Saturday, October 1, 2016

Chapter 25: Two Camps

a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each 



      “Come down, Delfina. He can’t interpret away your presence.”
      “Must I be humiliated in public? She’ll be there.”

     Downstairs in the mansion a grand staircase spread like a bridal veil, on whose marble steps family and friends gathered for smiles and pictures, while upstairs smiles were sequestered as two camps staked out positions. In the south side room, the chief executive officer Stephen Slade assembled his corps of young managers and recruited investors. In the north side chamber, the chairman Graham Slade conferred with members of the board, his loyalists and his wife. Standing by the window, Delfina, the CEO’s spouse, gazed over the sloping lawn.
     Clayton Clamp felt the tension, though he was loose and ready for the task of getting closer to his target. First, he greeted the chairman and the claims manager, who vouched for his cover as freelance investigator. Then he observed waiters and other staff shuttling in and out and between the rooms. The principals were rooted to the spot, except for the director Mark Storts, who was the most youthful member of the board.  After watching him leave then return, Clamp approached him.
     “Is it any more lively over there?”
     “Quite a bit more,” he answered then introduced himself.  “I’ve designated myself as go-between for the chairman and the CEO. It doesn’t seem to be appreciated, but that’s what I’m doing.”
     “I’m glad someone’s thinking about the company as it’s being ripped apart.” Eyes lighting up, Storts brought his head closer. Clamp stooped to listen.
     “The father-son dispute aggravates at many different levels. Employees pick sides then get into arguments that end in silent stares. They’re afraid their guy will lose and in any case would rather not worry about things they can’t control.” He paused then said, “When the baton passes, the hand off should be clean. Don’t hold on.”
     “You just revealed your bias.”
     “Stephen and I were college buddies after all.”
     “Then maybe you can introduce me.”
      They skirted the staircase, passing through rays of sun beneath a skylight. Storts nodded to a man outside the door who admitted them, and the difference was jarring. An excited chatter filled the room as men and some women clustered throughout, attired in business wear not particular to a wedding ritual. The crowd would at some point spill outside, Clamp thought, whereas on the other side the walls defined the occupants who were as rigid as marble chess pieces.
      Stephen Slade was standing by the farthest wall, slightly apart from those surrounding him. Slender, polished and dressed for the occasion in rich gray suit, wide silk tie and pinned with a pale rose boutonniere, he trained his attention on Storts as they approached. “This is Clayton Clamp, a claims investigator.”
     “Claims?” He grimaced and raked him with a severe look before walking away. Storts apologized but Clamp waved it off as they watched him join a young woman who was looking out the window. Then they were amazed when he erupted. “Snap out of it, Helen, will you!”  His face was in hers as she daubed her eyes with a handkerchief, then he stalked away. Few paid the outburst any attention, though for Clamp the exchange was charged with meaning. He went to her.
      Still facing the window, she wore a dress a subtle shade of violet, and had auburn hair that fell to her shoulders with a slender braid crowning the brow. He strode a step beyond then turned to see her face, which was pale and delicate and stained by tears. “If you’re the bride then you better get changed.”
     “I’m not,” she coughed, “the bride.”
     “Then it can’t be so bad.”
      “No, not so---“
       Her eyes grew large and then were eclipsed by Slade’s back. He pushed her, hand at elbow, toward a nearby door, her legs stumbling to keep pace. Storts appeared to wilt.
     Clamp left the room then went down the stairs and through the foyer where he spied Lola McIntyre at the champagne table. He made a mental note to add her to the list, then once outside breathed in fresh air and heard the strains of a violin quartet from one of the tents. He turned toward the mansion, which should have been cleaved in two, if reality were reflected in what is seen. The window where Helen stood was vacant. On the other side, Delfina was gone. He pondered whether she too had been crying, and whether tears would bring a mountain down. None benefit by seeing the magnificent fall, and while those who don’t see have nothing to tell, those that do can be struck dumb. 

The next chapter will be posted by October 30..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Chapter 24: Quitting Time

a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each

     It was quitting time the Friday before the wedding, and Lola McIntyre haunted the Billing Department doorway. “Got any plans for the weekend?”
     Mimosa Liang, the co-worker with the long black hair, stopped to point a finger. “You’re going to the wedding, you had your hair done and you’ve been telling me all week.” She stalked past. “I can’t wait till it’s over!”
     Lola patted her hair and the charms on her bracelet jingled. “Everybody knows,” she thought and went looking for Mailroom Joe and Stockroom Bob, but their workplaces were empty.  Determined to savor the last hours of anticipation, she journeyed up to Executive Reception and found Betsy Murray behind the curved counter at C-suite gathering her belongings.
     “See you at the wedding tomorrow!” Lola chortled.  The petite secretary eyed the gossip warily and opened her purse. “I have an invitation…” She waved an ivory envelope. “I probably won’t go.”
     Lola rocked back on her heels then leaned forward. “Let me have it!”  Betsy pulled it back. “Then again, I might. Surely you have one, since you’re going.”
     “I was thinking of a friend.”
     “It’s plus one. You can bring your friend.”
     “I was thinking of another one.”
     “Too bad.”
      Lola retreated from the know-it-all smile, thinking “Plan B.”


     Early the next day, Joe and Bob approached the gates of the Pacific Palisades mansion, where a line of modest cars queued before a uniformed guard. A lingering marine layer kept the morning gray and cool before the forecast warm summer day.
     They had awoken no earlier than any other workday and were silent during the hour-long drive. Joe, with white ear buds plugged in beneath stringy black hair, had closed his eyes, while Bob was lively, tapping the steering wheel to the beat of classic rock in his aqua Corolla that was as neat as his stockroom.
     They passed through the gates, then followed the road to the designated parking lot, catching a glimpse of the peach-colored mansion that glowed like neon under the soft light. Behind a copse of trees adjacent to the tennis courts were the lot and a van waiting to carry them the rest of the way.
      The mansion’s central two-story structure rose like a cresting wave and then descended into single-story wings on either side. Arched double doors between marble columns and beneath a bas-relief frieze depicting leaping dolphins formed the portico, and conveyed a sense of noble completion; which contrasted with the scene on the ocean side, where on a green sloping lawn assorted metal rods, tent pegs, rope and white canvas were scattered like an obstacle course. Farthest from the mansion, a ten-foot metal arbor stood like a denuded tree behind a wooden dais that fronted an area where stacks of folding chairs were ready to be deployed. 
     A lean man with leathery skin called them. “Gather round. There’s plenty of work for you all.” Wearing jeans, boots and an untucked shirt that fluttered in the breeze, he surveyed the crew from beneath bushy white eyebrows: men, large and small, in work clothes of various description. He counted off five and pointed to his left. “Over to that tent. Go!” They jogged away to where a supervisor waited. He counted another group and sent them to their work. He was in rhythm, about thirty laborers in, when he reached Joe and Bob. He scrutinized their neat jeans and t-shirts unstained by toil then gestured behind him. “Help set up the chairs, and don’t get hurt.” A chorus of laughter pursued them down the slope.

     Lola’s jaw dropped when Atom Green strode out of his condo. “You look too good! You’re supposed to look like me.”  She indicated her black pants, and matching long-sleeved shirt and comfortable shoes. “There’s no way you’ll pass. You’d know if you’d been in service.” His lips formed a silent retort.
     “No blazer. No tie. Don’t you have a light jacket to wear, a black one? The slacks are okay, but those shoes! Too expensive, but I can see by your expression you won’t give up them up. Here, put this on, and wear it low.” He found a suitable jacket in his wardrobe and carried the blazer like a parcel with tie in pocket. The ball cap emblazoned with “LA,” fit snuggly over his personality.
     They made it through the mansion gates and boarded the van. No one paid them any mind as their group was shepherded inside through a service entrance, and Atom managed to slip away. 
     At first surprised by his absence, Lola was satisfied that she’d done her part and now could relish the luxurious setting that had sparkled in her imagination for so long. They stood in a large foyer with a floor-to-ceiling window facing the Pacific. The headman, an Englishman named Gerard, was making assignments and directed her to set up the champagne.
     Unable to contain herself, she ran to the window and saw tents like white mushrooms populating the green lawn. She imagined a big red ball rolling past them and splashing into the blue sea.
     “Hoy! Set up these tables!” She hustled to her station, the golden charms on her bracelet jingling, then lost herself in the romance of sun-rimmed flutes and sparkly bubbles.
     It was half past eleven. The wedding started at two.

The next chapter will be posted by September 25..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chapter 23: Outside Looking In

a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each

      Atom Green glared at the phone then dropped onto the sofa of his Manhattan Beach condo. Since resigning from Slade, he had not tried for another sales position and was consumed by thoughts of Helen, who had said she wanted to keep on seeing him. Her unwillingness or inability to respond -- he wasn’t sure which-- created a kind of panic, forcing him to confront the fear of being on the outside looking in. His time working in the background at the restaurant compelled him now to seek the main event and the greatest prize. At Slade he enjoyed the status of top salesman, the competitive camaraderie of the agents and the out-sized bonuses. The meta of Helen encompassed them all; she was the greatest prize.
       He changed into slacks, white shirt and blue blazer, then inspected himself in the mirror. He brushed back his quill-like black hair and flashed a smile that competed with the bright shirt and conveyed the electric exuberance that charmed others. Confidence recharged, he left for the drive downtown.
     After parking his Mercedes coupe in a lot a block from the Wayfare, he walked quickly to the hotel and through the lobby to the elevator where he keyed in the code.
     The smell of smoke should have been a warning, as well the dark figure propped at the end of the corridor. Intent on his mission he continued to the door and pressed the buzzer. The figure became animate and approached. “You’re not allowed,” it said and grabbed him by the collar just as the door opened. Helen peeked out. “Bill! What are you doing?” The chauffeur stunned Atom with a rap to the back of the head and dragged him to the elevator. Helen followed, pulling at his black tunic. “Stop!”
      He felt momentary pleasure at seeing Helen amid the distress of being manhandled. Though he was six feet and toned, the other man was larger and apparently used to hauling heavy loads. He twisted and flailed as Bill pressed the button and blocked out Helen. When the elevator opened, he threw him in. “You’re not allowed.” And then the doors closed.                                                     
      Back in the car, his phone lit up and HELEN flashed on the screen accompanied by a chiming bell. She apologized, and said she didn’t know why Bill was in the hall. He insisted that they meet. 
     “There’s something I need to finish first.”
     “The wedding?”
     “Partly. Don’t try to see me until I call you. Promise." 
     The call was as brief as the encounter in the hallway. Thoughts of the wedding filled him with dread. He and Dave Forester traded places at the top of the sales chart and a friendly rivalry had developed, so much so that he was to be in the wedding party. Slade’s hostility quashed that. Dave was embarrassed, but his family was friends with Slade’s family and had the closer bond.
      Having the CEO of the company host your wedding would seem to confer a guarantee of success personally and professionally, and he dreamt of such a benediction. Now all he could think of was Helen with Slade at a wedding. Slade had the power to damn and to bless and held Helen in his thrall. His mind contorted to deny the converging associations. He needed to be present to prevent the unimaginable, but would have to sneak into the Palisades mansion and go undetected.
     He searched his phone for the number of someone who was possibly more excited about the wedding than even the bride or groom. Lola McIntyre picked up on the first ring, and he explained the situation. She was on board, enthusiastically, but he cautioned her. “Don’t tell Slade or anyone close to him. You know who I’m talking about.” She agreed and promised to get back to him. It was a risk he had to take. Lola had helped him connect with Helen the first time and was always ready for a thrill. The hitch was her workplace boyfriend: Bill.


 The next chapter will be posted by August 21..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chapter 22: Now You See

a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


      Chairman Graham Slade sat hunched behind the desk in his home office, phone to his ear, listening to the man he engaged to infiltrate the company.
      The spy had seemed younger than graying hair and experience should allow due to a marathon runner physique. His thick glasses, though, spoke to years of parsing contractual fine print, determining intent and crafting solutions. The chairman had not warmed to his impish grin, which served to invite intimate conversation from people shouldering lesser burdens. Clayton Clamp had the requisite skills, and now was delivering the goods. He reported that the CEO had amassed a bloc of new investors, which he’d spring on the board of directors and then demand its expansion. With new allies in place, he’d pursue a unitary leadership.
     The chairman couldn’t blame a CEO for wanting what he himself had for thirty years. He could fault him for treating employees like fungible items on a spreadsheet to shuffle or fire without regard for the impact. The intelligence, though, was stale.
     “I need something to derail him.” As Graham listened to the response, Rhea came through the door carrying a silver tray with coffee and toast and a red rose in a pewter vessel. “Make it concrete.”  He hung up and ran a hand over his crew cut hair, then joined her at the table beside the window that overlooked a lagoon.
     “Are we getting a new patio?”
     “Board business.”
     “The company and CEO are board business.”
     “Family business, too. He’s your son.”
       He bit into the toast and sipped his coffee, gazing at his companion who looked smart in a ribbed white turtleneck sweater that contrasted with steely gray hair. She made him feel young. Her hazel eyes met his blue ones.
     “Don’t harm his future.”
     “He can float away under a golden parachute, and take his contacts and pedigree—my contribution—elsewhere. Or, he can find a dark corner and suck his thumb.”
     “If it’s hard on him, it will affect Delfina and the boys.”
     “He’ll land on his feet and walk away.”
    “We might lose them forever.” She looked out the window on the sunny Southern California day. He searched for the right words.
     “There’s a woman fairly new to the company, his assistant who works very closely. I can guess at her game.”
      She stiffened. “Delfina complains he doesn’t spend enough time with them. I pray it’s not true.”
     “Now you see.”
     “I can’t bear them knowing.” She reached her hand across the table to touch his.
     “Tell her not to bring them to the wedding.”
     “What a shame. I remember Stephen watching you address an audience. It captured his complete attention, and made him wonder how his father, who tells him to stand up straight, could speak to hundreds of people who actually listen. They have some understanding what it means to be CEO, but a ceremony demonstrates the reality.”
     He drew back his hand. She held on. “What are we going to do?”
     “He needs to be made so toxic the board has to let him go.”
     “The assistant?”
      “He could be in violation of SEC rules, but that lacks punch. Sex, on the other hand, captures the imagination.”
      She pleaded. “Graham, the family.”
      “There are ways to keep things quiet, dependant on what he does. He sets his own direction, which will suggest the remedy.”
     She released him and her eyes expanded as if to encompass their lives. “I used to be so proud, too, watching you speak and everyone together and their growing families. I don’t understand why it’s different now.”
     “We were all on the same page. Nowadays, we’re presented with a slew of options and are scattershot pursing them. Stephen’s mistake is to want it all for himself, to make himself the big man. He acts like a guy on the street big-talking his way into the confidence of others, the kind of guy who boasts about his gambling wins and hides his losses. Huge, he says, but subtract his losers and I guarantee they’re much smaller.”
      “That’s not Stephen! You’re talking about someone else.”
      “He can charm in person, but sometimes a salesman starts believing his pitch, and does anything to close the deal. He thinks he’s coming out ahead but bleeds red. In time, Stephen will realize the image he projects.”
      She went over to hug him from behind. “You better be right.”

The next chapter will be posted by July 17..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Parby G

    The One California pulled away to cross Presidio towards the Embarcadero as we settled into our seats and took the measure of our neighbors. I was in the last row beside the window, a vacant seat away from a younger, smaller man. A vacant seat past him sat a middle-aged woman. Asian riders dominated.
    Across the aisle a woman with severe bangs faced backwards. Age spots belied the bangs and her timid cheerful smile. On this side sat a girl with long black hair. Between us in one of two forward-facing seats a young man wore a gray watch cap and white ear buds. 
     Conversations buzzed but did not attract particular attention. Passing sights beneath the overcast sky measured our progress. An old man boarded wearing a brown jacket and white cap with corporate logo. Eyes within his jowly face conveyed energetic curiosity. He sat beside Watch Cap.
     More riders boarded, the last having to stand, including a blonde in blue hospital scrubs and sneakers. Her employee pass read “Parby, G.” Old Man caught her eye then rose into a crouch, twisting back as if to move to my row. He stopped and looked to Parby who turned away.
     When the gallant stood anyway and she took his seat the middle-aged woman let loose a volley of Chinese. Monosyllables rolled through the bus, twisting, turning accusations that ended in English: “Molest me.” Her rant did not dislodge anyone. Smiling Woman retained her smile. Girl tried not to look. Watch Cap took out a bud and said, “You should have these.” Parby nodded.
     Old Man confirmed himself the target, directing a torrent of Chinese back at Angry Woman, his words a toothless bark with English of his own: “Sexual harassment.” I did not comprehend. Her rant was continuous. He let off then began again: “You don’t know. I have a million dollars in the bank.” Heads turned.
     “Why don’t you take a taxi then!”
     Old Man, standing near the middle exit, produced a wallet and extracted ten and twenty. He waved them. “You don’t know.”
    They traded words as the One snaked across the hills: climbing to Lafayette Park, turning onto Clay, descending to Van Ness, climbing Russian Hill then dipping down to Chinatown.
     Old Man kept his distance as Angry Woman got off at Stockton, still spewing heated words, at which point the younger, smaller man extended his middle finger and stabbed in Parby’s direction. The gesture attracted eyes. She noticed and leapt up to stand by the middle exit. Then at Grant, the rest got off: Old Man, Smiling Woman, the Girl, Watch Cap and Gesturing Man. Parby took a seat in peace, while I was like the audience in a theatre where the curtain had dropped. I got off the end of the line.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chapter 21: Even After

a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 

           Helen Roy sat gazing at dusk through the panoramic windows while waiting on Stephen. He stopped off at home and was someplace in the city whose lights were flickering on, a view she had appreciated when starting work there. Then when she moved in --and tried to hide the fact-- she stayed mostly in the bedroom. Now that he knew and seemed all right with it, she spent lots of time looking out. No longer did she go to auditions, the gym, or meet friends. The condo had become her refuge, Stephen her benefactor, investor parties her society and window gazing an occupation. 
          The condo was hers in a way, for having planned the redecoration and she was content amid her creation: stark black-and-white color scheme; leather armchairs of opposing colors with corresponding banquettes and stools; aquarium angelfish her allies now, and the painting of a peaceful beach under threat of a wave.
          Hearing Stephen at the door, she scrambled to meet him and display her tight yellow dress with V-neckline and silky white hose. Her auburn hair was tugged back into a squirrel tail exposing golden oval earrings. A lightly powdered face, carmine red lipstick, and seductive jasmine scent completed her presentation.
          Though his jaw remained set within an angular face, his eyes softened which was encouragement enough. Eyebrows arching with delight, she reached up to peck his cheek then pull him into the front and the black leather armchair. She rushed to bring his drink, ice cubes chiming in the glass a contrast to his silence. Attired in gray suit and red tie, he stared straight ahead at everything and at nothing.
          She sat by his knees, and he stroked her cheek with his right hand. “That damn woman. She doesn’t even want to go, I can tell, but he puts her up to it. I can hear him saying, ‘When I was CEO my wife was beside me.’ She’ll be at the wedding, but I want you at my side.” He lifted her face and looked her in the eyes. “You represent the company: fresh, sleek, agile.”
           She rocked back on her heels. “She’ll know, and hate me.”
           “She knows what I want her to know. This is business and you’re my assistant.”
           “Your father will hate me, and your mother, and everybody else. What won’t they think?” Her voice trailed away, and then she jumped up. “Let’s have a reception here! I can stay and prepare like I always do.”
             He shook his head. “The mansion’s huge and overlooks a lawn that goes down to the ocean. It has two wings: one designated for investors, the other for everyone else. The ceremony takes place outside and the reception’s split, outside and in. Before the priest conducts the wedding, I’ll approve the union with a speech. They’ll see I command on a grand scale and that he’s irrelevant. You’ll be near me for the ceremony, and then spend the rest of the time with the investors. Don’t worry about anyone else.”
            She paced to the window, then spun around, head lowered and hands at her sides. “I won’t damage something whole.”
           He approached and took her hands. “We’re building something. Slade is on the verge of greatness and soon, very soon, we’re going to make the investors very happy.” 
           “You set a date!”
           A grin etched his lips. “Soon. No one else needs to know. My advisers are getting ready.”
          “After the launch, our work is done.”
          “Only just beginning. Value shouldn’t vanish. We need to build on this and grow.”
           She pulled away to sit on the banquette beneath the painting and spoke slowly, as if trying to maintain her balance. “I’m afraid of going out, and afraid that if I don’t… I’ll fade away. I always thought that afterwards I could restore meaning to my life.” 
           “You’re meaningful here.”
           “You want me here, even after?”
           “Even after.”
         He pointed to the painting. “I accept that because I see myself as that rising wave ready to slam onshore and wash the old out to sea. Then the new can thrive. You represent the new.”
           “Outside, maybe I can feel again.”
          His eyes flashed. “What’s this then?”  He gestured, indicating the condo, them and all. “It’s that salesman, isn’t it?”
          “Admit it! No? I forbid you to have anything to do with him.”
         His anger rebuked her and, as if resetting a slipped mask, Helen endeavored to please. She stroked his arms to calm him, reinforced his thoughts by nodding assent, shielded his emotions with hugs and agreed that the course he charted was best; the while, her shadow mind contrived how to proceed, knowledge of the impending IPO having demarked an end to a stage of her life when she could leave guilt-free and confront or outdistance whatever threat was out there.

The next chapter will be posted by October 25..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chapter 20: Lunchtime

a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


          Lola McIntyre sat at the usual table waiting on the others as workers took their spots in the break room to empty paper bags and unseal plastic containers. She had observed the night-before preparation ritual in advance of a long morning commute, but the ham-and-cheese-on-white stayed in her oversized purse despite her growling stomach.
          Once, at the point of reaching in, Bill had stepped inside the door and stood there in the black broad-shouldered tunic that sent a charge through her. He jerked his head and she excused herself to follow him. Though lunch turned out to be fast food eaten in the limo, it was the most romantic noontime she could remember since high school. In hope of prompting another lunchtime summons, she waited as long as possible.
          Mailroom Joe dropped a wrinkled brown bag on the table and took a seat. His white ear buds were in place under stringy brown hair that touched his shoulders. Then Stockroom Bob came in, looking neat in checkered short-sleeved shirt that showed off his muscles. A Tupperware man, he placed a rectangular container and two small round ones before him, then nudged one into alignment. “Aren’t you eating?” he teased. She nodded, eyes fixed on the door. Then Bill entered and went over to sit.
          “Driving Slade to the Palisades. Not much time.” He pulled an apple from his pocket and bit in. The statement from the tight-lipped chauffeur triggered questions and conversation about the CEO who was going to tour the mansion owned by an ally, where Dave Forester’s wedding would take place the following month. Joe mentioned the fancy hand-lettered envelopes that had passed through the mailroom. Lola averred they were the invitations then expressed excitement over who’d receive them, followed by depression for being excluded. “It’s a big event in the company. It's not right we don’t get to go.” She tossed her head and the charms on her bracelet jingled, though the blonde wave plastered to her face did not move.
          “I’m going,” said the chauffeur who wasn’t the kind of guy to boast of such things. Lola blinked rapidly then began to plead. Joe seemed to wake from a slumber to watch something happen. Even Bob, who liked things and people in their proper place, displayed a kind of expectation. “You want to go? You’ll have to work.” He looked around the table. They were unanimous. “I’ll tell the caterer.” Lola shouted “Hooray!” to smiles all around.
          Bill headed for the door, and she hurried after to push him into the hallway. She whispered, “I want to tell you: I’ve been to the condo.” She paused for effect but the face beneath the shaved head did not crack. “Helen asked me. It’s lovely! The view! The furniture! You should have taken me. Listen. Let’s go together. What do you say?”
          “Helen lives there.” Before she could object, he added, “After work she doesn’t go to an apartment or anyplace else. She stays. When she goes out, she comes back.”
          “You followed her?”
          “I got to go.” He left her staring with mouth wide open like a dummy. She had thought to zing him; instead her mind raced to catch up: Slade buys the condo, transfers Helen. She must be---. She dates Atom, then he leaves because---. Bill is following so---.
          As a storyteller, Lola strived for certain effects but right then wasn’t sure of the gist. Delighted to deliver pithy comments to elicit laughs, her subjects often were the same as on TV comedies. She favored stories that ended happy after frustrated desire, but wasn’t good at drama. With something of graver import, her voice croaked to a halt mid-sentence, forcing her audience to complete the thought. They believed she knew more than she was willing to say and she encouraged that belief.
          Her mind drifted. A zero-minute commute, nice! Helen dreaded transferring to the condo, and now lives there. Funny, yes? Wanting to laugh, she felt something crawling up her back that she couldn’t quite scratch. She headed to her workstation. Good stories start as first drafts. She was wont to try hers out on Mimosa Liang, the co-worker in the next cubicle. Her recommendations were that they didn’t share the same friends, she tended to hone in on the consequences of things and had an easy-to-read face.
          Petite with long black hair and dark eyes, Mimosa liked living on the happy side, so seeing Lola approach evoked a frown, and then as she listened her face expressed a holy sorrow. “The poor wife!” She wrung her hands as Lola hovered above her chair.
          “At home with the kids, while he spends time with the other woman. That’s humiliating! No wonder we never see her, or else he keeps her away so she doesn’t find out. What would she do? The kids have priority, sure. I liked Helen but didn’t think she was that way. She’s too na├»ve, but he isn’t so sure about her if he’s having her followed. I could see her liking Atom. He must have been a threat. I don’t like this. It’s not pleasant. Somebody’s going to pay. Why are you telling me this?”
          Signaling confidentiality with a finger to the lips, Lola retreated into her own cubicle with a better sense of inevitable crash and injury. She blushed thinking about workplace romances and her flirtation with Bill, but was thrilled more than cautioned, certain of being beyond the flack zone where she could watch harm-free.  

 The next chapter will be posted by September 4..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.