Chapter X:

Stuart’s In-Office E-Mail

BREE! BREE! BREE! BREE!

Leon rolled over and switched off the alarm, then rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Like grasping at water through his fingers he was already forgetting his dreams. He’d tried to remember to pick up a little notebook so he could start writing them down, they’d grown so vague and troubling. The Quixote, Consuela, Stuart, it all left him with nowhere to turn but his subconscious, and if the feeling he was left every morning was anything to go on, his subconscious was active indeed. Only he couldn’t remember. He just couldn’t remember. Strange faces in the crowds coming at him like boulders through a thick fog.

There was nothing to go on. Even Consuela was coming to seem like a dream. He had no way to prove it otherwise except for the reality of the Quixote itself, and the strange affect it had on everyone who saw it. It was there right now, next to his alarm clock, a watchful protector of the nothingness in Leon’s life.

He pried himself out of bed, made himself eggs and toast and coffee, left his apartment dressed in a smart blue dress shirt and dark blazer, carrying the Quixote in his pocket and his briefcase in his right hand. On 14th Street he found it had become difficult to raise his head, to look anyone in the eye, all their eyes shining so crazily, and the Quixotes so quixotic in their impenetrability, a certain kind of thickness that they walked around the world with, like they didn’t know how strange they were, or how off-kilter they seemed to make everyone else. What was it that everyone else saw that made them so off-put?

The ratio was about four or five people to every Quixote. Everyone avoided getting speared by their lances or trampled by their donkeys; they shuffled aside wordlessly and as if instinctually, as if embarrassed that they were doing it, like they would never admit to so erroneous a disadvantage. On the BART train Leon stood in the aisle between two of them, and they both turned to face him, metals drawn to a magnet. He couldn’t explain it. He wouldn’t dare take the Quixote out of his pocket at such a moment. He even felt unsafe, imagining the attention that would be drawn to him. And the terrible looks in everyone else’s eyes, and the sharp words around him that seemed to grow more common every day. There was a wordless, inexplicable roiling in the collective, psychic subliminal.

The BART train reached Montgomery Street Station and Leon disembarked. He was running a little late, having made himself a breakfast more substantial than average. Climbing the escalator he noticed Vanessa and Cassidy and he thought that Vanessa saw him but didn’t wave.  There was something about seeing the two of them together that Leon didn’t like. He reflected, upon reaching the open air, that it was as if he’d seen them talking about him, but when they saw him they quickly changed the subject. He realized later, alone waiting for the elevators, what it was more precisely: Vanessa had reminded him of Stuart. That could not be possible. The two couldn’t be more different: Vanessa hadn’t seen the Quixote.

He reached the 32nd floor and left the elevator lobby into the muted bustle of voices and phone calls that was early morning Stigel, Lewis. He felt it again, the same sensation he’d had upon seeing Vanessa and Cassidy. No one he passed acknowledged him directly, rather they smiled sickly at him then looked away, as if they held a private joke in common. There were shines in all of their eyes. But there were still no Quixotes on the floor.

Mathilda was at her desk. He approached her from behind, and when he was about ten feet away she turned around and saw him and was completely unsurprised, as if she’d heard him approaching.

“Good morning Mr. Ramble,” she said. “Running a bit late, are we?”

“I suppose so. I made myself eggs this morning.”

“I make myself eggs every morning,” she said, unsmiling.

She was dressed in a severe, dark blue pantsuit combination.

“You’ll want to check your e-mail,” she said to him when he passed her.

“I will?”

“Somebody’s making a joke about you.”

“Say what?”

“You’ll have to see it, sir. I don’t know how else to put it.”

“Who was it?”

“It was Stuart.”

This caused Leon to stop at his door and turn around to see the expression on her face, but she was already buried in her computer again, locked into a set of proxy materials. Of course, she had seen the Quixote herself…

“What about Stuart?” he prodded.

“Go see for yourself. I’m telling you,” she said.

Leon shook himself. There was only one thing it could be about. He didn’t want to believe it.

He went into his office and shut and locked the door behind him. He would want to be alone. Mathilda’s eyes shined just as sick as ever. She was like Stuart: she wanted it for herself, only she was afraid and respectful because Leon was her direct superior. The attention the thing could bring upon him… Leon wondered what move Stuart had made.

He sat down at his desk and turned on his desktop, and while it was loading he palmed the Quixote in his pocket, took it out of his pocket and tossed it idly from one hand to the other. Wherever it went it attracted attention.

Finally the landing screen appeared and Leon loaded the Mail application and found his work e-mails waiting for him. Among them was a message from Stuart, a mass e-mail sent to the entire office list serve with the obsequious subject heading that read: “Leon’s Find to Reckon With.” Leon opened the e-mail and was immediately shocked like with an electric current to see an extra large photo of the Quixote plastered across the screen. This is what everybody saw. This is what everybody wondered at. This is what Stuart’s e-mail read beneath the photograph:

“While I appreciate a good joke as well as the next man, and what else could such a strange statuette be?, this thing was found on Research Analyst Leon Ramble’s desk one morning several weeks ago, and we can’t help but wonder if its placement there was intentional. What the hell is it? Why is it wearing a motorcycle helmet? I’ve asked myself these questions many times, and haven’t been able to come to an answer. But the most important question might also be the most damning: Where did this thing come from? Why did you put it on Leon’s desk, whoever you are? Why didn’t you put it on my desk? I’d take far better charge of answering these questions than Leon has. He has chosen to let it slide, though he carries it around with him everywhere he goes. You can see it in his eyes. Who will come forward and claim ownership of this strangest of office pranks? I am waiting. So is Leon. Go talk to him if you have any questions of your own, or if you have something to fess up to.”

Already there had been answering e-mails, from Cassidy, a young accounts man named Luke, from Hillary and from Sigourney. Leon scanned through them quickly. They were mostly appreciative. Their reactions were visceral and uninhibited: messages of thanks directed towards Stuart for sharing the story with them, confusion as to the sight of the thing, bewilderment as to its origin and their own apparent interest in it. They wanted to know where it came from. They wanted to know what Leon planned to do with it. They wanted to ask Leon questions themselves, and some of them did. Cassidy, for one, asked: “Leon, do you really carry it around with you everywhere you go?” Leon might feel himself compelled to answer. But he wouldn’t. Not from behind his closed and locked door, anyway.

He quit the Mail application. His heart was beating fast again. He thought he could even hear them out there laughing about it, falling gracefully into the game like it were a dance sequence they’d learned ages ago. Once they saw it, they would want it for themselves. Maybe they did already.

A sheen of cold sweat had broken out on his forehead; he wiped it off with the sleeve of his shirt. There was something going on here, something extremely important. Even with all the danger to his mind, his sanity, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was significant that it had come to him, and that some time in the future he would know more what he was to do about it.

Now that the jig was up, would Quixotes start appearing on the 32nd floor? Only time would tell. 

His eyes moved to the photo of he and Heather on his desk, and his thoughts moved to her with a flash of desperation, and a hard on. She was so beautiful and kind, but had been playing hard to get. At least that’s what he thought she was playing. She wouldn’t leave him, would she? After their conversation at the sushi restaurant that had gone so well, Quixotes or not. He wanted, needed to see her.

Leon re-opened the Mail application and began his first assignment of the day.

She would still be at the wine shop when Leon’s day here was done. Until then he would stay in his office behind locked door. Where things would go from there, he had no choice but to discover.

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