Sr Viper leaned back in his overstuffed leather chair and turned toward the floor-to-ceiling windows facing north twenty-four stories above the green expanse of Central Park. A red-tailed hawk lazily glided by. Sr Viper squinted and pinched his nose. He might've been thinking a thought. It happened sometimes. I sat stock still on the straight-backed interrogation chair positioned in front of his vast and empty desk and practiced my yoga breathing. It seemed an appropriate thing to do. With Sr Viper you never knew whether you were going to get fired or promoted.
He cleared his throat and swallowed. I could hear the saliva and phlegm sloshing around inside him. He turned and faced me with his cheesy smile. His teeth shone an industrial white and the little capillaries in his cheeks were aflame.
"You know why I called you in here?," he asked.
"Good. I like surprising my people." He turned back to the window and nodded toward the hawk. "Sometimes I know just how he feels. Alone. Above it all."
I sat and waited, trying to keep a poker face. Finally he turned back to me. "But I'm not really above it all, am I?"
This statement seemed to call for a response. I felt the muscles in my neck go tight but managed to nod before they locked in place.
"I need somebody to keep tabs on M. She's been acting strange lately. Something's gotten into her, she's too happy. I don't like it when my assistant is happy." He sighed for effect, the effin mirror-kisser. "It's bad for discipline. And it affects the whole team -- her happiness might be contagious. That's not what work is about. If she wants to be happy, let her be happy on her own time."
I groaned. It was the only thing I was capable of doing at the moment. I hoped he hadn't heard me.
"What I pay these kids, they should kiss my cuffs. What do they want? Fulfillment? Meaning? Tell 'em they've got to supply their own bloody meaning. Tell 'em to grow up. Happiness isn't part of the equation. We have to nip this in the bud."
What could I say? I needed the job. Who was I? Nothing but a paper pusher. A scheduler of meetings. Shite, I was nothing but effin overhead. I had to protect myself. I had to hold in my piss. "What do you want me to do? How should I keep tabs on her?"
"I want you to get in when she gets in. I want you to take lunch when she takes lunch. I want you to go on break when she goes on break. I want you to leave when she leaves. See where she goes, who she talks to. Get to know her. Make small talk. You know how to do that. Keep a log, look for patterns. Take her out. Someplace nice. Order an expensive bottle of wine. Get her to open up. Just make sure she doesn't get wind of what you're up to."
He leaned into my face and fixed a stare into my eyes. I smelled him and the thought came into my head that he could smell me too. I was scared but I couldn't look away. I felt like a snake-charmer without a flute.
"Report back to me in two weeks. I want all the details. Tell me why she's smiling all the time. You got that?" Seconds passed. An obscure lyric bounced around inside my head: Hangman hangman slacken up your line. Suddenly he stood up and said, "This meeting's over. You know what to do."