By J. Archer Avary
The morning air was salty, crisp with purpose.
Hector bought a hot dog from a vendor, pumped a fat line of mustard on it. Never ketchup. No way. He was born into a family who believed putting ketchup on a hot dog was an act of sacrilege.
The meeting was at 9AM so he ate on the move, ungracefully, stepping quick-time down the boardwalk, inadvertently dolloping his brand-new polo shirt with mustard.
Hector ducked into a men’s store and grabbed a mint green polo shirt off the rack. He would never spend $85 of his own money for a shirt, but he was enroute to most important business meeting of his career. The expense account was designed for situations like this.
“Mustard emergency,” said Hector.
“I see,” the sales attendant scrunched her nose. “Soak it in soda water and maybe it comes out.”
“That’s good to know,” he said, handing her his company credit card to be swiped.
“You shouldn’t eat hot dogs for breakfast,” she said.
“Occupational hazard,” said Hector. He tucked the receipt into his trifold wallet and smiled at the sales attendant. She was young and pretty, with big fluttering eyelashes. He was an aging white male with too much fat around the neck. Grey hair was creeping in around his temples. “Is there a room where I can change?”
Hector slipped into the new polo. It was soft and cool on his skin, designed by Figaro Ungaro, whoever that was. He looked himself over in the three-way mirror. His shoes were a distraction. He was en route to the most important business meeting of his career.
How was he supposed to seal a deals in these scuffed-up boat shoes?
The sales attendant was already looking at her phone. Disinterested.
“Any chance you have a pair of Sebago Docksides in size ten? I really need to smarten up my look.”
“I’ll look in back, hang on.”
Hector browsed as the sales attendant stepped into the back room. A wristwatch caught his eye in the glass display case. Understated, elegant, smart.
“That one comes with a lifetime guarantee,” said the sales attendant. “Designed by the one and only Gustavo Almodovar.”
“I’ve heard of him,” said Hector. “He got convicted of tax fraud?”
“He was charged but not convicted.”
“A good criminal never leaves a paper trail,” said the sales attendant. She swiped Hector’s company credit card for a second time. “Your total is $220.”
Hector’s new watch glinted in the coastal sunshine. It felt substantial on his wrist but not cumbersome. The perfect power accessory to exude professional confidence. He was born into a family who cared what the neighbors might think. He wanted to project success, especially today, when it mattered most.
He checked the time. Twenty minutes until the big meeting.
Hector killed time on a bench on the boardwalk, admiring his new watch and taking in the sea view over the dunes. Seagulls circled overhead, looking for scraps from the convention centre crowds. It was a beautiful day to do business.
His phone vibrated to life in his pocket. It was Kevin, the big boss, probably ringing him for a last-minute pep talk before the final pitch. Some shit from a motivational poster, before the final mantra: always be closing.
“Hector, where the fuck are you?”
“At the convention centre, just about to head up to the meeting.”
“It’s too late. Martinez called, says you stood up his A-team. He was furious, pulled the plug on the whole thing.”
“Please tell me you’re joking. My watch says 8:45.”
“You really fucked this one up, Hector,” said Kevin. “Big-time.”
“I can still go up there. Eat a little humble pie, maybe salvage the deal.”
“Too late. Martinez said he’s got a ten o’clock tee time. Fucking with an executive’s golf arrangements is bad business. Blowing this deal is gonna hurt your Christmas bonus.”
“What do I do now,” said Hector, in his tiniest voice.
“If I were you,” said Kevin. “I would think about how lucky you are that I’m not there because If I was, I would kick you hard in the shins. I would think about how lucky you are to still have a job after this colossal fuckup.”
“I’m really sorry, Kevin.” Hector felt sick to his stomach. “I didn’t mean to.”
“This company doesn’t need excuses, this company needs revenue. People like you shaking hands and sealing deals when we fly them across the country for face-to-face meetings, understand?”
The call ended and Hector put away his phone. How did he not notice his brand new designer watch was 45 minutes behind? That fraction of an hour meant the difference between night and day, right and wrong, between sealing the deal and going home a failure.
The air was salty, crisp with purpose.
Hector bought another hot dog from a vendor, pumped a fat line of ketchup on it. He looked at his new watch. It was time to try something new.
* * *
J. Archer Avary farms cactus in the windowsill where he writes poems and stories. He wants to finish a novel one day but lacks focus. Sometimes he goes to hot yoga, but most of the time he makes excuses not to. Fun fact: his first-ever acceptance came from Bright Flash Literary Review.