By R. John Quisenberry
The receptionist returned shortly with a large foam cup full of dark coffee. “Thank you, Susan.” Stephen said, reading her name tag as he accepted the cup. Acrid steam rose from the dark liquid. There was a slight oily sheen on the top. Gingerly sipping the coffee, he could tell that it had been sitting in the pot for a long time.
Just as he was swallowing the bitter liquid, a tall, blond man stepped into the waiting area. “Hi! I’m Dick! You must be Stephen!” He shifted his bulky frame with surprising grace as he leaned down to thrust his right hand forward to shake. “I hear you are interested in working with us. Do you have a fresh copy of your resume on you?” Taking the offered document from Stephen, Dick gestured that he was to follow as he turned back towards the camouflaged hallway.
Standing and following, Stephen realized that Dick was much taller than his own 5′ 8″. The man was built for football.
They moved quickly down the hall to the third door on the left. Dick slid into a chair behind the desk with a sigh of comfort and traded the resume for the steaming cup of coffee on his desk. Without looking at the resume, Dick spoke. “So, Steve, where do you see yourself in five years? Your resume looks fairly good, but it doesn’t tell me about who you are.”
“Well, I’d like to be in a solid management slot with room to grow and some interesting projects to work on.”
“What would you say to starting in that job slot today Stevie?”
The exciting things Dick was saying almost made up for the irritation Stephen was feeling as the man started playing with his name. “Actually, it sounds great!” not wanting to screw up the deal, he kept his irritation inside.
“Well, I have just such a spot Steve-o! And we are desperate for a real self starter like you to fill it today! I’ll show you to your office and we’ll do the paperwork later, after you meet your team! Do you know what we do here?”
“Not really in any detail. Are you in bio-tech?”
“Stevie! You have to change your thinking! You are one of us now! You should be asking ‘are WE in bio tech?’. The answer is yes! We are working on a special, new application of human genome research. Our private backers have some exciting new ideas and are willing to do whatever it takes to test their ideas. It makes for a really great work environment. No worries about funding here!
“Let’s get to your office now! You will need to read up on the project and get ready to meet your team.”
Feeling hurried, Stephen followed the large man when he stood up and started out the door. “This is pretty rushed isn’t it Dick?”
“Yes and no S man… We had the spot ready, but upper management had trouble filling the slot. They had about agreed on eliminating the role, but I asked them to keep it open in case the right candidate showed up.
“We even have an executive assistant for you.” a shadow seemed to pass over Dick’s face at this point. “She’s an attractive young lady named Laura. A very good worker, but not very social. I would keep interaction at a purely professional level if I were you.” The final wink at the end of this statement seemed intended to be conspiratorial, but it just came off sleazy.
As they walked down the hall, Stephen was surprised to see Susan going in and out of offices as they passed. Looking closer, he realized that it could not be the same terminally perky receptionist, because the color of the eye and face makeup was different on several of the women he saw. He cringed internally that there were that many women who looked that similar and also seemed to use makeup like a cheap landlord used Spackle He also saw several men who resembled Dick in the offices. Some slouched and seemed to be going to seed, pulling belts hopelessly over spare tires and gelatinous middles. Others looked more distinguished, sitting in plush offices wearing custom tailored versions of Dick’s polyester suit. Some looked like they were a match for Dick’s 6ft stature, while others were stooped by age or inactivity. This train of thought was interrupted by their arrival at an office door with slightly scuffed veneer of some generic, dark wood on its outer surface.
“Here we are S man!” crowed Dick. The man seemed to be getting either excited or tense as time passed. ‘maybe he should cut down on the coffee…’ As he was just thinking this, Dick pointed Stephen towards the door and turned to leave.
“Good luck Stevie! We’ll see you for lunch once you get settled in. We’re having it catered in the main conference room on the seventh floor. Laura can show you the way. Later!” Dick was around the nearest corner in a blink and Stephen was left alone before office 15 D.
Opening the door, he found himself being glared at by two kelly green eyes set in a shapely alabaster face at the exact same level as his own brown eyes. There was a neatly braided mass of glistening red hair swept to the left side of the woman’s head. “You must be Laura!” he said hastily sticking out a hand to shake.
“So, Dick dumped you on me huh? Do you even know what we do here? Please, tell me, are you one of the moronic drones or one of the terminal lechers Dick seems to want to hire for every job? If you are one of the former, stay out of my way and we will get some work done. If the latter, you had best get used to the route to the infirmary!” her flaring nostrils and flushed cheeks just added to her Valkyrie like charm for Stephen.
“Can I choose neither? I just followed up a job lead I got last night. I’m Stephen, and for the record, Dick deserves his name.” Her manner changed a bit with the last bit. There was the slightest lift to the left corner of her mouth.
“Well, if we’re going to work together, you need to know that I HATE being called Laura. I like being called by my full first name, Lorelei. Lorelei Diana Kelly, at your service.” The quirky partial smile had expanded a bit and seemed to be attempting to get a grip on the rest of her full lips.
“For the record, I like my full first name too. I am Stephen. If I hear any version of ‘Stevie, Steve-O, Stevaroony, or S man’ I am likely to become homicidal.”
“What? No S-Unit?” she responded as the smile advertised it’s victory over her former bad mood.
“That one may force me to perform human sacrifice to get over my rage!”
“Good! I have a list of candidates! Now that we‘ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get you into your office.” Turning, she showed him to the wood-like door opposite the one he had entered by and passes him a card. “Here is your office key It will function as your security identification in the building. Let me know when you are ready and I will make sure your make it to lunch safely.”
The door opened into a small office. Formaldehyde fumes combined with light dust greeted Stephen’s nostrils. The basics of office life were in place. Computer, desk mat, pen cup, overpriced faux-leather office chair and a long wood topped file cabinet. The vaguely brownish carpet was of a very thin, course fiber and did not feel like it had the normal compliment of padding under it. The cream colored walls held the standard, generic office art that was mildly pleasing to the eye, while not inspiring a great deal of interest. What he did not see was a window. “Lorelei, who do I have to kill for a view around here?” he said, enjoying the feel of her name as he said it. ‘Cool your jets man!’ he told himself. ‘You will get yourself in deep trouble. First she’ll kick your ass, then she’ll sue. You will be out of a job before you get the first pay check.’ He resolved to enjoy her company without pushing things.
“The managing Director would be the only employee with an actual window. So, shall I make a list? It would be similar to my human sacrifice candidate list.”
“Why did they take the place with no windows?”
“Oh, it had windows. Upper management said windows were a security risk. Our company is big on paranoia. Did you know that the entrance doors are all armored and soundproofed? They are really scared of losing control of the secrets in this building.”
“So, what is so sensitive that they go to such lengths to secure it?”
“That question is above my pay grade boss man. All I know is, getting into this place is much easier than getting out of it.” she answered. Knocking on a wall with a much duller thump than Stephen expected, she said, “Listen to that. Under the drywall, internal walls are all at least six inches of solid steel. External walls are all at least 18 inches of steel. When you bosses are not around, the secretaries and I call this the S.S. Prometheus because it’s built like a battleship. Cell reception is horrible in here. If you came in through the lobby with the fake plants, you might have heard the locks engage after you came in. Sort of a dull thud. They don’t unlock until 5:00 PM and lock down again two hours later.”
” How can they do that? It can’t be compliant with the fire regulations!”
“As I understand it, the doors are set to open if there is a confirmed report of a fire.”
“It still sounds dangerous…” he said with a resigned grimace. It was too early to be objecting to company policy on his first day. “So, how long have you been here? You and Dick seem to have defined your relationship already…”
“I moved here from North Carolina just yesterday. I was transferred here right after orientation. We had a half day yesterday and today is our first full office day.”
“Wow! Did everybody transfer in like that?”
“Yes. Upper management says it’s so we can form a stable ‘core team’ before they add locals to the mix.
“Look, I have some paperwork to do and I’m sure you have some important settling in to do. Just let me know when you are hungry and I’ll show you to the room where they will be having lunch set up. Your team will be ready to meet after lunch, in one of the private conference rooms near the main conference area.”
“Lorelei, do I have an ID and password for the computer yet? Do I have email?”
“I have the info for both. Here, I’ve written it down for you.” she said extending her left hand with a slip of paper towards him from the doorway. “The email should open up by default as you start the computer. Our IT guys like to make everything automatic.”
“Thanks!” He took the slip of paper and logged in. His mailbox already had a pile of email. Dick had sent an email welcoming him to the company and told him to be careful of frostbite dealing with ‘Laura’. Stephen deleted that one with a snort. The rest was filled with spam and vague projections on the success of various projects. The projections were all obvious corporate-speak that was supposed to make him feel all warm and successful without telling him what the projects were or what the actual status was. After four hours of reading and deleting all of these messages, Stephen felt ready for a change. “Lorelei?”
“When am I supposed to go to that lunch in the main conference room?”
“Actually, I was just about to rescue you from email purgatory to go there. I take it you are ready?”
Lorelei lead him through a seeming maze of hallways. And up several floors Switching from the northern stairwell, at the corner of the building, to the north-western stairwell at the middle of the hall at the 4th floor. The north, south, east, and west stairwells ended at the 4th floor. The north-eastern, north-western, south-eastern, and south-western stairwells started at the 4th floor and lead to the 7th floor before ending abruptly at the door to the hallway to the conference room. The long walk finally terminated in what Stephen guessed must be the middle of the building. It seemed that all of the elevators had yet to be put into service, so they had to use stairs all of the way. “Lorelei, what floor are we on? I lost track.” he said sheepishly.
“This would be the seventh floor.” she said as they entered the huge room. “The skylight up there is on the ninth floor. The eighth and ninth floors are offices of executives who report directly to director Ngoyen.” she explained while pointing at the huge expanse of glass that had to be at least one hundred-and twenty square ft. The room itself was at least one hundred and sixty square feet. One wall had a line of steam trays lined up on folding tables covered in brightly colored paper tablecloths. A line of people was already waiting pensively all along the wall to the left of the steam trays. The smell of the food that mingled as it wafted across to them was a mélange of mid-grade cafeteria food. Even so, Stephen’s stomach rumbled at the prospect of consuming some of the free lunch. The neatly painted off-white walls reflected the glare of sunlight that entered through the smoked glass of the skylight and eliminated the need for any other lighting. In the center of the room was a large horseshoe shaped conference table surrounded by long folding tables with the same cheap paper tablecloths draped over them. “I’ll go find us some seats.”
“Sounds good. Can I get you anything?”
“Salad and Italian dressing please.” she responded with a sweet smile. Half an hour of navigating the milling, bored line of office workers, and Stephen had two plates ready and was headed back to the tables to look for his new secretary. He spotted her about half-way around the mass of tables. Her face was red and her eyes were blazing. Dick was there. He had a smug expression and his eyes were opened wide in a caricature of innocence.