Within three minutes, I've paged and dialed every other partner I have access to. No one answers. This is a hundred-and-twenty-five- million-dollar account. I pull off my coat and claw at my tie. With a quick scan of our network's Rolodex, I find the number for the University Club--home of the partners retreat. By the time I start dialing, I swear I can hear my own heartbeat.
"You've reached the University Club," a female voice answers. "Hi, I'm looking for Henry Lapi---"
"If you'd like to speak to the club operator or to a guest room, please press zero," the recorded voice continues.
I pound zero and another mechanized voice says, "All operators are busy--please continue to hold." Grabbing my cell, I dial frantically, looking for anyone with authority. Baraff ...Bernstein... Mary in Accounting--Gone, Gone, and Gone.
I hate Fridays close to Christmas. Where the hell is everyone? In my ear, the mechanized female voice repeats, "All operators are busy--please continue to hold."
I'm tempted to hit the panic button and call Shep, who's in charge of the bank's security, but...no...too much ofa stickler...without the right signatures, he'll never let me get away with it. So if I can't find someone with transfer authority, I need to at least find someone in the back office who can---
I got it.
With my receiver in one ear and my cell in the other, I shut my eyes and listen as his phone rings. Once...twice... "I'm Charlie," he answers.
"You're still here!?"
"Nope---I left an hour ago," he deadpans. "Figment of your imagination."
I ignore the joke. "Do you still know where Mary in Accounting keeps her username and password?"
"I think so...why?"
"Don't go anywhere! I'll be right down."
My fingers dance like lightning across my phone's keypad, forwarding my line to my cell phone---just in case the University Club picks up.
Dashing out of my office, I make a sharp right and head straight for the private elevator at the end of the dark mahogany-paneled hallway. I don't care if it's just for clients. I enter Lapidus's six-digit code at the keypad above the call buttons, and the doors slide open.
Shep in Security wouldn't like that one either.
The instant I step inside, I spin around and pound the Door Close button. Last week, I read in some business book that Door Close buttons in elevators are almost always disconnected--- they're just there to make hurried people feel like they're in control. Wiping a forehead full of sweat back through my dark brown hair, I push the button anyway. Then I push it again. Three floors to go.
"Well, well, well," Charlie announces, looking up from a stack of papers with his forever-boyish grin. Lowering his chin, he peers over his vintage horn-rimmed glasses. He's been wearing the glasses for years--way before they were fashionable. The same holds true for his white shirt and rumpled slacks. Both are hand-me-downs from my closet, but somehow, the way they hang on his lean frame, they look perfect. Downtown stylish; never preppy. "Look who's slumming!" he cheers. "Hey, where's your 'I'm no longer a member of the proletariat' button?"
I ignore the jab. It's something I've had to get used to over the past few months. Six months, to be exact--which is how long it's been since I got him the job at the bank. He needed the money, and mom and I needed help with the bills. If it were just gas, electric, and rent, we'd be fine. But our tab at the hospital---for Charlie, that's always been personal. It's the only reason he took the job in the first place. And while I know he just sees it as a way to pitch in while he writes his music, it can't be easy for him to see me up in a private office with a walnut desk and a leather chair, while he's down here with the cubicles and beige Formica.
Copyright © 2002 by Forty-four Steps, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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