The Corner Office
A Destroyer Always Lands on Her Feet
“The Corner Office” or A Destroyer Always Lands on Her Feet
Diamond and Fortran are principle characters in a much larger work titled Darkatana: A Black Tale that is still in preparation. The author encourages them to come out and play in other contexts, hence the current short story. Please enjoy. —c@, March 11, 2014.
Diamond was out for a walk. It was late, the retail shops were closed and the streets nearly empty but the darkened city was still quietly buzzing with a potent mixture of midnight dining, public drunkenness, and sex.
For all the nightlife churn and the packed sidewalks, she was walking very much alone. Or to put it another way, she was on the prowl. In fact the former activity would be hard to differentiate from the latter except that prowling usually resulted in someone being eaten.
Nor did it matter one jot that she was out walking (or maybe prowling, but you get the idea now) on a narrow ledge high up on the side of an ornate office building, four floors above the street. Ledges, rooftops, railings, ladders, fire escapes, literal catwalks – all of it represented prowling at its best.
The ledge made its way past the windows of any number of important looking offices, all of course empty and dark, it being well after bankers' hours.
All that is but one, and to this was her attention drawn.
A square of light lit a section of the ledge at her feet. She paused and leaning forward peered inside.
The office was on the small side with room only for functional furniture; a desk with associated task chair, some filing cabinets, and a single additional wooden chair for a visitor. The light spilling out at her feet came from a floor lamp beside the desk.
The desk itself was covered with loose papers, binders, and fast food containers. Tottering stacks of notebooks at one end threatened an avalanche.
It looked a mess, but that did not interest her. What was of interest was the only other thing in the room.
A man of maybe 40 was sitting at the desk, shuffling papers and going through notes. His hair was uncombed and every so often he would reach up and run a hand through it, setting it awry in a different direction. Then we would return to the papers.
Diamond watched him for a short while, then turned her attention to the window itself.
The windows in that building were narrow but quite high, matching the high ceilings of the offices within. Standing on the ledge she could see in easily without stooping. The bottom half of the window was hinged to open outwards like a door. She hooked the nails of one hand under the rim and pulled, but it didn't move.
A latch inside held the window fast against the jam.
Diamond examined the window framing carefully as if she were weighing the merits of tearing it from its mountings, or perhaps breaking the glass out entirely. She was certainly capable of either approach.
Giving up, she sighed and prepared to take her prowling into more promising directions.
In the office, the phone began to ring with a soft bird-like trill.
Diamond sat down on the ledge with her long legs dangling casually over the edge, crossed at the ankles and her hands pushed between her powerful thighs. Below a group of people burst into sudden laughter. She leaned forward to watch them with her large moist amber eyes, nothing but a casual murderous interest reflecting within them.
After letting it ring for a while the man set his papers aside and pickup up the handset of a desk phone that lay partially obscured by food wrappers.
He ran his other hand through his hair again.
“Hi,” he said.
It was one sound, just that one word. But Diamond's attention suddenly ricocheted away from the street scene four floors below and back to the office.
“Yes I know, and I'm sorry,” he said, holding up his end of a conversation. “I'm just – this whole business is becoming complex.”
She leaned forward with her face nearly pressed to the glass, listening intently.
“Please can we – talk about this later?” he pleaded over the phone, sounding weary. “Because I can't stop now, that's why. I'm in up to my eyeballs in this. If it goes badly I can't – “
As he trailed off Diamond stood up with a fluid motion, stepped around the window and further down the ledge so she could listen from a different angle.
“I don't know what happens now,” he said. “Yesterday was supposed to fix it, but it didn't fix anything. I don't know what to do. I don't know a way out. They've sprung the trap and we have no way out.”
He listened for a long time then, running first one hand and then the other over his hair.
His hands were shaking.
Diamond's eyes narrowed slightly as she watched him. She stood on the ledge in the darkness regarding him the way a cat might regard a mouse moving just behind a hole.
“I can't,” he said finally, slumping in his chair. “I just can't. Everything will be over if I walk away now. We'll have nothing and no future at all. I have to figure this out. I have to manage it in my own way. Please try and understand.”
Diamond turned and leaned with her back against the side of the building, her bright predatory eyes staring unfocused out into the amorphous, uncaring night.
“I love you,” he said, weariness overtaking him. “And the children. Will you hug them for me? Tell them I love them so much.”
“I will,” he said. “I'll see you – soon. Good bye.”
He returned the hand set to the desk phone cradle and ran his shaking hands through his hair. Then he stood and walked around the office. To the door, and then back. To the filing cabinets, and then to the door and grabbing the door knob, but not turning it but instead going back to his desk and sitting down heavily.
Diamond stepped away from the window, and looked down at the street in a calculating way. There was the faint sound of some piece of office furniture being moved and then a metallic scraping sound at the window. She looked over just as the window swung open with a creaking sound of unused hinges. She retreated slightly into the deeper shadows, and waited.
Hands appeared on the edges of the window sill, and then the man pulled himself through the window and onto the threshold, boosted up by the wooden chair he had positioned under the window. He groped around the side of the building outside all details invisible in the darkness, and slowly edged out onto the ledge.
He was tentative and dragged his feet under him, clearly at the limits of courage. The wind rose and tossed his disheveled hair into upright locks, literally a hair-raising moment. He muttered continuously something about no way out and they would have to forgive him and how much he loved his family.
Diamond -- unseen in the darkness to his right – thoughtfully tapped a fang with the nail of one finger.
The man, still clinging terrified to the building facade, peered over the edge of the precipice at the street scene below. Slowly he leaned outwards reaching with one hand as if he would mount a ladder there.
His attention shot up in the direction of the sound of a voice, his eyes round with a new kind of startled terror, and withdrew from the edge.
“I thought I was the only one did this kind of thing,” Diamond continued casually, looking down at the lit street below as if she were discussing something that should be happening down there and not for example four floors above on a narrow ledge outside a window to an office.
“Wha --” the man began.
“Walk,” Diamond clarified. “Beautiful night for it. I've not seen anyone else out here to now. Well certainly not anyone human. Do you often?”
The man groped around the window opening again. “No I don't,” he replied seeming suddenly unsure what he was about, as if finding someone else on the same ledge had disturbed his earlier train of thought.
Diamond smiled. “There is a really great view of the park over that way,” she said conversationally, pointing the direction she had come earlier. “I was headed over there just now; you can join me if you like.”
He glanced the direction she pointed, then licked his lips and asked, “What do you do there?”
“I watch people,” she revealed with an air of great intrigue.
“I – think I'll pass,” he finally said. He was seeming more firm in his resolve then, and less frightened overall.
“As you wish,” Diamond said. Without further preamble she stepped around him using just the very edge of the ledge, to then stand against the glass of the open window on the other side smiling pleasantly as if they had just passed in a narrow hall and not on a ledge four floors up.
He looked at her with renewed alarm, as if she were either insane or suicidal, which under his particular circumstances was ironic.
“Aren't you afraid of falling?” he asked.
Diamond looked over the edge. “From this high? Certainly not. In fact I've been pushed from this height a few times and while it isn't fun I've always survived it. Someone like you of course would wind up in a hospital with every bone broken.”
Then she leaned back and looked up the side of the building. “Now from up there,” she said pointing into the darkness overhead, “I'd have a bit of trouble, likely. Of course a human would be killed outright. No hospital stay, no pain, no anything.”
The man looked up as well, then back down at the street, then his mouth set into a firm line.
“Oh hey you might want to try that too!” Diamond offered with enthusiasm. “It's great walking on the roof. And I know just the way to get up there! It's a cinch. Here let me take you, we'll have loads of fun.”
Grabbing his wrist she jumped down into his office dragging him after her. He let out a yelp but scrambled to follow, slightly stumbling over the chair as he did so.
“There isn't a direct way up,” she continued as they headed for the door together. “But I have a trick, let me show you. What's your name?”
After a furtive glance both ways in the hall outside she dragged him straight for the stairwell, and they went up.
“Elmer,” he offered finally. “My name is Elmer.”
“I am called Diamond,” Diamond said without turning. “But that's not my name.”
If that seemed to invite elaboration, none was forthcoming.
As they climbed the stairs Diamond was telling him instead about all the strange things she had ever encountered on rooftops in the city, as if they were discussing times at the beach. The building in total was only eight floors, by the time they had reached the top floor Elmer though in reasonable good shape was quite out of breath. Diamond stood panting and smiling in the middle of the hall while he collected his breath, and looked around.
The eighth floor was appointed with far more actual opulence than the rest of the building. The carpet was thick with luxury, richly colored and perfectly groomed. It might have been installed that day so little wear was evidenced. The walls were covered in wood panels and hung with large and tasteful paintings, and there were several white pedestals bearing marble busts of important philosophers, or some such notable figures.
She grabbed his wrist again and led them to the end of the hall.
“You have to use a corner office,” she explained as they came to stand in front of a high double door square in the end of the hall. “Those always have a proper fire escape with a ladder to the roof.”
A breathless Elmer looked up at the portal and his eyes went large. “We're can't go in there!” he protested weakly.
“Yes we can,” Diamond said firmly, and one hand disappeared under the open leather vest she was wearing as a top.
“This is the suite of the VP of Finances!” he protested. “She's my boss! I've never even set foot in there!”
“He said pee” Diamond noted with a snicker even as her hand reappeared from under the vest bearing a large, jet-black and very serious looking semi-automatic hand gun.
When he saw it Elmer gasped so hard he nearly choked.
She took casual aim at the center of the doors into the suite and fired three times into the area around the door knob. In the silence and padded opulence of the hallway the bark of the weapon sounded like cannon fire, and Elmer nearly jumped out of his skin. Diamond gave him a swift glance as she put the gun away under her vest, then with a private smile she pushed open one half of the double doors and entered the forbidden regions of the corner office.
Elmer hesitated only a moment before he ran in behind her, looking equal parts mortified and terrorized. As he entered, the automatic lights of the outer office slowly and serenely brought themselves up casting a cone of light around them.
The room they entered was apparently a reception area, quite large but without windows. There was another modestly sized office with a single door directly behind the receptionist desk that was perhaps reserved for an administrative assistant, and there was another set of heavy looking, very high double doors to the left that would no doubt lead deeper.
The outer office was functional but well appointed. On one side of the entrance there were two padded chairs and a love seat with an end table, and the end table sported an arrangement of ground orchids. There were a few filing cabinets similar to those in Elmer's tiny office, but here the desk was much larger. It was made of some kind of deeply polished hardwood, the craftsmanship slightly marred by the three neatly-space bullet holes in the front panel, where it faced the similarly perforated door.
In the middle of the floor between the desk and the door was a spray of splinters, and a doorknob.
Elmer was creeping through the reception area looking lost and frightened. As it became clear they weren't going to be summarily vaporized by hidden laser cannons, he relaxed a little.
Diamond stood with her arms crossed, taking in the surround. The look on her face was one of studied disregard. Spying something that caught her interest she walked over to one of the bookshelves where she reached up and retrieved a small black statuette of an Egyptian cat goddess.
Elmer made a move as if he intended to intercept her, when a lash of her tail warned him away.
He perhaps hadn't noticed up to then that she even possessed a tail.
“So many kings we cannot remember them all,” she said to the small cat in her hand. “And these things also will become dust.” Then with the statuette still in hand she ventured toward the huge doors.
The doors were not locked and Diamond pushed one of them inwards with her free hand. She walked into the darkened space, and as Elmer entered the lights came up to great them exactly as they had earlier. There was something like a lounge area sporting low padded chairs, wide coffee tables, a fully stocked wet bar and two pedestal tables with small granite tops. It would have provided space for a dozen people to hang out and visit or drink.
It would have seemed impossible but here was even more opulent than either the hall or the front office. The carpet though identical was somehow more plush, and the paneled walls more lustrous. The pictures on the walls were hung and individually lit in a way that made it obvious to any untrained observer that these were all expensive and very rare master works. There was plenty of room to move and think, everything was in order, and nothing was out of place. There were no loose binders or papers; in fact there were none of these things at all. It was a safe bet that fast food had never once entered the premises. The hardwood bookshelves on one end contained only collectible manuscripts and authentic Egyptian and Mayan curios, all perfectly arranged.
It was much less an office suite and more a statement of power, influence and the presentation of privilege.
To the right yet another set of double doors stood already open onto an office that was at least ten times the size of Elmer's. It had the same kind of desk as the receptionist as well as file cabinets and shelves. This room had an outside wall so it came with the same kind of tall bisected windows looking out onto the street as Elmer's had, though of course now the street was eight floors down.
“Good God,” he finally said, stunned. They walked slowly through the lounge and individual ceiling lights came up automatically as they did. It was as if doors into heaven were opening to cast their radiant blessing on whoever was so fortunate as to occupy the space.
“On the subject,” Diamond began. “My sister, were she here, would claim that God had nothing to do with so much display of wealth. But she would be wrong.”
Elmer looked up and she finally turned. She held up the tiny statuette and regarding it carefully said “All of this – to the least of the stolen antiquities – is the very face of your God. Who I think these days is named money.”
She sat the statuette in the center one of the wide coffee tables.
She motioned him to follow and headed for the last room, being the large office with windows. She came around the desk and went straight for a curtain, on reaching it pulled it back.
“There!” she said triumphantly.
Beyond the curtain and outside the window was a platform of iron mesh with a thin safety rail. “Didn't I say? I know every building in the downtown, and from here we can reach the roof. This ought to be interesting.”
Diamond turned the latch on the window and pushed it open. A cool, refreshing breeze blew in and stirred the shears behind the heavy curtain. Diamond drew in an appreciative breath, and sighed.
Then, she climbed out.
The platform was just big enough for two to stand close together. There was no ladder down, but there was a sturdy ladder to the roof bolted directly to the side of the building. Diamond turned just as Elmer climbed through the window to join her.
The chance wind blew her black hair across her face and her feline amber eyes glowed with reflected light -- as well as with a hint of distant inner fire. For a fleeting moment she looked like a nightmare creature from a dark realm where mere shadows must cower in fear.
Elmer must have missed it. He was standing at the safety rail, looking down, his hands gripping the cold iron white-knuckled.
Without a word, he placed one foot up on the rail and jumped over.
From that bold start he did not however actually drop.
“Whoa! Hold on there Sparky,” Diamond said, hauling him back onto the platform with one hand gripping his pants at the belt. She did it as easily as some other woman might snatch up an escaping toddler. “Not done with you yet.”
She set him up against the wall of the building near the window, her hand planted firmly on his chest.
“Let me go!” he hissed, rising anger changing his features. He tried to get around her and back to the railing, but she just smiled and kept pushing him back.
Then quite suddenly, in angry desperation, he struck her. Right across the face, a savage blow that would have sent any other woman spinning to the ground.
Diamond did not react to this in any way, and her smile didn't change in the least, but her eyes narrowed slightly.
No human could have seen it coming, so fast did she move. But his head snapped to his right as she hit him back in like manner. Any harder would have simply killed him on the spot; as it were he went out like a light.
Diamond supported his dead weight on one arm and via the window dragged him back into the corner office and beyond into the lounge. She got him to a chair and lowered him into it, the way someone might gently manage a drunken friend into a taxi. She then knelt down before him and shaking him gently urged him back to consciousness.
“Silly people,” she said to herself with something like good-humored affection.
Elmer groaned and blinked his eyes.
“I wasn't sure you were serious about that whole jumping-to-ones-death business,” Diamond began as he struggled to sit up. She pushed him back into the chair and the interaction must have reminded him suddenly of events just moments before because his glazed eyes leaped to instant focus.
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked. “What – are you doing?”
“I am making you a deal,” she replied, then settling in as if to a pleasant task, she explained the deal.
“We both have a problem,” she began. “You have become too miserable to live, and I have become too hungry to think straight. You want to jump from a building and end it all in an instant. But I really need to eat someone before I start making serious social gaffs that I will regret forever. My troubles therefore are more pressing than your own.”
She paused, then added, “Follow me so far?”
He shook his head in the negative, then glanced over at the still open window where the breeze was causing the sheers to flutter invitingly.
Diamond reached up and redirected his attention back to herself.
“You seem like an upstanding person,” she continued. “Family. Reputation. All that. Now jumping out a window from a suitable height is all very well – has the advantage of being effectively final – but if you do that you will be forever more spoken of as a loser.”
Elmer blinked, then frowned.
Diamond shrugged. “People are just like that. I don't get it, but then they never asked me -- however – it will nonetheless transpire that your small children will one day, or maybe even every day, ask their mother mommy what happened to daddy? And because people are a certain way she will tell them your father didn't love us enough honey and jumped out a window to escape his silly personal issues. You know I'm right.”
Elmer stirred uncomfortably in his chair.
Diamond grinned excitedly.
“So here's the deal,” she continued with a high note of anticipation. “You do not actually jump out of an actual window, but rather -- I eat you.”
Elmer bolted upright in the chair.
Diamond held up her hands reassuringly.
“Don't worry, I'll kill you first – painlessly of course I swear -- before I eat you. That's only right. But I do eat you in the end, and that's what I'm after. But see, here's the good part for you. You are gonna love this. Instead of being a jumping loser who hates his own family – you get to be a victim.”
She rocked back to let that sink in.
Elmer was beginning to look if anything increasingly horrified.
“See the difference?” she continued as if she were explaining a complex math solution. “A hapless victim. In fact, nearly a hero. It will not only appear as if, but will in fact be the case that you were caught while working alone late in the office – alone and vulnerable, supporting your family, whom you obviously adore – caught alone and subsequently devoured by the dark and evil terror – meaning here, myself – that is known to prowl the city at night pulling people right out of corner offices exactly like the one we are in now.”
She smiled looking infinitely pleased with herself.
It should be mentioned here that Diamond, smiling like that, was the equivalent of pulling open a drawer of neatly arranged ivory knives, such as might be the pride of any professional butcher. Whatever her actual intention; doing her smile tended to leave people instantly rigid with mortal terror.
Elmer, already at his limits, turned as white as a sheet.
“All I need from you,” she said slowly and with emphasis, “Is your consent. That's because I'm kind of on probation and not supposed to be eating people. But if the whole thing is your idea I figure it's probably fine. You give the word and I'll take care of everything.”
“You can trust me,” she added, trying her best to appear reliable.
Elmer's jaw was flapping, but no coherent sound was issuing from it.
While she waited for him to pull himself together Diamond unconsciously ran her tongue over her fangs, and Elmer startled with his hands gripping the arms of the chair as if he were being electrocuted on the spot.
Diamond looked like she might continue when they were interrupted by a voice from outside in the hall.
“Mister Fuld?” queried a female voice. “Fuld, are you there?”
Elmer tore his battered attention away from Diamond and toward the outer office and the bullet-ridden double doors onto the hall.
“Oh bother,” Diamond fumed darkly, and then she stood up.
“Down here!” Elmer called apparently not too worried that Diamond might take offense. He leaned forward and rose to his feet, and Diamond stepping aside let him.
“I hope you've not lost your earlier resolve,” she said, sounding disappointed.
The unseen woman stepped into the outer office just as Elmer entered it from the other direction.
“Elmer!” she cried on seeing him, sounding as if she were on the verge of hysterics. “What are you doing here!”
She stepped into the room and seeing him, she stopped suddenly. She was bottle-blond and late middle aged but well sculpted (in a very precise and pilates kind of way) dressed in professional women's business attire and high heels. She toted the kind of large, but exquisitely fashionable, shoulder bag that was commonly seen in business circles and which doubled for carrying ledgers or a laptop computer.
Elmer stopped just as suddenly. “I was – well there is a woman –“he stammered, still white as a sheet, pointing behind himself.
“In my offices!” she accused, looking around. “Why aren't you down stairs?”
She was shaking where she stood, whether from anger or some other emotion it would be hard to say. But in her hands was a white handkerchief, and she was fretting and twisting it with her fingers as she spoke.
“I was working late,” he began. “I was – alone and – and it was late and I opened the window but there was a woman outside already – and she --”
He trailed off, a thoughtful expression replacing the mindless fear that had been there a moment before. He turned suddenly and shot back into the VP's office. The shears behind the curtains blew in the breeze just as they had before. There was no sight or evidence of Diamond.
“You were not in your office,” the woman continued. “I expected you there as always working late and you were not there and the stupid window was open and I thought – I thought you --”
It was her turn to stammer, lost for words.
Elmer had been looking around for Diamond and, not finding her, his attention fell on the open window, beyond which it seemed as though a living darkness spread on great black wings devouring all light.
“Don't come in here, Eva,” he said faintly without turning. “She is here.”
Eva must not have heard, or maybe did not understand, because she came right up behind him and, grabbing him by the shoulder, turned him roughly around.
“Why was the window open in your office Mister Fuld?” she demanded. “I have never known you to take an interest in the outdoors.”
Elmer stuttered for a second as if he were uncertain just how to field the question.
Eva for her part seemed to sense the difficulty of the situation.
“Well whatever,” she said into an awkward moment. “I'm glad to find you here. And I don't know why I'm making a fuss; these are not even my offices anymore. I have just come from a three hour meeting the gist of which is that our company no longer exists, and you sir are fired.”
She pulled her bag around and extracted a checkbook, saying as she did so, “I came over here specifically to tell you that, and to award you your severance pay.”
“We'll never pass an audit,” he said, his voice unsteady. “I've been as creative as I can be, but the last few weeks –”
Eva drew in a deep breath, steadying herself, and turned to face him squarely. “I have required you to compromise your professional integrity as an accountant, Mister Fuld. I did so knowing that I would gain personally. I didn't think about your situation at all, or the impact my demands would have on your mental and spiritual well being.”
Elmer looked down at the floor, but said nothing. She continued, fingering the checkbook still in her hands.
“I will not beg forgiveness, Elmer. Doing so is not in my character, and besides I don't want to be forgiven. It was wrong, I admit it. You should be angry and were I in your place I would be furious. You can deal with those emotions however you please, but I suggest not dwelling over much on things you cannot change as doing so is a burden on the soul. A burden which, by-the-way, I long ago learned not to bear. I suggest you do likewise. As for the books – there are no books.”
She walked over to one of the raised pedestal tables near the bar, extracted a pen from her shoulder bag, and lay the checkbook and the pen on the table top. “Our partners bought the company assets – our warehouses and barges, the shipping contracts, and the entire inventory – but no doubt understanding the shaky financial state of the company, left the bank account and closing tasks to myself and the board to discharge as we see fit. And my decision is to close the books as they are, without further attention. If you want to ritually burn them and lime the ashes -- or in some other manner exact vengeance – then you should do so. I don't ever want to hear about it again.”
Elmer grinned, certainly for the first time that night, and just maybe for the first time in a long, long time.
Eva opened the checkbook and after a pause began to write in it. “On the way over here I was thinking of a suitable compensating sum. I'll admit I did a poor job of it – right up until I went into your office and found it empty and the window open. After that the sum went up rather a lot.”
She tore a check out and held it up for his benefit.
“Please notice it contains a lot of zeros, Mister Elmer Fuld.”
He did notice because his eyes bulged.
“There is no money in the accounts!” he exclaimed.
Eva sighed and pulled the check back to write upon it some more. “Even now you try to do the right thing at your own cost. You need not bother as this is drawn from a personal account,” she remarked, holding the check up for him to inspect again. “There, another zero. Does the number please you?”
His grin returned even broader than it had been before.
She smiled thinly, and then resumed filling it out. “I was a rich woman before this, and as of 30 minutes ago I am vastly more so. I am greedy but not stupid. Without your skills I could not have managed – well this is a personal first, I've never before written a personal check with the word “millions” in it – managed to keep this company afloat on thin ice long enough for today's liquidity event. Here --”
She handed him the check. He took it with desperate fingers and held it close to his face, inspecting it obsessively.
“I trust this will buy your continued discretion,” Eva said, looking smug. “And allow me to welcome you into the ranks of the nation's millionaires. Do invest wisely.”
“I will,” he said lamely, grinning almost too broadly to speak.
Eva stepped up to him and hooked her arm around his. Then she gently led him to the doors out, looking at that point less a demanding boss and more a peer. “It is late and the day has been difficult and I personally have endured a terrible shock. There is a car waiting down stairs. I would like to take us both to a very nice lounge I know of, there to become fabulously drunk on very expensive booze, and after to take you home to your long-suffering family. From there I wish never to see you again sir, certainly not professionally.”
Elmer was allowing himself to be led out when he stopped them and said. “Please wait a moment; I need to take care something.”
He returned to the corner office and came to a stop before the open window. It remained exactly as he had left it before, exactly as he had earlier crawled through it intent of hurling himself into the black abyss beyond.
The breeze blew in and washed over his face. Just beyond that a brooding silence clung to the building like a mist. Though if possible, a mist full of knives and casual murder.
“Thank you for the offer,” he said softly. “I think you meant well. I'm certain you did. In fact I find myself mysteriously thankful we met. But now it seems I must make other plans. So – good hunting.”
He slowly reached out toward the far edge of the open window where the latch was. He hesitated as if the silent darkness beyond the office were too terrible to disturb. But then with great courage he leaned out, grabbed the handle, and pulled the window closed with a scrape of metal. He turned the latch and then stepped away, at last daring to breathe again.
In the end she had been true to her word, and not taken him by force.
He stepped away from the window, running one hand up over his head and through his hair.
Turning he found Eva waiting patiently in the outer office. He smiled and took a step, then noticed something.
On the table to one side sat the small ebony statuette of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess, utterly overlooked up to that moment. Diamond had placed it there herself.
He turned swiftly to look behind but there was no face at the window.
Not bothering to draw the curtains he swiftly left the office and rejoining Eva in the hall beyond, they disappeared together.
In the wake of his passing the small cat on the coffee table had disappeared.
Diamond was standing in deep shadows on the fire escape.
The pair within were already gone and the inside lights would soon turn themselves down. She knelt down and tested the window, hooking her fingers under the rim and pulling. When it wouldn't budge she swore softly and stood again, placing her hands on her hips.
“Well hello. And what have we here?”
Diamond looked up toward the direction of the voice.
Peering over the edge of the roof, illuminated from below by reflected street lighting and her chin resting on her folded arms, was the angelic face of Diamond's sister-at-arms, Fortran.
Fortran, while an adult in all respects, was not large. She barely stood as high as Diamond's shoulder. She was very pretty with short cut perfectly white hair, gorgeous electric-blue eyes, and a perfect figure with an ample (to say the least) bosom. Her only outward flaw was perhaps that her skin was unaccountably blue, a color normally reserved for autumn skies. That she was at that time on a roof high above the streets was no surprise at all since Fortran was winged as would be a bat, and perfectly capable of powered flight. Despite being every bit as dangerous as her sister Diamond, Fortran was actually very sweet, always fun to be around, and generally easy to have sex with. Were one to actually swing that way.
“This is not what you think,” Diamond offered right away.
“What I think,” Fortran began deliberately, rising to her knees and glaring down. “Is that you are prowling around like a shameless alley cat. Again!”
“You see that's just the kind of misunderstanding we should avoid,” Diamond said up at the other.
“Is master not feeding you properly?” Fortran asked archly.
“You leave master out it,” Diamond shot back up at her.
However, Fortran had already stood and moved out of sight further onto the roof. Diamond leaned back precariously to catch sight of her again, and failing that took a look down.
At street level was a black town car parked at the curb. The door was being held open by the driver and a woman was getting into it.
Standing right behind the woman and waiting to enter the same sedan was Elmer Fuld.
Just at that moment as she was watching him, Elmer for some reason looked straight up.
It is highly unlikely he would have seen her so high up and in the dark. However, for whatever reason he smiled in her direction and gave a small wave with his fingers before he bent over and slid into the car. The driver closed the door behind him and trotted around to the other side.
Diamond had made no effort to return the gesture. Rather, her face remained as completely unreadable as it had been at every other bend of the evening. Dispassionate while not exactly cold, engaged but aloof, hers was the unnerving demeanor of an apex predator at work.
A proper predator is always at work.
While Diamond watched, the sedan pulled away from the curb and sped down the nearly empty street. She sighed and looked away, then her attention shot back to the roof and she shouted, “Hey! What are you doing? No, don't do that! Wait!”
She leaped for the ladder and started climbing as if her life depended on it.
When Diamond reached the top she could see that Fortran was on the phone, the side of her face lit by the screen of the small flip-phone she kept.
“Hello Lacy, sorry to bother you,” Fortran was saying pleasantly into the phone. “But it's past midnight and do you know where your tiger is?”
“No no no,” Diamond hissed urgently as she gained the roof.
“Yes that tiger,” Fortran said. “You know the one that promised us both she wouldn't be taking her meals from anymore office buildings.”
Diamond ran up to Fortran and fell on her knees, her hands clasped together under her chin, pleading silently.
“Oh wait, seems she's right here,” Fortran observed, looking down with cool disdain. “Sorry to have waked you. Yes, I'll send her straight home. Good night.”
She closed the flip phone.
Diamond sighed with great relief and said, “Please please please don't tell her.”
“Why? Because you'll be punished?”
“Yes!” Diamond whined. “She'll lock me in the closet again. Except forever! And I didn't even do anything this time.” Her broad shoulders sagged and she let out a pitiful whimper as if just mentioning the closet caused her physical pain.
Fortran smiled in the dark, a patient and compassionate smile that suggested the last thing she wanted in all the world would be to cause her dear sister anything resembling the least kind of pain or suffering.
She got over it quickly.
When Diamond looked up at her Fortran's smile evaporated in an instant and was replaced with resolute justice.
Diamond stood up and said, “Look, I can explain all this. It's very simple.”
“I will not tell Lacy what you were doing,” Fortran continued, ignoring Diamond entirely. She took a step forward and the other backed up a step in response. “Because to do so would shake her confidence in her ability to act the part of your master, and honestly I don't think anyone else besides her is nearly up to the challenge.”
“See this guy was out on the ledge,” Diamond continued, making vague hand gestures as she backed up. “He seemed like a nice guy so I --”
“You are an ungrateful brute,” Fortran interjected. “And your continued bad behavior is not her fault, but rather your own. Honestly I don't see how you avoid spending the rest your life locked in a closet.”
“If you would just listen for a second,” Diamond replied hotly. “I can explain why – whoa!”
As Fortran had pressed her – both verbally and physically -- Diamond had backed to the edge of the roof and her boot heel hitting a raised rim there, had momentarily lost her balance.
“Let the punishment fit the crime,” Fortran said darkly, sounding like a hanging judge.
Without further word nor warning, Fortran deftly shoved Diamond straight off the edge of the roof.
“I'm sorry I pushed you off a building.”
Fortran had been apologizing to Diamond for the better part of three days, at least a dozen times a day.
“I nearly died – probably,” Diamond complained. She was lying on the couch in her master's apartment, propped up on pillows with one leg elevated onto stacked seat cushions. Her right ankle was wrapped in compression bandages, but otherwise appeared perfectly fine. As a matter of fact it was perfectly fine, she had only strained it a little on landing and that had healed itself by morning. For the several days following Diamond had been playing it up for sympathy points.
Fortran was perfectly happy being the villain. Master Lacy had at first complained about Diamond laying around, but in the end there was nothing practical she could do about that, so she had simply gone to work and left the other two alone for a while to hash out whatever issues they had clearly brought home.
Lacy had pointedly not dug any deeper into their goings-on that evening. One of them attempting to murder the other wasn't entirely out of character for either of them. And whatever Diamond had done to deserve that was probably bad enough that knowing the truth would have likely caused Lacy to lock both of them in a closet. Whatever it was hadn't managed to make the morning news, and that being the case Lacy was wise enough to leave well enough alone.
“Can I get you anything?” Fortran asked.
“A new body,” Diamond muttered. “This one is completely broken because of you.”
“I said I was sorry,” Fortran replied.
She wasn't really sorry and Diamond knew it.
“Even if I believe you,” Fortran continued, adjusting the entirely superfluous ice bag on Diamond's ankle. “You've never gotten around to explaining what would have transpired had he agreed to your proposal.”
Diamond sniffed. It was possible she hadn't thought it all the way through.
“It's a non-issue,” Diamond dodged. “No human would ever agree to such a thing. This is as reliable as the sunrise. But he would, like yourself, have had no faith in my honesty or integrity.“
As she spoke she rose up slightly on her elbows and glared over at Fortran.
“I'm sorry I pushed you off a building,” Fortran said evenly.
Diamond fell back into the pillows. “And having no faith that I would not simply stop him from another attempt again and kill him anyway– and this having the same unbearable outcome of himself being eaten – he would take the only other avenue to avoid the unthinkable, and go home to contemplate suicide another day.”
“They are predictably dramatic,” Fortran agreed.
They looked at each other for a moment.
Fortran smiled and said brightly, “I believe you.”
Diamond turned away. “No you don't.”
Fortran scooted a little closer, her wings rising to touch the ceiling. “I believe you now I really do.”
Diamond sighed heavily.
Fortran ran a small blue hand down Diamonds muscled arm. “I'm sorry I pushed you off a building and I was wrong to do so because you hadn't done anything wrong. My bad. For reals.”
Diamond pulled her arm away.
With a thrust from her wings, Fortran rose up and pounced right on top of Diamond where she lay among the pillows, savagely tickling her under the arms. Diamond shrieked with surprise and then burst into laughter. They wrestled like puppies until Diamond, with one arm, tossed Fortran carelessly onto the floor.
As Fortran landed in a heap Diamond swung her legs off the couch onto the floor.
“Forgiven,” she said.
Fortran struggled on her back like an overturned tortoise and after some effort, righted herself and stood (being a lot more work than you might imagine for a woman just over 5 feet tall, but then you've never had to manage 16 feet of wingspan). As she did Fortran was chuckling to herself.
Diamond stuck her bandaged foot out. Fortran smiled, and kneeling, unwrapped it carefully as if afraid she might re-injure it. When the bandage was off she ran her hands over the ankle, then lowered Diamond's leg and said, “There is one other thing this requires to heal properly.”
“Being?” Diamond asked.
“The application of a significant quantity of ice cream,” Fortran offered. “Administered orally until symptoms no longer appear. And I'll give you a good scrubbing down at the fountain in the park. In part because I know it pleases you, but mostly because it frightens people and that pleases me. What do you say to that?”
Diamond was already up and putting on her outside clothes, which Lacy had earlier folded and left at the foot of the couch in the off chance the lay-about ever reentered productive society.
“It's a start,” Diamond replied, dressed (though barefoot) and headed for the back balcony. She shoved open the sliding door, vaulted the rail, and jumped three floors straight down before shooting off like a bullet toward their favorite ice cream parlor. Fortran was right behind her except that, she being more of a practical creature, would fly.
Yes, they do appear quite insane. However if you live long enough to get past the eating-every-living-thing-in-sight attitude of one and the casually-setting-everything-else-on-fire habits of the other, you get one hell of a ride.
Just for the record, the people relaxing around the fountain in the park were delighted.
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