I pull into my parking space in front of the Leoch building in an excellent mood. It is a fine Spring morning in Boston, I have a cup of coffee and a bagel in hand, I am a branch manager of Leoch Foods Inc., well paid, well respected, and, though I say it myself, well dressed.
I walk though the front door and greet Mrs. Fitz – our cheery, redoubtable receptionist, and then step blithely into the elevator that opens the very moment I walk up to it, as if by magic.
Life is so good, it's almost too good to be true.
And so, of course, it is.
Mary Hawkins, my secretary, comes up to me the minute I get out of the elevator, saying in a low voice, "M-miss Claire? Y-you have a visitor, m-miss."
"At this time of day? Who?"
She looks instantly highly uncomfortable, "H-him." She gestures vaguely.
I wrinkle my forehead in confusion, "Him?"
"Who is "him"?"
She gestures again, "Y-you know. Him."
My eyes go wide, "Him? He has the gall to show his face around here? After last year?"
"You've put him in my office?"
I hand her my coffee and the small bag containing my bagel. "Guard these, will you Mary?"
"Yes m-miss," she smiles, and walks before me into our office space.
I give a bit of a nod to most of the folks who say hello to me from the general office area, but most of my attention is on the clear glass wall of my corner office – behind which I can see the tall, imposing figure of my visitor.
My highly, highly unwelcome visitor.
I smooth the front of my skirt suit, and shake my curls back behind my shoulders, and walk boldly into my office.
I sit down behind my desk, turn on my computer, and do most of the rest of my morning set-up routine before I let myself acknowledge him, and even then I don't say anything – choosing instead to merely stare expectantly at him.
"Weel, an' a right good mornin' tae ye as weel, Ms. Beauchamp," he says, huffily.
"What do you want, Dougal?"
"Weel now. A polite good mornin' for a start. . ."
I clench my jaw, "Good morning. What do you want?"
His eyes twinkle, slyly, "Ah yes, ye'er always a businesswoman furst, a'course, Ms. Beauchamp, how could I ha' forgotten?"
"How indeed," I say flatly, "What do you want?"
"Weel now, tha's nae small question. Y'see it's this way. . ."
He launches into an over-wordy, and clearly rehearsed spiel, so full of flattery and flowery language it would be positively indecent to repeat it, but a few key phrases do stand out.
"My nephew. . ."
"Green card. . ."
"Really, all quite legal. . . "
"It would be a shame if. . ."
"The children, you see. . ."
"An' all because of a stupid clerical error. . ."
"Wouldnae need tae be any real inconvenience tae ye at all. . ."
By this point, I've had quite enough.
"Stop, stop, Dougal. . ." I sigh, "Let me see if I'm understanding you, okay?"
He shrugs, "Go ahead."
"Your nephew needs to get married in order to continue to live and work in the U.S. Right?"
"And, presumably, he wants to marry a woman, yes?"
"And due to a highly unfortunate clerical error, this marriage needs to happen within the next two days."
"Ye'er three fer three."
"So. . ." I rub my temples, "The first person – the first person – you thought to ask for such a massive favour. . . was the woman who won a workplace harassment suit against you last year?"
"Aye, a'course," he nods, "Ye'er the perfect choice."
"Now see, that's where you lose me. . ."
"Agch, come on – isnae it obvious?"
"Not to me, it isn't."
"Now then, las-," he checks himself sharply as he remembers the exact terms of our court settlement, "Ms. Beauchamp," he amends, "Don't ye see? That lawsuit means ye'er the last person in the world tae be marrying wee Jamie for convenience – an' ye most ceartainly wouldnae be doin' so as a personal favour tae me!"
My lips twist into a sneer.
"Correct on both counts. So why should I? Why would I? At all?"
He takes out his phone and taps it a few times, handing it to me once he's brought up the right picture, "Heer. Tak a look."
The photo is of a tall, red-headed, shockingly handsome man, sitting on a towel at the beach, grinning ecstatically into the camera while he plays with four little girls – the two larger of which have his long red curls, while the third has long brown braids, and the smallest - heartrendingly tiny – is almost impossibly blonde. They are all grinning at the camera too, even as they clamber all over his legs and arms.
"He's a widower, y'see," says Dougal, smoothly, "He's only in this country for his job, an' he only works at his job sae he can support his girls. Think of it as doin' them a favour, no' me, aye?"
I scoff, "As if I'd ever do you a favour."
"Precisely," he nods, and takes back his phone, "Sae will ye do it?"
I cross my arms and narrow my eyes at him. I'm still suspicious. He hasn't yet explained what he is getting out of all of this. And I'm sure he is getting something – Dougal MacKenzie isn't the man to go to any trouble for purely altruistic reasons, let alone this much trouble.
But the thought of that smiling, caring father, and his four loving, happy girls has touched me, I must admit. Dougal always did know how to play the sob story angle. In fact, if it hadn't been for a very canny judge, he might have had my harassment case against him thrown out of court. He came within a hair's breadth of it anyway.
But thankfully, the Honourable Geillis Duncan had seen through him, right enough. Just like I can now.
But, that man, and those girls – they aren't just a sob story. They're real, and in need. In need of something I can do.
I think again of those wide, joyous smiles, and that sweet-eyed, handsome face. . .
"Give me until lunchtime to think about it."
He shrugs, nonchalantly, "Aye, fair enough."
After he leaves, I retrieve my coffee and bagel from Mary, in a towering, despicable, horrendous mood.