Eric got on the elevator and pushed the button for his floor. The door closed and the elevator ceased looking like an elevator and looked instead like a tiny little room of wood and mirror and brass. Some quiet orchestral music lilted unobtrusively from speakers hidden somewhere behind the wood or brass. It sounded vaguely familiar. He concentrated on it for a moment and then realized that it was one of his favorite songs from high school, the one he used to listen to with the windows down on his car, the song blasting at full blast on the stereo, while he drank beer and traded insults with his friends. He shook his head. It was practically unrecognizable now.
Eric’s ears popped familiarly and he glanced up at the big red numbers on the LED display. The dashes had turned to numbers. The express elevator didn’t even start counting floors until the 40th floor. Now it was 68. 75. 80. 84. 88. The elevator slowed imperceptibly then stopped, very smoothly. The doors opened and he stepped out onto the marble foyer of Terra Firma Architectural Associates. His wingtips clicked on the highly polished marble. The door beeped pleasantly in a sort of subdued greeting as he scanned his badge and then opened for him. The marble gave way to plush, thick carpeting. He was now surrounded by cherry paneling, chrome accents, and a sort of 1940s art deco vibe. Helen was at her post at the high, curved receptionist desk.
“Hello, Mr. Pye,” she said brightly. Her eyes were preternaturally blue. Her hair was always perfect. The perky little flip at the back would probably remain unperturbed in a hurricane.
“Hiya, Helen,” he said, smiling at her. Then he looked down at the carpet. He avoided looking at the large glass windows that revealed a panoramic view of the city all around them. The view stretched out in every direction to the horizon. But he did not look at it. He walked quickly towards his office, keeping his eye on the carpet or the potted plants or the art hanging on the walls. He only glanced upwards when someone would greet him and he would smile and return their greetings, but then he would look back down at the carpet.
He scanned his badge at his office door and when he heard the click of the lock he pushed his way into it. The light came on as he entered. But it needn’t have bothered. The vertical blinds were open. Sunlight streamed in through the lightly tinted windows.
“Dammit,” he murmured. The cleaning crew had left his blinds open again even though he had left them explicit directions a dozen times to keep them closed. He set his briefcase down on the carpet and felt his heart beating quicker as he edged slowly over to the cord of the blinds. He kept his eyes shut as he pulled on the side of the cord that closed the blinds. By the time he got them closed and had blotted out the view of the city below, his pulse was racing. He felt hot and flushed and a little nauseous. He sat down in his high-backed leather chair and pulled himself up to his desk, his back to the window blinds he’d just closed.
Just then, Tina, his assistant entered his office holding a long tube. “Good morning, Mr. Pye!” she said brightly. “How are you this morning?”
“Fine,” he said, though not convincingly. He slipped his finger between his collar and his neck and ran it along the inside of his collar, as if loosening it. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. I brought this blueprint for you to look at.”
“That’s fine, Tina. Thank you. Just put it over there on my light table. I’ll take a look at it in a minute.”
“Yes, sir.” She set the drawing on the table and turned to face him. She was all smiles and perkiness. “Don’t forget about your ten o’clock.”
“My ten o’clock?” he asked, loosening his tie just a little and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt.
“Yes. The crew from International Architect will be here to interview you.”
“Ah. Yes. I had forgotten. Thank you.” He looked at her for a moment. “Does it feel warm in here to you?”
“No sir. It is very comfortable. But I can turn down the thermostat if you like.”
“No. It’s fine. I just feel … a little …” He paused and was stock still as if he were listening for some faint noise. “Did you hear that?”
“It was like . . . kind of a light popping noise. Almost a ticking.”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
Eric stared at the “executive toy” on his desk, which was a chrome pendulum mounted on a mahogany base. He stared at it intently for several moments. It was completely motionless.
“Yes. Okay. Thank you, Tina. That will be all for now.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Pye. Don’t forget. Ten o’clock! The world wants to know all about the world’s youngest designer of skyscrapers.”
“I don’t know why anyone should be interested in anything like that,” he said as he popped open his briefcase and began removing papers.
She looked incredulous and amused.
“Not interested! Of course they are! Just imagine … 28 years old and sitting on the 90th floor of a building that you designed. That’s pretty amazing!”
But he wasn’t listening to her. He was frozen like a rabbit that had heard a twig snap nearby. His eyes were glued on the pendulum on his desk. Tina stared at it as well, but it wasn’t moving even the slightest little bit. He was quite pale.
Tina shrugged and turned to leave. Geniuses were so strange.
“Tina … one more thing.”
She paused and looked back at him. “Yes, Mr. Pye?”
“Tell the crew from International Architect that I will … um … meet them in the coffee shop in the atrium on the ground floor.”
Tina stared at him a moment and then said in her practiced professional voice. “Yes sir, Mr. Pye.”
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