MISSING PERSON

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Chapter 3

On Friday, Roger arrived at my desk pressing a yellow folder to his chest. Startled, I promptly lost my train of thought and noticed him right away, which seemed to please him greatly. The cubicle beside me was unoccupied, and he rolled my co-worker’s chair over to my workstation and sat down, too close. “How are you doing today, Kathleen?” he asked.

“Not bad,” I said, affecting an exaggerated squint at the monitor. Now that I was no longer preoccupied with figuring out whether I’d be able to avoid restructuring the entire sales component of the seed database, my physical discomfort asserted itself. I was wearing a suit, one mandated by APNE (“It’s important that we dress like professionals”) and I still hadn’t gotten used to the silky-to-the-point-of-slimy blouse, the stiff jacket and pants. I had always attained peak productivity in pyjamas, but in a rare stab at collegiality, had proposed a compromise of jeans and T-shirts. Sanjay, though, had been too meek to back me up, and when I later took the fight to Roger, I had lost; a humiliating and expensive defeat.

Now, Roger leaned over and continued, “Have you experienced any injuries from the accident? I know you said you were fine, but some injuries take time to show. I made an appointment with my GP, just to check...” I furrowed my brow and nodded.

When he finished speaking long enough to allow a response, I said, “I’ll make an appointment.” I was counting on him not asking for a note, which was probably a case of misplaced faith.

Roger nodded. He started to stand up, and then, as though as an afterthought, asked, “Have you been in touch with Mrs. Gill?”

It took me a minute to register the name; the car accident itself had been the least traumatic of the events of our trip to Calgary, and I’d all but banished it from my thoughts. Roger remained in my life; the stupid seminar had offered lessons that, like it or not, I’d have to apply in what was becoming a stressful and intolerable job; but the car accident, with a bill covered by insurance, I could put behind me.

“You should follow up with her,” Roger said, for once correctly interpreting my silence. “Let her know that you’re thinking of her. Clients appreciate knowing that you’re thinking of them.”

Of course. One of the central tenets – “pillars”, according to Roger – of APNE was “always follow up with the client”. This, at first, had seemed to me to fall into the category of self-evident protocols that comprised the bulk of the content at the communications seminar in Calgary. It wasn’t long, however, before I learned that Roger’s notion of “follow up” was considerably more robust than mine. According to Roger, it was important that we take care to check, daily or more, whether the client’s needs had changed since we’d last spoke. Roger, naturally, lived by his own philosophy of relentless follow-up.

“She’s not a client–” I began, but thought better of it. “I don’t have her phone number,” I said instead; an ironclad excuse for not phoning someone.

At this, Roger, evidently having waited for this moment, dropped the yellow folder on my keyboard. I took note of its label: Calgary vehicle accident, K. Kovalevsky and R. Corrigan. Unbidden, an image of an entire filing cabinet full of such things took hold of my thoughts, and I pictured Roger boasting about it in chronicling his career in Sales – or Customer Engagement, depending on what the circumstances called for. When I made no move to open the folder, Roger reached back to the keyboard, opened it, and fanned three photocopied pages on my desk: the complete information from Harsha Gill’s driver’s licence, in case I ever needed to know that Harsha Gill stood one hundred and fifty five centimetres tall and weighed forty-seven kilograms; the hastily-scribbled police report; and ten digits, scrawled in the other driver’s hand.

“Oh,” I said weakly, “you kept all this.”

I would never get rid of this man, I realized, until I left this job. While indulging in self-pity, I caught a fragment of a sermon on the virtues of keeping everything (“which I’m sure is nothing new to you, Kathleen, working with databases”), and picked up the page with Harsha Gill’s phone number.

“You’re absolutely right,” I interrupted. About precisely what, I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to say, but I knew I wouldn’t be tested on the details. Sure enough, Roger rose, and I grabbed my phone and punched in the ten digits. An automated voice prematurely, and loudly, rattled off a menu of options. I cursed silently and hung up, as Roger instructed, a second too late as always: “You need to dial 9 first.”

I redialed with more force than necessary. At last he left. I stared blankly after him, and realized just how far gone I was when a voice - unaccented, young, and male – replaced the ringing, catching me entirely off guard.

“Yeah, hi,” I managed. “May I speak to Harsha?”

“What?” There was a pause, and I registered the background noise: a steady chorus of energetic, indiscernible voices. Not an office. Not a home with small children.

“Is Harsha Gill there?” I asked.

“What? No. You got the wrong number.”

“Okay, sorry to bother you.”

I hung up, and stared at the phone for a minute. That was easy. But, anticipating Roger’s inevitable follow-up, I picked up the receiver again, and entered the eleven digits, one by one, checking the page after each. This time the phone was answered immediately, and by the same voice.

“Oh, hi,” I said, “I just called a minute ago. I’m sorry to bother you, but –”

“I told you, you have the wrong number.” Some muffled speech filtered through the earpiece: the young man addressing a friend.

“Okay, thanks.” I stared at my desk until an automated voice beckoned me to hang up, and I did, irrationally irritated at having been jolted from my reverie.

People didn’t get their own phone numbers wrong by mistake; and even Roger could transcribe a number correctly. Something about this unsettled me. Why give a fake number? But none of this was my concern; company insurance would cover the damage to the rental car, and Harsha Gill would take care of hers on her own. And so I tried to put Harsha Gill out of my mind for the second time in a week. No, the first: the other day, I hadn’t had to try.

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