“Man. Machine. Firewall.”
“You’re serious,” Noah said, cocking his head.
Mike shrugged. “Well, they’re serious. I mean, I assume they’re serious. Why wouldn’t they be?”
Noah bounced a tennis ball off of one of his cube walls. Noah had taken this up in the early days of his career, when he had occupied his own office and an important place within that company. Now he could just be grateful that his neighbor, Chip, had just left for lunch. They had fought enough over the damned ball. “So I mean…why did she want to see it?”
“She’s your sister, dude. You should know.”
Noah raised an eyebrow at the dumpy IT guy. “If you think I understand her, you’re crazier than I even thought you were.” In more ways than one. He’d been friends with the guy for a few years, but he’d yet to figure out what Charlene saw in the guy.
“She wanted to see some guy in the movie. I guess she thinks he’s hot.” Mike scratched the back of his neck. “You ask me, any guy who agrees to be in a movie about a one-man war with a router is suspect, but what do I know?”
“It’s an untapped audience, bro.” Noah stood up, flexing his arms as he posed. “Musclebound men who can reset your network settings. The Harlequin of Hard Drives. I tell you, bro, we’re missing out on something here.”
“My hard drive is just fine, thanks.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t want Dirk to defrag you?”
Noah smirked. “You want to compete with that guy, you just need to get a gym down in the Network Ops Center. You can lift while you monitor alarms, dog.”
Mike took the tennis ball from Noah’s hand. “God, you always get those jokes wrong. You sound like a dumbass. It’d be something like ‘spot while you spot alarms’ or some dumb shit like that.”
Noah sat down, rolling his eyes. “God forbid I ruin the creative sanctity of an Internet meme.”
Mike tossed the ball into in the air and caught it, beaming like he’d just pulled off a fine backhand at Wimbledon. “Anyway, bro, what are you going to do to get in on some of that sweet nerd chick action?”
Noah put a hand to his chest. “As if I have to lower myself to such a thing. I’m a writer. I’m an artist.”
Mike laughed. “Uh huh. An artist.”
“Hey, now. I’ve written a few short stories.”
Mike leaned against the cube wall. “And how much pussy did it get you?”
Jesus, Noah thought, looking around for other cube neighbors. Dude was a lawsuit waiting to happen. “I’m a gentleman. I don’t have to disclose such things. Especially in the middle of an open office.”
Mike, as always, either didn’t get the hint or refused to acknowledge it. “You. A gentleman.” He chuckled. “Now I know you’re full of shit. So, listen. Have you heard anything about…you know, ‘downsizing’?” He lowered his voice and threw scare quotes around the word.
Noah deflated. He’d wondered how long that would take. The company had been struggling; everyone knew it, and it sure didn’t help that his department’s work had slowed to a trickle. He took the tennis ball from Mike’s hand, laid it on the desk, and turned his full body toward his friend. “Well, nothing but the usual crap on CNBC. What is this downsizing you speak of?”
Mike leaned closer. “Dan Hardy caught me in the hallway the other day. Typical corporate bullshit, but near the end of the conversation he brings up how the department hasn’t met its numbers for last year and we have to give up some spots because of it.”
Noah sat forward, scratching his chin. “No shit. Really? Think he was trying to tell you something?”
“Nah. He even told me I’m safe. But hey, second hand of second hand. I order you not to worry.”
So why bring it up, Noah began to answer, but his Blackberry vibrated, cutting him off. He held one finger up. “Just a second.” His stomach queasy, he picked the phone up and thumbed it on. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Mike leaned closer, trying to catch a glimpse of the screen. “What, dude?”
Noah pulled the Blackberry away from him, shooting him a glare. “Confidential information, bro.”
“And you’re going to tell me about it.”
He hated to admit it, but the bastard had a point; he would probably implode if he had to keep it to himself. “I’m meeting with the boss in a couple of hours,” he said, and sighed.
Mike whistled. “That’s some timing. Probably nothing, though, dude. I wouldn’t sweat it.”
“Isn’t that what they always tell the person right before they get run over by a bus or something?”
“No, no, see, I told you. You always get this shit wrong. If this were a movie, we’d have just been talking about how this is the greatest day ever and nothing could go wrong. Come on, I showed you Walk Hard. You should know this.” He smiled and adopted a faux-serious tone. “Unless I’ve missed something. Does that describe your day, Noah?”
Noah shrugged. “Marie shat all over my procedures earlier.”
“That’s a big no.”
“Yeah, but that’s not really what I want to hear.”
Mike waved it away. “Mistakes happen. Remember the time I entered the wrong command and deleted half the contents of a hard drive up in New York?”
“Shit that was you?”
“I didn’t tell you about that? Yeah.” He spread his arms. “Yet I’m still here.”
Noah laughed. “You’re one lucky motherfucker.”
“Correction. I am one sexy motherfucker. That’s my ‘value added proposition’.”
He probably should have laughed, but he had some difficulty getting a laugh past the knot in his throat. As much as Noah craved this conversation, he could already see that it wasn’t going to steer him away from his fears. He had to find something to distract himself or he might throw up all over his desk.
Mike seemed to have already picked up on it. “Well, listen, they’re expecting me any moment down in The Pit, so I’d better bounce.” He began to walk away.
“Wait. One more thing.”
He ducked his head back into Noah’s cube. “What?”
Noah lowered his voice. “You fuck my sister, I’ll kill you. You realize that, right?”
Mike pointed at him and winked. “Too late, bro.” He began making humping motions with his hips.
Noah shook his head. “You’re a fucking pig, you know that?”
“Again, sexy as charged,” he said, and winked.
“Get out of here, you asshole,” Noah said, and a laugh finally bubbled to the surface. This was going to be one hell of an interesting day.
Part Two is now available; click here to continue the story.