by jim benz
He hopes to avoid Leon on his way to the elevator. Just past the open door
of the fileroom, on the wall of the mid-office corridor, he sees a shadow
approaching. He ducks into the fileroom and bumps into the tail end
of Alexandra Kollontai, the new receptionist. She’s bent over, digging through
an open cabinet, but turns and smiles at Joe as he shuts the door. “You’re
in a hurry, huh?” she says, stretching out her hand, “We haven’t met yet.
I’m Alex.” Joe is taken aback. She’s gorgeous. He doesn’t know what to say,
so he puts his finger to his lips and motions at the door with his eyes.
Widening her own, she shapes her mouth into an “oh” and reaches
for the light switch. The room goes black. Joe forgets about Leon. “Who
is this woman?” he thinks, sniffing at the scent of her perfume. Suddenly,
footsteps come to a stop outside the fileroom door and he hears a voice.
“Fucking bitch,” Leon says, “I asked for that file two hours ago. I think
she’s avoiding me.” Another voice replies, “You think she’s going to put out
for you?” then laughs derisively. It’s the district manager. Joe had a run-in
with him yesterday and couldn’t wait until he went back to corporate. “What
an asshole,” he hisses, not fully cognizant of the situation. Alex touches his
wrist lightly, startling him, and whispers, “Shhh.” Joe can feel her breath
on his neck as she silences him. “Who is this woman?” he thinks again,
picturing her face in his mind. “She’ll put out,” Leon laughs from the other side
of the door, “or I’ll put her out. But right now, I need that file. Karl’s coming
by at two and he’s really pissed off.” At the mention of Karl’s name, Joe
feels the fileroom grow darker, more vulnerable. He gently gropes
the doorknob for a lock mechanism, but can’t find one. “Shit,” he thinks,
“there’s no way I was going to sign off on that audit. I couldn’t.” He forgets
about the woman standing beside him in the dark, and listens to Leon
as he says, “If Joe didn’t keep his nose so clean, I’d be putting him out too.
Business is business.” Replying curtly, the district manager snorts, “Citizen
Joe. I told you to get rid of that asshole. We wanted this deal finalized last
week, and he fucked it all up.” Joe bristles. If business means covering up
for men like Karl, he’s in the wrong business. He feels Alex touch him again,
this time on the shoulder. Does she know they’re talking about him?
He swallows nervously. Does she know he’s married, that he has kids? Joe
can’t think straight. “Look,” he hears the manager say, “get something
on Joe and nail his ass to the wall, make him miserable. We’ll take Karl out
for drinks and settle things down, maybe invite that new receptionist
of yours. We can teach her a thing or two about perks, eh?” They both laugh.
“Okay,” Leon says, “but let me get that file first. There’s a skeleton
in there I need to bury.”