I saw Daniel Craig in person, once. He was starring in a revival of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal, directed by the legendary Mike Nichols (2013). It got mixed reviews. This was the last play Nichols directed, because he died the next year. What I remember most is how heavily the characters drank (cruelly, there was no intermission). I also remember how trim and muscular Daniel Craig looked in his snug-fitting shirts and suits.
Gaius here with this month’s welcome to our site. If you’ve looked around on the web, you know that Amator’s Art of Seduction provides specific techniques instead of vague or overhyped claims about “covert ops” and “female mind hacking,” with disclaimers about not holding them responsible when girls start stalking you. Here’s a quick sampling of our hard-hitting advice (try the links). If you’ve got a beer gut, get to the gym. If your hair is receding, don’t try to hide it with a comb-over. Girls see right through that. Get a buzz cut and add a mustache and goatee, or stubble. Another trick that works wonders is to purse your lips slightly. This produces a sexy look that girls adore. If you don’t believe me, just look at Daniel Craig in any movie he’s made. Finally, we offer plenty of advice for the end game. Remember the Slowhand Rule: don’t go straight for their pants, or (this may surprise you) even their tits. And if you’ve spent the last few years playing World of War, let us remind you how to find the magic button. It’s that thing above the vagina that looks like a mouse wheel. —Gaius
To: Inclusus Amator
Subject: Hope for Gaius
Gaius has been improving lately. His latest column had me impressed— that is, until the lip-pursing thing. Now anytime my friends and I are on campus and we spot a fit man with minor facial pilosity who appears to have just sucked a lemon, we gaze at each other with a wild surmise. Of course, I’ve invested even more time wondering about your identity, since I’m convinced that all the good tips (Slowhand!) come from you, and the dorky ones from him. –Yours, Cloelia
From: Inclusus Amator
Subject: Wild Surmises
Cloelia dulcis, be kind. Gaius is my most promising disciple, even if he can’t take credit for Slowhand. I have a surmise of my own about your identity. I’m breaking every rule in the book by preferring the flirtation to the end game, all because I would be disappointed to learn that I’m mistaken. Inclusus Amator has never been wrong before when it comes to a girl, but there’s a first time for everything. –Semper Tuus Amator
The AFSCME bargaining team was sitting in their caucus room with a carafe of Maxwell House, courtesy of Amber, and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts contributed by Doris, while they readied themselves to meet with the federal mediator. Amber had so far avoided the donuts, but it was late in the morning, and her resistance was quickly fading. Dennis, who had enjoyed only a few hours’ sleep since his shift ended the previous night, was regaling them with an account of the misplaced furniture, spilled beverages, and rodent infestations endemic to Chester Hall. “I smell a rat in Denmark,” he said darkly.
“You mean there’s somethin’ rotten in Denmark, dummy,” said Virgil. “It’s from Hamlet.” He looked at Amber to see if she was impressed.
“Rotten, that’s right,” nodded Dennis. “Twice in the last week, I’ve heard voices in one of the faculty offices, a man and a woman. Now what would they be up to at one in the morning, I ask you? I knocked on the door once, to see if he wanted his trash taken, but he said to go away.”
“’Course he did,” said Virgil. “You was crampin’ his style.”
“What’s our bottom line on the health care increases?” asked Doris, who was ready for a change of subject.
“Bottom line? I think I can sell fifteen percent to the members,” said Larry, “though I hate to do it. That way, with the slight increase in wages, most of us aren’t worse off than the last contract. Their demand of twenty is out of the question, and I’d be much happier with ten.”
“What do we tell Conor, then?” Doris winked at Amber and drew a particularly luscious, chocolate-iced pastry from the Krispy Kreme box. She performed physical labor all day, and had a healthy appetite.
“We sure as hell don’t tell him the real bottom line,” said Larry. “We have to convince him that the members will strike if it’s anything more than ten percent. And we have to push hard on safety— but frame it as an economic issue. To them it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a major burden for us to buy every piece of personal safety equipment.”
“And the harassment?” asked Dennis. He looked worried, and Amber could tell he was preparing himself for the moment when the team dropped the proposal in order to get a contract.
“We hang on for now,” said Larry. “I’ve got to be honest with you, Dennis. This isn’t a key issue for all the members. But management accountability is. If we get this, it sends a broader message, and everyone in the bargaining unit will benefit.”
As Dennis nodded, there was a knock on the door. Conor Flynn was a man of medium height and build, dressed in grey trousers, but without a suit jacket. He conspicuously lacked a tie, and his fine blue dress shirt was open at the neck; a few dark hairs peeked out. His tummy didn’t sag over his belt like Larry’s did, but he had the filled-out look of a middle-aged man who works at a desk job. He would have been nondescript were it not for his jet black hair, shot through with dramatic strands of silver, and his eyes, the emerald color of April grass. Amber liked him on sight.
Larry introduced him to Dennis and Virgil; he remembered Doris from the previous mediation, two contracts before. One eyebrow rose in surprise when Amber was introduced as “our intern,” but he made no comment. Instead, when Doris motioned to the Krispy Kreme box, he took the last donut and removed a steno pad from his unfashionable Lands End shoulder bag. “All right,” he said, looking around the table. “Tell me what’s on your mind.” They worked steadily for an hour. Amber observed the discussion, her stomach growling every so often. Conor asked questions and wrote notes. Finally he said, “Good. I think that’s enough for me to start with, unless there’s anything you’d like to add.”
Suddenly Larry said, “Actually, there’s something Amber wants to ask you.” Amber looked up in surprise, but Larry nodded encouragingly.
“Um, my class project involves interviewing the key players. I know your time is valuable,” she said, trying to sound confident, “but if you’ve got even five minutes to spare, I’d be very grateful.”
Conor replied readily, “I’m going downstairs to grab some lunch, and I can tell you’re hungry.” Amber felt her cheeks burning as Doris said, “Yep, we could all hear you, Amber. You shoulda given in and eaten that last donut before Conor took it!”
“Oh no! Sounds like I owe you one of those strawberry cupcakes they sell in the snack bar,” said Conor ruefully.
Amber cast a questioning glance at Larry, and he nodded. “Sure, that’s fine. I need to wrap up a couple of things with you before we leave. You can meet Conor downstairs in five minutes.”
Once the door closed behind Conor, Larry said quickly, “Now listen, Amber. Conor’s no fool. He’ll try to draw you out. If he does, let slip that our bottom line on health insurance is twelve percent. Remember that. We can’t go any higher than twelve, or the members will walk.”
During the mediation session, Larry had been very insistent that the bottom line was ten percent. Amber swallowed. “You want me to lie?”
“I want you to use a negotiating tactic,” said Larry stiffly.
“You don’t have to do it,” said Doris. “If you don’t want to.”
Amber considered this, and then answered, “If Conor tries to worm something out of me, it means he’s cheating. So I don’t mind cheating back.”
“Good girl,” said Larry approvingly.
She packed up her laptop, and made her way down to the snack bar where Conor had ordered himself a corned beef on rye with vinegar chips. When he saw her, he told the clerk, “and one strawberry cupcake.” She got a serving of pasta salad and a bottle of water, and followed him back upstairs to a meeting room that had been set aside for his personal use. Amber saw that his suit jacket and tie were hanging on the coat rack.
They sat on opposite sides of the conference table with their food, and Amber took out her notepad. Conor pushed the pink cupcake across the table. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to try one of these. Usually I stay away from sweets.” She peeled the paper lining off and took a big bite. The cake was moist and the mound of frosting left traces on her upper lip and the corners of her mouth, which she self-consciously licked off as Conor watched, looking entertained. She had forgotten to pick up a napkin. He had an extra one, but he didn’t offer it.
“What’s it like being a mediator?” she asked, trying to take control of the situation.
“I like the variety,” he answered. “It gets me out of the office. Most of my work is in labor law— workers’ comp, wrongful termination, that kind of thing.”
Amber wondered why the university had agreed to use Conor, since it sounded as though he mostly worked for the union side. She asked about this.
“You have to have experience on both sides,” he said. “But it’s really about getting results. If you help people settle a contract, they’ll use you again. How did you end up becoming an intern? I’ve been mediating for a long time, and I’ve never seen an intern at an AFSCME local. Do you have a family background in labor?”
“No. I didn’t know much about it before I started.” Amber explained that she’d come up with the concept of an internship for her service learning project, and also as a way to set herself apart from other law school applicants.
Conor nodded. “Not a bad idea. Try to get some experience with the university side too. It’ll open your eyes.” He regarded her intently. “I wish my son was more like you. He bummed around before going to college, and he’s way behind now. Only a freshman! What does he have to show for all that time? He spent almost a year in San José, serving raw felafel wraps and flaxseed tostadas to nerds from the Apple headquarters in Cupertino. Told me he was learning more from them than he ever could in school.”
“Maybe he was right,” smiled Amber. “How do you know he wasn’t?”
“Because I’m paying his bills,” said Conor.
Amber tried to imagine her mother’s reaction if she had asked for “time off” before starting college. “What about his mom? What does she think?”
Conor frowned. “She’s been out of the picture since he was ten. But that’s neither here nor there.” He ate some of his sandwich while Amber worked on her pasta salad.
“I know this sounds premature,” she said, “but… I think I want to do what you’re doing. Helping resolve disagreements.”
“There’s a gender gap,” he warned. “Women have great listening and mediation skills, but it’s harder for you to earn respect with some of these folks. I spend a lot of time with pipe-fitters and welders on the one hand, and cigar-smoking guys in suits on the other. If they saw a beautiful woman like you, with long hair the color of tupelo honey, they’d have trouble keeping their minds on the contract.” He looked her straight in the eye, a smile playing on his lips. He had an undeniably sexy smile.
He’s flirting with me, she thought. Is he working up to asking about the bottom line? “And what about you, Conor? Are you having the same problem?” She met his gaze boldly.
“Well, I’m not blind,” he said. “But I’m old enough to be your father, Amber. I see you as a promising young person with a lot to learn.”
She nodded, glad that he was drawing the line. “Whose side are you really on?”
“My own,” he answered immediately. “The sooner I help the two parties settle the contract, the more I enhance my reputation as a mediator. Sometimes only a person on the outside can see a path to compromise. But that can’t work unless he —or she— knows the truth about each side’s goals. If you hold back from me, I can’t do my job effectively.”
Here it comes. “Why can’t the university pay for safety equipment?” she asked. “It would be the decent thing to do. And it makes economic sense. They’ll save on worker’s comp expenses by reducing injuries.”
“It’s too big a concession,” he told her. “They aren’t comfortable handing that much over.”
“Then why not go with just the steel-toed boots? They seem to be the biggest expense,” she argued. “The two sides could stipulate that it doesn’t set a precedent for the other equipment.”
“Would Larry agree to that?” he asked quickly.
“I don’t know,” said Amber, taken aback. “I was just trying to work it out in my mind. Then there’s the issue of harassment. Why would an institution knowingly protect a harasser? Why can’t they agree that if the person engaged in harassment, there will be accountability?”
“They’ll never agree to a proposal that limits management rights that way,” said Conor. “They won’t let the union dictate how they discipline their supervisors.”
“So it’s a lost cause?” she asked, frustrated.
“That proposal? Almost certainly, yes.” He finished his sandwich and said casually, “The only other big issue is health insurance premiums. What’s your thinking on that one?”
Amber pretended to ponder it, sticking her finger into the icing on the uneaten half of her cupcake, and bringing it to her lips. Without looking at Conor, she said, “Well, I think it would be in the university’s best interest to agree to twelve percent and avoid a strike.”
“Twelve? That’s not the number I heard from Larry.”
“Oh. I meant ten percent,” she said. Heat rose in her cheeks again, and she looked up to find Conor’s eyes searching hers.
After a moment, he said, “You wouldn’t be playing me, would you, Amber?”
“I might be,” she said deliberately, “But then, it’s also possible that I just made a slip. It’s up to you to figure out which one, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” He got up and buttoned his shirt, turning his collar up, then draped a green tie around his neck. It matched the color of his eyes. He tied it expertly without the aid of a mirror, as Amber watched. Then he slipped his arms into his suit jacket and buttoned it. Suddenly he looked much more formidable. “Time for me to meet the other half,” he said, taking her hand. “Amber. It’s been a pleasure.”
Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
Notes: I loved writing the character of Conor. I wish he were real, so he could buy me a cupcake!