Monday, September 24, 2007

Chapter 5: Hard at Work, Part I

Vernon's head slipped off his fist and slammed onto the conference room table. Jerking up, he looked at the elderly secretary whose soft knock had startled him awake. She gazed back with an expression torn between grandmotherly concern and annoyance for someone caught sleeping on the job. Reading glasses dangled from a chain around her neck.

“Are you OK, Mr. Hamilton? You’ve been in here half an hour.”

Rubbing his forehead, Vernon ventured a listless smile the hoped looked more sheepish than guilty. “I’m fine, ma’am. Just tired. You know – first night in a new house, nothing’s familiar and no one can get any sleep.” He managed a weak laugh. “I’m a city boy, and I got to tell you, it’s too quiet and too dark up here.”

Concern triumphed over annoyance. The secretary glanced back over her shoulder and shut the door before sitting next to him. “Isn’t it, though? We moved up here years ago from Dallas. Paris is a nice town, but I still wake up some nights wondering where all the cars are.” Leaning forward, she perched the glasses on her nose and looked over his half-completed paperwork. “I’ll give you a couple more minutes to let you finish this up, hon. Just drop it off at my desk when you’re done.” She stood and patted the white bun on the back of her head.

“Thanks, ma’am.” She nodded and slipped out the door.

He stared at the forms a moment before picking the pen up from where he had dropped it and filling out the rest of the blank fields. Before falling asleep, he'd agonized over “marital status” for several minutes before finally checking “married.” “Widowed” certainly didn’t sound right. Just because she's disappeared doesn’t mean she’s dead. He chewed on the pen while he reviewed the paperwork. Besides, Ware said to avoid attention. Saying she’s dead would draw all kinds of attention right now.

Vernon started to stand when he noticed an empty line under life insurance beneficiary. He’d put Ray’s name in the blank, but the form asked for his Social Security number. Wasn’t it six-six-three something? Or was it six-six-one? Cheryl always kept up with that stuff. His hands shook and fresh tears stung his eyes. Vernon shook his head. Get a grip! You’ve got work to do and a boy to take care of. This is no time to start falling apart. Breathing deeply, he waited until both trembling and tears stopped and stepped out of the conference room. The secretary – her nameplate said Rose Maldonado – looked up as he approached and slapped the paperwork down on her desk.

“All done,” he said. “Well, nearly all done. I’m going to have to get back with you on my son’s Social for the beneficiary form. I never can remember it.”

“That’s fine, hon.” Rose peered up at him over the rim of her glasses. “Mr. Roodschild wanted to see you as soon as you got done.”

“Thanks, Rose.” He started to walk away, then paused and turned back. “Which one is he in?”

She laughed and pointed down a hallway straight in front of him. “Go that way, through the double doors and turn left. He’s in the second office on the left.”

Vernon gave her a small salute and a grin and strode down the hall. The smile withered as he walked. Approaching the double doors, he caught sight of his reflection in the glass and recoiled slightly. The morning’s grooming hadn’t done much to improve his looks. If anything, it had made them worse. Eyes peered through dark circles in an otherwise scrubbed, freshly shaven face. What little hair he had had been tamed into rigid lines, contrasting his slumping frame. All together, it made him look like a well-prepared corpse left out just a little too long. He shuddered and walked through.

All the offices were on the left, most of the doors closed. Large, framed photographs of Christmas trees and men at machines lined the wall to his right, ending at another set of double doors at the far end of the hall. A rhythmic thudding came from the other side. He placed his hand on the wall. It vibrated in time with the bangs.

The second office door stood open. Vernon leaned on the frame. His friend was seated at the desk in his office, silver hair facing him as he ran down a column of figures with a ruler. Vernon smiled at the familiar sight and knocked softly on the open door. Ethan bolted upright, a grin replacing the serious expression on his face. Standing, he walked around the desk with one hand extended.


Part II coming Friday!

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At September 24, 2007 10:36 AM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

Since it's Monday morning here I can certainly relate to being tired at work...though, luckily, I'm not quite that bad off. Looking forward to Fridayhow do you hack on diablo  

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