First Episode of an Original Story
Melissa J. Vivigatz
~ * ~
I turned forty-one today. Not something I really wanted to think about, especially after the big old ego-grinding ‘gift’ I received last year, but one of the secretaries, Betty, a grandmother of three whose been with the firm longer than most of us she works for holds a lot of stock in these things. She will never be able to work a palm pad, not with those ant-frying glasses, yet she has everyone’s birthdays in her main’s calendar set to remind her a week in advance, complete with little jingle.
The dreaded tune of mortality. Happy Birthday? More like the Grim Reaper popping up and waving, “Kiss another one good-bye, Steven old buddy. Be catching you soon!”
So here I sit, desk sporting the usual little cheap plastic and gag trinkets that are just going to end up in the trash tonight. Not all of them, of course. A few items like the little bear in the grey suit that Betty made will go into the office’s Christmas Goodwill box. She doesn’t mind, it certainly won’t be the first. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn she makes them just so some of the really old codgers above actually put something in there.
Sorry, Betty. I think it takes a little more effort than that to save one’s soul. No, tossing a toy in a cardboard box once a year for some shelter kid doesn’t quite balance things out.
Not that I am ever going to end up like them, the ones with the fancy corner window offices or anything. No, I’ve probably gone as far up the ladder as I am going to here, thanks to my wife.
My ex-wife. Eleven months and six days counting today since that all ended. (Forty. Oh, yes, now that had been a fun year, let me tell you.) Did my best though, turned down the promotion—which you just do not do—because of the extra hours it would have kept me away. Sheila always complained about that—not my salary (or bit of inheritance well managed that let us live higher than average). No, that was just fine. Just being married to a lawyer turned out not to be as glamorous as she had thought it would be.
Then it turns out her complaints about my hours were not really meant either. Not when I came home early one time and caught her with another man.
Had been going on a while, apparently. “He wants to have children,” Sheila had said to me, defiant look in her eyes.
Well, so had I, only Sheila had always been the one saying she hadn’t wanted any.
When had that changed? Why, for the love of god, hadn’t she said anything to me?
No matter. The divorce went through fine—I am a lawyer in an well established firm, for god’s sakes. Still, no matter it all worked out, I am a man in the business where social things must be ‘up kept’. A man had to have a wife on his arm when you went to company dinners, socials with clients and the odd, yet mandatory political occasions. Announcement of stability and propriety. Sure, many were not with the ones they had started out in the beginning with, still, I thought she and I had really had something once, believed in it. Relied upon it.
Eleven months and six days, too soon to look for a trophy wife. All thanks to Betty’s daughter-in-law’s cousin aside, I doubt I ever will be. Just not that type of man, I suppose.
Seven o’clock and all is quiet without; time to deal with the junk.
Crinkle of cheap tissue paper as things were dropped into the bin, the bear going into large bottom drawer where oddments were kept. Smiled when I came to the CD. Not a real one, something burned off a home computer. (So much for copyrights!) Still, David was just an intern, one of our new ones taken on annually, and we all know how long it takes to pay off student loans.
I sat back and flipped it over, the non-jarring abstract pattern continuing on back of the case. Good play list, mix of jazz I knew and some never heard of before along with other things tossed in. I’d an idea I’d like it, even the unknown stuff. David was a good kid, spent as much time around the firm as any of the large billers despite the fact he was just an work-student intern and didn’t get paid for it. Was glad he was in this section’s rotation. Smart, able to work the file system like he was born to it; pull up the needed briefs when you asked—and sometimes before you knew you’d be needing them. Real nose for this stuff, corner office in his future, that was certain. Maybe in his thirties.
I should be jealous, bright kid starting out, the world’s possibilities all open in wait for his taking, but I’m not. Strange when you think of it, not really logical, but that was the way it was. Guess there was still something remaining beneath all the pessimism after all.
What the heck. I opened it up and stuck it in the player. Dave Brubeck right off the bat. Nothing too distracting, just something to keep things flowing smooth. Good organ piece after that. Figured these days all they knew was electric keyboard. Then again, this was from David. I don’t know, despite him being early twenty-something or other things just seems to ‘click’ there from the word go. Doesn’t talk a lot, yet when he does it is usually interesting, if not downright insightful. Things I can understand, and there’ve been a few times of late where we’d gotten to speaking other than work stuff. Not the norm with interns, who were always trying to impress you with the lingo and their knowledge—or with distracting questioning to show they were ‘eagerly’ paying attention. Not David though. Just casual things, a couple of stories, antics on campus that brought back memories and the latest happenings about the city. (Turns out he had a wicked sense of humor to go with that innocent grin. Better, he had sense enough to he kept it totally curbed here.) And if this was the type of music he listens to at some of those clubs he mentioned I might give them a shot myself. After all, I had the free time now, didn’t I?
Ah, Sheila, you bitch. Hope you are happy. I’m fairly sure you are not though. Not with that email last week, or the one today (no ‘Happy Birthdays’ there,) asking ‘casually’ about those side accounts I set up, vacation ones and the like. Trust funds in case you’d ever change your mind about children.
No, you got more than enough to see anyone else set for a long time and my hands are gladly washed of you.
Reminded me. Make a metal note to have her account blocked from the firm’s private system. The show was over, there was nothing more to email the other about. New lives for us both, such as they were. I’ve had enough. Leave me alone, I am done.
Quick glanced at the clock later when the knock on the door came. Eight p.m. and I knew who it had to be.
“Come on in, David.” Smiling when he did, stack of folders in his hand. “What are you still doing here?”
Indicated his bundle, “I told Betty I would get these in the inboxes for her. Trusts me better than most that they’ll end up in the right ones. What are you still doing here, Mr. Hanscom? Your birthday and everything.”
“Don’t remind me. Thank you for this, by the way,” I bobbed my head towards the speaker in the wall.
“You’re welcome. What do you think of the Celtic music?”
“Not a mix I would have expected. I like it though.”
“One of my favorite groups. Kimberly turned me on to them a few years back. From her tape collection.” Emphasized, like she gathered fossils or something.
I picked up the plastic cover and turned it over. “Clannad?”
“Enya’s old group.” He had to explain who that was. I guess my look was telling as he shrugged, “It is hard to describe. I’ll bring some by tomorrow if you’d like?”
“That would be nice, thank you.”
“Would you like some fresh coffee, Mr. Hanscom? I just put on another pot. In your old cup, of course.”
Snort at the mug on the corner of the desk. A stupid, cutesy lawyer saying thing, gift from one of the secretaries. I didn’t use mugs, preferring to keep to a much loved china cup and saucer set inherited. No further words spoken as with a grin he picked up my old familiars and left, returning shortly with a tea mug of his own and sitting down on the chair across the desk.
“I don’t know how you can drink that stuff,” I said as I waited for mine to cool down. Black as sin, just the way I liked it.
“Too many months round the clock with the other. Studying for exams, I bet if I gave blood it would have come out hazelnut.”
I shuddered, flavored coffee. “No wonder you gave it up.” Sip, “Still, you make a good cup. Better than that Sally.”
“It pays to have office skills,” he said with a nod before grinning boyishly, “Then again, I think it pays more when you don’t!”
This had me laugh and I choked a bit while trying to swallow. The newest secretary (loathed by Betty and not because a delete button had been hit by accident twice now,) had been hired by Baxter for her looks more than anything else competency related. Everyone knew it, and knowing more, did not say a word.
“She likes your butt, by the way.”
“What?” I asked startled, thankful I had put my cup down.
“Word around the cooler. At least it was what she was saying till I walked by.”
That and something else by the way he glanced away. David wasn’t one to speak out against anyone. Part of the reason I’d been so startled he’d said anything.
And when he’d moved his eyes they’d caught on the stupid mug again. Gift from Sally and full of candy. Candy hearts.
Oh great. Possibly she had a thing going on with Baxter—(really bad image there)—but I was the one who was divorced. Not to mention a decade and a half younger than the letch.
“Thank you for the warning, David.”
His turn to look surprised, “I didn’t say anything, Mr. Hanscom.”
“Knowing the principles, you didn’t have to. I do not need trouble with that old bastard. So again, thank you.”
A pause, then, “Well, I guess I should let you get back to work, sir.”
“Ah, so Kimberly is waiting,” I smiled in knowing.
“No, she’s visiting her folks for the weekend. Left this morning.”
I frowned, looking at the clock again, “Don’t tell me you are planning to ride your bike home at this hour?” I didn’t know where he lived, yet it was certainly no where close.
“No, I was going to the pub when done; catch a late bus.”
“That’s a relief. Any further movement on that mugging last month?” He shrugged. Terrible the way the world was. The bruises were all gone now, yet he’d certainly been a sight while they were there. As it was he was going to be sporting that scar on his left upper cheek for a long time. Clipped by a blade while ice-skating with his girlfriend, the remembrance courtesy of some kids horsing around and causing a pile-up. (Indoor skating, sheesh.) Good old Betty said it made him dashing, as if he were some sort of pirate or something, then laughed as he ducked his head, turning red as a beet.
Baxter, of course, had gone on about suing.
“They were just being kids, Mr. Baxter,” David the Intern had said to the Senior Partner.
“Never get anywhere with an attitude like that,” the old attorney had snarled in annoyance.
“I will if I go into defense.”
“Not against me, you won’t,” Baxter had snorted and left.
Swear he had some pit-bull in his mix. Too bad he hadn’t inherited the better traits, like their looks.
David though? No, hardly a pirate. Not with that attitude or the rest of his looks. Sand-blond and blue-eyed with the odd fleck of green, that one unruly lock which he was always flicking back up through one method or another, David looked more like he could have been an art major than a lawyer. Still, he would look good up there before the bench as a defense. (Inner smile at the image of him in a suit doing the dance. Whatever it was, I was going to be there for that trial. This kid was destined to be something one day, if nothing else, I’d be one of the ones who could say I knew him ‘back when’.) And who knows, maybe Betty was right in some sense. Depending on the jury, something like that could go either way in your favor. Looks were important when you were walking the bench. (I think Baxter terrified more than convinced the jury half the time to win his cases.) At best a scar told people you’d been through something yourself. At worse, it looked like you hadn’t been able to handle it and were weak. Easy prey and gullible.
“You know how these things go, Mr. Hanscom,” David was saying. “All I know is a trashcan was thrown in front of the bike and then I was on the ground. I didn’t see any of them.”
I nodded in understanding, feeling a touch of the upset re-rising. Easy prey in a rotten world. Damn, that pissed me off and I grunted, “Still not going to say you were lucky, only it was a good thing it was nothing worse.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hanscom. I do not feel lucky either.”
“Between that and the other,” I nodded towards his cheek, “I’d say not. Just make certain the streak changes before you go up before the bench.”
“Considering that will be years off, I’ve hope it will.”
“Maybe not so long as that. You do good work, David. People notice, and I don’t just mean the other interns. Have to admit, I am going to miss you when you move off to another branch. Frankly, if it wasn’t a disservice to you and things you’d learn, I’d put in a request to keep you around here. Not that it would hold any merit, yet I would.”
“Mr. Hanscom...they are going to keep me on, then?”
“I know,” I waved absently, “I’m not supposed to mention it, but yes, your name is on top of the list. The top, David, as in number one. Like I said, you do good work. Of course you will take the best offer for your career, yet when time comes, I hope you’ll give this place consideration. Baxter won’t live forever after all.” Not unless he’d made a pact with the devil. Then again, this was Beast Baxter. All bets off.
“I... I really do like this place, Mr. Hanscom. Betty is great to work with.”
“And despite her silly desk, as usual with one like her, she probably knows more than the lot of us put together. Has she pinched your butt yet?” He blushed and I laughed, the only thing he could do was nod, hair lock bouncing. “Good sign. They say a pinch from Betty means you’ve a secure future ahead. Well,” I snorted ruefully, “Usually. Talk about trying to explain things to your wife, that bruise there was a good one!” Damn, I wanted something stronger than black coffee. “Speaking of, once you pass the bar, how long are you going to wait with Kimberly?”
“We’re more like good friends than anything else, Mr. Hanscom,” he said, blushing again.
“And that’s the thing you really want, David,” I said seriously. “A friend who’ll stand by you. To be there for you and you for her. Someone you can talk to. Take my word on that. Ha, for what it’s worth coming from me at any rate. God knows I screwed up bad enough on that front.” Ah, Sheila, I always knew you liked to put on airs. Only, I never realized how deep it truly went. What happened to the girl I thought I knew? The one who would just stop, calm, dignified face cracking up into giggles when I told a joke? Punching my arm, your manicured nails briefly forgotten, to have me stop so you could look all ‘proper’ again as we walked through a crowded room? Damn it, Shell, when did you become who you are now...for that matter, when did I?
God, was it all my fault?
There was a pause in silence, and for a bit I forgot there was anyone else there till the other cleared his throat.
“Mr. Hanscom, I just need to finish delivering five more files and then I’m done. I don’t really want to intrude or anything, being just an intern here I mean, but seeing how it is your birthday and everything, I didn’t know if you wanted to come to the pub or not as well?”
A regular place for most of us in the area, and feeling the way I was, it would beat hell out of sitting here for the next few hours in self-pity. Talk about wasting your time.
“You know, that’s not a bad idea. Truth is I was just puttering around. Nothing that can not be done tomorrow at any rate. So sure, why not?”
He was up fast, “That’s great! Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll see you by the door.”
“Take your time, I’m not in any rush.” He nodded and hurried out all the same. Good kid, and come to think of it, his eagerness wasn’t all that surprising. Like I’d said, people noticed. Friends with some of the ones like Betty, yes, yet knowing the brutalness of the industry, it was certain David wasn’t making any amongst the other interns. Everyone knew cuts were standard and not everyone was going to get a permanent job offer no matter the level. Not his fault, the kid was just too good.
Smart, easy going and gets along well with those not threatened by him. Nice looking...alright, straight out handsome, with a pretty girlfriend we’ve all seen, of course there are going to be ones made jealous. No wonder he comes here to relax for brief stops. That was something which could get him into trouble with the higher ups. Interns were here to work, not spend fifteen minutes or a half hour sitting around talking and drinking tea. Even ones who worked beyond pay hours.
Well, I’m not going to tell. Stress may be the norm of the profession, but way he goes at it he’ll burn out if he doesn’t. More than likely that was the reason he’d missed seeing those god damn muggers in the first place. Kid was just too tired.
His own desk straightened away, long coat on and David was still there first at the firm’s door waiting for him.
“Sorry this old man kept you waiting. You must really want a drink bad.”
“You’re not old, Mr. Hanscom,” he said as we both waved to the night security who locked up behind.
“Tell me that when you’re forty-one.”
“I will,” he said seriously, making me chuckle and shake my head.
“Come on, I’ve got to be as old as your father.”
“Almost,” he admitted. “But dad would probably fall back puffing just looking at a racquetball court.”
“Then we’ve that in common. At least after a game or two,” I said as we walked faster. Not here yet, yet the coming winter was making itself felt tonight all the same. Mid-October in the city. Crumpled bit of newspaper and garbage blowing down the street instead of leaves. Awful. No wonder I rarely went out.
“More than that, Mr. Hanscom. Remember there was that open day at the club. Why did you let Mr. Parker win?”
I cast a sharp glance at him, wondering why I wasn’t really surprised, “What do you mean?”
He ducked away, “Nothing, sir.”
“Sir. Now I do feel old,” I grunted.
“Sorry, Mr. Hanscom.”
I was starting to grow annoyed and didn’t know why. “Look,” I said, trying to keep my mood from being dumped on him, “This day has been bad enough as it is. Lets just forget that building we left and all its crap. We’re just a couple of guys going out for a drink. Call me Steven and I’ll do my best to try to forget I’m old as your father.”
“If you saw my father you’d feel a lot better, Steven. If anything, you look half as young. What hair of his is left is all grey. You don’t have a one.”
“Thank god for small favors,” I chuckled. All natural and straight black, just as I liked my coffee. Snorted as he opened the door, warm air hitting a blessed relief no matter the walk had been short. “So what made his hair turn grey?”
“Me, of course. At least that’s what he says.”
“Oh, that’s not fair.” Absent wave and hellos to a few of the regulars as we made way to a table in the center.
Shrug as parka was taken off, “Well, we don’t get along too well. Never did.”
Couple of beers ordered and brought quick. Beyond the retirees the place was slow tonight, “What about your mother?”
“She died when I was a kid. I barely remember her.”
“Something we have in common, except it was both for me. Car accident when I was twelve. Raised by my aunt.”
“No need to be. She was great. Damn cancer took her about fifteen years ago now. Beyond the apartment, I’ve a big old house waiting for me back in New England.” Settling back, “Been thinking of it a lot of late. Haven’t seen it in a few years. You’re from Massachusetts, right?”
“So you know what real winters are like. I think that’s the worst thing about living in the city. Sure, we get snow up the ass here, but it’s ugly stuff. I miss trees and the quiet.”
“I know what you mean. I haven’t been cross country skiing in years.”
“You like that as well?” He nodded, telling me of some of the trails he used to enjoy as we killed a bowl of pretzels. “Now I miss it more than ever.” Thinking of that silly bear back in my desk, “I’ve a bunch of days back up. Maybe I’ll use some of them over Christmas this year, check up on the old house. How about you? Going back to Vermont?”
He shook his head, still nursing his first while I finished my second, “No point even if I could afford it. There’s nothing for me there.”
“That’s too bad.”
Another shrug; absent brush of the stray lock, “Not really. With luck I’ll get a house sitting job over vacation. Kimberly has some friends and is going to put in good word for me.” I ordered us both a couple more beers. “You don’t have to do that, Mr. Hanscom. It’s your birthday.”
“Which I am trying to forget. Come on, don’t be silly. I know that’s going flat be now.” He flushed and ducked away. “David, come on,” I said softer. “Student loans, right?”
“Yeah. I mean, yes. It’s not a problem though.”
“Exactly. And I for one fully intend to need a cab tonight. As is, three is usually my limit. Forget the bus, David. That CD of yours was the best thing I’ve gotten in years. I own you one.”
“No you don’t, Mr....” he caught himself, most likely because I think I scowled, “...Steven. I like music and I like sharing it. I think my headphones are the only thing keeps me sane sometimes.”
“Stress is a killer,” I agreed. “Who knows, maybe sometimes we could go to that little jazz club you were telling me about? I haven’t done anything like that in years.”
“That would be great! It’s just one of the holes in the wall, but you never know who’s going to drop by and sit in. There was this guy three months ago who wheeled an organ in on a dolly. Torn shirt and jeans, looked like he hadn’t brushed his hair in a year. Soon as he starts playing, smoke started pouring out. A lot of it, like it was about to blow up. You know what he did? Jumped up, yanked the back off and pulled out a soldering iron and starts working away, right up on stage.” I laughed and asked if he was serious. “Yes. He fixed it too, and soon as he was back around, he started playing like nobody’s business. Had a sound like Jimmy Smith. And he could sing! Skinny, but that voice! Could have been Ray Charles up there, I swear.”
“Sorry I missed it.”
“Me too. The club owner was dying to book him permanent, but the guy said, no man, he was just passing through. Travels the country living out of his van. I think that’s pretty cool, you know?”
“Would explain his hair at any rate.”
So we laughed, shot the shit and had a pretty good time for a couple of hours. Just what I had needed without even realizing it, and despite stopping counting the number of beers I’d put down, I ended up feeling better than I had in years. ‘Comfortably numb’ as the old saying went.
Unfortunate that tomorrow was another working day and it was time to have the owner call me a cab.
“I can drive, Mr. Hanscom.” Alright, most of the stuff had been drunk by me, but still. “Look,” he said and stood up, smiling boyishly and I damn near fell out of my chair laughing as he went through the ‘test’. Walked a toe-line complete with carnival performer tune humming, arms outstretched; then touched his nose several times in good measure before bowing. “Ta-da!”
“Kid’s convinced me,” Tim, the barkeep yelled over, the other flies clapping or lifting mugs.
“Expert witness has spoken an’ the jury’s out,” I said as I caught my breath, managed to get both keys and key-cards out of my pocket, dropping them into his hand, conceding to the logic that it would be better for all concerned if I just stayed here waiting for David to bring the car then attempt to make the journey half carried.
Bad enough when the wind hit, but the beamer’s heater was running full blast. That along with the heated leather seat making up for everything.
—Swore when the windows went down and bolted upright.
“Sorry,” David apologized, both hands back on the wheel. Even through the glare I could see he was tense. “I don’t know how to get to where you live.”
Oh yeah, right. Damn, I wanted to go back to sleep...
“I grabbed my thermos.” He took hand off the wheel and pointed quickly before returning it. “I didn’t think you’d notice they delay so I made a small pot while the car was heating. Please, Mr. Hanscom, I’ve never driven anything like this before. I can pull over if you need help?”
Getting the damn thing open, sheesh, “I’m not tha’ far gone.” He just nodded. Bastard.
Alright, not what I wanted, but it was good coffee. A few sips to stay awake at least.
“Thanks,” I grunted with as much ‘gratitude’ as I could muster.
“No problem. You told me the address and I checked the map, But I don’t know this part of the city too well. Everything is like one-way around here.”
“I know. Sorry.” I rubbed my face and looked around. I must have been asleep for a while. “We’re a bit far, the exit was three back I think.” More coffee as well as off with the heater, “Take this left. We’ll have to go up another couple further before we can turn around.” He nodded and did so, handling the beamer like it was glass. “I feel like an’ ass.”
“No. Just a long day, we all get them.” Not taking his eyes off the road, “I had a good time, Mr. Hanscom. I’m glad you were able to relax.”
“I did too. Have to say, David, it was fun.”
“Good. This street?”
“Next one, then right.”
“I hate one-ways. I think I circled your building like six times.”
I could believe it. Wiped my eyes again and focused on the dash. One thirty? That couldn’t be right. No wonder I felt like crap, not to mention my neck was stiff as a board. A warped one with pine-knots.
Finally we reached the street with the parking lot access, the gizmo in the dash having the gate rise automatically.
“I’m on the first—damn!” The car stopped as I gripped my neck, a spasm locking up the whole thing from shoulder up. “C-cramp,” I managed to get out and didn’t give a damn when he reached over to help, relieving the pain the only thing important.
Could have gagged in relief when it passed, his fingers working.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have opened the window. Just, there was no place good to pull over.”
“It’s alright,” I sagged back, head relaxing forwards as circles were rubbed on my shoulder.
“Your welcome,” he said as he returned to sit upright behind the wheel. “Now just get me to your parking space.”
“This level, number forty-seven. Next to the elevator, thank god.”
Made it, engine shutting off with final purr.
“What a car.”
“One in your future soon enough.”
“I doubt it. Hold on and I’ll come around to your door.”
“’ppreciate it,” I mumbled, the coffee no longer a match for the rest.
Rest. Damn, I was tired...
“Come on, Steven,” I heard in my ear and tighten my arm instinctively about his neck as I was hauled up.
“You’re a’ good friend, Dave.” No answer, the kid too busy keeping me upright while the key-card was passed in front of the elevator scanner.
“I hate this music,” I heard him mutter and I laughed.
“Wow,” when the doors opened on my floor.
“Wait till ya see the inside. Bitch couldn’t touch half a’ it...”
“Wow,” I heard again and snorted. It was a good place. My aunt loved antiques, and I’d spent a small fortune getting them shipped up soon as I could. Not all by a long shot, but a lot of good stuff.
I managed to lift my arm a bit, and by chance actually aimed in the right direction of the bedroom.
More asleep then awake, eyes not even opening when the covers were pulled up.
“Good night, Steven.”
Something in back of my mind was bothering me. Oh yeah, buses. Must have mumbled something.
“It’s okay, I can walk.”
Oh, that was alright then, and last thought before the rest vanished...head giving me what fore when the god damn alarm went off.
Of course it was on the other side of the bed. A huge monster, and by the time I’d managed to flop my way over to knock it off the nightstand I was awake as I was going to be. What a night. Coffee, I needed coffee...
Cursing the while as I untangled and managed to sit up, rubbing my bristled face. Clothing from yesterday folded neatly on a chair, me down to my boxers.
“Thanks, David,” I said aloud. I hated sleeping in my clothes, pajamas more strangling than help. Screw a shower first as I got up and managed my bathrobe, kitchen number one priority.
“Son of a bitch.” The thing was all ready to go, just a flip of the switch and water started hissing its mantra of salvation. “Thank you, god,” as well. The sound of the grinder might have had me toss it out the window, possibly following myself right after.
What a kid.
Thought repeated as I got behind the wheel, the thermos there, forgotten on the floor. And he hated coffee. Should get him a new one, something proper, not one of these convenience store jobs. Probably missing it as he bikes to work.
What a minute. David’s bike was still at the firm. For certain he hadn’t brought it with us.
Buses. At two am? Not likely.
“Damn, he should have just stayed the night. Cab must have cost him a small fortune.” I felt pretty bad about that. Seven in the morning, nothing open at this hour. I’d send one of the secretaries out at lunch to... “Hell with that, I’ll go out myself.” Couple of swank shops in the district. I don’t know, have them make up some sort of tea assortment or something. Doubtful any of those places would have a thermos with a bike hook, but they’d have something at least. A steel one that would last.
“Maybe I’ll look up a good outfitters. Cross country skiing. Man, it has been ages. I wonder if my legs are still up to it?”
Only us workaholic idiots on the road along with the garbage trucks and delivery vans, so it was good timing to the office. Less than an hour, me wearing sunglasses no matter the tinted windows of the beamer. Of course I wasn’t the first one there, some of those bastards on the top floor lived and breathed this place. Fine, let them. Right now I was just happy to be breathing, the pills in the desk finishing off the last of the headache.
Eight o’clock and no David. Probably a first, and there were those watching who would be nodding their heads. Finally, the star intern had lost his steam.
Betty was there. As senior secretarial she did the nine to five. Thanked me for the candy and, vixen that she was, winked when I told her I needed a dustpan for the ‘accidentally’ broken mug.
“It must have hit that carpet pretty hard, Mr. Hanscom. It is pretty thick.”
“Yes. It survived four times,” I said and winked back at her. What a gal. “Oh, by the way, seen David around yet?”
She clucked and nodded, “Yes, I did. He just came in and the poor dear should go straight back home. The way he goes about, it is no wonder he has gotten sick. I told him he could not come out of the staff room till he finished the cup of instant I made him. Mr. Hanscom,” she said, voice lowered, “if you can, try to keep him busy somewhere today. Mr. Baxter is in one of his moods.”
Oh swell. First day of the ‘new year’ started with a hangover and now the thought of that. If things kept on like this, that high window was going to start looking mighty inviting.
I chuckled, thoughts of penitence on back of my mind, “No problem. Just tell everyone I’m reforming the Parkinson files and need the help.”
“If you can manage it, they should give you a medal.”
“I won’t and they won’t, but it’s better now than next month during the crunch.” And no one was going to come in when ‘word’ went out; fear of risking being roped in to battle The Monster, something which had reached legendary stature.
Puffy eyes and sniffling when David finally arrived. “You look like I should,” I said in sympathy, his response a rueful grin.
Before he could open his mouth, “Go take the couch and stay there. Nothing is going to get done today and no one is going to question it.”
“I can’t do that, Mr. Hanscom,” he said nasally.
“It’s that or go home,” I replied as I flipped open the laptop. File was so nasty it had its own one dedicated. No risk of further things going skewy if some idiot like me shifted the wrong thing into limbo. “Come on, David, I owe you.” I meant it, too.
Like I’d said, he was smart and sound of leather as he stretched out.
He spoke louder, “I can actually smell this.”
“Oh. Sorry.” I’d forgotten.
“No, I mean I like it. Cigar?”
Didn’t smell all that well, “No, pipe.”
Absent shrug as I typed, “Used to. Gave it up because it bothered... Well, no matter. I sat there a lot at home before moving it here. There’s a side pocket under that armrest where I kept things. Pouch spilled and I never got around to cleaning it up. If it gets too bad just switch.”
“’S okay...” Glance up. Arm over his eyes and he was already drifting off. Good. Some of the guilt mitigated at least. Still, I was going to have a talk with the people at my building if they hadn’t let him wait in the lobby for the cab. Then again at that hour he might have stepped outside and gotten locked out by mistake. Security could have been in the can, or more than likely sleeping. All they’d see on the cameras was someone they didn’t know at the doors. Knowing this city, David had probably just sat on the steps, or around the corner shivering his ass off till he caught something instead of having to deal with a squad car and explanations.
Sigh or grit teeth? Both, because Sheila had managed to get her ‘friend’ in no problem. Extra key-card issued and everything right behind my back. Understandable that no one wanted to get involved, yet why was it the husband was always last to find out? How many had been laughing behind my back while it was going on?
No one. They don’t give a damn. Smiles and waves, the traditional comments about the weather, bad or good, then gone from their thoughts soon as you are past. I hate the city. Didn’t used to, but I’m seeing a lot of things differently these days, these months. These unfulfilling, isolated months...
Glance up, but it was just David rolling over in his sleep, face to back of the couch then me back to the screen.
Good kid. Still couldn’t believe what he’d done for me last night. Everything, up to and including not asking why I was alone, not even a buddy to spend my birthday with.
Gods, it was me, wasn’t it? Fifteen years in this god’s damned place and what do I have to show for it? Nothing, that’s what. Sure, enough for a game of racquetball with a firm or club member, drink or two afterwards, co-worker party to attend now and then, but little else than that. Acquaintances built on foundation of monotony.
I’m not happy, haven’t been so for a long time and never even knew it. Just clocking time—the years away, till I die.
He huffed under his breath. So this was what a midlife crisis was. Wonderful, it just kept getting better and better, didn’t it?
I need to get out more. Not like last night, making an ass of himself like that. Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten drunk. Shit-faced. Good term for it. Maybe that was his problem, he didn’t drink enough. Easy enough to fix, join the lunch hour clique that sidled out to the pub. Yeah, he’d take Parker’s crowd over Baxter’s any time. Not that he felt sorry for that twit Sally at all. You made your bed and you laid in it.
Laid. There was another laugh for you, ha-ha. Talk about not remembering your last time. Sheila of course, and after being married so long, one supposed it was only reasonable that... Screw that and screw you, bitch. I never cheated. Hell, never even thought about it once.
Baxter and that girl. Ugh, what a thought. Was she a real blond? Not that eye-glaring shade, of course, yet was she?
“I couldn’t fucking care less,” he muttered, fingers stabbing the keys till he moved the wrong partition. Again. “Shit.” Good thing you saved multiple back-ups with this thing...awe, forget it.
Sitting back, one hand rubbed his weary eyes while other went behind his head to lean on.
Word was the girl was interested, eh? Just another user-bitch like Sheila, only a good decade and more younger? Was it worth the risk, though? Poaching the Beast’s territory?
Going to have to do something sooner or later, and it’s not like there are any other prospects around here. He didn’t like her though, not in the least. Not her hair, her touch of shrill voice which grated or tits which definitely came from some plastic doctor’s office.
Again, did it matter?
Might be worth a hand-job at least. Were better ways to keep her from speaking though. Man, he really hated her voice.
She wants to be a user bitch, fine. Was just a game after all. Just the big ol’ dog eat dog world of crap. Felt his lip curling up cynically. That was one thing Sheila’s marketer wasn’t getting any of, put stock on that!
Quick glance, but it was just the kid shifting again, so he closed his eyes and tried to relax.
And relax. Good thing no one was going to come in and David was fast asleep. Standing up would be slightly embarrassing at the moment.
I need to go out. Forget Sally, David is right. Not a gray hair in the bunch and I’ve kept up the rest at the club. Not too unreasonable that he could find someone at one of those clubs. And I can still talk to someone his age and not come off a complete fool. Forty-one isn’t a dinosaur. It really had been fun last night, despite him going overboard with the beer.
Sounded like he meant it too, that he had no problem being seen with me at that place where he and Kimberly like to hang out. That would be a bit embarrassing though, two dating kids with him in tow. Would look like a damn chaperone. No, he had no intensions of impinging on their fun. The young should enjoy their freedoms for as long as they were able to have such.
Smiling as he sat there, but ouch, this wasn’t helping his own current situation any. Not that the ache was bad as it’d been a few times these past couple of months, but it wasn’t right for him to be sitting here like this, thinking about David kissing Kimberly in a booth at that little hole-in-the-wall nightclub, just two young people in love, or ‘good friends’ at any rate. Yeah, right. And it wasn’t that David’s girlfriend wasn’t cute as button, because she surely was that. No, again, no interest there and no plans for such ever. Friends didn’t do that to the other.
Friends? Odd start there, one that had him open his eyes, because, silly as it was, he was feeling that that was what they were, work positions and ages besides the point. Could be at any rate. And why not? Sure as hell there wasn’t anyone else around these days that he cared to spend time around. So what if he was the old fart hanging about? He liked David and that was that.
Decent person in a nasty world. Country folk, just like Steven himself used to be.
Ah, maybe that was it. Big college, yes, yet David still had touch of accent. Soft, yet telling. Felt bad about not remembering what state the kid had come from. Here for almost five months now, coffee and tea breaks shared, he should have remembered that without problem. Then again, last night was the first time David had ever talked about his family.
Shame about his father. If that was my son all I’d do was praise him and that’s the truth. Takes a lot of something inside to have become the person he is. Himself and probably some fine people around him as well. Friends and all. Further shame that those were left behind when they spread across the country after college.
Isn’t even going to go home and enjoy the winter. Has to stay in this crappy place alone during the holidays. Even Kimberly wouldn’t be around. David had told him she would be off with her parents. Bermuda or some such place, he couldn’t really remember that part and decided it didn’t matter.
Cross country skiing. I miss that a lot; bet my old skis are worm food by now, abandoned in the shed. Vermont sounded nice though. Steep trails, trees mixed and no one else far as the eyes could see. Moose instead of startled deer to avoid.
That must be something, all right. Same as he must be a lot better than he let on. Flat country I know, used to know, but trekking out places like that, alone, nothing but him and the snow and the silence and—damn. He shifted in his chair, more uncomfortable than ever. This kept up and he was going to have to try and make his way to the restroom...or else ‘accidentally’ spill coffee on his pants to cover up.
Just been too long for a lot of things. Yes, I need a vacation, but before that I better find someone. This is starting to be a real problem. Did something in the body change when you reached this age? From all he’d ever heard it usually went the other way. Viagra or whatever other crap one got at the doctors. These past two months though. Damn, but he was hurting bad.
Then is was curse and scramble for his desk, the main computer blaring at him as he tried to silence the god damn bleep that signaled a video call on the private line.
“Shit,” he swore again, hitting the wrong damn button and there was Sheila glaring at him instead of being canceled.
“Did you get my messages?” she demanded right off.
“Hello to you too, Sheila. Keep your voice down.” Not that it would matter. One thing wrong with the system, the volume always seemed to be on high or silent. He wanted silent.
“Why? One of your secretaries there with you?”
“Two actually. Your timing is bad, they were just about to go down on me.” He wanted to curl up his lip and grin at her, but all his face did was go cold and tight.
“Yeah, right,” she smirked. Bitch! Her look wiping away any ‘proof’ he might have been able to show her. Not exactly the type of ‘cure’ he wanted. “So?”
“My messages, Steven. Why else would I be calling?”
“I gave up trying to figure you and your mind out a long time ago, Sheila. The answer is no.”
“Half of it is mine.”
How did she figure that? All she’d ever done was sit on her ass all the time. At least when she wasn’t out shopping.
He shook his head, “No it isn’t. You know that, you signed the papers.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
Now he could smile, albeit briefly, “Again, you know better.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“And you are a...” Glance at the couch, the other with back still turned. Awake though, that was guaranteed. Awake and hearing. Shit, talk about embarrassing.
“There is someone there?” she raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“No, the door is open. I didn’t think you wanted to broadcast to the world what you are really like. Save that for your other viewers. You left your little art film in the DVD player.”
“I know.” Another smirk.
Pale, he squeezed bridge of his nose, hoping she wasn’t seeing his raging shaking, “What do you want from me, Sheila?”
“What belongs to me.”
“Go to your golden fingered broker for that. What’s the matter, he catch you gang-screwing on the stock floor?”
Her turn to change expression, that cold, airy look of false unconcern, “Of course not. Mike’s a real stud.”
“The market’s been a little down.”
“How does that matter? Bastard’s a broker not a player.” I looked at her unchanging face and did feel a small smile curling my lips now, “Ah, he’s been sneaking into other places that don’t belong to him, has he? What happened, got caught with a back door account? Needs a lawyer’s help, maybe?”
“We are going to have a baby.” Direct hit, right to the guts.
“Congratulations. Who’s the father? Or do you have to check the filming date? Sorry, I don’t do paternity suits.”
“That’s your problem, Steve, you don’t do anything—for anybody. Not in any way.”
You god damn...! “Are you about finished? Because even if you aren’t my finger is on the cancel button.”
“Wait!” Ah, desperation! “Steve,” she said, face and voice going softer. Oh no, not that look...
“What?” I asked, kicking myself this time, but I couldn’t help it.
“It is just, well...I feel bad sometimes.”
“I mean it, Steve. I wonder what happened a lot. Between you and me. Us.”
“So do I,” I sighed softly.
“Of course, Shell. All those years together, how could I not? There were some good times, weren’t there? Now and then?”
“Yes, honey. A lot of them. That time in Maine? When I thought we should try sailing?”
I laughed and shook my head, “And we found out how bad you got seasick. I’ll never forget it.”
“So we just stayed in the village instead. What was the name of that cute little bed and breakfast again?”
“The ***,” I said instantly.
“Mm-hmm,” she purred. Turning her head, amber curls falling against her long neck. Damn, she was beautiful. Green eyes which matched my own in shade looking coy, “Think they ever found out we snuck out to their hot tub?”
“Not at that hour.”
“Those hours you mean.”
“Yeah...” Those hour. Those long legs a model would kill for. Eyes looking right into mine as we kissed. Same shade, same first letter names. Meant for the other...
Maybe... Maybe it had just been a passing thing? A mistake made. Horrible and life devastating, yet who didn’t make such sometime? There does come a certain point in your life when you start to question, to wonder who you are. A year. Maybe she realizes, has come out the other side and back to her senses. I can understand that. Prayed for it.
Oh, gods, Shell, he felt his heart starting to beat faster again, felt it! Maybe you—maybe we—!
“Don’t,” I heard a whisper and glanced angrily over at the god’s damn interfering little bastard, ready to send him packing with a...
David shook his head, face open and eyes direct, “Don’t fall for it,” he mouthed softly.
Fall for it? Who the hell did he think he was? This was my wife, the fucking little son of a—
“Is something the matter, honey?”
Back to the screen and those soft smiling, poutty lips.
Ones that did not match the cold, piercing eyes. Look of a calculating viper, clear even through the video.
I smiled easily back at her, “Not a thing, Shell. Just remembering that trip. That’s when I started calling you that. Because of the shell we found in the tourist shop, the quaint one you just had to have.”
I grinned nastily suddenly, “The one you broke and left on the DVD player.”
Oh, she gave it a good try, grant her that. Just a quick freeze of everything before bottom lip came out again and long eyelashes batted. Added flounce of shoulder to set her curls sliding. Only this time I wasn’t falling for it.
Thanks, David. Another one I owe you.
“I was really confused then, honey.”
“I imagine you were.”
“Steve, I am still confused. Sometimes...especially lately. Well, I wonder about all the mistakes I made. Terrible, awful ones. You do not know how bad I feel.”
“No, I don’t. I can imagine though.”
Flash of eyes, “I hate it when you do that.”
“Yup, I know.”
“Stop it. —No, I deserve it,” she added contritely.
Smile, “You are just teasing me now.”
“Nope. I’m laughing my ass off at you. Cut the act, bitch. The answer is still no.”
Furiously, she did so, a snap and her real self revealed, “This is all your fault, Steven! I deserve that money. Putting up with you all those years, I fucking earned it!”
“As to that reason, nope, you most certainly did not. Not with me. And if it’s guilt you are thinking about, forget that as well. People do not earn a living by such, and even if they did, even there you are a failure because you do not have any. No, I am free of you, Sheila and thank god for it. Go to your sticky fingered broke broker for everything now. Have a good life, you deserve the other.”
“You suck in bed!” she shrieked as I raised my hand high over the keyboard for her to see.
“And if you ever learn to, you could earn a living at that. Bye!”
“You son of a—” Click!
“Bitch,” I finished for her and lowered my head to the desk.
“I am sorry, Mr. Hanscom.”
“So am I,” I sad as I squeezed the bridge of my nose again...my damn, wet blurring, eyes.
Took a deep, shaking breath, “David, I’m sorry you had t-to hear...”
Lunge and I managed to get over the waste bin just in time to heave-up into it, preserving the carpet and my suit, if not my dignity.
Words ringing in my ears, My fault. My fault, all of it!
Another wretch as the smell hit, couldn’t see a damn thing as eyes flooded over.
“It’ll be alright, Mr. Hanscom,” he said, hands on my shoulders as I made a total fool of myself and just hung over the mess, shaking.
“How?” I demanded, not even bothering to wipe my eyes. “How the hell is anything going to be all fucking right?”
“Because it will.”
“Fuck that. My life is this shit in the bin staring up at me. Go on, laugh!”
“There’s nothing to laugh at, Steven.”
“Yes there is. Fuck, I should go out the window...” The last mark I’d make in my life before it was washed away, forgotten. Alone and missed by nobody.
“Don’t say things like that,” he said angrily, rubbing my still shaking shoulders harder now. “Don’t ever say anything like that! You don’t know... You have so much.”
“What? A empty apartment in a building full of strangers? You have it. Pull up the god damn file on my computer and we’ll change the will right now.” Do it soon, kid. I’d hate to forget something like that, Sheila winning. Fucking gloating...
“I guess what they say is right.”
“That Parkinson file is a killer.”
Choking for other reasons now, hysterical laughter till I had to sit back, sleeve wiping my eyes till a tissue was offered.
“Thanks,” I breathed, needing several more passed over. “Shit, I needed that.”
“What? That bitch jerking you around?”
Laugh again, which he probably intended, “No, that.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Hanscom,” he said in confirmation.
“You’re a good kid, David.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hanscom.”
“Little son of a bitch.”
“Now you talk like my father. You sure you are only forty-one?”
“Stop it before I go off again. Or kick your ass. This old fart isn’t that far gone yet.”
“I know.” He sneezed and coughed.
“This place reeks.”
“Oh, my god...” I wheezed and held my aching guts again.
“How about we both call it in sick?”
I checked the clock, “Considering how long we’ve been in here with The Monster no one would blink. Give me a few to clean up then I’ll drive you home.”
“You don’t have to do that,” he said in a rush.
“Favor for favor, it’s only fair.”
“Some lawyer you are, Mr. Hanscom.”
“Oh, you are so going to get it, I swear,” I snorted, wiped my face again as I stood up. “Come on, home to bed for you then I am going to find myself a drink. Not like last night, though god knows I deserve it.”
“My ex always said laced coffee was good for head colds.”
“Your ex?” I said in start.
“Not married. Three years together, but El’s the one who kept everything. You really are lucky, Steven. I didn’t do anything, but the bastard who took my place made sure... Well, I managed to palm the backup drive of some music off my computer and half a bag of clothes.”
“That’s crazy.” Not just the situation, only who on god’s green earth would pass over this young man for someone else?
“So is the guy living there now. El doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t know if that isn’t the thing makes me sick most. I received an email about a hospital visit—not from El, I know the wording. It was that bastard Frank gloating.”
“Have you called the police?”
“Yes. They said everything was fine and not to bother them anymore. Elly screamed at me over the phone, telling me the same. I got my computer in the mail a week later. Smashed and...well, I would like to think it was dog crap at any rate.” He wiped his nose absently with a tissue, eyes distant with pain, “I guess you really never know people, no matter how much you thought you did.”
“It is clear I do not know you at all, David.”
He shrugged, “Not much to tell beyond what you see, Mr. Hanscom.”
“Except that you are a smart ass.” He wanted to deal with it through laughter, fine. Each to his own. Me, I was still knotted up inside feeling pissed.
“No wonder I get a headache after sitting too long.” He sneezed twice and looked a little green. “I’m sorry, the smell...”
“Yeah. Think we can get away with calling Sally in here?”
“Think your files would be safe from deleting when she finds her mug broken at the bottom?”
“Shit. Women can be vindictive bitches, can’t they?”
Tired smile and I put my arm around his shoulder, steering him out of the place. This mess was mine to deal with, “No wonder you are shy of cementing things with Kimberly.”
“We are just friends, really.”
“Too bad.” Understandable though. Once burned and all that. Crap, he was too young to have had that lesson learned so well. Still, perhaps he was better off.
He shrugged, “I don’t know. Things always seem to work out for the best in the end.”
“You really believe that?” I snorted sarcastically. So naive.
He turned at the open door, flicked the lock back absently, “I’d like to hope so at least.”
“Guess a man can’t ask for more than that. Unfortunately, I don’t have any for myself. Too old, I guess.”
“Tell me that when I’m forty-one.”
Maybe I will...if I am still alive. Winter, alone in that house. Maybe I’d just go out for a walk and not come back. “Smart ass,” I said instead.
“Yes, Mr. Hanscom. It’s my best feature.”
“Then you had best get it out of here before I kick it and ruin your good looks.”
“Many have tried,” he winked his left eyes, the one above the scar. Ruined the grin by sneezing.
“Go on for Christ’s sake. I’ll meet you at the car park in fifteen or so.” He nodded and left.
Idiot. Or maybe, after seeing my place was too embarrassed—or defensive—about me seeing his. Yes, I was drunk and thinking about that greedy bitch Sheila at the time when I had made those snide remarks, but I sure as hell did not feel good about it as I went to the pub alone and got wrapped in by Parker already several ahead. No, because sick as he was, Betty, looking surprised when I came back up from the car park a half hour later telling me that David had left straight from my office for his bike and home.