Friday, October 08, 2004

No Lament...

Ch. 2

No Lament for the Life of the Lamenting

5:30pm. Charles P. Wennings, as his photo-copied sign and Dial-a-Label-badge stated, was still proudly manning the security desk, as he had done for the past fifteen years. All in all, it had added itself up to be a typical Wednesday. And at the end of every Wednesday, without fail, Charles indulged himself in a little rush-hour porn. His crappy computer terminal, to keep sensitive network information from the curious eyes of temp-hired security monkeys, was dial-up and off the building’s main security backbone. It was put there to keep the poorly-paid: entertained. Every Wednesday, after all the elevators were done spitting out trench-coat executives and mini-skirted office assistants, Charles took full advantage of this web-enabled perk. He always claimed to suck at navigating the internet whenever his wife requested help configuring their email at home, but found the rich world of online porn without a single lesson. It was as if he was born to locate the stuff.

As he was lazily perusing a sight that had apparently dedicated itself to the fetish of ass-fucking pregnant teenage women from Malaysia by barnyard animals, he noticed someone approaching the counter. He quickly faced the console away and looked up to greet this ill-timed visitor. “Office hours are 7am to 5pm sir. You’ll have to sign… Oh, hey Mr. Harding! Long time no see!” The visitor bellied up to the bar, and breathed a thick wave of whiskey humidity into Charles’s face as he responded. “Hey Charles, I just need to pick up a few things, that I, umm left here. Mr. Jacob knows I’m dropping by and got it all ready for me. I just need you to key me in to the thirty-second floor.” Charles began to slowly shake his head, crinkling his features, giving away all the hidden wrinkles that marked his 55 years on the planet. “You know I can’t do that Mr. Harding. I escorted you out, remember? You’ll have to come back next Tuesday when Mr. Jacob returns from Bombay.” Mr. Harding stepped back from the desk, putting his hands on his hips, parting the unbuttoned flannel shirt underneath his synthetic leather flight jacket. A tuft of messed hair flopped down to his face, and was promptly blown back up with one shooshed breath. “Yeah, see that’s the thing, actually. I really needed this stuff earlier than that. It’s all healthcare related, and I really need to get my Cobra plan up and going. I have the kid, and all, so I need that… stuff… done. So I need it tonight, I can’t wait until next week.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you Mr. Harding.”

Mr. Harding took another step back, grabbed his chin, tucked his head, and scratched his patchy beard. It made the sound of Styrofoam being rubbed on sandpaper. Charles hated that sound, it made his funny bone tickle.

“Is there someone else in the building you could call who would bring it down to you? Because I can’t let you on that elevator. Especially not to the thirty-second floor. That’s a security level.”

Charles sat back down, and peered over at the activities of a petite, brown woman and what appeared to be a half-dozen goats. A fantastic voyage into the ecstasy-laden world of unknown fetish was about to happen out in internet land, and this Harding guy was about to void Charles’s ticket.

“Uh, no, I don’t know anyone here anymore Charles, they all kinda severed ties with me after the, uh, scandal, or whatever you want to call it.” Mr. Harding was beginning to take on an air of desperation that was so palpable that it pulled Charles away from the barnyard antics playing out on the screen.

“You aren’t going to leave without that paperwork, are you.” It was not a question, but it was aimed at Mr. Harding through the blinkless eyes of Charles.

“No. I really need that stuff. Gotta get Chaz to the pediatrician asap. Ear and throat thing. Maybe strep.” Then his tone changed rapidly to nervous and urgent. “Look Charles, I don’t care how, but it has to get done tonight. You gotta get me up there. I am beyond serious here.”

Charles stared deep into Mr. Harding’s eyes, passing his focus from the left, to the right, to calculate the true gravity of his desperation. “Alright, I’ll go up there and get it for you. I know what sick kids’ll do to a man’s weekend. You should see a doctor too, Mr. Harding, if you don’t mind me sayin’. You don’t look too good.”

“Don’t worry about me. Thirty second floor. Box of papers in the main conference room.”

“The one by that balcony, right? With all that TV equipment in it?”

“Yes, all that multi-media communication-video-conference… yes, by those things.” And then, Harding let out a wet burp. He wiped it off with the sleeve of his jacket and let his right eyelid droop down a bit.

Charles winced, pursed his lips, pushed his rolling chair back, and started walking toward the elevator. His keys were jangling, creating echoes that could have been mistaken for a million keys, bouncing off the polished marble walls by the elevator bank. He arrived at the first open elevator and entered. None of the elevators would operate after hours without an access key, so he fumbled through his set to find the green plastic-gripped key that slid into the proper slot indicating the thirty-second floor. As soon as the key was turned, the doors began sliding to meet one another. The sound of running footsteps echoing through the outside hall was ended when Mr. Harding flew into the elevator, just between the closing doors, ramming Charles: first against the mirrored wall, and then to floor. Mr. Harding stood over him as the elevator smoothly ascended the necessary levels. Looking down on a gasping Charles, he apologized for his behavior. “Sorry to do this Charles, but you wouldn’t let me up there man.” His bangs were hanging down over his face, which was blocking the overhead lights in the cabin, making Mr. Harding look even more sinister than the situation designed. “They could have fucking called me to get the goddamn story straight. I’ve just been tired, that’s all. They’re on some fucking witch-hunt around here and I got fucking burned. That’s it. That’s all it was. Not some ‘Potential Breach of Ethics Policy’ shit. No one even knows what that FUCKING MEANS.”

Charles’s neck was underneath the well-worn Nike Shox on Mr. Harding’s left foot. The pressure was slight, but it was enough to keep Charles from testing the situation. “This ain’t the way Mr. Harding. You… got to… follow protocol…” The weight behind the shoe was increasing as Charles tried to reason with him. But the reasoning appeared to be a fruitless effort. Fearing death, Charles said nothing else to the thirty-second floor. When the door dinged “now open!”, Mr. Harding paused for a couple of seconds, staring into the stressed and bugged-out eyes of the sweating and slightly squirming security officer under his shoe, and then in an almost whisper, spoke. “We all have our time here, Charles. You have yours, and I have had mine. Maybe I fucked up, maybe I didn’t. But everyone blames me. I blame me. And I’m just tired of blame-blame-blame, do this, do that, no: not right, gotta follow the protocol, blame-blame-blame, fuck the whole thing. It’s about time… Jesus, I need the rest.”

And with that, he released his captive and bolted through the doors just as they started to slide back together.

“Mr. Harding!” Charles choked, as he sat up. “Mr. Harding! Timothy, don’t…” But the doors had already sealed shut, and the elevator was dutifully making its way back down, irreverent to the tragic, self-inflicted end of a human tragedy, incapable by cool mechanical design to recognize what just transpired in its maw.

Back at his desk, on his screen, the goats had finished their confused ritual with a strange hairless ape, and were wandering around the set while stagehands carried the hardly-conscious woman out of web-cam range, womb and all.

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