Home > The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)(9)

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)(9)
Graeme Simsion

There had been quite a long gap since either of us had spoken and I realised it must be my turn. I looked up from the pendant and remembered Gene’s instructions.

‘How about we do dinner tonight?’

She seemed surprised at my question then replied, ‘Yeah, right. How about we do dinner? How about Le Gavroche and you’re paying?’

‘Excellent. I’ll make a reservation for 8.00 p.m.’

‘You’re kidding.’

It was an odd response. Why would I make a confusing joke with someone I barely knew?

‘No. Is 8.00 p.m. tonight acceptable?’

‘Let me get this straight. You’re offering to buy me dinner at Le Gavroche tonight?’

Coming on top of the question about my name, I was beginning to think that this woman was what Gene would call ‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’. I considered backing out, or at least employing some delaying tactic until I could check her questionnaire, but could not think of any socially acceptable way to do this, so I just confirmed that she had interpreted my offer correctly. She turned and left and I realised that I did not even know her name.

I called Gene immediately. There seemed to be some confusion on his part at first, followed by mirth. Perhaps he had not expected me to handle the candidate so effectively.

‘Her name’s Rosie,’ he said. ‘And that’s all I’m telling you. Have fun. And remember what I said about sex.’

Gene’s failure to provide me with more details was unfortunate, because a problem arose. Le Gavroche did not have a table available at the agreed time. I tried to locate Rosie’s profile on my computer, and for once the photos were useful. The woman who had come to my office did not look like any candidate whose name began with ‘R’. She must have been one of the paper responses. Gene had left and his phone was off.

I was forced to take action that was not strictly illegal, but doubtless immoral. I justified it on the basis that it would be more immoral to fail to meet my commitment to Rosie. Le Gavroche’s online reservation system had a facility for VIPs and I made a reservation under the name of the Dean after logging on using relatively unsophisticated hacking software.

I arrived at 7.59 p.m. The restaurant was located in a major hotel. I chained my bike in the foyer, as it was raining heavily outside. Fortunately it was not cold and my Gore-Tex jacket had done an excellent job of protecting me. My t-shirt was not even damp underneath.

A man in uniform approached me. He pointed towards the bike, but I spoke before he had a chance to complain.

‘My name is Professor Lawrence and I interacted with your reservation system at 5.11 p.m.’

It appeared that the official did not know the Dean, or assumed that I was another Professor Lawrence, because he just checked a clipboard and nodded. I was impressed with the efficiency, though it was now 8.01 p.m. and Rosie was not there. Perhaps she was (b) a little early and already seated.

But then a problem arose.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but we have a dress code,’ said the official.

I knew about this. It was in bold type on the website: Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket.

‘No jacket, no food, correct?’

‘More or less, sir.’

What can I say about this sort of rule? I was prepared to keep my jacket on throughout the meal. The restaurant would presumably be air-conditioned to a temperature compatible with the requirement.

I continued towards the restaurant entrance, but the official blocked my path. ‘I’m sorry. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You need to wear a jacket.’

‘I’m wearing a jacket.’

‘I’m afraid we require something a little more formal, sir.’

The hotel employee indicated his own jacket as an example. In defence of what followed, I submit the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact, 2nd Edition) definition of ‘jacket’: 1(a) An outer garment for the upper part of the body.

I also note that the word ‘jacket’ appears on the care instructions for my relatively new and perfectly clean Gore-Tex ‘jacket’. But it seemed his definition of jacket was limited to ‘conventional suit jacket’.

‘We would be happy to lend you one, sir. In this style.’

‘You have a supply of jackets? In every possible size?’ I did not add that the need to maintain such an inventory was surely evidence of their failure to communicate the rule clearly, and that it would be more efficient to improve their wording or abandon the rule altogether. Nor did I mention that the cost of jacket purchase and cleaning must add to the price of their meals. Did their customers know that they were subsidising a jacket warehouse?

‘I wouldn’t know about that, sir,’ he said. ‘Let me organise a jacket.’

Needless to say I was uncomfortable at the idea of being re-dressed in an item of public clothing of dubious cleanliness. For a few moments, I was overwhelmed by the sheer unreasonableness of the situation. I was already under stress, preparing for the second encounter with a woman who might become my life partner. And now the institution that I was paying to supply us with a meal – the service provider who should surely be doing everything possible to make me comfortable – was putting arbitrary obstacles in my way. My Gore-Tex jacket, the high-technology garment that had protected me in rain and snowstorms, was being irrationally, unfairly and obstructively contrasted with the official’s essentially decorative woollen equivalent. I had paid $1,015 for it, including $120 extra for the customised reflective yellow. I outlined my argument.

‘My jacket is superior to yours by all reasonable criteria: impermeability to water, visibility in low light, storage capacity.’ I unzipped the jacket to display the internal pockets and continued, ‘Speed of drying, resistance to food stains, hood …’

The official was still showing no interpretable reaction, although I had almost certainly raised my voice.

‘Vastly superior tensile strength …’

To illustrate this last point, I took the lapel of the employee’s jacket in my hands. I obviously had no intention of tearing it but I was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknown person who attempted to throw me to the ground. I automatically responded with a safe, low-impact throw to disable him without dislodging my glasses. The term ‘low impact’ applies to a martial-arts practitioner who knows how to fall. This person did not, and landed heavily.

I turned to see him – he was large and angry. In order to prevent further violence, I was forced to sit on him.

‘Get the fuck off me. I’ll fucking kill you,’ he said.

On that basis, it seemed illogical to grant his request. At that point another man arrived and tried to drag me off. Concerned that Thug Number One would carry out his threat, I had no choice but to disable Thug Number Two as well. No one was seriously hurt, but it was a very awkward social situation, and I could feel my mind shutting down.

Fortunately, Rosie arrived.

Jacket Man said, apparently in surprise, ‘Rosie!’

Obviously he knew her. She looked from him to me and said, ‘Professor Tillman – Don – what’s going on?’

‘You’re late,’ I said. ‘We have a social problem.’

‘You know this man?’ said Jacket Man to Rosie.

‘What do you think, I guessed his name?’ Rosie sounded belligerent and I thought this might not be the best approach. Surely we should seek to apologise and leave. I was assuming we would not now be eating in the restaurant.

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