"So, let me see if I understand this," Ian said, leaning back in his chair on Monday. Cee frowned at him and waited for him to continue, knowing where this was headed but unable to stop it. "Saturday morning you call Erin and tell her you and John are snowed in at his parents' house."
"Even though you could call a plow and get out."
"We just wanted an extra day or two," Cee pouted.
"So Erin," Ian continued ruthlessly, "Calls Sparks to let him know you'll be out. And Sparks -- "
" -- out of a spirit of vengeance -- "
" -- with less than altruistic fervor," Ian allowed, with a momentary bow of his head, "gathers up our IT Manager, our Finance Director, her girlfriend, and our favorite intern, to dig you out."
"Yep," Cee said.
"And the first thing you tell them is that you're engaged to John."
"Have you seen my ring?" Cee asked, flashing it at him.
"I'm really sorry to do this to you, Cee," Ian said, and then he pointed at her and laughed.
"Laugh it up," she retorted, as Ian threw his head back and howled, thumping his cast on the desk's surface. "Someday it'll be your turn."
"Oh my God," Ian subsided into snorts. "Listen, Cee, really. Everyone knows you're doing it now. Just...please stop doing it in the copier room."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cee said, and tipped her chin imperiously as she went to fax a document. Behind her, she could hear Ian settling down as he logged onto his computer and began his morning tasks. By the time she'd returned he was in the middle of his routine and, by the way he was leaning forward and scrolling with his mouse, probably reading his daily bookmarks. She was just sitting down again when he sucked in a breath sharply, apparently surprised by something.
"What?" she asked, glancing over at him.
"Did you see Non Prophet on Thursday?" Ian asked, glancing up.
"Oh, the two dollar thing? Yeah, what about it?"
"The Robert Fence foundation matched it this morning," Ian said. "The article came up in my newsfeed."
"What?" Cee demanded, crossing the lobby and circling around his desk to read over his shoulder.
"The Robert Fence Foundation is announcing that it will donate a hundred and forty thousand dollars to Nations In Need this holiday season, inspired by the Two For Non challenge put forth on the popular blog nonprophetblog.nfp," Ian read aloud. "In addition, for every charitable giving receipt sent in by donors in the amount of two dollars, a matching amount will be given to the charity listed on the receipt, up to an additional hundred and sixty thousand dollars. An official press release for The Robert Fence Foundation, issued this morning, congratulates nonprophetblog.nfp on its original and impassioned plea, and wishes to express its support for this grassroots movement with whatever resources are at its disposal
"Did you see?" Naomi demanded, rushing in. "I just saw it in the financial-news alerts -- "
"That's genius," Cee said.
"It's a tax break for the foundation, for sure," Naomi agreed.
Cee laughed. "I bet Non Prophet's over the moon."
"He doesn't know about it," Ian said.
"How do you know?" Naomi asked.
"Well, I assume he would have posted if he did. I wonder if -- " Ian stopped again, eyes scanning the text.
"What now?" Cee asked.
"While the exact identity of Non Prophet is not known
," he read slowly, "the anonymous blogger is rumored to be affiliated with SparkVISION, a Chicago consulting firm. SparkVISION facilitates events and manages campaigns for a number of local charities.
"Ohh, no," Cee said, heart sinking in her chest.
"CEE!" Sparks called from his office, through the thick wooden door. "I THINK WE HAVE A PUBLIC RELATIONS ISSUE."
Cee and Ian exchanged panicked looks.
"I'll calm him down, you get John and Roxy working on a press release," Cee said. Ian took off down the hall. She drew a deep breath, picked up her notebook from her desk, and stepped into Sparks's office.
Ian, barreling down the hall towards the Creative cube, caught Anna as she was coming out of the kitchen with a mug of tea in one hand. He stopped just in time to avoid a collision, and she froze on instinct. They regarded each other for a moment.
"Wow," Ian said, because someone definitely had to break the silence. "You look awful."
"You do too," Anna retorted.
"Sorry! You know what I meant. Rough holiday?" Ian asked sympathetically. Anna brushed it off with an irritated wave of her hand.
"I'll tell you later. Hey, Cee and John are engaged, by the way," she said.
"I know, I'm still laughing," Ian grinned.
"Okay, fine, whatever, your bad news first," Anna ordered.
"The Robert Fence Foundation is matching charitable donations that Non Prophet is raising on his blog," Ian said.
"How is that bad news?" Anna asked.
"The article about it says that Non Prophet works for SparkVISION," Ian told her.
"Hoshit," Anna said.
"Hoshit about sums it up, yeah. Cee's in with Sparks now, she wants Creative working on a press release. Okay now your turn," he added, poking at the dark circles under her eyes. She smacked his hand aside.
"Trent Byron told me he's skimming funds from Union Arms to pay for my steaks," she announced.
," Ian said. He could feel the tension in his spine ratchet up a notch. "Did you -- "
"Sarah knows," Anna told him.
"What'd she say?"
"That I should wait until I could talk to her today to find out what to do."
"If you just made me an accessory after the fact, I am going to hurt you," Ian said, waving his cast at her.
"Okay, kids," Sarah announced, rounding the corner with eerily good timing. "You, lefty, go back to your desk," she told Ian. "You have more important things to worry about right now. You, Miss Thing, sit down and for the love of Grandmother don't tell anyone else. Trent Byron can wait. A scandal at SparkVISION can't."
Ian bit his lip, thrust a printout of the article at Anna, and ran back to his desk. He could hear, faintly, unsettling noise from the other side of Sparks's office door. Either he was giving dictation, or having a fit.
Ian sat down and stared at his open browser window.
"Worst Monday ever," he announced to the empty lobby.
Sparks, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the news article merited a war council, and also brunch.
There was a decent bagel shop near their offices, and in the middle of the morning it could be counted on not to be too busy. Most of the staff had bought breakfast there before as an apology for being late, and (as with everyone, it seemed) the shop staff all knew Sparks by name.
"Everybody give Ian your order!" Sparks yelled, as they trooped in. "Go get seats!"
"Do the interns get fed?" Jess asked Sparks. Ian paused with his pen held ready above the notepad propped on his cast. Sparks considered it.
"Yes, but they have to share coffee," he decided. "That's fair."
"Fair, but not hygienic," Jess reminded him, while Ian began taking down orders.
"I'm sure they're not contagious," Sparks said.
"I don't think I can eat," Anna whispered, leaning into Ian so that Sparks couldn't hear them.
"Did you eat at all this weekend?" Ian asked, concerned.
"Croissanwich," Ian said firmly.
"Oh! One for me too!" Sparks called. "Cream cheese and sausage!"
Ian and Anna both regarded him with suspicion.
"Do you want ham or turkey?" Ian finally said, turning back to Anna.
"I'm not hungry," Anna said.
"Ham it is," Ian told her, scribbling it down.
"No! I want turkey!"
Ian gave her a sardonic look and scratched out Ham. He left the others to arrange a table and went to order, Sparks hovering behind him.
"What happened to you?" the cashier asked, pointing to his cast.
"Meteor strike," Ian said. She eyeballed him. Well, ask an invasive personal question... "Nah, I was moving a couch. Ready for an epic order?"
He reeled off the beverages from the list, then the sandwiches and snacks, keeping one eye on the cashier to make sure he wasn't going too fast and the other on Sparks to make sure the boss wasn't getting into mischief. Cee, who kept getting distracted by her ring, was in no state to mind Sparks this morning.
"Boss," he called, when the cashier gave him the total. Sparks wandered over and took out the company credit-card, swiping it through the reader.
"I'll stick around, you can't carry everything," Sparks said, leaning against the counter while they waited for the order to be called. "How's the arm?"
"Healing. Very, very slowly," Ian sighed, twisting his fingers around as much as he could in the cast.
"It doesn't seem to be slowing you down much."
"Can't afford to slow down." Ian grinned at him. "I gotta get paid."
"Not slowing down is what got you in this mess in the first place," Sparks said. Ian's brief twinge of guilt must have shown on his face; Sparks crossed his arms and frowned. "Something wrong?" he asked.
"No," Ian said, going for a reassuring smile. "Well, nothing that can't wait."
"Wait for what?"
"Oh, the new year. A few messes to blow over," Ian said vaguely.
"Ah," Sparks grinned. "You want a raise, don't you."
"Well, more money's always nice, but..." Ian paused. "Well, I -- yes. I mean, I was thinking about it."
"You just had to say," Sparks said cheerfully. "You probably deserve one, I don't keep track of these things. You don't need money now, do you? Do you owe money?"
"Oh -- no! Thank you," Ian said. "I do fine. Honest."
"I'll talk to Naomi about it, she knows how this works," Sparks said.
"Besides, it all depends on what happens with...the lawsuit, doesn't it?" Ian asked carefully.
"If we plan to lose, the assholes win," Sparks told him, as one of the counter attendands slid several trays of food across to them. "Okay, you take a drinks tray, I'll pile up the rest."
Ian watched in mild horror as Sparks stacked the trays on top of each other, but he noticed the other man was careful to put the tray of croissants on top. They carried their precarious burden over to the massive table the interns had assembled for them, and Ian began passing out drinks. Sparks simply put the sandwiches in the middle of the table and waved a hand, stealing his own.
"So," he said, formally opening the meeting by unwrapping his sandwich. "Cee and John are engaged."
Everyone applauded. Both parties looked mortified.
"Great, we'll celebrate later. Roxy owes me ten dollars. I'll find you some bridal magazines," Sparks told John. "But right now we have other issues. Anna wrote a very nice press release for the website saying that SparkVISION has no knowledge of Non Prophet's actions and does not employ him or her knowingly. Sarah says the lawyers cleared it, so Roxy tossed it up on the webpage. We're all here, which means the phones, if they are ringing for comment on the article, are rightfully going to voicemail. Is everyone clear on our policy regarding things like this?"
Vicky raised her hand.
"Tell reporters No Comment or put them through to Erin," she said. Erin sighed deeply around a mouthful of bagel.
"That's right. You can also say that you believe Non Prophet to be an upstanding member of our professional community, but you have no knowledge of his identity," Sparks said. "Now. One more thing. I'm not going to ask if anyone at this table is Non Prophet, because I want plausible deniability. But if someone is, if
someone is, I'd appreciate being notified if you're planning to confirm your identity to the public. I think we all care about SparkVISION enough to make sure it isn't burned by this."
Ian frowned at him. "Would it be such a burn?"
"It would be an issue of trust," Sparks said. "At least, if I were our clients, I'd think that way. Wouldn't you?"
"He's been in hot water before, for things he's said," Zoe said. "If I were him, I'd be pretty nervous right now."
"Well, I'd like to know who he is," Jess said.
"Why?" John asked.
"Because I like to know things like that," Jess said. "Why, is it you?"
"HEY," Sparks interrupted. "I don't want to know!"
"It's not me, thanks," John replied, rolling his eyes. "I bet it's Sarah."
"If I were Non Prophet, I wouldn't pose as a man," Sarah said. "The writing sounds more like Erin."
"Not it!" Erin cried.
"Silence!" Sparks boomed. Everyone at their table, as well as everyone else in the dining area, immediately stopped talking. Sparks looked around, then pointed at the strangers sitting beyond their table. "You can talk."
"Point taken, boss," Erin said.
"Good. I hope all of them were. Now we'll give the office a little time for the phones to settle down, and then go back," Sparks declared. He took a bite of his horrible sandwich and rolled his eyes in pleasure.
"That's disgusting," Naomi observed.
"The cream cheese takes the heat out of the sausage," Sparks told her. "You can really taste the pork."
Date: Monday, 12/28/09
Subject: On The Fence
Dear Robert Fence Foundation,
Not that I'm not feeling the love, but could you maybe warn a boy next time?
I am, in fact, thrilled to pieces about the news I received this morning, that the Robert Fence Foundation would be donating three hundred thousand dollars to charitable causes this holiday season, inspired by the Two For Non campaign. If you have given Two For Non and received a receipt, please send it to the Foundation; you can find the link here
. They will match your donation, in addition to a large donation they are sending to Nations in Need.
It seems ridiculous to complain, really. Three hundred thousand dollars, kids. Sure, it's a tax break for them, but who cares? (Accept altruism with gratitude, but never without scrutiny.) That's money in the hands of people whose only desire is to do good works with it.
But could they not have sent me a telegram or something? I understand that I'm a hard man to get in touch with sometimes, but my email address is clearly posted, and I take missives from giant donors like Robert Fence pretty seriously. I just wish someone had told me, so that I could prepare for the barrage of commentary and discussion that's been going on since this morning.
I'd like to say that I've been following along, but I have a day job and it has demands. Everyone's job is stressful at this time of year; mine is no exception. This is literally the first minute I've had to sit down and discuss this with, if comments are any indication, the entire internet.
But I am glad to see so many people so excited about this, and I am pleased beyond measure that my little blog has led to such changes in the world.
Not to close on a negative note, but I also need to take a parting shot. To anyone who decided it was a good idea to publish, in a public newspaper, speculation about where I work and who I am: Fuck you, you creepy muckraking stalkers
. I swear to God I am this close to attempting to bring down every print news outlet in this city out of sheer spite.
Don't think I couldn't. I have ways.
"Are you going to answer your phone ever again?" Zoe asked, the third time Anna's phone rang through to voicemail.
"No," Anna said. Zoe looked over at her and grinned. "I've taken a religious vow against telecommunication devices."
"It's Trent," John announced, without looking away from his computer. "How many voicemails did you have?"
"Ten," Anna said, sounding close to tears. Zoe got up from her desk and came around to Anna's cubicle, leaning down to hug her from behind.
"Is it about the lawsuit?" she asked, when Anna sniffled.
"No, it's other stuff," Anna told her.
"Poor kiddo. It's okay, I'm sure you'll make up. He brought you flowers last time, didn't he?"
"I don't want flowers," Anna replied. "Tell me the truth, the real truth. What do you think of him?"
"Chinless douchebag," John announced. Zoe glared at him.
"I think he probably had a lot of redeeming qualities that we didn't get to see," she said gently. "Is he the one who keeps calling you?"
"I think he's started calling from other phones now," Anna admitted. "I'm getting a lot of Unknown Number
messages on caller ID."
"That's a little stalkery," Zoe said.
"Tell me about it."
"Did you two have a fight?"
Anna sighed. "No. But we're going to. I haven't talked to him since Christmas."
"Because he's a chinless douchebag," she said sullenly. Zoe laughed a little.
"Well, I guess he misses you."
"Yeah, or he wants to know if I'm Non Prophet," Anna growled.
"Everybody keeps asking me that. How come nobody asks John that? He enjoys writing. I just do it because it's my job," Anna said.
"John, are you Non Prophet?" Zoe asked.
"Hell no. I don't blog," John said. "I bet the real Non Prophet planted that information."
"Conspiracy theories! I like it," Zoe said. Anna's phone rang again -- Blocked Number.
Zoe reached around her and answered it.
"Anna Whittaker's desk, Zoe speaking," she said. There was a momentary silence on the other end of the line.
"This is Trent," he said finally. Anna made frantic chopping motions. "Is Anna there?"
"Sorry, she's not in today. It's the holidays, we have a lot of people out," Zoe told him. "Can I take a message?"
"No, that's fine. Will she be in tomorrow?"
"I honestly don't know," Zoe said.
"Do you know where she is?"
Zoe laughed. "Sorry, I don't. I don't keep her calendar."
"Can you put me through to someone who would know?"
Zoe hesitated briefly, but Ian was paid to handle people like this, and he was good at it. "Yes, I'll transfer you, one moment."
She hit the transfer button and dialed Ian's extension.
"Hiya, Anna," Ian answered.
"Nope, it's Zoe," she replied. "I'm transferring Trent Byron to your phone. He wants to know why Anna isn't here today and when she'll be back."
"But she is here today," Ian pointed out.
"Not for Trent Byron, she's not," Zoe said patiently.
"Ohh," Ian replied, catching on. "Dumb Receptionist act. I can do that. Besides, he's an asshole, I live to torment assholes. Send him over."
Zoe hit transfer again and hung up. Anna looked at her gratefully.
"You should have told John to answer and say he was your new boyfriend," Zoe grinned.
"I don't want to be shot by stalkery chinless douchebag Byron!" John said, alarmed.
"Poor Ian," Zoe mused, craning her head to look down the hall at the lobby. "I don't envy him right now."
"Don't feel too sorry for him. He loves playing dumb," Anna said. "He's probably having the time of his life."
"I'm really sorry, sir," Ian said, doing his best to sound contrite and dim. "Let me put you on hold -- "
"I don't want to be put on hold again! Do you know who I am?"
"Sir, if I can just leave the desk to find her calendar -- "
"Can't you call someone who actually knows what they're talking about?" Trent Byron growled.
"I'm afraid a lot of people are out of the office this week," Ian told him. "I can put you on hold and call around -- "
"Fine," Byron sounded resigned. "Do that."
"One moment," Ian said crisply, and put the phone on hold, setting the receiver down in its cradle. He leaned back and stretched. Cee grinned at him.
"Five bucks says I can put him on hold two more times before he hangs up," Ian said.
"No way. Even you aren't that good."
"I'm very good!" Ian protested. "It's a skill, you know, I work at this."
"Misdirecting angry boyfriends?" Cee asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Angry callers and soon-to-be-ex boyfriends," Ian corrected.
"That's not very professional of you."
"Well, every job has its little petty pleasures," Ian replied, shuffling paperwork on his desk into a pile. "He should know better than to call here. He's suing us. I'm not about to provide excellent customer service. I have my integrity but there's only so far you can push before even the most genteel of office boys snaps."
"Sounds dangerous," Cee said with a grin.
"Only to those who incur my wrath," Ian replied calmly, picking up the phone again. "Mr. Byron, I'm so sorry, I can't seem to reach anyone who can help."
"She's not picking up at home," Byron said.
"I understand your concern, sir," Ian said. It was one of his best lines. It reeked of sympathy and slightly dim wits without concretely affirming that whatever the caller was concerned about was worth the trouble they were making over it. "As I said, if I can leave the desk to find her calendar..."
"Fine. Fine," Byron said. "Put me on hold."
Ian grinned to himself as he pressed the hold button again. "This time he asked
for it," he announced. He picked up the phone and called Zoe's desk. "Hey, Zoe, put Anna on."
"Did you get rid of him?" Anna asked.
"Nope, I'm keeping him in telecom hell. Listen, Anna, are you getting a stalker vibe off him?"
"Ten phone calls," Anna said.
"He tried your cell, too."
"Yeah, I know that," she snapped.
"Look, if you need help..." Ian offered, delicately. He leaned out over his desk and saw her leaning away from her cubicle, waiting to catch his eye. He waved at her down the hall.
"You know this isn't your fault, right?" she asked.
"I did kind of tell you to ignore the fact that he was an asshole and keep sleeping with him," Ian said.
"But I'm the one who actually did that."
"I'm just saying, if you think he's going to break into your home and kill and eat you so that you'll always be together, you're welcome to bunk with Zeke and me."
"Your mind goes disturbing places," she told him. "I'm fine, Ian."
"Okay. In that case, back to tormenting him," Ian said, hanging up and switching back to Byron. "Sir, I am so sorry. I can't seem to find her calendar anywhere. It's possible she took it with her. I did speak to one of my colleagues who thinks she might have taken a vacation for a few days. Would you like me to see if I can reach our Human Resources staff and find out if she's requested time off?"
There was a long, perilous silence on the other end of the telephone.
"I'd like your name," Byron said.
"Ian Butler, sir," Ian replied dutifully. Nothing pissed off angry people like being answered as if they weren't asking threatening questions.
"Put me through to your boss," Byron ordered.
"Mr. Sparks isn't here today, sir, but if you'll hold a minute I'll connect you to his assistant," Ian said, and punched the hold button. "Yes
. Pay up!"
"I'll buy you a smoothie later," Cee said. Ian saw the little red hold light blink out on the phone.
"And he's gone," he announced. "Man, that was satisfying. Fear my wrath, puny mortals!"
"Don't get above yourself, a hold button is not fireballs from your fingertips," Sarah said, sailing past and down the hall towards Anna. "You aren't mistress of the Dark Arts yet."
"Can I be master of the Dim Arts?" Ian called after her.Chapter Fifteen