Sunday, August 31, 2014

Late One Tuesday Morning - II

Bill finally made himself turn the knob.  He stuck his head through first with a questioning look on his face.  Allan, a slightly younger man than Bill, had a baby face with blue eyes and the kind of just slightly longish but neat boys haircut you see on senators and congressmen who are trying to sell their fading youth to constituents.  He was leaning his forehead on hands touching at the fingertips when Bill sidled through the door.  His white oxford shirt was opened at the collar and the tie was loose.  Kind of early for that, thought Bill.  Must be something major going on.

Allan looked up and pushed back in his chair with one arm, rubbing the fingers of his other hand on their adjoining thumb.

"Hey Bill.  Shut the door and take a seat."

No smile.  The drawl was still missing.  Bill, affecting an air of slight concern, sat down in one of the two plush guest chairs facing the desk.  He looked at the shelves behind the desk, replete with books on maritime topics and finance.  Allan liked to still think of himself as a man of the sea, even though his navy career had ended years ago.  Bill, thought about remarking on the books but casual bonhomie would've been a mistake, and he remained silent.

Allan just looked at him for a moment and briefly bit his lower lip.  He lowered his eyes to his desk, squared his chair up to the edge, folded his hands, looked Bill straight in the eyes, and lowered the hammer like an officer of the deck bracing up an unruly sailor..

"Bill, what's going on with Tina Boyle?"

Bill looked into the blue eyes and he involuntarily licked his lips to relieve the coppery taste of fear.  Part of his mind went blank, even as another part knew exactly what his boss was asking about.  He wiped his hands on his trouser legs and looked at the floor, mentally stalling for time, hoping that Allan would relent a little with a hearty "Come on now, man, out with it.  Tell me what's been goin' on."

Bill looked up.  Allan was still staring at him, unsmiling, his lips a thin fleshy slash across a face completely devoid of anything resembling compassion or the possibility of a knowing old boy wink-and-a-smile. 

"Well, uh, what do you mean, Allan?"

Allan just stared back, not blinking, not talking. 

Bill tried to stare back, but broke under the strain and looked all around the top of Allan's desk, but never at Allan.

"I was just trying to be friendly, Allan.  You know, a little harmless lunch date.  I mean, uh-"

Allan cut him dead.  "Bill, you and I both know that's a load of crap.  You've been dogging that young lady practically since we hired her.  The whole damned company knows it.  She's told me a couple of times you stare at her constantly when she's walking down the hall.  She caught you at it the other day on her way to the restroom and you just grinned at her even after she frowned at you.  She's seen you passing her door, staring in several times a day.  She heard you and Timmons talking about someone's ass the other day near the copy room.  What the hell!  Now you ask her out?  Did you touch her?"

"No!  Allan, look . . . I pass by her office going to and from legal.  You know that.  So I look in now and then.  She's nice looking gal and-"

"See there's your problem, man.  She's not a "nice looking gal," she's my personnel manager.  Get that through your thick damn' skull.  Listen, I pay you a lot of money and you're worth it when you stick to the job, but I don't pay you six figures to act like a goddamned dinosaur.  Shit, man, you're married on top of it.  Jesus!"

Allan paused, letting his temper subside.  He got up and strolled over to the window.  Bill just sat there, angry at being accused but with immense guilt and stupidity washing over him like a wave of dirty oil.  He tried to think of something to say to defend himself, but he knew it was useless.  Allan was an easy going guy, but moral to the hilt.  Bill knew he might explain away the flirtation, but flirting while married was beyond the boundary.  He stayed silent.

"Nothing more to say, huh?"

"Not really." Bill said with a heavy sigh as Allan returned to his chair and sat down again, leaning back and making a triangle with his finger and thumb tips.  He nodded as he stared directly at Bill, who stared at the tassels on his Italian loafers.

"Look at me, Bill.  Show some guts, fer chrissakes.  It's time for you to gather things up and take a break.  Take a two week break without pay.  Get your shit together.  Report back to me in two calendar weeks, at which time you will apologize to Miss Boyle here in my office, in front of me.  Got it?"

Bill nodded, but his mind was miles away.  Dark thoughts rolled through his mind.  He couldn't let on to the wife.  She'd never go for a casual reason of just taking time off.  She'd smell a rat immediately.  In fact her natural inclination was to smell a rat any time he broke the daily pattern.  He'd have to get on the train each day and ride in as though everything was normal, or his home life would be hellish.  He'd have to find somewhere to kill time and just lie low for the day then get home at the normal hour.  He noticed Allan was talking still.

"Bill?  Hey!  You there?  Finish off the morning, bring active cases here, and be out that door by Noon, and stay the hell away from Personnel.  That's all."

Bill rose quietly and went directly out without a look back.  He felt empty and incapable of speech.  He had the impression that someone spoke to him on the walk back his office, but he couldn't be sure who it was or if they had really spoken at all.  He walked in without a word to Jay, shut his door and sat heavily in his chair.  He tried his best to be angry with Miss Boyle, but his overriding thought was that there really was no fool like an old fool, and now he felt every inch that fool.  How had he not caught himself?  He was known in the business as a sharp negotiator and a great reader of people.  Clients asked for him because he never missed a detail, never missed an opportunity.  And now?  Now he was exposed as a flailing old horn dog who couldn't keep a midlife crisis to himself.  He leaned on his desk, buried his face in his hands, and dove deep into the self pity and self flagellation that swiftly took over his life. 



Anonymous Mme. Coelacanth said...

Most engaging. More to come?

6:54 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Oh yes, indeed. There's at least a third, possibly fourth chapter percolating. Just need to start it. Thanks for reading! :-)

8:52 PM  
Blogger Don said...

Good stuff, well paced, good balance of detail, inner thought, believable, de woiks. I can hardly wait to find out how he fills his time -- and explains the missing paycheck.

1:12 PM  

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