RavMe Ch. 02bytorquedtales©
Kelly stepped out of the subway and walked up the block to the bustling entrance of the building at 5 Times Square. A mendicant vet held out a cracked and bent plastic cup. The hood of the gray fleece beneath a camouflage military jacket partially hid his face wrapped up in bandages. He was wearing the dark glasses designed for the blind.
Kelly hunted for some spare change. "Look like it's your lucky day, Mac," she commented. "The smallest I got it is a fiver." She rolled up the bill and slid inside his cup. She flinched slightly to feel the wool glove of his hand grasp her fingers in gratitude.
"You are an angel," he said in a husky voice.
Kelly smiled at the square black lenses and withdrew her hand. "I gotta get to work now."
Her creative ideas cranked out slowly that day. She found herself staring out the window from her workstation. The smiling face of a devilishly handsome male model dolled up in a glamorous tux and angel wings gleamed up at her from a billboard. The product name underlying his classic-cut features and brown wavy hair curled in fancy cursive script: Caravaggio Eveningwear, Celestial Fashion.
"Hi, we haven't met yet. I'm Trisha."
Kelly looked up to see a petite woman with the complexion of mocha topped with frothy blonde curls. She wore a sleek black pantsuit and lavender blouse. A silver ring clamped through her left eyebrow while a glittering stud pierced her right nostril. A rectangular pendant dangled from her neck. Kelly forced a smile to the strange girl whose interruption came like a gush of cold water on the fire of creative process.
"I'm the IT specialist," the young woman announced. "I'm here to check your network settings." Deep dimples punctuated her smile.
Kelly suppressed her irritation through rapid blinking. "Does it have to be done right now?"
Trisha shrugged her shoulders to insist. "This should only take a few minutes. Maybe you wanna take a coffee break or something."
Kelly got up from her desk chair to allow the technician access to the PC. "That's an interesting necklace. Looks like letters. That a name or something?"
"Huh?" Trisha looked to see Kelly studying the pendant. She drew the lapels of her shirt over it. "Uh, no. Nobody's name. Just a fad, you know." She called up a screenful of folders then made them disappear with a keyboard stroke.
The name Jill Beverly blipped on the screen then vanished. Kelly had run across the name while searching for design templates. She had opened a couple of the files to find memos on project details and rollout schedules. They revealed she was in the midst of a massive ad design campaign with award-winning potential. Why she walked off the job wasn't evident, but a letter of complaint about a contract issue dated two days before Kelly's hire suggested disgruntlement. She had to ask. "That Beverly person, she left right before I came, huh?"
Trisha flashed a wan grin and continued moving file folders.
Kelly cleared her throat. "She seemed to have left in a hurry, and in the middle of a huge project. That's kind of odd, don't you find?"
Trisha's fingers stopped. She sighed, stood up, and looked at Kelly. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but I'm sure you're going to find out." She stepped intimately close and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Jill Beverly hanged herself in her apartment just a few days before you came on."
"What about the project? Are you going to delete the files?"
"The project died with her." Trisha dropped her gaze from Kelly's eyes to her neck. She scoured the lily-white skin with a sharp focus.
Kelly raised a hand to her throat. "What? Something wrong?"
Trisha's eyes brightened with a glib smile when she caught a glimpse of the ligature bruises on Kelly's thin wrists. "Nope. Just thought I saw a mark, but I was mistaken. Sorry. Love your hair, though. What a brilliant color." She waltzed away from Kelly's station with nary an explanation.
Kelly used her lunch break and the fifty bucks in her purse to go to Soho by cab. It was a twenty-block bullet ride dodging cars, buses, and other taxis, but it got her there with time to spare. She entered the tall building with the black glass windows and located the suite number for the business written on the paper, Enrapture, Inc. "We make your wildest dreams come true," read the motto emblazoned in silver across the front of the reception counter. Kelly walked up to her reflection in the polished onyx. "Excuse me, who do I talk to about correcting an error?" she asked the dark-haired woman with the caked-on mascara sitting behind the glossy facade.
The woman didn't look up. "All emendations are handled online. You can access your account and—"
"You don't understand," Kelly interrupted. "I don't have an account, I mean, I never created one, but someone sure as hell did." She passed the wrinkled printouts to the thin dour woman dressed in the black suit and white blouse.
The dull receptionist glanced at the paper then at the pale freckled face looking at her over the counter. "This is you."
"Yes, the photo is of me, but the page isn't mine. Someone set this up without my permission." Kelly's patience chafed at the bit to see the wall clock ticking down the precious minutes of her lunch hour.
The woman stared at her blankly. "What would you like me to do about it?"
"Could you please tell me how I can cancel this account?"
Like a clairvoyant seeking answers from a crystal ball, the woman looked into her computer screen. Independent of her owlish eyes, her fingers worked the keyboard. "What's your password?" she asked flatly.
"I don't know since I didn't create it." Kelly ground the words in her teeth.
"Then I can't help you."
"Look, can I please talk to someone in charge, before I begin proceedings against you for fraud, identity theft, and sexual assault?" Kelly's green eyes grew wide.
The receptionist picked up the phone with immutable ennui. "Dr. Karillian, I have a dissatisfied customer out here." She hung up and resumed typing. "He'll be with you in a minute. Have a seat."
Kelly retrieved her documents and sat down on the plush black leather sofa to the right of the reception counter. A door across from her opened. Out stepped a short man with long wavy black hair graying at the temples. He had burning coal-black eyes. He wore a sharkskin suit and a black silk shirt. "How may I help you, madam?" he softly intoned. He sat next to her and listened to her plight. Without batting an eye, he assured, "I apologize for the confusion and shall see that the matter is rectified immediately. I hope our mystery agent didn't harm you in anyway."
"No, he was a perfect gentleman," she half lied. She didn't have time to go into the depth of her grueling ordeal.
"I can see you're on the clock, and I imagine that is your taxi waiting outside." Dr. Karillian took her hand to guide her to her feet. He noted the lines on her wrists. The edge of his mouth arced slightly. Not understanding why she found this perturbing, Kelly carefully withdrew her hand.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out a fresh C-note and handed it to her.
"No, I couldn't," she refused. " Take it for your cab fare. It's the least I can do to compensate for your distress." His eyes fixed on her throat. "I'm sorry for staring, but you have the most exquisite neck."
She meekly pulled her collar closed then slipped the bill into her suit-coat pocket. She couldn't help but feel somewhat soiled.
He escorted her to the door. Kelly shuddered in spite of the man's considerate manner. Throughout the entire encounter, he had never once blinked.
Dealing with the credit card company proved far less enjoyable. She had to deal with calling from a payphone where the street noise added to the misunderstanding. "No personal calls on company phone lines," read the signs posted in the work areas.
"What? I told you," she shouted into the receiver. "I never took out a second card. No. Someone has done it in my name. Police? Why should I go to the police? You should cancel that damned card then investigate the matter. No, don't put me back on hold! I have to get ba--" She grunted like a pirate and slammed the phone into its cradle. After two days of juggling phone calls, a rep assured her the card was paid for and duly cancelled. Who had paid for it remained an unknown that Kelly didn't have the means to uncover. A city bus passed by bearing the same handsome face that eyed her through her office window.
A week passed without an intrusive incident. Kelly followed her grinding routine day in and day out. She languished at her workstation to produce prototype composites for the Caravaggio Fashion House catalogue. She'd look to her muse on the billboard and pray for inspiration. Odd how she wound up working on promotional material for the celestial designs he smiled about. Frustration fevered her brain for the senior editor's tirades over petty flaws. "You call this a textured look?" screamed the tall bony woman with the stiff platinum hair. "This looks like my cat's diarrhea!"
"Sorry, Ms. Wilmont. I thought you wanted a soft watery look," Kelly justified.
"Yes, but not in the color of bile! And just look at these patterns. They're all wrong. What's it going to take to get you to understand?" She bit down on the tips of the gold frames of her glasses and set a hand to a thrust-out hip. Jeanette Wilmont looked lean and classy in her hand-tailored peacock-blue silk ensemble she bought in Bangkok. Her salon-tanned skin hid the fine marks of the plastic surgeon's scalpel along her aging face.
"I'm doing my best Ms. Wilmont," Kelly quietly insisted. She gathered up the proofs from her boss's desk.
"I hope this is not representative of that," Ms. Wilmont snottily retorted.
A man's voice sounded on her intercom. "Mees Wilmont," it said with a Latino flare. "I've got the new projections ready."
A long-nailed finger pushed the "speak" button to order, "Bring them to me," then released it. She caught Kelly staring at the brash blue diamond ring on her hand. "Well, what are you standing there for, Ms. Roy? Fix this mess! I'm counting on you."
Kelly scampered out of the corporate diva's office. She brushed by Julio Galvan, Chief of Operations for the Emvar Design Group. "Hello, Kelly. How are you today?" A warm smile radiated his exotic charm. He had a flawless face with smooth olive skin. A neat moustache accented sensual lips. Short and muscular in stature, he posed an attractive figure of a man. His soft almond eyes roved her face and neck.
Kelly gave a shy smile in return and watched him disappear into the mad editor's den. When she finally turned to look where she was heading, she saw she was on a collision course with Brad Ferukka, the fashion editor.
"Watch it, girl!" he warned with long arms outstretched to deflect her course. He stood a lanky six feet and looked crisp in his white Enro dress shirt, red Raffaello tie, and creased beige pinstriped trousers with the brown leather belt circling his trim waist.
"That man has the wickedest effect on people. Makes you loose all sense of yourself." He studied her through sky-blue contacts. "What's up with the witch?"
"Oh, she's not happy with these proofs. Guess it's back to the drawing board for about the tenth time," Kelly enlightened.
He looked at his Tissot watch and declared, "I think it's time you and I go grab a bite, right?"
"I don't know. She's got a rush on these and I'm kinda short on cash."
"Really?" Her freckled nose crinkled with the query.
"I think I can splurge for one of New York's specialties. There's a hotdog stand right across the street by the park." He held open one of the etched glass doors.
They ate their meal while sitting on a bench near the fountain. Traffic buzzed by and kicked up street dust. It was early May and the air was thick with pollen and the scent of blossoms. Kelly took a nibble and sneezed.
"Gezuntheit," he blessed through a mouthful. He watched her eat and studied the swallow reflex in her throat. Still chewing, he smiled for spotting the purplish lines around her wrists just above the hem of her cuff.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Kelly caught him fixing on her. "What?"
"Why is everyone staring at my neck and my hands? Do I have a growth or something?" She became self-conscious of the bruises and tugged her suit-coat sleeves over them.
"No, it's just that..."
"That what?" She grew defensive.
"Don't think I'm fresh, but your neck and hands are lovely to look at. So," he segued, "let me see those proofs and try to read the beyotch's mind." He swallowed the last bite and wadded the wrapper into a tight ball. He took out a neatly folded handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe his fingers. He handled each composite as though it were a treasured work of art. "These are good, but I imagine she's upset about the texture and color."
"Exactly," Kelly affirmed with a sip through the straw in the cup of soda she held.
"Here's what I suggest. Add more shading here," he pointed out with a brush of his forefinger along the length of the dress depicted. "Subdue the background color, and avoid the pattern combo. Too busy." He handed them back to her.
"Thanks, Brad. I appreciate the tips and the lunch. You are truly one of the nicest people I have encountered in this hard-driven city."
"I just hate to see fresh talent like yours get buried under the giant turds T-rexes like her dump onto the market as graphic art," he commiserated. He stood up in indication lunchtime had ended. "If she gets on you again, and if I have the time, don't hesitate to ask for my help."
Kelly frantically reworked the designs and scanned them to CD-Rom. By end-of-business, she noticed a distinct change in Ms. Wilmont's demeanor. She received the new proofs with repressed glee. "I am impressed. Look how much better these stand out. What brilliant color and sassy montage. Very nice, Kelly. There is hope for your best after all."
Kelly lowered her head to diminish her grin of pride. She was about to go out the door when she heard Jeanette Wilmont's sultry alto call her back. "Kelly, I hate to ask, but would you be able to do some mockups over the weekend? We've got this potential client, a costume designer." She rifled through the drawers of her polished desk as she talked. "They have a new line of designs for theatrical productions." Her long nails hooked onto a shiny round disc. "Here are the specs and prelims. Take it home if you like." She handed it to Kelly, but noted hesitancy crossing her creamy young face. "You do have a computer at home."
"Yes, but isn't it against policy for an employee to take proprietary information from company premises? I mean, the guard downstairs is going to check my bag like he does every night, and if he finds this."
"Give him this," the senior editor wrote out a permission statement on official letterhead with a 24-karat gold pen. "You should have no problem. And if he does give you grief, call me at the number listed at the top." She shot Kelly a plastic smile.
The guard never even checked Kelly's bag, a fact that set her spinning on a roll. "That's four for four," she told herself. "A free lunch, a completed deadline, the boss's faith, and an indolent security guard. How could I ask for more?" Stepping from the elevator into the dingy corridor of her apartment building, she was met by another esteem-boosting treat. Hanging from her doorknob was a plastic sack containing a large shiny black box with gold trim. The locks seemed to glide open as she examined it for identifying marks. As soon as the door pushed away from the frame, a strong force pushed Kelly from behind.
"Quiet! It's me," said the familiar voice. He hustled her inside and closed the door behind him.
"Does it always have to be an ambush with you?" she griped with a curt toss of the box and her purse on the table. "Why can't you wait and knock like normal people? How did you get in the building anyway?" She looked over at the window to find it securely sealed with tape.
"I rang buzzers until a guy named Lemont answered. I told him I had a singing telegram form a secret admirer, and he opened up." He flicked on the lamp. "I hid out in the stairwell across the hall and watched for your arrival."
"Great. Now some poor girl in the city is about to get hounded by love-crazed Lemont. You just love creating deviant monsters, don't you?" Her pupils shrank to pinpoints with the flare of the bare bulb. They adjusted quickly to the light to see the spidery superhero of a week ago in a guise reminiscent of Zorro, with a black broad-brimmed hat, black mask covering the head and upper face, sleeveless leather vest, tight leather pants, riding boots, gloves, and a coiled bullwhip.
Before she could react to the sight of him, he handed her a fresh printout of documents – a second scene with a signed contract. "Read it, but don't please don't weep. I hate it when you cry." From the gym bag slung over his shoulder, he pulled out a six-pack of beer in emerald bottles and set it on the table. He popped the top off of one and handed it to Kelly. "Here."
She eyed it with suspicion.
He heaved a sigh of dismay over her distrust. "It's not drugged or anything. You just saw me take it from the pack and open it. Or would you like me to pour it in a glass for you?"
"No." She warily received the offering.
He nodded upon her acceptance of the truce libation then opened another for himself. "Cheers," he toasted with a pleasant grin boasting even-set teeth. "Shall we sit?" He motioned her to sit on the edge of the bed. She cautiously complied. The springs creaked with the settling of his weight next to her. "I think you could do with some chairs."
"How come your facial features are showing? I thought you said allowing them to show destroyed the illusion." she asked after taking a swig.
"To be honest, I'm rather proud of my dashing smile and chiseled jaw."
"So it's the area under wraps that's ugly then. You got one of them uni-brows or a receding hairline?" She teasingly reached up to touch his mask, a gesture she hardly fathomed considering the potential threat he posed.
He pulled away. "Did you read the scene?"
A crease formed in the middle of her porcelain brow as she skimmed the text. She dropped it to the floor. "It's thoroughly appalling."
He bent over to pick it up then curtly asked, "Did you send it?"
Her eyes flared wide with ire. "Hell, no!"
"Okay, okay. I'm only asking because I heard you talked to Dr. Karillian. I thought he might have talked you into joining up. I just needed to be sure. This means whoever did this before is doing it again." He paused.
She pulled the bottle from her lips. "He never broached the topic. Then again I was pressed for time. He was certainly one of the most polite people I've met in this city."
He detected a hint of doubt in her delivery. "But something bugged you about him. It was the way he looked at you, right?"
"Yeah, his eyes, they were, like, feeling me up all over. Gave me the heebie-jeebies." She tipped her head back to finish the bottle.
Zorro took the empties and brought them to the table. He returned with two fresh ones.
"No, I shouldn't."
"Hey, it's Friday night. Live a little."
"It's just that I have a shit load of work to do." She took the bottle he offered.
"And I'm supposed to have you lashed to a chair with a long-stemmed rose planted in between your teeth with your lips taped shut. Instead of dripping hot honey on your naked body and licking it off, I'm sitting here having a beer and civil conversation. Do you see me complaining?"
"Will you stop?" she huffed. "That filth has already soiled my eyes. My ears needn't suffer more insult to injury." The beer sloshed inside the bottle as she took a drink.