The thing Emma found most intimidating about Executive Vice President Amanda Brotz was her title. In an insurance company with more VPs than actuaries, she was second only to the actual president, who rarely showed his face in the office–and when he did, he seemed drunk. Amanda Brotz was there, monitoring every department without micromanaging.
And that led to the second-most intimidating about her: her wardrobe. The other executives, along with the actuaries and accountants, were all about suits, ties, and sometimes even suspenders. Khakis didn’t show themselves until you descended into the muck of the admins and their lessers. Amanda Brotz, on the other hand, usually wore dark jeans, casual blouses, and chunky jewelry–managing to look relaxed, but not sloppy. Were she not the boss, you’d probably mistake her for someone much younger than Emma’s own thirty-two years. This didn’t diminish the credibility of her rank; in fact, it seemed to enhance it. Her authority was so solid that she didn’t have to dress up. And that frightened Emma as much as anything.
Creeping up to her office, Emma formulated a plan: she’d brush her knuckles lightly on the door and run. She’d then tell Steve that the executive vice president wasn’t there, and they’d have to come up with another idea. But first, she had to make it past Ms. Brotz’s secretary, who was still saying “cockamamie” while probing every inch of her desk.
“Emily!” Esther shouted.
“I haven’t seen your tape dispenser,” Emma told her.
“If you do see the cockamamie thing, you just let me know,” Esther demanded. “You can recognize it because it has my name on it.”
Esther resumed her search, and Emma resumed her plan. Unfortunately, as she carried it out, the door creaked open under the weight of her gentle knock. “Fuck,” Emma mouthed, her bulging eyes watching the woman behind the desk.
Emma had been working here for a number of weeks, and, while she’d glimpsed the executive vice president many times, she’d never gotten a good look. Amanda Brotz arrived before and left after all other employees, and split her time evenly between attending meetings, sequestering herself in her office with the blinds drawn, or charging back and forth across the floor, trailing perforated printouts from obsolete dot-matrix printers. She chattered constantly into a Bluetooth hidden in her hair, which was the same shade as Emma’s natural color, but longer, curlier, and bouncier. This was saying something, because Emma’s hair was pretty damned curly and bouncy.
But now that she was seeing her clearly… well, she was kind of adorable, with her violet fingernails, matching fitted V-neck, string of fake pearls, and a frown that looked confused, like a kitten that lost sight of the little red dot. And while the lines scribbled lightly around her enormous brown eyes confirmed that she was old enough to be an executive, the way she bit her lip hinted that she was only barely so.
And still she muttered away on her Bluetooth. Emma couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, but she began to catch little snippets that coalesced into full sentences: “… would explain why my neck hurts. Should I order a new chair? What if I just need to adjust this one? Who could I ask?”
She was on the phone like she always was. Perfect! The only polite thing to do would be to return to Steve and tell him the executive vice president was too busy to deal with this.
And yet, fear rooted Emma to the spot while Amanda Brotz opened a drawer and dug through it. “I can never remember where I put those, which is stupid because I use them every single day. And every single day this happens.” She sat up, a marker in her hand. “Aha!” She then slouched in defeat. “I can’t use a pink highlighter for this. Pink is for…” She stopped as soon as she noticed she was no longer alone and pushed her hair behind her ears. Given its volume, it didn’t stay long–long enough, however, to reveal, to Emma’s horror, that there was no Bluetooth there.
Emma waved with the tips of her fingers, praying that her face didn’t project what she felt. “Hi?”
“Do you have a green highlighter?”
“No,” she replied. “I–“
Amanda Brotz sighed and resumed excavating. “Every day I use the green highlighter–and the pink and blue one, but never yellow, which is funny when you think about it, because it is the original color.” She looked back up. “You’re going to think this is silly, but I’ve been saving it for something really important. I don’t know you. Who are you?”
“Emma Dayton. I’m–“
Her boss’s boss sprang over from behind her desk and extended her hand. “I’m Amanda, the executive vice president. But you probably already knew that.” She laughed through her nose. “Not to be presumptuous. It is on the door, though. And I have my own office. You can call me Amanda. Why don’t I know you?”
“I mean, I’m no good with faces, but I’m great with names, and I never ran across anybody named Emma in the human resource files.”
Amanda smacked her forehead. “You’re a temp! Of course! I don’t deal with temps. That’s Steve Harmon’s job. I don’t have the energy to deal with a bunch of temps, on top of everything else, no offense. How many of you are there?”
Emma shook her head. “I have no–“
“Eight. We have eight. Six short-terms and two long-terms. Did Steve send you?”
“What did he want?” Amanda asked. “And why didn’t he just call?”
Emma waited a second to make sure there would be enough of a pause for her to speak. “It’s something for me, actually.”
“Why didn’t you go to Steve, then?”
“I did, and he sent me here.”
“Why couldn’t he just talk to me?” Amanda asked. “I mean, I know him. I wouldn’t be wasting all this time with introductions, especially if this is time-sensitive. Is this time sensitive?”
“Then let’s cut to the chase.”
“My desk is missing,” Emma told her.
“I said, my desk is missing.”
Amanda frowned. “Like it’s not there?”
She thought about it. “I haven’t seen any missing desks today, and I’ve been here since six thirty. Are you sure it’s your desk that’s missing?”