Diana Ross walked into the tall, glass building, trying her best not to scream in frustration. She had been in Sable, Maine, for all of six hours and things were already not going very well. So, as she climbed into the elevator and jabbed at the button for the fourth floor, she wanted nothing more than to put on her boxing gloves and find something to beat. Hard.
The elevator doors opened on an office that was somewhat organised and yet still chaotic. Diana forced herself to walk out of the elevator and be immersed into her new work place. Standing there in her black trousers and simple green shirt, brown hair pulled back in a simple bun, leather satchel on one arm, Diana felt out of place. There was not a person in the room, within the cubicles or just standing around at one of the office doors, that was not wearing a form of jeans and long sleeved shirt. Some were nicer, some were sweaters worn through at the elbows, some jeans had tears at the knee or were faded with time, but there was not a single person wearing dress clothes.
"Stop stalling," Diana told herself, straightening her posture and lifting her head, unintentionally showing off her skinny neck. "You knew that moving here would be different. Just get this day over with and you can have a nice glass of wine, red, with a book."
"You know, talking to yourself is usually a sign of craziness," a small woman said, wearing, like everyone else, jeans and a shirt, though hers was a low-cut blue top that hugged her curves. The woman's hair was blonde and she wore it over one shoulder in a braid. She was pretty, Diana decided.
"It's preferable to the alternative," Diana replied and looked around. "Do you know where I can find Mr. Harron?" The woman looked startled, then smiled brightly, causing Diana to feel taken aback.
"You must be the new writer," she said, reaching forwards to take Diana's hand and giving it a friendly squeeze. "I'm Cleo, layout specialist."
"Oh," Diana said, trying to muster the energy to smile back. All she could manage was a weak grin, "I'm Diana Ross."
"Nice to meet you," Cleo replied, leading Diana through the maze of people and cubicles, offices, conference rooms and the like. "George has been so excited about your coming, I'm afraid that there are wild rumours through the office all about you. Don't worry, none of them are too terrible."
"I'm sure," Diana managed, trying not to cringe at the disarray of the office. She put her hand on her satchel and nearly sighed in relief when Cleo stopped at a door. "This isn't at all what I would have expected," Diana added, to try and be friendly.
"What? Oh, well, we're not like most East Coast companies. And besides," the small woman said as she opened the office door without ceremony, ushering Diana inside, "it's casual Friday." Cleo smiled and walked away, leaving Diana frustrated and confused, standing in an unfamiliar office, her stomach beginning to growl.
"You must be Diana," a voice said, making Diana tense and turn. She faced her new boss, a portly older gentleman who had gold wire-rim glasses fashioned in the coke-bottle style. His grey and white hair was swept back from his head elegantly and he wore a blazer, albeit over jeans and a shirt. Diana managed more of a smile for the man than she had for Cleo and she held out her hand.
"Yes, sir, Diana Ross," she said, noting how strong the man's grip was.
"Right, well, I'm George Harron, but you call me George or I'll want to know why," he said, teasing Diana. She tensed slightly then nodded, moving further into the room and eyeing the chair before George's solid walnut desk with eagerness. To her surprise and annoyance, her boss led Diana back out of the office and into the common area. He greeted people as they walked and finally stopped at an empty cubicle, the desk made of particle board and covered with laminate. There was a spot for a computer and a few drawers under the desk. The walls of the cubicle were also particle board, but were covered with cork. "This'll be your space. Do you have a computer?"
Instinctively, Diana touched her satchel then nodded, thinking of her laptop, "Yes, sir."
"George," her boss corrected absently. "You can use your computer for your work, if you want, or if you would rather, I can get one for you out of company equipment."
"No, no," Diana said, cringing at the thought of having to reprogram another computer. "I'll just use mine. Is there anything else I'll need?"
"General office supplies, I imagine. Since you're a writer, and since I know about writers, I'll give you leave to get whatever you want, paper wise. The things will all belong to you, but any files you create will need to be copied for our records. I'm sure you'll figure out how the office is set up and by the end of next week, there will not be a person here you do not know," George said with a smile on his face. Diana supposed that his grin was supposed to be encouraging but she found it just the opposite. Returning the smile with a faint one of her own, Diana sank into the office chair, grimacing as she felt the mould of another person in it.
"What of my assignments?" Diana asked, pulling her satchel onto her lap and looking at her boss, taking in the incongruous blazer over jeans and the too-wide smile, the large glasses which seemed to magnify the bright eyes. She tried not to frown and fiddled with the buckle on her bag instead.
"Well, you've got a full five pages of space every other month and the rest of the time, you'll get a page-long column. You'll only do assignments when I think them necessary, but otherwise, you're on your own. I'll get you something for your first article, due in three weeks," George replied, moving away from Diana. She watched him go and began to wonder what to do next.
"Right," she said out loud, to make sure that he heard. "Three weeks."
"Oh, and Diana?" George said, facing her with his hands in his pockets, a stance which only made his sizeable belly look larger. She gave him a quizzical look and he grinned again, "Welcome to Entropy Magazine." With that, George Harron turned away and left Diana on her own, sitting in an office chair that had belonged to another person, at a desk that looked like it would fall apart. She tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear and sighed. It was going to be a long day.
At her previous job, working as a columnist for a newspaper in Colorado, Diana had been bored and socially outcast. Then, she had been recruited by Entropy for a larger article space and, without thinking, Diana accepted. She had packed up her small apartment and moved to Sable, Maine, prepared to be given more space and a more rigid working environment. She, so far, had been wrong.
The slap of a file folder hitting her desk caused Diana to jerk and look up. She met the gaze of a slender man with wavy, dark hair, black, Blues Brothers esque glasses perched on his nose. He, unlike most of the office, wasn't wearing jeans and a shirt. He wore tight black pants, dressier than jeans but not quite trousers and a button up blue shirt, the sleeves folded up to his elbows, a tweed vest over that. He was good looking and Diana was pleased to not be the only one wearing something other than jeans. And he was smirking at her.
"Your assignment," the man said, leaning over the top of Diana's cubicle and taking her in, slowly moving his eyes up and down her frame. Though she wanted to shift uncomfortably, Diana stayed still, maintaining her casual position in the chair and returning the man's gaze as he moved to her eyes. "You have to go interview Craig Lloyd. The novelist?"
"Oh, of course," Diana said, trying to think if she had ever heard of his name. Then, it hit her. He wrote The Mind Maze, the book which had become an instant best seller, and its subsequent books. She had bought the books and devoured them, finding them beautifully written and intriguing, as so many had.
"Good luck," the man said, his smirk turning dark. "No one's managed to get an interview with him, yet. And not for lack of trying." Diana didn't blink as the man walked away and met up with another person, a more ragged looking man with a slight beard. The one she had spoken to laughed and the other one joined in, shaking his head. A moment of fury blinded Diana and she stiffened, holding her head proudly before flipping open the file.
There were no pictures of Craig Lloyd, only shots of the covers of his books in various styles, a small typed up paragraph, the phrasing making Diana think it had been taken from the 'About the Author' section of the book, and a few numbers and e-mails to contact. None of which, Diana noted, belonged to the writer himself. She set her satchel on her desk and pulled out her phone, the only non-smart phone she could find at the phone store. It was one of the old-style shock, water, dirt proof phones and Diana did well with it. She looked at the file and carefully selected a number from the list, under the name of Benjamin Wyld, publisher. The phone rang once, twice, three times then, "This is Mr. Wyld's office, Newman Publishing, Jean speaking. How may I help you?"
Diana frowned; she'd gotten the secretary, "Yes, I'm looking for Mr. Wyld. I've been given an assignment concerning Craig Lloyd and I'm pretty sure my colleagues are putting me through the new-recruit hazing ritual." Diana offered up the information, hoping to play on the sympathies of the woman on the other end of the line. She knew from experience that offering up a little bit of information, not too much, though, allied people with you, making them think they knew you.
"Oh, you poor dear. There have been so many people trying to get interviews with Mr. Lloyd that I doubt Mr. Wyld would want to speak with you, but to do this to you as a hazing ritual, oh, that's just terrible!" Jean spoke swiftly, her tones high-pitched and fluctuating heavily. Diana put her head in her free hand to keep from wincing. "I'll put you through right away. Teach those people a message."
"Thank you," Diana said, keeping the frustration out of her tone. She waited until she heard the line change, picked up by a deep voice.
"This is Benny Wyld," the man said and Diana couldn't help but smile at herself. She would show that smirking fool who he was messing with. Though Mr. Wyld couldn't see her, Diana straightened and leaned back in her chair, arm across her stomach.
"Mr. Wyld, thank you for picking up. I'm Diana Ross with Entropy Maga-" she started and was cut off.
"No. I will not get you an interview with Craig Lloyd. I don't care how much you think the interview will boost sales of his books or even if you're willing to give a portion of your profits on the magazine. I will-" Benjamin Wyld said and Diana frowned, cutting him off in return.
"I don't really care about his book sales and I don't have any offer of money to make you, Mr. Wyld. I'm only asking for this interview for one reason; my new colleagues threw this assignment at me and are expecting me to fail because apparently this is some sort of hazing ritual that they give to the new recruits. I'm doing this to prove to these people that I know what I'm doing. You'd be doing me a huge favour and I would owe you. Besides, I've had a really bad day, what with getting into Sable at three in the morning and finding out that I have no apartment to live in. My luggage was lost on the plane and while the airline gave me a not-so-generous compensation, all I have to my name at the moment is a bag with my most precious belongings. I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm pissed and now I'm going to be the laughing stock of the entire office if I don't get this interview," Diana stated, her speech said in a flat tone. She offered up more information, knowing that the publisher was going to be harder to get to cooperate than was the secretary. Her day was also starting to fray her nerves and she was definitely getting a headache.
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few moments then Benjamin Wyld spoke again, his voice sympathetic, "I'm sorry, Ms. Ross, really I am. But Craig Lloyd refuses to give interviews. If there were something I could do, I would. I don't like hazing rituals and that my writer is being used as one doesn't make it any better. But-"
"Mr. Wyld," Diana broke in, feeling slightly rude for interrupting again. "Please."
There must have been something in her tone which made Benjamin pause, but he did and Diana heard a distinct sigh on the line, could imagine a man in his early forties who worked out and had a wife and two daughters, pulling his fingers through his hair. "Fine. Fine," he said and Diana smiled, genuinely pleased for the first time that day. "I can get you to see Craig Lloyd, give you his address. But getting any information out of him is on you, okay?"
"You have just become my favourite person," Diana replied. "And if you ever need a favour, I'll do whatever I can. You have my word."
Benjamin grumbled and gave Diana an address which she carefully wrote out, then, "Oh, and if you take his picture, you'll be courting death." Diana chuckled and expressed her thanks again before hanging up.
In his office, Benjamin Wyld, who was not forty but in his late twenties, who had no wife and daughters but a dog named Casper, groaned as he put the phone back in its cradle, staring at the slightly open door between his office and reception. The walls were covered with bookshelves and there was a window behind his desk. Two leather chairs sat before the desk and his papers were organised enough for him to work.
"Jean," Benny called, feeling a slight well of panic in his chest. He opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out some antacids, swallowing them quickly. His secretary, a plump and pretty girl with Hispanic origins and the accent of a New Englander walked in, a smile on her face.
"Did you give that woman the information? I just felt so bad for her, what with her colleagues being so cruel," Jean said, sliding some paper onto Benny's desk. He looked blankly at the stack then back up at his secretary.
"I am going to be murdered by one of my favourite writers. And, after that, I'm going to lose my job. I'd better call Craig," Benny said and Jean's smile vanished. She nodded and walked out of the room, happy to not be there when the trouble began. She closed the door behind her and Benny was certain she would be out for coffee for at least half an hour. Craig Lloyd may have been a good writer, perhaps one of the best, but he was unsociable, to say the least.
After three prolonged rings, Craig picked up. "Benny, what is it? I've just gotten the yacht cleaned and need to pay for the service."
"Ah, well, yes," Benny said, "you may want to hurry that up, then."
"I can't really, unless you get off the phone. What do you want? I told you I'd have the next instalment in by next Tuesday," the author said, obviously displeased. Benny steeled himself and stopped from reaching for the antacids just in time. Instead, he picked up a pen and fiddled with it, doodling on a piece of paper.
"Well, a reporter from Entropy called..." Benny began but he had to say no more. The already irritated voice on the line grew cold.
"I imagine you said no, right Benny?" Craig growled, the slight sound of water reaching Benny's ears. He focused on the sound and took a deep breath.
"Well, not exactly," he said, sounding far more scared than he wanted. "I gave her your address and told her that she had to get the information out of you."
"You're an idiot," Craig snarled, the softness of his voice making Benny wince. "What right do you have to give a reporter, any reporter, my address? I've made my position on this very clear. Or haven't I?"
"Craig, this one's different. But even if she weren't, you really do need to do an interview. Your sales are declining and people on the internet are poking holes all around you. You're going to be found out at some point, and if it's in an environment you can control, all the better. Trust me, Craig. You need to do this," Benny said, his frustration growing at his friend. He used his most persuasive voice and knew that the author couldn't really disagree.
"What do I care of my reputation on the internet? I just don't want people bothering me. Can't you understand this?" Craig asked. Benny sighed and rubbed his temples.
"Craig, you are going to make me prematurely grey, you know that right? I understand that you have issues with people, that you're an introvert and all that psycobable you put into my head when you dragged me to that lecture the other month. But I'm doing this for you in the interest of your job. You like writing, right? Well, do this interview, and you can write as much as you want for Newman. For goodness' sake, Craig, I'll even publish a book of your poetry if you want," Benny pleaded.
"You know I don't write poetry," the author said evenly, obviously nonplussed by the pleas of his publisher and friend.
"Fine, then don't write poetry. But do the damn interview. I'm asking, no, begging, as your publisher and your friend. Be as ornery and difficult as you want. She's got to get the information out of you, but just give the woman a chance. If she's as terrible as you seem to think all people are, then don't give her anything. Please, Craig," Benny said and could feel his voice breaking. Talking to Craig about work always seemed to raise his stress level up, making his blood-pressure dangerously high. This was why his doctor seemed to hate him.
"Fine," Craig replied after a few moments of silence. "Fine. I'll see what this reporter has to say, but I get final say on the article. Goodbye, Benjamin." And he hung up. Benny stared at the phone in shock and replaced it, leaning back in his chair. He smiled to himself and folded his arms, surveying his office with pleasure.
"Craig," he said out loud, "you'll thank me later. Don't you ever doubt ol' Benny." He chuckled, but the motion was half-hearted. Why shouldn't Craig doubt him? He doubted himself and was fairly sure that, whatever happened next, it wasn't going to be good.