The Man in the Box, Chapter 2
January 10, 2014 3 Comments
My debut novel, The Man in the Box will be coming out in its second edition this year. I will be providing sample chapters every Friday until its arrival. Like for your chance to win a free autographed copy. More details here.
Robbie Lake pulled into CipherMill Publishing House at 1606 8th Street. In just two days he’d be sitting in coach, strapping himself in and watching Seattle vanish beneath the clouds with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a bag of pretzels in the other. But not for two more days. There was still one more day of work left and he would pack all day on Friday. He nodded to the security guard behind the desk as he walked through the lobby. As soon as he summoned the elevator, Don Stentson swaggered up behind him and stood uncomfortably close, breathing hard. The jaunt from the car to the elevator was clearly too long of a walk for this three-hundred-pound man.
“They’re talking again,” said Don, when they met at the elevator.
“Hmm?” Robbie asked, disinterested.
“I overheard Kurt talking on his cell phone yesterday. I shouldn’t have been listening, but it sounds like they’re going to be laying more people off today.”
The prospect of layoffs weighed heavily upon the few faithful employees who had survived the first wave of terminations seven months ago, and Robbie was no exception. The menacing thought always reared its ugly head: Would this be his last year? Self-publishing and electronic books had become a huge sensation, and book editors, like Robbie, suffered greatly for it. Seven months ago the company was cut almost in half. The only reason Robbie didn’t get hacked then was because of his tenure. This time around, though, he wouldn’t have that protection; anyone still working had been there as long as he had, if not longer.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Robbie. “You probably just misunderstood.” The elevator doors opened and they both stepped in.
“What part of ‘I’ll start calling people in tomorrow’ would I not understand? I saw him holding a list of names,” insisted Don.
“Was your name on it?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t see.”
“Then how do you know it was a list of names?”
“He said, ‘I’ve got the list of names right here.’ I almost just put in my two weeks’ notice right there, but then I wouldn’t get any severance.”
“I’m sure you’ll be okay,” assured Robbie as the elevator doors opened. Truthfully, Robbie was now, thanks to his worrisome colleague, a nervous wreck, but he was determined not to let it get to his head today. Not merely hours before his vacation. “No one’s getting fired today,” he assured, more to himself than to Don. But as they stepped out, they saw Bill Donahue walking down the hallway carrying a box. Robbie’s heart sank. The first layoff.
Strangely, he wasn’t as worried about losing his job as he was about losing his hard-earned vacation.
“Morning guys,” said Bill, as he walked past.
“You seem a bit chipper,” Don commented, half offended. “What, did you hate working here that much?”
Bill shrugged and said, “It’s fine here, I guess. I’ll be back. I’m just dropping this box off down at the warehouse.”
Robbie and Don looked at each other and broke into grins. Bill didn’t ask, so he just continued on his way. “Kurt brought donuts in, by the way,” he said over his shoulder.
“Pity food,” said Don, resuming his pessimism as they continued forward.
“It’s probably for my anniversary,” Robbie suggested.
“Yeah, right. Kurt refuses to even get a wreath for Christmas.”
When they reached the suite they each headed to their own offices. Don, of course, grabbed a plate full of donuts on his way.
As he walked past the editor-in-chief’s office, Robbie stole a glance through the window. Darrin Mackey was seated across from Kurt, and his head was drooped.
Maybe Don was right. It was only nine o’ clock and Kurt always had his office door open in the mornings. Was he just getting this out of the way? That’s what he had done during the last set of layoffs.
Robbie quickened the pace to his office, shut the door behind him, threw his briefcase on the chair in the corner and flipped on his computer. He pulled up sales records of the previous four months and compared his name with other colleagues. He matched what books were represented by whom with which ones were pulling in the most revenue. Just as he feared, he fell right in the middle. It all depended on where Kurt drew the line.
Who would have had enough foresight eleven years ago to know that books would eventually go electronic? Facebook was still no more than a small community of networking nerds at the time; social media itself was such a long ways off. So for tangible, paper-filled books to be available in electronic form was unthinkable.
There was a knock at the door and Robbie froze. Was he next? Why wouldn’t Kurt just buzz him in? Before he could say anything, the door opened and Don barged in with his plate of donuts, which Robbie was certain was a new batch. Don shut the door behind him and flopped down on one of the chairs. Normally Robbie would have been irritated by this intrusive behavior, especially coming from somebody he didn’t really know that well.
“Darrin’s gone,” said Don, sinking his teeth into a pink-frosted donut, spilling sprinkles all over his tie. “Kurt just fired him. I didn’t have the heart to see who was next. I told you this was it!”
Based off of the sales report, Robbie had a gut-instinct that Don was next. He couldn’t lie; he couldn’t tell him everything was going to be all right. Instead, he said, “He might be calling some people in for different reasons.” Indirect lies seemed to weigh a lot less.
Don shoved the last donut into his mouth and mumbled, “You think so?”
Before Robbie could correct himself, Don’s cell phone buzzed. He looked at it and his drooping jowls fell even further. He cried, “It’s Kurt. He must have tried calling my office.” A peal of guttural sounds rumbled around in his fat stomach.
“Answer,” Robbie prodded.
Don nodded and brought the phone to his ear with a shaky hand. “Hello? Yes, sir. I’ll be right there.” He hung up and looked at Robbie with big, frightened eyes. “He wants to see me.”
Robbie, filled with sympathy, nodded his head knowingly. Don just sat in his chair, stunned, looking off into space. Kurt was waiting for him, and Robbie was starting to feel uncomfortable. “You should probably just get it over with.”
Don dully nodded, then stood up, and like a man of the theater playing the part of the noble martyr, thrust his hand out for Robbie to shake.
“Maybe he wants to give you a raise,” suggested Robbie jokingly as he shook Don’s meaty hand.
“You think?” Don asked, lifting his head.
“No. I don’t know why I said that. Sorry. Go talk to Kurt.”
Don nodded and disappeared behind the door.
Robbie needed a game plan. But he had nothing to fall back on if he was going to be let go. He’d taken his posh job for granted, even during the weak economy. The unemployment numbers, whatever they were, meant nothing to him until now. Now it was just a little too personal. He’d have to update his resume and rehearse his interviewing skills again. These were things that did not fit into his life plan. And until a few minutes ago, his life plan was to take his family to Kona Village for a couple of weeks and escape the humdrum hell of everyday life.
It didn’t take long. Robbie saw, from out the window that overlooked the suite, Don leaving Kurt’s office. Don’s head, like Darrin’s before him, was cast down. Robbie watched as his ex-colleague dragged himself over to his office and a few minutes later, emerged with a box packed with his stuff. He left the building in a hurry, not even stopping to look back. Oh, brave, valiant Don.
If Kurt was firing half the office, he, Robbie, would be among them for sure. It was just a matter of hours before he would be cleaning out his own desk.
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