Chapter no 14

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

My name is Don Tillman and I am an alcoholic. I formed these words in my head but I did not say them out loud, not because I was drunk (which I was) but because it seemed that if I said them, they would be true, and I would have no choice but to follow the rational path, which was to stop drinking permanently.

My intoxication was a result of the Father Project—specifically the need to gain competence as a drinks waiter. I had purchased a cocktail shaker, glasses, olives, lemons, a zester, and a substantial stock of liquor as recommended in e Bartender’s Companion in order to master the mechanical component of cocktail making. It was surprisingly complex, and I am not naturally a dexterous person. In fact, with the exception of rock climbing, which I have not practiced since I was a student, and martial arts, I am clumsy and incompetent at most forms of sports. e expertise in karate and aikido is the result of considerable practice over a long period.

I practiced first for accuracy, then speed. At 11:07 p.m., I was exhausted and decided that it would be interesting to test the cocktails for quality. I made a classic martini, a vodka martini, a margarita, and a cocksucking cowboy—cocktails noted by the book as being among the most popular.

ey were all excellent and tasted far more dierent from one another than ice-cream varieties. I had squeezed more lime juice than was required for the margarita and made a second so as not to waste it.

Research consistently shows that the risks to health outweigh the benefits of drinking alcohol. My argument is that the benefits to my mental health justify the risks. Alcohol seems to both calm me down and elevate my mood, a paradoxical but pleasant combination. And it reduces my discomfort in social situations.

I generally manage my consumption carefully, scheduling two days’ abstinence per week, although the Father Project had caused this rule to be broken a number of times. My level of consumption does not of itself qualify me as an alcoholic. However, I suspect that my strong antipathy toward discontinuing it might do so.

e Mass DNA Collection Subproject was proceeding satisfactorily, and I was working my way through the cocktail book at the required rate. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not destroy brain cells.

As I prepared for bed, I felt a strong desire to telephone Rosie and report on progress. Logically it was not necessary, and it is a waste of eort to report that a project is proceeding to plan, which should be the default assumption. Rationality prevailed. Just.

• • •

Rosie and I met for coee twenty-eight minutes before the reunion function. To my first-class honors degree and PhD, I could now add a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate. e exam had not been dicult.

Rosie was already in server uniform and had brought a male equivalent for me.

“I picked it up early and washed it,” she said. “I didn’t want a karate exhibition.”

She was obviously referring to the Jacket Incident, even though the martial art I had employed was aikido.

I had prepared carefully for the DNA collection—ziplock bags, tissues, and preprinted adhesive labels with the names from the graduation photo. Rosie insisted that we did not need to collect samples from those who had not attended the graduation party, so I crossed out their names. She seemed surprised that I had memorized them, but I was determined not to cause errors due to lack of knowledge.

e reunion was held at a golf club, which seemed odd to me, but I discovered that the facilities were largely for eating and drinking rather than supporting the playing of golf. I also discovered that we were vastly overqualified. ere were regular bar personnel who were responsible for preparing the drinks. Our job was merely to take orders, deliver drinks, and, most important, collect the empty glasses. e hours spent in developing my drink-making skills had apparently been wasted.

e guests began arriving, and I was given a tray of drinks to distribute. I immediately perceived a problem. No name tags! How would we identify the DNA sources? I managed to find Rosie, who had also realized the problem but had a solution, based on her knowledge of social behavior.

“Say to them, ‘Hi, I’m Don and I’ll be looking after you this evening, Doctor—’” She demonstrated how to give the impression that the sentence was incomplete, encouraging them to contribute their names. Extraordinarily, it turned out to work 72.5 percent of the time. I realized that I needed to do this with the women as well, to avoid appearing sexist.

Eamonn Hughes and Peter Enticott, the candidates we had eliminated, arrived. As a family friend, Eamonn must have known Rosie’s profession, and she explained to him that I worked evenings to supplement my academic income. Rosie told Peter Enticott that she did bar work part-time to finance her PhD. Perhaps they both assumed that we had met through working together.

Actually swabbing the glasses discreetly proved the most dicult problem, and I was able to get at most one sample from each tray that I returned to the bar. Rosie was having even more problems.

“I can’t keep track of all the names,” she said frantically, as we passed each other with drinks trays in our hands. It was getting busy and she seemed a little emotional. I sometimes forget that many people are not familiar with basic techniques for remembering data. e success of the subproject would be in my hands.

ere will be adequate opportunity when they sit down,” I said. “ere is no reason for concern.”

I surveyed the tables set for dinner, ten seats per table, plus two with eleven seats, and calculated the attendance at ninety-two. is, of course, included female doctors. Partners had not been invited. ere was a small risk that Rosie’s father was a transsexual. I made a mental note to check the women for signs of male features and test any that appeared doubtful. Overall, however, the numbers looked promising.

When the guests sat down, the mode of service moved from provision of a limited selection of drinks to taking orders. Apparently, this arrangement was unusual. Normally, we would just bring bottles of wine, beer, and water to the table, but as this was an upmarket function, the club was taking orders and we had been told to “push the top shelf stu,” apparently to

increase the club’s profits. It occurred to me that if I did this well, I might be forgiven for any other errors.

I approached one of the tables of eleven. I had already introduced myself to seven of the guests and obtained six names.

I commenced with a woman whose name I already knew. “Greetings, Dr. Collie. What can I get you to drink?”

She looked at me strangely, and for a moment I thought I had made an error with the word-association method I was using and that her name was perhaps Doberman or Poodle. But she did not correct me.

“Just a white wine, thanks.”

“I recommend a margarita. World’s most popular cocktail.” “You’re doing cocktails?”


“In that case,” she said, “I’ll have a martini.” “Standard?”

“Yes, thanks.” Easy.

I turned to the unidentified man beside her and tried the Rosie name-extraction trick. “Greetings, my name is Don and I’ll be looking after you this evening, Doctor—”

“You said you’re doing cocktails?” “Correct.”

“Have you heard of a Rob Roy?” “Of course.”

“Well, put me down for one.” “Sweet, dry, or perfect?” I asked.

One of the men opposite my customer laughed. “Take that, Brian.” “Perfect,” said the man I now knew as Dr. Brian Joyce. ere were two

Brians but I had already identified the first.

Dr. Walsh (female, no transsexual characteristics) ordered a margarita. “Standard, premium, strawberry, mango, melon, or sage and pineapple?”

I asked.

“Sage and pineapple? Why not?”

My next customer was the only remaining unidentified man, the one who had laughed at Brian’s order. He had previously failed to respond to the name-extraction trick. I decided not to repeat it.

“What would you like?” I asked.

“I’ll have a double-coddled Kurdistani sailmaker with a reverse twist,” he said. “Shaken, not stirred.”

I was unfamiliar with this drink but assumed the professionals behind the bar would know it.

“Your name, please?” “Sorry?”

“I require your name. To avoid errors.”

ere was a silence. Dr. Jenny Broadhurst, beside him, said, “His name’s Rod.”

“Dr. Roderick Broadhurst, correct?” I said by way of confirmation. e rule against partners did not apply, of course, to people who were in a relationship with someone from the same class. ere were seven such couples and Jenny was predictably sitting beside her husband.

“What—” started Rod, but Jenny interrupted.

“Quite correct. I’m Jenny and I’ll have a sage and pineapple margarita too, please.” She turned to Rod. “Are you being a jerk? About the sailmaker? Pick on someone with your own complement of synapses.”

Rod looked at her, then at me. “Sorry, mate, just kidding. I’ll have a martini. Standard.”

I collected the remainder of the names and orders without diculty. I understood that Jenny had been trying to tell Rod discreetly that I was unintelligent, presumably because of my waiter role. She had used a neat social trick, which I noted for future use, but had made a factual error which Rod had not corrected. Perhaps one day he or she would make a clinical or research mistake as a result of this misunderstanding.

Before I returned to the bar, I spoke to them again.

ere is no experimental evidence of a correlation between synapse numbers and intelligence level within primate populations. I recommend reading Williams and Herrup, Annual Review of Neuroscience.” I hoped this would be helpful.

Back at the bar, the cocktail orders caused some confusion. Only one of the three bar persons knew how to make a Rob Roy, and then only a conventional one. I gave her the instructions for the perfect version. en there was an ingredient problem with the sage and pineapple margarita. e bar had pineapple (tinned—the book had said “fresh if possible,” so I decided that this would be acceptable) but no sage. I headed for the kitchen, where they could not even oer me dried sage. Obviously this was

not what e Bartender’s Companion had called a “well-stocked bar, ready for any occasion.” e kitchen staff were also busy, but we settled on coriander leaves and I took a quick mental inventory of the bar’s ingredients to avoid further problems of this kind.

Rosie was also taking orders. We had not yet progressed to the stage of collecting glasses, and some people seemed to be drinking quite slowly. I realized that our chances would be improved if there was a high turnover of drinks. Unfortunately, I was unable to encourage faster consumption, as I would be violating my duty as the holder of a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate. I decided to take a middle ground by reminding them of some of the delicious cocktails available.

As I took orders, I observed a change in the dynamic of the ecosystem, evidenced by Rosie’s looking annoyed as she came past me.

“Table five won’t let me take their order. ey want to wait for you.” It appeared that almost everyone wanted cocktails rather than wine. No doubt the proprietors would be pleased with the profit results. Unfortunately it appeared that staff numbers had been calculated on the basis that most orders would be for beer or wine, and the bar personnel were having trouble keeping up. eir knowledge of cocktails was surprisingly poor, and I was having to dictate recipes along with the orders.

e solution to both problems was simple. Rosie went behind the bar to assist while I took all the orders myself. A good memory was a huge asset, as I did not need to write anything down or process just one table at a time. I took orders for the whole room, then relayed them back to the bar at consistent intervals. If people needed “time to think,” I left them and returned rather than waiting. I was actually running rather than walking, and increased my word rate to the maximum that I considered comprehensible. e process was very ecient and seemed to be appreciated by the diners, who would occasionally applaud when I was able to propose a drink to meet a particular requirement or replayed a table’s orders when they were concerned that I might have misheard.

People were finishing their drinks, and I found that I could swab three glasses between the dining room and the bar. e remainder I grouped together and indicated to Rosie as I left the tray on the bar, rapidly advising her of the owners’ names.

She seemed a little pressured. I was enjoying myself immensely. I had the presence of mind to check the cream supplies before dessert was served.

Predictably, the quantity was insucient for the number of cocktails I expected to sell to complement the mango mousse and sticky date pudding. Rosie headed for the kitchen to find more. When I returned to the bar, one of the barmen called out to me, “I’ve got the boss on the phone. He’s bringing cream. Do you need anything else?” I surveyed the shelves and made some predictions based on the “ten most popular dessert cocktails.”

“Brandy, Galliano, crème de menthe, Cointreau, advocaat, dark rum, light rum.”

“Slow down, slow down,” he said.

I wasn’t slowing down now. I was, as they say, on a roll.

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