Chapter no 6

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

Approximately two hours after Gene left my oce with the completed Wife Project questionnaires, there was a knock on the door. I was weighing student essays, an activity that is not forbidden, but I suspect only because nobody is aware that I am doing it. It was part of a project to reduce the eort of assessment by looking for easily measured parameters such as the inclusion of a table of contents or a typed versus handwritten cover sheet, factors which might provide as good an indication of quality as the tedious process of reading the entire assignment.

I slipped the scales under my desk as the door opened, and looked up to see a woman I did not recognize standing in the doorway. I estimated her age as thirty and her body mass index at twenty.

“Professor Tillman?”

As my name is on the door, this was not a particularly astute question. “Correct.”

“Professor Barrow suggested I see you.”

I was amazed at Gene’s eciency and looked at the woman more carefully as she approached my desk. ere were no obvious signs of unsuitability. I did not detect any makeup. Her body shape and skin tone were consistent with health and fitness. She wore glasses with heavy frames that revived bad memories of Apricot Ice Cream Woman, a long black T-shirt that was torn in several places, and a black belt with metal chains. It was lucky that the jewelry question had been deleted, because she was wearing big metal earrings and an interesting pendant around her neck.

Although I am usually oblivious to dress, hers seemed incompatible with my expectation of a highly qualified academic or professional and with the summer weather. I could only guess that she was self-employed or on

vacation and, freed from workplace rules, had chosen her clothes randomly. I could relate to this.

ere had been quite a long gap since either of us spoke and I realized it must be my turn. I looked up from the pendant and remembered Gene’s instructions.

“How about we do dinner tonight?”

She seemed surprised at my question, then replied, “Yeah, right. How about we do dinner? How about Le Gavroche and you’re paying?”

“Excellent. I’ll make a reservation for eight p.m.” “You’re kidding.”

It was an odd response. Why would I make a confusing joke with someone I barely knew?

“No. Is eight p.m. tonight acceptable?”

“Let me get this straight. You’re oering to buy me dinner at Le Gavroche tonight?”

Coming on top of the question about my name, I was beginning to think that this woman was what Gene would call “not the sharpest tool in the shed.” I considered backing out, or at least employing some delaying tactic until I could check her questionnaire, but could not think of any socially acceptable way to do this, so I just confirmed that she had interpreted my oer correctly. She turned and left and I realized that I did not even know her name.

I called Gene immediately. ere seemed to be some confusion on his part at first, followed by mirth. Perhaps he had not expected me to handle the candidate so eectively.

“Her name’s Rosie,” he said. “And that’s all I’m telling you. Have fun.

And remember what I said about sex.”

Gene’s failure to provide me with more details was unfortunate, because a problem arose. Le Gavroche did not have a table available at the agreed time. I tried to locate Rosie’s profile on my computer, and for once the photos were useful. e woman who had come to my oce did not look like any candidate whose name began with R. She must have been one of the paper responses. Gene had left and his phone was o.

I was forced to take action that was not strictly illegal but doubtless immoral. I justified it on the basis that it would be more immoral to fail to meet my commitment to Rosie. Le Gavroche’s online reservation system

had a facility for VIPs. I made a reservation under the name of the Dean after logging on using relatively unsophisticated hacking software.

I arrived at 7:59 p.m. e restaurant was located in a major hotel. I chained my bike in the foyer, as it was raining heavily outside. Fortunately it was not cold and my Gore-Tex jacket had done an excellent job of protecting me. My T-shirt was not even damp underneath.

A man in uniform approached me. He pointed toward the bike, but I spoke before he had a chance to complain.

“My name is Professor Lawrence and I interacted with your reservation system at five eleven p.m.”

It appeared that the ocial did not know the Dean or assumed that I was another Professor Lawrence, because he just checked a clipboard and nodded. I was impressed with the eciency, though it was now 8:01 p.m. and Rosie was not there. Perhaps she was (b) a little early and already seated.

But then a problem arose.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we have a dress code,” said the ocial.

I knew about this. It was in bold type on the website: Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket.

“No jacket, no food, correct?” “More or less, sir.”

What can I say about this sort of rule? I was prepared to keep my jacket on throughout the meal. e restaurant would presumably be air-conditioned to a temperature compatible with the requirement.

I continued toward the restaurant entrance, but the ocial blocked my path. “I’m sorry. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You need to wear a jacket.”

“I’m wearing a jacket.”

“I’m afraid we require something a little more formal, sir.”

e hotel employee indicated his own jacket as an example. In defense of what followed, I submit the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact, 2nd Edition) definition of jacket: “1(a) An outer garment for the upper part of the body.”

I also note that the word jacket appears on the care instructions for my relatively new and perfectly clean Gore-Tex jacket. But it seemed his definition of jacket was limited to “conventional suit jacket.”

“We would be happy to lend you one, sir. In this style.”

“You have a supply of jackets? In every possible size?” I did not add that the need to maintain such an inventory was surely evidence of their failure

to communicate the rule clearly, and that it would be more ecient to improve their wording or abandon the rule altogether. Nor did I mention that the cost of jacket purchase and cleaning must add to the price of their meals. Did their customers know that they were subsidizing a jacket warehouse?

“I wouldn’t know about that, sir,” he said. “Let me organize a jacket.”

Needless to say I was uncomfortable at the idea of being redressed in an item of public clothing of dubious cleanliness. For a few moments, I was overwhelmed by the sheer unreasonableness of the situation. I was already under stress, preparing for the second encounter with a woman who might become my life partner. And now the institution that I was paying to supply us with a meal—the service provider who should surely be doing everything possible to make me comfortable—was putting arbitrary obstacles in my way. My Gore-Tex jacket, the high-technology garment that had protected me in rain and snowstorms, was being irrationally, unfairly, and obstructively contrasted with the ocial’s essentially decorative woolen equivalent. I had paid $1,015 for it, including $120 extra for the customized reflective yellow. I outlined my argument.

“My jacket is superior to yours by all reasonable criteria: impermeability to water, visibility in low light, storage capacity.” I unzipped the jacket to display the internal pockets and continued, “Speed of drying, resistance to food stains, hood . . .”

e ocial was still showing no interpretable reaction, although I had almost certainly raised my voice.

“Vastly superior tensile strength . . .”

To illustrate this last point, I took the lapel of the employee’s jacket in my hands. I obviously had no intention of tearing it, but I was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknown person who attempted to throw me to the ground. I automatically responded with a safe, low-impact throw to disable him without dislodging my glasses. e term low impact applies to a martial arts practitioner who knows how to fall. is person did not and landed heavily.

I turned to see him: he was large and angry. In order to prevent further violence, I was forced to sit on him.

“Get the fuck off me. I’ll fucking kill you,” he said.

On that basis, it seemed illogical to grant his request. At that point another man arrived and tried to drag me o. Concerned that ug

Number One would carry out his threat, I had no choice but to disable

ug Number Two as well. No one was seriously hurt, but it was a very awkward social situation, and I could feel my mind shutting down.

Fortunately, Rosie arrived.

Jacket Man said, apparently in surprise, “Rosie!”

Obviously he knew her. She looked from him to me and said, “Professor Tillman—Don—what’s going on?”

“You’re late,” I said. “We have a social problem.” “You know this man?” said Jacket Man to Rosie.

“What do you think, I guessed his name?” Rosie sounded belligerent and I thought this might not be the best approach. Surely we should seek to apologize and leave. I was assuming we would not now be eating in the restaurant.

A small crowd had gathered and it occurred to me that another thug might arrive, so I needed to work out a way of freeing up a hand without releasing the original two thugs. In the process one poked the other in the eye, and their anger levels increased noticeably. Jacket Man added, “He assaulted Jason.”

Rosie replied, “Right. Poor Jason. Always the victim.” I could now see her. She was wearing a black dress without decoration, thick-soled black boots, and vast amounts of silver jewelry on her arms. Her red hair was spiky like some new species of cactus. I have heard the word stunning used to describe women, but this was the first time I had actually been stunned by one. It was not just the costume or the jewelry or any individual characteristic of Rosie herself: it was their combined eect. I was not sure if her appearance would be regarded as conventionally beautiful or even acceptable to the restaurant that had rejected my jacket. Stunning was the perfect word for it. But what she did was even more stunning. She took her phone from her bag and pointed it at us. It flashed twice. Jacket Man moved to take it from her.

“Don’t you fucking think about it,” Rosie said. “I’m going to have so much fun with these photos that these guys will never stand on a door again. Professor teaches bouncers a lesson.”

As Rosie was speaking, a man in a chef ’s hat arrived. He spoke briefly to Jacket Man and Rosie, and on the basis that we would be permitted to leave without further harassment, Rosie asked me to release my assailants. We all got to our feet, and in keeping with tradition, I bowed, then extended my

hand to the two men, who I had concluded must be security personnel.

ey had only been doing what they were paid for and had risked injury in the course of their duties. It seemed that they were not expecting the formalities, but then one of them laughed and shook my hand, and the other followed his example. It was a good resolution, but I no longer felt like eating at the restaurant.

I collected my bike and we walked into the street. I expected Rosie to be angry about the incident, but she was smiling. I asked her how she knew Jacket Man.

“I used to work there.”

“You selected the restaurant because you were familiar with it?”

“You could say that. I wanted to stick it up them.” She began to laugh. “Maybe not quite that much.”

I told her that her solution was brilliant.

“I work in a bar,” she said. “Not just a bar—the Marquess of Queensbury. I deal with jerks for a living.”

I pointed out that if she had arrived on schedule, she could have used her social skills and the violence would have been unnecessary.

“Glad I was late then. at was judo, right?”

“Aikido.” As we crossed the road, I switched my bike to my other side, between Rosie and me. “I’m also proficient in karate, but aikido was more appropriate.”

“No way. It takes forever to learn that stu, doesn’t it?” “I commenced at seven.”

“How often do you train?”

ree times per week, except in the case of illness, public holidays, and travel to overseas conferences.”

“What got you into it?” asked Rosie. I pointed to my glasses.

“Revenge of the nerds,” she said.

is is the first time I’ve required it for self-defense since I was at school. It’s primarily for fitness.” I had relaxed a little, and Rosie had provided an opportunity to slip in a question from the Wife Project questionnaire. “Do you exercise regularly?”

“Depends what you call regularly.” She laughed. “I’m the unfittest person on the planet.”

“Exercise is extremely important for maintaining health.”

“So my dad tells me. He’s a personal trainer. Constantly on my case. He gave me a gym membership for my birthday. At his gym. He has this idea we should train for a triathlon together.”

“Surely you should follow his advice,” I said.

“Fuck, I’m almost thirty. I don’t need my dad telling me what to do.” She changed the subject. “Listen, I’m starving. Let’s get a pizza.”

I was not prepared to consider a restaurant after the preceding trauma. I told her that I intended to revert to my original plan for the evening, which was cooking at home.

“Got enough for two?” she asked. “You still owe me dinner.”

is was true, but there had been too many unscheduled events already in my day.

“Come on. I won’t criticize your cooking. I can’t cook to save my life.”

I was not concerned about my cooking being criticized. But the lack of cooking skills on her part was the third fault so far in terms of the Wife Project questionnaire, after the late arrival and the lack of fitness. ere was almost certainly a fourth: it was unlikely that her profession as waitress and barmaid was consistent with the specified intellectual level. ere was no point in continuing.

Before I could protest, Rosie had flagged down a minivan taxi with sucient capacity for my bike.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

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