“Thank you for setting up that interview,” I said to Alexander, as soon as we were alone in the dining room, our glasses and dinner plates full.
He looked at me with mild surprise, paused, then shook his head.
“You don’t need to thank me. Once I realized that your talents were available, I knew I needed to make Uncle Conrad aware. He’s been looking for someone to head that project for a long time. And candidates like you don’t become available all the time.”
I stared him down, considering this.
The fact was, I had done an objectively exceptional job in my interview. I hardly had any time to think while I was in it, but thinking it over later, I was proud of how I answered all the questions and truly believed, more than ever, in my own skill, strength, and aptitude.
I decided that I believed him. It was, after all, not Alexander’s company. He might have recommended Conrad hire me, but the man could have said no. And I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“What?” Alexander asked, his face breaking into a smile.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just… thanks. Again.”
“You deserve it.” He extended his hand across the table, open palm facing up.
I slipped my hand into it, and he leaned forward and kissed my knuckles. His light beard tickled a little, forcing me to smile.
He released my hand and said, “Please, eat now. Don’t make me beg you.”
I hardly slept that night, but not for the fun reason.
I could not tear myself away from my laptop. Starting work the very next day after my interview was exciting, but it also meant I had nearly no time at all to prepare.
“Don’t worry about it,” Conrad had said at the end of the interview. “You’ll train on the job. I wouldn’t hire you if you didn’t already have everything you need to hit the ground running.”
But I knew these were just things that people said. I had to, at the very least, study up on the company’s current executive staff, so I’d be prepared when meeting them in the office. And I memorized the Crescent Ventures mission statement from their website. Not like there was going to be a pop quiz or anything.
I started getting ready before dawn, selecting a perfect outfit for my first day and fussing over my hair and makeup. I finished pressing a deep maroon lipstick into my lips and stepped back, smiling. I felt like myself again.
Alexander was still sleeping as I crept out of the room and departed for the city. I’d be arriving over an hour and a half early, but that was fine. I needed to show up well at the start of this new opportunity and being only on time was most certainly not what Conrad Knight was expecting from a new project manager.
My boss was on the phone at his desk when his secretary ushered me inside his corner office when I arrived. He kept pace with his conversation while waving me over to him, his face stern.
I sat across from him and waited patiently.
“I’ll call you in an hour,” Conrad told the person on the phone, and then he hung up before they could reply. He swiveled in his chair to square his body to mine. “Fiona, how are you this morning?”
“I’m very excited to be here, sir. Can’t wait to get started.”
“Excellent,” he said, frowning. Then he looked at his watch.
It was nearly six a.m. The glass-walled room was glowing gold, the sky outside just starting to turn pale peach with the rising sun.
“I suggest arriving a little earlier tomorrow. New employees tend to forget about the time it takes to get through security downstairs. Perfectly understandable.”
I nodded. “Absolutely, sir.”
“Please, call me Conrad.” He grinned. Then the energy in the room shifted, as I suppose my first reprimand was concluded. “These are yours. ID badge, you don’t have to wear that around your neck, but keep it on you. And your elevator key.”
Conrad slid the items across the desk. I picked them up and tucked them into the pocket of my jacket.
He stood abruptly then and clapped his big hands together. I rose from my chair. “Let’s get to work, then, shall we? I’ll show you to your office.”
The rest of the workday flew by in a blur.
A voice on speakerphone – a tech who worked sixty feet below us in the same building – guided me through setting up my email password. And then the inbox started loading. It was already full of hundreds of things I needed to sort through immediately.
But first, I had meetings. Conrad took me around to shake hands with all the executives on the top floors, introducing me with charismatic pride. A half dozen other short meetings followed, in various conference rooms and offices.
Just as I began to feel faint from the sudden surge of activity, an intern appeared to take my lunch order. I smiled at her gratefully as she recited the many, many options available. And I felt very spoiled indeed when the dish I requested, a salmon salad, arrived at my desk just minutes later, complete with proper flatware, a carafe of lemonade, and a plate of assorted cookies.
Catching enough time to eat was a different story. My schedule was packed impossibly tight. But somehow, I managed to whittle away at my small lunch feast throughout the afternoon, holding my giant salad bowl in one hand while typing with the other, in the little gaps between the many meetings and calls I was required to attend.
Dinner service was the same routine, and soon enough I was vaguely noticing the sun setting dimly in the distance, reflexively pulling a chain to turn on a desk lamp as the room darkened.
“Burning the midnight oil already?”
Conrad was standing in my doorway, smiling. I blinked up at him, shocked at how dark the offices were beyond him. I looked at the clock on my computer and found it was, in fact, ten minutes to midnight.
“Go on home,” he said. “It’s my share of the task to work all night when necessary.” I narrowed my eyes at him, and he chuckled. “Or every night. But unlike you, I’ve got a fresh suit in my closet. Go on home, Fiona. Back at it tomorrow.”
“Sounds good,” I replied. “But since I have you right now, can I ask you just one question first?”
“Sure.” He paced into my little office but didn’t take a seat. He walked over to the exterior wall instead, looking out through the tall glass at the colorful lights of the city below.
“I read those reports you sent me this afternoon and found something that I knew had to be a problem, so I’ve been digging into it.”
“What kind of problem?”
I shook my head, looking at my computer screen. “I was worried, at first, that someone had stolen from the escrow account. The withdrawals were pennies on the dollar more than the amounts approved, but for some reason the bank allowed them to go through anyway. It’s pennies at a time, but with weekly payments over the past ten years, it has added up…”
I rolled my chair away from the computer, making room for Conrad as he moved to stand behind my desk. His face was lit in the blue-green glow of the monitor, and I watched as the wrinkles in his forehead deepened while he read the comparison reports I had started.
“I’m not finished with the analysis yet, but I have actually figured out the source.”
Conrad straightened his back and looked at me. “And?”
“There was an arithmetic error in the original contract, if you can believe it. That’s all. It just went unnoticed for ten years.”
He looked me in the eye and the wrinkles on his face started moving around again, finally settling into what I could only describe as an expression of true bewilderment.