They landed at Orlando International Airport as ravenous conquerors eager for their tribute like ancient barbarians after sacking Rome. They came victorious, half-drunk on airline miniatures, armed with smart phones and armored in casual khakis and pastel knit polo shirts.
“I’m taking panty scalps,” Sam Callahan said. He had his teeth whitened before the trip. They were magnificent. “Five hundred for highest take,” he said and held out his money clip stuffed with doubled over hundreds and twenties.
Sam hit forty million in sales. After commission, kickers and bonuses he had a very good year. They all had good years. Richie Hollister hit thirty-eight. He bought himself a bright yellow sports car and got his wife a new chin. Mark Dixon, the youngest salesman in the company, hit forty-four. It was his first year in Orlando.
“I got that, I got that,” Richie called out to Sam. “The party doesn’t stop until the panties drop.” He looked to Mark for agreement. “Am I right, Dixy?” He punched Mark in the shoulder. “I’m fucking right. ABCs, boy. A fucking BCs.”
“When you’re right, you’re right, Rich,” Mark told him. “It doesn’t happen often but-“
“Fuck you, Dixy,” Richie said. He grabbed Mark by the shoulder and humped his leg. “Fuuuck yoooou!”
Mark pushed Richie off and Richie wagged his tongue at him.
“Gentlemen,” Sam said. He stood on front of the glass automatic doors out of the airport. “Florida,” he said and put on a pair of sunglasses.
“You’re going to fucking love this fucking place, Dixy,” Richie told Mark and slapped his ass.
Mark put on a pair of sunglasses and waited for Sam. Sam stepped through the automatic doors and out into the bright sticky afternoon. Mark and Richie followed.
“It’s like a sauna,” Mark said.
“You get used to it,” Sam told him. He pointed to a blue van in the pickup lane. “That’s us,” he said.
“Don’t worry about the humidity, Dix,” Richie said. “The whole resort is climate controlled. Like the biosphere, man.”
Before Mark was in the van Sam had the flask out of his suitcase. He handed it to Mark as he was buckling into the seat.
“Self preservation, Dixon,” Sam told him. “You don’t want to be sober this week.”
Mark took a drink from the flask, nodded to Sam and passed it to Richie.
“Is it far from the airport?” Mark asked.
“No,” Sam told him. “Ten, fifteen minutes.”
“You’re going to fucking love it, Dixy,” Richie said. “I’m half-hard thinking about it. Everything you can drink, everything you can eat, all on company plastic. All the motherfucking senior leaders taking turns sucking us off and telling us how much fucking business we do. We’re the fucking rainmakers, Dix. The rest of the poor fuckers they’re just farmers looking up at the sky and they’re just praying. But they’re not praying to God, Dixy, they’re praying to us.”
Sam held up the flask as if to toast Mark and took a drink. He handed it back to Mark.
The resort looked like a castle from the road. It was a decadent sprawl of new construction. It looked like four or five hotels had joined forces, settled on a Spanish conquistador motif and doubled down on the water features.
“1500 rooms, Dixy,” Richie said. “Ten floors. Twenty swimming pools. Bars at the end of every hallway and a fucking pirate ship restaurant in a lagoon right in the middle. Have you ever seen anything so fucking sexy?”
“There’s a decent course by here,” Sam said. “We could skip some of the bullshit tomorrow and get nine holes in easy.”
“Fuck golf,” Richie said. “I came to get lit and get fucked. Tequila and road pussy. I’m taking your money, boys.” Richie hopped out of the van with his suitcase and ran toward the front doors.
Mark reached up and felt beads of sweat on his forehead. “Shit, back home it would be fifty degrees still,” he said.
“Good thing we’re not back home then,” Sam said and slapped Mark on the back. He tipped the driver and walked with Mark to front doors.
The inside of the resort was a different climate entirely. The double front doors were an airlock. There was Florida outside, humid and hazy and Florida inside, pleasantly cool and serenaded with subliminal background music.
There was a line for the front desk. Other company salesmen, support staff, managers, product assholes and a surly DBA. Mark shook their hands but forgot their names quickly. Everyone knew who he was though.
“We need to get drinks, Dixon,” someone named Larry said. “I’ll ping you.”
Mark nodded. “Sure,” he said.
“Don’t waste your time with that guy,” Sam whispered to Mark after Larry left.
“What does he do?” Mark asked.
Sam shrugged. “No one cares.”
“You’re playing catch up, boys!” Richie called to them as he walked by with a drink already in his hand.
“We’ll meet you in the courtyard,” Sam said.
“There are a dozen fucking courtyards, Sammy!” Rich told him.
“We’ll find you.”
Richie flipped them off and walked away.
“I’m going to hit my room and clean up a little,” Mark told Sam after they got their room keys and event lanyards.
“Don’t take too long,” Sam said. “Richie’s buying you drinks and if you’re not there to drink them, they just stack up.”
“Sure,” Mark said and started to walk away with his suitcase on rollers.
“Dixon,” Sam said before Mark was out of earshot. Mark turned back to him. “This is your year. Don’t forget that.”
It didn’t sound as celebratory as it should have. Mark smiled and nodded.
The resort complex was big enough that they gave out a map with your room key. Mark’s room was in the Key Largo building. The carpet was colored to look like sand and the walls were faded ocean blue. The ceilings were rounded stucco. The fixtures were painted gold or made to look like distressed beach wood. He waited for the elevator in front of doors painted in an undersea still life.
Mark got to his room and put the suitcase on the bed. The room was like most hotel rooms. Clean. Organized. Professional. Hotel rooms are designed to fade away, Sam told him when they went on the road after Mark first started. They’re supposed to be unexceptional but efficient. They’re not supposed to feel like home. Mark had lost track of the hotel rooms in the last year. Only his Hilton Honors account knew for sure.
Mark took a bottle of water out of the mini fridge and opened it while standing in front of the windows. He drank half the bottle and pulled the curtains back. There was a small balcony off of the room. He opened the doors out onto it and stepped out to the wrought iron rail. He was still inside. He looked up at the glass dome overhead, modulating the sunlight. His room looked down at one of the massive atriums in the resort complex. From five floors up he could see hundreds of people in lanyards with tropical drinks and a few families in Bermuda shorts on vacation. He watched a family; the dad with sandy hair, white shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and sandals; the mom in a floral dress; the kids in swimsuits with wet hair. They were back from a water park or the pool, Mark assumed, and they would go to Universal City or Disney World later. He watched them until the family entered one of the other buildings and disappeared.
Mark finished his bottle of water and then left the room to meet Richie and Sam. He weaved through crowds, smiling at colleagues he didn’t know politely and scanned the opened areas for them. He took out his phone to call them. It rang in his hand. Richie.
“I’m looking for you guys,” Mark said when he answered.
“Well, you’re shit at it, Dixy,” Richie told him. “How the fuck can you sell ice to the Eskimos but you can’t even find your own ass with both hands?”
Mark could hear Richie laughing through the phone and out in the crowd. Mark found them and made eye contact with Richie across the courtyard. Richie gave him the finger.
“Your shots are getting lonely, Dixy,” Richie told him.
Mark hung up the phone and walked briskly to join them. The two of them were at a small table that had several empty glasses and four shots waiting for Mark.
“That’s good shit, Dixy,” Richie said as Mark picked up the first shot. “None of that lime and salt bullshit. It’s smooth. Real smooth. Thirty-five dollars a shot.”
“This is a hundred and forty dollars worth of tequila?” Mark asked him.
“We’re just getting warmed up, Dix,” Richie said. “That’s a fucking appetizer.”
Mark drank the tequila quickly and smiled at them. “Smooth,” he said.
Richie laughed and took a drink from his margarita. He finished his drink with a long sip from the straw and then leaned forward to Mark. “I’m three quarters of the way to panty numero uno,” he said.
“How can you be three quarters of the way?” Mark asked him.
Richie nodded toward a woman in a lanyard. “Elsie Gaynor from Atlanta. Finance or something I think.” He winked at her and held up his glass. “I’m going to text her something fucking filthy,” he said with a grin.
“You’re going to get busted for sexual harassment, Richie,” Mark told him.
“I fucking better,” Richie said.
Mark drank the second shot. He looked over at Sam. “How’s the hunt, Sam?” He asked.
“It’s a marathon not a sprint,” Sam answered. He was drinking beer.
“Another pearl of wisdom from Confucius Callahan,” Richie said, looking at his phone. He thumbed out the rest of his message then sent it. He smiled. “That’s fucking dirty,” he said. “Real fucking dirty.”
Shit number three. “She’s going to come over here and slap you,” Mark said.
Richie watched Elsie Gaynor from Atlanta. “No,” Richie said. “Not this girl.” Elsie took out her phone. “She got it,” Richie said, “yeah, she got it.” He clapped his hands together.
Elsie read the message and looked up at Richie. She shook her head and smirked. She flipped him off. She said something to the women she was with, quickly finished her drink and walked away, blushing.
“You’re a class act, Richie,” Mark said. He drank the fourth shot. He’d been mostly drunk for hours.
“Shit,” Richie said. “Fuck.”
“Better luck next time, ladykiller,” Sam told him.
“Another round, guys?” Mark asked and waved over at a cocktail waitress.
“If you’re buying,” Richie said with a chuckle that turned into a cackling laugh.
“What?” Mark asked.
“The drinks are on your room, Mark,” Sam explained.
“All the fucking drinks, Dixy,” Richie said. “You’re the high roller diamond cup motherfucker.”
Mark smiled. He felt the booze in his cheeks. He felt it hot in his guts. The cocktail waitress walked over. She was impossibly young with dark hair, tan skin and eyes as sharp as diamonds. “Shots all around,” Mark said, holding up his empty shot glass. “Then two of whatever this loser is drinking.” He pointed to Richie’s margarita and then turned to Sam.
“Another beer, please,” Sam told her.
“Got it,” the waitress said.
“Hey,” Richie said, catching her attention. “Do you have a policy here about fraternization?”
“I have a personal policy against dealing with douche bags,” she told him. “Does that count?”
Mark and Sam immediately laughed and Richie turned bright red.
“I’ll be back with your drinks, fellas,” she said and left.
Rich watched her walk away and poured some ice into his mouth, crunching it with his teeth. “What kind of customer service is that?” He asked.
“I like her,” Mark said. “I’m gonna give her a big tip.”
“That was pretty much what I was thinking too, Dixy,” Richie said and punched Mark in the shoulder.
Mark shook his head. “You’re drunk.”
“I’m working on it, Dix,” Richie replied.
“You’re a piece of shit sexual predator, Hollister,” Sam said with a half smile.
Richie showed a mouthful of crushed ice. “I’m a lion, Sammy. I’m the top of the food chain.” He roared and shook his head. He swallowed the last bits of broken ice.
“Where are you guys at? What buildings?” Mark asked Sam and Richie.
“I’m in the Everglades,” Sam said. “Top floor.”
Richie looked down at his lanyard. “Fuck if I know,” he said. “I put my bag in storage with the front desk. I’ll figure it out later. When I’ve got someone to take back there with me.”
“You?” Sam asked Mark.
“Key Largo,” Mark said. “Fifth floor. Room seems nice enough.”
“Forty-four mill ought to get you a fucking suite,” Richie told him. “Shit, last year the top dog was what, thirty-six?”
“Thirty-seven,” Sam said. Last year the top dog was Sam. Sam was the top salesman the four of the last seven years.
“Forty-four million dollars is a lot of dollars,” Richie said. “You make us look like fucking assholes with a first year like that.”
“You don’t need a lot of help for that, Richie,” Sam said.
Richie flipped him off. “Go fuck yourself, Callahan.”
“It was a good year,” Mark agreed.
“It was a deal with the fucking devil year,” Richie said. “It was a kill a man and leave him in a God damn swamp just because year.”
“Thirty-eight is pretty close,” Mark said. “Beat last year’s highest numbers.”
“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” Sam said.
“Put them in a book!” Richie boomed. “Or at least knit that shit into some doilies, Sammy. Don’t just waste your fortune cookie one-liners on us.”
Sam ignored Richie. “Did Bob call you?” He asked Mark.
Mark nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Right after the final numbers on Pinnacle posted.” Bob Castle the CEO. Seeing his name on the caller ID was like getting a direct call from the president. Mark had met him several times at different meetings and had been on conference calls with him but when Bob called, it was just them. They talked for fifteen minutes.
“What does Bob talk to you about?” Richie asked.
“Golf,” Sam said with a smile.
“Pretty much,” Mark said.
The waitress came back with their drinks. “I hope you guys recover from five minutes of forced sobriety.”
“It was tough but we made it through,” Sam told her.
“Hey I’m sorry if I was out of line before,” Richie said. “It’s the jet lag.”
“Sure,” she said.
“Yeah,” Richie said. “Look, if you want you can spank me, you know? Because I’ve been a bad, bad boy.”
Mark kicked Richie under the table. “Stop it, Richie. Just shut the fuck up.”
“No, Dixy, no,” Richie said. He held up his hand to Mark. He looked at the waitress. “Theoretically, how many of these do you get paid per hour?” Richie held up the tequila shot. He smiled at her and took the shot quickly. “I’m drinking more than you’re worth.”
The waitress picked up Richie’s margarita and poured it in his lap.
“Fucking bitch!” Richie shouted and stood up.
“Get another server, shithead,” the waitress told him and started to walk away.
Richie started to move toward her and Mark and Sam got to their feet and intervened.
“What the fuck is the matter with you?!” Mark shouted at Richie.
“Cunt!” Richie shouted loud enough the whole courtyard stopped and stared at him. “I’m going to get your ass fired!”
“Sit down!” Sam shouted at Richie.
Richie was shaking furious, the veins in his neck bulged out, his muscles tensed and then all of a sudden he stopped. He went right into laughing and sat down at the table. “Orlando, Dixy,” he said. “I love this fucking city.”
Mark didn’t know what to say or how to respond. He wanted to bust Richie’s teeth out or take another shot. He wanted to breathe real air.
“You should get cleaned up, Rich,” Sam told Richie.
Richie looked down at his pants. “Yeah,” he said. “You want to get some steaks later?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “We’ll catch up later.”
Richie stood up again and walked away without another word.
“There’s something wrong with him, Sam,” Mark said.
Sam shrugged. “He’s blowing off steam,” he said. “All year it’s hit those numbers. Hit that target and go over the top. Next Monday he’ll be in Tulsa. Tuesday he’ll be in St. Paul. ABCs, Mark.” Sam took a swallow from his beer. “We should move on,” he suggested. “There’s another bar across the courtyard.”
Mark looked around the tables. Everyone had just gone back to their drinks or appetizers like nothing had happened.
“Come on,” Sam said. “They settle when you check out.”
Mark nodded. He downed his shot and followed.
The next hotel bar was just like the first. Sam got them drinks. Mark sat at a table with a view of the pirate ship.
“It’s a full scale recreation,” Sam told him when he returned with the drinks. “Someone told me it’s seaworthy.”
“That sounds like bullshit,” Mark said.
Sam smiled. “Probably is.”
“I can’t drink like this for four days, Sam,” Mark told him.
“You’d be surprised,” Sam said.
Mark took sip from his drink. “What is this?”
“Fuck if I know,” Sam said and snickered. “I think there’s rum in it.” He laughed more. “Just don’t throw up in the lagoon.”
“How many years is this for you?” Mark asked. “How many of these?”
Sam looked around. “This is eleven,” he said. “Before that it was some other asshole sales rah rah in some other asshole place though. Twenty-seven years of living the dream.”
“You still like it?” Mark asked him.
“What else am I going to do? Tend bar?”
Mark took another swallow of his mystery rum drink. He was pretty sure pineapple juice was involved. “I worked in a bar in college.”
“Everybody did stupid worthless shit in college,” Sam said. “You can’t let it mean anything.”
Mark looked around the bar at all of the company lanyards. “But this means something, right?”
“Fuck them,” Sam said. “The only things that matter are the numbers in your bank account and the shit eating grin on your face.”
“I feel like the homecoming queen,” Mark said. “Or like a hero back from war.”
“What’s the first thing I told you about sales?” Sam asked.
“I don’t remember,” Mark answered. “You said a lot of things.”
“I said sales is about people,” Sam said.
“Right,” Mark said. “People.”
“That’s bullshit though, Dixon,” Sam told him. “Fuck people. It isn’t about them at all. People are fucking props.”
“I don’t remember this in the quarterly sales review calls, Sam,” Mark said cynically.
“Do you want to know what it’s really about? I mean, I shouldn’t have to tell you. You came out of the gate with a record breaking fucking year.”
“For argument’s sake,” Mark said. “What’s sales all about?”
“It’s about you,” Sam said and poked Mark in the chest. “It’s about knowing yourself, stretching yourself, fucking hating yourself. Every morning you gotta ask yourself how far am I willing to go and if you want to keep up with the big boys you have to go farther every fucking day. You have to put it all into the pot, Dixon. Forget the wife and kids. I’ve been divorced four times. My kids have college tuition and six figure therapy bills. You see what kind of husband Richie is. He’s an awful piece of shit human being and I feel sorry for any kids that end up with him as their dad.”
Sam took a big drink from his glass. “You want to do this, you want to really do it, you have to ante it up,” he continued. “You’re selling on your anniversary. You’re selling instead of watching your retarded idiot kid play softball. You’re selling in your sleep, Dixon and you’ll do anything you have to do to close that deal. You have anything decent or worthwhile left in yourself you just scrape it out and throw it in. We’re not good people, Mark. We don’t get to be good. We’re winners.”
“All so we can drink thirty-five dollar tequila shots?” Mark asked.
“That’s right,” Sam said. “But it’s more than just sales, Dixon,” Sam said. “What I’m talking about is more than just selling. It’s life. That’s how it works. You and me and Richie, we’re killers. We go for blood. There are two kinds of people. Those who do what it takes to get what they want and the rest of them.”
“Richie’s right,” Mark said. “You should put it in a book.”
Sam smiled at him. He held up his drink for a toast. “Salesman of the year,” he called out. “Mark Dixon! Forty-four million!”
Other people in the bar applauded.
“This is for you, buddy,” Sam said with his white teeth. “You did it.”
Mark smiled and waved around the bar. He downed the rest of his drink.
Sam’s phone buzzed and lit up on the table. He picked it up and unlocked the screen. He laughed and showed the phone to Mark. It was a picture of lacy underwear under a dark skirt with smooth spread legs. The pic was forwarded from Richie’s text messages. “Elsie fucking Gaynor,” Sam said. “That piece of shit, Hollister. The game is fucking on.”
“I think this rum is turning on me,” Mark said and got up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”
“Watch out for the lagoon, Dixon!” Sam called after him.
Mark nodded and staggered away from the bar.
“You’re a fucking stud, Dixon!” A lanyard told him with a slap on the back.
“Thank you,” Mark said.
“They were all bluebirds, you sonofabitch!”
“Thanks,” Mark said.
“Nice work, Dixon,” Bob Castle told him by the entrance to the steak house. “Hope you can get to the stage for the winners circle tomorrow night.” He shook Mark’s hand.
“Thank you,” Mark said. “Excuse me.”
He kept moving. He steadied himself on a palm tree. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his head. He opened his eyes and saw the water park family. He saw them walking away. What if he wanted that? What if he didn’t want anything at all? What would that take?
Mark looked for an exit. He looked for something that went outside. “How do I get out?” He asked people. “Where’s the fucking exit? This place is a nightmare.” He walked in circles. He was in some new fake paradise and couldn’t find his way out of it. He saw a black door marked “Emergency Exit.” He went to the door and pushed it out and almost fell onto the asphalt of a parking lot.
Mark doubled over and felt like he was going to throw up but didn’t. He felt the heat and the half boiled air. He looked at the hazy darkening sky, at the smog orange and the last desperate yellow.
“You’re not supposed to be out here,” a woman told him from somewhere back by the resort wall. “It’s a staff door. Your room key won’t get you in.”
Mark straightened himself up and turned to see the cocktail waitress from the first bar. She was smoking a cigarette. “Fuck,” he said.
“I’m not in that business, creepo,” she said. “Try the internet.”
“No,” Mark said. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m not trying to- … I’m just not, okay?”
“You guys really know how to get wasted before sunset, huh?”
“It’s a special occasion,” Mark told her. “I’m salesman of the year.” She didn’t seem impressed. He would be disappointed if she was. “Look, did you get into trouble?” Mark asked her. “Because of my friend?”
“No,” she said. “He’s not the first forty year old frat boy that thinks spring break follows my ass around and he’s not the first asshole that got a drink in his lap for it. It happens around here. I’ll get a shit tip. Maybe get docked if he disputes the tab.” She shrugged and flicked ash from the end of her cigarette. “Really not the end of the world.”
“It’s my tab,” Mark said. “On me, I mean. I won’t dispute it. I won’t give you a shit tip either.”
“Whatever,” she said.
“Do you live here?” Mark asked her. “Around here?”
She nodded. “Poorlando,” she told him. “Out that way,” she pointed, “past the highway. About as far from Disney as you can get.”
Why do you work here?” Mark asked.
“Because I can’t quit smoking,” she said. She took a drag. “Theoretically, I’m worth about a pack an hour.”
“I’m sorry,” Mark repeated. “My friend was an asshole. He is an asshole.”
“Sounds like a good friend,” she said.
“I can’t stand him actually,” Mark said. “I can’t stand any of them really.”
“Go home salesman of the year, you’re drunk,” she said with a smile.
Mark laughed. “I have a shitty fucking condo,” he told her. “I have a shitty fucking girlfriend and a shitty fucking five thousand dollar television.”
“Sounds terrible,” she told him. She looked at her phone. She took a final drag from her cigarette and tossed it onto the blacktop.
“I was you before,” Mark said. “I was you. I was younger. I was, I don’t know,different. I used to think I wasn’t going to be like this. I used to think I’d end up better than me.”
“My break’s over,” she said. “I have to go back in. I can let you through the door or else you’re going to have to walk around the outside to the front doors.”
“What?” Mark asked her.
She stomped on the cigarette. “Break’s over, man,” she said.
“Thanks,” Mark said. “I’ll stay out a little while. I can walk around.”
She crouched down and picked up the cigarette butt from the ground. “Listen, I’m not supposed to smoke out here.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Mark said. He sat down on the asphalt. It was hot enough that he felt it through his khakis.
“Okay,” she said and walked back to the door. It beeped from her keycard and she went inside.
Mark looked out at the distance and listened to the highway. He looked up and watched airplanes coming and going.