…characters drawn from the names of people popping in to my SPAM account. They send me emails with attachments purporting to be unpaid invoices or accounts settled in my favour. Usually, as a matter of course, these emails are deleted unopened. This morning I found twelve of them. The same fate awaits.
But who are these good people? I have not heard of any of them. Tracey Hewertson is after some ‘additional information’, Guadaloupe Harvey has a bill that needs examining. Lee Baker, I might have met him somewhere before. I just spotted a man walking across the car park with a large white envelope in his hand. Could he be Dale Carpenter with Bill N-2C4011? Maybe. He goes straight through to Reception. I can see him through the glass doors. The new intern signs for the envelope. Dale turns and for a split second our eyes meet. Does he know?
I duck down behind my computer monitor on the hot desk and pretend to check something on the screen. I can spend many good hours working on pointless documents that no one else can understand, which have little or no relevance to the project in hand, but they make me look proficient. I still haven’t actually logged in yet. There was a new coffee machine in the break room this morning that made something not quite totally undrinkable, which was a nice change, so everything has been more or less delayed as a result. When I glance up again I see Dale has returned to Reception. He is very animated. The intern behind the desk seems concerned. I wonder whether I should do something?
Then he is gone, past Reception and through the fire escape doors into the building. The intern is clearly panicked. The security guard is nowhere to be seen. I’m guessing it is lunchtime. There are very few colleagues in the open-plan today. Please, I am not the hero type, but I head out to Reception anyway.
‘Hi, I’m Simon, what just happened?’
Hi, Tammi Pacheco, I don’t know, he just went nuts!’
Her name sounds familiar, ‘Have you been here before?’ I ask.
‘No, first day. Is it always like this?’
‘Yes, no. What did he want?’
‘He said there was someone on the eighth floor he absolutely had to deliver something to in person but he wouldn’t tell me who, and he wouldn’t wait for me to call this person down.’
‘But the eighth floor is closed for refurbishment. There’s no-one up there.’ I scratch my head. He must know.
‘I tried to get him to wait but he just got more and more worked up.’ Tammi picked up the security radio on the desk. ‘I tried calling Mr Baker but I think he might be asleep in the car park kiosk again.’
Baker was a pain in the neck. Okay so it was quiet around here most of the time, out in the middle of nowhere on a modern identikit commercial park, but did he have to play to the old routines with so much gusto? I pull my phone from my pocket and send a text, ‘Intruder on lvl 8!’. I don’t expect a reply.
‘I’ll go and see if I can help,’ I say, summoning up as much nonchalant calm as possible I stride toward the fire escape door.
‘You could use the lift?’
She will go far Ms Pacheco. I turn on my heel and make my way back to the lift lobby. I press the call button and the lift pings. The display box says six, four, two and then I hear it rumble to a stop in front of me. The doors glide open and there is Dale, with a wild look in his eyes.
‘What have you done?’ He glares at me. Tammi has her phone up like a tiny shield between her and us.
‘What?’ Is as much as I can say.
‘Where is Guadaloupe?’
‘Don’t try and be funny mate. She was here a week ago, on the eighth floor.’
‘Sorry but the eighth has been empty for a month, along with the ninth and sixth.’
‘Rubbish! I delivered packages to loads of people on that floor just last week. There are loads of people still up there today working away at their screens. None of them have seen her either.’
He turns back and I follow Dale into the lift. He presses the number eight on the panel and the doors slide shut. As the doors close I see Tammi packing up her handbag behind the Reception counter.
The lift creaks and shudders up the shaft. Dale stares at me with the look of a man who knows he is right, even if he doesn’t quite understand the game. I am prepared to believe I have no idea what has happened to the eighth floor since I saw the order and the removal men arrive and clear it out. I notice that Dale has a name badge on the front of his jacket, but I am standing at the wrong angle to make it out. I offer my right hand.
‘I’m Simon,’ I say.
He is about to reply when the lift comes to a lurching halt and the doors slide open.
I don’t know when they re-did the eighth floor, but not much has changed. The nineties décor seems to have been faithfully reproduced down to the scuffs on the skirting. The furniture is all very retro too. Right now I don’t recognise any of the people in the open plan area to the right of the lift lobby. On the left is a list of associate names, Marquita Carney, Corrine Ortiz, Chi Ware and Davis Bolton. They mean nothing to me.
‘She was here. Now she’s gone and nobody can tell me anything.’
‘Okay Dale, if you say so. I was up here two weeks ago and this floor was empty.’
Dale seems calmer now. I incline my head in the international ‘follow me’ gesture and we make off through the open plan area. I want to see if there is anyone in the office I do recognise. In about half a minute we are at the front windows looking out across the commercial park. The sun is high in the sky. The daylight saving change at the weekend is still having an effect. My sleep is all wrong. I woke up way too early this morning for no other reason. It knocks the kids out too.
Across the car park from us is another office building. More identikit buildings line up either side along a central boulevard. The sun shines down on them making their windows reflect our building back to us.
‘Dale?’ I say.
‘Yes, I know.’ He replies.
Together we return to the lift lobby.
On the Ground Floor Tammi Pacheco is nowhere to be seen.