Rob Ruskin put an ad for the job on Craigslist: Wanted attractive, intelligent girlfriend, who will love, cherish and respect me, tolerate my family, friends and bad habits. Salary: $5000 a month.
The firm’s receptionist, Adele, at once sylph, salamander, undine, gnome, was trusted with the task of sifting through applicants. That Rob was an attorney, a partner, and she not yet at the assistant’s level sought, made it risky and complicated. He told her it was an experiment in which these women would serve as a control group against those who would volunteer for the position.
Adele worked at this on her own time. She kept her ideal in mind—Carla Bruni. The photos she’d seen of France’s first lady, the documentary she’d caught, the Barbara Walters interview in which subject seduced the first lady of celebrity journalism, all convinced her that Bruni was someone who truly loved being a woman. “I Enoy Being A Girl,” she could hear the supreme coquette chanteuse sing in French in her head. This was in spite of lyrics that would deny Bruni the chutzpah of making good use of her writing talent and poetic sense. Adele understood she deserved full credit for keeping her own name and career and thus qualified as the ultimate post-feminist femme fatale.
Adele assumed this was really what Rob wanted: the slightly poorer man’s Carla Bruni, a beautiful and even scandalous woman with no regrets. Adele hoped to narrow it down to ten women who were the best of the mass response, but whom all, naturally, failed to measure up to even Adele’s own merits.
“Good self-promotion,” Rob said, sticking out his lower jaw to the new attorney in entertainment contracts who just told the client standing in front of them that most of the time lawyers only mess up the deal.
“It was nice to meet you,” the new attorney said, sheepishly, as the client nodded, glancing down at her gold sandals and painted fuchsia toes then at Rob, who continued to walk her to the door.
“Thank you,” the client said to Adele at the front desk. Adele’s eyes swept the length of her, and waved her out. Rob touched the middle of the client’s back, which was bare in the low scoop of her striped navy top.
“I’ll call you in two days once I’ve emailed the DEC, and we’ll go over the changes.”
“I appreciate everything so much,” the client said, shaking Rob’s hand. “I’m truly grateful.”
Adele watched the client go through the door, and looked up at Rob with lips spreading into a crooked plush line across her thin face.
“What?” Rob asked, putting up his hands in surrender. “I like valley girls. She’s a nice lady, and her ex-husband is a real pussy.”
“What do you have for me?” Rob lowered his voice though the new attorney’s door was now closed.
“It’s shaping up,” Adele said, taking the restroom key from the hook.
“You know, I’m not being cynical about this,” Rob said with open robin blue eyes, his peppered black hair sprung from his scalp and defied taming with gel.
Adele got up, and pressed her light cotton pants flat against her narrow, square bottom.
“I’m not even ironical,” he added.
“Sure, I know that.”
“Hot April,” Rob said, watching Adele as she slipped through the door.
Though she had been a cutter in her teens, Adele held the record for thirty-yard dash all three years of middle school and swam competitively in high school. She did not have the shoulders to show for it, and was thankful for that. Adele was twenty-six, motherless since the age of seven, and a stickler intolerant of woe.
Rob was barely forty, divorced for six years, childless though in family law, and a frequent offender of gross generalization. He would have played football if he weren’t so short and ill tempered with coaches and umpires. He viewed judges with less resentment, even empathy. He thought himself to be a softie with women, and felt sorry for himself, even though he was rarely without possibilities for a date.
Adele had coffee or lunch with the ten women she had boiled the Craigslist responders down to, the rest were eliminated after a phone interview.
Rob was back from a hearing in Santa Monica. It had gone well, his way. He stopped at Adele’s desk for messages.
“I think you should try Saraswati,” Adele said, passing him only a few clients’ calls. He perused them, screwing together his thick dark brows. He looked up at Adele.
“Sa-ra-swa-ti. I emailed you another link I found for her.”
“To the mac address?”
Adele looked at the ceiling. “Of course.”
“You know, I do like brown women but I’m not particularly thrilled about anyone who’s over the top religious.”
“What makes you assume she is?”
Rob rolled his eyes, lifted the messages in half salute to her.
“And she’s not brown either, but don’t hold that against her.”
“I won’t.” He smiled and left her counter.
“Wait,” Adele said in a child’s pitch. She rolled her chair back, pulled out her embroidered flower purse from under the desk, and opened it. She dug through with impatience, looked up at Rob. His eyes smiled. He lowered his voice.
“The McCloud case, the girl, you know, the witness Delphine, I had a drink with her after.”
“Why would you tell me?” she asked, still digging.
“Why wouldn’t I, you’re helping me on my search, aren’t you?”
“But this is an experiment, not a search.” She looked up at him.
“Okay.” He nodded from side to side, Indian style.
“Here it is,” Adele said, pulling out a key she put in the palm that held the messages.
“Do I have the address for this?”
“In the employee database,” she said, turning dismissively to her notebook screen.
Rob arrived at the door of Adele’s ugly Woodland Hills apartment eight blocks from work. She liked to walk and did so in any part of Los Angeles, she said proudly to anyone who asked. Rob turned the key, appearing angelic at her threshold before crossing. He hadn’t changed out of his suit the way he normally did in the office after court. Most days he wore jeans and striped shirts, Adele was wearing exactly that.
She poured him a glass of Woodford Reserve since he kept it in a decanter in the office.
“Appreciated,” he said, holding up the glass before sitting down on the nubby nappy beige couch. Adele sat down in the leather rocking chair directly across from him. He cleared the frog from his throat. “You’re not having any?” He swilled the bourbon.
“No. I miscarried a few months ago,” Adele said. She batted her eyes, which were Labrador brown.
“Excuse me,” Rob said, choking on a very shallow sip.
“I miscarried for the second time, actually.”
“Should I repeat myself?”
You were pregnant?”
“Yes. Why not?”
“For who? That freak who came by with the preserved butterflies?”
“No, no,” Adele said, squeezing her eyes as if against a sand storm.
“Well, who then?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Are you trying to get pregnant?”
“No. Both times were accidents.”
Rob had another sip; he was looking at her curiously. She glowed ever more luminous under his stare.
“Are you hungry?”
“No,” he said, still looking. He set his drink down, and wiped a single drop of bourbon from the table with his index finger. He studied the table, rubbing the finger with his thumb.
“I’ll get you a napkin.”
Adele stood and smiled at him as if she were a wolf. He swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing. When she returned with the napkin, she also had a deck of cards. She put them on the table.
“Strip poker,” she announced.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea. In fact, I know it isn’t.”
“Listen, it’s not me you’ll be fucking.”
“Besides, the French one, what’s her name, Delphine?” she pronounced in snob perfection.
“She’s not French.”
“Whatever. The girl in the McCloud case… well, I asked someone to be here. I told her we would be playing strip poker when she arrived, I told her it was one of your bad habits she needed to tolerate.”
“You did what? I never told you my bad habits.” Rob shook his head, his expression at first shocked, then indignant.
Adele shuffled the cards, and dealt. He sat back on the couch.
“Who is it?” he asked.
Adele looked at the cards face down on the table. She appeared shrewd and professional. She unbuttoned the top of her shirt.
“Who is coming? The Indian Sarah one?”
“She’s not Indian.”
“I’m not playing.”
“I want a promotion.”
“So do I.”
“How does one get above partner?” Adele unbuttoned another just below her collarbone.
“Adele,” he said, as a caring mother might.
“Take a look at your cards. Let’s get this party started.”
When Adele was down to her gray silk pleated panties, which were haute couture to her as well as politically correct since they were Stella McCartney—she felt sexy, alluring, and sophisticated in them, as well as in full possession of her mind. Her breasts pointed up puckishly, the nipples a deep purpling pink, and Rob, still in his suit, had to move his hard-on to a more comfortable position.
Rob laid a flush on the table.
“You lose, Adele.”
“I do.” Adele got up and peeled her panties off as if she were a French erotica model. She held the image so tightly in her head her eyes were closed and her lips in a rude pert smile.
“Now,” she said standing with her eyes still closed as if waiting for a surprise birthday gift. “Though I have lost I want you to do something for me.”
“I have a condom right here.” Rob unzipped his pants, freeing his hard-on. He pulled out his wallet and slipped out a Trojan.
“A condom is not necessary,” she said, opening her eyes wide.
“Oh yes it is.”
“Oh no it’s not.” She turned to leave the room, Rob watching her narrow hips and the cups of her delightfully plump bottom for such a skinny girl.
She returned with a black attaché case. She walked slowly toward him as if he were a king and she just an offering in his court. She kneeled down in front of him. For a moment he looked at the top of her head, the slight side part of her scalp, and he realized he wanted to lick it. She looked up at him, her nose sweet like a child’s, her eyes bright with wickedness.
Rob moved to join her on the floor but she held up her hand to stop him. She clicked open the briefcase and slowly pulled out a flat, lifeless blow-up doll, along with a bicycle pump. Adele’s cheeks were flushed.
She attached the nozzle to the hole and started pumping. Enthralled and amazed, Rob watched her slender arms, the pecks hard as she pushed. She glowed as if she was a Wiccan under the moon, and her breath came rugged. The doll flailed alive.
“Wait,” Adele said when Rob tried to move to the floor again. He touched himself and had no other care in the world.
Adele also took scotch tape out of the case. Rob held himself firm though the tape seemed distracting. Adele then pulled out a cut-out of a face, and carefully taped it to that of the doll’s. Rob didn’t really look at the face.
Adele spread the doll on the floor and then lay down beside it.
“You have your choice,” Adele said. “But no condom allowed.”
Rob pulled his pants off, threw his jacket aside, and kept his shirt on as he crawled over, and smelled between Adele’s legs. He crawled all the way up, crouching over her like an animal, and when he got to her face, he studied the tiny mist of sweat at her brow, he smoothed it to a slick shine with his lips. She pulled his hips to hers, but he resisted. He got back up on his knees with a kind of yogic grace. He then got on the doll instead, closing his eyes when he entered the closed plastic. He moved in and out, Adele watching and touching herself now.
“Harder,” Adele said. Rob pumped the doll harder, still not looking into its face.
He did not realize it was a poster cut-out of Carla Bruni, and would not care if he had. When it was obvious he was close to coming, Adele stopped him.
“Wait,” she said, taking him out of the doll and in her hand, expertly finishing him off so that it made a mess of her wrists, neck, cheek, bottom lip and right jaw. He breathed hard and lay back on the carpet. She put her face on his tummy and felt the beat of his heart.
“God,” he said.
“I want that job, you know,” she whispered. “I’m perfect for it, even if I lost, even if you think I’m second best, I could love, cherish and respect you, tolerate your bad habits far better than the girl in the case.”
Rob smiled until he laughed, and he laughed so forcefully Adele’s head bobbed up and down against his stomach and she closed her eyes, smiling with a deep contentment.