The weekend passed for Leon in a red fog, in which he hardly left his apartment and had his groceries delivered. It wasn’t exactly that he was afraid. The weight of attention and significance he felt bleeding out of every face and motorcycle helmet perplexed and frightened him. He still liked to think of himself as a regular guy, but clearly his possession of the Quixote set him apart. He wondered what everyone else saw when faced with the motorcycle helmets. There was no way to know. How could you ask a question like that? What do you feel when you look at that face?
It came back to him periodically, appeared at his side while he was watching television, eating breakfast, passing the time in his underwear on the couch, tossing the little creature into the air and catching it. It told him to look alive, that his adventure was indeed beginning, and he had better prepare. “Why me?” he asked it. Why not you? It replied.
When Sunday evening arrived Leon forced himself to accept that he had to leave his apartment eventually. Work was tomorrow, and he had already missed Friday and hadn’t returned any of the calls inquiring after him. Was he ready to give up his job in favor of the Quixote? Not until he found out for sure what it wanted. There was even the question on whether or not he could capitalize on it. How do you get a thing like it appraised? Maybe someone, somewhere, would pay a lot of money for it. That was the kind of question to make you really think. Not now though. Not now. He still saw them everywhere, after all.
On Monday morning he woke lying on his couch, as he had done the previous two days. He decided to make time to shower and eat a strong breakfast. When he left his apartment it was already 8:45.
Just as he’d known there would be, the Quixotes were thick on the street, and he avoided their presence by staring at his feet striking the pavement. On BART he was sandwiched between one of them and an attractive young girl, who stood near to him, unembarrassed, as if on instinct. Maybe she could smell the creature on him.
Mathilda was reliably at her desk when Leon arrived.
“Good morning, Matty,” Leon said and she turned around to see him.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“I felt ill Friday.”
“Frank’s pissed at you, Leon?”
“Yep. I think it has to do with the Box-Mart account. I would call him up as soon as you can if I were you.”
“I was hoping he wouldn’t notice,” Leon said, a small lie that might have held mustard before the advent of the Quixote.
“Maybe I’ll just go see him,” he said.
“That’s a good idea,” she said. There was a pause, then she added: “We’ve all felt your absence.”
The shine in her eyes was back, the sick smile on her lips; she looked at him like he were both less and more than a person.
“Thank you,” he replied.
“Go see Frank,” she said.
He went into his office and shut the door. Maybe none of them were going to do anything. Maybe they would just continue to despise him from a distance.
Sure enough the e-mail thread following Stuart’s mass communication was wild with energy and thwarted significance, acquiring, as he read them, their own ecology of logic. “What is it?” they all seemed to say. “Where did it come from?” “What was it doing on Leon’s desk?” “Is Leon okay with it?” “What is he doing about it?”
He minimized the e-mail window, then, the Quixote still in his pocket, he left his office, passing Mathilda behind her back, and headed for the opposite side of the floor, towards the dominion of Frank. Along the way he looked into the break room and saw Stuart pouring himself a cup of coffee. Stuart jumped as if from electric shock, as if he’d felt Leon’s glance, and looked up at him and his eyes darkened. Leon kept on walking.
Sigourney, Frank’s assistant, was not at her desk, but Frank was in his office. The door was open. Leon stood in the entranceway and knocked on the frame, noticing too late that Frank was on the phone. Frank raised one finger to tell Leon to wait, so Leon stood in the doorway and watched his boss, whose skin shone beneath the lights with a thin veneer of sweat. Frank watched him while he spoke, as if he were the subject of the phone call.
“Absolutely, the account is proceeding apace. I’ve got my best man on it. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I’ll tell him.”
Leon pondered whether to come into his boss’ office under his own recognizance.
“No. I don’t believe so anyway,” Frank was saying. “You want him to check it out. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I understand.”
He felt awkward standing in the doorway, and wondered if this was purposeful of Frank, if he would be breaking some unspoken law by coming into the office anyway. Frank’s eyes had looked to have shine to them, so maybe it would be wise for Leon not to antagonize him.
Finally Frank, perhaps responding to some internal cue, waved his hand in a come forward motion and indicated a chair across the desk from him.
“How soon do you want him to come out? According to our timetable he should be wrapping up soon, but I’ll double check with him.”
Frank was still looking at him, giving Leon the impression that he was in fact the person they were talking about. Box-Mart account. No doubt about it.
“Okay Louis. I understand absolutely. Okay. Okay. Bye now.”
Frank hung up.
“That was Louis Fitzgerald, account manager at Box-Mart. He wanted to talk to you, actually.”
“Oh, why didn’t you tell him I was here?”
“Because I could relay the message myself, and I wanted to hear what he had to say.”
“Because I’m worried about you, Leon. That’s why I called you here in fact, so I could talk to you about your work of late, and what you’ve been missing. Where were you Friday?”
Leon thought of Heather, and of rampaging through his empty apartment, speaking to the Quixote and seeing his reflection.
“I came down with something.”
“But you’re in tip top shape today?”
“Leon, is it possible that you’re lying to me?” Frank grinned.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh but you do. Everyone in the office says so, man. They say that you’re self-isolating. You don’t even get lunch with Stuart Drindle any more.”
“Stuart can take care of himself.”
“What’s going on with you, man? Why are you isolating yourself? Your work’s suffering.”
“I didn’t realize that it was.”
“Box-Mart thinks it’s taking too long, so you better finish up sooner than later. But do your best, Leon. I want you sharp again. You’ve been missing many minor details that you didn’t use to.”
“I’ve always been a lone wolf, Frank.”
“That doesn’t give you the purview to ignore office politics altogether. The man who does that is gambling with his future.”
You’re the one who gave me the Box-Mart account, Leon thought.
“I’m saying this as a friend, Leon, as a word of advice.”
“I’ll take it as that,” Leon responded, perhaps a shade too sharply.
Frank grinned again. He had the same greedy look in his eyes as everyone else.
“But that’s not the main reason I called you here. I called you here for a dressing down, Leon, and it’s not going to be pleasant.”
Frank swiveled in his chair so that he was facing the cabinet behind his desk, which he opened and rummaged through a moment before turning back around with a small stack of hanging folders, yellow, the color of average S&P 500 accounts, which Leon was not surprised to soon find out were his own. Frank proceeded to tell him the many pedestrian ways he had messed up the accounts that had come to his office since the Quixote. Meanwhile the thing in his pocket throbbed uncomfortably, and, despite Frank’s very real criticisms, Leon’s mind and feelings remained at a remove. He had far bigger things to worry about.
“You got it, Leon?” Frank asked, apparently bringing his dressing down to its conclusion.
“I guess so. Sorry Frank. I didn’t even realize it.”
“I understand, Leon. You must be going through some personal issues that we’re all totally unaware of. I get that. I respect it. But you have to get your mojo back, and soon, or we might have to re-think our professional relationship. You see what I’m saying?”
“Okay. Now I’ll tell you what the Box-Mart account man wanted.”
Careful that Frank wouldn’t see, Leon slid his left hand into his pocket and took the Quixote out and held it.
“He wants to speak with you in person.”
“Where is he located?”
“You can find him at the store in East Oakland. Have you ever been there before?”
“No I haven’t. I never go to neighborhoods like that.”
“Yes, it’s in a rough neighborhood, but Louis Fitzgerald works every day of the week in a back office there without complaint. That store’s a jobs creator and, of course, it’s products are cheap. The best deals in town. That’s their major selling point, but I don’t have to tell you that.”
No you don’t.
“I’ve forwarded you his e-mail address, phone number and ideal hours to contact him. You go back to your office now and check your e-mail to see that you know what I’m talking about, then give him a call. He’s waiting for you.”
Leon stood up, Quixote visible in one hand. He raised it just slightly so that Frank could get a look. Sure enough the man’s eyes were drawn to it like magnets to the north pole. His mouth hung opened slightly, cheeks slack, forehead smooth of stubbornness. Within a few seconds all traces of intelligence had left his face.
Leon felt his power, relished it, and chose not to think of the future ramifications.
“Goodbye,” he said, and turned around and left Frank’s office without waiting for his boss’ reply, or putting the Quixote back in his pocket. He felt its energy up his arm, a significant distraction from the real world. The few people that he passed on the way back to his office saluted him in a show of mock deference, made offhand comments about his looks and tried to stop him to shake his hand. One of them was Cassidy, from whom Leon felt the worst energy of the bunch. Cassidy, for his part, saw the Quixote, and the anger in his eyes only intensified.
Mathilda wasn’t at her desk when Leon reached his office. Leon locked his door behind him, checked his e-mail and found one from Frank with Louis Fitzgerald’s contact information. Leon called him. They spoke for a few minutes and decided that Leon would go visit the site personally later in the week and they set an appointment date, then Leon hung up.
He took the Quixote out of his pocket, and its larger iteration, or projection, appeared. For the rest of the day Leon fell into dialogue with it, leaving his account notifications, new and old, to languish in his e-mail’s inbox.