I never thought that the first time I saw Vidar Nilsson, recluse multi-billionaire, owner of half a dozen IT companies and creator of the Nils Operating System, that he would be in his underwear, but that’s what happened.
You see, I work for Mr. Nilsson. I’m the woman who cleans his penthouse apartment in downtown Dallas every day, but I had never met him face-to-face before, because he doesn’t like people.
Personally, I don’t blame him. I don’t like everyone, either, but then I don’t have mega millions to insulate myself like he does.
When I first started working on the cleaning crew at Nilsson Tower, Mr. Patterson explained the rules. Mr. Nilsson liked his privacy and if we ever met him, we were not to approach him or acknowledge him in any way. We were to just keep vacuuming, dusting or emptying the trash and pretend we hadn’t seen him.
There was a special elevator that went to the penthouse and only the housekeeping supervisor Mr. Patterson, the concierge Ms. Fenwood, who was a battle-ax, and one lucky housekeeper were cleared for access to his living quarters.
It sounded more like a prison to me, but then, who was I to judge? I lived in a ratty studio apartment in Richardson and took a DART bus to get to work every day.
But since I was working at Nilsson Tower, I did a little research on Vidar and his family.
Grandpa Alberg Nilsson – how’s that for a weird Swedish name? – made his initial millions in hotels after immigrating to the US in the 1950’s. He had three children: Frederick who was a playboy, Theodore who seemed reasonable, and Gertrude who was a socialite and married six times, rivalling Elizabeth Taylor for media attention.
It was a case of too much too soon, I figured. How was anyone supposed to grow up normal if they had more money than they knew what to do with and without a strong parent to set boundaries?
Vidar’s father was Frederick. He bought stock in phone companies when AT&T split up in the 1980’s and over time that morphed into Nilsson Technologies. And about five years ago, Vidar who is something of a computer genius created the Nils Operating System with his half- brother Gareth. Vidar had another, older brother Emil who had died in a motorcycle accident.
Gareth is the company spokesman – like Steve Jobs with Vidar being behind the scenes, more like Steve Wozniak.
Gareth is tall, dark and handsome with a winning smile.
There are very few pictures of Vidar online, and although he’s tall and dark and handsome, too, he’s never smiling. Vidar spends most of his time upstairs in his penthouse apartment, or in California at the Nilsson Technologies headquarters, or at some undisclosed Colorado lodge.
I’ll admit, I found all that mystery intriguing, but like a good little worker bee, I just did my job and tried not to waste time thinking about him.
And then, after I’d worked at Nilsson tower for four years, I was chosen to be Vidar’s housekeeper.
It meant a big pay raise, so I was thrilled.
The first time I was let into the penthouse apartment, I was disappointed. It was a huge modern apartment, sleek and lovely, decorated mostly in grays and blues, but there was nothing particularly memorable about it, unless one counted the walls of glass windows that looked out onto downtown Dallas and the Trinity River. There was no golden statue of Aphrodite in the bathroom, no Matisse painting on the living room walls.
What was the point of having all that money and not spending it?
But then, Vidar probably felt differently.
And once I was cleaning his place, I learned a few more rules. There was an electronic system that overrode my access to his apartment if he was present. If I came to clean, and my access was denied, I was to wait an hour and try again. If my access was denied twice, I was to leave and come back the next day.
No problem. I didn’t mind being paid to wait in a hallway. I’d just whip out my phone and study for one of my classes.
Sometimes I waved at the surveillance cameras that also monitored me. I wondered if anyone ever watched me or if it was just a ruse – you know, like putting fake cameras up as a theft deterrent. That would make an interesting experiment, to see if the size of a camera made a difference on an individual’s behavior.
I’m studying psychology at UTD. University of Texas at Dallas. It’s probably going to take me ten years to get my degree, but I’m going to do it. I’ll be the first in my family to get a college degree.
Not that any of them would care, other than my Gran.
Now the day I met Vidar Nilsson started like any other day. I was up at eight, took the bus downtown to Elm Street and entered the employee’s area on the second floor of Nilsson Tower. The first floor is primarily foyer and elevators. In the employee area, there are rows of gray lockers and I changed into my work uniform: black shirt, black pants, and black apron with pockets. No logos or tags.
Most of my co-workers worked the night shift, so I rarely saw them now. As Vidar’s housekeeper, I worked alone. I pulled my shoulder-length brown hair back with a hair elastic and smiled briefly at the mirror.
Time to get to work.
I loaded the work cart with my cleaning supplies and used my passcode to enter the private elevator.
I hummed a bit as the elevator rose, but then I grew quiet as the elevator doors opened onto the top floor. The access for this door required a thumbprint scan. Every day I felt like I was in a Mission Impossible movie – without Tom Cruise.
I waited for a moment while the computer performed its necessary functions, then there was a musical ding, and the inner lock unlatched so I could open the doors.
Once inside, I opened one of the trash bags and put plastic gloves on my hands. Cleaning Vidar’s three thousand square foot apartment was easy – he wasn’t a messy person. I had a strict routine, starting with the kitchen.
First step was to check the refrigerator door for messages. If he wanted to tell me something, which was rare, he left little yellow sticky notes on the stainless-steel door.
On this particular day, there were no messages.
I filled one side of the kitchen sink with soapy water and began working, loading the dishwasher and washing the marble counter tops.
I had been the one to start the notes-on-the-refrigerator routine. Five months before, I’d knocked a small black vase off the fireplace mantel when I was dusting, and so I left the pieces in a little plastic bag on the kitchen counter and put a sticky note on the fridge.
Sorry, I broke your vase. Housekeeping N.
I wasn’t going to be like the poor hapless heroine of the novel Rebecca and hide the broken pieces in a desk drawer. I believed in facing one’s mistakes, regardless of the consequences.
I also reported the matter to Mr. Cline, my current supervisor, who was not pleased. He said he would let me know if Mr. Nilsson wanted to fire me.
“Fire me – over a vase?”
He shook his head. “You never know. Mr. Nilsson once fired a housekeeper for continuing to put the bathmat on the side of the tub rather than on the floor. He likes things just so.”
I had noticed that. When I first started cleaning his apartment, I was given a long list of rules about what belonged where and the importance of keeping everything parallel and perpendicular.
Vidar’s apartment had two and a half baths. The largest bath, attached to the master bedroom was bigger than my living room, with a large walk in jacuzzi tub. I don’t think he used the jacuzzi often, because there was never any soap ring, and I thought that was a shame. If I had a jacuzzi tub, I would live in it.
The next day, there was a yellow sticky note with words written in thick black block letters:
NO PROBLEM. THANKS FOR TELLING ME. V
Whew. Dodged that bullet.
I smiled though, to think that with all those capitals, Vidar was shouting at me.
Before the note, I always referred to him as Mr. Nilsson, but that V at the end of the note seemed to be his permission for me to call him Vidar.
Vidar. I didn’t know if his name was pronounced VEE-dar or Vi-DAAR, so I looked it up online and decided Vi-DAAR sounded more like a Viking.
Sometimes when I cleaned his toilets, I amused myself by imagining him wearing a helmet with two long blonde braids.
Since then, we had exchanged a dozen notes, maybe a few more. The most amusing exchange was a month before when I accidentally left my lunch in Vidar’s refrigerator.
It was my homemade chicken soup – Gran’s recipe, which is full of celery, cilantro, and those fat ribbon noodles. The next day, there was a note and a fifty-dollar bill on the refrigerator.
SORRY. ATE YOUR SOUP BY MISTAKE THINKING IT WAS MINE. V
His refrigerator always had well-labeled containers of various restaurant foods in neat rows. He must not have been paying attention when he opened a Kroger plastic bag and found my soup. My slightly warped plastic container and lid were in the sink, waiting for me to wash them.
I left a note for him.
No Problem. Sorry I left it there by mistake. N
The next day, there was another note from him.
THAT SOUP WAS REALLY GOOD. WHERE CAN I GET MORE? V
Sorry. Family recipe. I scribbled out a list of the ingredients and instructions for him: chicken, onions, celery, carrots, cabbage, cilantro, noodles, butter. Cook chicken and debone first and throw the rest in a pot with water and simmer. No measurements. Every time it turns out different. N
The following day, there was another yellow sticky note on the refrigerator.
MAYBE I SHOULD HIRE YOU AS MY COOK. V
That ‘maybe’ wasn’t a real job offer. I smiled and wrote back:
Sorry. I only have two recipes – chicken soup and meatloaf. N
TOO BAD. V and a smiley face.
That smiley face made me feel like we were friends. Not real friends, but it made me happier to think I was cleaning the home of a person who would put a smiley face on a note.
My billionaire boss might be persnickety about the placement of bath mats, but he had some manners.
Two weeks later, when I made chicken soup again, I brought a container for him. I put a sticky note on it saying simply:
His response? A fifty-dollar bill and one word:
That fifty-dollar bill annoyed me. I could use the money, but his response had turned my generous gesture into a job. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that first fifty-dollar bill from him.
I debated, even going so far as to put the money in my wallet. But in the end, I put President Grant back on the refrigerator with another note:
No $$ needed. It was a gift. N
The next day?
After that, neither of us wrote again, but I felt that we both knew each other better, and we respected each other.
But back to that particular day.
After cleaning the kitchen, I cleaned the half bath and the smaller bathroom. When I came into the master bedroom, Vidar’s enormous king-sized bed was unmade, as usual. Since it was Tuesday, I’d be stripping the sheets and replacing them. Vidar liked clean sheets twice a week.
I wheeled my cleaning cart to the door of the master bathroom and stepped inside.
And Vidar Nilsson was standing in front of the sink, looking in the mirror, brushing his teeth, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts.
Ralph Lauren boxer shorts, not that I was looking closely.
I was so startled, I gave out a little squeak of alarm and backed away, stumbling over the cleaning cart, feeling like an idiot.
He dropped his toothbrush and held out his hand to steady me. “Are you okay?”
Okay? With him almost naked in front of me? Him touching my arm?
On a purely intellectual level, I knew Vidar was good-looking, but seeing him like some swimsuit model come to life was doing strange things to my nervous system. He had broad, muscled shoulders that tapered down in a sexy vee across toned abs. His chest had a sprinkling of dark hair.
I looked hastily back up to his face. His face was slightly pink. He looked as embarrassed as I felt. His dark hair was wet and tousled as if he had just taken a shower. He had a shadow of beard on his jawline, which meant he hadn’t shaved yet.
He pulled his hand back and said, “Sorry,” just as I said, “Sorry.”
Dear Heavens, he smelled fantastic, although I knew some of that was soap.
I swallowed. I said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt you. The alarm system didn’t stop me.”
“I was tired last night,” he said quickly. “I must have forgotten to set it.”
That didn’t sound like him. As far as I knew, he’d never forgotten to set the alarm before.
I nodded nervously. “I’ll get out, right now.”
He looked at me closely. “What’s your name?”
I frowned, wondering if he was going to tell Mr. Cline to fire me. “Nicole.”
He held out his hand to shake mine. “Nice to meet you, Nicole.”