Dough is Better than “D’oh!” (Weekly Writing Challenge)

No really. You should use the Weekly Writing Challenge.  Do it!  Or don’t.

“Nothing can bring peace but yourself.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

———-

Work was vexing Alan. Traffic had been terrifying, as usual. Sleep was not nearly abundant enough. And purring kittens were not allowed at work.

However, no one ever said Alan couldn’t make cookie dough at his desk. His hands and soul found a tranquil peace in the kneading and gnashing.

 

lead_chocolate_chip_cookie_dough_560px

Writer’s Digest(ion)

I will follow my instincts, and be myself for good or ill.”  -John Muir

**********

Consider this your first and only warning; if you are a person who finds that the sight of someone being sick makes you sick?  Then perhaps this story is not for you.  Hypochondriacs should take this as their cue to exit the story.  Should you decide that a story on nausea will not sit well with your stomach, I shall even give you the moral up front.  Ready?  It all comes back to the beginning.  The third part of a movie trilogy should make a reference to the first part.  Comic book origins will be retold (and in some cases retold and retold and retold; I am looking at you, Superman).  From the ground we come and to the ground we all return.  Food is no exception.

Consider yourself warned.  It's -that- kind of story.

Consider yourself warned. It’s -that- kind of story.

Happily, I tend to be like that episode of Seinfeld.  I throw up once every decade or so, usually less.  When folks ask why I do not drink, my hatred of puking is often cited.  Everything about vomiting sounds horrible.  There is the sight of one’s breakfast returned to them in the evening, the smell, and that tightening of the abdomen that you cannot control.  I do pretty much whatever I can to avoid that sort of occasion.  Still, even I get food sickness.  Again, I am fortunate enough that it does not happen too often.

The first memory that I have of such illness was in college.  I had been working as a cashier the night before and had been on a break.  I, much like Winnie the Pooh, had a rumbling in my tummy.  And the loading dock had a vending machine.  So, in all of my infinite wisdom, I put in my change, made a selection, and chomped away.

Now, in case this is not a lesson that you have learned already, let me make it abundantly clear.  Never, under any circumstances, buy meat from a vending machine.  Certainly not one at work that you know is only sporadically restocked with fresh product.  I know what you are thinking.  “Oh, but it’s vacuum sealed.  That means it’s okay, right?”  I am sure there is some scientific mumbo-jumbo we could throw back and forth, but here is my stance on the matter:  No.  Don’t do it.  Ever.

However, hindsight is twenty/twenty.  I was nineteen.  I was a silly college kid who was munching on two small logs of meat, enjoying the slightly spicy sensation in my mouth.  Had I known that I would soon be reliving that spiciness, I would have been less enthused.  (They later not only moved the vending machines, but they stopped carrying the meat sticks.  Still, whenever I see a vending machine of any variety, I approach it with a wary eye.)

Work ended, I slept, and the school day was upon me.  I was scheduled to perform some sketch in drama class that day, but my tummy was rumbling in a different sort of way.  (Instead of Winnie the Pooh, picture Tigger exercising his right to be “bouncy pouncy” over and over.)  I told the T.A. that I was not going to be up for assignment.  She told me it might affect my grade, and I nodded as I made my way out of class.

Right outside of the drama building there is a small patch of grass.  There are little concrete pathways around the perimeter, the brick building serves as a wall, and a tennis court is visible from its soft green terrain.  In the summer and spring quarters, it is not unusual for the students to set up a volleyball net and have a go at relieving their study-induced stress.  The grass is just big enough for the court and ten to twelve students, but no larger.  In the fall, the leaves lay happily on this patch of greenery.  It is, to put it simply, a pleasant escape from the large dwellings of academia.

I walked down the stairs of the drama building, and not ten steps into that grassy field, I fully embraced my own “escape” onto the grass.  Had I stayed in class five minutes longer I would have become the star of the day.  No one would have doubted my dedication to keeping an audience’s attention.  However, I was always more of a backstage tech than an actor, and therefore I was quite happy that my performance was seen by no one except whatever poor bugs were crawling around in the grass.  I groaned out thanks to God that my vomiting hadn’t occurred inside, and I made my way home.  That was my oh-so joyous food poisoning of ninety-nine.

It only looks like it's your friend.

It only looks like it’s your friend.

Flash forward fourteen years.  I am now an enlightened movie usher.  I know how my stomach works, I have control over my abdomen, and I had just taken the food handler’s permit test the week prior.  For the fourth time in a row, I had scored one hundred percent.  I was much wiser than the college-version of me.  I brought my food with me and happily placed it in the work microwave.  Being a professional food handler, I knew exactly why the instructions on my turkey pot pie warned me to make sure the food was heated to one hundred and sixty-five degrees.  Yet one of the many amenities you will not find near a work microwave (such as forks, napkins, plates, or canaries to sing you a merry song), is a thermometer.  I followed the instructions, thought the food was a little cool in places, but decided that everything would work out just fine.

Again we fast forward to the day after.  I was having a rather quiet day at work.  I had watched an episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., done some reading, and generally kept the store from falling into a state of catastrophe. The usual customers had come in, there was a sense of calm about the place; all was well.

Then I started to feel cold.  Then warm.  My temperature is always pretty steady.  I can wear shorts in the fall, flannels in the spring; I don’t suffer great shifts in warmth.  Yet, the store felt cold all of a sudden.  I looked at the thermostat panel and everything seemed like it should be fine.  A few minutes later I was still feeling odd.

I found myself light-headed even though I was sitting.  I hadn’t moved quickly and I didn’t feel overly feverish.  I started to wonder if the sickness that had been sweeping through my coworkers had finally decided I needed to be dealt with.  My stomach protested the loudest.  I acknowledged its grievances and took action the only way that seemed logical.  I headed to the bathroom.

Like this, but -cleaner-.

Like this, but -cleaner-.

Thankfully my store has a reputation for being clean.  Even the bathroom floors are clean enough to sit on without complaint.  I can now attest to that fact.  Sure enough, with a little effort, some “secret ingredients” that I’m hopeful that the KFC next door has never used were vomited up.  It took a few tries, but I got it all out of my system.  I was rather pleased at how mild a case it had been.  Honestly, an hour later I was feeling much better.  (Which should serve as a lesson on gluttony; never buy two pot pies, nor should you opt for the Hungry Man size.  And if you do, nuke the crud out of those things.)

Now the question you’ve all been wondering.  Why the sam hill am I telling you this?  Am I bragging that I’ve only had food poisoning twice?  Am I this desperate for a story?  Am I a masochist when it comes to masticating?  Nope.  I simply want to point out that what goes around comes around; food for thought, if you will.  And that will become clearer when I share the piece of information that I left out.

Let us revisit the vending machine that I purchased the meat from.  I told you that they moved it, but I did not go into details.  The truth is, they moved it only a few feet, just around the corner.  In its place, they put a filing cabinet.  And on top of that filing cabinet?  Why, they gave us a nice little microwave; the same microwave that I heated up my pot pie in.  I in effect poisoned myself twice; both in the exact same spot.  I returned to the scene of the crime, in more ways than one.  It may take fourteen years, but much like an ill-chosen dinner will prove; what goes around comes around.

A Labor of Love

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” –Confucius

**********

I sit at a desk, typing this at my job.  The clock reads 7:11 on the bottom right hand corner of my screen next to two computers hanging out with a red “x” near them and two orange icons.  I look up to the timepiece on the opposite wall and it confirms what their brother has already stated.  I was off work at seven.

Being the diligent employee that I was, I came in about fifteen minutes early to acquire my projects for the day, enjoy a little quiet time, and generally prepare myself for any visitors that might stop by.  An eight hour shift is reasonable.  My job is one that does not require a lunch break.  I rule over all; the lone employee, deciding how I should spend my day.

I read articles on my favorite websites.  I play a move against my mother in Scrabble.  I file.  I play another move.  I read.  I eat lunch.  I play a word, wishing that I had room for the word “talents” on the crowded board.  More reading and filing occurs as I chat with customers about their selections and the newest episode of their favorite television show.

And that is how I find myself still sitting in front of this computer with the lights on.  I have a stack sitting next to me that begs to be finished.  I shall probably spend at least an hour attacking that quest.

What’s that?  You pity me in this little snapshot of my life?  Oh, posh.  Today I manned the comic book shop.  I could have left quite a while ago; I’m not getting paid anymore.  However, I’m sitting in a room full of four-color fun and I refuse to leave until I’m all caught up. 

Batwoman is teaming up with Wonder Woman to find a killer in an underwater maze.  Animal Man is joining Swamp Thing to keep the darker side of the world from taking over the plant and creature aspects.  There’s a brand new Iron Man series that’s started.  Words and images combine for entertaining stories that literally (ha!) have the fate of the world in the balance.  Every week a new tales are told about good struggling to overcome evil.  Heroes attempt to save those in need and art shines through as powerfully as Superman’s punches.  How could I leave all this fun behind?  Why would I stop having all this fun? 

Those that write stories should be those that devour them as well.  I know I do.

The Chair Not Taken

After all these years, he’s nothing to me but an empty seat.” –Spider-Man 2

**********

Audrey looked up from her plate.  She glanced at the chair at the other end of the table, knowing full well that she wouldn’t like what she saw.  Sure enough, the chair sat unattended.

Back in her high school days Audrey had been quite the stage performer.  Her roles were the envy of all in the drama department.  It didn’t matter if she was cast as the librarian in The Music Man or if she used her uncanny grasp of Shakespeare to wow the crowd with her portrayal of Juliet.  The shows that featured her as a lead were sure to sell out.  But to this day, Audrey still remembered the night when her mom had forgotten the play and worked late.  Audrey had had hundreds of lines to recite, there were dozens of other actors around her, and the spotlights shone on her with blinding ferocity the entire time.  Yet all she had seen was that one empty seat staring back at her.  It fought to command her attention throughout the show.

Audrey knew that her husband had reasons for being away, just as her mother had.  Theirs was a happy enough existence when they were around each other.  However, as with all things, there was a catch.

Darren was an excellent salesman.  He knew the ins and outs of each product he was asked about.  Unbelievably, he wouldn’t try to sell an item if he didn’t think the customer needed it.  At first this caused some strife with his bosses when they found out.  The accolades and praise-filled letters about Darren that flooded their mailboxes soon changed their mind.

Darren was sent out to all four corners of the world and returned successfully each time.   He was such an expert at having a genuine approach and being entirely likable that his employer had him visit different markets and coach the other salesman.  That meant easy times around the Bruckner house, but only in the financial sense.  Audrey tried to be supportive, but she wanted her husband in the dining room chair, not sitting in some cramped airplane seat.

Pic from WP Clip Art

She looked across to the blue chair.  Audrey had never really like the furniture piece in the first place.  It had been Darren’s call to buy it.  He thought it seemed tremendously comfy and rather unique.  Audrey could only nod along, especially to the latter part of his reasoning.  She told herself that if it made him so happy, she could live with an ugly chair.

Now she sat and mulled over how great that piece would look if only Darren were sitting in it.  Four days had passed since she had last seen her husband.  Even then, he had only been home for two days to do his laundry after an eight-day trip.

The desolate chair spoke of the history it shared with its on-again/off-again resident.  There was the nacho cheese stain on the right armrest.  The back of the chair had a thin layer of fabric that was starting to fray from the many times her husband had turned and brushed the back against the table’s edge.  Audrey wanted the chair to feel complete so that she could say the same.  The longer the chair went unused, the harder it was to sleep at night.

What if Darren doesn’t really need me?  What if he’s staying away because it’s so much easier to be on the road than be home?  Concerns refused to leave Audrey’s head.  She had heard her friends complain before about not being able to have time with their spouses, but she never considered that it was more than just a sob story.  She had never thought to listen to their laments and log them away as precautionary tales.  Now all she pondered were plausible signs that she worried she’d missed the first time around.

Suddenly, a light shone on the blue seat.  A white beam came through the living room window and lit up the chair before moving sideways along the wall and disappearing.  Audrey turned at the familiar sound.  She recognized the path that the headlights had taken and she knew the putter of that car engine.

Before she could react, the door burst open and Darren appeared in the doorway.  His normally chubby features were heightened by a grin that showed all of his teeth, even the molars with gold crowns on them.  The king of the castle hid his richly decorated pearly whites as he ran to his wife and kissed her on the head.

“Hey, guess what?”

“You’re… you’re home early”, Audrey managed to stutter.

“Yep.  The conference was cancelled.  I put forth a proposal and my bosses loved it.  Video-conferencing.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they’ll save thousands of dollars shipping me around.  I might even be able to do it from home.”

“What about your sales calls?”

“Oh, I told them I wanted to stick with our local clients.  Sort of, reinforce our commitment to those folks.  They bought it”, Darren said as he leaned over and put his head on her shoulder.  “But the truth is, I just couldn’t stay away any longer.”

Audrey beamed.  She tried to keep her excitement tucked away quietly, but knew that she was failing miserably.  “Maybe you just wanted a piece of this chocolate cake.”

“Well, that certainly is one more incentive to come home”, he said as he sat across from her.

Seeing her husband sitting at home, where he belonged, Audrey felt a peace she hadn’t known in far too long.  Without her having to say anything, Darren had made it all better.  There was hope for the happy couple once again.  The chair suited Darren well.  Audrey could almost see the seat cushion’s corners bend up in a contented smile.

Technologically Challenged

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Technologically Challenged

Technology enables man to gain control over everything except technology.” –unknown

Harvey had been lied to all his life.  Growing up, his parents had waxed on about the inventions of the world making his life easier.  “Just you wait”, his dad had said.  “There will be countless advancements that will increase productivity.”  For the last ten years of school, the message had been echoed over and over.  “Learn to master this equipment now”, his teachers and professors had demanded.  “If you figure these computer systems out you’ll be better off.”  Harvey shook his head.

Bull, he thought to himself.  Bull and malarkey.

Harvey always harbored suspicions that the electronic world was out to get him.  The day so far only perpetuated that notion.  First off, Harvey’s wristwatch had failed to wake him up.  When his sleepy eyes finally managed to pry themselves open, they were met with a blank screen.  Despite the expensive watch’s claim that the kinetic movement of his body would power the timepiece, the clock had died.  Harvey scurried out of the house, not taking time to shower or eat, and just managed to beat the bus to its first stop.

He was a little rushed, but Harvey felt that he could still make his breakfast date on time.  However, a mile down the road, the bus was forced to stop.  The overhead power lines specially created for the transit system had been knocked down in the evening’s storms.  The bus driver was therefore required to stop the bus, get out, unlatch the feeding mechanism from the lines, drive the bus past the damaged section on gasoline, stop the bus again, reconnect to the city’s power grid, and then continue service.  Harvey hoped that this would be the last unscheduled stop that the bus would have to make, but he would soon find out how wrong he was.

Two stops later, the bus came upon a disabled man in a wheelchair.  Perhaps a regular metal wheelchair would not have been any grave concern, but this was a deluxe wheelchair.  The behemoth that transported the man from place to place might as well have been a sports utility vehicle.  Its mammoth wheels with studded tires barreled onto the bus’s ramp when it was lowered.  The multi-battery operated chair lurched back and forth at the controller’s slightest gesture.  Piercing chirps resonated whenever the one-man RV moved so much as an inch backwards or to the side.  It came as no surprise that the wheelchair was too heavy for the lift.  Upon hearing a grinding sound, the busload of people groaned.  The exertion that the electric system had undergone had frozen the ramp in its current position.  The driver tried to lower it, close it; he even got out and jumped on it.  The driver turned the bus off, toggled the switches; nothing worked.  Since the bus could not move forward with the door open, all the passengers were asked to wait until a replacement bus was available to carry them.

Finally, after Harvey had survived riding on the next vehicle, which had been unavoidably crammed full with the double load, the man arrived at the café.  He had ended up being fifteen minutes late, but he hoped that Rosalind would have the patience to understand.  He looked around at the different coffee tables outside.  They appeared to be oases of calm.  Harvey wanted to sit on their padded seats, sip a latte, and watch the frazzled world go by.  Instead, he found himself pacing back and forth.  He leaned against a planter which once housed a tree, but now served as an oversized ashtray.  He looked back and forth for any signs of his breakfast date.  They had been talking about coffee for weeks and he was wondering if he had ruined his shot with the woman by being too late.

Finally, twenty minutes after his arrival, Harvey pulled out his phone and called up Rosalind.  Her mumbled voice was just barely audible.  Through barely comprehensible tones, Harvey managed to decipher what the woman was trying to say.  She had apparently been kidnapped to a work party that had gone late into the night.  She had sent Harvey an e-mail from her phone cancelling their breakfast date.  However, due to the service coverage in the bar, the message might not have sent.  “Either way”, Harvey commented, “I only check my e-mails in the afternoon.”

Giving up on any pleasantries occurring before work, Harvey hopped on another bus and headed to work.  The bus worked perfectly.  There were no expected stops.  Harvey dared to believe that perhaps technology was on his side.  Then someone from the next bus depot joined him.  Seated snugly on the bench seat next to him, a woman listened to music on her phone.  She wore earplugs, but Harvey would never have known the difference.  Every note, every word, was completely discernible as the tune blasted towards his eardrums.  He closed his eyes and tried to block out the blaring noise.

Three stops later, Harvey was at work.  He ran off the bus, accidentally pushing a few people as he went.  He found himself standing in front of the elevator doors.  Much to his chagrin, the only set of stairs was alarmed.  They were only to be used in case of emergency.  So it was dictated that Harvey stand with the huddled masses waiting for the arms of the elevator to take in the down-trodden working class.  Harvey heard the familiar ding, watched the shiny brown doors open, and stepped to the back of the elevator.  He knew to expect a long wait.

Sure enough, the elevator stopped on the second floor.  Then it ceased moving long enough to deposit fellow building-dwellers on the fourth floor.  After that came the fifth floor, the seventh floor, and the eighth floor.  Harvey closed his eyes and tried to ignore the ads that were displayed on the monitor above the button panel.  It was as if the elevator knew that he was a captive audience until the thirty-seventh floor.

Twelve minutes later, Harvey arrived at his office.  Before leaving work yesterday, Harvey’s boss had stated that he would be unreachable.  There was a closed-door meeting, complete with phone conferences and presentations, which simply could not be interrupted.  However, he assured Harvey that everything he needed for the day would be waiting in his e-mail.  Harvey turned on his computer, dreading the list of things that his demented boss thought could be achieved in one day.

Just as his monitor warmed and lit up with electric-life, Sara came along.  Harvey did not know what Sara was supposed to accomplish for the company, but he knew what role Sara relished most.  Sara liked to be the dispenser of information.  It did not matter if Sara was talking about the newest work initiative, the names of the recent hires, or what Bob from accounting did over summer break.  Sara simply wanted to spread news.  Harvey had never seen a memo or phone call that could compete with Sara’s speedy delivery.  There was no successful way to keep secrets from this woman.  Harvey tried to ignore her, but that only made her that much more interested in impressing him with the latest news.  Therefore it was absolutely no surprise when Sara clawed her overly manicured hands into the top of Harvey’s cubicle walls and stood on tip-toe to convey her wisdom.

“Hey Harvey, how’s it going.”  The woman did not pause for a reply, and Harvey knew well enough not to attempt one.  “Did ya hear about the computers.  It is really quite sad.  All the internet lines are down.  I guess there is something wrong with the sever.”

“Server”, Harvey corrected.  “It is called a server.”

“That’s what I said”, Sara glared back through her grandmother pink-glasses.  Harvey had seen uglier frames before, but never on a person’s face.  Most visually repellant frames had the decency to stay on the spin rack in the stores.  Sara was the only one that actually gave them a chance to show their hideousness in public.

“Do they know when the server will be up again?”

“Oh, it won’t be until later.  They told us that we should just assume it’ll be out all day.  I guess there’s some sort of power sugar that got knocked out by the storm or something.”

“Surge”, Harvey corrected.  “Power surge.”

“Right, that’s what I said”, Sara replied.  “How’re we supposed to get any work done?  I mean, I’m an important person in this organization.”

Harvey gathered a few files and held them in his arm as he stood up.  “I’m sure you’ll manage to be just as productive today as you are on any other day.”

Leaving Sara looking confused, Harvey headed to the back hall.  He knew a secret.  Over an inter-office bowling game, a maintenance man had taken Harvey into his confidence.  They were located so high up in the building that the fire alarms were largely overlooked.  Someone had taken the liberty of disabling the door sensors.  Harvey had not directly asked, but the way the maintenance fellow talked and winked, he knew who had taken that liberty.  And today, it was going to be Harvey’s key to freedom.

Harvey opened the door, made sure no one saw him, and climbed the last two flights of stairs.  He opened the door to the roof and breathed a sigh of relief.  No one else was about this early in the morning.  In the summer elaborate parties were hosted on the roof.  Railings had been installed and there was even an awning attached to the access stairwell.  Around lunchtime, a crowd gathered to have lunch and enjoy the view.  But today Harvey was early enough to be the only one around.

He breathed in the fresh air.  The skyscraper was on the edge of the city.  From his spot, Harvey could see a few buildings around him, but mostly it was the ocean that filled his view.  The overnight storm had cleared away nicely.  All the scenery had been wiped cleaning from the wind and rain.  He found a dry chair, sat down, and pulled the files from their folders.  He sat, looking at paper copies, resting in a seat with no controls or buttons, and read by the sun in the sky.  This, Harvey felt, is how simple it is supposed to be.

E-maling to Efficiency and Effectives (Weekly Writing Challenge)

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

(Once again, I have to thank The Daily Post for suggesting that we write about e-mails.  However, I still refuse to post by e-mail.  How do I show gratitude for them Fresh Press-ing me last week?  By rebelling.)

E-mailing to Efficiency and Effectiveness

Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” –Office Space

Howard parked his car and glumly looked around the parking lot.  A sea of four-door cars, all of them silver or white, looked back at him contentedly.  The cars knew what they were supposed to do until five o’clock.  The paragons of domestic accomplishment were tasked with sitting out in the sun, warming themselves, and generally relaxing in the clear blue sky.  Their drivers, on the other hand, had work waiting for them inside.

Howard sighed, heaved his heavy briefcase towards him, and got out of the car.  He reached in one last time to grab his coffee cup from its resting place in front of the shifter.  He could already feel the warmth of his car’s interior increasing.  Howard shook his head, sipped his coffee, and chirp-ed his car alarm into action.  Howard often wondered what good it did to have an alarm that he couldn’t hear from his desk, but it made his insurance bill lower so he chose to play along.

Walking in the glass door, Howard held his ID badge up to the time clock and listened as the familiar be-deep acknowledged his existence.  The man dressed in a black suit, black tie, black slacks, blue shoes, and a gray shirt, reached inside his briefcase as the kitchen rose into view.  His attire, much like his office space, was dull and lifeless.  Howard took the Sharpie that hung by a piece of yarn from a refrigerator-magnet, wrote his name on his brown paper bag, and then added a frowny-face to voice his displeasure.  Howard was not thrilled about being in the office today, and he would share his frustration and annoyance with anyone who would even think about pilfering his meager lunch.  He closed the fridge door and hoped that his food would be waiting for him later.

Upon leaving the sole communal area, Howard looked out at the office.  As always, he was greeted by the impersonal and blasé sight of dreariness.  Standing at five-feet tall, the cubicle walls were not imposing, not harsh; they were simply there.  They had no aspiring qualities.  They were merely there to be divisive.  They were there to separate the accountants from the advertisers.  The supervisors were walled off from the underlings.  The only thing that the beige and gray walls didn’t section off were conversations.  Every phone call, every moment of casual interaction was overheard and oftentimes commented on.  Howard’s solution to that conundrum was to e-mail everything.

At the far end of the room, Howard could see a large, picturesque window that let the cubicle-clan catch a glimpse of the real world.  The last of the morning clouds had burnt off.  He could feel the veins in his neck tightening already.  He sat down, glared at the calendar on his carpet-covered wall, and turned on his computer.  As the fan whirred to life and the supposedly amusing tones echoed from his tiny speakers, Howard knew he had to break free.  As soon as his wallpaper came up, a happy view of Howard and his family standing on top of a mountain, Howard pulled up his e-mail program.

Quickly clicking on the “new” button, Howard typed the first three letters of his coworker’s name into the subject line, tabbed down, typed in “lunch” as the subject line, and began his first e-mail of the day.  The other seventy-four messages that had wondrously appeared in two and a half days could wait their turn.

“Hey.  Going to go crazy if I don’t escape today.  Lunch?  Outside?”

Howard clicked “send” and took another sip of his coffee.  His cup felt worrisomely light.  Howard tilted the cup back the entire way and the last few drops fell into his mouth.  Great, Howard thought to himself.

Ba-Don, came the noise from Howard’s computer.  He opened the newest letter from Jack.

“Yes.  A thousand times yes.”

Howard clicked “reply”.

“Where do you want to go?”

This time, Howard could hear the Ba-Don from his coworker’s desk.  Scant seconds later, the sound resonated from his computer.

“Outside.  Not here.  You?”

Howard typed, happy to have a cohort in his great escape.  Only four hours remained until they could be free.  “Hawaii.”

“HA!!!”

Howard chuckled at the audible response that resonated over the cubicle walls.  He could imagine Jack’s embarrassment as the others wondered what he was up to.  Soon, Jack’s response hit Howard’s screen.

“Don’t think we have time for Hawaii.  Maybe a park?”

“A park?”  Howard frowned as he typed.  “Parks are crowded with small children.  I’ll have enough of that when I get home.”

“I suppose”, came Jack’s response.

“Besides, I stepped in dog poop the last time we went.  Never again.”

Again, Jack’s hardy laughter burst from his cubicle.  Howard smiled at the comic relief he was getting out of his colleague.

“Stop that!”  Jack’s note was followed by several angry emoticons.  “If you keep making me laugh, we’re both going to get in trouble.”

“It’s not my fault you have no self-control.”

“That’s what she said!”

“Ugggh”, Howard tossed his head back and groaned out loud.  He took his gaze away from the buzzing lights that were recessed in the ceiling and typed out a vexed reply.  “Stop doing that.  The rest of us stopped seven years ago.  It’s done.  Move on.”

“No.  I’m bringing it back.”

“It hasn’t been gone long enough to return!!!”  Howard hoped his extra exclamation points would get his exasperation across.

“YOU’RE WRONg!”

“Nice caps-work, tool.”

“SHUT UP.”

“See”, Howard typed gleefully.  “I’m instructing you already.  What a productive morning we’re having.”

“That’s it.  Stand up”, demanded the newest e-mail.

“What?”

“Stand.  UP.”

Howard could hear an office chair creak and the casters roll as movement sounded from the other side of the wall in front of him.  He stood up himself and looked his cubicle mate in the eye.

“Good morning”, the man across from Howard said.

“Good morning, Jack”, Howard replied.

“Nice to see you”, Jack said as he extended his right hand.

Howard took the man and shook it.  The awkward barrier was still separated the two, but they greeted each other across the obstacle like two pros after a tennis competition.

“You too”, Howard replied.

“Shall we head to the waterfront for lunch?”

“That sounds dandy”, Howard answered.

“Swell”, Jack said.  “See you then.”

“Looking forward to it.”

With that, the two men sat back down.

Ba-Don.  Howard grinned at the newest arrival to his in-box.  He opened Jack’s note and read, “E-mail’s for ineffectual morons.  We’re still humans, darnit!”

“What, you’d rather have a real conversation than drag this out for ten minutes?  Where’s the technological advancement in that?  Luddite.”

“I hate you.  See you at noon.”

Howard looked at the clock.  Eight seventeen.  Howard headed to the kitchen to make himself a second cup of coffee.  Twelve o’clock was going to be a long wait.

Feeling Emp-T (Daily Post Challenge)

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

(Yes, I already answered the call of The Daily Post’s challenge this week.  However there was the suggestion that we write a story without using a certain letter.  And I just couldn’t pass that up.)

Feeling Emp-T

A woman is like a hot tea bag, you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Sue was in dire need.  Her morning had been cruel.  Her work day showed no signs of being any kinder.  One drink would make her capable of being sociable.  One beverage could refill her sleepy soul.  However she had a feeling of doom; for her drink of choice was simply gone from her cupboard.

Sue dressed for work in a grouchy manner.  She picked a blouse and dress slacks, hoping her fashion-sense remained serviceable.  Her choice of dress was reasonably pleasing and so she made her way from her bedroom and approached her car.

Radio was normally relaxing for Sue.  She enjoyed hearing over-bearing people converse while never agreeing on any issue.  On such a morning as Sue was undergoing, she only desired silence.  She imagined a world where everyone disallowed speaking.  A cheery lack of dialog would rule over all.  Considering her highly congenial office pals, Sue knew such an idea was impossible.

Her coworkers were exceedingly chipper when Sue walked in.  Liz explained how well her children had performed in a church play on Sunday.  Brad was obsessed, finding any gap in discussion and seizing on said span of seconds.  He believed everyone would enjoy hearing a prolonged saga regarding his sea-faring vessel.  Caroline, as always, bemoaned a degree of loneliness in her life and asked for her friends’ indulgence.  She was a single woman, always on a grand search for a hunky and compassion-filled single fellow.

Sue lacked any degree of concern for her workplace chums.  She yearned for caffeine.  She had files beckoning her which she knew would be dull.  Sue’s chores which lay ahead of her called loudly and obnoxiously.  Several phone calls needed answering, none of which would be cheerful.  Sue pined for her fluffy pillow and a bed which required zilch from her.

Of course, her dreary morning was due for a sudden surprise.  She walked by her minion’s desk, discovering a memo had been placed haphazardly above his screen.  Sue read in Sharpie scribbling, “I’m gone.  See you never.”  Sue could hardly comprehend Brad resigning.  She always assured of her kindness concerning him.  Only now did she see signs of a vexed employee who had seemingly escaped a promising job eagerly and angrily.  Sue lacked a response, choosing her pile of work as her mind’s focus.

Door closed, her screen glowing in her face, window shades drawn, Sue had a workspace conducive for success.  Work could be accomplished.  Calls would be made.  All her problems would be addressed.  If only she were more awake.  Coffee was overly harsh on her inner workings.  She was considering an errand.  A purveyor of drinks was only four blocks away.  Surely she could finish her chores more readily if she were fully conscious.

Sue pushed herself away from her desk, removed her eyes from her e-mails, and pulled securely on her purse.  She had cash, she had many goals she should accomplish, and she had a plan.  Walking away from her office, her self-assuredness rose.  Sue had no need for a lackey.  She could make do and face her unwieldy missions all by herself.  However she did feel her morning was lacking one crucial piece.  Sue walked across her office’s lobby unyielding in her goal of acquiring some caffeine.

Really, all Sue desired on such a morning was a splash of help from her friend, tea.

The Designated Fire-Dowser

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Designated Fire-Dowser

If your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t haggle over the price of your garden hose.” –FDR

Floyd didn’t relish his job as the designated festivities-downer, but that was his role tonight.   He had other plans; more enjoyable plans.  His family was going to the vintage theater in town and they were going to watch a screening of Serenity.  Floyd had tried to assign one of his underlings to be on duty for him so that he could share in the calm family night, but both his supervisors and the bosses in Public Relations had nixed the idea.  Apparently The Olympic Committee didn’t like the notion that The Olympic Torch would be babysat by a rookie part-timer.  Floyd had his part to play tonight and that was that.

When Floyd had first been hired as the head of facilities for the arena, he had thought he had scored.  He had a team of twenty men and they had one building to take care of.  As long as all the lights were working and none of the chairs had any loose screens, everybody was happy.  Every once in a while Floyd would take a turn mowing the grass on the outskirts.  The work kept him grounded and made the other maintenance men respect Floyd as “one of them”.  Floyd’s casual lifestyle at work all came to a stop eight years ago.

Around a decade ago, the arena, and the city as a whole, started making bids to host The Olympics.  They wanted the attention, the income, and the crowds.  With the sports teams moving away or drawing pithy crowds, the city wanted to reestablish itself as a mover and shaker in the sports world.  They had four-lane roads, hotels, and parking garages which they yearned to see used beyond capacity.  Floyd did not share his city’s enthusiasm.

Ever since the city had gotten an official consideration from The Olympic Committee, Floyd’s job had become a never-ending battle of paperwork.  Each morning that he came into work he would find his inbox flooded with requests of things to be fixed.  He tried to institute a system where each person would ask for a certain item to be attended to and then logged, but it had failed miserably.

The regular staff had adhered to Floyd’s arrangement rather well.  However the higher-level staff all felt that they could just e-mail Floyd directly and bypass the line.  The biggest problem was the redundancies.  Floyd still remembered the time he received fifteen e-mails to replace one light bulb.  Naturally, it was the light bulb right outside the hallway for the executive offices.

It cracks me up to type this, but the image is from The Department of Defense.

Now that The Olympics were actually upon him, Floyd had somewhat resigned himself to living at work.  He tried to get a night off here or there, but all the managers and supervisors demanded that Floyd assist them in putting their best foot forward.  They would harbor no mistakes.  If something went wrong, they wanted Floyd on site to attend to it.  If this massive undertaking of a ship sprang a leak, they wanted Floyd to keep bailing until the ship went down.  Floyd often felt that if a light bulb went out in the middle of a telecast, he would be dragged onto camera and shot with a Taser to show just how serious they were about perfection.

Thus, the lighting of The Olympic Torch was overseen by Floyd.  He stood in his jumpsuit and checked the fire extinguisher yet again.  Floyd was not a young man.  He had turned fifty earlier in the week, but work hadn’t even gotten him a cake.  He certainly wasn’t afforded a candle as extravagant as the one he was babysitting.  He wiped the summer sweat off of his forehead, his slicked-back widow’s peak keeping his remaining hair out of the way.  Floyd’s thoughts turned to his now-gray moustache.  It was bushy, it was friendly, and it was his son’s favorite feature about his father.  Floyd could only hope that an amber from “Ol’ Sparky” wouldn’t set it ablaze.

Floyd knew that his bosses wouldn’t approve of such a casual nickname for the torch’s end destination, but he also hadn’t told them about his constantly muttering, “Flame on!” underneath his breath.  They hadn’t consulted him when they bought the fire extinguisher, so he thought he was owed some freedom here or there.

Floyd’s lone “weapon” in the battle of an inferno was a fifty-pound industrial fire extinguisher.  It had a stored pressure system, not a cartridge-operated one like he had recommended.  The difference was that when his extinguisher ran out of fuel, he was done.  All he could do after that was toss the giant cylinder aside and hope for a miracle.  The bosses had seen their costs sky-rocketing as they prepared to host the international event and had started to cut corners.  Floyd’s preferred fire suppression system had been the first thing to go.  That, along with the extinguisher’s cart.

The fifty-pound extinguisher was made to rest on a metallic hand-truck.  However, since it cost and extra forty dollars and because there was no ramp to get to the main access door, Floyd would have to do without.  His old frame groaned under the weight of what was essentially a large child strapped to his back.  The supervisors’ thinking was simple; should the igniting not run smoothly, Floyd would run forward and put out the fire.  He would do it alone, he would do it with one extinguisher, and he would handle things until the fire trucks could drive onto the field from the loading dock.  Floyd offered that the fire truck could park under a tent on the sidelines, but that clashed with the aesthetics that everyone else was so focused on.  Floyd tried to argue logic with them, but had instead settled for triple-overtime and a very nice insurance policy, “just in case”.

Floyd really wasn’t all that worried.  He was more annoyed that he was yet again missing out on family time.  The arena had given him the materials to build the housing for the fire.  The parts had all been shoddy and under-insulated, but Floyd had created an effective and safe system.  He had every confidence that he and his crew had done an excellent job.  All the tests had run perfectly smoothly.  In three weeks the whole event would be over and Floyd would cash in on the four months of vacation time that he was owed.  All he had to do was get through tonight’s high-spectacle proceedings and it as all downhill from there.

The athletes started to fill the Astroturf and Floyd watched them all with an amused eye.  He had seen them walking around earlier in the week as they tried to get their bearings and possibly even practice between endless interviews.  They all seemed a little too pretty for Floyd.  The muscles in their neck and shoulders bulged so much that they couldn’t even keep their jackets zipped all the way up.  Floyd kept hoping one of the foreign athletes would have some scar or a unibrow that would instill in him the relief that one of them was human and not some paragon of physical perfection.  So far the results had been as annoyingly fruitless as his search for a day off.

The one thing that Floyd had kept from everyone else, even his staff, was that there were certain advantages to his guard duty.  Everyone was so busy running around and viewing the spectacle that they had forgotten about him.  He wasn’t allowed to be in public sight because his jumpsuit and metal tank-backpack might infuse a feeling of uncertainty into the crowd.  Floyd sat in the shade of the tent and pulled out his new phone.  No one could see him, and his headphones worked just fine.  Floyd pulled up his list of television shows he had downloaded and felt that Firefly was an appropriate choice.  He probably should have been watching the flame when it was lit flawlessly, but at the moment Floyd didn’t care.  He was watching a fun show and, if he was honest, he aimed to misbehave.

Climbing Up the Corporate Skyscraper

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Climbing Up the Corporate Skyscraper

Therein lies the defect of revenge: it’s all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.” -Mark Twain

Harvey was a details person.  He thought that was why the stock brokerage had employed him in the first place.  Now, as he gathered the things that had accumulated in his area for the last three years, he realized that he should have spent less time looking at the numbers and portfolios of other businesses and more time checking on his own company’s financial standing. 

Harvey wasn’t the only one that was being “let go”.  Twenty-seven of his fellow floor-walkers were being shown the door and wished the best in their future endeavors.  Harvey tuned out the complaints of his former coworkers as he walked down the hallway.  He didn’t think about the lack of separation benefits as he rode the elevator down the thirty-four flights.  Harvey was focused solely on Stan Lipsin’s desk.

Harvey had worked for the company about two months when he got a surprise.  He had been looking at his desk, trying to arrange a client’s account, when he hung up the phone and glanced up.  There, waiting like some sort of cigar store statue, was Stan Lipsin.  The boss himself was lurking right in front of his cubicle. 

Harvey had heard that the boss was prone to engage in that sort of behavior.  Every once in a while, apparently as the whim struck him, Stan Lipsin would find an employee and give him some one on one time.  That day had been Harvey’s day.

Stan Lipsin had jerked his head towards the main hallway and Harvey had followed silently.  Stan Lipsin was a legend.  The man himself was never referred to as “Stan”, “Mister”, or even “Sir”.  It was always, and forever would be, “Stan Lipsin” that they said.  The odd thing about the powerful man was how quiet he was.  His massive frame gave off the impression of a fresh-shaven Santa Claus.  He even had that mischievous twinkle in his eye and the ruddy complexion that made a man want to chuckle.  But there was no chuckling around Stan Lipsin.  Stan Lipsin had been in charge of the company for forty-one years.  Stan Lipsin was infallible.  When Stan Lipsin wanted you to leave your desk and take a walk with him, you took latched onto opportunity and you followed him wherever he went.

In Harvey’s case, Stan Lipsin had led him into the elevator and down several floors to the manager’s office.  Harvey had always thought it strange that Stan Lipsin’s work area was eleven floors underneath the rest of his employees.  The doors had slid open and the two men had walked across the lift’s threshold.  There before them had been Stan Lipsin’s office.  It had been a sight to see.  The pool table, the dartboard, the stained wood paneling; Harvey had stared at all the luxuries with a slack jaw.  Stan Lipsin’s office hadn’t taken up the entire floor, but it had been close.  Stan Lipsin had explained that in simpler times the entire company had fit in this one room, but they had eventually needed more space.  When the decision was made to take up three more floors and wire them with the newest technological capabilities, Stan Lipsin had decided to keep this area for himself. 

Stan Lipsin’s desk had clearly been made to intimidate.  The oak behemoth could have housed four people for dinner.  The desk retained its tree-like status, with massive and thick slabs of wood that wouldn’t have been broken by anything human-powered.  Stan Lipsin had stepped behind the ancient piece of furniture and had gestured to his top right drawer.

“In here, is the secret of my success”, Stan Lipsin had said.  “I like you Harvey.  You seem like a good worker.  I think you’re a find addition to our team.  You don’t talk too much, you don’t complain, you burn the midnight oil.  I appreciate that.”  Harvey could still vividly picture Stan Lipsin when he gestured to an item on his desk.

“Do you see this, Harvey?  This is a clock”, Stan Lipsin stated.  He was clearly more interested in his prepared speech than any response Harvey might offer.  “This clock was designed by Nikola Tesla.  It is one of a kind.  It doesn’t lose time and it doesn’t break.  It cost me a small fortune to acquire, but it only drives home that old cliché that we have clung to since man stopped using back hair and clubs to attract mates.  Time is money.  We’ve spent time developing you Harvey, and we hope that you’ll reward the company financially.”

Harvey’s response had been brief.  “I’ll do my best, Sir.”

Harvey still shuddered at the uncomfortable air that had been created by his misspeaking. 

“Stan.  Stan, Sir.  Mr. Lipsin.”  Harvey had stopped and tried to control the sweat that had been beading towards the surface.  He had done what he often did when he was climbing rocks and came across a cliff that seemed impassible.  Harvey took a breath, adjusted his stance, and tried a new approach.  “I will do my utmost to reward your faith in me, Stan Lipsin.”

Stan Lispin had nodded and turned his attention back to the desk. 

“In here is the key, Harvey.  You stick with me, you do right by me, and I’ll show you the contents of this treasure chest.  What’s in here is all you need to know to make it big.”  Harvey’s last memory of that room was the way Stan Lipsin’s face had lit up at the prospect of untold riches.

None of that was going to happen though.  Three years later, Harvey had never been in that office again.  His years of glancing at the button, “23”, in the elevator had left him with a sense of longing.  He hadn’t betrayed the company but they had dismissed him.  He had made Stan Lipsin a sizeable mountain of cash.  Stan Lipsin hadn’t kept his promise.  Stan Lipsin had returned Harvey’s gift of millions of green pieces of paper with a single pink one.  Stan Lipsin had thought it was over.  Harvey intended to prove Stan Lipsin wrong.

What Stan Lipsin didn’t know, what nobody had been told, was that Harvey was an excellent climber.  Ever since college, Harvey had spent every free weekend climbing mountains.  He had his axe, his chalk, his ropes; the man was prepared.  He wasn’t the greatest in his climbing community, but he was in the upper echelons.  The tips of his fingers were strong and he could grip the slightest ledge for long enough to find that better perch.  Harvey was trained, he was prepared, and he gave himself a year to put his plan into action. 

The first thing he did was go to work at an oil change company.  He needed a job that would give him benefits but wouldn’t try to send him home with piles of paperwork.  There was no way for Harvey to take his vehicle maintenance tasks home with him, and that was just how he wanted it.  He earned benefits and he had two days off every week.  Most times he used one day off for climbing, but the other was reserved for errands.

For one thing, Harvey needed a deceleration line.  The rope that he used allowed for very little give.  It had a set length and would not give.  Harvey wanted a rope with a bit of spring to it.  He didn’t think that he would have to leap twenty stories, but if he did, he wanted a line that wasn’t going to dislocate his shoulders from the force of the rope jerking.  At the same time, Harvey didn’t want to draw attention to his rather unique purchase.

Harvey was allowed to purchase oil change gift cards at a discount.   Outside of Father’s Day, employees buying them were the only times the plastic rectangles sold.  Harvey bought several, traded them to his friends for cash, and then used that substantial sum to buy another gift card; this one for an online mega-retailer.

At the same time, Harvey kept his eye on the vintage clothing stores.  He was looking for a certain shirt.  After a few months, he found one.  For the price of four dollars, Harvey was the proud owner of a staff polo shirt for the Flickamax movie chain. 

Harvey went online with his retailer card and bought the deceleration line through a small vendor.  Then he had the gear sent to the Flickamax in the mall.  A day later, he checked the anonymous e-mail account he had created and got the expected arrival date for the package.  Harvey then requested a four day weekend from his job.  He had been working for the oil change company for a year and had never requested a day off so that he would be sure to have this span of time available.  He asked for a break from two days before the parcel should arrive to one day after.

His plan was entering its final stage.  Harvey was still in peak condition, perhaps even more than when had had been fired.  His intensity of training had focused him.  However to anyone watching, he was simply another individual in a purple polo shirt.

Harvey sat in the park across from the Flickamax and listened to his books on tape.  He had staked out the theater before and had a general idea of when the delivery trucks would come and go.  He was only interested in the shipping company that carried his parcel.  Every day he would see the brown truck drive up to the theater and every day he would hang out by the loading dock.  On the third day he was met with success.

To the outside observer, it was a rather routine non-event.  A delivery man took a cart of boxes out of his truck and pushed it to the loading dock.  There, a young man in a purple polo-shirt and headphones, waved politely to the delivery man.  A few pleasantries about weather and work were exchanged.  Then the deliveryman went back to his route.  Five boxes were left unattended on the loading dock.  The young man in the purple polo shirt was only interested in the box that was mailed to Paul Lipsinloser.

The final part of Harvey’s plan was completed when a friend of a coworker e-mailed the same anonymous address to say that the device was complete.  Harvey met him downtown, paid him in cash, and took home his custom-made gadget.  He tested out the powerful suction cups, pleased with their strength.  Harvey’s time had come.

The downtown business area was rather dead that early Saturday morning.  Harvey was counting on there being no one around at one a.m.  The few clubs and bars in the area were a good four blocks away.  Even the dedicated workers had gone home for the night and the well-to-do city dwellers that lived in their condos and high-rises hadn’t yet gotten up for their early jog or dog-walk.  The streets were his. 

Harvey parked his car several blocks away, avoiding traffic and security cameras the entire time.  He pulled the backpack from his trunk and slipped it on.  He took the ski-mask that he hadn’t used for years and felt it hug his facial features.  His ears felt pinned to his face, but his nose and mouth could breathe.  As long as that was true and his identity was concealed, Harvey didn’t care about the comfort level. 

He jogged the few blocks to the skyscraper he had worked in not so long ago and pulled the four large suction-cups out of his pack.  Then he took his climbing axe and hung it from a loop on his black cargo pants.  The two suction cups with no buttons went on Harvey’s knees.  He held the two with controls on them in his hands.  The handle was just big enough that Harvey could slip his hands in them and use with his fingers freely when he wasn’t near a glass surface.  Thus began Harvey’s twenty-three floor ascent.

The suction cups worked well, but Harvey was glad that he had taken the month to practice with them.  He had memorized the controls like a favorite videogame so that he instinctively released the suction on his knee just as he lifted his leg away from the glass panes.  Despite his lack of a safety rope, Harvey found climbing this building by fingertip to be much more natural.  However the large panoramic panes were designed to showcase the cityscape, not Harvey’s preferences.  He felt his muscles growing weary, but he only had five more stories to go.

Arm by arm, knee by knee, Harvey inched up the building.  The fear of getting caught had decreased as he rose above the street lights.  Once he passed the tenth floor, he assured himself that he blended into the building.  He also told himself that no one looks up nowadays, certainly not this early in the morning. 

Four floors were left, then two, and then one.  Harvey looked at the windows of the building, double checking his count.  He looked in the glass before him and saw a familiar pool table lit up with a green glass light above it.  Harvey had reached his destination.

Harvey checked on his suction cups, and then reached for his axe as the other three discs held his weight.  With practiced ease, he swung the axe with his right hand and watched the expensive glass crack.  The building’s windows were made to resist tantrums and drunken employees, but not a finely sharpened metal blade.  Rocks chipped and ice parted for Harvey’s axe; the window didn’t stand a chance.  Three thrusts later, and the glass to the right of Harvey shattered into the room.  He thanked Stan Lipsin’s ego for taking up a room so big one piece of glass wouldn’t cover it all.  If Stan Lipsin had contented himself with a peaceful and modest office; one with only a single window to look out of, Harvey could never have gained entry.

Telling himself that the windows were probably alarmed, Harvey moved quickly.  The first thing he did was to secure his deceleration line around the leg of Stan Lipsin’s desk.  Again, if Stan Lipsin had a small IKEA desk, Harvey would have found it worthless. However the tribute to pompousness was more than heavy enough to support Harvey’s weight and he merrily double-checked the line’s position as he muttered, “Santa Claus is coming, to towwwwwwn.”

The moment had come.  His preparation had all been for this.  Gripping the axe tightly in his right hand, a grin of deep satisfaction took over Harvey’s face.  Even with the glove acting as a buffer, he could feel his muscles tense and tighten around the axe handle.  He jammed the sharp edge into the top right drawer and watched as it seated itself into the small gap.  With two quick jerks, the axe fulfilled its role as a crowbar and the drawer’s lock snapped.  Splinters flew through the air and Harvey cried aloud in delight.  His three years of working for Stan Lipsin and his year plotting were about to pay off.  As he riffled through the desk, Harvey’s gloves found only one article to cling to.  There was nothing except a white piece of paper folded three times.

Harvey felt his brow furrow under his tight mask and he grabbed the sheet. Not wanting to turn on any lights, he ran over to the pool table.  There, under the glowing bulb and just above the 7-ball, Harvey read the single line inscribed on the sacred parchment.

“Buy low, sell high.”

Harvey cursed and threw the innocent pool ball across the room.  He steamed.  He raged.  Then he came to his senses.  Any alarms would have been noticed by now.  Security or even the police were on their way.  No matter how upset Harvey was, he refused to let all his efforts end with a prison sentence. 

He ran to the line and pulled a harness from his pack.  He secured the rigging around his torso, put his axe and suction cups back in his pack, threw it all on his back, and then fastened the cord to him.  Harvey glared at the desk hatefully one last time.  Then the idea struck him.  He grabbed the Tesla clock off the desk and placed it in his backpack, giving it as much cushioning as he could.  

At that moment, the security guards burst through the office door.  As they ran across the large room, screaming for Harvey to stop, the bandit did the opposite.  Harvey felt the excited smile grow over his face as he ran for the window.  He grabbed the rope and half jumped, half slid down the building’s exterior.  The cool night air rushed to meet him.

Harvey had been smart enough to firmly grab a section of slack with his gloves before he had exited.  When the line reached the end of its length, it pulled, sprang back, and yanked much less the second time.  Harvey’s arms protested at the recoil, but at least they were still attached to his shoulders.  He dangled a good four stories above the ground.  Cautiously releasing the slack rope that he held in his hands, he slowly lowered himself down.  He chanced a look up and could see the security guards peek their heads out the shattered window.  Harvey was in the homestretch.

At the end of the rope, the burglar was still a good fifteen feet from the ground.  Harvey shrugged, scolded himself for not having his measurements accurate to the last inch, and released the locking carabineer.  He dropped to the ground, his knees and feet absorbing the fall.  

Even though he hadn’t gotten caught, Harvey still didn’t feel like he had scored a victory.  He had wanted to steal a grand secret from Stan Lipsin, and all he had gotten were trivial words that even a novice like him could have figured out.  Harvey’s thoughts switched to the clock in his pack as he ran for his car.  He may not have gotten the victory he wanted, but he felt a little better about evening the scales.  The dunderheaded employer had cost Harvey a year of planning. It seemed only right that Harvey steal some time back from the mighty Stan Lipsin.

Taking Work Home with You

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Taking Work Home with You

The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.” -Oscar Wilde

Byron couldn’t help but look across the ballroom at the woman standing by the painting. She was like some sort of temptress from a spy novel.  Her olive skin and regal posture made her stand out amongst the well-to-do in their formal attire.  As if asking for more attention, she was the only one wearing a dark green dress amongst a sea of black with white specks tossed in here or there.  And the dress… Byron gulped.

The dress was an impressive combination of fabric and engineering.  The neckline plunged to an extreme depth would put any natural chasm to shame.  Byron saw many V-neck dresses around the room, but none of them went down to the belly button.  It possibly dipped even lower than that, depending how the woman stood.

Byron decided that the dishes at the other end of the grand dining table needed to be cleaned off first.  The closer vantage point to the woman in the green dress didn’t hurt his decision either.  He smoothed the apron in front of his slacks and tried to quietly gather the gold-plated dinner ware while taking in the view.  Her eyes were wide-open and perfectly round.  While others had started wobbling from too much champagne or dragging their polished-shoes as a sign of exhaustion, this woman maintained her perfect pose.  She carried herself with sure strides and led with her chest.  Byron was starting to notice that there were other quite round attributes to the woman in green besides her eyes.

“You know those aren’t real, right?”

Byron almost dropped the dishes on the table.  As it was, he struggled to regain the load he had been carrying and the clattering sound caused the woman in green’s head to turn.  Byron nodded to her and faced the woman next to her.

“Seriously, those were store bought maybe half an hour before this shindig.  It looks like they were made on the cheap too.  I mean, c’mon.  Does she really think she’s fooling anyone?  These people know their high-value accessories and she went the bargain basement route.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, Byron whispered back to Allison.  An angry tone was present underneath his hushed voice.  “I was just…”

“You were just what?”  Allison wrinkled her nose and elbowed Byron above his kidney.  “So you’re saying you weren’t scoping out the emerald earrings?  I’m telling you, those things aren’t real.  I have costume jewelry that looks better than those.”

Byron laughed in relief.  “Yeah; those earrings.  I don’t know what she was thinking.”

Allison put her hands on her hips. The black apron and white dress shirt were a match for Byron’s, but somehow her disappointed attitude shown through.

“Really?  Those things?  That’s what you were looking at?  I hate to tell ya, bucko, but those aren’t real either.”

Byron started to push Allison towards the catering area.  He didn’t think that the woman in green had heard, but he wasn’t in the mood to be embarrassed or get in trouble.   He hurriedly pushed the door open and ushered Allison inside.  Their two fellow caterers were headed out and Byron closed the door behind them.

“Are you trying to get us in trouble?”

“Oh c’mon.  She didn’t hear me.  You’re just upset that I interrupted your ogle-fest.  One more time; those breasts aren’t real.”

“You’re upset that I’m enjoying the scenery?  At least I haven’t been slipping extra fish fillets to the old guy.”

“I’ll have you know that his name is Reginald”, Allison replied.  “He owns a house in the country and three around the world.  He’s already invited me to go horseback riding with him.”

“And you’re going to let the grandpa cradle-rob you?  Please.”

“He’s not old, he’s distinguished.”

“He’s bald.”

“I’ve told you time and again that baldness is a sign of extra testosterone in the body.  I would hope that you’d find that comforting, what with the little Friar Tuck spot you’ve got going up top there.”  Allison smiled as he reached up and ran her fingers through Byron’s hair.

Byron cocked his head at an angle, raised his eyebrow, and sighed.  “I shall consider myself thoroughly chastised.  How about we go back to work now, please?  We can both not get fired and we can go sit on the couch with our loved ones of choice.  Deal?”

“Alright, but don’t come crying to me when she turns you down and I have plans to go yachting tomorrow.”

Allison left her coworker alone to compose himself.  Byron adjusted his tie, looked at the clock on the wall, and took a moment.  Just one more hour, he told himself.  The crowds will be gone in an hour and you can get out of here.  Maybe with a little company, if she’ll let you.  You’re so close.  Byron brushed off his apron and opened the catering door.  Standing right in front of the door, her fist raised and ready to knock, was the woman in the green dress.

“Oh, hello”, she said.  A smile started to form on her face.  Byron had seen society women smile like that before.  It was a dangerous smile.  The woman couldn’t have been any older than Byron, but she clearly had years of experience perfectly that seductive and terrifying smile.  “I was wondering if I might be able to get an extra napkin from you.  I seem to have gotten a drop or two down my dress.”

Byron gulped.  He nodded and reached for the pile of napkins that was thankfully right by the door.  The woman in green took it with a nod of her head and dabbed at her chest and stomach.

“That’s the problem with this dress”, she commented.  “It looks great but you have to take care of it.  One false move and I’ve got dinner all over me.  We wouldn’t want that now would we?”

The woman in green laughed as she tossed her head back.  Her long black hair fell behind her shoulders and Byron caught himself looking at the sleek curvature of her neck as it flowed towards other curves and slopes.

“No”, Byron said as he tore his gaze away.  The fire extinguisher on the right wall needed all the attention he could muster.  Byron focused on that red cylinder and nothing else.  The fire extinguisher; it was clearly the most important thing in the room.  There was no reason to look at the exotic woman in front of him.  No reason whatsoever.

“I remember the first time I wore this dress”, the woman in green said as she reached over and turned Byron’s chin towards her.  “Why, I turned the wrong way too fast and the dress nearly fell off.  Can you imagine?  It’s amazing to me how easily and how quickly some dresses can come off.  But sometimes it can be rather convenient, don’t you think?”

Byron started to walk sideways away from the woman in green.  “I’m sorry Miss, I really wouldn’t know.”

“Vanessa”, she corrected as she stepped sideways to match his location.  “Call me Vanessa.  I’d like you to know my name so we can become better acquainted.”

“Well thank you Miss, but I really do need to attend to those dishes.”

Vanessa shook her head.  “No, I think not.  I know the organizer of this gala; you’re fine.  Focus on me.  Give me your undivided attention and I’ll make it worthwhile.”

“Oh, I think you’re quite fascinating Miss, but I really should…”

“Look”, Vanessa said as she stroked Bryon’s bicep.  “Have you ever seen anything quite like me before?”

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that I haven’t”, Byron admitted.

“And you are attracted to me, yes?  The windows in this room reflect the lighting quite well.  I saw you taking me in.”

“You are a stunning woman”, Byron said.

“So you’re saying that you don’t want to get out of here?  Go back to my place and admire me some more?”

“I would have to respectfully decline”, Byron said.

“Why?”  Vanessa was indignant.  “You really think you can do better than me?  You think some sexier woman with more money than you’ll ever see is going to come up to you?”

“I don’t think that at all.  I just have other arrangements that I need to see to.”

“I told you”, Vanessa purred.  “Your job will be fine without you.  I’ll take care of it.”

“And I appreciate that”, Byron replied.  “But there’s someone I’d like to spend the evening with.”

“Not me.”

“No, but it is a very tempting offer.”

“You’re turning me down.”  Vanessa’s flirting ways had turned into indignant anger.  “You’re a caterer, you’re nothing.”

“I would respectfully disagree with you Miss.  But she’s sort of everything a guy could want, so what can I do?”

Vanessa sent an icy glare straight into Byron’s eyes.  He felt a chill go through him as the formerly beautiful woman transformed into a heinously bitter person.  The scowl on her face made Byron’s blood run cold.

“You’re a fool.”  Vanessa reached for the nearest glass, threw it in his face, and stormed off.

Byron sputtered and wiped the liquid out of his face.  At least at had been water and nothing more.  He noticed the room’s attention turning to him.  He twisted and ducked back into the catering room.  A few seconds later, Allison burst in after him.

“What happened?”  Her eyes were wide with panic and concern.  “Did you do something wrong?”

“Apparently”, Byron said as he held out his arms and displayed the large water spot on his uniform.  “Hand me a towel, would you?”

Allison complied but she wouldn’t stop staring.  “What did you do?  Did she catch you staring at her?”

“Yeah, but that’s not why she was mad.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was mad because I wouldn’t sleep with her.”

“What?”

“Apparently Vanessa has quite the hots for me.  I would have considered it a better compliment if she hadn’t ended our conversation so abruptly.  I’m going to guess that she has anger management issues. What do you think?”

“She wanted you to leave with her.”

“Yes.”

“And go back to her place.”

“I assume so.  We didn’t really go into specifics.”

“And have sex with her?”

“Very much so.”

“And you said no?”

“I believe that is what happened.  Why?”

“I saw the way you were staring at her.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t supposed to see that.  I was just going to glimpse and walk away.  It’s like holding your breath.  It’s a fun little diversion for a bit, but after a while it becomes dangerous.”

“So you didn’t want to ask her out?”

“Well, maybe a part of me did”, Byron admitted.

“And the rest of you?”

“A good ninety-four percent of me would like to go back to my place and watch a movie with you.”

“Ninety-four?”

“It was like ninety percent before, but then she had to go and throw the water on me.  That’s just rude.  Either way, you won; by a large margin.”

“You really like me that much?”  Allison’s eyes were starting to water just as Byron’s apron was drying off.

“What have I been telling you these past seven months?”  Byron put his hands on Allison’s shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes.  “Yes, Allison Allons.  I like you that much.”

“Thanks, you’re pretty great when you’re not ogling other women.”

“Oh come on now, what about you and Alfred Hitchcock over there?”

“He’s not that big”, she said with a giggle.

“He’s not small”, Byron replied.  “I think he got so rich because he sits on small children until they give him their lunch money.  Is that who you want to spend your weekend with?  A child squisher?”

“He happens to be a very nice man.  He’s just lonely.”

“Well it would be nice if you weren’t so attentive to him.”

“Then I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t stare at other women when I’m around.”

Byron pulled Allison close to his wet apron.  A few tears found their way to his apron and dabbed a series of watermarks onto his uniform.  He wrapped his arms tight around her and hugged her.

“I think that can be arranged”, he offered.  “Of course it wouldn’t hurt if you wore dresses like that.”

“Unnhhhh”, Allison groaned as she pulled free just enough to look Byron in the face.  “Honey, no one wears dresses like that.  Not even mannequins.  But I think we can work something out.”

“Fair enough”, Byron replied.  “In return, I shall do my best to go bald since you clearly like that sort of thing.”

“Oh no, you’re doing just fine.  Another year or two and you’ll be all caught up with him.  You’ll be completely bald in five years; guaranteed.”

“Remind me again why I’m turning down a night with a stunning woman who thinks I’m rather stud-like?”

“Because I’m classier and cuter and funner.”

“Funner?”

“Yes.  I caught you gawking, so I get to use bad grammar.  Funner.”

“Alright”, Byron said.  “You’re funner.”  He looked to the clock on the wall again and noted the time.  “Forty-three more minutes.  Then we can go do whatever we want.”

“Think you can make it through with a slightly damp apron?”

“Hey, I’m not the one whose butt is about to get pinched.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you, the old man that seems so nice is about to get frisky.  They can get away with it because they’re ‘harmless’.  Keep a safe distance there, missy.”

“Now would be an excellent time to shut up and kiss me.”

“Yes ma’am.”  He leaned forward, as did she, and they felt their lips brush together.  They immersed themselves in the moment, broke off their embrace, and headed back to work.  Byron was irked that their affection had to be put on hold, but he was confident that they could pick up where they left off.

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