The company had undertaken an extensive Green Effort a few years back in the name of being a good corporate citizen (and saving a few bucks, natch), so all of the conference rooms throughout the building had been refitted with motion sensors – motion sensors for the lights, motion sensors for the video conferencing system, motion sensors for the digital whiteboard. Great for the environment, but not so great for two men desperate to avoid notice by ducking into one of the rooms. From the moment that David eased the door shut behind them, the overhead lights flashed on, bathing them in a spotlight that could only have been more clear were they on stage and holding instruments.
His throat filled with the tinny flavor of panic, Noah slapped at the sensor’s power switch. Two swipes and he finally got the thing to shut off, plunging them back into the semi-darkness of an unoccupied conference room.
David hissed and stood on tip toes, peering over the frosted glass that covered three-quarters of the door, his head swiveling this way and that. Noah tugged on his sleeve.
“I really don’t think you should be showing your face,” Noah whispered.
David came down off of his toes and nodded. “Right. I know that.”
They crept away from the door, retreating to the farthest corner of the room. David led Noah in squatting over the plush carpet, his hands on his knees. At least here they had the buffer zone of the long conference table between them and the gunman, and Noah thought it fairly certain that Chip couldn’t see them in the room even if he looked over the top of the frosted glass. Boy, he sure hoped so, anyway.
“Why did you pick Chip?” he said.
David shook his head. “I didn’t pick Chip. It was the guys upstairs. Renny. Clark. You know, Finance and Administration.”
“Okay, so why did they choose him?”
“I don’t – ”
Two shots sounded down the hallway: pop pop. Someone screamed. It sounded like it could have been Paul Glass’s pretty blond executive assistant, Shelley.
“Jesus Christ, man,” David said, and ran a hand through his hair. “He was trying to push too many changes. He got too big for his britches.”
Did he really just say ‘too big for his britches’? Noah thought. “What do you mean?”
David shrugged. “He pointed out how inefficient everything was around here and that changes needed to be made. You know, you ruffle feathers and you propose something like that, that’s what’s going to happen. Nature of the beast. I don’t like it, but you might as well get mad at an ape for flinging his own dung. It’s just the way of business.”
The way of bad business, Noah thought.
Another scream from outside, and they heard a muffled exchange between what Noah recognized as Chip’s voice and a gruff, feminine voice. He didn’t recognize the woman; she probably worked in Infrastructure Planning, given that they faced the South side of the building. After a few heated words, she screamed and went silent.
Noah felt nauseated. “You don’t think he just shot her, do you?”
“How the hell should I know?” David said, and stared at the floor, swallowing hard. “I didn’t think he was this kind of unhinged.”
“But you thought he was some kind of unhinged?”
David looked to Noah. “Clearly, the guy was wound a little tight.”
“I sat next to him for a year-and-a-half, and I never saw that. Sure, he was irritated at the things that go on around here, but who isn’t?” Noah wondered if he’d said too much, but he felt a lot bolder, given the circumstances.
“What things that go on around here?”
Noah narrowed his eyes. “Don’t give me that. You were just talking about it.”
David waved his hands. “Yeah, all right. But it’s the suits. What are you going to do?”
Amazing. Noah hadn’t been certain, but now he saw that David actually believed his ‘suits’ propaganda. There could be no other explanation for the man’s behavior. “You know, people think you’re a suit.”
David turned to him, eyes wide and white in the darkened room. “They do?”
“Well, yeah. Think about it. You’re a Senior Director on the fast track to VP. How else would they see you?”
He pouted. “I try to be accessible and…I mean, I know I can’t hang with you guys the way I’d like to, but I think I try to be cool and nice.”
Noah leaned closer. “It’s not about being nice. It’s about…I don’t know.” He hesitated. He knew he approached a certain line, and he didn’t know if he wanted to cross it.
“Oh, come on. I want to hear it.”
“I don’t think so,” Noah said, leaning back against the wall.
“See, this is the problem. When you’re responsible for people’s paychecks, they give you this power.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you have power. Isn’t that why you wanted the job?”
David chuckled. “Believe it or not, I wanted to make a difference. I used to be a field tech, you know.”
“I actually didn’t know that.”
He nodded. “I know what the field is like, and I try to handle the power responsibly,” said the guy who’d just been staring out his window at a nude, sunbathing woman.
“You want the honest truth?” Noah said.
“No, give me the dishonest truth.”
I ignored that. “You’re not going to ‘downsize’ me?”
David shook his head. “After this, do you really think I’d get rid of you? I’m not getting rid of anyone ever again. Free jobs for all, forever.” He laughed.
More shouts and a few more pops from outside.
David jumped and barked, “Jesus.” Noah winced, wondering if Chip had heard the exclamation. How close could the guy have gotten, and would Noah live to see the rest of the day?
Silence, and Noah felt safe to go on. “People think you’re a little, well, self-absorbed. Full of yourself. Kind of arrogant. Something of a prick.”
David held up a hand. “Okay, I get it!”
Noah took the opportunity to throw in one last jab. “An asshole.”
“I said all right.” He sat silent for a few seconds, staring at the floor. When he looked back up, Noah could see the hurt in his eyes. “Really? Full of myself?”
Noah had gone too far. “Hey, I’m not saying I thought that.”
“Don’t lie to me. You did.”
“All right, yes.”
He shook his head. “God. Full of myself.”
Fight or Flight kicked in, and Noah touched David’s arm, nodding toward the door. Footsteps had begun to approach their position. Both ducked their heads down beneath the end of the conference room table, waiting.
The footsteps stopped outside of the conference room and Chip drawled, his voice raised: “Where are you, Jenkins? I know you’re in one of these conference rooms, you fucking pussy.”
“Did you lock the door?” Noah whispered.
Chip banged on the conference room door across the hall. Whoever had holed up in that room had clearly locked that door as well. They saw the muzzle flash of two shots and the glass on that side shattered into a thousand pieces.
“Jenkins, are you in here, you son of a bitch?”
Noah heard a couple of heavily-accented voices pleading from across the hall.
Chip’s voice softened. “Sorry, guys. I don’t have a beef with you. Why don’t you get out of there and go?”
Noah chanced a look over the table and saw the silhouettes of several people stepping through the hole in the door, pushing past a short, thick shape that could only be Chip. The shape approached their door and Noah ducked down, tensing as Chip knocked on the window with a gun.
“Oh, Jenkins. I know you’re in there. I think we need to have a talk,” he said, and jiggled the door handle.
To view Part 4, click here.