It was weird to be home. The study looked just the same as it did when I left. The computer was still on, the screen saver bouncing fascinating geometric shapes across the monitor. The reference book I had used to try to kill the stink bug sat on the floor beside my chair. The stench still hung in the room.
A heard a familiar buzzing and watched the stink bug land on the top of my monitor. It waved its antennae at me.
“This will take a while,” I said.
It raised a leg, then opened its wings and flew away.
“But I’ll be back!” I shouted. “I’ll get what I need and be back in a couple of days.”
The buzzing disappeared. The hum of the computer consumed the room.
I jiggled the computer mouse and picked up the book. The report I had been working on popped up. I blinked at it.
“Irrelevant,” I muttered and clicked the red X. “But, yes, I’ll save it. S’pose when all this is over, I’ll still want a job.”
I plopped down and opened an Internet search window. “Night vision goggles. Ooh. Glad I have good credit.”
When the phone rang, I realized that I had been sleeping. It was daylight. I fumbled for the phone and held it awkwardly to my ear.
“Yo. Hello,” I blurted.
“Nate? Where are you?” The familiar, whiny voice of Roger Rangel made me cringe.
“Hey Rog. Dang. Overslept.” I tried to push my fingers through my hair. I rubbed my face, and my hand came back black. “I need a shower.” Then I sneezed.
“We’re waiting for you, man!”
I sneezed again. “Oh geez.”
“No,” I mumbled, sounding congested. “No. I’m not ok. Dang. Feel awful.”
“Well, get in here anyway!”
I sighed and looked around. K’eel in stink bug form was nowhere to be seen. “OK,” I muttered.
“You don’t look too sick,” said Melodie our receptionist as I raced through the door. “Are you sunburned?”
“Huh? No. Where’s Roger?”
“Conference B. They’re waiting.”
I took a deep breath as I reached for the door knob. I stepped inside.
“Nate!” cried Roger as I stepped in. He raced at me and shook my hand. He leaned close to my ear. “Don’t mess this up,” he hissed.
“Good to see you, Rog,” I muttered. Roger backed off. “Hello, everyone. My most sincere apologies. I’m not feeling well today.”
“This is Nathan Tetch,” said Roger. “He’s lead man on this project.”
It was a miserable hour. I really didn’t care if our company got this contract. I had more pressing things to do. The future of the Vrr’ak’l depended on me.
They were gone now, these stuffy businessmen. Roger had left with them, escorting them to their cars. I was hastily cleaning up the conference room, tossing everything in my briefcase. I wracked my brain trying to remember where I had seen that army surplus store. They might have night-vision goggles.
I flipped open my laptop and started searching. The door flew open and Roger stomped in.
“What the hell was that?” he demanded.
“We’ve been working on this contract for months, and you sleep in?”
“No, seriously, I had a terrible night. I’m not feeling great.”
“Funny. You look fine to me.” Roger glared at me.
I met his glare for a moment, then looked away. “No, not today.” The address of the surplus store was on my computer screen. That’s where I needed to go.
“Oh, really?” snapped Roger. “We better not lose this contract.”
“It’s a contract, Roger. Nobody dies if we don’t get it.” I clicked a link to a map on my computer.
Roger stormed over to me, and slammed my computer closed over my fingers.
“You need to get serious, Nate. Or you’re gonna be looking for another job.”
I stood. “I am serious.”
“This is important.”
“You have no idea.” I shoved his hand off my computer. “I got stuff to do today.”
“Yeah, like revise this proposal.”
I picked up my briefcase and tucked the laptop under my arm. “I’m not feeling well today, Rog. I’m going home.” I began to move past him.
Roger stopped me with his hand to my chest. “I don’t believe you. I suggest you get back to your desk.” He leaned close to me. “Is that eyeliner?”
“What?” I chuckled.
Roger backed away. “Are you wearing makeup?”
“Something’s wrong with you, man,” muttered Roger. “But you’d better get back to work if you value your job.” He waggled his finger at me. “And if we lose this contract, it’s on you.”
Roger left. My chest felt tight. I still needed to finish that proposal, that was true. And I had a conference call later in the afternoon. I sighed and stepped from the conference room and began the slow walk down the hall to my cubicle.
Read Chapter 24.
Go back to the beginning.