Chapter 4: Vinegar-Infused Honey
Ada arrived at Dynamic Synergies the next morning with a renewed sense of purpose. She had taken Bernice’s advice to heart. It actually seemed like a fairly good idea to play nice with Summersteel, so that Ada might wriggle her way into his good graces, thereby potentially gaining access to information she could use to bust up the entire outfit. She had brushed her hair that morning, and had applied some ridiculous cosmetic pigment to her fingernails, and had even tucked the bottom of her cape into the back of her shorts—whatever she could do to believably play the part of the reformed ex-feminist, to demonstrate true repentance and a willingness to please. It made her slightly sick to be rolling over and playing dead, but the knowledge of her ultimate goal, and of the commendable sacrifices she was making to attain it, kept her going.
After clocking in and dropping her bag at her desk, Ada approached Summersteel’s closed office door. She was about to open said door and go in, as barging had long been her preferred method of room entry, when she heard the hushed whispers of more than one voice emanating from within. She discreetly put one ear up to the oaken door, pretending for the benefit of any possible onlookers to be polishing the doorknob, and struggled to hear what was being discussed. She didn’t pick up much—only the words ‘hire,’ ‘ethnicity,’ ‘orientation,’ ‘seafood paella,’ and ‘legal protection.’ When at last she could hear the conversation petering out, and detected footsteps approaching the door, she backed up quickly, and then tried to impersonate someone who had been waiting in the hallway a reasonable and respectful distance away. This impersonation seemed to fool the elderly white gentleman who emerged from Summersteel’s office. The man, who was wearing ostrich shoes, smiled, nodded politely in Ada’s direction, and then headed off in the opposite direction.
“Good morning, Ga—Mr. Summersteel,” said Ada, simultaneously performing the dual action of sticking her head inside Summersteel’s office and cringing.
Summersteel, who had fleetingly appeared to be in a decent mood, dropped the corners of his mouth upon seeing and hearing Ada, and looked intently down at his keyboard, as if he had a very important presentation to give on Mac shortcuts in a half hour.
“Good morning. Ready to put yesterday behind us and get some work done?”
“Absolutely, Mr. Summersteel. Just popping in to see if there’s anything I can do for you. Can I get you a coffee? Boba tea? Tom Collins? Anything?”
Summersteel looked sharply upward, surprised to hear such a conciliatory, aiming-to-please tone coming from his previously combative interim assistant.
“I’m okay right now, thank you. I’ll let you know if the palate runs dry.”
Ada nodded and was halfway out the door when Summersteel called her back.
“Yes, sir?” said Ada, returning with concealed anguish.
“I’m just curious. Why the change in comportment?”
“Well, not to rehash everything, but—you seemed a little on your high horse yesterday. Now you’re all cinnamon and roses. What gives? Were you just having lady troubles?”
This was going to be difficult.
“Ha—yep! You guessed it! It was a real gusher. A red river ran through it. My crotchety Aunt Menses came down for a visit. My snatch began to hatch. Old Mount Vajayjay finally erupted. My girly bits were on the fritz. Tuna taco with hot sauce. Yes Sirree—this was one beaver without a dam.”
“I’ve got it, thanks,” said an open-mouthed Summersteel, who hadn’t been this horrified since he’d learned that some mothers eat their placenta.
“Well, just saying you’re perceptive, is all. But I’m feeling much better today. Definitely past the worst of it. My mood should be much improved on this, the second day of my period.”
“That’s great to hear,” said Summersteel, who was slowly recovering. “Well, just go ahead and man the phones—uh, woman the phones, or whatever—and I’ll be by in a bit with some paperwork that will need to be copied. You did a pretty good job with the copying yesterday.”
“Oh, thank you kindly. I’ll admit—I was overwhelmed at first by all those buttons and flashing lights, but I just pushed my wee woman brain to the limit, and eventually I was able to get it figured out.”
“That’s great. Persistence always pays off.”
“Hey,” Ada segued. “Who’s that guy who was in your office a minute ago?”
“Oh, that was Mr. Silverwolf. CFO of the company.”
“Cagey Ferrari Owner?”
“Craven, Feckless Oaf?
“Chronically Flaccid Octogenarian?”
“No, no—Chief Financial Officer.”
“That was going to be my fourth guess.”
“That’s okay—you can’t be expected to know every in and out of the business world. You’ll pick up on this sort of thing over time.”
“Oh, good. So this Mr. Silverwolf—what were you two talking about?”
“Just this and that. Company stuff. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about.”
“Like—what kind of stuff? I’m just curious. My pretty little head is eager to learn.”
“Oh, hirings and firings. Layoffs and redundancies.”
“Layoffs and redundancies?”
“Don’t you think that’s a little—redundant?”
“Hey, lay off.”
Winks and smiles. Oh, they were really becoming besties now.
“So, who’s getting canned?”
“Now, I can’t tell you that.”
“Is it Penny at reception? It’s Penny at reception, isn’t it? She looks really flustered.”
“No, Penny’s fine.”
“Is it that guy across the hall with the man bun? I can break the news to him, if you’d like.”
“No, no—look, I really can’t discuss this sort of thing with you. It isn’t ethical.”
“What about the hirings? Can you tell me who’s coming on board?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be anyone you know—”
“Yeah, but—oh, come on, Mr. Summersteel.” Ada was putting forth her best effort at being coquettish. It still wasn’t a great effort, but Summersteel would have responded positively to an electric stapler if it had shown interest. “Just dish. What department are they in? Is it a man? A woman? White? Black?”
As she spoke the word ‘black,’ Ada noticed Summersteel shudder perceptibly. Even this slight physical reaction typically would have prompted a diatribe, but Ada managed to hold her emotion in check.
“Ada, I really can’t—look, I think it’s great that you’re showing an interest in the company, but I’m not at liberty to discuss this sort of thing with underlings, let alone with temps. Besides, any new hires would start on Monday, and you’re only here through Friday, so I don’t see why it would concern you.”
As much as Summersteel preferred this version of Ada to the one he had encountered the day before, and as much as he was enjoying the light flirtation, he was beginning to feel backed into a corner, and he had work to do.
“Isn’t that my phone ringing?”
Realizing that she was going to squeeze nothing else out of Summersteel, at least on this occasion, Ada relented.
“Sorry, sir. Let me answer that for you.” She bounded out of the office, then leisurely made her way back to her desk. The phone wasn’t actually ringing, so there was really no urgency.
Once Summersteel was left alone, he pulled up an email from Mr. Morningblood and began to transcribe a new name, number, and email address into his electronic rolodex.