tagMind ControlThe Girl Beneath the Skin

The Girl Beneath the Skin


Sometimes, you can tell the sound of a man. It was that way with Grinsworth. Coming down the quiet emptiness of the late Friday afternoon hallway, I knew his gait, the rhythm of his stumpy little stride. I knew this would happen sooner or later. Word gets around. It always does. I didn't want it to happen, but I was ready for it.

I heard my secretary through the open door. "Good afternoon, Mr. Grinsworth. He's in. Please let me tell him that you're here." I smiled. She'd never met the man, but it made sense that she'd learn who he was. Damn, she's a good secretary!

"Sit down!" he barked. And then there was the long, inevitable pause. "Good Lord!" he muttered under his breath, just loud enough to make himself heard ...by me, and of course, by her. "Oh, Good Lord, what was the man thinking?"

And he waddled into my office, looking as officious as he possibly could. Unfortunately, the look fell flat. He reminded me of a strutting banty rooster; small, puffed up, stiff, overly erect, chest out, as if to say "I'm in charge here! I'm in charge!" I smiled, but somehow withheld the laugh.

"Why, Mr. Grinsworth. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Grant, I'd heard about it, but I didn't believe it!" he began, screaming, spraying spittle. He was really trying to work himself into a frenzy. "You bring our most important clients into this office! How in God's name could you go out, behind my back and hire ... hire ... THAT!?!" He pointed savagely at the open door.

"If by 'that,' you mean 'her,'" I responded calmly, "it was agreed when I came onboard here that I'd hire my own staff. I haven't needed any further sales personnel, only a good secretary. And SHE is it."

"We GAVE you a secretary!" he screeched, his face reddening. "We gave you Miss Rhombus! We sent you two others after you tried to fire her! I didn't question you then, but I should have! You can't fire a girl like Miss Rhombus!"

"You mean I can't fire the air-headed bimbo niece of the personnel director," I said calmly. "You're right, I didn't have that authority, despite the fact that she filed the Granger Contract under 'C,' for 'Contract.' In point of fact, it seems that she filed ALL of the contracts under 'C.' No, I didn't have the right to fire her. And she DOES need the work. She wouldn't be able to afford those D-cup fake breasts of hers without a job."

"She's a good girl!" he bellowed. "A pretty girl! If she did nothing but sit out there and look sexy, she'd be one hell of a lot better than THAT!" He pointed again toward the wide-open door. "I want her OUT of here, Grant! And I mean NOW!"

"Okay," I said quietly. "Consider her gone."

He looked suspiciously at me. "You mean that?"

"Absolutely. She'll be working for Feingold, Stillman and Hersh Monday morning."

He barked a laugh. "Give me fuckin' break! FS&H wouldn't touch someone like her with a ten-foot pole!"

"Oh, yes they would," I said levelly. I got up and walked over to the office trash can, picked up an empty box I'd thrown away earlier, and sat back down at my desk. "She's part of the package."

"What package?"

"Me," I answered. "They've been after me for months. They've offered me a fifteen hundred dollar a month raise over what I make here, plus an EXTRA one percent commission. I quit, Grinsworth. I should have quit a LONG time ago."

"You can't quit!" he roared. "We have a contract, you son of a bitch!"

I slid open my top drawer, picked up a couple of stapled pages, and flipped them across the desk. "There's your contract, asshole," I said with as much venom as I could muster. I began taking things out of my desk and packing them in the empty box. "And I didn't break the contract ... YOU did. It says right there that I can hire my own staff. If you break that contract, I can quit without notice ... and that's just what I'm doing."

Grinsworth watched nervously as I opened a drawer and dumped the entire contents into the box. "Now, wait a minute, Grant."

"Fuck you," I said. "I couldn't be happier. Another fifteen hundred a month ... plus an extra percent. All I needed was an excuse, and you just handed it to me on a silver platter."

"Grant, stop!" he pleaded. I opened another drawer and began stuffing files into the box. "Grant, stop! Hang on a minute!" He was getting frantic. "Grant!"

"Go take a flyin' leap," I sneered. "I'm outta here!"

"For God's sake, Grant, I didn't mean it! You can keep the girl!"

I ignored him and opened another drawer.

"We'll match it!" he wailed.

I stopped and looked up at him, keeping my face impassive. "Say that again," I told him calmly.

"Damn it, Grant, this is blackmail," he muttered.

"I have grossed more for this company in the past four months than the rest of your entire sales staff combined has pulled in for the past year," I said. "Now, if you're serious, pick up that contract, change the figures ... and NOTHING ELSE ... and I'll sign it Monday. Otherwise, I'm out of here."

He slumped, completely defeated. "Blackmail," he muttered.

"Take it or leave it," I said flatly. "And one other thing. One other strictly non-negotiable thing. Take it or leave it."

"What is it?" he groaned.

"You go out there and apologize to that girl. She's the best damn secretary I've ever had. Ever. In five days, she's single-handedly unfucked all the damage your over-sexed bimbo secretarial staff has managed to do in four months. And I mean REALLY apologize. Like you mean it. Make HER believe it."

Grinsworth sighed but didn't comment further. He picked up the personnel contract and waddled out the door.

I heard him begin, shakily, unsteadily. "Um ... Miss ... um ...."

"Jenny Winslow, Mr. Grinsworth. Please ... call me Jenny." Her voice was small, polite. She hesitated once, as if her voice had caught. I imagined that she'd been crying, having overheard everything we'd said.

"Jenny ..." He paused for several seconds. I could imagine him looking down at his feet. Anywhere but directly at her. "Jenny, I'd like to apologize to you. What I said was crude and impolite and ... um ... I'm truly sorry please forgive me." He finished all in a rush.

"Thank you, Mr. Grinsworth," I heard her say, her voice much stronger. "I accept your apology. I look forward to seeing you again."

And I heard Grinsworth shuffling away, more rapidly than he'd come, but with an unmistakable tread. Sometimes, you can just tell the sound of a man.

It was another long minute before Jenny appeared at my door. "Why did you do that?" she asked softly. I looked up at her. I looked right at her, right at her face, and I kept my expression tender and non-committal and business-like.

Jenny is ugly. And I'm not talking plain here, or mediocre. Novelists have relied on similes and metaphors in the past ... "horse-faced" (or some other barnyard animal), or any number of crude, cruel literary devices. But Jenny's face is ... well ... it's a wreck. Twisted, pock-marked, scarred, colored bright orange-red in some places, bluish-purple in others. Her right eye is obviously artificial ... a glass eye, which stares fixedly straight ahead. But because the other, normal eye is still bright, alive, intelligent (and a deep sea-green in color), the bad one often makes her appear cross-eyed. Her face is ... well, to put it succinctly, hideous.

I am a professional salesman. And I'm a good salesman. I pride myself on being able to confront prejudice and purposefully take no notice of it. Whether the person I'm talking to is hampered by age, height, overt sexuality, race, religion, whatever. The more outrageous, the more I'm able to simply ignore it. The vast, vast majority of people can't do that. And you cannot believe what an asset it is. A new client who's a flaming homosexual transvestite? I treat him exactly the same way I would one of the Rockefellers. I simply look PAST it. As if it isn't even there. And because of that ability, I sell things. Oh, you would not believe how good I am at selling things.

When I interviewed Jenny for the job, I treated her the same way. I looked beyond her face ... like she didn't even have one. I never even mentioned it. Not then, and not at any time since. And right away, I realized she was special. No ... more than that. She was amazing! When I told Grinsworth that she's the best secretary I've ever had, that was putting it very mildly. The girl is phenomenal!

I got up and moved over to the couch, where I sat, burying my face in my hands.

"Why did you do that?" she repeated from the doorway. "You threatened to quit on my behalf."

"What are you talking about?" I countered, not looking up. "I got myself a nice raise!"

"No," she said flatly. "You didn't care about a raise. You don't really need one ... not really. You did it because of ME. I'm certain you did. I've only worked for you for five days. You barely even know me." She was talking as much to herself as she was to me, trying to figure the situation out, but now she repeated herself yet again. "Why did you do it?"

I sighed. "You're mine," I told her weakly.

That made her pause. "What?"

"You're mine," I repeated. "We're a team. I watch out for you, and you watch out for me. In this office, we belong to each other. I'm responsible." I sighed again. "Oh, man, I hate confrontations like that!" I looked down at my hands and tried to control the shaking.

She took a few rushed steps across the office toward me, but stopped abruptly, blushing, looking down at her feet. Her greatest physical attribute is her hair, which is a several inches longer than shoulder-length, a rich reddish-brown in color, straight and very thick. She has learned to keep her head lowered, so that her hair falls across the right side of her face, hiding it from the world as much as possible. She had briefly reached both of her hands out toward me as she took those few steps, but now she fumbled them together, as if trying to keep them busy.

"You shouldn't feel that way about me," she said quietly. "I don't want to be a liability to you. And I am, of course. My face ...."

It was the first time either of us had uttered the word "face" since we'd met. I regarded her quietly as she fidgeted, and decided to ignore the word completely.

"I need you tonight," I told her.

Her gaze came up, and she regarded me in shock. "What?"

I immediately realized the innuendo, but decided to pretend I hadn't. "The Hobart Contract," I said matter-of-factly. "I need to go over it with you. The notes you put in the margin. I need you to explain them to me."

The topics had changed too quickly for her to keep up. She was confused, nervous, and still blushing. "You don't have to follow my recommendations," she said to her feet. "I was only trying to help. Please just ignore them if ...."

"They're excellent notes," I told her. "I just don't understand all of them. I'd like you to stay late and work on the whole contract with me. Will you?"

"Yes!" she said too quickly, then looked down again, brushing her hair forward with her right hand, idly covering that side of her face. "I mean ... yes, yes of course I can stay. I'd be happy to help."

"Great!" I exclaimed, clapping and rubbing my hands together as I rose from the couch. "Let's go out and get a bite to eat, then come back here and work on it. What are you in the mood for?"

She looked back up, real fear in her one good eye, and she backed away from me. "No!" she said urgently, but then paused and tried to compose herself. "I mean ... no, Mr. Grant. I can't. I mean, I NEVER go out ... I couldn't."

I tried to put on a mild expression. "Nonsense, Jenny. Let's go out for some dinner. There's no reason to be ..."

"No, Mr. Grant," she said firmly. "I won't go out with you. I'm sorry. You don't know ... you couldn't know. You have no idea what it's like." She ignored her hair and looked up at me imploringly. "Mr. Grant, people stare. It's not their fault ... it's mine, for going out where they can see me in the first place. They can't control themselves. They stare, and they shrink back away from me, and they try to hide their revulsion, but they can't keep it out of their eyes. Children cry. Oh, God ... children cry ...." Tears were welling and starting down the left side of her face now, and for the first time, I wondered at the amount of damage done to her right eye. It was obviously incapable of producing tears.

I stepped forward to her and held her by the shoulders. It was the first time that we'd actually touched, other than a handshake after I'd hired her. "Jenny, I'm sorry. Of course we don't have to go out for dinner." I thought for a moment. "I'll go get us some carry-out. How about Chinese? Do you like Chinese?"

She sniffed and smiled wanly. "I love Chinese," she whispered.

I went to the restaurant four doors down and ordered the food, then walked over to a large drugstore while it was being prepared. I picked up a bottle of Chardonnay from the cooler, then a couple of real wine glasses back in housewares, and finally, as an afterthought, a tall candle and fake crystal candle holder, and carried everything back to the register.

She wasn't at her desk when I got back. "In here, Mr. Grant!" she called from the office.

"After hours, I want you to call me Tim," I told her as I walked through the door. "I bought too much food."

She straightened from the task of placing a chair in front of the coffee table by the couch, smiling nervously at me. "People always buy too much Chinese food ... Tim," she replied.

I regarded her quietly for a moment, until she blushed and turned her head away. I kept casting glances as I unloaded the food and as I went to the desk and brought back a corkscrew and lighter for the candle. "Um ... did you change clothes while I was gone?" I asked.

She smiled, but didn't look up as she placed napkins, paper plates and chopsticks in their places on the coffee table. "I was wearing a vest. I just took it off. It's warm in here."

But, of course, it was more than that. I realized that she HAD been wearing a vest, but she'd also had her white blouse buttoned to the throat, with a dangling gold necklace and cheap crystal charm hanging on the outside of the high neckline. Now, the top three buttons of the blouse were undone and the collar flared wide, showing an ample amount of cleavage. More than ample, as the case might be. The round, multi-faceted crystal dangled and bounced between the tops of her milky breasts. For the very first time, I found myself thinking that Miss Winslow had a remarkably nice figure.

She sat in the chair and waited as I settled into the cushions of the large couch, facing her. She's a small girl, barely over five feet in height, but in the chair, she sat above my level on the couch. She leaned forward and served both of us, giving me considerably larger portions than she took herself. I wasn't paying too much attention. The crystal was bouncing, caressing the insides of those creamy breasts. She watched as I poured the wine, smiling, tasting, telling me how good everything was. I felt confused. I had obviously never considered Jenny in romantic terms. Business is business. Private life is private. I could ignore appearance when I put on my business hat. But privately, appearance DOES matter. Of course it does. It's that way it is with everyone. Right? I looked away from her, my head suddenly swimming.

For the first time, I noticed the Hobart Account folder sitting on the table, next to our feast. Ah yes ... this was a business dinner. I cleared my throat, and picked up and opened the folder. "These notes you put in the margins," I began.

"It's just syntax, mostly," she responded, suddenly all business herself. "I don't know if you want me to correct that sort of thing on my own or ask your permission first."

"No, no," I chided. "All that's just fine. You don't have to ask. Make those changes on your own." I picked up a sheet of yellow legal paper. "It's this extra page of figures ... Where the hell did you get this data?"

She suddenly seemed unsure of herself. "Aren't those the figures that Hobart wants?" she asked.

"Of course they are," I said, trying to sound authoritative, "but this is not what our process can provide." I looked quizzically at the yellow page. According to her figures, we COULD provide it. But that didn't make any sense.

"Well, yes, I realized that," she said, still unsure. I tried not to look at her boobs as she leaned forward and pointed. "So ... I ... um ... changed the process. I found all the technical manuals on the shelves behind your desk." She pointed at the yellow sheet. "You see, our technicians input this portion first. But if we reverse our procedure here ... and here ... modify this portion right here ... then input this data before this step here ...."

And suddenly, it all made sense. I dropped my chopsticks, stared at them dumbly for a moment, then I leaped up and rushed to my desk for my calculator. I was back in a flash, tapping like crazy. It only took me two minutes. She was right. I stared up at her dumbly. Holy cow ... she was right!

"You don't have to consider that if you don't ... I mean, I just thought .... I mean, I was only trying to help. Please just throw it away." She sat back, looking down at her folded hands on her knees, which were pressed together, her slim legs tucked under the side of the chair.

"Jenny," I began, but stopped, considering the ramifications. I cleared my throat. "Um ... Jenny, this is...." I just stared at her, but she didn't ... she couldn't look back. I sighed heavily. "Jenny, we have to get this patented right away. Immediately! First thing Monday morning!"

Now she looked up, total confusion in her eyes. "What?"

"This is a new process!" I exclaimed. "Not a change ... a whole new process! Don't you understand? This is going to save the company millions! Tens of millions! Maybe hundreds!"

She didn't comprehend. "It just seemed logical," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. "I'm glad I was able to help."

I gawked at her. She still didn't get it. "Jenny," I said levelly, "You're going to be rich." Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head a little to the left. "Don't you understand? You're going to be able to sell this for big bucks!"

And suddenly, her eyes went wide. "Me?" she asked.

"Well, of course 'you'! It's your process. Our company is going to pay you LOTS of money for this! And if they won't, I'll take you to our competition. I could probably get you a million, easy. Plus royalties. You, my dear, are going to be rich! Very, VERY rich."

But she was shaking her head. Suddenly, she looked frightened, unsure, meek. "No ... I ... Mr. Grant, I don't want ... I just CAN'T ...."

I smiled at her reassuringly. "Of course you can, Jenny. I'll take you down to the patent office first thing Monday ...."

"NO!" she said firmly. "I won't do it! YOU take credit for it! I did it for YOU! You can have it! I don't want to be involved!"

I smiled broadly. "I'll do no such thing! I'm not going to take credit for someone else's work. And if it's the last thing I do, I'm going to make sure you get all of the credit and fanfare and money ...."

She stood up so abruptly that her chair fell over backwards, and she took two quick steps away from me. "What are you DOING to me?" she howled. "Why are you DOING this? Don't you UNDERSTAND?" I was on my feet, uncomprehending, completely befuddled. I took a step toward her, but she turned and ran for the door, stopping only when she got there, spinning around to face me yet again.

"Can't you see what you've done to me?" she sobbed, making a gesture of hopelessness with her arms and heaving shoulders. "Can't you SEE?" And she fled through the office door, her high heels clicking rapidly as she ran down the hallway. Eventually, I heard the ladies' room door slam.

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