I crunch numbers on my Excel sheet and pause to reflect upon the decency of the dirt beneath my fingernails. I dug in my garden all weekend, pulled up weeds, ground plants, and potted them. Back inside my office, I question if gardener was the correct occupation for my soul to hang from. Using a business card, I carve the dirt from my crevasses over my one-lined to-do list. I was tasked with contacting the new business partner’s accountant by a woman who sat through the recent meeting with no contribution other than to nod and smile at the two men who promised through baritone voices the new partnership would revitalize customer satisfaction. Reviewing the delegated functions, one commanded, “Cher, give her Benjamin’s number.” She sang back, “Oh yes, absolutely,” with certain ease.
Posing weaponry against cubicle small talk, I don a gaudy headset to call Benjamin. His brisk answer upon the first ring and the stern tone in his introduction suggest I cut to the chase.
“Hi. I’m to retrieve the documentation I need from you before we can process your checks.” Through the distinct sound of water smacking against the already over-watered soil of a house plant and over the crinkle of papers shuffling, Benjamin’s voice shifts into rushed apology. “I’m sorry, honey. You know they told me you would call. I thought they’d explain to you there is no reason for this at all. Who was with you? With you in that meeting? Was it Cher?” I explain that Cher was there and gave me the number under the direction of two distinguished men. He put me on hold after saying, “Excuse me, just a minute.”
While waiting with patience, several people pass my office. Two attempt to enter, see my headset on, put a finger up, as if they were genius, and mouth I’ll catch you later. I flip my calendar from May to June. Suddenly, Benjamin is back with raised voice. “I’ll need to see you soon.”
I’m unsure if he is speaking to me or someone else in the room. “Excuse me?”
He explains his firm does not send any legal documents via email, fax, or mail, absolutely no way, so I’ll have to pick up the document in person. I confirm that is no problem at all; a mileage check will be cut from my own company. We set a date for the fifth of June, and he sang goodbye to me with a pleasant tune.
I pull up to the office of Brooks and Dune at quarter past noon. Befitting her character, Cher is poised in the window eating butter biscuits and smoking a cigarette. Benjamin’s name plate is the only one in gold font near a variety of buttons indicating which section of the building the offices are in. I press the buzzer, and the click of unlocking mechanisms invites my hand to the brass handle. Pleased I do not have to wait for Cher’s return from lunch for entry, I step into a long atrium with cemented sidewalk, windows, and foliage from ceiling to floor, nauseating and hot, like a birdhouse in a mid-western zoo.
I follow the sidewalk to the next set of doors that do not have a buzzer or lock; it’s the type of door you had to question whether to push through or knock. I find Benjamin’s name on another boldfaced gold plaque. Momentarily pausing between my knocks, I turn my ear toward the seam to pick up any respondents noise; first I hear nothing, not even a breeze, just the hum of a distant air conditioner and birds in the sun. Mid through my third round of two tap raps comes the sound of an impatient man, who briskly presses back his chair as he demands, “Come in.”
Inside, I find two parrots and a lizard in bird cages hanging from the ceiling directly to my right. To my left is a table over which two men play an intense chess game. I debate with myself: did the glassed hallway perform time travel to the future or the past? Rushing to stand, approach, and reach for a shake, is first Benjamin, whose grip is quick and brisk. He pulls up a chair for me. “Come girl, sit down,” Benjamin demands of me. “Don’t you know we’re on lunch until three?” I ask if I should come back, and he insists no while introducing his brother. Paul’s eyes are deep blue, concerned and slanted, as if fixed permanently in concentration, giving the impression he’s thinking about the handshake we’re having right now. His hand is soft and polite, cold at the fingertips and warm in the palm. Our grip remains entwined as we all sit in the same breath that Benjamin uses to express his discontent; I’ve interrupted their game.
A certain type of money buys special bulbs to light a room to imitate the sun. The atrium was top-to- bottom windows, while this room has but one with its curtain black, pulled shut, and dust around the edges, suggesting the tenure of its position. The room is lined with houseplant and on hanging shelves and atop each flat surface in sight except the chess table and chairs.
Without a word or explanation, Benjamin and Paul resume their game of chess. After several moves of what appear to gain nothing, Benjamin says, “Brooks and Dune owns this building. Aren’t you impressed, sweetie?” I look at Paul and back at Benjamin, bite my lip, and say, “Sure. The grounds are lovely as far as I can see.” While they continue their game, I wonder if I should ask where the documentation are, if maybe someone else, an assistant like Cher, could retrieve them for me. Just then, Benjamin starts to question me.
“Do you remember the company who paid for this service before Brooks and Dune?”
“No, I’ve only worked here for two years.”
“Do you know the by-laws?”
“No, above my pay grade, I suppose.”
“Stunning,” says Paul.
They continue their game, not minding me at all. I cough ahem, and Benjamin shrugs. “Dear, we’re going out on the boat later. We hope you’ll accept our offer to be a barmaid. Be certain you’ll be justly paid.”
Paul peels blatant disgust off in his loud sigh, exclaiming, “Oh, just give up the charade! Bennie, the girl clearly has no clue!”
My mouth opens slightly, my head askew.
“Girl,” Paul says, placing a watering can in my hand and gesturing toward the adjacent wall of plants. “I have something to offer you. Be careful not to miss. You look confused. First, let’s have a drink. Sit back down here, and we’ll go over the whole stink.”
Benjamin explains, while Paul runs his hand up and down my leg and stares at me with the softest look of horny I’ve ever seen on a man that large. “Dear, we’ve been watching you, not you particularly, but your now former employer, the one who sent you here, for some time. We’re running the undercover operation pinning the formulation of human trafficking rings on Senator Briggs. Paul seemed to think you had no idea and wanted to spare you anyway he could. In order to do so, we had to keep on with the game until we could get you here to sign your clause of employment over to us. We’re doing you a favor.”
Paul’s hand slides up my skirt. I count ten seconds in reverse and notice next to Benjamin’s chair a bucket with gardening tools. Smelling the sweet foliage in the clammy air, the soil’s deep moisture, and the weeping whisk of petals under the central fans crisp air, I am inspired. I pick up the shears and, in my most even tone, say, “Please. I’d love to pour a cocktail, but I have to prune on my own. I’ll take up your job offer in exchange for a business card with the title gardener and freedom to roam.” Paul stands with grace to catch me, as Benjamin’s box knife nicks my neck bone.