The Program Ch. 02byewebie©
First, thank you all for the feedback. As you may know, I don't take down any of the comments (good or bad). And yes, that scene was a little camp, though I don't think the phrase "pea-brainedness" is one I've ever heard before in relation to my writing. But, different strokes for different folks. I had a lot of encouraging feedback, and thank you for waiting so patiently. I really wish I was one of the Lit prolific writers that could update daily, but sadly, my real job keeps me busy the majority of my waking hours.
Chapter 2... Ok, I mentioned that I was going to play around with the narrative voice in this story. So, here's the deal. Please don't email me and tell me that this has "already happened." I know. This is the beginning of the story from Taylor's point of view. I hope you understand why I feel it's necessary to give them both a voice. The overlap will shrink with time and (all going to plan) there'll be a single narrator by the end.
Things do get a little more exciting in this chapter... I think. And it's longer than the last one. I hope you enjoy it. As always, all feedback is welcome.
Thanks for reading!
Taylor clutched the stack of papers and scurried from the room with her head down. She kept her gaze locked on the floor, the dull pattern of the office carpet somehow managing to further irritate her as it passed beneath her scurrying feet. Keep your eyes down, she told herself. Her hair spilled across her face making it even more difficult to see where she was going, but it was better this way - her hair would hide the angry flash in her eyes.
Never before in her life had she felt so much hatred for a supervisor. She admittedly was a bit of a difficult employee, hard to please, possessed a general dislike for most authority. So to rank Jason Matthews at the top of the loser list was really saying something. Matthews was not only an idiot and piss poor manager, but a sleazy bastard to boot. Plus, he was an asshole. Speaking to her as if she were a small child. "Taylor, honey, sugar, do you think you could get the programmers to sign that they've received the memos? I know it's tough to get around to all of them, but it would be such a big help. Thanks sweetie. You're a trooper." Prick.
She continued to mutter softly until she reached her cubical, only narrowly avoiding Chad. The only person in the office she hated more than Matthews was Chad VanTerran. He was a good-looking man, a clean-cut, all-American, Abercrombie model in a three-piece suit. But he was a mean son of a bitch that had a way of looking at her that was just plain creepy. Even being in a room with him made her skin crawl. Matthews may be sleazy, but that made VanTerran a morally bankrupt, leprous degenerate. There was nothing he wouldn't do, and she suspected that was part of the reason she was here.
Once she felt sufficiently calm, Taylor collected the memos and scampered back into the corridor, tripping over her baggy pants and nearly colliding with a colleague. "Careful there, hon," he said, catching her under the elbow. With a glimpse, she recognised him as one of the older programmers in the firm. At nearly fifty, he was practically a dinosaur in the field, but he was genuinely well meaning.
She mumbled her thanks and reached to tuck her hair behind an ear. The sleeve of her over-sized, flannel shirt tangled over her fingers and the motion looked more like swatting at her face. Patrick was a dead man. It was his idea that she dress this way. Which one was his favourite sweatshirt? That big, ratty MIT one... When this was all over, burning it would be satisfying. She muttered a curse and went on her way.
Getting the signatures wasn't a hassle. Most of the programmers at the firm were career nerds that spent their lives at a keyboard in their cubicles, living a cross between fanboy dweebiness and Dilbert bitterness. The majority of them were so starved for female attention that even the hint of a smile from her was enough to make them stutter. If they only knew what she was really like, their brains might just explode.
Taylor paused when she reached Bill's cubicle. For some reason, Bill Martin was the only person in this office that held her attention in any way. He was a mess of contradictions. He worked the desk job of a programmer, pouring over code for hours at a time. Yet, at six-two, he towered over her with well-sculpted shoulders and a physique maintained by a strict gym schedule and, as rumour had it, boxing matches. He had a beautiful body that seemed unnecessary and unnatural in a computer geek, but he wasn't conceited. He was, perhaps, the only truly good person in this warped company.
Enjoying the view, she watched as he ran through another line of code. He hadn't found the glitch yet, and it had given Taylor the time to finish up all her other objectives. But enough was enough, her boss wanted the program in working order asap. The muscles in his shoulders bunched as he leaned back in the chair, lifted his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Even tired, he was definitely easy on the eyes. But he was stuck and she knew it. She was probably going to have to help him along.
He slammed his coffee mug down on the desk, breaking her reverie. She jumped, releasing a small squeak. She flushed immediately; she was so deep into this cover that she was almost acting on impulse. It was shameful. "Absolutely pathetic, Taylor," she chided herself softly.
He blinked at her, "Sorry, can I do something for you?"
Oh God, she thought, I hope he didn't hear that. Well, she was supposed to be mumbling, so roll with it. "I have some memos that I need you to sign." She tensed her shoulders hoping he would buy it.
Bill smiled and she breathed an internal sigh of relief. He hadn't heard her; plus, he was cute when he smiled. Cute? she thought. Really, Taylor, get a grip. "Ok, let's see what you've got."
She handed him the memo, waiting for him to turn his back. When he was sufficiently distracted by the paperwork, she slipped behind him and commandeered his keyboard. She had studied the lines of code, picking out the glitch a few weeks ago. She knew where it was and how to fix it. Taylor's fingers flew across the keyboard, clearing lines of programming error in just seconds.
"Taylor, what are you doing?"
Fuck! She jumped away from the computer and tried to look contrite. "Sorry," she whispered. She snatched the papers from his desk and darted from the cubicle. On her way back to her desk, she brushed past VanTerran. She could feel his eyes following her until she turned the corner. Ew. She felt like she needed a shower.
Dropping into her chair with a sigh, Taylor neatly stacked the papers on the corner of her desk. She'd bring them to Matthews later. For now, she only hoped that Bill had the sense to look over her changes and recognise them for what they were - perfect.
It was as if the entire office had been thrown into chaos. Taylor knew that there had been pressure from higher-ups to finish the program, though most of the programmers were oblivious to such things. Her kind had been given an in-work vacation of sorts, most of them wasting time with online gaming. She took the opportunity to check in with Patrick.
It may have been a risk, but Taylor had strung together a series of encryptions to run from her USB key that would allow her to code in and chat with Patrick. Just to be safe, she waited until everyone had left for the weekend to do so. With the office empty, she popped in her headphones, turned up her ipod, logged in, and set up to chat.
Peters007: Patrick, get your lousy butt to your computer.
NP7430: Taylor, what the hell are you thinking?!
Peters007: Don't shit a brick, it's safe. Run a check if you want.
NP7430: It better be, or it's your ass.
Peters007: Right, right.
NP7430: Love the screen name... Almost as much as I love seeing you in my sweatshirts. You know you look like you're sixteen.
Peters007: Fuck you, Patrick. The program is set to launch. How much longer am I stuck here?
NP7430: I'll let you know.
Peters007: Oh, come on! I want to get back to my apartment. This life sucks.
NP7430: Poor baby. Why don't you play nice with your office buddies?
Peters007: I'll kill you.
NP7430: Empty threats.
Peters007: Did you feed my cat?
NP7430: What cat?
Peters007: Patrick, I swear, I'll castrate you with a rubber band and a rusty spoon.
NP7430: Hm... I think I may have fed the fur ball.
Peters007: Seriously, I want to end this. Can't I just pick up the big wigs and get out of here?
Peters007: How about VT? Can I kill him?
NP7430: James, you're pushing your luck. Just sit tight and play the quiet girl.
Peters007: You know I will punish you for this, right?
NP7430: Bring it on. Just don't trip over those baggy pants, hm?
Peters007: You'll give me warning before d-day?
NP7430: Of course. It won't be much, but we'll make sure you're in the loop.
Peters007: Fine, next time, I get to pick the apartment I stay in though.
NP7430: Fat chance. Wilson says to watch your back.
Peters007: I know he's watching my ass.
NP7430: Make sure to wipe this from your end.
Peters007: Consider it done.
NP7430: And no more hacking into my computer.
Peters007: No promises. I'll hear from you soon?
Taylor hadn't really registered that she had been humming to herself until she had finished clearing all evidence of the chat from her computer and was pulling the key from the port. The music was familiar, comfortable, the one thing she didn't have to pretend to like. It made her feel more like herself.
Behind her, someone cleared his throat. "Taylor?" She nearly jumped out of her chair. Shit! She spun quickly, tugging the headphones from her ears. If she had been caught, there weren't many options. It was Bill. He was leaning casually against the entrance to her cubicle, watching her with what looked like amused curiosity. He couldn't see her computer screen from where he was standing and she felt her heart begin to slow back down to normal. A small grin quirked the corners of his mouth. "Hey, sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
Didn't mean to scare me? How long had he been standing there? Jesus, Taylor. How careless can you be? Growing quickly bored of berating herself, she noticed his smirk and a wave of anger washed through her. Arrogant bastard had scared her shitless and found it amusing? Her cheeks flushed with ire, and she tamped down on the wicked retort that tried to burst from her mouth. Rather than meet his gaze when she was so angry, she looked at the floor and carefully controlled her voice. "I didn't know anyone was still here." She shifted her USB key into her palm and tucked her hands into her sleeves. If he didn't notice, she wouldn't have to hurt him.
She watched him from beneath lowered lashes, trying to get a read on what he was thinking. The smirk bloomed into a full smile and she couldn't help but notice the twin dimples that appeared on each cheek. Ok, maybe he didn't notice anything. But why was he sticking around? "I'm actually on my way out. I heard you singing and couldn't help my curiosity."
She glanced up. He wasn't suspicious, he was flirting. He was flirting, and he was watching her. The thought carried a warm sensation down into her stomach. Suddenly, his soft brown eyes only threatened her self-control. She blushed and looked at the floor. Say something... "I didn't think anyone would hear me."
He dropped to a squat in front of her, trying to catch her eye. Great, he was going to be charming too. "You want to grab some dinner?"
Yes. Ugh! Keep your eye on the ball, Taylor. This is not the time to be distracted by a pretty face, or a gorgeous body, or someone that's obviously in to you... Fake indecision. Come up with something quick! She bit her lip and twisted her fingers together.
"Come on. I hate eating alone."
Bill, I would eat you alive, she thought, smiling at the image that flashed through her mind. "No," she shook her head to clear it. "Thank you though," she added quickly.
"You sure?" he asked. Taylor wanted to say yes, but found herself shaking her head. "Alright, but next time you're working late on a Friday, let me know. I know a place that does some great Chinese delivery."
She thought about the half eaten cartons of Chinese that comprised most of what was in her fridge and smiled wryly as he turned to go. "Next time," she whispered.
Once he was gone and she found herself alone in the office, she let out a frustrated groan. Now was not a good time to like someone in this cesspool. What was worse, men rarely affected her, and never on the job. Never. But there was something about Bill that got under her skin. She didn't even know him. What was it? Did he remind her of someone? She groaned again. Forget about him. Eye on the ball.
Patrick had been specific. He wanted a copy of the program, the complete program, the program that was due to be released to the public in two weeks. She told him that she'd get it. Easier said than done, though. The master copy was probably in one of the managers' offices, and they lived in their offices. It had taken some planning, but on the night of the company launch party, enough people would be sufficiently distracted and drunk. No one would notice her. No one would ask what she was doing. Everyone would assume she was just working or too shy to join in the festivities. Perhaps this cover did have its uses.
With the party well underway, Taylor made her way back to the managerial wall of offices. As impressive as the heavy oak doors looked, the locks were a joke. She picked the lock on Matthews' office first, slipping into the dark room and shutting the door softly behind her.
It only took her a minute to case the room and even less time to growl with disappointment. Cracking the password on his computer proved to be easy and futile as well. All that was on his hard drive were useless memos and porn. What a waste. So Matthews was even more of a figurehead than she had originally assumed and that left VanTerran. If he was the brains of the operation, the world was doomed.
She was cautious, leaving Matthews' office as though she'd never been there and relocking the door. VanTerran's office was the next one down the line, but somehow it seemed more threatening than Matthews'. She shook off the feeling; pull it together, Taylor. The weight of her semi-automatic at the small of her back made her feel better, and she squatted down and picked the lock just as easily. Patrick would kill her if he knew she was carrying a gun, but it was so easy to hide under the baggy flannel shirt that she couldn't help it. Besides, this was the first time he'd asked her to do something risky and, frankly, illegal since she'd been assigned the mission.
She closed the door and flicked on the lights, quickly taking in the room. It was spotless, clean, cold. There wouldn't be anything of value here unless it was on the computer. VanTerran was significantly more diligent with security than Matthews was, and she spent a few minutes hacking the computer. Thankfully, it was worth it.
"Yatzee," she whispered, finding exactly what she was looking for. Slipping her USB key into the port, she held her breath waiting for the program to download. As soon as she had it, she cleared any evidence of her actions from the computer and turned the screensaver back on. She pocketed her USB key and stood, checking to see that everything was where it belonged.
It seemed so easy, she thought as she replaced the desk chair and turned to leave. Too easy. Halfway to the door, it swung open and Chad VanTerran glared at her from the doorway. "What have we here?"
Taylor froze. Damn! Instinct had her reaching for her gun, but she quickly realised how bad an idea that would be. It wasn't as if she could just shoot him here in his office. "Um... I, uh. I," she stuttered. Come on Taylor. Think! She gestured ineffectively and felt her face turning red. Damn this fair skin. "Mr. Matthews, he wanted me to get a file." Pathetic. Didn't you train for this shit?
The door was closed over, and VanTerran crossed the room quickly, aggressively. Taylor back-pedalled, bumping into the desk. She gripped the edge, suddenly worried that her cover was about to be blown wide open. He stopped only inches from her. "A file? Really?" he sneered. She could smell the alcohol on his breath and winced. Nothing good would come from him being drunk. "Why are you really here?"
There was an edge of malice in his voice that sent a chill down her spine, and Taylor nearly pulled her gun. "I-" she glanced up to see the expression on his face and instantly regretted it. He didn't suspect her of anything; he wanted something. She swallowed hard. Shit.
His hand came up to cup her chin, keeping her from looking away. "Be honest now. You were here looking for me." It wasn't a question. Taylor's brain began to work furiously. She couldn't just leave; he was blocking her exit. She couldn't pull her gun; it would blow her cover. Could she scream? His other hand traced a line down the side of her neck and hooked in the flannel shirt at the first button. "Tell me you were here looking for me."
Damnit! She could just punch him. Knee him in the balls. Hell, if she wanted, she could wipe the floor with him. But... It would blow her cover. "No, I-"
"Don't tell me no." His voice was soft and deadly as he pried the first button of her shirt open. She opened her mouth to object and he swallowed her protest, mashing his lips against hers. Taylor choked back a wave of nausea, pushing against his broad chest ineffectively. He caught her under the elbows, pulling her closer.
Taylor felt his hand slid around to her back and remembered her gun. If he found the gun, she was screwed. She didn't doubt that he knew how to use a gun or that he'd kill her for no other reason than she had the gun. She kicked and missed, knocking over his rubbish bin. Her hands and arms were trapped, so she did the only other thing that came to mind - she bit down on his lip, hard. He snarled, snapping his head away from her and glared. In that moment he looked more dangerous than any of the underworld scum she'd dealt with before.
She didn't even see him wind up, but she certainly felt the anger as he struck her across the face. Her head snapped around and small, coloured spots danced in front of her eyes. Before she could loose a scream, he slammed her back onto the desk and pulled her shirt open, revealing the fitted, white tank top beneath. A sick feeling settled in her stomach as one palm roughly grabbed her breast. Hours of training, a black belt in judo and karate, krav maga training, and nothing prepared her for this. She had to pick between her own personal safety and blowing a mission by defending herself, which didn't bode well for her personal safety either. Taylor heard a sharp intake of breath. VanTerran froze, and she quickly struggled to twist to face the door.
Bill stood stock still in the doorway, his eyes narrowing at the scene. For a fraction of a second, Taylor was actually worried he would walk out. But then she saw the horror on his face and nearly released a relieved sigh.
"What the fuck, man?" VanTerran shouted. "Get the fuck out!" Taylor winced as his fingers pressed down hard against her chest, her gun digging into her spine. He wasn't going to let her go. Jesus, what kind of an idiot was he?
"Chad, what the hell?" Bill asked, his voice practically begging for a reason to believe that he was misinterpreting what he was seeing. And then Taylor realised that Bill was sober.
"Can't two people have a good time without some asshole interrupting?"
Taylor's eyes flicked to VanTerran's face. Was he serious? There was more violence flashing behind his eyes than Taylor ever wanted to see again. She glanced at Bill and he met her stare, a powerful mix of emotions playing across his face. "Taylor?" he asked, holding out his hand.