Chapter VII:

Vanessa Tells the Office

Leon’s work on the Box-Mart account was proceeding apace. He and Mathilda carefully reviewed the company’s news releases and proxy materials, and Leon found them preciously lacking in defect, unlike Mathilda, whose work had grown sloppy of late. She looked at him the same way Stuart did, like she wanted to fuck him. Leon avoided Stuart to the best of his abilities, but he was stuck with Mathilda, and, unsurprisingly, found himself constantly aroused around her. He came into work now expecting to be tantalized, and after some such episode he found it absolutely imperative to call Heather and clear his conscience. That was where he applied his efforts.

Nothing unexpected, so far, had come up with the account, but work had never been a challenge for him: the Quixote, on the other hand, presented a challenge indeed. It took him several days to admit it, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for Leon to leave his apartment. He even started bringing his lunch to Stigel, Lewis in a paper bag so he wouldn’t have to brave the crowds outside, which may or may not be full of Quixotes.

On one such day while he was eating lunch in the break room his boss Frank made an appearance. He was accompanied by a woman named Vanessa, an Asian woman, a Research Analyst like Leon, whom he had considered his superior until Frank handed him the Box-Mart account.

Leon was alone. He was alone so often these days.

“You’re right, of course,” Frank was saying, “The Giants are world caliber year after year. But we’re nothing next to New York. They talk about baseball there the way we talk about football here, part of the way they relate to the world. San Franciscans can’t compete.”

“Oh I wasn’t going so far as to say that. But it is a nice little feather in San Francisco’s cap.”

“That it is,” Frank nodded. Then he saw Leon.

“What’s on the menu today, Leon?”

Leon chewed and swallowed then managed to say “Tuna salad.”

“Ah, the paper bag classic.”

Leon smiled.

Vanessa, sharp-eyed, stood at Frank’s side, begging for further conversation.

“How goes Box-Mart?” Frank asked.

“It’s going fine,” Leon answered. “I’ve reviewed most of their proxy materials and haven’t found any bogies.”

“Let me know first thing when you do. We want to nip that shit in the bud.”

“Sure thing.”

“What about Box-Mart?” Vanessa pried.

“Nothing, just shop talk, Vee. I gave the account to Leon this year.”

“Oh. You did?” Vanessa looked crestfallen and unsurprised. “I used to be the one to do Box-Mart.”

“Well, not this year.”

“You worked it last year?” Leon asked.

“That’s right.”

“If I have any questions I’ll come to you.”

“You don’t have any questions?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Well you should,” Frank said. “I expect it in fact.”

“But I’m telling you it all seems above board. Their profits are steady and their expenses are solid. It’s all accounted for and they’re not misleading their investors.”

“I’m not saying I want you to generate mishaps. But if you find any it would go a long way towards explaining how seriously they’re taking this review.”

“You might try investigating at the local level,” Vanessa proffered. “Making some phone calls, visiting one of their stores or something.”

“I’ll take it under consideration.”

“Just don’t get too comfortable, that’s all I’m saying,” Frank said.

Leon nodded and took a bite of his sandwich. He’d been working the Box-Mart account in his downtime from the rest of his workload, but there was something about the timing of this gargantuan token of trust and appreciation that struck him as somehow suspicious.

Frank began the process of brewing a fresh pot of coffee. Vanessa pulled a chair out from Leon’s table. She sat down and stared at him with open hostility.

“You know that you’re not supposed to eat alone, Leon,” she said. “That’s the oldest rule in the book: never eat lunch alone.”

“I guess I’m a rule breaker.”

“I guess you are. And I guess it’s working out just fine for you.”

Several employees came into the break room and raided the refrigerator for their lunch stuffs, then occupied another table. Vanessa grinned up at one of them and raised a hand in greeting. The man she was waving at was a tall, somewhat sloppy looking young man named Cassidy.

“I think I’ll take my leave,” she said. “But again, come to me please if you have any questions about last year’s review.”

“I will. I appreciate it.”

“I bet you do.”

With that she pushed her chair back and stood up and joined the new arrivals. Leon wondered a moment if he had to worry about Vanessa, she had seemed so jealous, but he decided that it was a waste of time. Meanwhile Frank was standing at the coffee machine, watching the drips. When he noticed Leon looking at him he smiled and crossed his arms, then turned back to the coffee machine. A few minutes later, though Leon had finished his sandwich, Frank sat down across from him in the very chair that Vanessa had occupied earlier.

“Don’t mind if I join you I hope.”

“Not at all, please,” Leon enthused.

Frank sipped his coffee. He had a chocolate chip cookie in his other hand. He took a bite then chased it with another sip of coffee.

“You’re a loner aren’t you?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” Leon answered, trying to smile.

“Normally I don’t trust loners with important projects. You never know how they’re going to play it.”

“You can count on me, sir.”

“I know I can. I’ve been watching you for a while, Leon. You’re solid. You put your all into your work. It’s almost like you have nothing else in particular to look forward to. Am I right about that?”

Leon crumpled up his paper bag.

“You’re not exactly wrong I guess.”

“Sorry. I don’t mean to pry. I’m just curious. Here I am with my coffee and I’m invading your lunch break.”

“It’s quite alright.”

“No, I’m going to leave you to it. But please let me know if you run into any hiccups on the account I gave you, okay?”

“I will.”

“Okay,” Frank stood up again. “You have a good one, Leon. I’ll be in the office today and for the rest of the week.”

“Where are you going next week?”

“New York City actually. I’m to give a talk at our sister office for the launch of their proxy season. Jeremy Stigel is going to extend us the same courtesy later in the year.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.”

“You don’t have to hear what he has to say. Just the proxies. Anyhow Leon, you take care and keep up the good work.”

“Thanks Frank.”

Frank nodded, squinted his eyes at Leon and took another sip of coffee. Then he left the break room, back straight and head high. Frank had very good posture, Leon noticed.

He checked the time. His half-hour was almost up, and he felt stir crazy, like his leg muscles needed exercising. Perhaps he would brave the out doors for a short walk, Quixotes be damned. He wondered once again why they were so thick outside, and yet none had reached the 32nd floor. Maybe it was because Leon knew most everyone on the floor; maybe no one he knew could turn. Maybe that was part of the deal. Or maybe he was going bat shit crazy.

When he stood up he heard his name: “Leon! Don’t leave just yet, come talk to us.”

It was Vanessa.

Leon approached, and noticed, somehow he had missed it earlier, that Stuart was among those at the new table. He glowered hatefully at Leon.

“Why did Frank give it to you this year? Did he say?” asked Vanessa.

“Nope. He just called me into his office.”

“He hasn’t done that for me in months,” said Cassidy.

“Seriously Leon,” Vanessa rejoined. “I must have done something wrong.”

“That, or maybe I’m just doing something right?”

“Things are falling into your lap everywhere you go, aren’t they?” Stuart muttered, and everyone at the table looked at him askance.

“What are you talking about?” asked Vanessa.

“Nothing,” Stuart continued, lowering his head, whose bald pate shined beneath the white fluorescent lights. “I’ll tell you later.”

Don’t you dare, Leon thought.

“I guess you’re now the office hero, Leon,” Cassidy said, catching the table’s attention again. “Frank gave you the most important account we have.”

“Thanks,” Leon said. “If you don’t mind I think I’m going to take a walk.”

“Okay Leon,” said Vanessa. “Just remember that my offer stands. My door’s open if you have any questions at all.”

“I will remember that.”

Leon realized that he had inadvertently slipped his hand into his pocket. He was clutching the Quixote, and his eyes, shifting from Vanessa, were now trained on Stuart, who stared right back at him. Something told Leon that he should leave now before his former comrade said anything else. So he turned around and walked away, disquiet stirring in his gut. Outside there were Quixotes everywhere. Leon tried to count them, as he circled the block, but lost track after fifteen. And all of them turned to look at him as he passed them by.

Leon decided to call Heather. Putting the phone to his ear he looked down at the sidewalk so he could no longer see the Quixotes. It was the fourth time he’d called her since they’d last seen each other.

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