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PANACHE AND LOVE BY MIKE

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PANACHE AND LOVE BY MIKE

By Jose Gainza

Justin Firkin was once a concierge person, a tenant service representative, at an opulent high-rise condominium. The tower wore a sparkling skin of sapphire coloured glass, and rose, slender, towards a large sapphire sphere at the crest. The tower resembled Atlas holding the world above his shoulders. Justin knew that in a few years he would achieve his goal of becoming a fireman. According to his plan, concierge work would pay his bills and grant him savings, while he waited to achieve a job as fireman. His tuition would be taken care of by the grace of his benefactor, an old wealthy man Justin had saved from a house fire recently. It was a job he knew he wouldn’t have to think about much when he was away from it, and it would help cover what wasn’t covered by the benefactor’s grant.

The interviewer told him the job would consist of getting people their mail, of giving them parking permits, of getting violators ticketed, of storing and issuing residential keys, of dealing with various contractors—the type of stuff that people take for granted and yet the stuff they would miss if they weren’t around. And so he was serene in his job. And since he knew what he wanted in his life, he was genuinely happy. He would not be the stereotypical brooding, melancholy concierge man, bitter at the people with money whom he serves.

His supervisor and trainer, Patty Mc King, an Irishman proud and ashamed of being Irish all at the same time, was immediately impressed by Justin’s character. He was a boy of subtle charisma with a mind that grasped things easily; intimate with the pool of common sense, so that the instructions were easily understood and connected to that pool.

Not surprisingly, he was particularly interested in learning about the building’s fire plan and emergency procedures. It was simple: an alarm sounds—an announcement is made—elevators are prepared—keys await the hands of the saviours—more announcements—the false alarm is usually the case—the day continues. In the event of a real fire things get slightly more complicated and what exactly to do can never be written down completely in advance.

In regards to the fire announcements the following instruction was stressed by Patty Mc King, “One is only to use the fire panel microphone to communicate during a fire alarm. Under no other circumstances, unless otherwise instructed by Property Management, are you to use this microphone. You got it?” “I got it.” Justin answered with a slight annoyance because the instruction was clear. And besides what did Patty think he would do—serenade some sexy resident some day? He got it.

As soon as one got past the front door with one’s mini electronic transmitter, one no longer needed it to get to one’s floor in the elevator. Justin found this immediately odd because it seemed to be common knowledge that one can always get past the lobby of almost any building. Why wasn’t such an opulent building supplied with a heightened security feature? He thus knew that he would take this problem seriously. He would stop everyone who attempted to ‘piggy back’ and verify his or her identity and place of abode.

On a morning he arrived one hour and a half early for his first shift, which gave Patty Mc King the opportunity to go for a cigarette break at five to seven. It was then that a beautiful young woman rushed past his desk in the lobby and out onto the street. She was wearing a tight runner’s tank top and spandex shorts, her blonde hair tied back into a ponytail. He noticed her return first at seven-thirty in the morning, while Patty was on his second opportune cigarette, she pacing in the front vestibule, catching her breath. He was watching her on the camera system. He could tell that she was sweaty and her clothes were quite damp. Her face appeared very red but she was influenced, it seemed, by the runner’s high, for there was a subtle smile on her face—as he zoomed in with his camera—and the blushing cheeks were glowing, and she appeared newly energized. After a few moments, he wondered why she had not entered the building, as she started to appear impatient. He continued to watch, silently contemplating her athletic beauty. Soon he heard the rattling at the glass entrance door, and he could see her hand knocking against the glass. He made her wait. And soon she began to pull at the door violently, which angered Justin. He pressed the button underneath his desk and awaited her to confront him. She seemed the type, not the type who would slyly attempt to sneak past him.

“What took you so long?” She commanded.

“Where’s your transmitter?”

“I run every morning. Everyone knows to open the door for me.”

“I am new.”

“I noticed. I expected them to pass on the message to you.”

“They did not. Why don’t you carry your transmitter?”

“Because it’s too bulky and I don’t like the noise when I run.”

“How are you going to get into your apartment?”

“I left it unlocked.” This admission shocked him.

“Why don’t you just leave your key with us and pick it up on your way in? Why haven’t you submitted something in writing formally requesting that we provide you with this service?”

“No one has suggested that.”

“We can take care of that right now. I’ll type out the letter very quickly and you sign it. I’ll then file it away and you can refer to it whenever you notice someone new. On your way in tonight, drop us off a photocopy of your driver’s license and that will make it official, once I confirm your status with Property Management.”

“Sure. My name is Tracey Candelina. Suite 1600.” He wrote the letter.

About an hour later, she rushed by him without noticing him, wearing a soft cream coloured suit, and a black silk blouse, her hair loose, and the scent of vanilla lingering behind her.

Piggy backing was an epidemic. By noon, he had confronted twenty-three people who gained access after following someone in who had used his or her transmitter. Most claimed to be guests just visiting for a few hours, most claiming that such was there habit, and most expressing annoyance at having to identify themselves to Justin, or wait for his phone call up to the suite, or at having to return to the enter phone system to call up their host to let them in.

He was shocked when one male resident called him to complain. “So what’s the problem buddy—why didn’t you let my girlfriend in?”

“Because I didn’t know who she was and I discovered that the only one with documented authorization to access the building, in relation the suite in question, is the person on the proof of ownership, a man by the name of Carl Jasper; no additional authorization has been granted to secondary parties.”

“I’m Carl.”

“Good.”

“So are you going to let her in next time?”

“If you fill in the proper paper work I will.”

“I’m a busy guy. I don’t have time.”

“Then I will not let her in the next time.”

“What’s your problem?”

“At the last place I was in I made the mistake of letting a girl up to knock at a suite. I saw her always very intimate with a man I knew to be the resident, and he seemed to adore her. So I thought nothing of it. It turns out he was entertaining someone else when she got up there. He almost got violent with me afterwards. I’ve learned to respect the privacy of the individual.”

The resident was silent for a moment and then he chuckled. “You got a point there,” he said, “I’ll fill out the paperwork later on today.”

Patty Mc King called later that day to check up on him. Justin Firkin voiced his concern about the piggybacking epidemic. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “in a month they’ll need their transmitters to even get up to their suites. Then you won’t have to worry about the intentions of the trespassers—they won’t be able to trespass.”

This reassured Justin but not completely, because how could he rest assured until then? A month seemed way too long. Since he was new, he knew that the lack of security was not his responsibility yet; he had not caused the rift. Was it Patty Mc King? Perhaps. He knew that most new recruits were apathetic. He would continue to be strict with the residents no matter who would get angry and no matter what the intensity.

Soon the Fed Ex man arrived with a delivery for suite 1600. He logged the information into the logbook. And then he was pleasantly surprised to find the name of the company that supplied the thin box. Victor Hugo Book of the Month Club was the name of the sender. Justin looked up the website and found that this company sent a new leather-bound volume of the works of Victor Hugo every month to its subscribers. It was an expensive subscription, one Justin would not be able to afford any time soon. Justin himself had read Les Miserables, Notre Dame de Paris, Torquemada, and Hernani, and he loved the experience. Mr. Hugo was so passionate, dramatic, and prolific and there was a lifetime of his works still to read. That Tracey had such a long-term subscription was evidence of a lovely soul, and a rare one. He had something to talk to her about.

Around two o’clock, she returned, and approached Justin with a delivery notice she had obtained from her mailbox. He gave her the package with almost as much excitement as he expected from her. She grinned widely for a moment, “Finally it’s here!”

“I love Victor Hugo,” he declared. “Which one is it?”

“It’s one I haven’t had the pleasure to read yet in all my years of having discovered him: Torquemada.”

“I’ve only read four of his works. I’ve read that one.”

“Please don’t say anything about it. I’ve been fighting my friends for years not to ruin it for me.”

“Fine. I’ll just say that it’s a hot one.”

“I think I know what you mean.”

“You will.”

“I’m glad to find someone in such a lowly position who is well read.”

“I’m glad you’re one who has the audacity to name the level of my position.”

“I used to bar tend before I began my career.” And then she walked away.

He had skipped lunch because he was not hungry. He told himself that he would wait until he got home to eat again. But 4 p.m. came and his relief did not show up. He called headquarters and they told him that he would have to work an extra four hours but promised that someone would relieve him at that time. Another guard arrived to give him his break. He ate the sandwich he had brought for lunch while reading the daily newspaper. He was surprised to read the following story:

The headline read: Business Suit Rapist Targets Opulent High Rises.

It reported a string of rapes at several of the luxurious condominiums in the downtown core. The suspect would follow his victims into their own residences, after they themselves had used their transmitters at the main lobby entrance. The unsuspecting victim seeing the man in an expensive business suit had no suspicion that the man was not a resident himself. They smiled at him as they rode the elevator with him, and after he had pressed the button for a higher floor than the one that they had pressed. Then he would follow them out of the elevator and when the time was right he would pull out his knife or gun and force them to let him into their dwellings. This was the typical scenario.

Justin sat there at the lunch table dumbfounded. He was struck with a sudden terror, and struggled not to think of what might happen to Tracey if this man chose her as his victim. He vowed to stop every piggy backer he could.

But what could he do when a string of ten or so residents arrive at the entrance door at the same time, only one person needing to use his or her transmitter to let the rest in? Who does one stop? What does one say? Does one make each and every one of them go back and wait to use their respective transmitters? He was impatient for the day when residents would need their transmitters to access their floors as well as the main lobby door. But he did exactly that; he stopped each and every one of them and insisted that they each take turns using their transmitters. A few of them did appreciate it.

Soon a happy looking elderly woman approached his concierge desk to request a visitor’s parking permit.

“What suite are you here to visit?”

“Suite 1600. She’s my daughter.”

“I’ll just call up and confirm.”

“Yes, please do.” Tracey confirmed that she was indeed expecting this woman who was her mother.

“I’m glad you checked on that. I’ve been let into this building and given visitor parking very easily in the recent past. With that recent article about that monster, I’m glad you take the extra precaution.”

“I found that article horrifying too.”

“I’m reassured by the knowledge that my daughter can take care of herself and overcome a potential attacker.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“If you don’t mind me asking: what does she do for a living? I know that she runs every morning and that she likes romantic fiction.”

“How do you know she like romantic fiction?”

“She received a package today from the Victor Hugo Book of the Month Club.”

“Oh, she must be very excited today. She’s probably reading it right now.”

“So, what does she do?”

“Oh, yes … she runs a personal trainer school and agency. It’s called Human Triumph. She’s very successful.”

“I’ve heard of them. Can I ask you a strange question?”

“What is it?”

“Do you think a guy like me has a chance? What does she want?”

“Aren’t you an audacious one?”

“My apologies.”

“I’ll tell you in one word?”

“Thank you.”

“Panache.”

“Panache?”

“Panache.” She walked away.

Justin Firkin was reading through the rulebook, and he had a little over an hour to go in his extended shift. It was a quiet patch of time he was in the midst of. A young woman and a middle-aged one were sitting on the lobby sofa having a conversation, their dialogue easily heard due to the prominent echo in the quiet lobby. The younger one was welcoming the older one home.

“Roxanne, it’s been almost a year since I’ve last seen you! How was California this time? What movie were you starring in this time?”

“I was playing a chef who is in danger of losing her life by her own hand. She is addicted to her own cooking and that cooking is leading her to create greater and richer dishes. She is growing evermore obese, and her energy is escaping her. Her cholesterol is high and she is developing heart disease. But she believes it is her mission in life to provide the world with the best food, as long as she is able to remain living, because she believes that she is a vehicle of destiny. She believes that men have reached a stage in history in which she was destined to be born and provide them with perhaps the best food that has ever been created. The problem is that no one wants to stop her because they too are addicted to her cooking. She dies of a heart attack on the day of her triumph, the end of a grand festival, in which her masterpieces are the main event.”

“It sounds like a very rewarding role.”

“Yes, spiritually it is but I regret that I have turned into a whale.”

“The change is not hard to notice and I was struggling not to express my concern. I was hoping not to insult you and yet warn you.”

“You’re right. I will lose it. It is going to be an agony … By the way, I’ve noticed that you have lost your baby fat and have turned into a goddess. Even though almost a year has passed it is still hard to believe the high degree of perfection you have achieved in still such little time.”

“I owe it all to Tracey!”

“Who?”

“She lives in this building. She runs a personal trainer company. She is a miracle worker. And if she is not available her workers are almost as good. Actually, with the knowledge that she possesses, she should have gone to medical school, though I’m glad she didn’t. She is a true muse. And yet she is a true genius. She knows what your body needs to get what you want, and she’ll tell you what you really want. She prescribes the perfect diet, one that is not an ascetic torture. She teaches you how to breathe and how to withstand those nagging temptations. She tells you what novels, poetry, what movies, what songs, will inspire you not only to lose the weight but also to live a better, more moral life. And if you’re fortunate, sometimes, very rarely, she’ll give you one of the greatest massages in your life, so good that you are almost tempted to became a lesbian.”

“I’m glad I ran into you then. I must try her out.”

“Here; her business card.”

“Thanks.” They hugged and went their separate ways, the actress up to her suite, and the younger one in the direction of the work out gym.

Eavesdropping over this conversation gave Justin the sudden impulse to ask himself, what ‘panache’ was. He looked up the word in an on-line dictionary: dashing elegance of manner; carefree, spirited self-confidence or style; flamboyance. He knew that he could be such a person, and he remembered that he often was. Wasn’t that time when he saved his benefactor from the fire, an instance of this? Wasn’t the fact that he was willing to be a concierge person, a part of it? There was some of it in the way he asked the mother how to conquer her daughter. He felt as if there was no more time in the world for him to show her this, as if tomorrow would never come—as if life would end at the end of his shift. He searched his mind in desperation for how to express his panache by the end of his shift. But he could think of none.

No one hour of that extended shift passed as quickly as that last hour did. Headquarters had kept their promise and a relief person had arrived a few minutes prior to eight o’clock. He handed over the keys and equipment to the other person, gathered his belongings and began to exit the premises. And as he approached the main door, a small group of people were witnessed piggy backing after another resident who had used her own transmitter to gain access.

He stopped the trio of middle-aged trespassers, two females and a male. He ordered them to present their transmitters and to use them each, or either one of them to proclaim the other two as his or her guests. The trio disobeyed him and stared at him for a moment sternly in an attempt to intimidate him.

“Let me see your transmitters,” he ordered.

“Do you know who I am?” Thus was the taunt from the dark-skinned male.

“Do you know who we are?” Repeated the female.

“No, of course not, which is why I am asking you to present your transmitters.”

“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the white man, ”I am Paul Wilkinson, president of the board of directors.”

“Then you know that I can’t take your word for it. Either present me with your transmitter or present me with your driver’s license.”

The president had expected that declaring his status would intimidate Justin to the point of, automatically upon hearing those words, ‘president’ ‘of’ ‘the’ ‘board’, to relinquish his responsibility and wave his arm in a gesture of welcome, and bow in an attempt at apology. Thus he was annoyed at Justin’s answer.

“So which will it be?” Continued Justin.

“Neither. We’ll just walk in. What are you going to do about it?”

“Don’t test me.”

“Really?” And the president made to go past him, and Justin grabbed his arm and manoeuvred to press the president against the glass wall of the vestibule and pinned both of his arms behind his back, causing the president to scream in anguish.

“If you are who you say you are, then you shouldn’t have a problem with me being so strict with the rules. You should thank me for it. If it’s my first day here, how am I supposed to know who you are? What did you think that my trainer would say, ‘the president you’ll know who he is because he’s the one who goes around flaunting the fact that he’s the president’? No, of course not! Based on all my knowledge, I am within my rights to detain you in this way. Would you like me to go through with the entire process, or will you just end it right here and present me with either item that I asked for?”

“Take out my wallet from my pocket,” said the president grunting, annoyed, knowing that he was beaten, yet admitting in that tone that he was indeed wrong. The president had identification, and his two companions, two other board members, did have their transmitters. This fact enraged Justin, “Then why the hell did we go through this fiasco!”

And he rushed out of the building furious at the foolishness of the human race. The board members rode up in their elevator silently. The female member was remembering the strength of the new concierge man and was beginning to feel warm inside. She couldn’t help but remember a certain action of his tight buttocks, the slenderness yet the ferocious strength of his torso, the soft beauty of his masculine face, the lines of his legs, the shaved head that gave her the urge to massage it. But they rode up in silence, each departing silently onto their respective floors.

He couldn’t sleep that night. It was not the knowledge of the possibility that he might be fired the next day. He would easily find another job. It was not the knowledge that the president might, in an attempt to avenge the embarrassment caused him, press charges or sue. Justin knew he was still right. He wanted to teach a lesson to all the residents, not just the president of the board. He wanted them to understand, to grasp, the potential dangers in their thoughtless, passive, apathetic actions. He wanted to teach the same lesson to the whole human race. And he wanted, needed still, to dance the panache dance for his new beloved, tonight, before slumber hit his boiling daring.

And then he thought of the answer. He knew what he would do. He dressed in his best suit and called a taxi. He arrived at the sapphire tower in less than half an hour. The man who relieved him earlier buzzed him through the front door. Justin greeted him with a big smile, made small talk he was barely conscious of, and made him laugh a few times, and when his co-worker was deep into a story, Justin made his move. He snatched the keys that had been left on the tabletop. He rushed into the fire panel room and locked the door behind him.

The co-worker was helpless. He did not know that there existed a spare key to the room in the key box, and he did not think to consider it. He did not call a supervisor, or the police. He was actually amused and curious to see what Justin was planning to do inside that room. Suddenly he heard a long beep coming from the speakers up in the ceiling. It was the cue someone had activated the mike of the fire panel and was about to make an announcement. And then the voice of a statesman, a warrior, and a poet combined, thrust forth:

“Ladies and Gentlemen … Ladies and Gentlemen … Wake-up! Wake-up! Listen to what I have to tell you. Listen to what you need to hear.

“There was a primordial time when the non-security of land-owners was taken for granted, thus men of right had to fear the thieving criminal, more so than he had to fear the criminal’s fellow beasts. But to the mind of some wise man it dawned on him the means to protect himself from the brutes. Private men would transfer their right to defend themselves, over to a general body representative of the community. Thus any transgression against the property of a man, including his person, would be met with the force of that newly governing body; would be met by Justice. Soon that threat from the brutes became marginal. And soon, the centuries passed and we developed into our modern societies geared around protecting its citizens from criminals. The criminal is always a threat, though he may be marginal.

“Just read today’s paper and see what threat threatens you. There is a rapist running loose in our city, and in our neighbourhood. You may say that he will not strike here—that may be so. But you’ve never let yourself know the true nature of the criminal. He is a man who needs victims to survive. He is unwilling and even unable to survive without crime. To commit a crime is always on his mind, always ready for that opportunity, when someone is thoughtless, careless, unprepared, naively trusting, stupid, scared, weak. He is waiting for it, as that monster has waited for his opportunity to violate those women. That’s all he needed: the opportunity.

“I insist to the board of directors that immediately you secure the funding to install the transmitter readers into your elevators. This is imperative. Fail to do so, and you will pay … eventually. And until then, use your transmitters, don’t piggyback, expect your neighbours to use theirs to. Embrace certainty, embrace knowledge, embrace reason! Don’t let your feelings govern your security. Just like a good man can play the role of a villain, so a villain can play the role of a good man.

“It’s not just this specific threat that one should defend against. How about the thief? How about the terrorist? You live in one of the most beautiful buildings in the world—don’t you think there are terrorists salivating for the opportunity to destroy your sapphire? And the homeless who want a night’s bed in your stairwells, or the vandal who wants your walls as his canvass, or you windows as his stress reliever? You want security? It’s simple: don’t piggyback; don’t piggyback ever again. In the name of your children—don’t!

“I gather each and everyone of you is an important human being. But there is one person living in this tower who is the most important of all, perhaps in all the world—I swear! She does not deserve the threat all you piggy backers open for her. Have you seen her? Do you know which goddess I speak of? Have you seen her silky, firm legs in the morning, so strong, so swift? Have you seen her gossamer blonde hair as it floats in the wind? Have you dreamed of falling asleep within, between her breasts? Have you caught her sweet nectar fragrance as she escapes from this fortress of hers? Have you been struck dumb, deaf, and blind at the vision of her brightness, her utter beauty, her doll-like face?

“Have you caught a glimpse of her soul? Do you know the stature of her mind? Do you know, so rare, that she is a worshipper of Victor Hugo? Do you know that she inspires men and women to perfect their bodies and ameliorate their souls. Do you know that she is a student of medicine, one of the greatest benefactors of mankind? Do you know that any criminal would want to reach her bed because they, deluded by her mystique, are then forced to believe that she will wipe away their sins with her lips? Do you know that she’s a daughter? Do you know that she’s a runner, and do you know she is so strong?

“Do you imagine, like me, the angelic, sonorous, melody of her song? Do you imagine the poetry that is swelling within her towards eruption? Do you know the stages of philosophic wisdom she may have reached? Do you know what her favourite foods are? Do you know if she likes wine? Do you know what she dreams about? Do you know what she watches on television? Do you know where she has travelled? Will she enjoy it if I take her to Greece or Miami? Do you know if she wants children? … Do you know … Do you know … Do you know if she will hate me for this outrage … or will she love me?

“For the sake of my love, for the sake of my life—if you are too unselfish to care about your own safety, protect my beloved … do not piggy back … please.”

He exited the fire panel room to face his co-worker, who was grinning and shaking his head. “Aren’t you courageous?”

“I’ll take full blame for this. If they fire me, at least they’ll remember this, and it might help the situation here for all of you who remain.”

“Soon the telephone rang at the concierge desk.” It was not a board member. It was not a resident complaining. It was not Tracey. It was the voice of an older woman who was speaking to Justin’s co-worker. This is what she said:

“Tell our friend, our orator, that he defined the word well.”

He told this to Justin. And Justin smiled. The co-worker asked, “What word is that?” Justin remained silent for a happy moment. “What word?” Repeated the co-worker.

“Panache, boy, panache!”

Justin Firkin walked out of the building and into the moonlight.

“Panache? … Panache? … Panache.” So repeated the puzzled co-worker.

He googled the word on the Internet, and understood the word when he read the following quote by Nathaniel Green:

If one is looking for it, Panache can often be found in those occasional moments of regret, when one finally receives from oneself the words one should have said, and the actions one should have taken to achieve the turning point—finally but too late.

THE END.

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