Neil Henberlin rushed through the glass entrance doors of his company’s 20th floor corporate office, pushing them a little harder than necessary. The etched-glass door slapped his shoulder as it rebounded off the rubber door stop. The gong sound of the glass vibrations caused the receptionist’s head to pop up, lips pursed, eyes\ squinting. She looked at him as if she’d seen a ghost.
“Someone’s in my parking spot,” he said, as he leaned over the desk to look in his message slot. “No messages?”
The receptionist shook her head and said, “Ah… we weren’t expecting you.”
“Hmm. Why? I’m only late, not absent.”
“I know, it’s Stampede Week. My hat and boots are in my office. I’ll change later.”
Henberlin noticed the receptionist’s white Stetson cowboy hat, denim skirt with a white fringe, and the red bull-rider boots. He nodded in approval, then turned in a hurry for the stairway and took off almost running. Taking the steps two at a time, he topped the stairs and walked past the corner office occupied by the Vice President of Sales. He hoped to get past without noticed. The VP’s secretary, wearing a straw cowboy hat, Western-cut blouse, jeans, and cowboy boots, happened to be exiting the office. She closed the door and turned to see Henberlin. Stopping dead in her tracks she said, “Neil?”
“Yeah, hi Geneva. I’m late for the sales training class. Don’t worry, I’ll be Western before noon.”
But, too late—Henberlin raced by. He continued at a quick pace until he turned the corner and carried on to his office. Rushing in, he placed his PC carrier on a chair and turned, intending to hurry away, except the top of his desk caught his eye. Someone had cleaned and tidied it. No papers, none of his personal items, only the computer cables and the phone. A cardboard box sat on the floor beside the desk. No time now to figure out who had messed with his stuff, he’d promised Emmitt he’d tell stories to the sales training class.
He kept on moving to get to the classroom, knowing he was already late. Once he entered the training lobby, he crossed the small area and knocked on the only door from which he heard voices.
The door opened and Emmitt LeClare’s smiling face emerged. Emmitt, wearing a red and white diamond-checked shirt with double breast pockets, each with white pearl snaps, and a bolo tie, lost his smile the second he realized who stood before him.
“Yeah. Sorry I’m late. Is it too late?
“No, no not at all.” Emmitt seemed at a loss for words. “It’s just, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I was out of town this weekend. You didn’t think I’d stand you up, did you? So why wouldn’t you expect me? Today’s the exam, right? I told you I’d be here.”
“Yes, it is. Ah, I’m going over some of their work from Friday. Give me a few minutes and I’ll call you in. Is that okay?”
“Sure. I’ll be here.”
‘What’s with all the strange looks?’ he thought. ‘Can’t be that I’m in a suit like some out-of-towner. Why is my presence a surprise to everyone? Did the VP pull something off over the weekend? Have I been fired? Almost impossible unless something weird happened.’
Sitting in the industrial design-inspired waiting room, straight chrome chairs and variegated walls, Henberlin stared comatose at the utilitarian tile glued to the floor. He mulled over disquieting thoughts. Having to park in one of the lower levels of the garage, the similar yet odd reception each of his colleagues had given him this morning, and the possible antics of the VP… maybe he’d have been better off if he’d stayed in Vancouver.
He tried to think of his coming session in the classroom. He enjoyed addressing the new sales trainees before they wrote their final sales aptitude exam. Aiding the sales training department gave him a chance to boost his ego. And his ego needed a little boost right now. Due to a recent lack of new sales contracts, management and his fellow salesmen were giving him a lot of doubtful looks these days. It had been a while since he’d experienced the drug-like euphoria of signing a lucrative deal with a big commission check attached.
For the sales rep holding almost every sales record the company tracked, a slow sales period created a low-hung level of embarrassment that wafted like an unpleasant odor.
A presence clicked a few feet in front of him, dispersing his thoughts and wrenching his stare away from the floor. Looking up, thinking his summons into the classroom had finally arrived, he felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. He recognized the business analyst standing in front of him. Not a regular business analyst, but the Vice President of Sales’ business analyst. An intense young pest who felt his high-level attachment implied that sales reps had to accord him a higher level of responsiveness. The analyst had no cowboy hat, but he did have a red neckerchief tied around his neck, a long sleeved blue-checked shirt, designer jeans, and shiny aqua-colored boots to match his large round turquoise belt buckle.
“Henberlin,” the analyst said as he stabbed a message form in front of Henberlin’s face. “I heard you were in the office. I didn’t think I was going to get to do this.”
Henberlin took the note but didn’t look at it. He knew it had the VP’s name and title embossed in the top center.
“What is it?” he said.
“Just tell me what he wants.”
The analyst tilted his head and waited a few long beats then said, “In his office when you finish here.”
“What does he want?”
“I think you know.”
The door to the classroom opened, the sales instructor’s head appeared and scanned the room.
“Good. Neil, we’re ready for you now,” the instructor said.
Henberlin stood up, brushed the front of his trousers, smiled at the analyst, and walked to the classroom. He stopped at the door when a disquieting thought crept in again: ‘Why is everyone looking at me strange just because I’m not in my Western gear?’
Then the analyst popped the thought bubble. “Owen’s office, right after you finish up here,” he said.