Chapter no 15

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

e boss, a middle-aged man (estimated BMI twenty-seven), arrived with the additional supplies just in time for dessert and did some reorganization of the process behind the bar. Dessert was great fun, although it was hard to hear orders over the volume of conversation. I sold primarily the cream-based cocktails, which most of the diners were unfamiliar with but responded to enthusiastically.

As the food waiters cleared the dessert dishes, I made a rough mental calculation of our coverage. It depended a great deal on Rosie, but I believed we had samples from at least eighty-five percent of the males. Good, but not optimum use of our opportunity. Having ascertained the names of the guests, I had determined that all but twelve of the Caucasian males from the graduation party were present. e missing twelve included Alan McPhee, unable to attend owing to death, but already eliminated by means of his daughter’s hairbrush.

I headed for the bar, and Dr. Ralph Browning followed me. “Can I bother you for another Cadillac? at was maybe the best drink I’ve ever had.”

e bar staff were packing up, but the boss said to Rosie, “Make the man a Cadillac.”

Jenny and Rod Broadhurst appeared from the dining room. “Make that three,” said Rod.

e other bar personnel surrounded the owner, and there was a conversation.

ese guys have to go,” said the boss to me, shrugging his shoulders. He turned to Rosie. “Double time?”

Meanwhile, the diners were forming a throng around the bar, raising their hands for attention.

Rosie handed a Cadillac to Dr. Browning, then turned to the boss. “Sorry, I need at least two to stay. I can’t run a bar for a hundred people by myself.”

“Me and him,” said the boss, pointing to me.

Finally, I had a chance to use my expertise. Rosie lifted the hinged part of the bar and let me through.

Dr. Miranda Ball raised her hand. “Same again, please.”

I called to Rosie, loudly, as the bar area was now very noisy. “Miranda Ball. Alabama slammer. One part each sloe gin, whisky, Galliano, triple sec, orange juice, orange slice, and a cherry.”

“We’re out of triple sec,” yelled Rosie.

“Substitute Cointreau. Reduce the quantity by twenty percent.”

Dr. Lucas put his finished drink on the bar and raised his finger. One more.

“Gerry Lucas. Empty glass,” I called.

Rosie took the glass: I hoped she realized that we didn’t have a sample for him yet.

“Another anal probe for Dr. Lucas.”

“Got that,” she called from the kitchen. Excellent, she had remembered to swab.

Dr. Martin van Krieger called out, loudly, “Is there a cocktail with Galliano and tequila?”

e crowd quieted. is sort of question had become common during dinner, and the guests had seemed impressed with my responses. I took a few moments to think.

Martin called out again, “Don’t worry if there isn’t.”

“I’m reindexing my internal database,” I said, to explain the delay. It took a few moments. “Mexican gold or Freddy Fudpucker.” e crowd applauded.

“One of each,” he said.

Rosie knew how to make a Freddy Fudpucker. I gave the boss the Mexican gold recipe.

We continued in this mode, with great success. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to test all male doctors present, including those I had previously filtered out because of incompatible ethnic

appearance. At 1:22 a.m. I was confident that we had tested all but one person. It was time to be proactive.

“Dr. Anwar Khan. Approach the bar, please.” It was an expression I had heard used on television. I hoped it carried the required authority.

Dr. Khan had drunk only from his water glass and had carried it with him to the bar.

“You haven’t ordered a drink all night,” I said. “Is that a problem? I don’t drink alcohol.”

“Very wise,” I said, although I was providing a bad example, with a beer open beside me. “I recommend a virgin colada. Virgin Mary. Virgin—”

At this moment, Dr. Eva Gold put her arm around Dr. Khan. She was obviously aected by alcohol. “Loosen up, Anwar.”

Dr. Khan looked back at her, and then at the crowd, who were, in my assessment, also exhibiting the eects of intoxication.

“What the hell,” he said. “Line up the virgins.” He put his empty glass on the bar.

• • •

I did not leave the golf club until very late. e last guests departed at 2:32 a.m., two hours and two minutes after the scheduled completion time. Rosie, the boss, and I had made 143 cocktails. Rosie and the boss had also sold some beer, which I did not keep track of.

“You guys can go,” said the boss. “We’ll clean up in the morning.” He extended his hand to me and I shook it according to custom, although it seemed very late for introductions. “Amghad,” he said. “Nice work, guys.”

He didn’t shake Rosie’s hand but looked at her and smiled. I noticed that she was looking a little tired. I was still full of energy.

“Got time for a drink?” said Amghad. “Excellent idea.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Rosie. “I’m going. All the stu’s in your bag. You don’t want a lift, Don?”

I had my cycle and had only drunk three beers over the course of a long evening. I estimated that my blood alcohol would be well below the legal limit, even after a drink with Amghad. Rosie departed.

“What’s your poison?” said Amghad. “Poison?”

“What do you want to drink?”

Of course. But why, why, why can’t people just say what they mean? “Beer, please.”

Amghad opened two pale ales and we clicked bottles. “How long have you been doing this?” he asked.

ough some deception had been necessary for the purposes of the Father Project, I was not comfortable with it.

is is my first work in the field,” I said. “Did I make some error?” Amghad laughed. “Funny guy. Listen,” he said. “is place here is okay,

but it’s mostly steak and beer and midrange wine. Tonight was a one-o, and mainly because of you.” He drank some beer and looked at me without speaking for a while. “I’ve been thinking of opening in North Melbourne— a little cocktail bar with a bit of flair. New York feel, but something a bit extra behind the bar, if you know what I mean. If you’re interested—”

He was oering me a job! is was flattering, considering my limited experience, and my immediate irrational thought was that I wished Rosie had been present to witness it.

“I already have a job. ank you.”

“I’m not talking about a job. I’m talking about a share in a business.” “No, thank you,” I said. “I’m sorry. But I think you would find me


“Maybe, but I’m a pretty good judge. Give me a call if you change your mind. I’m in no hurry.”

• • •

e following day was Sunday.

Rosie and I arranged to meet at the lab at 3:00 p.m. She was predictably late, and I was already at work. I confirmed that we had obtained samples from all attendees at the reunion, meaning we had now tested all but eleven of the Caucasian males in the class.

Rosie arrived in tight blue jeans and a white shirt and headed for the refrigerator. “No beer until all samples are tested,” I said.

e work took some time, and I needed to source additional chemicals from the main laboratory.

At 7:06 p.m. Rosie went out for pizza, an unhealthy choice, but I had missed dinner the previous night and calculated that my body would be able to process the extra kilojoules. When she returned, I was testing the

fourth-to-last candidate. As we were opening the pizza, my mobile phone rang. I realized immediately who it was.

“You didn’t answer at home,” said my mother. “I was worried.” is was a reasonable reaction on her part, as her Sunday phone call is part of my weekly schedule. “Where are you?”

“At work.”

“Are you all right?” “I’m fine.”

It was embarrassing to have Rosie listen to a personal conversation, and I did everything I could to terminate it quickly, keeping my responses as brief as possible. Rosie started laughing—fortunately not loudly enough for my mother to hear—and making funny faces.

“Your mother?” she said, when I was finally able to hang up. “Correct. How did you guess?”

“You sound like any sixteen-year-old boy talking to his mum in front of

—” She stopped. My annoyance must have been obvious. “Or me talking to Phil.”

It was interesting that Rosie also found conversation with a parent dicult. My mother is a good person but very focused on sharing personal information. Rosie picked up a slice of pizza and looked at the computer screen.

“I’m guessing no news.”

“Plenty of news. Five more eliminated, only four to go. Including this one.” e result had come up while I was on the phone. “Delete Anwar Khan.”

Rosie updated the spreadsheet. “Allah be praised.”

“World’s most complicated drink order,” I reminded her. Dr. Khan had ordered five dierent drinks, compensating for his abstinence earlier in the evening. At the end of the night, he had left with his arm around Dr. Gold.

“Yeah, and I messed it up too. Put rum in the virgin colada.”

“You gave him alcohol?” I presumed this was in violation of his personal or religious standards.

“Maybe he’ll miss out on his seventy-two virgins.”

I was familiar with this religious theory. My public position, as negotiated with the Dean, is that I regard all nonscience-based beliefs as having equal merit. But I found this one curious.

“Seems irrational,” I said, “wanting virgins. Surely a woman with sexual experience would be preferable to a novice.”

Rosie laughed and opened two beers. en she stared at me, in the way that I am not supposed to do to others. “Amazing. You. You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I don’t know why you’re doing this, but thanks.” She tapped her bottle against mine and drank.

It was enjoyable to be appreciated, but this was exactly what I had been worried about when I spoke to Claudia. Now Rosie was asking about my motives. She had applied for the Wife Project and presumably had expectations on that basis. It was time to be honest.

“Presumably you think it’s in order to initiate a romantic relationship.” “e thought had crossed my mind,” said Rosie.

Assumption confirmed.

“I’m extremely sorry if I’ve created an incorrect impression.” “What do you mean?” said Rosie.

“I’m not interested in you as a partner. I should have told you earlier, but you’re totally unsuitable.” I tried to gauge Rosie’s reaction, but the interpretation of facial expressions is not one of my strengths.

“Well, you’ll be pleased to know I can cope. I think you’re pretty unsuitable too,” she said.

is was a relief. I hadn’t hurt her feelings. But it did leave a question unanswered.

en why did you apply for the Wife Project?” I was using the word apply loosely, as Gene had not required Rosie to complete the questionnaire. But her answer suggested a more serious level of miscommunication.

“Wife Project?” she said, as if she had never heard of it.

“Gene sent you to me as a candidate for the Wife Project. A wild card.” “He did what?”

“You haven’t heard of the Wife Project?” I asked, trying to establish the correct starting point.

“No,” she said, speaking in the tone that is traditionally used for giving instructions to a child. “I have never heard of the Wife Project. But I’m about to. In detail.”

“Of course,” I said. “But we should time-share it with pizza consumption and beer drinking.”

“Of course,” said Rosie.

I explained in some detail about the Wife Project, including the review with Gene and field visits to dating establishments. I finished as we consumed the final slices of pizza. Rosie had not really asked any questions except to make exclamations such as “Jesus” and “Fuck.”

“So,” said Rosie, “are you still doing it? e Wife Project?”

I explained that the project was still technically active, but in the absence of any qualified candidates there had been no progress.

“What a shame,” said Rosie. “e perfect woman hasn’t checked in yet.” “I would assume that there is more than one candidate who meets the

criteria,” I said, “but it’s like finding a bone-marrow donor. Not enough registrations.”

“I can only hope that enough women realize their civic duty and take the test.”

It was an interesting comment. I didn’t really feel it was a duty. In the last few weeks, reflecting on the Wife Project and its lack of success, I had felt sad that there were so many women who were looking for partners and desperate enough to register, even though there was only a low probability that they would meet the criteria.

“It’s entirely optional,” I said.

“How nice for them. Here’s a thought for you. Any woman who takes that test is willing to be treated as an object. You can say that’s their choice. But if you spent two minutes looking at how much society forces women to think of themselves as objects, you might not think so. What I want to know is, do you want a woman who thinks like that? Is that the sort of wife you want?” Rosie was sounding angry. “You know why I dress the way I do? Why these glasses? Because I don’t want to be treated as an object. If you knew how insulted I am that you think I was an applicant, a candidate—”

en why did you come to see me that day?” I asked. “e day of the Jacket Incident?”

She shook her head. “Remember at your apartment, on your balcony, I asked you a question about the size of testicles?”

I nodded.

“It didn’t strike you as odd that here I was, on a first date, asking about testicles?”

“Not really. On a date I’m too focused on not saying odd things myself.” “Okay, strike that.” She seemed a little calmer. “e reason I asked the question was that I had a bet with Gene. Gene, who is a sexist pig, bet me

that humans were naturally nonmonogamous, and that the evidence was the size of their testicles. He sent me to a genetics expert to settle the bet.”

It took me a few moments to process fully the implications of what Rosie was saying. Gene had not prepared her for the dinner invitation. A woman—Rosie—had accepted an oer of a date with me without being prewarned, set up. I was suused with an irrationally disproportionate sense of satisfaction. But Gene had misled me. And it seemed he had taken advantage of Rosie financially.

“Did you lose much money?” I asked. “It seems exploitative for a professor of psychology to make a bet with a barmaid.”

“I’m not a fucking barmaid.”

I could tell by the use of the obscenity that Rosie was getting angry again. But she could hardly contradict the evidence. I realized my error— one that would have caused trouble if I had made it in front of a class.


Bartender is the established nonsexist term,” she said. “at’s not the point. It’s my part-time job. I’m doing my PhD in psychology, okay? In Gene’s department. Does that make sense now?”

Of course! I suddenly remembered where I had seen her before—arguing with Gene after his public lecture. I recalled that Gene had asked her to have coee with him—as he habitually did with attractive women—but that she had refused. For some reason I felt pleased about this. But if I had recognized her when she first came to my oce, the whole misunderstanding could have been avoided. Everything now made sense, including the performance she had given in her medical school inquiry. Except for two things.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I am a barmaid, and I’m not ashamed of it. You can take me or leave me as a barmaid.” I assumed she was speaking metaphorically.

“Excellent,” I said. “at explains almost everything.”

“Oh, that’s fine, then. Why the ‘almost’? Don’t feel you have to leave anything hanging.”

“Why Gene didn’t tell me.” “Because he’s an asshole.” “Gene is my best friend.” “God help you,” she said.

With matters clarified, it was time to finish the project, although our chances of finding the father tonight were looking poor. Fourteen candidates remained and we had only three samples left. I got up and walked to the machine.

“Listen,” said Rosie. “I’m going to ask you again. Why are you doing this?”

I remembered my reflection on this question and the answer I had reached involving scientific challenge and altruism to adjacent humans. But as I began my explanation, I realized that it was not true. Tonight we had corrected numerous invalid assumptions and errors in communication. I should not create a new one.

“I don’t know,” I said.

I turned back to the machine and began to load the sample. My work was interrupted by a sudden smashing of glass. Rosie had thrown a beaker, fortunately not one containing an untested sample, against the wall.

“I am so so over this.” She walked out.

• • •

e next morning there was a knock at my oce door. Rosie. “Enter,” I said. “I assume you want to know the final three results.”

Rosie walked unnaturally slowly to my desk, where I was reviewing some potentially life-changing data. “No,” she said. “I figured they were negative. Even you would have phoned if you’d gotten a match.”


She stood and looked at me without saying anything. I am aware that such silences are provided as opportunities for me to speak further, but I could think of nothing useful to say. Finally, she filled the gap.

“Hey—sorry I blew up last night.”

“Totally understandable. It’s incredibly frustrating to work so hard for no result. But very common in science.” I remembered that she was a science graduate, as well as a barmaid. “As you know.”

“I meant your Wife Project. I think it’s wrong, but you’re no dierent from every other man I know in objectifying women—just more honest about it. Anyway, you’ve done so much for me—”

“A communication error. Fortunately now rectified. We can proceed with the Father Project without the personal aspect.”

“Not till I understand why you’re doing it.”

at dicult question again. But she had been happy to proceed when she thought that my motivation was romantic interest even though she did not reciprocate that interest.

ere has been no change in my motivation,” I said, truthfully. “It was your motivation that was a concern. I thought you were interested in me as a partner. Fortunately, that assumption was based on false information.”

“Shouldn’t you be spending the time on your objectification project?”

e question was perfectly timed. e data I was looking at on my screen indicated a major breakthrough.

“Good news. I have an applicant who satisfies all requirements.” “Well,” said Rosie, “you won’t be needing me.”

is was a truly strange response. I hadn’t needed Rosie for anything other than her own project.

You'll Also Like