(This is a continuing series called “Kissing Frogs” posted every Friday. To get caught up, you can click the “Kissing Frogs . . . so far” link at the top of the page.)
The woman was a lunatic. There was nothing more that could be said for it, and the more Tracey watched her, the more she could see her entire career, this entire business, floating away down the pipes Joey was supposed to be quoting on. Here was the most celebrated author for Sophia publishing and she looked like a mental patient.
Jan Billar-Sykes was dressed in her pajamas and an old bathrobe. She had pink terry-toweled slippers on her feet, and one of those “as-seen-on-t.v.” towel turbans on her head. This was less disconcerting to Tracey than the alternating rage and tears.
“No one understands what this is like Tracey!” Jan was in a rage stage at the moment. “It’s like giving birth continuously for a year, only to have your infant snatched from you and thrown to the lions! These people have no soul! They can’t raise my words to maturity like they need to be raised. Andrew Faulkner? Ms. Tina Free? Giving my words to them is like offering a child on an altar to Ba’al!”
“Hardly . . .” But Tracey was cut off as Jan slid into tears again.
“How can I go on? I have abandoned my only progeny. The muses will abandon me. They already have, I can feel it. I will never write again.”
The thought briefly cheered Tracey, but that had obviously not been the intended effect, so she proffered a new box of Kleenex and awkwardly patted the shoulder of a deranged woman.
Joanna was standing in the office door looking speechless and terrified. It was unheard of for Joanna to look either, so this combination was doing nothing to calm Tracey’s nerves. Fortunately, at this moment, Jan fainted. It was the best possible solution to a worst possible situation.
Joanna and Tracey had her ninety-eight pound frame downstairs waiting when the paramedics arrived minutes later. Reviving from her faint, all Jan could do was wave pathetically as the ambulance doors closed off her view of Joanna and Tracey collapsing onto the sidewalk.
“She’s out of her mind!” said Joanna, when they had convinced themselves that she wasn’t coming back.
“What are we going to do!” Wailed Tracey. “She’s the author of our newest book! Who’s going to promote it?”
A shadow fell over the two women, and a voice spoke from above.
“Well, it isn’t unheard of, when the author is indisposed, for the publisher to send a representative to promote books.” Dr. Faulkner’s voice was unmistakable, and send shivers through the pit of Tracey’s stomach and the back of her knees.
The two women struggled to their feet and did their best to look as un-rumpled as possible. Andrew reached down and gallantly assisted, first Joanna, and then, with far more attention, and more assistance than strictly necessary, Tracey.
“I happen to know of a nationally syndicated radio show that would be pleased to interview, say, the publisher of this fine organization about their most recent publication.”
Andrew gently guided her into the building, and up the stairs. His hand rested, every so gently, on the small of her back. Suddenly Tracey’s mouth was dry and her stomach was turning flips. She hadn’t felt like this in months. This was outrageous! Would she ever outgrow this awkwardness? And now Andrew was speaking to her, and she was looking him directly in the eyes, and hearing nothing!
“. . . squeeze you in within a few months. When does the book come out?”
Tracey roused herself, and realized that they were not, in fact, in her office, but in the small break room on the second floor. She blinked for a second and then looked back into Dr. Faulkner’s deep blue eyes. Just before she drowned in them, she managed to recite the proposed publishing deadlines, and the promotions calendar.
The atmosphere was different. Joanna was looking flushed, and nervous when Joey and his friend Jack Sawyer walked into the building. At first he had attributed it to the fact that Jack generally had that affect on women. When he mentioned that they were here to meet with Tracey about business, though, Joanna’s eyes flickered upstairs, she blushed, deeply, and then looked at her computer keyboard.
“She’s with someone right now, a drop in. She’ll be ready in a . . . well, actually I don’t know when she’ll be available.”
Joey grinned, “Is, by any chance, a Dr. Faulkner in the building?”
Joanna’s eyes looked up and she relaxed several notches. She grinned back.
“Yeah. He just showed up.”
“So, could we just look around the building, work up an idea of what needs to be done, and y’all can find us when she’s ready to talk repairs?”
Joanna hopped up. “I can show you the building. The phone’s portable.”
As she came around the desk, clipping the phone to her belt.
“I hate this desk with a deep and abiding passionate hate.” She said, quite cheerfully, and then saw his reaction. “Oh, I love my job, I just hate the desk. It’s down here, all alone. So I find reasons not to be here. Like giving you and your friend . . . Jack was it? . . . a tour around our lovely depression era building. Let’s begin at the top, shall we?”
By the time they reached the third story, Joanna had happily filled Jack in on the Dr. Faulkner saga, and put on her tour guide voice, striking a pose. “This is the third floor. On this side. . .” She opened the door to the left. “. . .is storage, and some stuff that came with the building.”
“Like a heater.” said Jack.
“Maybe, and old desks.”
“Um, he’s saying that the big metal box along that wall is the heater. That’s odd, because they’re usually found in basements.” Joey was thinking out loud as he explained the comment to Joanna.
“No, warm.” Joanna looked blankly at Joey. He grinned. “Get it, warm . . .heater . . .oh never mind.”
Joey and Jack looked at some of the duct work and wiring while Joanna poked through a few boxes. The trio moved through the entire building this way. Jack spent his time snapping digital pictures, while Joey scribbled notes attached to his grubby clipboard. Vents where opened, outlets tested, conduits investigated, and through it all Joanna ran a happy commentary of conversation.
On the third floor they met Anne.
“We call her room ‘the hole’,” whispered Joanna before opening the door. It was techno-geek paradise, and both men were assured that they would have no need to lay a hand on any part of the room.
“But the electrical is awful in the rest of the building. I’ve got ground fault warnings on all of my power bars, and I keep telling Tracey that if we don’t do something soon, we’re going to fry a piece of hardware.” was Anne’s plea. The men assured her it was high on their priority list.
On the second floor, Joanna enthusiastically introduced them to Robin and Kristi, the proofreaders who shared a large office, and Terri, the copywriter who was sitting on the floor of her office, surrounded in paperwork.
“Terri? I didn’t know you worked here!” Joey was surprised to see a familiar face. Joanna and Jack were just as surprised as he was.
Terri smiled, in a frazzled sort of way, and looked up at him. “I went to college with Tracey. What brings you to this estrogen charged work environment?”
“Well good. That’s what we’ve been praying for right? Well, it was nice seeing you.” and with that Terri was back into her paper work like the men weren’t even there.
Joey laughed as they moved down the hall. He’d known Terri for five years, and obviously she was the same person at work as she was at church. It was comforting.
The second floor board room had very little need in the way of repairs, but when Joanna walked them into the little kitchen area that bridged between the board room and the break room, both men groaned. The outdated galley style kitchen was not only ugly, it was dangerous. Their eyes flew around the room, seeing dangling light fixtures, two horribly overloaded electrical outlets, peeling paint, sagging cupboards, the list went on and on. Jack turned to their tour guide.
“Okay, Joanna, you know that this is not good, right?”
“Oh yeah. It’s gross. When we catered our Open House, the caterers wouldn’t even come in here.”
Joey was about to tell her that gross was just the surface, when the door on the other end of the galley opened. There, framed in the doorway, was Andrew Faulkner. Joanna began a deep blush, and was suddenly silent.
Jack leaned over and muttered near Joey’s ear: “Dr. Faulkner, I presume?” Joey chuckled and nodded, continuing to scribble notes.
“Isn’t he supposed to be on the air in 45 minutes?” asked Jack.
Joey checked his watch, before realizing that he didn’t know what time the show aired. He just shrugged.
“Well, I had better be going,” Andrew was saying to someone (Joey assumed it was Tracey) in the other room, “I’ve got to be on the air in 42 minutes.”
Jack grinned at Joey and mocked polishing his collar before snapping a picture of an electrical hazard.
“All of this office talk distracted me. The reason I stopped by was to ask you if you would care to have dinner with me this evening.” Faulkner continued.
At the statement, Joanna let out a little squeak. Jack was barely suppressing laughter. All they heard in the kitchen was the sound of a response, without being able to discern the actual words.
Dr. Faulkner nodded, to the response, and said, “I’ll see you then,” before turning and seeing that he had an audience. He looked Joey and Jack up and down, before greeting Joanna warmly, and leaving the room. With a deafening scream, Joanna threw herself through the already fragile door, into the break room beyond. Jack shook his head.
“Maybe we should charge an emotional baggage fee on this one. I’m going to have the need to shoot and gut an animal just to prove I’m a man after much time here.”
Joey just laughed at his friend.
“Big talk from the father of four girls.”
“That’s what I’m saying Joey!” came the response, “I’ll be outnumbered every where I go!”