After boarding in Portland I settled in for a relatively short flight to Phoenix. For a while I thought no one was going to occupy the seat to my right, but at the last minute a compact man plopped down in it. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I tilted my head back and closed my eyes.
Then I heard him ask me almost in a whisper, “Is this a business trip for you?”
I opened my eyes and turned to him. “No, actually, I’m going to visit my children. More of a relaxation trip.”
He smiled. “That’s great. I wish I could say that. I gotta whole bunch of relatives that want me to cook for them.”
I really didn’t want to converse. I just wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t help myself. I smiled back at him. “Are you a chef or something like that?”
“Well, yes and no. I used to be chef. In fact, I opened a restaurant in Seattle and then sold it for about ten times what it cost me to start it.”
Now he had my interest. I hadn’t told him what I did for a living but I expected him to ask before too long. As he told me about his investments and successful money-making schemes, I started forgetting about my much-desired sleep. The man had taken the proceeds from the sale of his restaurant and used it to fund some of his inventions, one of which was a barbeque grill that used no fire. I didn’t quite understand how it worked but I was intrigued by the man’s enthusiasm. “Is that invention on the market?” I asked, referring to the barbeque gadget.
“Not yet,” he said, but I’m trying it out on my family in Phoenix. That’s why I said this is a business trip. They call it ‘product validation’ when you set out to prove your invention performs that way you advertise it.”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” I said. My wife who was seated to my left rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Cut the crap, you don’t know anything about advertising.” She turned her head and gazed out the window to her left.
The man rambled on for the entire duration of the flight. I just nodded at the appropriate times and grinned at him. When the announcement came that we were about to land, he asked, “So it sounds like you do some investing of your own?”
Actually, I had not said a word about my profession but I understood the attempt to dig some information from me. “Personally, no, I don’t do that. Some of our clients where I work do.”
The man thought about it for a few seconds, the longest period of his silence since he began talking. He leaned into me and I could smell the faint odor of his Old Spice cologne. “So you help them invest in stocks, bonds, that sort of thing?”
I smiled. “No, others in my firm do that. I just happen to know about it.”
“I see,” he said. My wife elbowed me gently. I knew she was telling me to quit playing games with him.
“Your clients must trust you, that’s why they bring money to you and let you handle it for them,” he said.
“I suppose you’re right. You gotta have trust to have a good working relationship in any kind of business.”
It then dawned on me that I had never told this man my name and he had not disclosed his to me. Then came what I thought was his ultimate pitch. “Oh yes, it’s all about trust. In fact, I don’t give out my business card unless I am asked for it. That’s when I know I have the person’s trust.” There it was. His not-so-subtle suggestion that if I would only ask, he would oblige.
“That’s a good strategy,” I said, nodding.
We landed and deboarded. On the way to the baggage area my wife and I walked about ten feet behind the compact man, who was now talking to another man. I thought I’d heard the last of his voice but there it was again. “So, is this a business trip for you, or pleasure?”
Michael M. Pacheco's debut novel The Guadalupe Saints was published by Paraguas Books in April 2011, and his novella Seeking Tierra Santa was released in May 2011.