Upping the Ante: MondaybyWonderstorm©
Trudging up the stairs of Wonderstorm Entertainment, Owen knew he was being punished. Well, he didn't know, exactly. But had a suspicion. Why else would they assign him to the Advertising Department for the next two weeks? Sure, Leo Kelly said it was because the ad people needed a little bit more understanding about Adrenalyne. But why couldn't they send Zach, or Terry, or one of the other countless programmers that had worked on the game? After all, Owen had DESIGNED the game - if he weren't up here this week, he could be downstairs designing more games.
But no, instead, Kelly had decided that his time was better spent up here with all the "business-types." The title was spoken as an anathema by the programmers downstairs, who often got fed up with the office staff that worked on the third and fourth floors of Wonderstorm. He was dressed in his typical ripped jeans, stained t-shirt, flip-flops, and eye-brow ring that he usually wore to work, but now he was passing people in suits, shirts & ties, and business ensembles. He groaned, but opened the door to the second floor's advertising department, his sticker-covered laptop under his arm. The minute the door was open, Owen cursed the company’s president again. This was all Kelly’s fault.
Inside, the whole office was sort of a peach color. Mauve? Salmon? Whatever it was, it made Owen sick, just at the sight of it. How did they expect him to leave his dungeon and come work up here?
There were three desks in the main room as Owen entered. One was to the far right, where a secretary, probably about his age, sat in front of a single door. To the left was another secretary, but around her desk were two doors behind her, and one to her left. Across from him was a conference room, overlooking Gaslamp Boulevard. And, to his direct right, just next to the door, was a young girl, probably college-aged, sitting at a desk that seemed to be almost an afterthought, more than anything else.
"You must be Mr. O'Connell," the secretary to his right said, standing up. She was a brunette, with extremely short hair. "I'm Chrissy, Joanna's assistant."
The name Chrissy didn't mean anything to him, but then, she was only a secretary. Joanna, Owen thought to himself, was definitely the one in charge of the advertising department. Joanna Zayres. He had heard her name around the company for the past three years, and linked it to someone important.
"Owen," the programmer told the woman as he shook her hand. "Mr. O'Connell makes it sound as if I’m sixty years old, or I'm in trouble."
The woman smiled and gave a small laugh, being friendly. As Owen glanced around the department again, Chrissy knocked on Joanna's door and told her that Owen was here.
For the next half hour, Owen was guided all around the office, being introduced to everyone. Joanna herself was only thirty-seven, but in a company like Wonderstorm, that made her the most senior member of the office.
The other secretary, seated at the far side of the main room, was the very pregnant Karen DeYoung. Karen served as the office manager, which basically meant that she was the secretary for the three advertising associates that populated the rest of the office.
The younger girl that Owen noticed as he walked in the door was Suzanne Eastman, a junior at the University of Babylon. She was actually taking the fall off of school to intern here at Wonderstorm. Her desk HAD been an afterthought, trying to cram her into the small department that had been crowded from the get-go.
Marcus Flannery and Spencer Wesley-Brandt made up the male members of the advertising staff. How they had ever got stuck working in such an awful-colored office, Owen didn't know. But he felt bad for the both of them. Marcus was in his early thirties, going prematurely grey. Spencer, on the other hand, was roughly twenty-eight, Owen guessed. Both advertising associates were well dressed, especially in comparison to Owen.
The third advertising associate was definitely the member of the staff that caught Owen's eye the most. Catherine McIntyre was his age, 23, and a recent graduate of Green College. She was tall, gorgeous, and had brown hair that fell to her shoulders, no further. Most of all, she was friendly, joking around with him in a way that made him feel more welcome than anyone else had.
"So we're dressing down today, huh?" Cat teased, getting an eyeful of the programmer.
Coming from anyone else, this might have been an insult, but Owen could tell that she was just joking around, trying to make friends. She wasn’t looking down on him; she was just amused to see someone so sloppy-looking trudge into relatively formal office.
Because of the limited space, Owen was given the conference room to call home for the next two weeks. Chrissy got him settled, and soon Owen was up and running on his laptop, e-mailing his friends downstairs about how awful it was up on the second floor. Seriously, mauve? He spent the morning meeting with Joanna, helping the director of the advertising department get a better feel of his game, Adrenalyne, and helping to come up with at least a tentative strategy of how Owen envisioned the advertising.
To welcome Owen, the whole staff stayed around for lunch, making Owen feel obligated to remain himself. They ordered subs from a deli around the corner, and Suzanne ran down to get them. Everyone settled in around the large table in the conference room, making themselves comfortable in a way that Owen hadn’t yet – despite the fact that this was technically HIS office.
They chatted though, and everyone was fairly friendly. That is, until the subject of "Teaser" came up.
To be fair, it wasn't Cat that brought the game up. It was Karen who joked that Owen should take a stab at trying to knock out the office "Teaser" queen. Karen explained that Teaser was a simple puzzle game, in which the player just tried to work their way through increasingly difficult problems.
Owen smiled at the mention of the game, and smiled again when Suzanne asked him if he had ever played. Owen laughed, and responded by saying that he used to play the game all the time.
"Were you any good?" Marcus asked.
"Oh, I could hold my own," Owen responded.
"You probably couldn't touch Cat, though," Suzanne said. "The game's spread all over the building."
"Yeah," Owen replied. "Terry Meltzer, who works in the office next to mine, is on that top score sheet – you know, the one that tracks high scores on the office intranet? I think he's number three."
"Well," Karen picked up bragging for Cat where Suzanne had left off, "you should probably check to see who's number one." She made a head nod towards Cat, who just smiled and continued eating. "She's got everyone else in the building by at least two hundred thousand points."
Owen smiled. "You know, I bet I could stand a chance, if I started playing again."
There was a laugh around the table, and Cat calmly reached into her purse. Silent, she pulled out two twenties and a ten, laying them on the table. "You want to make that official?"
"Don't do it," Marcus warned him. "She took two temps last fall, and Suzanne just a few weeks ago."
"She took me when she first started here," Spencer chimed in. "She really is the best you'll ever see."
"I don't know," Owen said. "I AM a game programmer. I probably stand a little better chance than the rest of you did."
Cat smiled, waving the fifty bucks back and forth. "I'm still waiting..."
Owen hedged. "I don't know...fifty bucks is kind of a lot of money, especially if you're as good as they keep saying you are..."
"Worried that I'll beat the pants off you?" Cat asked, teasing him. Owen smiled back, though his expression was a little difficult to read. Was it confidence? Was he scared? Cat couldn’t really tell, but it didn’t matter; there wasn’t anyone at Wonderstorm who’d been able to top her yet. Her eyes sparkled mischievously, and she put the money away. "You know what? Let's forget about the money."
Owen was silent; waiting to hear what Cat was about to say next.
"How about I really beat the pants off you?" she smiled, her grin widening. "You think today was casual? How about, if I beat you, you work all day tomorrow in your underwear?"
The room laughed, and Owen hedged a little bit more. Karen was laughing about the bet, while Marcus was desperately trying to warn Owen off. Cat continued to egg him on, though, until the programmer finally relented.
"Joanna, you're verifying all this, right?" Cat asked her boss.
"You know, it's fine by me. You're gonna have to stay in here if you're lounging around in your underwear," Joanna addressed Owen. "You can't go off around the rest of the building dressed like that.
"The same holds true for her, right?" Owen responded.
Joanna looked doubtful. "Yes, in theory, if she loses the bet, she'll have to do the same."
Cat looked extremely smug. It was almost as if Owen had been beaten already. Everyone else in the office was of the same mindset, though, and only Owen felt that he any confidence that he’d been able to beat his competition.
"Oh," Cat said slyly as Owen began retrieving the game from the network. "There's not going to be any 'double-or-nothings' or anything like that. If you want another chance at me, you can try again tomorrow, sitting here in your boxers."
Owen nodded his head. "Sounds fair..."
"What's your high score?" Owen said a few minutes later, as he downloaded the game onto his laptop.
"Just under 700,000," Cat said. "You can check the actual number once you boot it up, though. The next highest is somewhere around 480,000 - some guy over in Accounting."
"Shit," Owen said. "That is high."
Cat smiled smugly, not at all worried at what was about to happen. As the game finished downloading, Owen booted it up and began playing right away.
Needless to say, the game itself was kind of boring to watch. Most people drifted back to work, but Cat opted to stay and work in the conference room that afternoon. She went and gathered her things, plopping down with Suzanne’s laptop at the opposite end of the table. Suzanne went and worked in Cat’s office, glad to be out of the main room for a awhile.
She glanced up and said to Owen, "You know, tomorrow, I’ll still let you wear the shoes and jewelry, if you really want..."
Owen just smiled back. "Why, thanks. But I hope you're not making that offer for my sake." He shot her a smile, and she smiled back.
Fifteen minutes rolled by, and Owen was still playing. As a half hour melted away, he was still alive and kicking, fast coming up on Terry Meltzer's third place score. As Owen passed by the 480,000 second-place score, the advertising office came to standstill. Everyone but Joanna stopped what they were doing, and came to watch Owen play "Teaser."
Owen hit pause, allowing Spencer to put the game up on display through the projector. Sure, they weren't getting anything done, but now everyone's curiosity was getting the best of them. Could Cat actually lose?
When Owen hit 600,000, Cat began sweating. She was still confident he wouldn't make it past her, but the confidence was waning. She held her breath as he passed 650,000. She pulled her hair as he passed by 675,000. By the time he reached 695,000, Cat was about to go insane. Could she really lose at Teaser?
Points clicked by, getting closer and closer to Cat's 697,280. Every time Owen got a new piece, Cat rooted against him. And every time that Owen successfully placed the piece, Cat swore under her breath.
Owen was now at 697,265. He was so close, but he was also on the hardest part of level 6. Cat crossed her fingers, but it did no good - Owen grabbed a power-up to reach 697,275. He was no only five points away from winning the bet.
Cat saw the fireball come at Owen, the same as everyone else. Owen, though, just evaded it without difficulty, defending his life, and earning ten moderately difficult points. 697,285. Cat cursed out loud, her heart dropping down into her stomach. She had just lost Teaser.
Strangely, the thought of spending a full day in her underwear wasn't the first thing that bothered her. What ran through her head at first was that her name would no longer be number one on the network list. Instead, it would be Owen's.
Owen, for his own part, committed suicide immediately after hitting 697,285. He didn't need to go any further, he didn't need to be any higher. He had won, and that was all that really mattered to him. He typed his name into the "high score" line, the same place where it said "CAT MCINTYRE" only moments earlier.
"You're not seriously going to make me go through with this, are you?" Cat asked Joanna, obviously distraught.
Joanna looked at Cat, and said calmly, "Cat, if this were the other way around, and Owen were in here trying to get out of this punishment, you'd be going off the wall. You made the bet, you set the price - you've got to go through with it."
Of course, Cat knew she was going to have to. She HAD made the bet. And Joanna was right - there was no way she ever would have let Owen weasel out of the bet had it gone the other way. She definitely was not looking forward to Tuesday.
Owen, on the other hand, was sitting through a meeting with Spencer, thinking about the fact that all day tomorrow there'd be a half-naked woman running around the office. Perhaps the next week wasn't going to be bad, after all.
On his way out the door at five o'clock that afternoon, Owen stuck his head into Cat's door.
"You know, if you want, you can keep on your jewelry and shoes on tomorrow," he joked.
Cat shot him a fake smile, and said, "Yeah, gloat while you can. Tomorrow, I’m taking you down."
Owen smiled back, replying, "I look forward to it." His disappeared from Cat's door, and he was gone for the day.
Cat massaged her temples. God, she thought, how the hell am I going to get through tomorrow?