The office was noisier than usual, employees’ heads popping up from their cubicles like so many groundhogs. Some were already donning coats and hats, heading for the exit.

Gary stood up to stretch and watch the curious flurry of activity just after lunch. A furious flurry of white outside the office windows formed a peaceful backdrop to the hullabaloo inside. 

Suddenly the boss’s office door swung open. Their boss, Ronald Pardy, started striding quickly towards the exit, pulling on his camel hair overcoat as he walked. Gary noticed he didn’t lock his office - the Inner Sanctum. He always locked that door behind himself, even when he went to lunch.

‘Listen up, people. Corporate called and told me to let you all go home early, before the roads get worse.” The office erupted in a muted cheer. Mr. Pardy didn’t even take time to reprimand those who were already leaving. He stopped by Gary’s cubicle.

“You ride in, right? On a bicycle?”

“That’s right,” Gary admitted, slipping one arm into his jacket.

“Then I want you to stay here. In case any customers call.”

“Yes, sir.” Gary’s voice was lost in the shuffle of eager co-workers hurrying towards the Exit, calling out their plans to one another.

“Hey Monica, how about a drink at Larry’s?”

“Sure thing, Lisa. Maybe more than one.”

“Want to come over and curl up with a warm fire and a romcom, Jules?”

“Sounds heavenly, Mark.”

Gary looked around at his co-workers. Not one of them was looking his way. He felt pretty sure that none of them would ask him to join them for anything.

“Come on, Fred. This is just going to get worse. I don’t think we’ll be coming back to work for a few days. I plan on getting shitfaced.”

“Tequila makes your clothes fall off, Wanda. Just like the song says.”

“Then I’ll start with Tequila. You coming?”

“You bet your soon-to-be naked ass I’m coming.”

Voices quieted as people left, disappearing once they entered the elevator. It didn’t take long until Gary was alone in the office. He stared at the spreadsheet outlining statistics for the past quarter, It felt like his computer was chiding him for being a wuss.

“I’m not a wuss.” Gary sat down at his desk, saved his work, then closed the spreadsheet. The Solitaire game playing in the background filled half the screen now. He closed that app also. And the email he was composing, telling Mr. Pardy what he thought of him as a boss. Then he opened the email again and deleted the draft. He knew he was never going to send it anyway.

Then he stood up and looked around, worried maybe he wasn’t alone after all. He didn’t see anybody else. And the cubicle walls were only 3 feet tall, so he could see into most of the office spaces.

“Hello?” His own voice echoed in the normally crowded office space. He walked to the exit, opened the door, and looked out into the hallway. Empty. Glancing at the elevators, he noted both were on the ground floor.

“Well, well, Mr. Ronald Pardy. You want me to stay here, do you? Because I’m environmentally conscious and choose to ride my bicycle to and from work?” Gary looked nervously around one more time; he was alone.

“Well, I want you, Mr. Pardy, to show me your deepest, darkest secrets. I want to know why you always lock your office door.” Gary grinned. “Never mind, Ronald. I’ll take a look for myself.”

Gary swaggered over to Ronald’s office. The boss’s office. The Inner Sanctum. Very few people were allowed to enter, and those only by invitation.

He reached out to test the handle. Unlocked. Just as he thought. Gary took one more look around, then opened the door and let himself into the dark office. He closed the door softly, then blinked at the Stygian blackness. Lights off, and deeply tinted interior windows to keep prying eyes out. City lights reflecting off the storm of white flakes outside the exterior window gave enough light for Gary to see outlines. He walked carefully over to the huge desk, reached out, and pulled the chain on a banker’s lamp. Yellow light spilled across the empty blotter on the desk. Gary stepped around the corner of the desk and turned the plush leather chair towards himself. 

Turning around, he eased himself into the chair and leaned back. Smiling, he put his feet up on the mahogany desk. “So this is what it feels like to be the boss.” He rocked back and forth a few times, then relaxed back into the chair. Then he reached out and opened the top drawer right-hand drawer.

Company stationery, some company pens, a pad of multi-colored notes. Boring stuff. He opened the top drawer on the left-hand side. Manila folders, a spiral-bound notebook, and a Rolodex. “Whoa. That’s a real throwback. I haven’t seen one of those in years.”

Gary brought the Rolodex out and under the yellow light. Contacts. Names, titles, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses. “I knew Ron was a total noob when it came to technology, but I never dreamed he was so old-school.” Gary put the Rolodex back in the drawer, closed it, and opened the lower drawer. A handheld calculator, a roll of thermal paper, receipt-sized, and about a dozen number two pencils. Gary closed that drawer and reached over to the right side of the desk, opening the lower drawer on that side.

Enough soft yellow light drifted into the drawer to highlight a bottle and a pair of glasses. Gary pulled a glass and the bottle out, looked at the label, opened, and poured a generous shot of 25-year-old Macallan Sherry Oak single malt scotch. He recapped the bottle and took a sip.

“Oh man, that’s smooth.” The burning sensation on the way down was more of a comfort than an assault on his insides. He looked over at the window, snow drifting in the outside corners. It was reassuring to be inside. And to have warm insides, sipping the boss’s expensive Scotch.  He took another sip, enjoying the hints of citrus, dried fruits, and wood smoke.

“Ahhh. I wonder what else he’s got in here?” Gary walked back to the door and flipped the light switch. Harsh white fluorescent light drowned the yellow glow from the banker’s light, crew shadowy outlines of deepest black around all the office furniture, and sank deeply into the tinted inner pane of the outside windows. Remnants of white light reflected off scads of tumbling snowflakes. The weather forecast was calling for 12-15” of snow from this blizzard. Gary shivered, in spite of the heat and the Scotch.

“Ah, the Scotch.” Gary sauntered over to the desk, poured himself another two fingers of MacAllan’s, and gulped it down. Then he stepped over to the credenze under the windows. Wooden cubicles stretched across the top and bottom, sandwiching a series of doors in the middle. A framed picture of Roger Pardy with the President sat on top, in the middle, flanked by a sales record trophy on each side. Gary pulled open the door on the far right.

Magazines. Gary lifted the top few; National Geographic, The Smithsonian, Newsweek, Time. Aha - the bottom four magazines were very naughty. So Mr. Pardy liked weird sex stuff, huh?

“Not very well hidden, Ron. Is this why you keep your office locked all the time?” Gary took the naughty magazines over to the desk and laid them on top of the empty blotter. He fanned them out enough to let all four titles show, placing the one with the most X-rated cover on top. He took a picture with his cellphone, far enough away to capture part of the desk and the banker’s light. Then he turned Mr. Pardy’s nameplate around and took a second picture, before turning the magazines to their secret hiding place.

The top cubbies in the credenza displayed more pictures and trophies. The bottom cubbies held a variety of tchotchkes. Gary pulled open the other drawers in the center, one at a time, but two were empty and the left-hand drawer was full of more company letterhead.

He went back to the desk and sat back in the boss’s chair again. “Who should I send the picture to?” Gary sipped more Scotch. “Maybe I should keep it and show it to Ron. Then I could threaten to send it to his boss and the rest of the company whenever Ron decided to treat me like dirt.”

Gary lifted the bottle, ready to pour another shot. Then he looked closely and shook the bottle. “Oops. Not much left. I should probably stop now.” He put the bottle and the glasses back in the drawer and turned off the banker’s light. Then he walked over to the door, opened it and turned out the lights, then stepped out.

“Oh, sorry.”

Gary’s heart skipped a beat. It felt like it swelled and filled his throat too, but it didn’t. Gary looked across the office to see a janitor,

“That’s all right,” Gary squeaked. “I was just leaving.” He pulled the door to, then headed towards the exit behind the janitor. Two steps in the janitor spoke again.

“You forgot to lock up, Mr. Pardy. And you don’t look like yourself.”

“Must be the blizzard. And I’m tired.” Gary was close enough to make out the janitor’s name tag. “Tom.”

“I guess so, Mr. Pardy. The snow does things with the light. Don’t worry. I’ll lock up when I’m done.”

“Thanks, Tom.” Gary placed himself between his cubicle and Tom, hoping that would hide the jacket he grabbed. Gary headed for the exit, pulling his jacket on while he walked. He heard the sounds of trash being dumped into a plastic bag, and footsteps. Continuing out into the hall, he pushed the elevator call button. When the elevator doors opened, Ron Pardy stepped out.

“Where are you going, Gary? I told you to stick around in case any customers call.”

“They won’t call, Ron.” Mr. Pardy took half a step back and sniffed, smelling the Scotch on Gary’s breath. He frowned, but Gary pressed on.

“I’m going home to look over my latest copy of Velvet Cuffs.”

Mr. Pardy’s eyes widened in awareness. He knew. Then he offered Gary a weak smile. “Enjoy. And be careful in the snow out there.”

January 21, 2021 22:37

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