Surprise Move – No. 115

Westin stared at last night’s final email displayed on his smartphone’s screen. The request for the before-hours meeting with the Director hadn’t changed and nothing new had arrived countering the enigmatic appointment. He swept with his thumb, retreating to his inbox, and bustled along the sidewalk with the other early risers.

The ticking of his Rolex and array of reasons behind the message spurred him between plodders and, veering left at the next corner, he brought up a new text in search of answers. While typing, he angled past the line queuing for the street cart’s fresh rack of donuts and skirted the flow of patrons drawn into the neighboring coffee shop. He scowled when Lisa’s limey bubble sprang onto the screen with an evasive reply.

“I don’t want to wait until I get there.” Westin darted across the sidewalk as the red hand flashed and typed, “Why?”

His phone buzzed an interminable block later, revealing Lisa’s bubble cheerily stating: “You’ll see.”

Suppressing a growl, Westin sped his gait to a trot and navigated the inbound throng. A few looked up drowsily from their own screens as he brushed past, but the majority kept their noses toward their handhelds, perusals of the morning news, or the contents of their coffees.

Reaching the skyscraper’s front doors, Westin shoved inside and into the crisp air conditioning, the sweat from his morning jaunt icing beneath his suit coat and dress shirt. Pocketing his phone, he hefted his briefcase ladened with the nights’ edits and aimed for the elevators. He bypassed those waiting in their heels and polished loafers, burst through the stairwell’s door, and ascended the fourteen stories two treads at a time.

When he exited, Westin caught his breath along the strip of industrial carpet. He slipped his card through the security reader and entered through the tinted door. The lone light above the receptionist’s desk greeted him, and with his adrenaline flowing, he blew passed the mahogany counter and the vacant leather seat.

Faux cubical walls flickered past during his brisk walk to his desk. Their stiff beige squares created perimeters around empty chairs, blackened monitors, and workspaces strewn with paperwork and files awaiting the nine o’clock rush. The line of Lisa’s potted ferns differentiated their team’s arena, the fronds of each spider plant jiggling due to the movement within.

Westin stopped short of bumping into the wiry technician who exited their space carrying a monitor with post-it notes adhered around the rim. One fell to the floor as the technician grunted in apology and hauled his load down the corridor. Scooping the neon yellow square off his dress shoe, Westin read over the familiar handwriting.

The note had become obsolete once they had found the bankruptcy information but he had forgotten to remove the reminder to check the offshore accounts from his monitor’s rim. Now, he crumpled the message in his fist, his fingers tightening when he discovered the gap where the screen used to be. The second monitor had vanished as well, leaving two bald patches on his desk. The tower tucked alongside had also disappeared and a cardboard box replaced his chair. His mug, calendar, container of ballpoints, and phone directory peeked out from the corrugated rim among binders and his few reference books.

Glancing around the team’s arena, he found Lisa’s garden intact, the array creating a jungle around her untouched workspace. Jake’s perpendicular paperwork remained, the straight lines undisturbed. Madison’s stacks of bound ledgers and tomes sprouting bookmarks towered as they had the day before.

Completing the circuit, Westin faced the gap in the cubical walls where the technician had exited. The short man’s skittering footsteps had long faded down the hallway but he heard another set approaching from the break room.

Lisa rounded the corner, mug held in both nimble hands. “You made it.”

“Of course I made it.” Westin flung his briefcase onto his desk’s barren expanse, wishing he could reclaim the hours of sleep he’d sacrificed to finish what lay within the leather. “I wouldn’t want to be late to my own firing.”

“Firing?” Setting down her coffee, Lisa gave him her back and checked her teeth for lipstick stains in the mirror hung between strands of drooping ivy. “What makes you think you’re being fired?”

Westin kicked the cardboard box and met her reflected gaze.

“Oh, that.” Swiveling on her heel, Lisa smoothed the lapels of her suit’s jacket and the few wrinkles in her plum skirt.

Westin crossed his arms and leaned onto his desk’s edge, where his keyboard had been. “The least they could have done was be classy about it. They didn’t have to trash my desk.”

“It’s not trashed. It’s packed.”

“Which I could have handled.” He raked a hand through his shower damp hair, fatigue from the recent project’s unending sequence of perpetual Wednesdays slathering his shoulders. “I can appreciate not wanting to escort someone out during regular hours, but this is just cold.” Dropping his gaze, he skimmed over the remains within the box. “Five years in this place and this is the way it ends.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What do you mean?” Finding a wry quirk on Lisa’s ruby lips, he jerked his phone from his pocket and thrust it at her button nose. “The least you could have done was tell me. None of this “You’ll see” crap.”

“But you’re not seeing.”

“I’m seeing fine.” Westin swept his hand over where his computer, his notes, his work, his life used to reside, and pitched his phone into the void. “I’m seeing my stuff in a box and my equipment already harvested like some left over carcass.”

“You can be the smartest idiot sometimes.”

“Hey—”

Lisa raised a silencing hand. Quieting his retort, Westin caught the brisk rub of pantyhose. He stiffened and reclaimed his briefcase and phone while stout heels approached in a telltale clomp. A glance at Lisa provided Westin with a knowing smirk and he stifled his frustration when the top of a blonde head bounced along their cubicle wall and the Director’s secretary filled the entryway.

“Good morning, Ms. Patterson. Mr. Trayn.”

“Mrs. Bitterford.”

Westin fought against frowning into Mrs. Bitterford’s round face, her bunched cheeks beaming their own pleasant salutation. Her blonde curls tumbled from a bun atop her head in Christmas wrapping worthy ribbons, each as tight as the sage-green suit cinching her ample chest and allowing her plump legs to emerge like two parking meters.

“Are you two ready?”

Lisa tugged on her jacket’s hem. “We are.”

“Excellent.”

Mrs. Bitterford motioned with a short but graceful sweep of her arm, an obvious indication for them to follow, and started her waddling stride once more.

“I believe the rest of the Board is already assembled. We’ll just be waiting for President Marshall.”

“I hope he hasn’t had any trouble.”

Lisa tipped her head curiously. Westin marched beside her, the fingers clenching his phone itching to strangle more than placating banter from her lips.

“Not at all.” Mrs. Bitterford waved a dismissive hand. “He likes to drop off his children in the morning.”

“Of course.”

While Mrs. Bitterford began rambling about the President’s brood, Westin touched Lisa’s elbow and slowed them down. He lowered his voice as the distance between themselves and the sage sway of Mrs. Bitterford increased.

“I’m not fired am I?”

Lisa snickered and sped up. “No.”

“Then why have they trash my desk?”

Her grin stretched but Lisa held her tongue.

Before them, Mrs. Bitterford paused at the main conference room’s double set of oak doors. The glow of her face dimmed with a somber, professional cast donned like a mask.

“Because, Mr. Trayn, Associate Director’s do not pack their own things.”

“Associate….”

Mrs. Bitterford gestured across the hallway, where an open office door revealed a floor-to-ceiling view of the city’s skyline reflecting the morning’s light. The wiry technician skittered out, hands free of post-it note covered monitors, enabling him to shut the door as he departed.

“See?”

Enduring Lisa’s nudge, Westin squinted and then reread his name. A blink later and Mr. Westin Trayn remained in white text upon the door’s black rectangular plaque.

“I….see.”

“Then are you ready, Mr. Trayn?”

Pivoting around, Westin met the expectant curves of Mrs. Bitterford’s brows and the tempered quiver as her lips fought against her typically radiating smile. The fatigue, ire, and confusion vanished from Westin’s mind and body. A sense of well-earned responsibility replaced them and he straightened under its mantle.

“Yes, Mrs. Bitterford, I am.”

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