it when the search engine ground out thirteen million hits. I pulled my hair back in a quick ponytail, punched in “Edmonton” with Palais, and was rewarded with a much more manageable number. “Let’s see what you can tell me,” I whispered as I opened the first page.
Four hours later, I’d gone through most of the information I could find online about the office building, carefully cleared the history cache file on my computer, typed two more letters for Mr. Latterson, calculated my monthly budget, had a small cry, and tried a new hairstyle using pencils to hold my hair in a catastrophic attempt at an up-do.
I shook out the last pencil and stared down at the small pad of paper on which I’d scribbled information about the office building and its history. I hoped I hadn’t wasted my time, because Farley had still not returned. I glanced at the clock above the door, and started to tidy up. It was nearly time to head to my other job.
Mr. Latterson came back just as I was emptying the coffee carafe, which I had decided was my last job of the day.
“I need you to stay,” he said. “I have a call coming in, and I want you to handle it.”
I looked at the clock. If it was only five minutes, I’d be fine.
I swear I heard Mr. Latterson’s teeth grind as he said, “My ex-wife. I’ll tell you what to say. Just write it all down.”
I wrote down everything he told me on a scrap of paper, and then sat, purse in hand, as he floated in and out of the office, nervously, sweat staining his off-white shirt in large damp patches.
“Would you rather take it yourself?” I asked, laughing inwardly. I knew, without a doubt, that no-one voluntarily talks to an ex-wife. No-one.
“No, I have work to do,” he replied, wringing his hands and brushing back his bad comb over until it stood at attention on the top of his head. “Say exactly what I told you to. Got it?”
I glanced at the clock again, feeling a nervous flutter in my stomach when I saw seven minutes had passed. I was going to be late if I didn’t leave very soon.
“You’re certain this call is coming in?”
“Yes, absolutely, without a doubt.”
He nodded, his hair dancing in a fuzzy greying halo on the top of his head. Laughter fought nervousness until I felt hysterical. I did a little deep breathing, to calm down.
We both squawked when the phone beeped, and Mr. Latterson retreated to his office as I picked up the receiver.
It took me fifteen minutes to get his furious wife—I was certain she was not yet an ex, no matter what he said—off the phone, and by that time he had snuck out, leaving me to lock up. I was definitely late for my cab job, and the one thing my boss Gerald the Tyrant could not abide was my being late.
The same rule didn’t seem to apply to the others, I thought as I half-ran down the crowded sidewalk to the dank office building I’d inhabit for the next eight hours of my life.
I was lucky. Gerald wasn’t at his desk. Jasmine was, though, and looked pissed, because I’d made her late getting home to her kids.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said, throwing my purse under our desk and taking the headphone from her hand. “Any way I can make it up?”
Jasmine smiled, in spite of herself. “You come to my house for a meal and some TV,” she said. “We haven’t done that in a while, and my show has gone right off the deep end! You have to catch up.”
“That sounds nice,” I said. And it did. It really did. Going to her house with all her kids and noise and laughter was always nice. Kind of like going home, without the fights.
“Then you can tell me all about your new job and why you’re still here,” she continued.
I nodded. She headed for the door, and then turned.
“And you bring the dessert,” she said. “Got it?”
“Got it,” I replied, and then she was gone, and I was alone with the headset for the rest of the night.
Not counting the beginning, the shift
Dorothy (as Dorothy Halliday Dunnett