A good sales pitch
'Your eleven o'clock's here.'
'Henry Byrd, from Caligenic Enterprises.'
'Never heard of him.'
'Well, you have an appointment with him.'
'Whatever. Where is he?'
The secretary pointed toward a short, bald man in his mid-fifties, sitting still with an old-fashioned doctor's handbag, straight up, on his legs. He was wearing thick-rimmed glasses, reminding George of his old chemistry teacher. There was something too nervous, too tight about this guy. Whatever he's selling, I don't wanna buy, George thought, as he walked toward him, hand stretched out.
'Mr Williams, I was hoping to give you my Caligenic presentation… is there a conference room near here where I can show you our proposal?'
'Yes, but frankly, I'm not so sure that we…'
'Don't worry, Mr Byrd. I won't waste your time if you're not interested.'
But that was exactly what Henry Byrd did. Neither convoluted diagrams nor visionary prose, neither veiled threats nor badly concealed pleas could convince George that Henry Byrd had anything that George's company could possibly want, gain by, enjoy for the fun of it, or increase its profit margin with. And worst of all, Byrd didn't listen to any of the objections. 'But what about the costs?' George would say (loudly, because that was the only way to interrupt), and Byrd would mutter, 'Yes, the costs, the costs, of course, the costs', and continue his monolog as if nothing had been said.
George wondered if Byrd had been trained on some old-fashioned, outdated sales techniques that no longer applied, but that had worked like a dream in 1951 if what you were selling was encyclopedias and if who was buying was a gullible suburban housewife. And apart from that, the man had brought nothing along. No laptop, no presentation sheets, no marketing material, just himself. Even a pen he needed to borrow. What he did have was a business card, which, while looking pristine, smelled slightly dusty.
'Listen, Mr Byrd, I really don't think that-'
'And so you see, as we apply the-'
'And it's coming to about lunchtime, so-'
Mr Byrd froze. It was as if all of a sudden, he had realized the futility of his labors. There was something like relief in his smile. George frowned at this change in the man's demeanor and said, 'You're welcome to join me.'
Soup, a prawn salad, a hot plate (steak, baked potatoes and green beans), orange juice and a yogurt dessert slid on their tray along the cash register. George, who himself had only taken a ham sandwich and a coffee, so as to get the hell out of the wasted morning as soon as possible, whipped out his company card. 'It's on me', he said, mechanically.
Mr Byrd stood in front of him, holding the tray, checking out the canteen for a good place to sit. It was a cloudy day, but he managed to find a seat at the one window that let in a small rectangle of sunlight. George said opposite him, expecting the sales pitch to continue or, worse, to hear about this man's kids, possibly even grandchildren.
But there was no reason to worry about that. Mr Byrd didn't just start eating, he seemed to attack his food. The soup was gulped down without the help of a spoon. Instead, he used the tablespoon to heap the prawn salad onto, and, by doing so, managed to eat it in two bites. When the knife turned out to be blunt, he dug his fork into the steak and simply pulled on it, ripping off a strip. Chewing it hastily, he let the fork jump onto the plate three or four times, picking up a baby potato each time, and then shoved the parade into his mouth. George sat open-mouthed as Mr Byrd practically flung the contents of his tray into his mouth. He seemed pretty experienced at it, too, because when he patted his still-chewing mouth with the paper napkin, it was only out of good manners: not a trace of food was to be seen anywhere. The lunch had simply vanished.
'Are, are you in a hurry?' George managed to ask.
Mr Byrd looked at him, puzzled, then exclaimed, 'Yes, yes I am, very pressed, there are many many people interested in our product you see, and I'm sure you do see, after today's presentation.'
'Well, I'll let you know.'
'You do that. Now, I must be off', and with a mumbled 'thankyou', Mr Byrd clutched his bag to his chest and raced out of the canteen.
'It was like one of those pie eating contests, you know, 'Who can eat the most oysters in a minute' kind of thing. I've never seen anything like it.'
George had made Mr Byrd's lunch his Anecdote of the Day.
'Wow', said Al, a client. 'It sounds like a variety act.'
'You could almost call it that.'
'So does he have anything interesting to sell?'
'Oh, no, no, absolutely not. I would never recommend him.'
'I'm going to invite him for a sales pitch. I don't care about his product, I just have to see this guy eat lunch.'
'No, it sounds like fun. Did he give you a business card?'
'Sure, here it is, keep it.'
'Caligenic...doesn't ring a bell at all.'
'No, I'd never heard of them either.'
Several days later, Al called.
'Wait till you hear this.'
'Caligenic is bankrupt.'
'You know, your lunch guy's company. It's bankrupt, and has been for four years.'
'What do you mean?'
'I checked with the Chamber of Commerce, they don't exist anymore.'
'Then who is Mr Byrd?'
'I checked as well. He worked for Caligenic, but not anymore.'
'Where does he work now?'
'Nowhere, he's unemployed and –get this- homeless.'
'He's a bum?'
'Yeah, you saw him in his one good suit, I guess.'
'Amazing. So it was all about the lunch?'
'Obviously. It explains a lot.'
George never expected to hear from Mr Byrd again. But the next Monday, he could hear his agitated, don't-dare-to-interrupt-me voice over the phone. He could swear he heard someone singing incoherently in the background.
'Mr Williams, have you considered my proposition?'
'I have, Mr Byrd, and I'm not interested, to be very honest.'
'Well, maybe you could refer me to one of your business associates. I'm sure that a recommendation from you would do a world of good.'
George was silent for a moment.
'Mr Williams, are you still there?'
'Yes Mr Byrd, in fact I can refer you to someone. His name is Al Hartman and he works for a client of ours, Molxit.'