Sea Eyes Chapter 4

3 08 2007

‘In the world of mammals there are two mountain peaks, one is Mount Homo Sapiens, and the other is Mount Cetacea.’

 

 

Professor Teizo Ogawa, University of Tokyo

 

 


 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

 

 

                                    If there was one thing Denton prized it was punctuality. In his book tardiness was almost as heinous a sin as ignorance except the former was of course, more worthy of inquisition.

 

                        He glanced at his watch. His contact was already almost twenty minutes late. This was the third time in a month that he’d been kept waiting. The traffic report on the car radio failed to reveal any problems. Must be putting in some overtime, Denton concluded, although pecuniary recompense could hardly be the motive. His search through their accounting files had revealed the salary details of every employee from the director down to the boy whose job it was to clear rubbish from under the bleachers. As if there were anything but brownie points to be earned by putting in extra time at the fucking fish institute.

 

                        Son of a New Jersey fortuneteller, Denton had never known his father but suspected he had been sired by one of the tricks his mother occasionally turned to supplement her income during the winter months. Madame Charmaine. Madam being the operative word.  What a joke! It was an ignominious lineage which he had been proud to disinherit.

                       

His mother had rented a booth on the boardwalk at Atlantic City. Painted on its side was a big eye and the words ‘Clairvoyant. Your Past, Present and Future Revealed’. The eye continued to stare, winter and summer, all seeing, unblinking, as if to pierce the souls of passing strangers. Denton had liked the eye. Once as a child he had looked up the term clairvoyant in the dictionary.

 

            Clairvoyant: having great insight or second sight. A person

claiming to have the power to foretell future events

by reading the aura.

 

                        When he was young Denton had thought his mother had magical powers. Often he would hide at the back of the booth, listening as the grieving, the love-lorn and the desperate crossed his mother’s palm with pictures of past Presidents and poured forth the burden of their souls. Back then he had been awed by his mother and her insights.  Daily he had prayed that he too would inherit her infallibility. There would be no need for listening devices, surveillance cameras, tails and all the other accoutrements of espionage. You would know everything you needed to know about a person just by looking at them.

 

                        Revelation of his mother’s true calling had brought him nothing but disillusionment. Ever since the day he had come home early from school to find her spread-eagled under the sagging, grunting form of their landlord, mouthing words of encouragement as meaningless as her predictions. Filthy, dirty, obscene words that no mother should know, let alone utter. Now he knew what she had been. Nothing but a side-show psychic out to exploit the gullible who opened her legs for anyone with the price of a bottle of gin. But unlike the mother, the son could do everything she claimed to do and more and without having to resort to ouija boards or cheap parlor tricks. Like the eye he so admired in his youth, there was nothing from Denton that could be kept hidden.

 

                        As always whenever he thought of his mother his hand went to his piece. He ran his fingers along its length. Its hardness was smooth, reassuring, and he was suddenly overcome with the intense sexual rush that always accompanied handling his weapon. His mind drifted back to his last visit to the Washington coast some five years before. The girl. What had she been? A Jap? A chink? A gook? No matter. A slope anyway. Thing was, there was nothing on her. Nothing he could find anyway which meant – nothing. Her parents though – that had been a different matter. There was always leverage and Denton had found it. She could leave the beach or the F.B.I. would have all the details of how her first generation immigrant parents had been able to afford the fancy private school and house in a distinctly non-migrant, non-ethnic area of San Francisco. She’d been pretty, Denton remembered that. And she’d seen the sense in what he was saying. Not some dumb fucking bitch like his mother had been. No, he wouldn’t have used his piece on her. The Wesson Pistol Pac was ideal, so much so it might have been designed with him in mind. With it, he could change and discard barrels at will, thus making it impossible to link his weapon to a particular crime. Not that he often had cause to use it.  He tucked his head inside his jacket like a bird under its wing, and sniffed at the gun as it lay flaccid in its holster as if it might give off a scent that was almost sexual. But all he could smell was leather and the faint catch of powder. Clean and waiting. For the next big bang. Just in case anybody was ever stupid enough to think of him as just another hacker. Just another nerd. With his piece he was in a league of his own. Just so long as they knew that. It had been a long time since he’d used his piece because he got more pleasure from leverage and restraint but soon he knew, he could allow himself the luxury of performing unction. He just didn’t know yet who he would perform it on. They had to be worthy. They had to deserve it. One of these days. Any day now. He could feel it.

                       

But not now, and not this one. He glanced in the mirror and then opened the car door as the vehicle he’d been waiting for finally pulled into the space next to his. At least, not yet.

 

                       

Zed stood in the kitchen dressed as inappropriately as ever in a pair of Australian board shorts and a tank top. Outside, having spent the afternoon sobering up, rain was falling as heavily as a loud drunk down a stairwell. Zed poured half of the peanut butter banana smoothie he’d made into a glass and the rest over a bowl of Captain Crunch. He offered some to Ben who declined. His idea of a light snack and Zed’s were about as different as tofu and Twinkies. Munching, Zed moved into the lounge. Ben followed.

 

                        To blackmail Zed all anyone need do would be to threaten to distribute old re-runs of the Klutsky & Kransky Show amongst the Seattle caffeine culture of which Zed considered himself the epicenter, for instant credibility annihilation. Klutsky and Kransky had been ‘70’s icons. The laughable clown Klutsky, and his loveable sidekick, Kransky the Bear. Each week aided and abetted by the loyal Jokesters, a troop of wholesome looking kids much like the Mouseketteers, culled from over 20,000 young hopefuls who responded to the nationwide talent search.

 

                        At thirteen Zed had been the epitome of Californian blond white toothed boyhood which that state seemed to grow like oranges. And although his teeth owed more to modern orthodontics than natural selection, his talent was an undeniable as smog over the San Fernando Valley. A true prodigy, Zed could play his guitar as well as, if not better than many of the idols he’d tried to emulate ever since the time, at age two, his mother had given him a plastic ukulele for Christmas. With both the producers and his audience he struck just the right note.

            The Jokesters even produced an album. Happy, boppy cover versions of numbers like Sugar, Sugar and Move It! Sanitized pop that parents didn’t mind their kid’s listening to and could hope in their hearts that the extent of their offspring’s adolescent rebellion would be to want to be just like that nice Zed Rivers.

 

                        They gave Zed and his co-star Holly, a thoroughly precocious fourteen-year old from Glendale, anti-acne medication in a vain attempt to preserve them in that magic hour between childhood and puberty for as long as possible. Kids were cute. Zit plagued adolescents less so, and zits and teenagers tended to go together like hamburgers and McDonalds. Prescribed by the tame physician the child labor laws required them to have on set, it probably would have made little difference to the show’s producers had they known that the drugs they handed out like candy were addictive. Zed and Holly were just happy not to have pimples. But by the time the FDA withdrew the drug, both found themselves unable to cope with the symptoms of withdrawal. It was Moe Pauly who came to their rescue. Big, clumsy loveable Moe with his battered pugilist’s features, whose alter-ego Klansky lumbered around giving bear hugs to kids while inside the costume Moe sweated and sweared like a Grizzly. Moe was the candy man, the kindly king, the Willy Wonka who made the world taste good. Moe understood the kids’ sweating twitching problem the moment it appeared and had the cure ready to hand. And if they wanted more all they had to do was ask Uncle Moe.

 

                        But after a while Uncle Moe stopped giving freebies and Holly started to steal money from her mother’s purse while Zed learned to forge his mother’s signature on the bank account where his fees were deposited. By the time he was fourteen he’d done with speed and had developed more expensive habits. Cocaine served a dual purpose. Not only were everyday teenage worries such as self-confidence and school banished in a haze of well being, and performance jitters a thing of the past, it also helped ameliorate his growing confusion as to his sexual orientation. While he was high, Zed could stay in that comforting Neverland where he didn’t have to grow up.

 

                        He’d heard Holly pleading with Moe the day she died. Her mom was becoming suspicious, she couldn’t get hold of any money until the end of the week, all she wanted was just enough to get her through taping the show – Moe, please? she wheedled. But these days Uncle Moe was less benevolent. “You kids are a pain in the ass,” he told her.  “It’s time you learned a few simple economics. No dough, no blow.”

 

Earlier, she’d come to Zed for a loan but he was having problems of his own, most notably that the savings in the little passbook account had dwindled to just $53.14. In less than ten months he’d snorted away almost $25,000.

 

                        They found Holly in Moe’s dressing room. She’d snuck back while he was on set to look for his stash. At fifteen her bright young star winked out, torn down by one final snort of pure, uncut Colombian candy. Uncle Moe was arrested, the show cancelled and Zed’s mother finally alerted to the fact that her son’s permanent snuffling had little to do with hayfever or dustmite allergies. It had been her own frustrated ambitions that had led them to Hollywood in the first place. A small town girl with big dreams minus the talent to make them reality. Tivoli Rivers worked as a manicurist in a small salon on Fairfax opposite Television City. High on the smell of acrylic and optimism, reading Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in between clipping cuticles, little knowing that this was as close to stardom as her own ambitions would get her. When Zed joined The Jokesters she quit, content with the knowledge that while her star would never grace the sidewalk outside, her son’s would. With the fall of his, her last vicarious hopes were shattered. No one wanted to hire a kid junkie. Without Zed’s income the pretty little stucco house they’d rented on Benedict Canyon had to be replaced by a one-bedroom apartment in a run down block on Cherokee. And having seen him crash and burn on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams she was now determined to get him as far away from it as possible. The solution had been to pack him off to Spokane, Washington to live with the father he hadn’t seen since his parents divorced seven years before.

 

                        Despite entering a profession where illegal substances were readily available, Captain Crunch remained the only habit from Zed’s youth that he hadn’t been able to kick. He stirred the nuggets in the bowl reflectively, watching Ben as he paced the room. “Then this isn’t just science fiction?”

 

            Ben stopped and shook his head even though the same thought had dogged him all the way back to Seattle, enabling him to filter out the excited chatter of schoolchildren, the roar of the jetcat’s propellers and the boom of a rising swell against the hull. Such was his preoccupation, even the coastline has swept past unseen as he grappled to come to terms with the reality of what he’d been told.

           

“So, what’s the difference between this and the bionic eye we’ve been hearing so much about?” Ben had asked.

 

“Good question. With the bionic eye you implant a computer chip at the back of the individual’s eye which is linked to a mini-video camera that sits in the glasses the user wears. Images captured by the camera are sent to the chip which translates them into impulses the brain is able to interpret,” McHugh explained. “It’s hardware-based and requires surgery to install the chip. Our solution is essentially software-based and non-invasive as no implant is required.”  

 

“I thought they had yet to start human trials with the bionic eye?” Ben asked.

 

“In that respect we’re slightly ahead of the curve. We’re also ahead in terms of resolution and image quality that we believe our solution will deliver. Also, the bionic eye can only be used for certain kinds of blindness. But really it’s not a question of competition when it comes to helping the blind see. The more people that can have their sight restored the better.”

 

Ben nodded, even though to him it still sounded more like science-fiction.

 

 

“The technology’s been around for some time,” McHugh continued. “It’s just that up until now there haven’t been batteries or microprocessors small enough to power the unit or to transduce the signals down to the range of human hearing.”

 

                        “So it can be done?”

 

                        “In theory, yes. But then they’ve already proved on paper that it’s theoretically possible to warp space. It’s just that no-one’s been able to build the Starship Enterprise yet, or a system of propulsion to power it.”

 

                        But it had gone beyond theory. He already knew that. He’d held the proof in his hands in McHugh’s office. Project Morning Glory. A miracle of micro-digital engineering that if it could be made to work would elevate McHugh and his team to the ranks of the divine. The first men since Christ to restore sight to those who could not see. Their means, a sonic Eye that could transduce the echolocation signals made by dolphins down to within the range of human hearing and convert those signals into digital images. The result, a bio-acoustical prosthesis that would in theory make the blind ‘see’. It was the stuff that miracles were made of. Nobel Prize winning stuff. Wonderful indeed.

                       

“I understand the theory. It’s how to put it into practice that bothers me,” Ben said.

 

                        Back at Seabourne after his dolphin encounter, the audacity of what McHugh was proposing gave way to the skepticism of how it could be achieved.

 

                        “Dolphins emit echolocation signals at frequencies far beyond the range of human hearing. By focusing these signals like the beam of a torch and adjusting their intensity, the dolphin receives a three-dimensional sound picture of his environment. These reflected sounds form images in several shades of gray behind the eyes like an acoustic hologram that reveals not only the external but also internal structure of a given object.”

 

                        McHugh paused, dusting chalk from his hands. Ben gazed at the diagram he’d drawn on the blackboard. That part at least made sense. But how were they to replicate a means of seeing that had taken millions of years to evolve, much less adapt it for human mastery?

 

                        “I’m no expert but I did do a bit of research on the Net about dolphins before coming here today. Doesn’t a dolphin receive the signals through that dome in his forehead?”

 

                        “You mean the melon?”

                       

“That’s it.  Because it occurs to me that apart from the fact that air isn’t as efficient conductor of sound than water, it’s pretty apparent that we as human beings don’t have the right hardware to do the job properly.”

 

                        “But we do,” McHugh countered. “Or at least we can manufacture it. It’s something the Navy’s been working on for some time. They now have a device that can reproduce those pulses, beam them into the water and with the aid of a computer “stretch” the signals down to within audible range allowing blindfolded divers to discriminate between two targets as small as a quarter.”

                       

Ben sat up. “Wait a minute. I thought you said this had nothing to do with the military?”

 

                        “I did and don’t worry, this hasn’t. I’m just giving you some background on what’s been achieved so far. Like I told you, our research is privately funded and subsidized by the money we take at the gate.”

 

                        McHugh paused as if to determine how far he could trust the other man.

            During the course of their meeting he’d found no evidence of guile or dishonesty within that large frame, in fact no evidence of anything at all that he didn’t like. His instinct told him, with Ben Galloway what you see is what you get. He nodded to himself as if satisfied with his assessment then crossed his office to a Christian Riese Lassen painting which hung on the opposite wall which he swung aside to reveal a small safe. Close-fingered he dialed the combination, and opening the safe withdrew something which he handed across to Ben.

 

                        Ben turned it over in his hands. The small, lightweight visor had pressure pads attached to the frame which in turn were connected to a small device no larger than an old-fashioned hearing aid . Curious, Ben slipped it on. The larger pads fitted snugly over both his eyes while the smaller pressed against his temples. The unit sat comfortably behind his left ear. He reached up as McHugh adjusted it for size, securing the Velcro fastenings at the back of his head so he was crowned with an impromptu tiara.

 

                        “Comfortable?”

 

“Surprisingly so. I was expecting it to be bigger.”

 

                        “The world’s first bio-acoustical prosthesis. It works on the same principle as a divers bone mike. Movement of the facial muscles controls the output and direction of the sound which is picked up by the receiver here ~’, he indicated the device that resembled a hearing aid, “and transmitted via the pads down through the optic nerve to the brain. Much faster than it takes to explain the process. In fact, instantaneously which is one of our biggest problems. None of our volunteers can process the images fast enough.”

 

                        Behind the visor, Ben scrunched up his eyes trying to visualize the images this handful of plastic, microchips and foam was capable of conjuring and finding his imagination unequal to the task. As if he knew what he was thinking McHugh reached up and activated a small switch at the side. Even as Ben turned his head to see what McHugh was up to he felt his hair stand on end and his optic nerves assaulted by an acoustic vision as shocking as lightning over water. Without thinking he ripped the device from his head and the world retreated back into more merciful parameters.

 

                        “Painful, isn’t it?” McHugh seemed unsurprised by his reaction. “You can see the problems involved. We not only need someone who can coalesce the sounds into a readable form that anyone can interpret, we need to make them, well, for want of a better word, harmonious. Then in theory the device should work.”

                       

“It’s flawed if you ask me,” Zed champed through mouthfuls of cereal. “Like you said, water is a better conductor of sound than air, everybody knows that. Even if you can get this gadget of his to work the signals it would sent back would be garbled.”

 

                        “Bats navigate by the same process.”

 

                        “So who’s going to use it, Michael Keaton? If it receives anything it would be just so much white noise like you saw, only less painful.  No one would be able to make any sense out of the images.”

 

                        “Maybe that’s because we’d overlay them with our own conceptions of how we view the world.” Ben sighed. After his encounter with the dolphins at Seabourne anything had seemed possible. He’d allowed himself to get swept up by McHugh’s enthusiasm which was so contagious as to constitute a health hazard. To his dismay, Ben realized he’d been relying on Zed’s customary zeal for all things new-age and planet-loving to pave over the cracks in McHugh’s theory. Tonight, for some reason, he seemed unwilling to oblige, instead giving voice to the very doubts Ben himself was harboring. “So you don’t think I should take it?”

 

                        Zed paused, spoon poised halfway between rim and lips. “I didn’t say that.” The spoon returned to the bowl abruptly, sending a mini-tsunami of smoothie out over Ben’s latest copy of Wired. “The opportunity to solve the mystery of inter-species communication sounds like a good enough reason for me.”

 

                        “This isn’t about inter-species communication even if such a thing is possible,” Ben replied, rescuing Wired and shaking it dry.

 

                        “Says who? As far as I can make out it’s about as believable as sticking a helmet on someone’s head and saying ‘Let there be light’.”

 

                        “For one thing it’s not a helmet, it’s a visor. About as bulky as those Ray-Bans you keep on losing. And as for the other ~ I already thought of a way around that. It might not work for you and me, but what would happen if we tried it out on someone who had no conception of what it was like to see?”

                       

Carling Beauford tossed back his third double J.D in twenty minutes and angrily demanded a fourth. The Bartender hesitated, torn between service and civic responsibility. He’d seen the man pull up outside in a battered Plymouth that had, by the look of it, already received more that it’s fair share of close encounters in the past. What bothered him was not so much what drunk drivers did to themselves, but more importantly what they might do to other people. The man’s fist crashed down onto the bar to reinforce his request. The Bartender scurried to obey. It was still early. The last thing he needed right now was trouble and the guy was built like a Grizzly and clearly had a temper to match. Grog blossoms bloomed over the latticework of veins that covered his nose and cheeks like ivy climbing the side of a house. He poured a large shot and left the bottle on the counter as an afterthought. With any luck the customer would pass out before he could do himself or anyone else too much harm.

 

                        Carling stared at the warm amber liquid in the glass. Even his old friend Jack couldn’t erase the bitterness of being $35,000 poorer than he had been this morning. The deal had seemed so sweet. Gilt-edged is what the guy had called it. But instead of investing in a mini-mall in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Carling found himself the proud owner of thirty-two acres of worthless scrub whose only structure was a dilapidated outhouse fourteen miles from the nearest main road. The guy had shown him architects plans, photographs even. In a dim recess of his mind a thought surfaced that maybe he should have gone down there and checked it out for himself. But how was he to know? The guy had seemed genuine enough. He’d had business cards, a mobile phone, even a goddamn fax machine in his car. That had been enough to convince Carling. That and the promise that he would triple his investment within six months. Hell, if they could get one past Carling J. Beauford they could con anyone.

 

                        He took another belt of J.D., drowning the nagging certainty that he had been taken for a sap. This was just a temporary setback. After all, a man of his talents could do anything. Be anybody! Trouble was, most employers were just too short sighted to realize that, a myopia that resulted in Carling’s tenure of employment averaging roughly three weeks.

 

                        The fact that the money had not been his to lose did not trouble Carling overmuch. It had belonged to his wife, or rather, held in trust by her for her daughter, Bethany. Whether he’d had a premonition of his early demise no one knew, nevertheless thanks to a substantial life insurance policy, David Caul had left his daughter well provided for. Just as well as she would never be able to provide for herself.

 

                        Following the death off her husband, Rosalie Caul continued to live in their modest clapboard house overlooking the Columbia River and devoted herself to looking after her child. Although her lifestyle could hardly be called lavish, Carling knew her old man had to have taken care of her. He had a nose for these things and in this instance he was right. She had been lonely since her old man had passed away. With the burden of caring for a handicapped child on her own she had too much baggage for most men and was therefore pathetically grateful for the attention he showed her.

 

                        After they were married it had been easy to persuade Rosalie to hand him power of attorney. Convincing her to place the child in an institution had proved more difficult. Ironically his desire to be rid of her had worked in Bethany’s favor, giving her skills and a level of independence as well as friends she might not have otherwise acquired. But he was not to know that otherwise he might have kept her at home out of sheer perversity.

 

                        He picked up the newspaper lying on the counter and turned to the employment section. Experience. Qualifications. That was just the trouble. Didn’t they realize you couldn’t have a better qualification than that from the University of Life? Given half a chance he could show those ivy-league bastards with their BA’s and MA’s a thing or two. He was about to toss the paper aside when an advertisement caught his eye.

 

WANTED

Blind or partially sighted volunteers needed for

privately funded research project. Generous financial

compensation. For more information contact:

Dr Conor McHugh

The Seabourne Institute

Apollo Bay WA 96872

Tel: (206) 555 1562  Fax: (206) 555 0237

email: info@seabourne.com

 

                        Now that he couldn’t afford to keep her tucked away out of sight in her fancy school, the little retard was going to have to start earning her keep. Carling ripped out the page and tucked it carefully in his wallet. Opportunities. You just had to know where to look. Maybe it was going to be his lucky day after all.

 

                        The bartender picked up the crumpled bills he’d dropped on the counter and watched as Carling wove his way unsteadily towards the door. Once outside he dropped his keys in a puddle and swore as he stooped to retrieve them.  From his condition it seemed unlikely that he would make it home in one piece. The man wondered if he should have offered to call him a cab. After all, even foul-tempered drunks had someone who would miss them.

                       

Leigh had understood why she and Lennie wouldn’t be making the Dapple presentation as a team. An agency the size of Como Schofeldt Kurtz couldn’t afford to have both senior creatives absent at once. Not while there were copy deadlines and junior teams looking for the excuse to either do nothing or else go home early.

 

                        Leigh thrived on the excitement of the pitch. To her, presentations were like theatre. There you were, center stage before an enrapt audience, acting out what you’d created. In the past she’s got up and sung the jingle, been plagued by everything from housework hands to jock itch acting out TV scripts, to madly extemporizing a concept when it became obvious it wasn’t quite what the client wanted. In her book, enthusiasm was a communicable disease with which the client had to be affected if you were to stand any chance of winning the account.

 

                        If anyone could reel in Dapple it would be Lennie. The combination of Como charisma and her smarts, although absent in person but present in her creative, was sure to relegate the other contenders to the ranks of the also-rans. But as the clock edged around to three, the time Lennie would be making his presentation, she found herself unable to concentrate. 3.30. 3.45. 4.00. Surely they would be through by now? And while an immediate decision was unlikely to be forthcoming, she waited for the call to tell her how it had gone.

 

                        4.30. 4.40. 4.45. He had to be on his way back to the airport by now. She considered calling him on his cell phone before remembering that he’d left it behind. She glared at the phone on her desk as if willing it to ring but it sat there smugly, taunting her with its silence. When it finally came to life she dropped the receiver in her haste to pick it up only to find a printer on the other end informing her that the ad they’d booked in to Seattle magazine couldn’t go to film as his equipment had broken down. Snappishly she told him to send the job to another film house and slammed down the receiver, guiltily making a note in her diary to send the print house another job as soon as their equipment was up and running to compensate for her rudeness. Dammit Como, she thought, you could at least call to put me out of my misery.

 

                        By 5.30 when she knew he was in the air she wandered out to reception.  Loreena, the receptionist was painting her lips Moonstruck Purple in preparation or vain hopes of what the night ahead might bring, a shade which flattered Cher but made the blonde Canadian look like a corpse.

 

                        “Any calls for me, Loreena?”

 

                        “No, Ms. Carson.”

 

                        “Did Mr. Como ring in at all today?”

 

                        “Not as far as I know. Maybe he called while I was at lunch. Brooke was answering the phones. You want me to buzz her and find out?”

 

                        Leigh shook her head. “No, don’t bother. What about Leo?” Leo Kurtz, Como Schofeldt and Kurtz’s Account Director had accompanied Lennie to Vancouver. It was unusual for him not to ring the office at least twice a day when away if only to check that no rival agencies were taking his clients out to lunch.

 

                        “Not a word. My guess is they’ll probably spend the night in Vancouver then catch the morning flight. I know that’s what I’d do.” Loreena was so far down the corporate food chain that an expense account or trip further than the mailroom was a luxury she could only dream of someday abusing.

 

                        “They said they’d be back on the five o’clock flight.”

 

                        “Maybe they missed it or got delayed. Who knows. Maybe they stayed in the bar and missed the call,” Loreena shrugged. In her book anyone who didn’t have to answer their own phone had ascended beyond mere mortal and it certainly wasn’t her place to question their actions. “I’ve switched the phones over to night service. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Popping the cap back on her lipstick and dropping it into a voluminous tote she headed for the elevator.

 

                        Leigh watched her leave, wondering why every receptionist in every agency she’d ever worked in carried such large bags. Perhaps it was indicative of a lack of responsibility. A kind of laissaize faire fashion statement that bespoke young and carefree. What did they find to fill them with? Organizer, wallet, hairbrush, make-up. Spare pantyhose, Harlequin SuperRomance, Tampax, condoms. Certainly not the strategy report they would stay up until the small hours to finish. All at once Leigh felt an unexpected pang of envy. Envy for someone who made less than a quarter of her take home pay. Jealous of her lack of responsibility that began and ended with: ‘Good morning, Como Schofeldt and Kurtz. How can I help you?’ Whose career curve didn’t depend on the whims and fancies of clients who, no matter how well you did your job, always thought that they could do it better.

 

                        As the elevator car arrived Loreena turned and waved goodbye, her bag making her look like a female version of Quasimodo. Probably full of the pens and stationery she lifts from the office, Leigh thought uncharitably, lifting a hand in return and then berating herself for the second uncharitable thought to cross her frontal lobes inside of ten minutes. For wherever Loreena was headed, whether to some desperate and dateless bar hoping against the odds to meet the one guy in Seattle who hated the singles scene as much as she did; or else home alone with her Lean Cuisine and rental DVD for company, Leigh knew for certain Loreena’s evening was bound to be more exciting than the one which awaited her. With a sigh she turned and headed back to her office.

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