CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Pendulum Publishing – Midtown
“Kate? Kate, are you all right?”
The ‘WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU’ slogan on the paper coffee cup stole Kate’s attention away from where it should have been. She was sitting in the middle of a one-on-one meeting she had initiated with Troy “The Shark” Dunlop, but she couldn’t shake the irony of the message her coffee cup was delivering.
“Kate?” Troy asked again. “Are you listening to me?”
She thought to herself: No. I am most certainly not happy to serve you. “Sorry Troy,” she responded, snapping back into her cruel reality. “I zoned out there for a moment.”
“Holy shit, you fucking freaked me out!” In high school, Troy Dunlop was nothing more than a pot-smoking meathead and at times his linguistic skills still reflected his previous life. “Remember what happened to Jackson Horvath last year? When he spaced out in that meeting and then he tried to run through the window? Fuck! I thought the same thing was going to happen.”
“I’m not planning on throwing myself out a window Troy. This is in no way a suicide meeting.” Anyone else in the office would definitely not have believed her today, based on Kate’s choice of skeleton leggings and a dark flannel pajama top. She’d wrapped a strand of pearls around her neck but hadn’t made an effort to do anything with her hair before coming in to work with plans on quitting. “Besides, even if I was going to kill myself, there’s probably a gazillion other places I’d rather do it than here.”
“Shit. That’s good.” Troy rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, but it was only so that he could flex his bicep. His barbed wire tattoo was clearly visible and he knocked back yet another half-liter of energy drink in one gulp.
Kate straightened herself out on the cold plastic chair. “I just think I need to do this for myself. I’ve accepted failure for too long now.”
Troy explained, “The thing is, I can’t let you just quit without some notice. Two weeks is the norm.” The Randy Couture bobble head on his desk bounced a little in complete agreement.
“What about a leave of absence?”
“Shit. Do you know how much paperwork a leave of absence requires?”
“This is my life Troy. You don’t want me sitting over there being miserable, do you? Doesn’t that ridiculous sign on your door say some crap about motivating your employees?”
“That’s right. Consumer/Media Relations and Employee Motivations.”
Kate rolled her eyes. “Nobody here even knows what that means.”
“Well, it’s a complicated job. The thing is though, we really need to follow proper procedures and protocol here Kate.”
“Protocol? Talking to you is protocol, isn’t it? Believe me, I’d much rather speak directly to some other jackass who can actually make a difference around here, but protocol tells me I have to go through The Shark first, no matter how futile an idea that is.”
Troy finished the last drop before crushing the can in his hand. His attention had diverted to other matters, matters of far, far less importance. “Hey, have you ever taken something from somebody’s desk and hid it somewhere in the office?”
“I’m sorry?” For a moment, Kate worried Troy Dunlop might know something about Dwayne Reamer’s missing yogurts. “Are you accusing me of stealing?”
“No, I just mean hyperthetically.”
The abuse of language did not go unnoticed by Kate. Did this guy just say hyperthetically? Seriously, how did he ever get a job in publishing? “Why would I want to hide anything?” she asked.
“Just to fuck with them. How many floors do we have here at Pendulum?”
“Think about it. There must be what, at least two hundred cubicles here. Dozens of offices.” Troy began counting on his right hand, starting with his thumb first. “Lunchrooms. Supply rooms. Meeting rooms. Bathrooms. Closets. You name it. There’s so many places they’d have to look.” He returned his fingers back into the palm of his hand, but left a thumb’s up just for the hell of it. “I think it’d be fun.”
“Are you drunk? I’m not here to have fun Troy. This is an office building, and it’s full of a bunch of no-personality deadbeats.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to lighten up the ‘sitch here Kate.” Like a Starfleet Commander, Troy whirled his over-sized leather power chair around to face the window and the view of West 39th Street that it offered. On a late night, he could look straight into the building across from him and see the Korean cleaning ladies. Troy Dunlop had been urging Pendulum to hire the Clean and Happy cleaning service instead of the one with all of the old Portuguese guys that they currently used. But at nine-thirty in the morning, all Troy could see from his office was the glare from the rising sun, a window washer and some pigeons. “It’s important to keep things light around here.” Then he wondered if window washers ever got a free show from horny businesswomen. Man, that would be awesome!
With Troy’s back turned, Kate took his advice and swiped the Randy Couture bobble head from his desk, tucking it into her bag. “I’m leaving Pendulum Publishing Troy,” she said. “It’s important to me.”
The Shark swung back around to face her. He seemed to notice something was amiss or out of place, but he’d had the bobble head on his desk for so long that he couldn’t tell for sure what it might have been. The longer we see something the less we notice it. “What could I do to stop you Kate?”
“At this point, there’s really no way you could convince me to stay Troy. I just need to separate myself from all of this.”
“No, I meant physically. Like, could I jump over this desk and put a submission hold on you? Or maybe something like a Python Kick.”
“Python’s don’t kick, you idiot.”
“No. I know. That’s just the name of my move.”
Kate crinkled her face. “Seriously. Are you drunk?”
“I’m mostly just shitting you here. The thing is, if you really did quit your job right now, it would just be an ass-load of paperwork for me. And a shit-load of interviews I’d have to set up in order to replace you.”
Kate didn’t know whether an ass-load was more than a shit-load or if they were even comparable at all. “Honestly, I don’t know who put you in charge of anything, but I don’t really give a crap either. Like it or not, this is your job Troy. Deal with it.” She rose from her seat, but realized she had one last favor to ask The Shark: “Could you please not stare at my ass on my way out?”
Kate was cleaning up every trace of her existence at Pendulum, collecting everything that was part of her into one single, legal-sized cardboard box. She took her last box of Frankenberry cereal from the top shelf in the Nineteenth Floor kitchen. She pulled packets of Nicorette from her desk drawers. She crammed in as many sticky notes and red correction pens that she could, all stolen from the supply closet. She was pulling some comic books from her desk just as the squeaky wheels of the Temp’s mail cart made Dwayne Reamer’s presence known.
“What have you got there?” Dwayne inquired, pinching one of the books from her hand.
“It’s nothing Dwayne.” Kate tried grabbing it back, but Dwayne deftly moved out of the way.
He flipped through a few pages and began reading some of the dialogue. “I don’t know why you and your computerized comrades invaded my city. I can’t imagine your reasons for causing such wholesale destruction! But I’ve had enough! ENOUGH!” Dwayne yelled the words across the office. “Wow, Spider-Man just ripped that robot’s head in half! That’s impressive.”
“Give it back, prick!” She finally snatched it back.
“I didn’t know you collected comic books Kate. Is that a rare one?”
“You could say that.” Kate turned the book over to an advertisement on the back cover. It was an ad for the GAP, and even through the baggy flannel shirt and denim overalls the model was familiar.
“Holy shit! Is that YOU?”
“But how? Why?”
“When I first came to New York, to help make ends meet I did some modeling. And this GAP ad was the height of my career; it appeared for three straight months pretty much exclusively on the back of comic books.”
“You were probably every thirteen-year-old nerd’s wet dream in nineteen ninety-six.”
“Yeah. It was just me and Heather Locklear. I also starred on the packaging for a medical eye patch manufacturer.”
“Impressive. I don’t think Heather Locklear ever did eye patches.”
Kate continued to pile the remnants of her past into the box. From two cubicles away they could hear Teresa on the phone with her veterinarian. From the sounds of it, Andrew the cat had taken a turn for the worse. Yes. Andrew. The cat.
“Why are you packing up all your stuff anyway Kate? Are you tossing it?” Dwayne couldn’t help but notice Kate’s abysmal wardrobe selection. “And why are you dressed like you live in downtown Beirut?”
“I’m leaving Dwayne. I’ve quit Pendulum.”
“What? You can’t be serious?”
“Did you find another job?”
“No, I quit so I can work on my novel.”
“Paper Fences? Nice!”
“Actually, I’ve quit that too. I started a new book. Nothing but changes for this girl! I wrote another two chapters just last night.”
“What’s it called?”
“I’ve decided that this time around it would be good for me to not get wrapped up in titles.”
For the record, this was possibly the first official time in his life that Dwayne Reamer was ever truly, utterly speechless. He was already beginning to imagine how boring his job would be without Kate around.
“You’ll be fine Dwayne,” Kate reassured him. “Really. This place will be much better without me dragging it down.”
In the three minutes that Dwayne had spent with Kate that morning, he could already tell she was different from the person she was the day before. “So if it’s nothing but changes, I take it you had that talk with your husband?”
And just like she assumed avoiding Gene was the smartest solution to her problems, Kate decided that ignoring Dwayne’s question was also the best move she could make. Without a word, she continued to pack her personal items into the box.
“I’m guessing that’s a NO.” Dwayne reached back into the box and began flipping through the Spider-Man book again.
“Listen Dwayne. I’ve already gotten into four arguments this morning and it’s only ten o’clock.” Dwayne didn’t ask, or even lift his head up from the comic book, but Kate continued with the details anyway. “I told Clint Baxter, the guy who’s always playing online Scrabble with his wife that she’s probably using a word generator since she always seems to beat him. I actually told Teresa she might be better off letting Andrew the cat die. Somebody had to! I told Dieter that I’m sick and tired of repeating myself, even to a deaf guy, and that he should think about investing in a better hearing aid. And I just came out of an agonizingly inane meeting with The Shark, so I really don’t want to have to argue with you too.”
“I just think you should talk to your husband. That’s all I’m saying Kate.”
Kate wanted to say something to Dwayne about the return of Patrick Kohn. Of course she had never mentioned Patrick to him before; she’d never talked about him with anyone at all. But ever since she exited the coffee shop with Patrick that morning, Kate was uncertain what she should be feeling. Most importantly, Kate was afraid of rediscovering feelings for him. She wondered why it was that she could be so ready to accept failure in one part of her life but not in another.
“All I’m going to do is work on my novel, Dwayne. That’s my only plan right now. I’ll deal with Gene when the time is right.”
“That’s really not being fair to him though, right?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Dwayne.”
“If not now, when? Come on Kate, there’s so much about the guy that drives you crazy. Like, what about the picture frames and the mustache?”
“Yeah, yeah. And the toenails and the dessert confusion.”
“I don’t think I know about the dessert confusion.”
“Gene’s number one favorite dessert of all time is black forest cake and his second favorite dessert is trifle. One time I found a recipe for black forest trifle and he refused to eat it. Flat-out refused! I still have no idea why.”
“That is unusual. Tell me more!”
“How about this: is it weird that he likes me to dress up as a nurse?”
“Don’t all men have the nurse fantasy?”
“No, I mean a real nurse. Like in hospital scrubs.”
“Err, that’s not normal.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“See? You need to talk about this with somebody. What will you do without me around?”
“I’ve got friends Dwayne. Real ones, not temporary ones.”
“Ouch. Is that all I am to you?”
“That’s all it ever has been Dwayne. What made you think otherwise?”
“I guess I don’t have a reasonable answer for that.” He dropped his head back down into the pages of the comic book. “You know, you never did respond to my email from last week.”
“Yeah, about that. You and me? That’s not a good idea. I’m not entirely sure what it is that I need right now, but I know that much is true.”
Dwayne stared at one of the pages for a moment before reading another line out loud. “I know the very idea of a guardian angel seems pretty ridiculous in today’s jaded world, but there’s great comfort in knowing that someone is watching over you, someone who really cares!”
Teresa’s sobbing became noticeably louder. “Seriously,” Dwayne whispered. “Who names their cat Andrew?”
Digging into her bag, Kate pulled out the bobble head and held it out for Dwayne. “What’s this?” he asked, even though he recognized it immediately. He dropped mail off for Troy every morning.
“The Shark’s doll. I want you to hide it somewhere.”
“Hide it? Why?”
“It’ll be good for a laugh. Trust me.”
“You’re on, Huron!” Dwayne tossed the comic book back into the box, and he took the bobble head into his hand. “You just might be my guardian angel, you know that?” Kate didn’t flinch as he kissed her gently on the cheek. “Keep in touch, my temporary friend.”