Chapter 6: Something Rotten
“What do they have you working on?” asked Toren, leaning over Ada’s cubicle wall. This was his fifth visit today. Not that it bothered Ada much, who appreciated the company of anyone vehemently opposed to wearing ties.
“I’m inputting all the values from this sheet,” said Ada, holding up a sheet of paper, “into a spreadsheet.”
“I have no idea. I’ve got to imagine that wherever these numbers were entered originally, they already exist in some sort of table or spreadsheet form. It’s probably a ten-second cut-and-paste job. But they want to keep me busy, I guess. How about you?”
“I’m supposed to bring this FedEx up to reception immediately,” said Toren, holding up a FedEx envelope. “But they don’t pick up until four, so like—I’ll get to it when I get to it, you know?”
“Yeah. Hey, you wanna go for a walk?”
Mr. Summersteel was out of the office for the rest of the afternoon for a surely important off-site meeting, Ada explained, so it would not be the end of the world if she were to let a call or two go through to voicemail.
“As your boss,” said Toren, “I have to say that I think leaving your desk for an extended period of time is somewhat irresponsible and maybe even grounds for disciplinary action. But, as your co-worker who is on entirely equal footing, I have to say—hell yeah, let’s get a bagel.”
Ada nearly vaulted out of her cubicle, motivated as she was by the prospect of stretching her legs for a few minutes. She and Toren started down the hall toward the break room.
As they proceeded past cubicle after cubicle, office after office, Ada amused herself by observing each employee they passed, and assigning to each of them a story of her own invention. The woman in the corner cubicle had attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, with dreams of owning her own Michelin-starred restaurant, or hosting her own show on the Food Network one day, but had thrown in the towel and come to work instead for Dynamic Synergies upon realizing that creating artistic, delicious, and innovative cuisine was not as fulfilling as stapling things. The man in this office over here was in the witness relocation and assistance program. He had turned state’s evidence against his boss, Mugsy DiWhisperfish, after getting captured by authorities during an attempted $30,000,000 public library heist. And then there was the guy in the office over there, who—
“Toren,” said Ada.
It had finally occurred to her. What had been bothering her so terribly about this particular office, but which she could not—until now—quite nail down. She grabbed Toren by the arm (after asking and obtaining consent to do so), and ushered him quickly into the darkened, unoccupied conference room. She closed the door behind them, her movements hurried and frantic.
“I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here,” said Toren.
“Go fuck yourself,” said Ada. “Listen to me. There’s something very wrong here.”
“Is it that we’re two temporary employees hanging out in a company conference room with the door closed?”
“What have you noticed about the people who work in this office?”
“That—they’re stuffy and unsociable?”
“Well, duh. But anything else?”
Toren stopped to consider. He did his best to call to mind every employee he had interacted with over the course of the past day-and-a-half, to see if he could think of anything that might have gotten Ada’s dander up.
“I just keep coming back to stuffy and unsociable,” Toren said finally.
“Think about it,” said Ada. “What does every single higher-up in this company have in common? Forget the people working in cubicles for a minute. I’m talking about the ones with offices. The ones with froufrou titles and six-figure paychecks.”
Toren gave it another moment’s consideration, but continued to draw a blank.
“They’re all men,” said Ada. “Not only that—they’re all white men. Not only that—they’re all white, cisgender, Christian, American men.”
“Now wait a minute. Okay—they might all be white men, but how can you be sure about all that other stuff?”
“Oh, please. If there were a Jew or a Canadian working here, we’d know. And obviously my gaydar is on point. Toren—every office suffers at least a little bit from a lack of diversity, but—this place? Have you ever seen anything like it? There are thirty or so offices here, and every single one of them is occupied by a cul-de-sack.”
“A cul-de-sack. Opposite of intersectionality.”
“I’m not sure a cul-de-sac is the opposite of an intersection—”
“And it’s ‘sack’ with a ‘k.’ Because of the scrotums.”
“But—am I off base? I mean, this had to require some hardcore, painstakingly discriminatory hiring efforts. It can’t be an accident.”
“Hm. You may be onto something. But I’d need a little more evidence that it’s really as bad as you claim.”
There was a glimmer in Ada’s eyes that Toren had seen before. It usually got both of them into trouble.
“Come with me.”
Seconds later, Ada was standing with Toren outside a closed office door—selected at random—and Ada was knocking on it. Soon afterward, the door was opened from within by a white man in his mid-fifties. He had a sprout of grey, speckled hair behind each ear, and his face featured prominent liver spots. He seemed surprised to see two people he didn’t recognize.
“Hi—did you—have you checked in at reception? Were you looking for me?”
“We work here,” said Ada. “For the rest of the week, anyway. I’m answering Mr. Summersteel’s phone.”
“And I’m assisting Mr. Amberbluff,” said Toren.
“Ah,” said the man with liver spots. “A long way from your desks, aren’t you?”
“We’re headed back now,” said Ada. “But I wanted to ask you a couple questions first. Have you got a sec?”
“I suppose so,” said the man.
“I was hoping you could tell me a little something about Mr. Summersteel. I’ve got my sights set on becoming a permanent employee, and I’d really like to knock the socks off his beautiful, upper management feet, so I thought it might help if I learned more about him. So I can really get inside his head and anticipate his every whim. Are you the right person to talk to?”
“Gary and I have worked together for a while, so I suppose—”
“Great! First, can you tell me—is he a religious person? Have you two churched together?”
“Oh, no—Gary doesn’t go to my church. He lives all the way on the other side of town, so he goes to the Sacred Pilgrim on the Way, and I go to the Holy Blessed Mother of Mary.”
Ada shot Toren a look. Toren didn’t miss it; there was never anything understated about Ada’s looks.
“I see,” she went on, “and what about his country of origin? I’m assuming he emigrated here at some point, as I can certainly detect the hint of an accent in his phone voice.”
“Who, Gary? Nah—he was born and bred on the upper west side. Same as me. We’re two Oceanspell boys, through and through.”
“Okay, that’s very helpful. One last question, and then I’ll leave you alone. Does Summersteel have any kids?”
“Oh, sure. Two daughters—Kyra and Kelsey. Both in high school. Gorgeous young things.”
“Yeah—beautiful girls. Used to bounce them on my lap when they were little. Can’t believe how quickly they’ve grown up.”
“Ah, I see. With Mr. Summersteel’s genes, I’m sure they’re very popular in school, eh?”
“Well, let me just say this—if I were a young man again, I wouldn’t kick either one of them out of the bunkhouse.”
Yet another look.
“Thank you, Mr.—?”
“Thank you, Mr. Havenflame. The information you have provided has been extraordinarily constructive.”
Once Ada and Toren were back in the hallway, headed in the direction of their desks, Toren spoke up.
“Okay, point made. But that’s only one guy. You may have just gotten lucky.”
“I thought you might say that,” said Ada.
The two repeated their experiment several more times. Mr. Marblebreeze was a native Virginian who attended Assembly of the Bride of Christ and was really bummed that Playboy was no longer publishing nude centerfolds. Mr. Grizzlyrock hailed from New England, was a congregant of the Faith Pentecostal Church of the Children of God, and was currently pressuring his wife to undergo breast augmentation surgery. Mr. Shadowshot grew up in Oregon, went every Sunday to the Greater Oceanspell Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas, and had a tattoo of a vagina on his neck.
“All right,” said Toren. “I’m convinced. This place is a fucking cult.”
“Exactly,” said Ada. “Now—what do we do about it?”
“I suppose the first thing we’d need to do is acquire evidence that there is something actually nefarious going on here, and that it isn’t pure coincidence that the 70-odd upper-level employees of this company happen to be privileged by every conceivable metric.”
“But—how do we do that?”
“Well, I’d imagine there must be some coordination between those at the top to ensure that these bigoted hiring practices are enforced. So—we browse their emails.”
“Mm-hm. You know these emails aren’t public domain. They haven’t been uploaded to TopSecretEmails.net or posted on Morningblood’s personal blog or anything like that.”
“Unfortunately not. So—we go in.”
“Into the system.”
“That sounds like a good, highly illegal idea.”
“Thanks.” Sometimes Ada only heard certain words. “To Gary Summersteel’s office!”
As the two headed back to the north side of the office, it was decided that Ada would conduct her illicit investigation alone, mainly because no one would look at her askance for entering the office of the man whose business she was temporarily handling, while Toren’s presence there might raise some old, gray eyebrows. Ada was also more skilled at covert maneuvers, plus it was her damn idea, so it only made sense she would be the one to shoulder the risk of capture.
“Just gonna tidy up Mr. Summersteel’s desk,” Ada announced as she entered the darkened office, in case anyone should happen to be nearby and curious with regard to her activity. “Dude’s Post-It notes are in serious disarray.”
Once inside, Ada closed and locked the door, then took a seat at Summersteel’s desk. She gave his mouse a waggle to wake his monitor, then typed in the password she had surreptitiously watched him tap in earlier that morning. “JugzNotDrugz62!,” she said out loud as she typed. “Tool.”
With access granted, she clicked into his gmail and began perusing his folders:
Photos of Family
Photos of Naked Women
Trip to Belize
“Hm,” said Ada. “Curious that the pictures of naked women didn’t make it as a subfolder in one of the ‘Personal’ folders.” Then, after doing a double take: “Oh. ‘Incriminating Evidence.’ That one has potential. You didn’t make it this easy for me, did you, Gar?”
Unfortunately for Ada, she never had a chance to find out. Just as the cursor hovered over the ‘Incriminating Evidence’ folder, she heard the distress signal that she and Toren had worked out in advance: two quick raps against the glass, followed by a pause, followed by one more quick rap against the glass, and then an approximation of the mating call of a prairie warbler. With great haste, Ada closed out of Summersteel’s gmail, shot up out of her temporary supervisor’s office chair, and beelined for the door. Her hand was nearly on the handle when the door was opened from the outside, and a gentleman she did not recognize entered. He appeared rather shocked to encounter another person.
“Oh—sorry,” he said, not looking very sorry. “I didn’t realize someone was in here. Are you—do you work for Gary?”
“Just for this week,” said Ada, whose voice didn’t waver an iota. Stuttering and stammering were not in her DNA. “Mr. Summersteel had to head out for the afternoon, so I decided to be proactive and tidy up his desk.”
“I see.” The man looked over Ada’s shoulder. “Still looks unkempt. You weren’t done, were you?”
“Of course not. Was just on my way to the supply room to pick up a desk organizer. Plus a rag and a can of Pledge. Maybe also steel wool and a bucket of industrial degreaser. I hadn’t realized things were in such rough shape.” It occurred that Ada’s best approach might be to turn things around, and go on the offensive. “What about you? Is there something I can help you with? Maybe you’d like to leave your name and I can have Mr. Summersteel get back to you?”
“I’m Derek—I work with Gary. He called me and asked if I could hop in here and grab the Kendall file.”
“Oh, right, the Kendall file,” said Ada. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I saw it sitting on the credenza back there, somewhere underneath that veritable landfill of dust, cookie crumbs, and fingernail clippings. Seriously, the guy is Marie Kondo’s living nightmare.”
With that, Ada brushed past a still-slightly-suspicious Derek and rejoined Toren in the hall.
“That was close,” she said. “Your warbler could be a hair quicker on the draw.”
“I was striving for authenticity,” said Toren. “Anyway, did you get it?”
“I was close, but—no. And now I can’t go back in there. Too much heat. We’ll have to think of something else.”
As Ada and Toren discussed in hushed tones what that something else might be, Derek eyed them covertly through a crack in the blinds of Summersteel’s office. He spoke softly into the cell phone he held at his ear. We can’t be sure, because we were too far away, but it might have been something about Ada.