevator mirror. The hair too. Looks good. Looks great. To the garage. Not a scratch on the car. Six hundred ten a month in lease payments, people damn right better buy from people, from this people.

He slides in behind the wheel, turns on the engine. Soft murmur from under the hood. Sweet. He checks the time on his watch, then the clock on the dash. Eight fourteen both ways. We're in sync. Good. He's got, let's see, forty-six minutes to get downtown, park, set up the laptop, the overhead. The overhead? "Damn," again. No, I take that back, Rod is bringing the
overhead. Forty-five now. There will be no accidents on the freeway. There will be no accidents. People buy from people.

There are no accidents. Traffic behaves. He arrives at eight forty-six, fourteen minutes to go. He hands the keys to his car to the attendant, a short Mexican of questionable driving age. His eyes tell the kid to take damn good care of the car or else, or else no tip. The kid smiles, he's probably a damn site better driver than Mr. Owner here, and knows it. Don't worry, says the smile, I'll take good care of your car. You see Mr. Gringo, I live on tips. Don't even get minimum wage down here for sitting three floors down in the ground twelve hours a day among gas fumes and self-important Gringos. Believe me I need the tip. White teeth, almost Indian, sparkle at him as he hands him the keys.

He doesn't trust the kid. Remains while the kid whips the car into a tight spot with mountains of space to spare each side, several inches. Not a scratch. The kid steps out, smiles again, different meaning: so you don't trust me Gringo Fuck, it says.

Seeing his car is okay he heads for the elevator, his twin cases over the same shoulder. Heavy. He's got a four degree list to port. Moves the laptop to the other shoulder. Straightens out. It's hot though. He feels the first signs of perspiration. Slows down. Breathes deeply. Aramis, faintly. Alice, somewhere.

People buy from people. People buy from people. Judge you by the shine of your shoes.

The elevator arrives at the lobby and opens the doors with a smooth whoosh. He gets out, looks for the other elevator banks. Finds them. Finds the right elevator for the twenty-fourth floor. Gets in with a bunch of strangers. Oh, isn't she a stranger, though. Hold still my heart. Doesn't even look at him. Gets out at twenty. Oh, well. He gets out at twenty-four. They have the entire floor. He walks over to the attendant.

"Conference room C?"

She looks up, not friendly. He's a vendor. Besides, she can't see his shoes from where she sits.

"Happened to your face?"

"Cut myself shaving."

"Ah. Looks bad."

"It's not too bad."

"It looks bad."

"Thanks for your vote."

"Welcome. Down the hall to your left. Sign here please."

He fills out the visitor's log and she hands him a stick-on paper badge. He's visitor number 4. Number 4. Number 4 People, which people will buy from.

People buy from people down the hallway and to his left. He sees the conference room and sees Rod setting up the overhead projector. Good. We'll be all right. Rod is visitor Number 3.

"Mr. Three," he says.

"Huh?"

"Your badge."

"Ah."

Rod is his sales engineer, his technical nerd and right hand man, and he normally doesn't smile. This is no exception. But he's good at what he does and he's got the projector up and working. "Let's connect your laptop," he says.

"Okay."

He unpacks and boots up the black computer. Rod strings the monitor cord from the projector over to the PC and plugs it in. Fiddles with the display a bit and voila, there's the first slide. Brightly on the wall. Rod produces one of his rare smiles. Should have had a camera.

People buy from people. It's five to nine. So far only Rod and him and the six sets of handouts he brought. He places them around the table and is about as ready as he's ever going to be.

He worked all weekend on the presentation. On the cost justification. On the benefits. On his shoes. You only get one chance to make a first impression. He can hear Alice laugh at that one. She could never understand that selling is war. That he's a copier samurai. A copier samurai? It took minutes for her to stop laughing. He was getting worried about her. And hurt. She was crying, she was laughing so hard. She had trouble breathing. A copier samurai. Yes, actually. She couldn't stop.

At precisely nine they march in, six lawyers led by Mr. Alfonzo Duran, five
foot two if an inch, gray hair, sideburns, esquire. Sideburns? Stern-faced,
way too much sunshine or tanning salon more likely. Not as much as a
suggestion of a smile, could be Rod's legal counterpart. Goes to the head of
the table. Doesn't sit down right away, so neither does anyone else. Law
firm ritual. Finally does and so do the others. Mr. Duran is in charge.

"Mr. Morgan," he says. "You've got fifteen minutes."

Morgan hands his business card around. Duran does not shake the offered hand. Instead, he looks at the card. People buy from people. Judge you by your shoes. By the shine, he corrects.

People buy from people. He puts on his very best smile and begins: "First I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule this morning . . ."

His legal highness interrupts, "What happened? Cut yourself?"

No, actually. It's a tattoo. But since people buy from people, "Yes."

"Looks bad."

"It's not that bad."

"Looks bad."

"I'll survive." He watched for reactions. Could have been offensive, but no, he is cool. "As I was saying, I'd like to thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me, and my partner here, Rod Curling, this morning. I know you are all very busy people." He takes a deep breath and continues. "I know the legal business is especially pressed for time these days, and . . ."

His legal highness are not particularly amused and interrupts, "I'm sure we're all very interested in how thankful you are, yada, yada, yada, but can we skip the niceties and get to the point."

"Ah, why, sure."

He displays his first slide which glares as follows in large red letters on a very light blue background:

Duran, McClennah, Anderson, Picuck, Pheran, Bartlett and Marcell. Copier Replacement Project.

He leaves it up for the prescribed twenty seconds without comment.

He clicks on the next slide, which glares as follows in the same large red letters on the same light blue background.

The copier is at the core of the legal business.

"We have found this to be the case time and time again," he says. "The legal business is very paper intensive, as you know."

No one agrees or disagrees, so he clicks on the next slide, which glares as follows in the same large red letters on the same light blue background.

The choice of copier can have a drastic effect on the legal bottom line.

"With large briefs and discoveries to be distributed to all and sundry, you know what a drain the copier costs can be on your bottom line."

No one agrees or disagrees, so he clicks on the next slide, which glares as follows in the same large red letters on the same light blue background.

The right choice will greatly improve your bottom line.

"Do I need to say more?"

He clicks on the next slide, which glares as follows in the same large red letters on the same light blue background.

You should choose your copier more careful than your computer equipment.

"Shouldn't that be carefully?" The voice is female and belongs to a blonde, fine boned, gray suited woman of indeterminable age. Morgan looks at her, at his slide and back at her again.

"Sorry?"

"Careful is an adjective. You need an adverb there. Should be carefully, shouldn't it?"

He looks back at the slide. "Oh yes, you're absolutely right. Sorry."

Duran leans forward on his elbows and clears his throat. "How many of these do you have?"

"Pardon."

"How many more slides?"

"About twenty."

"Can we skip them and get to this bottom line you're on about. Why should we buy from you? What is it going to do for us, and how much is it going to cost?"

"I'm getting to that."

"Let's get to it now."

Duran doesn't look around to gather other opinions. Instead he picks up the pencil he had brought and begins bouncing the eraser end against the shiny table top. It makes a DA-Da-da sound which just keeps going. Then he misses once and it makes a pencil falling over on shiny rosewood kind of a sound. He picks it up again and back to the DA-Da-das.

People buy from people, but someone else in the room is wearing Aramis and at that moment Alice steps right into his presentation all he can think of is her boobs. He looks Mr. Duran straight in the eyes and all he can think of is holding them, white and heavy in his hands while Alice giggles and throws her rather large head backwards casting the mane of red through the air and back against the bedpost.

"Bottom line?"

"Yes, yes. Bottom line."

And she giggles again as he reaches for her nipples with his tongue, finds one of them which turns hard on contact.

"The bottom line . . ."

"Right."

Rod manages to kick him under the table and he whips around to that other smile-less face. What the fuck are you doing, says his eyes.

Yes, what the fuck is he doing.

"Okay. I have a slide here." Alice realizes that this is getting serious and takes a bow. He is left with the tongue mid-air and tousled hair. He can hear her giggle in the bedroom. He straightens his tie and makes sure the dimple is just so and dives into the PC's presentation summary display, finds and double clicks on slide twenty-one and displays in large letters, still red, still on a light blue background:

Duran, McClennah, Anderson, Picuck, Pheran, Bartlett and Marcell - 28 The Competition - 14

"Excuse me," says Duran, "but what the hell is this?"

"You win," he says.

"We win? We win what?"

"The ball game."

"We're not in a ballgame. We're a law firm."

"I know that."

"And what you can do for us is to win us a baseball game?"

"This is not baseball. It's a football game. This is a football score."

"What?"

Rod kicks again, harder.

Duran has now taken offense, that's clear and now he looks to him more like a reddish plant than a lawyer. Alice must have overheard for she waltzes back in from the bedroom. She still doesn't wear a bra.

He looks at Duran again, then at the other five lawyers. Inscrutable faces all, except for the blonde in gray who is definitely enjoying this. Viciously. People buy from people.

Fuck this people buy from people shit. Is Alice talking. Malice Alice.

Alice quickly dons a dress and shoes and straightens up and looks back at Morgan with a wink. Then she turns to Duran and looking him straight in the eyes says, "Look. Are you in the copier market or not? Ours is a state-of-the-art, digitally programmable, fax and word processor compatible, guaranteed for 48 moths, ballgame winning mother of all copiers that can beat the shit out of any other system on the market, and for less money. Howzat for bottom line?"

Rod is examining the conference room table surface.

Duran is silent.

"It's a simple enough question," she says. "You want it or not?"

Alice, shut the fuck up, he says. She giggles again and whirls around, ass rippling the back of the red dress on into the bedroom.

Duran remains silent.

"Sorry," he says. "I got carried away. But she's right. We can beat any price and our performance will beat any competitor's. Our payback period is less than eighteen months. You can't lose with us."

"Who's right?"

"Alice."

"Who the hell is Alice?" Duran looks around him. Astonished. "Have you lost your mind?"

"No," he says.

Duran leans over to a large, nearly bald man to his right and whispers. The large man whispers back.

"Well, Mr. Morgan. It's been enlightening. Thanks for coming."

"Well, do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Want to buy our copiers?"

"No, Mr. Morgan. I do not want to buy your copier?"

"But it's the best."

"Good morning, Mr. Morgan."

Duran stands up and begins to leave.

No, Alice, you have to stay in there, and you have to be quiet. I have to salvage things with this lawyer fuck here. "Mr. Duran," he says. "On page thirty-one of the handout you will find a complete cost-justification, including future value of money projections and the payback schedule including the cost of current lease buyout. We will help you dispose of the current equipment, and I believe we can realize a small profit on that as well, since we already have a potential buyer for your existing system. A smaller firm, upgrading."

He gets this out in about one breath, but it's well rehearsed, clearly enunciated and delivered with practiced confidence. And without Alice.

Duran stops and looks at him as if he had just arrived. Then he opens up his handout to page thirty-one and takes a look. The other five lawyers do the same, well, four of them anyway, the gray suited blonde is looking at Morgan looking at Alice. Alice is leaning against the bedroom door frame. Red dress, red shoes. No bra.

Duran turns to the large bald guy who really looks more like a body guard than a managing partner and they have a brief conversation. Morgan is begging for Alice to stay put.

Duran looks up at him. "These figures good?"

"Guaranteed."

"I'm not sure I like your style, Mr. Morgan," he says. "But I do like these numbers."

Morgan says nothing. Alice is no longer good and is rubbing up against him. He's getting a hard on which no one but the gray suited blonde has noticed yet and he's got to act fast before it becomes obvioius to one and all. He sits down abruptly. "Sorry," he says. They look at him. "Antibiotics," he adds.

Duran who seems to have gotten used to him, says, "Whatever. Bring a contract?"

Morgan opens up his briefcase, takes it out, hands it to Duran.

"Thanks, Mr. Morgan. We'll look this over. Good morning."

They filed out, not to return. Rod says, "Jesus."

"I got distracted."

"By what?"

"By Alice."

"Alice?"

"I haven't told you about Alice?"

"No."

"Well," says Morgan, taking in the oak paneled walls, the large rosewood table top, the projector, the laptop, the briefcase, the cables and the shiny shoes. His battle field. Alice is peeking in from outside the door, her long red hair streaming in waves from her tilted head. Her eyes are green and he misses her terribly. "This is getting too weird. I'm gonna have to find her again."

Rod packs up the overhead projector. Alice calls him a copier samurai and giggles.

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