37G Henry Spiler.
Henry Spiller had long stopped caring about the missing letter on the nameplate demarcating the faceless geography of his workspace. Terry O’Callahan over in 19F had got his fixed up after his wife dropped by for lunch and nagged him about it for three straight days.
Maybe Terry used up the last L anyway
Henry had bigger things on his mind. Deadlines had to be met. In seventeen years he’d never missed a single one but this would be tight. The faint chirp from his terminal could only mean things were about to get tighter.
“I understand that Sir but if you could just… no, of course the meeting…critical yes… but if I could just perhaps… no, you’re right Sir I’ll make the changes… yes, on your desk first thing Sir… will do, and please enjoy the opera.”
Henry removed the headset and rubbed his eyes. Better get some coffee.
The coffee station between H and G had been out of action for nearly a week forcing Henry to put in the extra yards to the unit opposite D1. Munro. Must be back from his trip soon.
CF8 Espresso. No Sugar.
Out of habit Henry pushed the extra strength button four times. The skin on his hands felt tight, knuckles not wanting to straighten. He closed his eyes waiting for the gentle shuck of the cup drop.
“You OK Henry?”
“Gee Maria, you gave me the jumps. I thought I was the last one left here.”
“Well you pretty much are Henry.” Her smile sent wrinkles scurrying to the edges of her face. “Whaddya say you buy this old girl a drink?”
“Aww, I’d love to Maria but I got to get finished up. Thought I had it there but… well you know how he likes to change his mind.”
“You work too hard, anyone ever tell you that? If I didn’t know better I’d say you were getting smaller every time I saw you.” She smiled again and placed a hand on his arm. “Hey! You been working out?”
“Yeah I bet you say that to all us boys who work late Mrs F,” said Henry with a shy grin.
“Nah, just the cute ones.” Her smile faded as she pinched Henry’s arm and worked up to the shoulder. “Well if you ain’t been working out you sure as hell need a long soak in the tub. You’re like a stone Henry.”
“That sounds great. Just…”
“… as soon as you finish up. Yeah I know.” She leaned in and pecked his cheek. “Don’t work too hard Henry. They don’t deserve you in this place.”
Henry sipped at his coffee and strolled back through the baffled symmetry of dividing walls. The industrial whir of the elevator thrummed through the carpet. Fluorescent lights flicked on and off at his passing. Keep down that carbon footprint boys …34…35…36… home. He drained the last of his espresso and dropped the cup into the trash. “Right Henry. Let’s get this rewrite done.”
… and we look forward to hearing from you soon on this matter.
Henry stretched out his back and rolled his neck around in its socket eliciting a sharp crack that echoed through the empty office. He extended his fingers while waiting for the document preview to light up his monitor and struggled to get them straight. Mamma always said the arthritis would arrive early. He stared down at the stubborn digits and stifled a yawn. He raised his left hand and rotated it in front of his face. The palm was unlined, knuckles tight, glassy and several tones darker than Henry expected. He rubbed his eyes and waited for the viscous haze of exhaustion to drop away. Still dark. “You were right about needing that soak Maria.” He dropped his hands to his sides, shook out his arms and then raised them for the mouse click. Printing. Finally.
The printer was just past 42G. Henry’s face split into a grin as he heard it hum to life and sat back in his chair. Eighty nine pages later he got up and walked to collect his work. As he passed Gordy Bright’s desk – 41G – a familiar buzz vibrated against his thigh. He retrieved his phone and thumbed the screen lock as he grabbed the stack of papers from the printer.
Hey Henry. Sorry 2 trouble u. Think we need 2 check section 7 again. Sent u a mail. Thx. D.
Henry replaced his phone and dropped the printout in the recycling box. He closed his eyes and ground his teeth. His jaw felt leaden, like he was working two sets of gummy granite. His whole body felt as heavy as his eyes. More coffee.
Message received 1.07am
From: David Daniel
To: Henry Spiller
Subject: Re: fifth time lucky
H – better but it still needs a few changes. I’m thinking maybe drop Appendix 3 and work in some references to cost in the main body.
Henry stood up and let out a groan. His shoulders grated as he tried to free up his aching back. Turning to the side caused pain to shoot through his neck and into the base of his skull. The strip lighting bit into his senses with the unreal brightness normally reserved for insomniacs and he shuffled his way to the snack machine opposite 20N with eyelids lowered, head bent as far forward as his stiffening neck would allow.
CHC018 Mars Super Size
Henry fed the machine with coins. It accepted some and spat the others out. He retrieved them, tried again. Clunk. Again. Clunk.
“Oh come on!” Henry smashed his hand against the vending machine, gasping in shock as the acrylic front shattered under the blow and his hand plunged through. He grabbed the nearest chocolate bar on instinct and pulled his arm clear, yelling as he scraped it against the ragged entry hole. He rubbed his arm with his opposite hand expecting blood but nothing came. Lifting his arm in front of his face not even a scratch was visible.
Henry walked back to his machine with as much speed as his aching joints could muster. His phone vibrated in his pocket. Ignoring it he tried to pick up his pace and was rewarded with a bulleting crack from his left ankle which left him limping. I just need to finish and get some sleep and it will all be OK. Henry whimpered as the simple mantra played over in his mind. I’m fine… just tired … fine… just tired.
Slumped in his chair Henry forced his torso to bend and laid his head on the wooden veneer of his desk. The message light from the terminal flickered in the corner of one eye keeping time with the pulsing blood in his temple. He could feel himself compressing as if the weight of expectation had taken physical form and was squeezing the room. The floor pushed at his feet and the false ceiling bore down on him like an oppressive winter cloud. Creaking, and with his whole body protesting Henry lifted his head and sat back in his chair, shuddering as he drew his legs up underneath him. With his strength fading he folded his arms across his chest, bowed his head and closed his eyes.
“Maria. Have you seen Henry today?”
“No Sir. He was still here when I left last night but I haven’t seen him since I got in.”
“I’ve tried calling him but he’s not answering. We’re meeting in the boardroom in half an hour and I haven’t seen the final draft yet. He’d better have a good excuse when he decides to come in if we lose this deal.”
“Yes Mr Daniel. I’ll put a note on his desk in case he arrives when I’m on my break.”
Arrogant, jumped up little… Maria made her way along row G, stopping to grab a post it and a good morning from Rhona three booths up from her destination. Where are you today Henry? This isn’t like you. She pushed Henry’s chair to one side and scribbled a note which she stuck to the bottom of the monitor. I hope you won the lottery and finally got out of this place. You’re too good to them and you work too…
Maria’s thoughts trailed off as her eyes caught a glint of light. “What on earth…?” She lowered herself to her knees and blinked several times to be sure.
In the chair where Henry Spiller sat six days out of seven was a perfect, thumb-sized diamond.
Header photo: “Office-Cubicals-5205” by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)Email the author: David R. TribbleAlso see my personal gallery at Google Picasa – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Office-Cubicals-5205.jpg#/media/File:Office-Cubicals-5205.jpg