I hesitated for a moment, knowing that to make this phone call would be to set in motion a process that might last months, or more. Just then I heard a loud meow and looked down to see the cat poised beside her bowl, fixing me with an irritable stare. I stroked her head and went to grab some food, happy for this momentary respite from the decision.

Did I really want to go back to work? On the other hand, did I really have any choice? I took a good, hard look at the squalor around me, then reached for the phone and punched in the number.

The phone rang only twice before a voice answered: a female voice, and quite a lovely one at that. I began to picture this Rubelcaba as an old-fashioned type who would have a statuesque, probably blond secretary with whom he might or might not be sleeping.

“Mr. Rubelcaba’s office,” said the voice, dutifully and efficiently.

I put on my best simulation of a professional demeanor. “This is Hector Maze. Mr. Rubelcaba left me a message this morning.”

“Yes, Mr. Maze, he’s been expecting your call. Please hold for a moment.”

It was about ten seconds before he came on the line. “Mr. Maze?”

“That’s me.”

“I’m so glad you called back.” He sounded like he meant it; his voice rose slightly in pitch. This was just as standard as the slight discomfort he’d evinced in his message. My clients are typically irritated that they’ve had to call on me and simultaneously relieved to find someone with whom they can share their weirdest and most persistent problems.
Then there was an awkward pause. I wished to end it, but the best I could come up with was “So what can I do for you?”

He hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, working out how he was going to phrase it. “Ah. Well…as I mentioned in my message, we’ve been having some difficulties of late.”

“What sort of difficulties?”

“Frankly, Mr. Maze, these matters are very sensitive and I don’t feel comfortable discussing them over the phone. Could you come into the office?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess.” I generally prefer to get as much info as I can over the phone. More than half the time, after a brief conversation, it becomes apparent that either the client doesn’t want to hire me or I don’t want the job. Handling this by phone saves me a lot of unnecessary traipsing around. But I could tell that Rubelcaba was on edge, and I was already developing a bit of sympathy for him, so I went along. “When?”

“As soon as possible.”

“I can’t do it today.” This was only partly true. I didn’t have anything else to do, really, but I felt that I needed some time to mentally prepare myself.

“Tomorrow, then? Nine A.M.?” he countered.

This is earlier than I usually like to be up, but I felt that to say so would have been unsporting. “Fine. Nine o’clock.”

“You know how to find us?”

I knew exactly where the place was, but I asked for directions anyway. I figured they’d know the best way to go, and besides, I just like to get directions. I don’t know why.

Rubelcaba put me back on with his secretary, who outlined a series of highways followed by surface streets, then told me where to park. I dragged out the process as long as possible, enjoying the mellifluous sound of her voice. When I hung up, it suddenly seemed very quiet in the apartment.