Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Technicality

Candace is the one who gets everyone out of a jam. There is no time to think or question when Candace is around because she has the blueprint in her mind as soon as she knows the situation. What you don't know is what she knows. No one argues with Candace. She's the attack dog. She's the savior. She's the dam.

No one knows Candace better than Darryl. They'd yucked it up at Christmas parties and inter-departmental meetings, but never in the office and never in private. Darryl knows the rules about that sort of thing and Candace had made them. It's a professional environment.

Candace can't sleep on Tuesdays because she meets with Roslyn on Wednesdays. Every detail has to be accounted for. One mistake and questions start getting raised. Attention is a bad thing in their business. Candace lives by this credo.

Candace walks into Roslyn's office Wednesday morning with a folder and a cup of coffee: black, one sugar, decaf. Roslyn is smiling because she knows the meeting is a waste of time. Candace took care of everything, as always. It's just a formality. Having confidence in your representation is the key to successful leadership.

"Help me," Candace whispers, but Roslyn doesn't hear her.

They wrap up at noon. Nothing is out of the ordinary. It's a short day for Candace afterward. She visits Sanjay in fiscal to conduct her daily audit. He speaks softly as he tells her about the day's debits and credits.

"What's this," Candace asks, holding up an unsigned check request for three hundred dollars.

"That's an oversight," Sanjay replies. "Logistics underpaid someone and they want an
emergency check for Friday."

"Why didn't they sign?"

"A mistake. It'll be corrected. Bob spoke to Darryl on the phone, so the signature is just a technicality."

"Well, make sure they get it by tomorrow."

"Don't worry. It’s just a technicality. It'll be taken care of."

Candace furrows her brow and stares at the invoice. Sanjay looks sanguine and unconcerned. No more words pass between them as she hands him the invoice and walks away from his cubicle.

It's five o'clock and Candace is staring at her phone, wondering if she should call fiscal to make sure Sanjay's got the signature. She taps the fingers of her left hand, index to pinky, like a pianist descending a chord roll. Halfway through a pen cap she'd been nibbling on, she picks up the phone and dials Darryl's extension.

"You've reached logistics," the voice mail drones in Darryl's deep voice. Candace hangs up before the beep.

It's never too late to make a mistake, she thinks.

Darryl lives across town from Candace in a Mitchell Lama Cooperative building. He paid fifteen thousand dollars for it and waited three years to get in. It hadn't appreciated much since he'd
been there, but that didn't matter. He wasn't leaving anytime soon.

His buzzer rings twice in precise intervals and he presses the button to release the lock on the downstairs door, mistakenly believing his Chinese food has arrived. Footsteps down the hall yield Candace instead of shrimp fried rice. He gapes for a moment then manages a smile.

"Come in, come in," he says.

Candace doesn't smile, but comes in anyway.

"Well, I'm a little surprised to see you here," he says. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I needed to talk to you," Candace says with mechanic diction. There is never hesitation in her voice.

"Okay, well, uh, come in then. Sit down over here," he says gesturing to a sofa with a pair of dirty socks draped over the arm nearest the window. He swipes the socks in a swift motion as he rounds the sofa and heads for the kitchen.

"Would you like something to drink," he shouts.

"No, I'm fine."

"Well, I'll be in in a minute. I just need to finish up what I was doing. Are you hungry?"

"No, I'm okay."

"Alright, but there's some Chinese on the way, so--"

"Really, I'm okay."

Darryl stops talking and turns on the faucet. Candace looks around, matching obvious contradictions with the imaginary layout she'd designed of the place on the elevator ride up. The view is unimpressive, but the Spartan furnishings make excellent use of the space. It shouldn't be a surprise, she thinks. This is what he does.

The faucet turns off and Darryl emerges from the kitchen with a few wet spots on the bottom of his t-shirt. He grabs a remote off the sofa cushion and places it on top of the lifeless television set then he sits down on the same cushion the remote was resting on, two removed from Candace.

"So, what do you need from me?"

"I just had a quick question for you," Candace says, shifting in her seat despite herself.

"Is it something bad?"

"What?"

"You know, is it something bad?"

"I'm not sure...I--"

Darryl chuckles to himself and slaps his thigh.

"What are you laughing about?"

"I'm sorry..."

"What is it?"

"It's just, well, I'm not used to seeing you off-guard."

"I'm not off guard."

"Oh, come on. Who asks if it's bad that's over the age of ten?"

"Well..."

"See, I got you good. That was a kid question and you took the bait."

"I guess I did."

Candace allows herself to smile. She realizes she's talking to Darryl. The same Darryl she danced with at three Christmas parties in a row and had eaten lunch beside at every staff meeting for the past two years. He told her jokes when everyone else at the agency would only greet her with halfhearted hellos or reticent waves. Darryl was always different. I’m being ridiculous, Candace nearly says aloud.

But that’s the kind of thinking she always guards against. Her mother taught her at a young age that the man who makes you smile the most is the one you should trust the least. Who would she be if she forgot that in Darryl’s apartment?

“Why is it we’ve never done this,” Darryl says.

“Done what?”

“This. We’ve always had a good time at work, but we’ve never just hung out.”

“I don’t know.”

“We should do this.”

“Should we?”

“Why not? I mean, we have lunch together once a month, but why haven’t we ever had dinner?”

Candace is unsure of what to say for the first time in ten years. She clears her throat and tugs
her collar, uncomfortably warm. She wonders why she had to come to his home when a telephone call would have sufficed. Darryl is sitting a foot away, smiling at her, waiting for something that makes Candace want to run screaming to her office and attack a mound of paperwork or sift through an ocean of e-mails.

“There’s a signature,” she blurted.

“I’m sorry?”

“You forgot to, uh, sign a check request and Sanjay, he…”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“So that’s what this visit is about?” Darryl leans back away from Candace. It takes everything she has not to yank him back toward her.

“Sanjay said he spoke to you, so…”

“Yeah, he did and it’s being taken care of.”

“Oh, good. That’s what he said.”

“So is that all you wanted?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, well that’s no big thing. I’ll handle it in the morning.”

“Good.”

Darryl laughs again in his hearty baritone.

“You’re making fun of me again,” Candace says.

“No, it’s just that you’ve got your style and I respect that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know. You get things done. If it wasn’t for you, the agency would’ve gone under a long time ago. I mean, you don’t just do your job. You do it seriously.”

“Is that bad?”

“No, no, that's just you.”

As Candace smiles, she notices her lips are dry and starting to crack a little. Her tongue moves involuntarily to moisten them, but she stops herself.

"So was there any particular reason the request didn’t get signed,” she says.

"No, I told you. It was just an accident."

"You didn't say that."

"What?"

"You never said it was an accident."

"Well, you know. It's just a technicality. We got invoiced for a shipment of toner cartridges a little earlier than we thought."

Candace is cooling down. Darryl has her attention. Attention is a bad thing in their business.

"Who ordered the cartridges," she asked.

"Who? No one ordered them. We like to keep a back stock so we have them for emergencies."

"That's probably a good idea."

"We like to think so."

"It's very...convenient."

Darryl is forgetting dances at Christmas and lunch at staff meetings. He’s talking to one of his bosses.

"What are you implying," he asks.

Candace thrives on putting people on the defensive. It brings out the real her. She is what she does.

“I’m not implying anything, but your oversight could have caused some serious problems.”

“Well, it’s going to be fixed. Sanjay and I spoke.”

“Sanjay doesn’t approve the check requests.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that without everything in order, we can’t honor the request.”

Darryl lets out a long sigh and scratches his head. Candace is sitting up straight, her jaw set, her glare unwavering. The silence is a prison.

“So do you have it,” Darryl finally says.

“Have what?”

“The form. Did you bring it?”

“Darryl,” Candace says firmly, “I’m not a courier. You’ll have to go first thing in the morning.”

“Oh, so it’s like that?”

“That’s the policy.”

Darryl stands up and walks to the door. Candace smoothes her skirt and rises as well.

“Okay, well, thanks for stopping by. I’ll be in tomorrow.”

“You need to come early if you want that check.”

“I’ll try to be there.”

“It isn't too much trouble?”

“Not too much...but you know, I guess we can wait on the toner.”

“I'm sorry?”

"Well, really it's just for stocking purposes, so maybe I'll hold off.

For the second time, Candace isn't quite sure what to say. She thinks for a long moment before she speaks.

"Well, if the order is coming, you'd better have something in place," she says.

"I'll just see if I can schedule a re-delivery," Darryl says.

"Is that going to be a problem?"

"Only if you need some copies on the wrong day."

"Why don't you come in tomorrow instead?"

"I have some things that need doing. Personal. I might take a day."

"You know that has to be requested in advance."

"I have the time saved up."

"It doesn't matter. You know the policy."

"And so do you."

Darryl stares at Candace with a false smile. Candace stares back, but doesn't bother trying to look pleasant. Besides, a small flap of skin is protruding from her lip.

"Well, I guess I'll call in sick," Darryl says.

"Are you sick?"

"I am feeling a little queasy."

"Well, I'll expect a doctor's note by Monday."

"Yeah. Look, was it always going to be like this?"

"Like what?"

"This. Us. Is this who we are?"

Candace hesitates, but doesn't look away from Darryl.

"It wasn't a technicality," she murmurs.

"What?"

"There's a way things should be done. What can I tell you? You should...know."

"I didn't, but now I think I do."

Darryl walks over to the door and flings it open, but doesn’t look at Candace. He’s already trying to figure out where he will sit at the next staff meeting.

“Thanks for dropping by,” he says.

"It was no trouble. Maybe--"

Candace is interrupted by a loud buzzing from the kitchen.

“Excuse me, I have to get that, but we'll talk soon,” Darryl says.

“Alright, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“First thing.”

“Good night,” Candace says as she steps out into the hall, but Darryl’s door is already closing. As she walks down the hall toward the elevator she feels something like satisfaction welling up inside her chest. It spreads quickly to her throat as the elevator doors open and a young Chinese girl carrying a large paper bag steps out. As the doors shut, it’s already traveled up to her nose, mouth and eyes.

By the time the elevator opens on the ground floor, it’s not satisfaction running down her cheeks or making her tremble. As usual, no one is there.

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