“This does not alter our bottom-line one bit, Emil. Not one bit.” Zara was loudly bragging as the two of them paced to their meeting with Mr. O’Gawd. “We still have the AI contract, so what do we care? Our payday is still coming. But you know what else?” he asked, “The big man just said he could pick no campaign as better than the rest. You held your own, old boy. You did not let us lose.” He said, slapped Emil on the back, “No one can claim to have done a better job than us! Zara Advertising, baby!” After the third check-post they were finally led into a small anteroom. Mr. O’Gawd’s secretary sat behind a desk and there was a sofa for waiting visitors. Zara nodded to the secretary and she waved them in.
“Great work out there, Mr. O’Gawd, sir. You were A-amazing!” Zara flashed two thumbs up.
Mr. O’Gawd, without his two towering lawyers and advisers beside him seemed a bigger man. “Yes, I thought I did rather well too.” He said from behind his desk, “Who is this?”
“My new assistant.” Zara said.
Emil distracted himself from the discussion and scanned the room. No signs of Inora. The curtains were drawn to let sunlight in. She was not hiding behind those. All the furniture had closed bottoms. She wasn’t underneath those. The file-cabinet worried him, but he could think of no way how Inora could have crawled into one of the cabinets and pulled it shut. Where else could she be hiding?
“You have certainly picked a butch one this time…” Mr. O’Gawd said. Emil, never called butch before in his life, immediately focused all his attention on the conversation. What changes, if anything, to his physical build had he failed to notice?
“No, no, no, Mr. O’Gawd. He is a man.” Zara said. Obviously I am a man, Emil thought, I was just called butch. He turned towards Mr. O’Gawd, whose eyes seemed to have lost focus and wandered about from Emil to Zara to Emil again. “A man?” He asked with skepticism.
“Yes, Mr. O’Gawd sir, a man. Very efficient worker.”
“As your assistant?”
“A real man?”
“A bona-fide real one, sir. Signed and verified.”
“Is that even legal?”
“I do not see why…”
“Male assistants? Who would have ever thought?” he mused for a few seconds. Zara and Emil went ahead and sat down. Zara, because he wanted to open the file in his hand on the desktop, and Emil, because he was shaken up by the notion that being called butch is not necessarily a compliment. “So simple…so elegant…male assistants! No more distractions! No more lawsuits! Just…work.” Mr. O’Gawd said, as the novelty of the idea dawned on him. He leaned further back into his chair, gazing into the abyss.
“Quite a bombshell you dropped out there, sir. Did not see that one coming!” Zara said but Mr. O’Gawd did not seem interested in having that discussion with Zara. He asked, instead, “What news of the AI? Everything on track?”
“Yes sir, everything is. Almost back on schedule. We have run into a couple of minor snags, but we had accounted for…”
“Nothing worth worrying about, Mr. O’Gawd, sir. Everything is under control.”
“I want details.”
“We are facing some labor unrest and…”
“Nothing that cannot be handled. The workers seem to have split into two groups, the red team and the green team.”
“Why would they do that?” Mr. O’Gawd asked.
“I know, right? It surprised me as well. I would have expected them to break into black team and white team. Or maybe team A and team B. But red and green? Odd.”
“And how are you solving this problem?”
“I am rather using this problem as leverage.”
“I have given the two teams separate tasks and whoever completes it first wins.”
“This is not costing us nothing extra?”
“It is making us money by saving time.”
“And we are still on schedule?”
“We are getting back on schedule.”
“Anything else you have to report?”
“Excellent. That will be it. And Zara?”
“Yes sir, Mr. O’Gawd?”
“No more dilly-dallies, ok? Go back to Earth and step on it!”
“Consider it trampled, Mr. O’Gawd. Trampled under a stampede.” Zara said, stomped on Mr. O’Gawd carpeted floor that made a dull thud.
“Unnecessary. You, assistant…”
“Emil, we call him.” Zara informed.
“Yes, Emil, you look like you want to say something.”
Emil did want to say something. “Yes, if it is alright with you, sir, I do have something so say.” Was the something he decided to say. But Mr. O’Gawd gave him another shot at saying a second something, “Speak up then.” He said.
Emil looked towards Zara, who did not budge, so he said, “I was wondering, if we may speak alone.”
“Just you and me?”
“That is right.”
Mr. O’Gawd sat up upright and swiveled towards Zara, “Zara, when your last assistant convinced me to give Zara-Decimators the contract, it was not because she was an assistant, not because she was your assistant, and not only because we were alone. She managed to convince me precisely because she was a she. How much do you expect this one to convince me?”
“Mr. O’Gawd, sir, he just wants to talk. Big fan. Slaved away at Earth for years. A real hard-worker. There will be no convincing.” Zara replied assertively, looked towards Emil for confirmation.
“Actually, I expect there might be a whole lot of convincing involved.” Emil said.
“Zara! What is this malarkey?” Mr. O’Gawd demanded and Emil thought it best that he took control of the conversation. “You often visit your old patients at Earth, don’t you sir?”
“That is a matter of public record. I have kept in touch with all of them.”
“And you spoke to the granddaughter of one of your patients some twenty-years ago, remember? Granddaughter of Mr. Mehedi? She was struggling at school.”
“Who are you and what do you want?” Mr. O’Gawd asked. “How do you know all that?” Zara asked.
“I just want to talk, sir, that is all. And maybe do some convincing. I am a friend of Inora. I am here speaking on her behalf.”
“You know Inora?” Mr. O’Gawd asked Emil.
“You know Inora?” Zara asked Mr. O’Gawd.
“Yes, we are friends.” Emil told Mr. O’Gawd.
“Yes, we are good friends.” Mr. O’Gawd told Zara.
“We are extremely good friends.” Emil corrected.
“I know Inora too!” Zara joined in.
“You are not good friends with Inora, sir. Two days ago, she did not even know who you were.” Emil told Mr. O’Gawd.
“What difference does it make?”
“It makes all the difference!”
“I do not think we are very good friends, but I certainly know her.” Zara tried to keep up with the conversation, “I had a very nice conversation with her this morning.”
“I spent a month with her. We talked about everything!” Mr. O’Gawd added.
“She was a child! How can you consider her a friend?”
“All my patients are my friends, Emil.”
“She was not a patient! And she used to think you were a figment of her imagination!”
“The truest friend one can have.”
“I do not think she knows what my full name is,” Zara said, “but that only means that we are very close, no? I think it does. It proves that our relationship is not a professional one. She has never called me by anything other than my nickname.”
“Oh just shut your mouth, Zara.” Emil spat.
“And leave us alone. I want to see how convincing Inora’s friend is.”
“He is my friends too,” Zara said.
“Leave us, Zarathustra! We have much to talk about, your assistant and I.” Mr. O’Gawd commanded, “And on your way out, tell my secretary to go home. I will not require her services anymore. Her final task is to find me a male assistant. You tell her that. And this better not blow up on my face or I will hold you accountable.”
Zara did not loiter around; he gave Emil a venomous look and left the room.
Emil thought it was best that he started with a compliment, “Thank you for the time Mr. O’Gawd; I know how busy you are.”
“Not a problem; not a problem at all. Anything for a friend of Inora. She was a precocious child. I often thought about her. How has she turned out?”
“She’s a good person.” Emil said, “Strong convictions.”
“No surprises there. What message has she sent me? I would not have imagined that she remembers me.”
“She remembered, Mr. O’Gawd. But in her own ways.”
“Call me O’Gawd. No need for formalities if you are a friend of Inora.”
“Did Inora ever call you that?” Emil asked, still very focused on the glass window behind Gawd. That was as good a guess as any about where Inora’s attack would come from.
“No, I was always Uncle Man to her.”
Emil laughed, “Yeah, she told me that.”
“And has she also told you everything that happened between us?”
Emil nodded his head, “We figured everything out between the two of us.”
“Then I am sure you have an interesting story to tell.”
“It’s a long story.” Emil said.
“I’ll order lunch.” O'Gawd said and picked up the phone to call his secretary.
No one answered.