"I knew it," I say, pointing at the screen. "Lapidus didn't even cue it in the system. He must've completely forgotten the whole thing." Using another one of Lapidus's passwords, I quickly type in the first part of the request.
"Are you sure it's okay to use his password like that?" "Don't worry---it'll be fine." "Maybe we should call Security and Shep can---" "I don't want to call Shep!" I insist, knowing the outcome. Shaking his head, Charlie looks back at the screen. Under Current Activity, he spots three check disbursements---all of them to "Kelli Turnley."
"I bet that's his mistress," he says. "Why?" I ask. "Because she has a name like Kelli?" "You better believe it, Watson. Jenni, Candi, Brandi---it's like a family pass to the Playboy Mansion---show the 'i' and you get right in."
"First of all, you're wrong. Second of all, without exaggeration, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. And third..." "What was dad's first girlfriend's name? Lemme think...was it...Randi?" With a quick shove, I push my chair back, knock Charlie off the sidesaddle, and storm out of his cubicle. "Don't you want to hear her turn-ons and turn-offs?" he calls out behind me.
Heading up the hallway, I'm lost in my cell phone, still listening to recorded greetings of the University Club. Enraged, I hang up and start again. This time, I actually get a voice. "University Club---how may I assist you?" "I'm trying to reach Henry Lapidus---he's in a meeting in one of your conference rooms."
"Please hold, sir, and I'll..." "Don't transfer me! I need to find him now." "I'm just the operator, sir---the best I can do is transfer you down there."
There's a click and another noise. "You've reached the University Club's Conference Center. All operators are busy---please continue to hold."
Clutching the phone even tighter, I race up the hallway and stop at an unmarked metal door. The Cage, as it's known throughout the bank, is one of the few private offices on the floor and also home to our entire money transfer system. Cash, checks, wires---it all starts here.
Naturally, there's a punch-code lock above the doorknob. Lapidus's code gets me in. Managing Director goes everywhere. Ten steps behind me, Charlie enters the six-person office. The rectangular room runs along the back wall of the fourth floor, but inside, it's the same as the cubes: fluorescent lights, modular desks, gray carpet. The only differences are the industrial-sized adding machines that decorate everyone's desks. Accounting's version of Play-Doh.
"Why do you always have to blow up like that?" Charlie asks as he catches up.
"Can we please not talk about it here?" "Just tell me why you---"
"Because I work here!" I shout, spinning around. "And you work here---and our personal lives should stay at home! Is that okay?" In his hands, he's holding a pen and his small notepad. The student of life. "And don't start writing this down," I warn. "I don't need this in one of your songs."
Charlie stares at the floor, wondering if it's worth an argument. "Whatever you want," he says, lowering the pad. He never fights about his art.
"Thank you," I offer, heading deeper into the office. But just as I approach Mary's desk, I hear scribbling behind me. "What're you doing?"
"I'm sorry," he laughs, jotting a few final words in his notepad. "Okay, I'm done."
"What'd you write?" I demand. "Nothing, just a---" "What'd you write!?"
He holds up the notepad. "I don't need this in one of your songs," he relays. "How good of an album title is that?"
Without responding, I once again look back at Mary's desk. "Can you please just show me where she keeps her password?"
Strolling over to the neatest, most organized desk in the room, he mockingly brushes off Mary's seat, slides into her chair, and reaches for the three plastic picture frames that stand next to her computer. There's a twelve-year-old boy holding a football, a nine-year-old boy in a baseball uniform, and a six-year-old girl posing with a soccer ball. Charlie goes straight for the one with the football and turns it upside down. Under the base of the frame is her user-name and password: marydamski-3BUG5E. Charlie shakes his head, smiling. "Firstborn kid--always loved the most."
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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