"Ah! Hello! Is this Tod Ruckle?"
"Ye-eess . . . although I prefer to be called 'Ruck.' Who is this?"
"Ah, yes! Ruck it is, then. I am Polyimere Randsford Millennium, Ruck, and I was wondering if you had a few minutes to chat?"
I held the handset away from my head and stared at it. Polyimere Ransford Millennium was the Millennium in Millennium Madness Mall, a several times multi-gazillionaire who once actually hired Bill Gates to set up his laptop . . . and this was after Microsoft had successfully sued the Justice Department.
Which meant it was a prank call. He should have said it was His Holiness, Pope Gregory (the whatever number he was); it would have been more believable. I brought the phone back to my face and, doing a quick impression, suspiciously demanded, "Talbert? Is this you, Talbert!?"
"No, it is not 'Talbert,' nor am I the General Manager for the Cleveland Indians, Ruck." Well, it was at least someone who was good at movie trivia. "Maybe this will simplify matters. Do you know 'Shave and a Haircut?'"
The fire alarm suddenly rang, then abruptly cut off after one burst, and then rang again, then . . . damn! Five fire alarm bursts, a one beat pause, followed by two 'all clear' chimes. Alarm, alarm, alarm, alarm, alarm, clear, clear . . . Dum da da Dum dum, Dum Dum! (Holy . . . I'd always believed that the big bosses had access to that damn thing!) Several of my co-workers burst into shocked laughter, others cursed, a few walked past my cubby as they left the building ('Why not? It's a fire alarm, right? I should turn down an unscheduled break?"), while several managers ran around telling people to ignore it all and go back to work.
I shook my head like I was trying to dislodge a fly and stumbled over myself apologizing into the phone, but Mr. Millennium laughed it off, saying, "I don't blame you in the least, Ruck. If I called myself out of the blue, I doubt if I'd believe it was me, either."
"What? How could you . . . I mean: Thank you, Sir. I appreciate that." I waited for a response until the silence became uncomfortable. "Um . . . what did you wish to talk about, Sir?"
"Please, Ruck, call me 'Poly' or 'Pol.'"
Hoooooooooo-kay. "Thank you, Pol."
"Don't mention it, Ruck. Now, it's all a bit too complicated to go into over the phone; could you stop by my office for a few moments? It shouldn't take very long . . . unless," he continued to himself, obviously bemused, "you decide it should, of course. Heh." His voice grew louder as he added, "Either way, are you free at the moment?"
"Um . . . " Aw, crap! Stuck between bosses! "Pol, please believe me when I say that I really regret this, but - actually - I'm right in the middle of testing 'CyberPsycho' for Mr. Boggs on a rush order, and he's been breathing down my neck for the better part of a week."
His soft laughter cut me off. While better than being yelled at, amused laughter was still somewhat disconcerting. When he finally stopped, I heard him mumble something to someone away from the phone. Then Mr. Millennium said, "Ruck? Slowly count to five out loud, please."
I was at three when Joshua Boggs skidded into my cubicle, gasping for air and beet red. He spent a few precious seconds wheezing, clutching at my chair, and gesturing franticly at the elevators before I was able to stop gaping like a fish and remember the phone. "Ah. Pol? I do believe I'm being told that I'm free to meet with you. You're on the top floor, correct?"
"All of it, actually."
"I'll see you shortly, Sir." I hung up the phone and watched Josh crumple to the floor in relief, still gasping for air, but slowly returning to a more lifelike color. I stepped over him on my way to the elevators and he gave me a ghastly thumbs up. Several people were peering over the top of their cubbies at him and many were speaking into their own phones as they did. I suspected all of our CPR trained employees were stampeding in this direction and quickened my step, as not to be caught in the rush.
The elevator was waiting for me and I hit the top button, the one marked simply 'M.' I took advantage of the few seconds it took to reach the top and quickly tucked in my shirt, buttoned the top button of my shirt (somewhat shocked to find I actually had a top button to button), tightened my tie appropriately, and ran a comb through my hair. I ended up facing the security camera, which slowly nodded in approval.
Great, the creepy dude who was paid to spend all day sitting in the basement and watch security monitors thought I looked good. Terrific.
The elevator, which had always announced its arrival at my usual floor with a brassy sort of 'ding,' reached the top floor and went 'bong' in a rich and mellow G flat. I stared at the panel, astonished (and feeling somewhat betrayed) by this rather trivial class distinction, then shot a look at the security camera. It nodded again. I nodded back. The doors opened.
The first thing that struck me was how rich the air was, awash in gentle scents and precisely the correct temperature for wearing a suit indoors, which meant - of course - that my shirt sleeved arms were a tad chilled. The lights were those kind that give off the full spectrum of light, mimicking natural sunlight so successfully that top executives actually had to wear a mild sunscreen at work.
I stepped out onto a carpet that was thick enough to have a pulse and slowly turned, taking in the superb decor of the lobby. Everything was just the right color, not only accenting the very comfortable looking furniture, but also - somehow - blending with the colors of the fine art hanging at the exact right height and angle. I slowly focused on the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen, sitting behind a desk that might have been carved from a solid piece of redwood. Her desktop was completely clean, except for an in-box (with one piece of paper in it, perhaps as an accent) and a telephone.
She was calmly watching me. I jolted when our eyes met, feeling a surge of electricity unlike anything I'd ever experienced. The edge of her perfect lips quirked suddenly upwards in a slight smile, just as quickly gone. I somehow managed to walk towards her without tripping, drinking in her radiance and composing an opening line. Something along the lines of "I'll give you everything I own if you'll just let me stand here for fifteen minutes."
I reached her desk and opened my mouth to speak . . . but she spoke first, saying "Hello, Mr. Ruckle. Mr. Millennium will be with you in a few minutes. Can I do anything for you while you wait? Glass of water, cup of coffee, oral sex, soft drink . . . ?"
I nodded and said a soft drink would be fine, accepted one and then sat in a delightfully comfortable chair . . . then replayed what she'd said and spent the full fifteen minutes I needed to wait trying to convince myself that she'd hadn't really said what I thought she'd said. No less than four times, I started to ask, only to chicken out. On the one hand, I believed that secretaries at her level probably did that sort of thing; on the other hand, I couldn't possibly believe that secretaries at her level did that sort of thing.
She spent the time placidly working on a concealed terminal, completely unaware of the emotional and hormonal torment I was undergoing. Then something caught her attention and she announced that Mr. Millennium was ready for me. I stood, empty soft drink can in hand, and looked for a trash can. She smiled and held out a hand, saying that she'd attend to that.
I handed her the can and, before I could thank her, she looked openly at my groin, shook her head and said, clearly, "Pity you didn't want the oral sex." I goggled at her and the large double doors to the side of her desk opened. She gestured with her head and eyes in that direction, so I started walking.
I was ten feet into the largest office I'd ever seen before I even registered that the doors had closed behind me. I stopped and looked around, experiencing a strong sense of déj? vu. Then I had it!
"'How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying),'" I blurted out, admiring the attention to detail. "The CEO office that Finch finally rises to! Wow! Identical to the original stage set!"
"Good eye." The voice came from the smallish man in the far corner. "Cost me damn near an even million to have it built. Funny thing, though . . . in order for it to look right, it's almost impossible to get any work done at that desk." He pointed to the CEO desk at the top of the stairs. "Lighting is all wrong, desk is too damn big, chair is uncomfortable as hell; frankly, if it weren't for the fact that I hate admitting when I've made a mistake, I'd just as soon have them rip the whole shooting match out and just put in a faux-Oval Office or some such. What do you think, Ruck?"
I looked at the office again while slowly walking towards him. "Yeah, it's almost too perfect to destroy . . . couldn't you put in a second office? One where you could actually work? How about under the stairs?" They dominated the entire side of the office and rose at a dramatic angle. Understandable, when one considered they were a stage set made real. "You might be able to fit in a reproduction of the Oval Office from the final scene of the movie version, the bit where Finch washes a window behind LBJ."
Polyimere Randsford Millennium stood and walked towards the stairs. He was wearing, from the ground up, bright red boat shoes, tan cotton Dockers (pressed), a deep red leather belt, a pale red silk polo shirt (tucked, but with all the buttons undone), and a soft felt fedora in a light grey, which he snatched off of his head and twirled between his hands as he studied he stairs, revealing soft brown hair that was graying at the temples. His hair and beard, also beginning to gray, were perfectly trimmed, but not particularly styled in any fashion. A pair of reading glasses hung on a cord around his neck. He looked like a cross between a camp counselor and a Broadway dance director.
Without warning or warm-up, he bellowed out, "Debra!" The vision from the lobby walked in to the office, hips swaying like a fashion model. Damn, exactly the right height, weight, and her legs were perfect. I did my best to memorize her as she moved across the office in slow motion.
"Yes, Mr. Millennium?" She glanced towards me as she said it and I felt that electric jolt again.
"I need the blueprint for this office. Specifically, I need to know what the hell is holding those stairs up and how much floor space is under it."
"Yes, Mr. Millennium." She gave me the eye again as she left and - perhaps - put a little extra waggle in her step as she walked out the door. I felt myself leaning forward in concentration as she moved away, mouth slightly ajar. Bad sign.
I turned back to Mr. Millennium and cleared my throat . . . at which time, he said, "Debra and I don't honestly know," in an off-handed, distracted, sort of way, still studying the stairs.
"Excuse me? Who's Debra and what don't you honestly know, er, Pol?" I barely remembered his desired form of address.
"She's Debra," he gestured towards the door, eyes never leaving the staircase. "My secretary slant assistant; she's Debra and I don't honestly know if she was kidding or not with that oral sex stuff, Ruck." He finally turned towards me and shrugged. "She's does that 'coffee, tea, or me' bit with every executive we have, but I have no idea if any of them have accepted. I don't believe so, but I don't really know. She's never done a Monica impression with me, but - then - I would have never accepted, so that's no real evidence.
He gestured back at the stairs, and said, "Actually, all you see in the movie version in the big window Bobbie Morse washes, a small bit of the wall around it, LBJ in a chair, and part of LBJ's desk . . . so I'll have to make it a reproduction of the actual Oval Office." Then he turned and grinned at me. "Y'know, I always thought it was a cute joke that they hired an actor named Ivan Volksman to play the part of LBJ, given how he felt about Russians." He casually shoved his hat back onto his head and stuck out his right hand. "I'm Pol Millennium. Pleased to finally meet you, Ruck."
I shook his hand and told him the pleasure was mine, which tickled him and he held onto my hand as he led the way back towards his corner.
"Why wouldn't you have accepted, Pol?" I asked, as we both sat in what seemed to be regular office chairs, exactly the same as I had in my cubby.
"What? The oral sex thing?" I nodded. "Hell, Ruck . . . the girl works for me! As long as I sign her paycheck, I can't even take a decent leering look at her! Aside from being illegal, it wouldn't be right. And I can't fire her to take advantage of her, she's the best secretary I've ever had and might decide to stay fired. So I'm stuck in the role of Boss or Daddy until she decides to quit . . . but I have every intention of asking her out the minute she does, you betcha! Woo-ha!"
I sat there and looked at him for almost a minute before he shrugged and admitted, "Okay, that was bullshit. I'm gay; sue me. I still meant what I said, though, about it being wrong."
"Pol, you own the damn company . . . you can be as gay as you want! Why bother with macho posturing?"
"Sure I own the company, but I still have to answer to stockholders, the vast majority of whom are not gay. This being the case, they might feel that simply because I built this company from the ground up and still hold the majority of shares is not a good enough reason to entrust the running of it into the hands of a 'fruit.'" He shrugged again, reaching into a nearby mini-fridge and fishing out two cans of soda. "Enough of them sell their stock and I might lose the company. So I hired a sexy admin expert to be my personal secretary, keep some young ladies on the side who'll swear I'm actively - if not aggressively - heterosexual, and," he plucked off his fedora and spun it into a flourish, "Ta-Da! I'm viewed as an eccentric and flamboyant, virile sorta stud who loves old movies, and not as a screaming bender."
He tossed his hat back on in a complicated move, handed me a soda, and we sat there for a moment, just staring at each other. I must have looked as confused as I felt, but he seemed simply pleased with himself beyond measure. I broke first. "Okay . . . and you're telling me this because why?"
"Well, partially because I need your help and figure that the easiest way to earn your trust is to show that I trust you, but - mostly - because nobody would believe you if you spilled my little secret. No offense, Ruck, but people like you spread slanderous rumors about people like me all the time and nobody - well, nobody important - ever believes them."
I thought it over, sipping my soda, and decided that he was just being honest. "Okay, Pol. Fair enough and thank you for your directness. It does beg the question, though, as to how can 'people like me' do anything to help a person like you? I mean you can get the world's greatest experts on just about anything in a day's notice . . . "
"Hour. In an hour's notice, actually." He wasn't bragging, just setting the record straight.
"Fine, in an hour's notice . . . so what the hell do you need with me?"
He studied me over his can, still smiling, then pulled a large coin out of his pocket and tossed it onto the table in front of me. After a moment, I picked it up, more confused than before. It was a 1942 silver dollar, made back when they were pure silver. I'd never held one before and was surprised at its feel. I expected it to be much heavier than the plastic dollar coins of today, but was astonished at how dense it felt, almost too massive for its size.
I reached over to hand it back, but stopped when I saw the banded stack of c-notes in Pol's slender hand. I stared at his wide smile in astonishment, and then he said, "I will bet this stack of money against a soda you can call ten coin tosses in a row. You miss a single one, you win the whole $10,000; you call all ten, you owe me a soda. Deal?"
"What? Wait! If I . . . "
"Debra does the actual coin tosses and keeps track of the results, just to ensure that you don't deliberately blow a couple. You miss a single one and you get a hell of an under the table bonus, declare it to the tax man if you like or not." He dropped the stack of money onto the table and took the coin from my numb fingers. The incomparable Debra had walked back into the room while I was distracted and she easily caught the tossed silver dollar.
To be continued...