The Office of Doom

Dave and I visited the new office space.

We pulled up to the building in the rain and bolted to the door, covering our heads with papers while other pedestrians used their umbrellas. Inside, a spartan foyer and a wide stairway to the second floor were washed in natural light by a skylight. It was nothing like the other claustrophobic bricked-in spaces we’d seen before. I shared a look with Dave and he grinned.

“I’m liking it already. This is classy.”

Inside, the office was a disaster. Old magazines were piled on the maroon carpeting, and a battered coffee table crouched in the middle of the room. Next to it, a copy of The Mosquito Coast with the back cover ripped off lay open on the floor.

“Hey!” a voice said. “Sorry, just tryin’ to find a label on this desk or something.” A huge horseshoe of a wooden desk was jammed against the far wall, and squatting behind it was a rumpled salt-and-pepper guy with a Cubs cap. Jerry, our would-be landlord. He stood, swallowed my hand in a friendly grip, and sighed. “Still trying to find where Bill rented this from, he took all the stuff he bought but left the rental furniture. Hey Dave.”

I looked around while they talked prices, catching snatches of whispers about “damned lawyers” and “six months behind rent.” A bay window craned out over the sidewalk, with a full view of Front street and the train station. A people watcher’s dream, or a sniper’s. “William Kasey, Attourney At Law” was still stenciled into the windows; we’d have to get rid of that.

“So, what happened with this guy?” Dave asked casually. “I mean, when will he be back to pick up his stuff?”

Jerry darkened. “Oh, I’ll find out where he got the furniture from, don’t worry, we can stick it in one of the other offices if it gets to that.” He ducked under the desk again, still looking around for hidden stickers or property marks.

Dave joined him in the search and I worked out where we’d run the network cables. The room was deceptively large; we could fit a good three or four people in there if we really needed to. That boat of a desk just made it look smaller.

“No, I’m not worried about the desk. We can just keep that in here and Jeff can use it until we figure out what to do with it; I was just worried about what to do with his… well, his stuff. Law books, all that.” Dave waved at the shelf by the window, where jumbled stacks were collecting dust. “He just left it all here.”

“Oh. That.” Jerry stopped for a minute, standing up and scratching his chin dramatically. “I mean… I’ve got calls in to him.” He flashed a what-can-you-do look and shrugged. “He’s hiding, it’s pretty obvious. I called his old number, his parents are living there now. They say they don’t know where to reach him. I mean, it’s in his court.” He laughed. “God, I’m glad you’re not lawyers.” A dramatic raising of his hands and his gaze to the heavens. “Thank God! No more lawyers!”

He and Dave laughed, and I kicked aside a few law journals as I made my way to the shelves.

Eventually, Jerry took us back through the skinny hallway to his office: slightly larger than the back seat of Dave’s station wagon, but reeking of cigar smoke. One wall was covered by a map of the chicago burbs, spiked with hundreds of colored pins. On the other, a wallful of framed quotations stretched from floor to ceiling. “Anyone can be tricked into an impossible deadling. No one can be bullied into meeting to it.”

“Hold on, I can bring up the numbers for the utilities; it’s been fine the last few years except that guy” – another evil look – “always wanted to run his air at seventy, twenty-four seven.” He shook his head, punched, at the keyboard, and cleared away an arc on his desk with a quick sweeping motion. Post-its fluttered to the ground.

After showing us the numbers, he pulls open his drawer: half-spent boxes of KOOL fall out. He catches one and pulls a cigarette out. “Ah, fuck it. I’m gonna go have a smoke.”

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