“I don’t think I’ve ever been to Las Vegas before.”
“Oh, Mirage Springs isn’t in Las Vegas,” the recruiter in a shimmering business suit informed him with a lean across the job fair table. “Though it’s certainly nearby. Are you graduating this semester?”
“Yes, oh yes. Well, not officially until September at least, though I’m walking across the stage next week, and just a few classes I have to take through June, ‘cause I had to transfer Freshman year and I had to leave the last place, Adams College, all of a sudden–”
“Mirage Springs is eager to hire new teachers from the class of ninety-seven,” name-tagged Nancy replied, ignoring the explanatory soliloquy and stuffing a glossy folder in the prospect’s hands. “What’s your name, by the way?”
“Bacon. Henry Bacon.” Henry shook a lotion-smooth hand.
“Oh yes, Bacon. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Pause. “You have?”
“Oh yes.” Nancy smiled and handed him a second, different, folder as she pulled the first out of his hands. “We asked your school about exceptional seniors, and your name was near the top of the list.”
“My name?” Henry stared down at the glossy image of a fresh new high school set against the backdrop of a desert mountain range.
“Definitely. We’re interested in having only the most-qualified candidates teach in our school system. Construction of Mirage Springs High has just been completed, and we’re opening it in the fall. We’d be willing to cover your relocation expenses and certification tuition and pay you a stipend until you obtain your certificate.”
Henry opened the folder to a sheet of paper addressed to himself which listed all of the incentives. “This is pretty unusual recruiting for a schoolteacher–”
“Mirage Springs is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’ll need all the qualified teachers we can get,” Nancy concluded with unfazed perkiness. Then, to a classmate of Henry’s behind his back, “Hi! Are you interested in becoming a teacher?”
“No offense, but it sounds pretty strange that a school system would go all out to get you to move down there.” Henry’s dormmate tossed the folder back onto one of the two mattresses that had been stripped bare that morning.
“Yeah, that’s what I said. But she says they need all the teachers they can get.” Henry picked up the folder once more and, once more, opened it to stare at his printed name.
Harry Roman reached down for one of the two suitcases that were the last of his possessions in the room. “What the hell: head down there and milk it for what it’s worth. Any of your interviews even call you back?” Henry shook his head. “Then just do it.”
Henry stepped off the flight from La Guardia at three thirty-three in the afternoon and immediately began looking for the chauffeur he was told would meet him at the gate. Local families were reunited with their loved ones arriving home, business people shuffled off with their carry-ons rolling behind them, and Henry was eventually left alone in the waiting area with a solitary sitter. The heavy-set man’s features were hidden by the two-page spread of a copy of the New York Times, which carried the headline “Launching of Shuttle is Scheduled for Tuesday.”
Henry made his way to a pay phone and called the number he was told he could call any time.
“Mirage Springs Schools. This is Nancy.”
“Nancy, it’s Henry Bac–”
“Henry! It’s so good to hear from you! I take it you’re at the airport.”
“Yeah, at the gate–”
“Yes, well, I’m so terribly sorry. I wish we could have told you before you got on the plane.”
“The position has been filled. I’m so sorry.”
“But it’s a new school–”
“I’m sorry, Henry, but all of the positions have been filled. It’s funny how one day you really need new hires, then the next they’ve all been hired. Again, I’m terribly sorry–”
“How do I get home?” Henry’s forehead was touching the cold metal of the phonebox.
“Home? Oh yes, New York. Well Henry, sorry again, but return airfare wasn’t part of the agreement.”
“Sorry, Henry. I have someone here in my office right now. Gotta go!”
Henry slammed the phone back in its cradle, then just stood and stared. The cell phone of the adjacent waiting area’s lone occupant rang, and Henry looked aside to watch him fold his newspaper while keeping it held in front of his face. There was a gruff “yeah” followed by an “I know,” and then Henry was shouldering his rucksack once more and heading for the baggage-claim area.
“I suggest you hold, sir.”
“I’m playing for airfare. Hit me.”
The dealer sucked in his breath and turned over a queen of spades. Then, with a very subtle shake of his head, he pulled the cards and the chips away from the player who had already pushed himself off his stool.
Henry shuffled down a casino corridor, his rucksack hanging off one shoulder and his one suitcase rolling along behind. He had walked less than twenty yards when a heavy-set man in a gray suit and red tie approached him from the side. “Say, I’m sorry to see you lose like that.”
Henry looked at the stranger with a dazed look. “What?”
The stranger jabbed his thumb in the direction of the now-empty table. “Blackjack. I overheard you were playing for airfare.”
“Yeah.” Henry lost his daze. “What’s that got to do with you?”
The suit took a step back. “Not trying to be nosy. I just thought you’d like some help.”
Henry looked straight forward and started moving again. “Whatever it is you’ve got in mind, I’m sure I’m not interested.”
“Contempt prior to investigation.” The suit fell into step beside the graduate. “But you might be interested. Larry Cohn.”
Henry didn’t shake the outstretched hand. “Bacon. Henry Bacon.”
“It’s nothing nefarious. Just an Internet start-up.”
Henry didn’t slow as they neared the casino’s bay of revolving front doors. “So you’re recruiting for a dot-com at one on a Tuesday morning, in a Las Vegas casino.”
Cohn stepped in front of the door Henry was about to step through. “Let me buy you dinner, kid: I know you haven’t eaten in a while. Then you can tell me to get lost.”
“Filet mignon. Rare.”
Cohn waited to light his cigarette until the waitress had taken Henry’s order and departed from the table. “So, what’s your SAT?”
Henry took a large sip from the sixty-dollar bottle of wine he had ordered on Cohn’s credit card. “What does an SAT have to do with anything?”
“It’s a measure of aptitude, my young friend,” Cohn replied from behind the smoke of his cigarette.
“First, what’s the job?”
“Show me you have the aptitude for the job, and I’ll tell you what the job is.”
Cohn nodded. “Verbal?”
“I just made it easy for you. You do the math.”
Cohn laughed and tapped an ash out in a tray. “Seven-sixty, I suppose it would be.”
“So, what’s the job?”
“I’m starting an online fertility clinic.” Cohn exhaled a cloud of smoke between himself and Henry.
“How can a fertility clinic be online?”
“Let us say, the presentation is online,” Cohn explained with a confident smile and a spread of his hands in the air before him.
Henry took another gulp of wine and felt the first buzz from the alcohol. “Fine. What’s the Web address?”
“Still to be decided. In fact many aspects of the business plan are still to be decided. Right now we just need intelligent, good-looking young people like yourself to help us get there.”
Henry had stopped eating and drinking and now leaned back in his upholstered seat. “How can you get ‘there’ if you don’t know where ‘there’ is?”
Cohen exhaled slowly into the atmosphere. “Knowing where you’re going is so Old Economy.” A tap of an ash. “Taking your opportunities as they come: that’s New Economy!”
“But that’s neither here nor there, Henry. Here’s the offer: free room, board, and a small salary. Plus ten thousand stock options.”
Henry finished his first glass of wine as a waiter approached with his salad. “What’s the salary?” He nodded at the presentation of the grinder for the Caesar. “And when do you plan to go public?”
Cohn stubbed out his cigarette and intertwined his fingers after resting his elbows on the table. “I hardly think a man who’s flat broke and stranded in Vegas should be asking questions like those.”
Henry finished his first nibble of greens, then fell back against the upholstery of his seat and sighed. “Fine. I’m in. Where we headed after this?”
Cohn reached for another cigarette. “The clinic. It’s a little out of the way, outside a town called Mirage Springs.”
Henry choked on the first sip of his second glass of wine.
“Are you sure you want to measure that?”
The tailor, who had been sitting and waiting for Henry in the anteroom of Henry’s suite when he woke up in the middle of the afternoon, now looked up from the tape measure spread across the breadth of Henry’s right foot. “Mister Cohn instructed that I make several measurements of the symmetry of your physical features,” he replied with a French accent.
Henry looked down at the small notebook with two columns of figures that the tailor added to with a pencil. “What do the width of my feet have to do with a tuxedo?”
“Ask Mister Cohn, Mister Bacon. Mister Cohn is my customer, and the customer is king,” the tailor replied without looking up.
“Where is Cohn, anyway?”
“Back in his office, I imagine.” The tailor looked up and smiled. “You may do whatever you wish now. I’ll have your tuxedo ready before dinner.”
“Dinner? Who’s going to be at dinner?”
The tailor became stern once more. “I suggest you ask Mister Cohn.”
“Oh yes, Henry, come in and meet Calvin Gonzalez.” Cohn stood up from a leather chair situated between a mahogany desk and a window that looked out upon a fountain burbling in the late afternoon sunshine. “Calvin’s a computer science major at UNLV, but he’ll be our Webmaster over the summer.” Cohn flashed Calvin a smile. “And maybe through the fall and beyond, if we can convince him to stay.”
A standing Calvin reached out his hand to shake Henry’s. “Glad you could make it.”
“Thanks. Nice to meet you.” Henry looked back at Cohn. “What’s the deal with the body measurements? And what’s so important about tonight’s dinner?”
Cohn looked at Calvin, who looked back at him and not at Henry. “Add in what you and I went over.”
“Sure thing, Larry.” Calvin clapped Henry’s arm on his way out. “Pleasure.”
“Yeah, pleasure,” Henry replied. Then, to Cohn, “What’s the deal? Investors coming in tonight?”
“You could say that. Have a seat, Henry.”
Henry glanced at a second, larger window at the front of Cohn’s office that afforded a view of the semicircular driveway connecting the clinic with a remote country road. Then he turned around and took a seat opposite Cohn’s desk.
Cohn opened his mouth to say something to his seated guest, but a double knock on his distant door changed his utterance. “Come in.”
The tailor walked in and smoothly approached the desk with a small nod to Henry. “The measurements that you requested, Mister Cohn.” A single sheet of paper was placed in Cohn’s outstretched hand.
“Yes, thank you, Pierre. How’s the tux coming along?”
Pierre smiled down at Henry, then back at Cohn. “It will be finished within the hour.”
“Terrific! Just in time for our guest. That’ll be all, Pierre.”
“Certainly, Mister Cohn.” Then, to Henry, “Come by your room at six.”
“Sure.” Henry waited until the door shut behind Pierre to ask, “Only one guest?”
Cohn leaned back in his chair. “Yes, one.” He slowly opened a pair of gold-rimmed reading glasses, placed them on his face, and read the two columns of seven rows of figures on the college-ruled paper. Then he looked above the glasses and smiled below them.
“You have perfect symmetry, as I suspected.”
Henry sighed. “So what’s my prize?”
Cohn laughed slightly and placed both the glasses and the paper on his desk. “Many things, Henry. Many things.” He stood up from his chair and took a few short steps to an edge of the window to stare out at the sparkling fountain with his arms crossed on his chest. “I got the idea for this project when I first read about a Nineteen-ninety-five University of New Mexico study of eighty-six couples.”
Henry’s eyes didn’t move from the marble fountain. “What does a study have to do with me?”
Cohn looked from the fountainhead to Henry. “Do you believe in helping others, Henry?”
“Sure, if I can still pay my rent.”
Cohn smiled and walked back to seat himself in his chair. “I’m glad you and I think alike. You see, Henry, you and I are here today to be of service. Or rather, I’m here to put you in a position to be of service. If all goes as planned, you and I will start a revolution in fertility treatments, not to mention the evolutionary process itself!” Cohn’s hands had spread wider over the desk with each word. “And you and Calvin and any other pre-IPO employees will be fabulously wealthy!”
“Not to mention yourself, I’m sure. We have an investor coming in tonight and you haven’t even told me what I’m doing here. How is that going to look to a VC–”
“Henry.” Cohn had given him the Hand. “The guest tonight isn’t a venture capitalist. She’s a client.”
Henry was silent for a moment. “That leads me to another question: where’s the lab? I took a walk around this place and I thought a fertility clinic would have lots of fancy machinery, guys in white coats–”
“Henry.” Now both of Cohn’s hands were held in the air between them. He lowered them to the desk. “You are the fertility clinic.”
“I’m still not getting it.”
“Not to be rude, Henry, but I imagined that a guy with a fourteen-ninety SAT would have figured it out by now.” Cohn leaned forward and lowered his voice for his next sentence. “The New Mexico study found a correlation between the symmetry of a man’s physical attributes and his partner’s probability of orgasm. And a female’s orgasm, of course, increases her chances of becoming pregnant.”
Henry looked at the flowing fountain that was now painfully brilliant in the light of a sun hanging just above the roof of the “clinic.” “You want me to become a male prostitute?”
Cohn let out a chuckle as he reached for the pack of cigarettes sitting on a corner of his desk. “Hardly a prostitute, Henry. Think of yourself as a ‘fertility specialist.’”
Henry was out of his chair so quickly that he knocked it backward onto the glass coffee table behind. Both men stood, Cohn holding an unlit cigarette in his hand, and both stared at the glass cracked by the heavy wood of the chair.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll do this for the couples who are having trouble conceiving children. Many of them have lost all hope.” Cohn’s cigarette was waving in the air along with his hands. “Say you’ll be part of a new movement, an opportunity to not only bring joy into the lives of others, but also to pass on the aptitude that you carry in your genes!”
Henry looked from the cracked glass to the crotch of his Levi’s. He sucked in a gulp of air, then let it out with a long sigh. “Whatever.”