Megan came to get me about five minutes before the all hands meeting started. It was a good thing, too: she startled me out of speculating as to whether the artist really liked well-endowed women or the main character was actually one of the robots and needed all of that exposed surface area to serve as heat sinks for her power supply.
“Are you coming?” Megan asked from the door.
“Uh…yeah,” I stammered. I hastily saved my progress and locked my computer. “Any idea what it’s supposed to be about?” I asked as I stood and joined her.
“I haven’t heard anything that wasn’t in the email,” Megan admitted. “But if I had to guess I’d bet it has something to do with Mr. Salvatore’s sabbatical, and maybe something about the new guy.”
“New guy?” This did not bode well. Those two words contained three of my least favorite things: something new, a person, and a ‘guy’ to boot.
“Yeah,” Megan said. “I saw him come in and out of Mr. Salvatore’s office a few times. But he might just be Katherine’s replacement.”
I frowned. Katherine had been Mr. Salvatore’s secretary and assistant, but when her boss had taken his unannounced leave she’d stopped coming in. I’d been okay with that; I didn’t particularly like Katherine. In all fairness, though, that was at least partially because whenever Mr. Salvatore was worried about deadlines Katherine was the one he’d sic on us. I knew Megan and Katherine got along fine. They’d even gone out on the town together a few times, and Katherine was the one who’d introduced Megan to Club Luminescence.
I didn’t get to ask Megan anything else about the new guy, though, because by then we’d reached the break room and it was too crowded to converse without anyone else overhearing. Sure, they were occupied with their own babble, but I’m pretty self-conscious in general. I managed to maneuver myself into a back corner. It was distressingly far from the exits, but with Megan standing next to me I was safely isolated from everyone else. That was a fair trade. Also, if I stood on tiptoe, I could still see everyone at the front of the room, more or less.
The first person to catch my eye was, of course, Mr. Salvatore. He was standing at the front of the crowd. Despite not being very tall, Mr. Salvatore had the kind of presence that draws the eye. He was slim, with pale skin and dark hair. He always wore a suit, and when he spoke he did so with a faint accent that said: ‘Hello. I am originally from one of those sexy countries like Italy or Spain. Please, allow me to make love to you in exotic and foreign ways.’ He also had cold, fierce grey eyes. And while his accent was always polite in its seductive overtones, his gaze always seemed to say: ‘on your knees, now, slut.’ Also, he was looking right back at me.
Or rather, since Megan was mostly in the way, at her. I shivered, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. I’ve never had a man look at me with lust in his eyes, but I’ve seen plenty of them looking at Megan that way. And that is totally what Mr. Salvatore was doing. I made a note to buy Megan a cross. And a replacement pepper spray canister for her key ring, in case the last one I’d gotten her had expired or something. And some wooden stakes. The man was a creepy, creepy heartthrob of a vampire, with an emphasis on creepy.
But I don’t think Megan even noticed. She was too busy looking at the guy next to Mr. Salvatore. The new guy, I guessed. I couldn’t really see him because he was sitting down and there were too many other people in the way.
Then Mr. Salvatore managed to tear his gaze away from Megan and sweep it across the rest of the room. “Ah, good,” he said. “It looks like we’re all here. Then let us begin.” The room rapidly quieted.
“I’d like to start,” Mr. Salvatore began, “by saying thank you. Despite my abrupt disappearance and only intermittent communication, you have kept this business alive and thriving in difficult economic times. I could not have asked for a better team. I am enormously proud of all of you.”
Mr. Salvatore cleared his throat before he continued. “The same cannot be said of myself, and I feel I owe all of you an explanation. I am not apologetic because the circumstances, it seems, were unavoidable. However…my health is…poor.”
He shifted and took a deep breath. “At the start of this year I suffered an attack severe enough to necessitate hospitalization. I have spent much of the past year in recovery, or seeing various specialists. Although I am as well as I can be now, the likelihood of suffering another attack has been deemed high if I do not remove certain stressors from my life…and even then nothing is certain. Therefore, at my doctors’ insistence, I will be retiring at the end of this year and moving to a country home closer to the specialists whose expertise I require.”
Mr. Salvatore held up his hands before more than a murmur could arise from his audience. “Please, peace. I know this is sudden, and that the end of the year is mere days away. That is why I insisted, over my doctors’ protests, on coming back: to put these affairs in order. I have no intention of leaving you in the lurch again, directionless and leaderless.”
Mr. Salvatore stepped back and gestured to his side. “This is Hans. He is an old family friend, and has agreed to take charge of this enterprise and fulfill my responsibilities since I no longer can.” Mr. Salvatore stepped back further, and I thought there was a certain bitterness in his voice as he yielded the floor.
But then Hans stood up, and I got very distracted. I’ve described Mr. Salvatore as a creepy heartthrob because despite looking at people like they should be chained up in his basement, Mr. Salvatore is a very attractive man. But if Mr. Salvatore was a heartthrob, then Hans was a full-on cardiac arrest. And he managed to do it while being as much the antithesis of Mr. Salvatore as possible.
First of all, Hans was tall. When he stood he towered over the rest of us. Also, although he had a slender waist, his shoulders were broad and he had generous muscles. He was built like an inverted isosceles triangle on legs – a track star turned body builder. On top of that, Hans was younger than Mr. Salvatore. If I had to guess, I’d have put Hans in his early thirties. He also had mussed, blond hair and clear blue eyes that glinted merrily when he smiled. Oh, and a chiseled jaw to match his sculpted physique. Yes: sculpted. The man was an ancient Greek artisan’s wet dream of Hercules. And Hans was wearing a plain white tee shirt and blue jeans, which gave him a down to earth, hardworking, boy next door feel that was totally at odds with Mr. Salvatore’s suave, elitish exoticism.
“Hello,” Hans said. “It is a pleasure to meet you all at last.”
And that was the real kicker: Hans had an accent. It wasn’t the same as Mr. Salvatore’s, though. Mr. Salvatore’s accent was cultured and sophisticated and seductive. Hans’ accent suggested a place with tankards and quaffing and men who considered sexing buxom wenches with braided hair to be an endurance sport best played one-on-one in fields of heather on cliff tops overlooking the turbulent sea at midnight. They probably kept score by consecutive orgasms and hours of rutting without rest…and definitely played for keeps.
I don’t know if such a place exists – maybe Switzerland? I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’m geographically challenged and terrified by the idea of travel. But if someone else went on vacation to Hans’ hometown I’d be perfectly willing to drool over their slideshow when they got back.
Hans smiled broadly before continuing. “Mr. Salvatore has been my mentor for quite some time, and I am honored by the trust he has placed in me. He has also told me much about his business and his employees while preparing me to take the reins, and I assure you I have a solid grasp of my forthcoming managerial duties. That said, Mr. Salvatore has agreed to remain on call for advice during the first year of his retirement – and for my own part, I will not be satisfied with my own performance until I am well versed in the particulars of each of your jobs. I want to ensure that I can do more to facilitate your excellent work than merely staying out of your way.” Hans smiled again, and a few people chuckled appreciatively. “To that end,” Hans said, “I intend to spend the next few days sitting with each of you in turn. During this time, please don’t consider me as your future boss. Think of me as a raw recruit…ah, an ignorant intern in need of guidance. It is my goal to become conversant in each of your duties so that I can do whatever is necessary to help you continue your wonderful performances. Thank you.”
Hans glanced at Mr. Salvatore, who nodded back at him. Then Hans stepped back and Mr. Salvatore reclaimed the center stage. “I know this must seem sudden,” Mr. Salvatore said. “And for you I’m sure it is. If you have questions, please make time to visit me in my office. I’m afraid this has been tiring, or I would entertain them now.” He sighed – but then perked up. “However, before we adjourn, I would like to address one more thing. The office New Year’s Eve party will coincide with my official retirement, and I would greatly appreciate seeing each of you there, especially the department and team leads. I have a number of bonuses I wish to disperse to show my gratitude for keeping things running so smoothly in these difficult and awkward times.” He smiled. “As always, it will be open bar. I have made arrangements with local cab companies and will cover the costs of fares both to and from. The party will begin at ten, but I intend to keep it going until dawn. Everyone shall receive New Year’s Day as a paid holiday, so even if you celebrate midnight outside the office there’s no reason not to take advantage of the cabs and stop in for a final farewell.” He smiled, but it seemed weak and sickly. “Thank you all. It has been a pleasure while it lasted.”