Madeline shoved through her morning’s second set of rotating doors. The clean smell of lemon and polished wood replaced the rank carpet, the moldy paneling, and the pre-construction dank of the first office building’s lobby, the one where it had all begun.
Storming to the security guard’s desk, she managed a curt smile. “I’m on the list for Yates and Olive.”
The security guard nodded, a slow methodical bob of his capped head. His double chin scrunched when he hefted a clipboard. “Name?”
She checked her pearl-faced watch while he flipped one page after another. The little hum he gave each column encouraged her to tap the toe of the pumps she’d bought to compliment her skirt suit and match the new office’s decor. Oblivious, he reached the back sheet and then placed the clipboard aside.
“Let me check the folder.”
His emphasis made Madeline grab onto the straps of her purse with both manicured hands.
Doubling over, the security guard leaned into a drawer he opened. While he rummaged, footsteps approached, the slap of loafers riding on telltale cologne.
Leaning against the desk, Aaron caught the eye of the security guard who reappeared with a thin black binder in his hand. His double chin waggled as he skimmed Aaron’s navy pinstripes.
“Yates and Olive?”
“Yup, name’s Aaron Gibbons.”
The security guard set the binder aside and checked through his clipboard. His hum elevated to a pleased pitch and, fetching a neon highlighter, he marked a row on the list.
“It’ll just be a moment for me to gather your materials, Mr. Gibbons.” The security guard heaved from his chair and went about collecting various cards and keys from several different cubbies.
Putting his back to the desk, Aaron smoothed his lapels. “I’m surprised to see you here, Del.”
Madeline straightened so she could spy the balding patch atop Aaron’s head. “Why is that?”
“I…ah…” Aaron blanched and he cleared his throat. “It’s just early, that’s all.”
“I’m always early.”
He nodded absently and checked his tie.
His quiet hunt for crumbs or coffee stains irked and Madeline lowered her voice. “What is going on, Gibbons?”
Swiveling, Aaron watched the security guard putter. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Madeline glanced around the lobby. Other personnel headed directly to the elevators and no one else from the office, no subordinates or anyone worthy of her confidence appeared imminent. Crinkling her nose against the musk, she shifted closer to Aaron.
“The offices were dark this morning and my name isn’t on this stooge’s clipboard.”
“You don’t say,” said Aaron, his gaze following the guard who mumbled at paperwork.
“You’re going to make me do this aren’t you?”
Madeline stomped with one pump. “You know something, Gibbons, something I don’t. Give.”
He hung his head while the security guard made notes of keys and cards. The slow scratch of his golf pencil meshed with the rotating door’s thumps, the clack of heels and dress shoes, the elevator’s descent, arriving ding, departing swoosh, and Aaron’s heavy sigh.
“They didn’t keep everyone, Del.”
Her hands slipped off her purse’s straps and landed with smacks on the desk. Tensing her arms, Madeline kept herself from falling. “What…what do you mean?”
Aaron gaze worked up to hers in staggered jolts. “I mean you got released.”
“Kind of?” She bristled and tipped up on her toes. “That’s something you tell to someone’s face. Especially someone who’s been with this company for longer than you’ve been out of school.”
He shrugged and drooped against the desk. “Have you seen your email this morning?”
“No, my computer’s been in transfer since Thursday.”
“Check your phone.”
Digging into her purse, Madeline retrieved her cell. No message icon waited on the screen and she thrust the blank panel under Aaron’s nose.
He took it from her, poked a few buttons, and then handed the phone back. “I don’t know what to say. I read the list a week ago. Maybe I made a mistake.”
Madeline gaped. “A week ago?”
“Yeah,” said Aaron.
He perked when the security guard returned with a manila envelope in his hairy hands. “All the details about the building are in here, Mr. Gibbons. Your security card for off-hours access, the key to the garage, and initial codes for your office.”
“Terrific,” said Aaron, taking the envelope. “Thank you.”
“And you, ma’am.” The security guard reached for the black binder.
“No.” Madeline held up a hand. “I don’t want to know if my name is in there.”
Aaron tucked the envelope into his armpit. “It probably isn’t, Del.”
“I don’t care.”
Shaking his head, Aaron waved to the security guard and started for the elevators. The security guard’s binder opened with a crack and Madeline ground her teeth.
“Let me see what I can find,” said the security guard.
“You do that.” Swinging her purse about, she marched on Aaron’s heels.
Ignoring the security guard’s shouts and his ensuing trundle, Madeline smacked her hand against the elevator door about to whisk Aaron from the lobby. The silvered panels retracted and she swept inside.
“What are you doing, Del?”
“If I’m fired,” she said, thumbing the closed button, “I’m going to hear it from Yates or Olive. I’m not going to let some security guard tell me I’m no longer a part of this company.”
“They’re probably going to escort you off the premises for barging in unauthorized.”
Madeline crossed her arms. “Then it’ll be pretty clear won’t it?”
With a shake of his head, Aaron jiggled the contents of his envelope into his palm. “You always have to be so damn stubborn.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean that might be why you weren’t on the clipboard. Why you might be in the binder.” He stuffed a card into his coat’s inner pocket. “Sometimes you’re not so easy to deal with and I’m saying that after two years, not fifteen.”
Madeline opened her mouth for a scathing retort, one lighting fires on her tongue, one scalding her lips, one that would send Aaron and his security card spinning and his opinions to the bottom of the elevator’s shaft. Wheeling, she faced him, his arched brows, his expectant gaze, his too-smooth baby face.
She shut her mouth.
Aaron laid a hand on her shoulder. “More of that and you might have stayed.”
Tearing herself from his touch, Madeline squared herself to the panel’s rising numbers, the ones bringing her to the fortieth floor where she’d find out who was right and whose career had come to an end.