Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everybody Knows Bob - Part 1 of 2

Now for a break from novel length, here is a quick short story.
© 2011 by Henry Melton

The security desk was an artwork in its own right, in dark tones. He ran his fingertips over the dark burnished metal, admiring the gray-tinted glass. Obscured, but watchful -- some nameless architect had the soul of an artist.
He put his hand to the off-limits door and stepped quietly in among the bewildering matrix of security monitoring screens. Three security guards looked up as he entered, their expressions of alarm turning to recognition. He put his finger to his lips and they nodded, turning back to their duties.
The arrival of the Monet, direct from the auction at Christie's had been a featured article in the local papers. What better way for a rising star in the software world to declare its solvency to potential customers than to pay an extra couple of million for one of the world's most famous works of art, and hang it in the lobby as a reminder?
Unfortunately, the painting was hung high and out of reach of the crowd. Thus his search for a better view.
He settled into one of the black swivel chairs and randomly started pushing buttons. The screen at his station flickered from camera to camera, taking in the unseasonal crowd in the lobby, as well as views down the corridors and out into the parking areas.
A face appeared, a flash of elfin face with hazel eyes. His finger, moving too fast to stop, hit the key again and an unknown corridor appeared.
No. Wait. How do I get back? He fumbled with the unfamiliar controls and then gave up to look through the glass, trying to find the person belonging to the face.
A cluster of employees were arriving for the day, showing their badges and then passing down the corridors. All he could see of the group was their backs.
He nodded to the security guards and walked out. A wave at the badge-check guard earned him a smile and a nod. He moved briskly down the corridor, trying to catch up.
The taylor who made his favorite gray suit shared his love for subtle textures. He relished its feel -- and today he needed it. The suit shouted Upper Management to workers as he passed the various offices. People waved, but didn't try to stop him. The suit gave him some needed distance.
This is silly. I haven't gone chasing a pretty girl in a long time. Still, he kept looking.
A glance in the next open office, done up in warm earth tones and trimmed with boxed ivy plants, showed it to be cube space for a hundred or more workers. The secretary, and everyone walking the aisles greeted him with a smile of recognition.
He gave them his standard smile, and a little wave, but kept walking. None of them wanted to bother him when he was busy.
On impulse, he turned down the third aisle, anonymous cubes on the outside except for the embossed Lucite name plates. He was perpetually grateful for those, as well as for name badges. Everyone knew him, but the reverse wasn't true.
"Hello Bob! Good to see you."
He glanced at the nameplate. "Kevin." He looked at the pictures on the inside walls, "How's your car?"
Kevin beamed. He pulled out the photos of his new Corvette, just like a proud papa with baby pictures. 
He just smiled and nodded at the right times, pretending to listen to the automotive jargon.
Other co-workers started gathering, drawn by Kevin's enthusiasm, but as soon as they realized he was there, they all wanted to greet him too. He directed the conversation to Kevin's car, and slipped out as soon as he could.
He caught sight of her at the end of the aisle. Doing her best to tune out the socializing just a few feet away she stared intently at the diagram on her screen.
He paused, watching the back of Janet Gunn's neck, a pen between her fingers as she twirled one overworked lock of her short black hair.
Quickly, she sensed his presence and looked up. In that half-second before the smile, he read anger, frustration -- fear.
But the mouth and those hazel eyes peeking out behind her long bangs -- beauty made his heart beat faster. That single second on the security monitor hadn't played him false. Appreciation of the excellent was his call in life. He planned to bask in her presence much longer.
"Bob! Have a seat. Stay a bit." Whatever distressed her had vanished under the spell of his presence.
He took the second chair, and casually edged it to where passers-by wouldn't see him and stop. He could feel himself grinning. She was casting a spell over him, too.
"Janet, how are you doing today?"
Her smile sagged a little. "Oh, as usual." She waved her hand, taking in the whole building.
Something was troubling the girl.
"Tell me, Janet, who am I?"
She blinked. It was obvious who he was, and she hadn't really put it into words before.
"Well, you're my friend -- a co-worker."
He nodded, "And you trust me, right?"
She looked at him with the left side of her mouth trying to break into a grin. "You have to ask?"
"Then tell me. What's wrong here? I have some power. I can make a difference for you."
She shook her head. "No, I wouldn't want any favoritism. That's part of the problem. It's..." She looked to the aisle, and shook her head.
He recognized the signs. "Let's go out for lunch, some place where we can talk. I can't have you unhappy like this."
She glanced at the clock. "No, it's way too early. Besides, I have to get this documentation ready for the meeting tomorrow. There's just no time."
He got to his feet, and held out his hand to her. "I can take care of that. Lead me to your boss."
She hesitated, but then her confidence in him wiped aside her worries. She put down her pen and led him through the maze. He fielded a half-dozen greetings from other denizens of the workplace, but his eyes were locked on her.
Janet was a perfectly cut crystal wrapped in a wrinkled paper sack. She wore drab clothes, pants and a shirt. Most of the men here dressed much better. She held her head down and her posture hinted at a hunched back and sagging shoulders in later life if she didn't shape up.
But when he was with her, something lit her up inside. Face to face with her smile, he was in love. Walking behind her like this, close enough to grab, his heartbeat rang like a fire alarm.
The boss had a real office, with a door that closed. He greeted them warmly. "Come in. Come in. Glad to see you." Greg Fielder said the name on the door.
"I need to borrow Janet for a few hours," he said in his best manager voice. Greg nodded.
Janet hesitantly said, "I told Bob I had the flow-charts to correct by tomorrow."
Greg shook his head. "That's okay, I can get Bartlett to do them. I'm sure whatever Bob needs is more important."
"Greg, you might want to note down that she's gone for training on your work sheet. We need to make sure training costs get allocated properly."
"Sure. No problem Bob." And then when his visitor's expectant silence dragged on, Janet's boss suddenly realized he was supposed to note it down immediately. He hurriedly pulled out the grid work sheet and filled in the hours. Greg beamed as he gave him a big smile and shook the man's hand. He'd have forgotten to do it and she would've caught the flack.
"Let me get my purse." Janet headed back to her cube.
I'll need a car. He meandered over to Kevin's cube.
"Hi, Kevin. Loan me your car?" He held out his hand for the keys.
Kevin shook, as if ice had gone down his spine. "Whoa. You know, Bob, if it were anyone else but you, I'd turn them down flat." He reached into his pocket and offered the keys.
Janet had gone back to her computer display, again with the pen in her hand.
"Janet. Your purse?"
She looked startled for a fraction of a second, but smiled and closed down the screen.
Kevin's Corvette was easy to find, and once Janet helped him remove the protective cover, he took a moment to admire the car's lines. Did the muscular shape trigger an instinctive reaction to the predatory beast, or was it sexual?
A moment later they pulled out of the parking garage and headed north.
Janet struggled with the wind in the convertible, but he told her to just push her hair back, and laugh into the wind. Soon enough, she did just that.
"I hope Greg won't get upset," she yelled at him over the wind noise, "by having my uncle pull strings."
"Oh, he won't. He trusts me. Don't give it another thought."
Driving the lakeside road in a red Corvette tempted his foot considerably, but he refrained from opening it up. He wouldn't get a ticket, but it might upset Janet.
A lush hotel appeared around the corner and on impulse, he pulled in. Tables among the palm trees promised a restaurant. The valet sprinted over. He glanced at the young man's name tag.
"Take good care of this one, Earl."
"You know it, Mr. Wilson." The attendant could barely keep his eyes off the car and took the keys gratefully. He was in the driver's seat and feeling the throttle in seconds.
Janet stood passively by as he came up to take her arm.
That's not right, he thought, affronted. Earl didn't even see her.
They entered the lobby, and he returned the volley of greetings from the staff. The restaurant entrance looked promisingly reserved, but he stopped first at the gift shop.
"Let's go in here first." 
Janet followed his lead.
The sales lady was out from behind her cash register in an instant. "Yes, Sir James, what can I help you with?"
Janet was drawn to the array of clothes that graced the small, but firmly high-end store.
He pointed. "Janet needs something with a bit more color."
"No, Bob. I can't let you...."
"Now Janet. You know I can do this. It's a simple gift. Let this lady do her job."
The sales lady, who unfortunately did not wear a name tag, was sizing up his gray suit and estimating which class of clothes would fit his credit line. She smiled brightly. "Come along, young lady. I have just the thing."
"I'll be back in a moment."
"Certainly, Sir Robert. Take your time."
He walked back to the hotel's registration desk.
"Ah, Jason. Do you have a room with a good lakeside view?"
"Of course, Mr. Samson. How about suite 1201?"
"Fine. Charge it under the house account."
He received the key and scouted out the restaurant, then back to the shop before Janet could forget her intent to let him buy her the clothes.

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