It was about this time every Monday that Baines liked to take a stroll around the office. It felt good to get up and walk around a bit, sure. More importantly, though, he always felt it was valuable to move among his people, to keep his fingers on the pulse of their daily lives. After all, one never knew when simple gossip like Susan’s office fling would crop up as an obstacle to his personal goals.
Speaking of Susan, she hadn’t seemed quite her usual bubbly self in the break room this morning. Baines caught her low-voiced conversation with Marilyn as he wandered past her flimsy cubicle wall. “I don’t understand it, Mar…I mean, I thought things with Rick were going so well, and then this! All he’ll say is that it’s over, and he won’t even explain why. I feel like an idiot. I mean, how am I going to come in to work every day and just smile at him like nothing is wrong?”
Marilyn’s sympathetic murmurs faded as Baines continued along the fabric-lined halls of his tiny cubicle kingdom. Susan didn’t know why Rick broke off their relationship, but Baines did, of course. Rick was a staunch church-goer, and it seems someone had told him Susan had a couple of abortions in her younger and wilder days. And so he broke things off, probably leaving out the explanation in an attempt to make as little drama as possible.
Poor Rick and Susan. Their workdays would be so awkward now, and all because they chose to flaunt the wisdom of the company’s “no interoffice dating” policy. For a fleeting moment, Baines wondered if that rumor about Susan was actually true, or if she’d be just as horrified at the thought as Rick was. Not that it mattered. Baines smiled.
The next pause in his afternoon constitutional came as he neared Paul Brown’s cube. From the sounds of it, Paul was in the midst of yet another conversation with the Benefits Department.
“You don’t understand,” he said, desperation warring with anger in his voice. “I need that health insurance! You can’t just cut it off without any warn–…. Yes, I know the company had to make benefits changes due to the economy; I’m in the Accounting Department! But I’ve worked for this company for twelve years, and my wife is in the middle of chemo, and do you have any idea how much that shi–… I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I–… Yes, yes, you’re right, and I didn’t mean to raise my voice; I know it’s not your fault. But there’s got to be something you can do. Please.”
Baines knew there wasn’t. Or at least, maybe there was something the company could do, but nothing they would do. The irony was that Paul was an accountant; he knew that just as well as Baines did. In fact, in days gone by, Paul would’ve been the first one to argue that a company sometimes has to make the hard choices. But it’s different when those “hard choices” apply to you.
Paul Brown, mid-level accountant…just another hamster on the wheel, being forced to run ever faster for fewer and fewer pellets. The misery and frustration radiating from him was nearly palpable. Baines inhaled deeply, and the ghost of a smile flitted across his smooth, confident face.
He walked on, past April’s unhealthy obsession with Bill, past Bill’s resentment at losing a promotion to that foreigner Aamir, past Aamir’s distress at being ostracized by his peers and micromanaged by his supervisor Becky, past Becky’s fears that with all these cuts, her job would be the one they took next. Baines had the fanciful thought that, if this were a cartoon, a permanent raincloud would hover above them all.
He returned to his cubicle in the very center of it all, feeling refreshed and strong. All was right with his kingdom, as he’d known it would be, given that the delicious negative energies had been a flowing like a fountain all day long. Baines resisted the urge to lick his lips, and hid his sated expression in the reflection of his computer screen.
When his kind progressed beyond the need to take the lifeblood of their victims, and learned to survive on the delicate flavors of pain and despair, they all developed their own feeding strategies. Baines had heard of some who became depraved serial killers, or who built horrific torture devices. But no other vampires fed as well as Baines, who found in his cubicle farm an endless supply of all the sustenance he could ever desire and more.
Baines smiled. Monday at 3 PM was the best part of the week.