Triggers for strong language and sexual harassment.
Annabel inspected the two glasses carefully for any smudges, then filled them from the sink. Her eyes made contact with the pitcher sitting on the shelf, so she decided to fill that too, for good measure. England was experiencing a heatwave, after all, and despite all the airs and graces her employer KSM Partnership liked to put on, the budget didn’t quite stretch to air conditioning.
Trying to balance the tray while opening the kitchen door, Annabel caught her ghostly reflection in the glass, realising crescents of sweat patches were starting to cloud out of the armpits of her top. Little she could do about it, she figured. She just had to pray her pig of a boss, Nathan Hoffstad, wouldn’t comment on it. He was in the conference room, busy arse-kissing a prospective new client. Annabel could hear Nathan’s (faked) throaty guffaws as she drew closer to the room, trying not to stumble in her heels. Her whole life felt like a balancing act, at times.
“Ah, the lovely Annabel has come to slake our thirst!” Nathan had thrown his hands up in praise to the PA turned water deity. The client merely smiled awkwardly as she set the tray down.
“Will there be anything else?” Annabel asked, praying to her own god (or was it the devil?) there would not.
There was a pause, while the client shook his head no, and – did she imagine it? – a darkness fell over her boss’s face as he took a sip from his glass.
“Nope! That’s all folks!” Nathan curled his lip and bared his front upper teeth, rabbit-style. The effect was more that of a rhinoceros. A bright pink rhinoceros. Nathan clearly hadn’t heeded the advice to wear protection while out in the sun the preceding weekend. “Thanks, doll.”
She felt his eyes on her behind as she exited. Ugh. For once, Annabel couldn’t wait to get back to her online mandatory training. Yes, a year had already come around and the fire course had to be refreshed. Company policy. At least it wasn’t exactly the same every year. Well, the goal remained the same – to avoid being burnt to a crisp – but the animations in the software would differ, as new companies were allowed to have a stab at trying to keep KSM Partnership employees awake during another go over the rules and regs.
Annabel logged back on to pick up where she’d left off. Ah, the ‘what fire extinguisher to use on what fire’ part. Phone camera at the ready, in other words, to refer back to when doing the assessment at the end. Everyone did it. Just like everyone propping the fire doors open when there was a delivery due, year after year after rebellious year.
Annabel had zoned out during a video clip of fire victim describing what had happened to them and how they’d be crying right now if only their tear ducts hadn’t been singed shut. The sound of Nathan slamming the door to his cave snapped her out of it. Guess the meeting hadn’t gone entirely to plan.
There was a ‘plop’ of a notification noise. Nathan messaging her to come to his office. She sighed, wishing for the thousandth time he would just call her. All phone calls, even internal ones, were monitored. Instant messages were not.
She walked, unsteadily, over to his door and knocked. A grunt told her she may enter.
“Annabel, Annabel, Annabel,” he chanted as she crept in. What was in store for her this time? The last one was to ask her bra size – apparently the wife was similarly “stacked” and he wanted to buy her a gift (“well, actually a gift for me if you know what I’m saying, hyuck hyuck hyuck!”). The time before that was to say he caught her peeling off her leather gloves (she’d forgotten to take them off as soon as she dismounted from her motorbike and stash them in the seat) and did she have any more leather goods she’d like to model for him.
Nathan shook his head sadly while he gestured for her to have a seat, which her ankles urged her to take. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Umm…?” Annabel began.
“Annabel. Don’t you remember our conversation about a month ago after the Zenite visit?”
“I’m not sure I- ”
“Do you remember me saying about the bottled water we keep in the fridge for our distinguished guests?”
She did now. She mentally slapped the Annabel of an hour hence, merrily frolicking around with tap water as though on the waterslide at a theme park. Foolish girl.
“With my exceptionally honed palate, I could tell right away that it was not the bottled water decanted into that jug. And usually your jugs bring me so much joy.”
Annabel kept her cool on the outside, though internally a strange band in her mind began to stretch.
“You’ve had a lot of chances to get it right, but I’m afraid I might have to punish you next time. Tell you what, I’ll have a think tonight on what kind of punishments I can dish out, will I, and get back to you?” He smirked while rubbing his ham-sized hands together.
And the mind-band strrrretched.
“Anyway, what’s done is done. You can go back to sitting at your desk looking like a treat now.” Nathan stood, while the stone that was Annabel remained seated.
“Ow!” Nathan yelled. He’d hit his toe on something. “Oh for fuck’s sake. Bloody toaster.” Nathan treated the space under his desk like a personal kitchenette. He had a microwave, mini fridge, kettle and toaster packed away down there. “Actually, would you be a love and clear this mess up?” He beckoned her, while inspecting the damage to his precious shoe. Annabel finally rose. She went to get the vacuum but Nathan thrust a tissue box at her. She did not want to know why he had a tissue box by his computer, but hoped it was allergies. “Look, this’ll do. It’s just a few crumbs. Just scoop them up.”
She hitched her skirt up a little, so she could bend down.
“Nice, a free show!” Nathan exclaimed. It was only knees. Seriously, was there a body part this man didn’t get off on?
He watched her dab pathetically at old charred bits of bread for a moment, then advised there was a bit further at the back that she wasn’t getting.
“Yep, that’s right, keep going…ohh, what a sight for sore eyes that is.” She heard the sound of a pair of lips being smacked. Then felt a final strrrretch as she realised it had all been an act to get her to put her behind in his face.
And SNAP went the band.
But the mind housing the band remained solid. Growing in size, actually, as a plan began to form. Annabel wriggled out of the enclave, dumped the tissue in the waste paper basket, bid the boss a goodbye and returned to her training, just like a good little obedient employee.
She bade her time. The office post-lunch slump dragged until 16:30, when it became hurried activity as people washed their mugs, filed their documents and put mail in the out trays. With fingers that itched to power her PC off at 16:59, Annabel busied herself with more training modules. She was even on to the non-mandatory ones. She’d had finished her actual work by around 10:30 as usual but it was about putting on an appearance – making up for bad behaviour. She pretended to read case studies and completed the ridiculously simple multiple choices robotically while in the inferno of her mind the plan grew, gained power.
“Haven’t you got a home to go to?” snarked Nathan, while he unhooked his coat from the rack.
Annabel forced what she hoped look like a sunny smile. “Just finishing this report.”
“Good girl,” he nodded, already distracted by something on his phone. Perhaps a photo from the wife, of her elbows. “Nighty-night then.”
Annabel sighed with relief. She finally had the place to herself. The broken ends of the band flapped feebly, urging her to weld them together again, and she could no longer resist their call.
She forced herself to wait fifteen minutes, however, in case he had forgotten something. Satisfied he hadn't, she opened the door to Nathan’s office. He had a cavalier attitude regarding locking up important things. This extended to his computer and filing cabinets. Annabel fished around the papers he’d left on his desk. Anne-Marie’s sickness absences. She liked Anne-Marie and felt guilty for looking, but Annabel saw it was related to the extended time off the usually chipper cleaner had needed when her husband dropped down dead of a heart attack last month. Only a brute like Nathan would want to punish that. It would be her ammunition.
Annabel wriggled back under the desk, wincing as she remembered the last time she was down there.
She checked the toaster was plugged in.
And loaded up the gun.
As she carried the old printer paper box, now containing the contents of her old desk, she noticed a couple of boys that looked to be in their early teens, admiring her motorbike while inexpertly wielding cigarettes.
“It’ll kill ya, y’know,” Annabel said with a wink to the one who was inhaling, causing him to have a coughing fit. It always came as a surprise to people who saw the owner of the motorbike arriving and not being a 6’ beefcake, and doubly surprising if she spoke to them.
She looked over their heads back to the building she’d just left. The windows were turning to grey headstones as the smoke began to spread.
Annabel picked up her motorbike helmet and put it on, drowning out the sound of the alarm, plus any cheeky response the boys were about to make once they’d recovered from their shock. The mind-band was once more restored, under the protection of the fibreglass dome.