The elevator releases Nolan into a carpeted hall paneled in gleaming wood. Behind the reception desk sits a beautiful Asian chick in stylish black ninja pajamas. How classy, how predictable for a famous human rights outfit to hire PC Dragon Lady to guard the front door. Nolan recalls a Hong Kong film where the secretary rockets up from her desk and does triple flips, slinging nunchaks around the office. He wishes he'd brought six other guys. He wishes his tattoos showed.
In the end, what he can't hide is enough to give Suzie Wong the willies. The duffel bag is a problem, as he knew it would be. Of course, it would have been smoother if he could have left it somewhere. As Nunchak Girl eyes the bag, Nolan watches a little fight-or-flight thing take place in her face, until her receptionist training wins out over her basic human instinct not to be anywhere near him. Nolan has the feeling she's got one finger on the panic button. Just in case.
"May I help you?"
"I'd like to see Mr. Maslow. Uh, Dr. Maslow. Whatever."
"Do you have an appointment?"
He doesn't know what the gentleman's called. Does it sound like he has an appointment?
"No," says Nolan. "I need to talk to him." So do millionaires. Politicians. Nolan can expect about five more seconds of Miss Yin Yang's attention. He says, "I've got some information I think he might want to have. I guess you know what ARM is, right? The American Rights Movement?"
A definite yes from Ice Princess. Now she's really eyeing the duffel bag, obviously wondering if this is her time, if her bullet-riddled body will be all over tomorrow's front page. And is that a tiny twitch pulling her hand beneath the desk? Call security! Red alert! Hitler's in the building looking for Meyer Maslow! Nolan can't decide if he wants to pop her in the nose or fall on his knees and promise he won't hurt her. He follows her glance toward the duffel bag.
"I'm in a kind of . . . transitional state," he says. "And if you're thinking what I think you're thinking . . ." He turns his palms outward and tries to smile. "I'm harmless. I promise. Unarmed. There's nothing in the bag but some books and clothes and dirty laundry."
The receptionist's lip curls. She doesn't want to think about Nolan's dirty laundry.
"I was in ARM for five years." Lie number one, and Nolan's only been here two minutes. So what. It's a detail. They can hash out the fine points later.
"Congratulations." She gives him the freeze-out look she learned in Bitch Receptionist 101. She hesitates, thinks, thinks some more. Then she picks up the phone and keeps pushing the same button. Security isn't answering. So she's pretty much on her own. Is that fear on her face? Just a trace, and it's gone, either because she's a professional, a professional receptionist, or because she doesn't want to give Nolan the satisfaction. Or because he's charmed her. That's always a possibility. She listens, pushes another button, listens, then another. So the person about to deal with the fact of Nolan's existence is several rungs down the food chain here at World Brotherhood Watch
From A Changed Man by Francine Prose. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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