My hair was looped in a tight bun behind my head, and smelled of fresh lemongrass hairspray. She had made sure nothing would stop me from getting my fist through the glass ceiling, and the set of thin white pearls dangling below my neck were sure proof of that.
‘Don’t you dare come back if you get mugged,’ she had said while clicking the clasp behind my neck. ‘My mother did not sail all the way to the Americas with this as her only possession for her daughter’s friend to lose them.’
‘Jeez. She wasn’t on the Mayflower, Charlie.’
‘I know. But it felt that way.’
That was three years ago. The pearls were still safe, and my roommate had gotten herself in a polyandrous marriage off the coast of Haiti. I missed her.
I walked straight through to my work desk, the clip clop of the light heels on my feet making my arrival as noisy as they could. There was an air of brevity that day. Hands flew and tongues wagged.
Men in black suits walked with assumed haste towards the cafeteria and ordered triple espressos. The coffee machines hissed dominantly beside the knives cutting through heavy and raw veggies for salads. I watched from afar, while waiting along the escalator with at least ten others, marveling at how everyone felt the need to rush. It was acquisition day.
I placed my bag neatly by the front legs of my standalone chair and got the computer working. It was early. I did not expect to smell his cologne so soon.
Henry Palmer was the kind of man who walked into a room and stole everyone’s attention. He stood a head taller than everyone else, and his body frame was daunting. He was firm, and even through his suit you could see it.
He walked with a haughty, determined demeanor that shook me to my very core the day he interviewed me. The man smelled of a foreign vineyard, and his eyes, his heavy and deep brown eyes, saw through every lie and every soul.
He was a man sculpted to perfection, better than Michelangelo ever envisioned. And the man, the god among men, was standing over me, flipping through a binder with his thick and perfectly manicured finger. My pussy clenched when I saw him, just like it always did.
‘Are you ready for this?’ he asked.
I loved how he always sounded demanding, even when he was asking a question.
‘I am, sir.’
‘Good. Meet me in the conference room in twenty. Have the Boris file ready and printed.’
‘Already done, sir.’
I handed him the yellow folder, which was clearly thicker than what he expected. I saw him smile as he read page after page. He was impressed.
A man shouted downstairs before Henry spoke to me. There was some kind of commotion going on. A woman, Alice from HR I think, yelled out something that was obviously meant to warn about danger, considering the tone she used.
Henry left my station and leaned his muscled weight across the balcony. His face was one of concern. I felt my phone buzz twice. Then three times.
I leaned down and looked at it. The screen lit up with messages from Charlie and my mom that didn’t make more sense at all. They were saying something about a virus, about a pandemic- as if we were living in a sci fi movie.
Henry came to me, his face calm, and his hands on my arms. They were warm tendrils of skin and bone, and my heart skipped when he spoke and looked directly into my eyes.
‘Get everyone off my phone in the next two minutes. Cancel every reservation. When that is done, call a cab and get yourself home. I will call you.’
He ran through his office door and shut it before I even had time to stammer out a ‘yes, sir’ in response.
The doors downstairs filled with colleagues rushing out. Through nothing more but basic instinct, I did as I was told and packed my bag.
My heart was in a murky pool of dread, not knowing what would happen next. My phone was buzzing. I ignored the messages and dialed a cab. There was no response. Offices were emptying out. There was panic.
I heard a woman say she was heading to a grocery section to max out her credit card. Another man, Mark from accounting, rushed off a bunch of conspiracy theories, saying it was some way for the New World Order to come about.
And then Bart, the head security guard outside Palmer’s Sporting Goods who had been working there for five years before I ever started, was smiling as he listened to his country music stereo on repeat while snapping his fingers. He took his earpiece off and beckoned me to him when he saw me, though. I ran over.
‘You need to go straight home, Jules.’