I Write Things

The Grind is the meandering episodic adventures of Max Fuentes, a journalist from New Mexico who currently resides in New York, talking his way in and out of situations of questionable legality. The tale begins here with The Darkside, which is a thoroughly misleading title.

Of course, people other than Max have been known to do stuff, and you can also read about these Detours.

Of course, Max and the others had to come from somewhere, and it’s worth checking out these Flashbacks.

I also like to look in on a completely different side of the world, with a number of Urban Fantasy pieces.

Item 8

Prior Discussion re: Work Flow


After a lunch of Thai food, followed by a chaste make-out session with her boyfriend, Tyler, Emma returned to the former smoking room to find that the deliverymen had indeed removed the brand new desk from its box. What they didn’t bother to do was assemble it. Later, when she would recount the tale to Tyler or anyone who would listen, she’d ask herself why she’d expected anything different. In the moment, she could only whine, “What the fuck is this?”

Mike shook the swear jar.

“Dude,” she told him, “I don’t like you. I mean, I was kind of ambivalent to you at first, and I was even a little fond of you after a few weeks, but today, I’ve decided that I don’t like you.”

“That’s fair,” he replied.

Amanda strode inside, and her shoulders fell instantly. “What the…” She reached into her pocket, but her hand came out empty.

“Oh, what the hell,” Mike told her. “You’re my best customer. Have a freebie.”

“Thank you,” she said with a slight bow of her head. “I still want a progress report on the 10Qs.” She returned her attention to the desk. “What the fuck is this?”

“I quit,” Emma replied.

“You’re not allowed to resign without two weeks’ notice,” Amanda told her, “especially you, Emma, because your daily tasks are pretty complicated, and it would take at least three days to properly instruct your replacement, who will probably need some kind of supervision until he or she gets a hang of it.”

“I don’t have to give notice,” she said. “I’m a temp.”

“I’ll give you a bad evaluation,” Amanda replied. “I don’t want to, but I will.”

“Okay, fine.”

“Stay here,” she said. “I have to get on the phone with somebody and yell. Literally yell, I mean. And I don’t mean literally like when people just use it for emphasis. No, I mean I am going to pick up the phone and yell, and I will probably be embarrassed about it later, but I’m really, really angry right now.”

“Okay, but–“

Stay here!

Emma didn’t stay there. She caught up with Amanda halfway to her office and blocked her way. “Breathe, dude.”

“Okay, fine.”

“Outside of this desk thing,” Emma asked, “what do you plan to do? For the rest of the day, I mean.”

Amanda was so taken aback by the question that she answered it without thinking. “Marking, filing, sorting, personnel issues, e-mails. The usual. And now I have to worry about the work Mike’s doing because Steve can’t be bothered to check in periodically, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t check in with all of the other temps too see if they’re not wasting company time–yourself excluded, of course, because I kind of do that already–and that means a few hours extra here and there.”

“You know, I’m good at filing and sorting,” Emma said.

“Well, the only work of yours I’m familiar with are the daily reports, so I know for sure you’re good with photocopying and data entry and spreadsheet arrangement, but given how well you perform those tasks–“

Emma wasn’t sure that interrupting the boss of bosses was okay, but she was on a roll, so she did it anyway. “I’m trying to say I can help.”

“Thanks,” Amanda responded instantly, “but you’ve got your own work to do.”

“Not really,” Emma told her. “Everything after the meeting is pretty light for me. I just do gofer things here and there, when some VP needs it. Mostly I read a book or doodle. Besides, I don’t have a whole desk.”

“Then why don’t you go home early,” Amanda said. “I’ll tell Steve to pay you for the afternoon. You’ve had a long day as it is.”

“So have you.”

“Yeah, but it’s my job,” she reminded Emma. “You don’t get paid enough to do anymore than you have to.”

“What if I just want to help out a friend?”

Amanda sighed. “Look, Emma, I appreciate the–“

“Dude,” she breathed, “just stop.”

“I’m just saying–“

“Let me finish,” Emma snapped. “I’m not asking to hang out on weekends and get cocktails or double-date or whatever. I’m pretty busy all the time anyway. You and I will probably never see each other again after this contract ends, and that’s totally fine. I’m trying to tell you that I think you’re really cool, and I don’t like watching you get chewed up like this. You’re letting this place suck away your life, and for what?”


“That was rhetorical,” Emma said. “This is fucking insane, you know that?”

“It’s. My. Job.”

“Let. Me. Help.”

“Fine.” Amanda set her jaw. “If you want to help, you can start by finding me a green highlighter.”

“No problem,” Emma said with a grin. A few moments later, she strode up to Mike’s desk. “Dude, give me your green highlighter.”

“I don’t have a green highlighter,” he replied.

“Let me look around in your desk then,” she offered, “just to be sure.”


“Why not?” she asked. “Afraid I’ll find Esther’s tape dispenser?”

“Why do you think I have–?”

“Because you used tape to make the swear jar.”

“You really think Esther’s the only one in the office with a tape dispenser?” He snorted, “Besides, it went missing way before I even had the idea. So why would I take it?”

“Because you’re just the kind of asshole who would think her freak-out was funny.”

“I’m not saying I did it,” he said, “but really? It’s all she has, man. Isn’t that kind of fucked up?”

“Swear jar.”

He pulled out his wallet and made the deposit.

“I don’t get Esther,” Emma told him, “but this is her thing, and you don’t have the right to take that away.”

“I told you I didn’t–“

“Esther’s tape dispenser.”

“I don’t–“


With a grunt and a thud, he slammed it onto the desktop.

“And a green highlighter,” she reminded him.

With an additional grunt, it joined the dispenser.

She fought back a smirk and snatched them away. “Thanks, dude.”

When she spun around to leave, she found herself blocked by Daryl’s incredible pectorals and even more incredible grin. “Damn, girl,” he said.

“I know,” she replied, looking him up and down without being even a little bit coy about it, “right?”


Matter concluded.

Further business.

Item 7

Prior Discussion re: Work Flow


Emily!” Esther shouted.

“I haven’t seen your tape dispenser!”

“You look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Emma did so, mostly out of shock.

Esther rose slowly from her chair and stalked up to her, somehow increasing in size. “You know what I’m thinking.”

“Nope.” Emma replied and started to take her first step toward her new desk.

“I’m thinking that someone took it because I had my name on it.”

Crap. Now Emma couldn’t leave because she was dying for this logic to be broken down for her. “Keep talking.”

With sweeping movements, Esther explained, “Well, it has my name on it. I put my name on a piece of paper and taped it on. And glued it too. But only the S, T, H, the second E, and the R part. You see?”


“I made the first E with correction fluid–“

Emma wondered if there was anybody else who used the term correction fluid.

“–and markers and glitter.”

“Did you use a highlighter?” Emma asked.

Esther’s eyes lit up. “So you’ve seen it?”

“Was it a green highlighter?”

“No, it was pink.”

Emma waved her hand. “Never mind.”

“Where was I?” Esther asked.


“Right.” Her focus returned. “So there’s a really big, beautiful E, and a smaller S, T, H, E, R that you can get rid of easy.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” whispered Emma, who was finally starting to see where this was going.

“So if someone whose name started with an E wanted a personalized tape dispenser, it would be easier if there was already an E on it,” she concluded. “Isn’t that right, Emily?”

“Dude,” she snapped, “I don’t need a tape dispenser!”

“What if you need to tape something?”

“I never need to tape anything.”

“But what if you did?” she insisted.

Emma said, “Then I would come to you and ask for some.”

“So you say,” Esther growled, “but why should I believe you?”

“Because I don’t lie.” A lot–she didn’t lie a lot. “I’m from Iowa. We’re honest out there.”

“So you’re saying you’re better than me?”

“No, dude,” she sighed, “I’m saying…” And then it hit her. “You know, don’t we have a VP named Edward?”

Esther stroked her chin. “We do have a VP named Edward.”

“Wouldn’t it be just like a vice president to want a personalized tape dispenser of their very own? Aren’t they always getting everything they want?”

“Now that you mention it…”

“It couldn’t hurt to ask.”

“No, it couldn’t.” Esther said with a wink. “Thanks for the tip!” She buzzed off, and Emma resumed her journey back to her brand new desk.

And there it was: right next to Mike’s. The delivery people had even been kind enough to restore to their rightful places her stapler, paper-and-binder clips, plastic inbox, and mug full of pens. The ancient monitor squatted just to the left of the keyboard, just as she preferred it. And the useless lamp even sat with its cord curled around it like a tail.

And yet… “Why the fuck is my desk still in the box?”

Mike shook the swear jar.

She narrowed her eyes.

Amanda swooped in beside her and asked, “Why the fuck is it still in the box?” before handing Emma a dollar she deposited in the jar.

“This is insane,” Emma groaned.

“Ladies,” announced Daryl from behind them.

Emma didn’t bother to look. “Dude.”

Amanda attempted in vain to hide a goofy smile as she turned around. “Hi…”

“How you doing, Amanda?” he asked. “Working hard, as usual?”

“Yeah…” she sighed.

“I have to say, boss,” he told her, “I have no idea how you manage to pull all of this off and make it look easy.”


“How’s life? Still single?”


“Somebody’s really missing out. Am I right, Mike?”

“I’m busy,” Mike snapped.

“Cool, cool,” Daryl said. “Emma?”

Emma had witnessed him use this tone with every woman in the office, regardless of their age or beauty, so she knew well enough not to take it personally. Still, she was a little bit jealous. “Totally,” she replied.

“I see you have a new desk,” he observed.

“I do.”

“It’s not unpacked, though.”

“No,” Emma agreed, “it is not.”

“Weird.” He crossed in front of her to greet the mirror, which would never have forgiven him if he’d left without visiting. “Do you think HR ordered Esther a new tape dispenser too, and that’s why it went missing?”

“What?” yelped Mike.

“No,” said Emma.

“Maybe…” sighed Amanda.

“It might be worth looking into,” Daryl suggested. “Who knows what that might turn up?”

“Why would they do that?” Emma asked, struggling to make sense of this line of deduction.

“Maybe it went obsolete,” he replied.

“Tape dispensers don’t go obsolete.”

“I bet they used to say that about water faucets.”

“No one would ever–” Actually, somebody probably did say this about water faucets, but someone else went ahead and upgraded them anyway, giving birth to some of the least necessary technical advancements in history. “All right, I’ll give you that.”

Daryl stared deep into the vast universe of imagination, wonder lighting up his face. “Imagine it: a machine that dispenses the exact amount of tape you need. And it would even have a mechanism that frees up that first little strip from a brand-new roll. There would be no more wasted tape. Isn’t that worth creating?”

No. “Yes,” Emma surrendered.

“Did we order one of those for Esther, Amanda?” he asked.

“I’m not in charge of those things,” she told him.

“Something to think about,” he concluded on his way out the door. “The possibilities are endless.”

Amanda and Emma took a moment to savor his exit. They made eye contact for a split second before looking away and taking deep, simultaneous breaths.

“So,” said Amanda.

“So,” said Emma.

“What’s that guy’s job anyway?” asked Mike.

Amanda shook her head, restoring her composure. “I’m going back to HR, and I want you to take an early lunch. Your desk will be unpacked when you return, I promise.”

“Thank you.” After Amanda left, Emma retrieved her phone from her purse. “Tyler,” she said, “we’re going to lunch.”

“Now?” the phone asked.


“But it’s not even eleven.”

Now,” she told her boyfriend.


Further action pending.

Item 6

Prior Discussion re: Work Flow



The fingers of Emma‘s right hand danced across the number pad like a ping-pong ball in a dryer, while the fingers on her left found and identified the data she needed to input. The numbers themselves meant nothing more to her than a puzzle, and unraveling puzzles came more naturally than sleep. Her brain, not being needed, drifted away. Normally, she used this time to dream up plots and characters for future use in her under-construction, sequential-art masterpiece, but not this time.

Today, a twenty-four-year-old Emma Dayton, complete with an ill-advised pixie haircut and the denim jacket she swore she’d wear forever, sits beside her. She’d graduated from college four months earlier and spent the summer on a wild bender, waiting tables and saving up some cash before leaving Iowa and settling into an apartment in Queens with a handful of friends, a few boxes of necessities, and a future full of ambition. As she watches thirty-two-year-old Emma work, she has some questions. “What happened to your art?”

It’s in my apartment.

“I mean,” she insists, “why aren’t you drawing right now?”

Bills. Rent. Food.

“Why isn’t the art taking care of that?” she asks.

Because it’s just not working. I tried.

“Try harder.”

That’s easy for you to say.

“What, you think it’s easy for me to watch you sell out?”

Grow up, little girl.

To be fair, twenty-two-year-old Emma Dayton was an idiot.

She hit the save button and let her attention wander to the calendar hanging on the wall–not-quite-visible from the doorway, but very visible from here. Returning her gaze with half-closed eyes was a firefighter, a hose draped over his glistening, bare shoulders like a trained anaconda.

Nope. No subtext there.

“I guess you noticed that,” said Amanda, who had materialized in a chair on the other side of the desk, as relaxed as if she had been here for hours.

A startled Emma gasped, “Excuse me?”

“Mr. September.”

Sheepishly, Emma shrugged.

Amanda laughed through her nose. “The girls in receivable gave it to me as a Christmas present–they said Hanukkah, but Hanukkah’s not the same as Christmas, or even at the same time most years, and it would have been just as nice if they just made it a Christmas present, but the thought was really sweet so I didn’t say anything. They thought it would be funny–probably because I’m single, or because it’s not really classy or dignified, and besides, it’s firemen.” She laughed again. “I have a thing about firemen, but what girl doesn’t? So, yeah, long story short, it’s a gag gift.”

“You still hung it up.” Crap. Emma hadn’t meant to say that aloud.

Amanda blushed. “Abs.”

“Abs,” Emma agreed.

“Besides,” she added with a lowered voice, “you should see how the boys–the other VPs, I mean–react. It makes them a little uncomfortable and kind of reminds them who is in charge of the office–except for the president, of course.” She took a deep breath. “It’s the twenty-first century, and we’ve had the right to vote, for, like, a hundred years, but those expensive business schools keep sending out these frat boys who don’t have to work half as hard as I do to get twice as far, and it took a really long time to get them to even accept that I’m their fucking boss–way too long. So if half-naked–or mostly naked, like Mr. July, or all naked behind a fire hydrant, like Mr. February–makes them squirm, then good.”

“Huh,” Emma replied.

“Sorry. I don’t know why I just told you all that.” She shook her head. “This doesn’t leave the office. You get it, though, right?”


“Except Daryl,” she said. “He doesn’t seem threatened. By the calendar or by me. He’s smarter than he looks, you know.”

“Daryl’s a VP?” Emma asked. It would be nice to be able to answer Mike’s daily question and maybe shut him the hell up.

“I don’t… I don’t know.” Amanda frowned and stared off into space. “Oh, I have an update about your desk. Was it falling apart?”

“It wasn’t in great shape,” Emma admitted. “I mean, one of the drawers had a big hole in the bottom. And one of the legs just kind of fell off last week, and the screw they used to put it back together rips a hole in my hose if I’m not careful. So there’s that.”

“HR ordered a new one the other day,” Amanda told her. “which is really forward-thinking of them, I’ll admit, especially since they hate replacing anything or spending money. And because it wouldn’t fit in that office with everything else in there, they called some guys to take out the old one, but it never occurred to anyone to replace it with the new one.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t get me started. But it doesn’t matter, because, after I explained the urgency of your situation, and they explained to me that you were just a temp, and I explained the urgency of your situation again, they called the delivery company, and they’ll be moving it in right away.” She looked at her empty wrist and then at the clock on the wall. “And that means five minutes ago. Literally five minutes ago.”

Emma glared at the pile of printouts that didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. “Can I just stay here and finish? I don’t want to lose my momentum.”

After a minute of thought and scrutiny, Amanda concluded, “No.”

“Okay, then, but these are running really late for the meeting.”

“I cancelled the meeting,” Amanda told her.

“You can do that?”

“Apparently I can.” She grinned. “Who knew?”

“Why would you do that?”

“You’re such a good sport,” she said, “and there’s no need for you to kill yourself for no good reason.”

“I think a functioning company’s a good reason.”

“You’re serious,” she stated.

“It’s my job,” Emma admitted reluctantly.

Amanda shook her head. “Your job is to perform a function vital to our corporation, but at a lower overhead because we don’t have to pay benefits, and we can terminate you suddenly without severance pay or even a really good reason.”

“Wow. When you put it like that…”

Amanda smiled sadly.

After a moment, Emma asked, “What now?”

“You can do whatever other daily tasks you have at your new desk at your own leisure, and I’ll be here tomorrow, which will hopefully go more smoother for both of us.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday.”

Amanda’s shoulders slumped. “Fuck this job,” she groaned.


Further action pending.

Item 5

Prior Discussion re: Work Flow


Emma waited for the sound of her boss’s boss’s footsteps to fade down the hall before she could exhale. Finally, she had a chance to say a full sentence, and it didn’t matter who she said it to. “Well, that was–“

Amanda reappeared. “I’m sorry,” she told the other person in the room, “I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Amanda Brotz, executive vice president, but you probably figured that out because Steve sent Emma to talk to me, and here I am. You did know that Emma was coming to talk to me, right?”

Now, with her overwhelming attention on him, Mike didn’t find Amanda so amusing. “Yes?”

“Who are you?” Futilely Amanda pushed her hair back and held out her hand.

“Mike,” he said. “Mike Stasinopoulos.”

“That’s quite a name,” she laughed. “I’m assuming you’re a temp here, because they wouldn’t put a regular employee in this room,” she said. “What do you do here, Mike?”

“Data entry and comparison.”

“Is this a regular daily or weekly or monthly task?”

“Quarterly,” he replied.

“So you’re the one going through all the 10Qs on the corporate accounts, and you’re doing an okay job, but I think I’d like to see the next round of reports on my desk by close of business October 15, but that’s only a metaphor, because everything is digitized, so you should just e-mail it to me, although I can tell you from experience that the work is easier if you print everything out and go through it with a highlighter. Do you have a green highlighter, by the way, or are you using it?”

Mike stammered, “But Steve said–“

“Steve told you the end of October,” she said, “because he doesn’t think it’s possible to finish before then, but he’s not accounting for the time you spend playing solitaire or whatever, which is what I am assuming you were you doing when I walked in–not just now, but earlier, with Emma–and you toggled your screen. Did I see that right?”

He froze.

“I don’t want to have to take one of the short-termers and move them in here,” she continued, “because Steve would have to teach them how to read 10Qs, and that takes forever–although it would go a lot faster if I was doing it, but I don’t have the time–so I need to know if you can e-mail me your work by October 15, or if we need to start training your replacement right away.”

“Is it a hard deadline?” he asked.

“Yes or no, Mike.”

“Yes,” he replied. “Maybe.”

“Good to hear!” On her way out the door, she added, “And Mike? I have a meeting at eleven o’clock, although I think it might get pushed back a little because of circumstances, but either way, when I get back to my computer after, I’m hoping to see an e-mail detailing all of your progress so far, so I can get a better idea of what kinds of deadlines Steve and I can set. Thanks!”

A combination of confusion, terror, fascination, and shadenfreude flooded the engine of Emma’s brain, and to jumpstart it, she had to blink and shake her head.

“Fuck,” Mike muttered.

“Swear jar,” she told him as she gathered up all the folders and headed straight for a nearby room much larger than the one she’d just left, filled to capacity with copiers, fax machines, industrial shredders, and a folding table.

Her tasks were menial, the job was dead-end, and the work was exhausting. When she wasn’t on her feet, hauling around endless reams of paper, she navigated complex software and translated just enough legal, financial, and business jargon to understand what to copy, file, highlight, and type. She wished she could take this as seriously as Mike. This was expected of her, in fact, by those of her friends who had actually grown into careers that appealed to their skills and interests, or those who, like Mike, only put effort into filling out time sheets. She could never admit to anyone–even her boyfriend, Tyler–that she took pride in how well she did what she did.

With the clock dragging her closer and closer to eleven o’clock with every tick, she focused more intently than ever before. Most people who casually used copiers in libraries and office-supply stores had no clue just how versatile they could be. If you knew which buttons to press, you could staple, collate, double-side, and punch holes in anything you reproduce. With at least two machines and as much experience as she had, you could juggle them like a symphony.

Just as she was making up lost time, Steve Harmon crushed her rhythm by peeking his head in the door and asking, “How’s it going, Emma?”

“Getting there.”

“Find a place to work until Amanda sorts out the desk situation?”

“Not yet,” she replied, mentally calculating how much of her progress was being melted away by this exchange.

“You should get on that. Amanda needs those spreadsheets in…” He glanced at his gold-plated watch. “… fifty minutes. Let me know how it goes. Thanks!”

She got back to work immediately after he disappeared and was soon constructing piles of documents for all of the vice presidents to do whatever they did with them.

Amanda announced herself with a rap on the doorframe. “I hope you’re not doing something that requires a lot of concentration, and I hope I didn’t spoil that by knocking, but I wanted a quick word.”

Emma stacked the piles and hefted them into her arms. “I’m all yours.”

“Can I give you a hand with that, or do you have a system that I won’t get without hours of explanation?”

“System,” she grunted as she lumbered toward VP territory.

Amanda followed her, saying, “Since no one is on vacation or sick leave today–which is unusual–there are no computers available for you at all, so I’ve decided that you should take mine.”

“Excuse me?”

“Enough of my job involves hard copies and running around that I can leave you alone for a while or so,” she explained. “So, as soon as you’re done here, grab your stuff and make yourself at home in my office.”

“That’s a lot of responsibility,” Emma said.

“Don’t ask me why,” Amanda told her, “but I have a feeling I can trust you.”


Further action pending.

Item 4

Prior Discussion re: Work Flow


After they emerged from the executive vice president’s office, Emma banked left, causing Amanda Brotz to frown. “The temps are located this way, Emma,” she reminded her, “in the spare conference room.”

“I’m not in the conference room,” Emma said.

Amanda smacked her forehead. “Of course. You’re in a cubicle. You told me you’re missing a desk, and there’s only a big table in the conference room, and besides, you’re doing daily tasks, and they’re doing a software conversion.”

“I’m not in a cubicle.”

“You can’t be in an office. We would never give you an office, because you’re not really an employee here, and we don’t even give the chief actuary his own…” She smacked her forehead again. “Unless you’re one of the long-terms, and Steve told me he put you guys in the smoking closet, I’m so sorry about that.”

That settled, Emma led her in the proper direction. “You learn to–“

“I guess you learn to live with it, don’t you? I am sorry, though.” Amanda shrugged. “Of course, it kind of works out, because if it didn’t smell, we’d probably put the–” As soon as they entered the room, Amanda froze and blinked. “Where the fuck is your desk?”

Mike shook the swear jar.

“That’s a very good question,” Emma said.

Amanda dug a dollar bill out of her jeans and handed it to Mike while she asked, “Do you think this has anything to do with Esther’s tape dispenser? You do know it went missing, right?”

“I’ve heard,” Emma replied.

“That’s crazy,” Amanda said. “It had her name on it and everything. Did your desk have your name on it?”

This would have been a great opportunity for her officemate to make a remark, but given Amanda’s unrelenting verbal assault, he probably would have choked as badly as she did. “No.”

“Good, because you don’t really work here.” She laughed through her nose again. “You know I was kidding, right? About your name on the desk, I mean.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“And you definitely talked to Steve?” Amanda asked.

Emma nodded.

“And he sent you to me?”

She nodded again.


“He said you could handle it more efficiently than anyone else,” Emma told her, although she now considered Steve Harmon a big liar.

“If you had gone to HR yourself, they would have blown you off, and you would have had to come back to him, and he would have probably had to call me anyway, because they don’t take him seriously, and I can’t say I blame them.” She poked her head out the door and looked both ways before returning with a lowered voice. “I’m not in charge of promoting people, but between you and I, if I were, he’d still be a junior VP, tops. I mean, there’s a reason I put him in charge of the temps, if you know what I mean. No offense.”

“None taken,” said Mike.

Amanda looked at her wrist, recognized that there was no watch there, and scanned the wall for a clock. “I have a meeting at eleven, and I have to look at reports about fifteen minutes before that, but I think I can talk to HR and at least get some answers before then. Can you sit tight for about twenty or thirty minutes?”

“Not–” Emma tried to reply.

“You said it was time sensitive didn’t you? Why did you say it was time sensitive?”

“I’m the one who does those reports.”

“Fuck,” Amanda snapped.

Mike shook the jar, and Amanda dropped another dollar inside.

Emma told her, “I’m running late.”

“And you probably don’t have a sign-in for the server, because you’re only a temp; although if Steve really had any common sense whatsoever–which is doubtful–he would have given one to the long-term workers, especially the one who runs the morning reports, which are really fucking important, you have no idea–” She paid Mike. “–and you’re really good at it, I’ve been meaning to tell you, although I didn’t know who you were until just now. Do you have a sign-in?”

“Steve got that part right at least,” Emma replied.

“First time for everything,” she muttered. “To be fair, he’s really not that bad–just lazy and unmotivated. That’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? Anyway, I’m hard on him because I spend so much time cleaning up his oversights.”

By this point, Emma had concluded that Amanda didn’t have so much a train as a bumper-car of thought. There was no controlling it, but maybe it could be nudged here and there: “Since I have sign-in…”

“That doesn’t really help much. We don’t actually have any extra work stations because the president–not the president of the United States–but that should be obvious,” she explained with a nasal laugh, “wanted to cut costs, and it was either reduce the furniture and computers or the staff, and we don’t have enough staff as it is, so I sold everything we weren’t using, except for a couple of spares, like the ones you and Mike are using, and the other temps in the conference room, of course, so there’s no place to put you.”

“So…?” Emma prompted.

“So I told them that this kind of thing would happen, especially with the software conversion that we’re using all of the other six temps for, and with the IT department being stoned all the time. I mean, no one ever anticipated a desk going missing, but who would–Esther’s tape dispenser, maybe, because Brenda in HR is an office-supply fascist, even to me. She won’t even let me have a box of highlighters. I have to sign them out one at a time, which I do at least twice a week.”

Emma moaned. Hubris would be her downfall; she actually believed she had the strength of will to guide this woman to a useful conclusion. It was now time to be direct: “Where can I work?”

“I don’t know,” Amanda replied. “But if you start making copies, I promise I’ll have something figured out the next time you see me.”

“Fuck,” she sighed.

“Swear jar,” Amanda reminded her.

“No,” Emma said. “Absolutely not.”


Further action pending.

Item 3

Prior Discussion re: Work Flow


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?”

Emma shrugged.

“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.”

“I’m a–“

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?”

Emma nodded.

“Show me.”


Further action pending.