Home > The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)(10)

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)(10)
Graeme Simsion

A small crowd had gathered and it occurred to me that another thug might arrive, so I needed to work out a way of freeing up a hand without releasing the original two thugs. In the process one poked the other in the eye, and their anger levels increased noticeably. Jacket Man added, ‘He assaulted Jason.’

Rosie replied, ‘Right. Poor Jason. Always the victim.’ I could now see her. She was wearing a black dress without decoration, thick-soled black boots and vast amounts of silver jewellery on her arms. Her red hair was spiky like some new species of cactus. I have heard the word ‘stunning’ used to describe women, but this was the first time I had actually been stunned by one. It was not just the costume or the jewellery or any individual characteristic of Rosie herself: it was their combined effect. I was not sure if her appearance would be regarded as conventionally beautiful or even acceptable to the restaurant that had rejected my jacket. ‘Stunning’ was the perfect word for it. But what she did was even more stunning. She took her phone from her bag and pointed it at us. It flashed twice. Jacket Man moved to take it from her.

‘Don’t you fucking think about it,’ Rosie said. ‘I’m going to have so much fun with these photos that these guys will never stand on a door again. Professor teaches bouncers a lesson.’

As Rosie was speaking, a man in a chef’s hat arrived. He spoke briefly to Jacket Man and Rosie and, on the basis that we would be permitted to leave without further harassment, Rosie asked me to release my assailants. We all got to our feet, and, in keeping with tradition, I bowed, then extended my hand to the two men, who I had concluded must be security personnel. They had only been doing what they were paid for, and had risked injury in the course of their duties. It seemed that they were not expecting the formalities, but then one of them laughed and shook my hand, and the other followed his example. It was a good resolution, but I no longer felt like eating at the restaurant.

I collected my bike and we walked into the street. I expected Rosie to be angry about the incident, but she was smiling. I asked her how she knew Jacket Man.

‘I used to work there.’

‘You selected the restaurant because you were familiar with it?’

‘You could say that. I wanted to stick it up them.’ She began to laugh. ‘Maybe not quite that much.’

I told her that her solution was brilliant.

‘I work in a bar,’ she said. ‘Not just a bar – the Marquess of Queensbury. I deal with jerks for a living.’

I pointed out that if she had arrived on schedule she could have used her social skills and the violence would have been unnecessary.

‘Glad I was late then. That was judo, right?’

‘Aikido.’ As we crossed the road, I switched my bike to my other side, between Rosie and me. ‘I’m also proficient in karate, but aikido was more appropriate.’

‘No way. It takes forever to learn that stuff, doesn’t it?’

‘I commenced at seven.’

‘How often do you train?’

‘Three times per week, except in the case of illness, public holidays and travel to overseas conferences.’

‘What got you into it?’ asked Rosie.

I pointed to my glasses.

‘Revenge of the nerds,’ she said.

‘This is the first time I’ve required it for self-defence since I was at school. It’s primarily for fitness.’ I had relaxed a little, and Rosie had provided an opportunity to slip in a question from the Wife Project questionnaire. ‘Do you exercise regularly?’

‘Depends what you call regularly.’ She laughed. ‘I’m the unfittest person on the planet.’

‘Exercise is extremely important for maintaining health.’

‘So my dad tells me. He’s a personal trainer. Constantly on my case. He gave me a gym membership for my birthday. At his gym. He has this idea we should train for a triathlon together.’

‘Surely you should follow his advice,’ I said.

‘Fuck, I’m almost thirty. I don’t need my dad telling me what to do.’ She changed the subject. ‘Listen, I’m starving. Let’s get a pizza.’

I was not prepared to consider a restaurant after the preceding trauma. I told her that I intended to revert to my original plan for the evening, which was cooking at home.

‘Got enough for two?’ she asked. ‘You still owe me dinner.’

This was true but there had been too many unscheduled events already in my day.

‘Come on. I won’t criticise your cooking. I can’t cook to save my life.’

I was not concerned about my cooking being criticised. But the lack of cooking skills on her part was the third fault so far in terms of the Wife Project questionnaire, after the late arrival and the lack of fitness. There was almost certainly a fourth: it was unlikely that her profession as waitress and barmaid was consistent with the specified intellectual level. There was no point in continuing.

Before I could protest, Rosie had flagged down a minivan taxi with sufficient capacity for my bike.

‘Where do you live?’ she asked.

7

‘Wow, Mr Neat. How come there are no pictures on the walls?’

I had not had visitors since Daphne moved out of the building. I knew that I only needed to put out an extra plate and cutlery. But it had already been a stressful evening, and the adrenaline-induced euphoria that had immediately followed the Jacket Incident had evaporated, at least on my part. Rosie seemed to be in a permanently manic state.

We were in the living area, which adjoins the kitchen.

‘Because after a while I would stop noticing them. The human brain is wired to focus on differences in its environment – so it can rapidly discern a predator. If I installed pictures or other decorative objects, I would notice them for a few days and then my brain would ignore them. If I want to see art, I go to the gallery. The paintings there are of higher quality, and the total expenditure over time is less than the purchase price of cheap posters.’ In fact, I had not been to an art gallery since the tenth of May, three years before. But this information would weaken my argument and I saw no reason to share it with Rosie and open up other aspects of my personal life to interrogation.

Rosie had moved on and was now examining my CD collection. The investigation was becoming annoying. Dinner was already late.

‘You really love Bach,’ she said. This was a reasonable deduction, as my CD collection consists only of the works of that composer. But it was not correct.

‘I decided to focus on Bach after reading Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. Unfortunately I haven’t made much progress. I don’t think my brain works fast enough to decode the patterns in the music.’

‘You don’t listen to it for fun?’

This was beginning to sound like the initial dinner conversations with Daphne and I didn’t answer.

‘You’ve got an iPhone?’ she said.

‘Of course, but I don’t use it for music. I download podcasts.’

‘Let me guess – on genetics.’

‘Science in general.’

I moved to the kitchen to begin dinner preparation and Rosie followed me, stopping to look at my whiteboard schedule.

‘Wow,’ she said, again. This reaction was becoming predictable. I wondered what her response to DNA or evolution would be.

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