Paranoia and Conjecture
It had been an incredible day for Walt, the favorite nephew of billionaire industrialist Jimmy James. The young Intern had finally realized his lifelong dream of meeting his idol, Dave Nelson, in person. Even better, he had the privilege of spending a day learning from his mentor at WNYX. Nevermind the stupid speech that Uncle Jimmy had forced him to memorize, it was a paltry inconvenience at worst. Of course, he would never admit that he didn’t aspire to be a Rockin’ Ranger, but he did what was required to please the old man. Jimmy James had money and power, with a considerable amount of the former.
While he wasn’t a genius, Walt knew how to take advantage of a situation and make things work in his favor. This family trait, he speculated, was the primary reason why a Florida sharecropper had risen to a level of prosperity that rivaled any number of the richest men in the country.
He desperately wanted the Intern position he’d been promised at WNYX, though no longer for the reasons Jimmy thought. At first it was the prospect of being able to work with Dave Nelson- the living legend, and his own personal hero. The opportunity was all he could have hoped for. But everything changed when he met Lisa Miller. From the moment he first set eyes on the raven-haired radio journalist, Walt was instantly smitten. But it was much more than a case of puppy love. He wanted Lisa more than any woman he’d encountered in his 25 years.
“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady.” he’d said to her.
The bashful proclamation, along with a dozen white roses, had earned him a smile from Lisa that made his heart soar. But before he could charm the Boston angel with another tried-and-true line, Walt had been summoned by his mentor and given a mild reproach about the professional consequences of office relationships. This, in turn, led to a lecture on the moral reservations of a sexual attraction between persons of such differing ages and statures, followed by a firm warning. Dave made it clear that inappropriate behavior in the workplace was punishable by expulsion. When it came down to the bottom line, Walt could be fired from WNYX before his career had even begun. In spite of the inherent dangers, he wasn’t deterred. Fulfilling his heart’s desire was a risk he was willing to take.
Still, the threat had been sufficient enough to drive him into the Men’s room on another floor of the Criterion Building, where he figured he would hide until some of the heat died down. Walt felt safer there, but simultaneously trapped as he tried to rationalize his feelings for Lisa. He definitely wanted to keep his job, but he couldn’t ignore his growing attraction for the woman. Whenever he closed his eyes, he could see her face. He’d memorized every detail, though he’d met her only hours ago. For some reason, he found the reporter’s lips particularly attractive. They were so perfect and lovely, especially whenever they formed a delicate smile that brightened the world.
He yearned to kiss her long and passionately, and wondered what her lips would taste like, how they would feel. It was then and there that Walt decided that he would stop at nothing to find out. As he adjusted the collar of his blue shirt, Bill McNeal’s words came back again: “You are one magnificent hunk of man meat.”
Walt nodded to the mirror, assenting with Bill’s earlier statement. He crumpled another paper towel and submerged it in warm water, and then wiped away the last vestiges of makeup from his handsome, clean-shaven face. That was the last time he would ever let a woman test makeup on him, Walt vowed. The only reason he had submitted to Beth’s outrageous proposal was to find out if Lisa was currently seeing anybody.
It had been a fairly unproductive interrogation, as the chatty redhead wouldn’t stop talking about her favorite cosmetic brands. Furthermore, the hour-long process included a full manicure, which Beth persisted in giving him as a ‘Welcome to the Office’ present. It was an altogether humiliating experience for the former college star quarterback, but one that he felt was necessary to bring him closer to his goal.
“Oh yeah, your looks are good, but you know what? They’re not rugged good looks. That comes with time. You’re still soft and downy, like a summer peach.” Bill had opined.
Walt disagreed. He turned his head, admiring his movie-star visage and wavy blonde hair. The neatly chiseled features smiling back had earned him dates with some of the most beautiful girls in college, including the most untouchable cheerleaders. If he had learned anything from his extended education, it was that some of the most stunningly beautiful girls were the most conceited in the world. They lived by the mistaken assumption that fashion model bodies and flawless complexions gave them license to treat everybody else like garbage. When it came down to it, Walt concluded, they were bitchy, uptight, and just plain cruel. Still, that didn’t stop him from landing a fair number of them in bed. And contrary to Bill McNeal’s opinion, he DID have rugged good looks, and they had gotten him into more pairs of panties than Victoria’s Secret. Walt had no reason to complain. His genetic legacy was a rich blessing, indeed. Now, he was counting on it to win the heart of Lisa Miller.
He brushed his hair into place, ran a hand along his lightly stubbled jaw, and smiled with satisfaction. Maybe it was a bit presumptuous to hang so much on his looks, but they had never failed him before. Lisa would be his very soon. Walt was confident that, in due time, he could make her fall in love with him. She might not be aware of his feelings right now, but all of that was about to change.
“I love you, Lisa Miller.” Walt said aloud, hoping that he would have the chance to tell her before the day was out.
The click of a stall opening made him suddenly aware that there was somebody else in the bathroom. Walt fixed his bangs once more as he listened to the hesitant footsteps echo across the tile. They had a strange, dainty quality, a sound without substance. Walt glanced over his shoulder as the person came into view from around the corner.
He had a fraction of a second to observe a beautiful woman in a neat, expensive business suit with charcoal skirt and dark pantyhose. Her shiny black high-heeled pumps clicked to a halt as her eyes widened in shock. Walt suddenly realized his mistake as the woman panicked and let out a terrified scream that rattled the glass mirrors. In the commotion that followed, he tripped over a trashcan and stumbled into the wall, nearly killing himself as he tried to escape from the Ladies bathroom that he’d mistakenly sought refuge in.
As he made his way back to WNYX in humiliation, it occurred to Walt that he needed some inside help, someone who knew Lisa better than he did. He went down the list of staffers, trying to decide which one might prove most cooperative in his mission.
Dave was the first person to be scratched off the list, for obvious reasons. Lisa had to go because she was the object of the quest, and Walt lacked the courage to tell her directly that he was in love with her. Uncle Jimmy had already given him advice earlier, and look where that had gotten him. Matthew hadn’t made an impressive standing, mentally or otherwise, in the brief time Walt had known him, so he was out of the picture as well. Bill was insanely jealous of the Intern’s good looks, and felt that Walt represented a threat to his masculinity, a fact that was readily apparent in his cruel and immature pranks.
That left Beth and Joe.
The wacky, gum-snapping receptionist seemed to find it more productive to give her new co-worker a makeover rather than carry her share of the workload, therefore Walt estimated that she would be of little value. Finally there was Joe Garrelli, the station’s handyman. Although he didn’t know him well, Joe seemed like a guy’s guy, and could probably relate the best when it came to scoring with chicks. Walt was positive that he was the right person to go to with his problem, and presently sought him out.
“Joe, I want to play solitaire!” Matthew whined.
“You can’t, dude, I have to fix your computer again.”
“No, you don’t!”
Surrounded by tools and computer parts, Joe kneeled beside the desk with a screwdriver clenched in his teeth, doing his best to ignore Matthew as he twisted a screw free with his fingers. He appeared to be in the process of deconstructing the hard drive, which sat on the edge of the table. It had been cleanly dismantled, and stood gaping with holes where the panels had been removed. Electrical wires and tape gushed from the exposed framework like clumps of multicolored spaghetti, while screws and fasteners were lined up in neat rows nearby. Several of the computer’s elements were pulled free of the tower like bricks dislocated from an earthquake-ravaged wall.
Matthew hovered anxiously nearby, eliciting a string of worried noises at what was happening to his beloved machine. Joe held up a flat black box with a circuit board fastened to the top of it.
“Do you know what this is?”
“An 8-track tape?”
“No, it’s a Quantum Fireball harddisk with a 7200 RPM drive, and it’s broken. I need to fix the positioning motor on the drive actuator arm. Until then, you’re going to have to find another computer to play solitaire on.”
“What should I do?”
“Go play in traffic, or something. See how many cars you can touch without being hit.” Joe suggested.
“Hey, that sounds like fun!”
Matthew ran away, leaving Joe to his work. Walt approached him, unsure whether or not he would help.
“Do you have a minute?”
“Hey, Walt. What’s up?”
“I need help with this girl.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. You’re looking at a card-carrying member of the F.B.I., where quality control is everything.”
Joe opened his jacket, proudly revealing his ‘Female Body Inspector’ shirt.
“Cool, I knew we were on the same wavelength.”
“You know it, dude. Now talk to me.”
“Okay, I don’t want this to get around yet, but I really, really like Lisa.”
“Seriously?” Joe asked.
“Yeah, but I’m just not sure how to make it happen.”
Joe stopped uncoupling wires for a minute, and looked up. The kid wasn’t short on ambition, he thought, but he had another thing coming if he thought Lisa was even remotely in his field. Joe told him as much while he took a reading on his voltmeter. Walt shook his head in denial.
“I know she’s a successful journalist, and that’s what makes her even more attractive. She’s the most perfect woman I’ve ever met, and I’ll do anything to be with her.” Walt confessed.
Garrelli tore off a piece of duct tape and fastened a bundle of wires together, taping them to a metal cross bracing as Walt expounded on his theory about the perfect love match.
Joe cut him off.
“You wouldn’t be saying all this if you knew her like we do.” he reasoned. “Lisa may look fine, but she’s a real hard-ass.”
“But I couldn’t live with myself if I don’t tell her how I feel.”
“She doesn’t like you that way, man.” Joe said. “Now buzz off before I have to hurt you.”
“C’mon, be a guy!” Walt pleaded.
“As cool as it would be to brag to my buddies that I kicked Brad Pitt's ass, I don't want to lose my job. Now beat it, dude.”
“Joe, if you help me I could make it worthwhile for you.”
“Dude, that doesn’t sound right. Now take it back before I have to hurt you for real.”
When reasoning failed to get him anywhere, Walt tried to appeal to the electrician's more un-intellectual side.
“I was just thinking, I have this really hot cousin named Tracy, and you two would get along great.”
“How hot?” asked Joe.
Walt shrugged. “Um… like Laura Dern hot?”
Joe considered this for a moment. “Talk to me, kid.” he said as he steered Walt outside.
“Following an intensive year-long inquiry, authorities with the Federal Bureau of Investigations seized fifty tons of cocaine at a facility outside of Albany, New York on Friday in what is being called one of the largest drug busts in the world.
“The plant was the heart of a narcotics empire owned by Joe Guzman, a notorious drug lord who has been on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list for nearly ten years. His arrest came just months after fleeing the country on charges of first-degree murder.
“In addition, the Bureau seized a cache of automatic weapons from several prominent arms dealers named in connection with the factory by undercover agent Robert Holloway. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he called last week’s raid ‘the most successful sting in F.B.I. history.’
“Holloway is expected to announce his retirement at the end of the month, and is looking forward to spending his time off in Miami, Florida. Enjoy that warm weather, Robert!
“This has been Matthew Brock, reporting. WNYX news time, 9:15. Back to you, Lisa.”
“Um, thank you for that... unnecessarily detailed report, Matthew. We’re going to take an unscheduled break now, so please stay tuned for more news at the top of the hour.”
The visibly shaken brunette switched over to a tape of pre-recorded ads in the broadcasting deck. Thanks to Matthew's blatant indiscretion, her skin was now a few shades paler than usual. She tore off her headphones and glared at her inept co-anchor.
“Matthew! You’re not supposed to say that guy’s name on the air!”
“Why not? Is it top secret, or something?”
“Gee, I hope he doesn't get in too much trouble.” Matthew reflected.
“I think it's a little late for that now.” said Lisa.
“Dude, check it out.” Joe summoned Walt over to the conference table, where he was working on a large photocopier.
“What’s up, Joe?”
“This is the Garrelli 9000, or as I like to call it: The Babe Magnet.”
“It’s a copy machine.” said Walt.
“No, it only looks like a copy machine. Inside, it’s an extremely powerful electromagnetic generator with enough power to pull a ’55 Chevy.” explained Joe.
“What is it for?”
“This is the answer to your prayers. It’s going to bring you and Lisa together!”
“How does it work?” he asked with sudden interest.
Garrelli’s eyes lit up with excitement. He was clearly in his element.
“First, we’re going to plant a bunch of small magnets on you and Lisa,” he stated as he opened the paper tray on the copier and withdrew a plastic bag. He shook out a cluster of tiny round magnets into Walt’s hand. “Each one is coated with a super-strong adhesive to facilitate sticking.”
Walt examined one. “This looks like duct tape.” he observed.
“Exactly. Now put these on your sleeves and pant legs.” Joe instructed as he moved over to Lisa’s desk.
Walt looked around self-consciously as he watched the crouching handyman place magnets on the back of Lisa’s chair, and more along the edges of her seat. Fortunately, she was busy in the news booth, and paid him no attention. The Intern noticed that her usually calm face was red with exertion. It looked like she was yelling at Matthew.
“You have to make sure that you’re within range, say about two or three feet from Lisa.” Joe continued.
Walt joined him at her desk.
“Then what happens?”
“When I activate the machine, an electrical field will draw her into your arms, and she won’t be able to get away.”
“Are you sure it’s going to work?” asked Walt.
“Dude, I can bring you together, but I can’t make her fall in love.” he answered. “That’s up to you.”
Walt smiled. The plan was going to work out great, he thought, sticking pill-shaped magnets along the front of his pant legs.
“Walt!” exclaimed Jimmy.
“Come on, son! Morning meeting!”
Within moments, everyone flocked to the conference table. Walt slid into the chair beside Lisa without hesitation. Jimmy addressed the issue of journalistic integrity, and decreed that Matthew was forbidden from reading the on-air news ever again. Lisa stood with conciliation, and accepted full responsibility for what had happened. Walt gazed admiringly at her, hanging on every word as though it were pure poetry. Dave frowned at the Intern’s fawning behavior.
When the issue had been settled to the station owner’s satisfaction, Mr. James brought a heavy Plexiglass suitcase onto the table as he presented a revolutionary new plan that he estimated would net his corporation billions of dollars in revenue by the turn of the century. He opened the case to reveal compartments filled with different soil types.
The Jimmy James AgriLiving System, he promised, was a trendy alternative to traditional vegetable growing. In it, consumers had to simply knock down half of their house or residence to make room for an organic garden supplemented by crop rotation, and nurtured by sunlight. In addition, each AgriLiving package came supervised by a full-time scientist, who would live with the family, and monitor their system.
“This isn’t like the Hale-Bopp cult, is it?” asked Beth.
“No. Wait- is it? …No.” Jimmy promised.
“That was so bogus!” Joe commented. “Aliens don’t even like pudding and tennis shoes!”
Lisa gave him a frosty expression.
“Yes, I have been bitch-slapped.” Joe supplied, anticipating her next remark.
“Good. That saves me the trouble, then.”
“Okay, meeting adjourned everyone.” Dave said.
As the group left the table, Joe pulled Walt aside.
“Don't forget about the magnets, dude. We have to get Lisa into her chair so they'll stick to her clothes.”
“How?” asked Walt.
“Give her a shoulder massage. She’s really stressed, and she’ll probably like it.”
“I’m on it.”
Lisa Miller shut her eyes, thrilling to the touch of the ruggedly handsome 25 year-old. She completely forgot about their age difference as the Intern worked on her with his strong arms, rhythmically kneading her shoulders. Walt’s diligent ministrations were one of the most enjoyable sensations Lisa had felt in a long time. All of her tension seemed to melt away under his firm caress. Lisa bit her lip with pleasure. Before long, she felt herself becoming aroused. She didn’t care. It felt good. In fact, it was great, she thought.
Walt enjoyed how Lisa moved her neck, and the way she moaned with satisfaction. His fevered young mind entertained visions of lovemaking that he hoped would become a reality soon. As he massaged her shoulders and neck with more and more vigor, he imagined himself in a bedroom with deep, soft carpeting and a luxurious king-size bed. She waited for him there like an angel, stunningly beautiful in her nakedness. There was nothing dirty about her behavior, just pure, sweet innocence with a dash of curiosity.
The woman beckoned for him to join her. She started undressing him the moment he climbed into bed with her. Walt kissed her face, her shoulders, and her belly as she crawled over him. Soon, he was completely naked with Lisa. They sat, facing one another on the mattress, each the perfect counterpart of the opposite: male and female. They were destined to be together, he knew.
“Take me, Walt… ”
Lisa grasped his broad shoulders, begging him to quench her desire. She stroked a hand through his sandy blonde hair and kissed him. She longed only for the happiness that he could give her, and she wanted him. Walt reached out and placed his hands on her sides, gently touching her breasts. Lisa smiled demurely, batting her eyelashes. She was like a perfect flower, radiant yet delicate.
“Walt… Walt! Get your hands off my breast!” Lisa commanded.
Jarred out of his fantasy, Walt quickly pulled his hands away. He didn't realize what he'd been doing. He turned to go, but Lisa grabbed him by the wrist and stopped him. In a sympathetic voice, she told him to ask for permission next time, then gave the bashful Intern a hug, thanking him for the massage. Walt completely forgot about the other plan.
Joe watched them from a distance. They were in the perfect position. He activated the Garrelli 9000. There was a deep, ominous hum as the generator powered up to full capacity. The office lights dimmed, plunging the workplace into a momentary twilight. All around the station, computer screens flickered erratically as news text was slashed apart by horizontal scrolling bars. This brought a din of protest from people who had been working on their PC’s, followed by a wave of light swearing at the next power flux.
Suddenly the lights came back on as the energy field stabilized. Lisa involuntarily jumped out of her chair, and began flailing her limbs like a mime underwater. Her co-workers gawked in amazement as the serious, ever-professional reporter twisted and spun. Lisa’s body contorted into strange and unlikely positions, dancing to a rhythm that only she could hear. Nearby, Walt helplessly followed her example as the magnets on his clothes reacted to the invisible force.
The faux photocopier began to sizzle and crack, discharging fiery orange sparks. Joe watched as Lisa abruptly froze in place, holding up her arms as if to ward off some unseen thing. For a long moment, nobody uttered a sound. Then Joe Garrelli made a frantic grab for the power cord, but not before the overwhelming current reclaimed every magnet within range.
Lisa Miller clutched the sides of her desk in grim desperation, struggling as her clothes pulled tightly against her. In the next instant, her blouse and skirt vanished with a loud tearing noise, and flew across the room like tissue being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. The garments plastered themselves to the side of the modified photocopier, which immediately burst into flames. This left the stunned and bewildered brunette wearing nothing but a black bra and panties.
“Hello!” exclaimed Bill McNeal.
“What a rip-off!” complained Joe, genuinely disappointed by the performance of his invention.
Walt stood shirtless beside Lisa, too shocked by the sight of her almost-naked body to even care about what had just happened. He marveled at the firmness of her rear, and was transfixed by the curvature of her hips, legs, and bosom. She was even more perfect than he’d imagined.
Confronted with the object of his desire, he went into sensory overload, and had trouble getting enough air in his lungs.
“I want to marry you, Lisa.” he gasped impulsively.
Lisa blushed, figuring that the love-struck Intern would hyperventilate at a time like this. She opened a desk drawer and withdrew a brown paper lunch bag, snapped it open and placed it over Walt’s mouth as she encouraged him to breathe slowly. Bill eagerly moved closer for a better look.
“I hope you’re enjoying this, Bill. This is as naked as you’re ever going to see me.” Lisa promised.
Walt’s eyes fluttered. On the brink of consciousness, he found himself in heaven. Lisa Miller, practically naked from head-to-toe, stood in her panties with her bare arms wrapped around him. She cradled the back of his neck with a cool, gentle hand while she calmed him. Jimmy’s nephew shook with pleasure, feeling her soft, firm body against him. It was the last sensation he remembered before passing out in ecstasy.
“What’s going on in here, Joe?” asked Dave, coming into the break room.
On the table in front of Joe was a cardboard box with a large question mark on the front of it. Lisa and Matthew sat side by side in chairs facing the table.
“I’m conducting a free association experiment to rate human intelligence by gender. Here, we have our first pair of test subjects.”
“Is it a game?” asked Matthew naïvely.
“Sure, whatever. The test is very simple. Both of you tell me what you see when I take an object out of this box.”
Matthew pointed. “That’s a box.” he stated with the confidence of a child answering the sum of two plus two.
“We haven’t started yet, dude.”
Joe reached into the carton and brought out a slender, flat wooden stick.
“Tongue depressor.” Lisa observed.
“Popsicle stick!” exclaimed Matthew, grinning like a kid.
Joe made a note on his clipboard. Next, he presented a copy of the New York Times for his audience to evaluate.
“It’s a newspaper.” Lisa stated flatly, crossing her legs. She was beginning to get restless.
“Ooh, comics!” was Matthew’s deduction. Apparently, he didn’t suffer from the same lack of mental stimulation as his opponent.
Dave rolled his eyes as the electrician jotted the result. Then Joe produced an Apple iBook from the depths of the box. Lisa sat up in surprise.
“Hey, that’s my computer!”
“Solitaire!” came the expected reply from Matthew.
Bill strode into the room and opened the refrigerator in pursuit of a cold soda.
“Hi, Bill.” said Lisa, reclaiming her missing notebook computer. Matthew leaped to his feet.
“Bill! Can I buy you lunch today?”
“No, but that reminds me, I am short on cash. Can I borrow a few bucks? For the record, I prefer 20’s and 50’s.”
“Anything for you, Bill.”
“Here, hold this for a minute, would you?”
Bill handed off his soda, knelt and pretended to fix his shoes. Meanwhile, an eager-to-please Matthew dug a handful of money from his pocket while the news anchor untied his shoelaces and fastened them tightly around the foot of the nearest chair, marveling at how the reporter had the attention span of a vacuum cleaner. When he stood again, Matthew handed him everything he was carrying. The cash quickly vanished from sight.
“Thanks, champ.” remarked Bill as he left the room eighty-five dollars richer.
“That was fun!” said Matthew, looking eagerly at Joe. “Do I get a prize?”
“Sure, you get to keep this box, dude.”
“And what is this supposed to prove?” asked Dave.
“Wait for it.” said Joe as the bespectacled reporter made a lunge for the box.
They all watched as an unwitting Matthew crashed to the floor, completely oblivious to Bill’s evil trick.
“OWWW!!!” he cried.
“Well, so much for the scientific method.” said Dave, leaving the room.
“Do you need me for anything else, Dr. Oppenheimer?” quipped Lisa.
“I’ll notify you when the bomb is completed.” Joe responded as he designated her status with the word ‘genius’ on the research data sheet.
She regarded him with a humorless stare before departing. Matthew hopped after her carrying his new box, with shoes still tied together. A few seconds later, Joe heard a bodily thud as the klutzy reporter fell down again. He started to scrawl an additional note on the clipboard: Matthew = re-
“Joe, there you are.” Walt said, entering the kitchenette.”
“Forget it, dude, I don’t have anymore time or technology to waste on stupid plans.” Joe responded as he finished writing.
“I can’t even close my eyes without seeing Lisa. She’s driving me crazy, and I’m getting desperate.” Walt confessed.
“Give me one good reason why I should help you.”
“Tracy.” he answered, reaching into his back pocket. He brought forth a color photograph of his hot cousin. Joe snatched the picture away.
The girl was probably in her late twenties, he estimated, with long, golden hair and a perfect smile. She stood on a curve of sandy beach, wearing dark sunglasses and a skintight red bikini that revealed a generous amount of copper-tanned skin, and more than enough firm, water-flecked cleavage to keep his attention. Her arms, legs, and body were sculpted in a manner strong, yet attractive and feminine. Joe noted with extreme interest that she’d recently waxed, as evidenced by the way her bikini bottom formed against the natural contour of her body.
Joe clasped Walt on the shoulder with sudden enthusiasm. “Let’s do this thing!”
“Do you have my editorial finished, Walt?”
The voice broke the Intern from the rapture of his daydream. Startled, he looked up to see Lisa Miller, who just moments ago had been making love with him in a secluded jungle pool beneath a roaring waterfall in Hawaii. She tilted her head curiously, but her cries of passion still echoed in his mind. Her features were unusually calm in light of Walt’s recent fantasy, in which her face had reflected the ecstasy of lovemaking. Lisa’s eyes had been closed, and her skin slick with the sweat of exertion; Her cheeks were flushed with intensity and her mouth was a yawning oval that shouted a desperate cry at the moment of climax.
“My afternoon health report. Is it finished yet?”
He looked down at the computer screen in front of him. The neat rows of text blurred in and out of focus before shaping into the story he’d been editing for Lisa.
“Sure, just a sec.” he said, hitting the PRINT button on the computer.
“Walt, are you okay? You look a little pale.”
Ever since he’d seen Lisa stripped bare in the office, Walt had been unable to focus on anything else. She was constantly on his mind, haunting every thought and vision. She teased his imagination by day, and whispered promises and sweet nothings to him as he slept. The memory of her naked body shadowed him wherever he went, manifested itself in the shape of every young woman he saw, and fueled his desire whenever she was in his presence.
“No, I’m fine.” he assured. “Well, I mean, of course I’m fine, but what I meant to say was… I’ve never felt better now that you’re here.”
“…Right.” she said, taking her copy from the printer.
Spinning his chair around, Walt followed her journey to the booth, admiring the shape of her hips, the curve of her back, and the sweet, sweet rhythm of her body in motion. He watched her take her seat, and clamp a pair of headphones over her dark, raven hair. Absurdly, Walt found himself envying the glass of water that Lisa sipped in preparation to read the afternoon report. Nothing in the world compared to her flawless perfection, he thought. Not a thing.
“WNYX news time, 3:15. A recent report of illness associated with a bacterial organism found in raw shellfish from Lisa… excuse me, Florida, has, uh- prompted the State Health Department to advise certain high-risk individuals not to eat raw or lightly cooked clams or oysters from those waters, the Health Commissioner said today.
The reporter’s gaze flicked suspiciously at the starry-eyed Intern watching her outside the glass room. He looked drunk, or possibly high… or maybe something that she couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
She continued: “The department warned that some of the clams and oysters currently sold in New York State on a seasonal basis are harvested in waters of Gulf Coast states where contamination is condom. What the hell--?!
Lisa winced. A cold sweat broke out across her forehead. She took a quick sip of water, cleared her throat, and continued on like the professional that she was.
“Scientists are still trying to identify the orgasm- organism, that causes the disease, and to cultivate it in the lab. If sexual.. their work will lead to the development of reliable molecular tools, giving growers a means for selecting stock to maintain resistance in subsequent generations.
“This has been Lisa Miller with the WNYX Health Report. More news after this.”
“Is there something you’d like to tell me?” demanded Lisa, holding up her newscopy.
“I think the spellcheck on my computer is broken.” Walt fibbed.
“You are a great reporter.” he ventured.
“Start talking.” she ordered, pulling up a chair beside him.
“I keep having these daydreams about us, and-”
“What happens in them?” she interrupted sharply.
“Well… you know, just… stuff.”
“Oh, no… No, no, no, no, nooo. Listen, Walt, you have a- a crush on me, but it’s not love.”
“It isn’t?” he asked, baffled.
“No, they’re not the same thing.” she assured him.
“Then why do I have trouble breathing whenever I’m around you?”
“I guess it depends on what I’m wearing at the time.” said Lisa dryly, recalling the day before. “Believe me when I say that there’s a rational, scientific explanation for the way you’re feeling, and I’m going to explain it to you.” she reasoned.
Walt held up a hand, forestalling the inevitable lecture.
“Can we do it over lunch?”
“Absolutely not, Walt! I’m 34 and you’re only 25!”
“Huh? I meant that I’m starving.” said Walt as he pulled on his brown leather jacket, zipping it halfway up. “I’d like to get something to eat.”
“Sorry.” apologized Lisa, blushing at her gross misinterpretation.
“Don’t worry, it’s not the first time I’ve sent mixed signals. When you look this good, it’s easy to do.”
Lisa grabbed her coat and followed him out into the hallway. Before they made it to the elevator, Walt excused himself to wash his hands, and disappeared into the bathroom where Joe Garrelli awaited.
“Right on time.” the handyman said, taking off his plastic safety glasses. Nearby stood a metal work ladder with a ceiling tile propped up against it.
Joe indicated the open hole in the ceiling above him.
“Okay, here’s the plan. I’m going to crawl over to the elevator shaft and open the maintenance hatch to the controls. When you and Lisa go down, I’m going to kill the power and stop the car between floors.”
“Cool.” Walt approved.
“I have an open communication line. If Lisa calls to ask for help, I’ll say that I’m working on it. That should give you plenty of time with her.”
“Can you also turn the lights off?”
The notion elicited a devious grin from Joe. “You want some privacy so you can get your freak on with Lisa! Go, dude!”
“I just want it to be romantic for her.”
“We need a secret code word,” mused Joe. “maybe some kind of a nonspecific phrase that we can use.”
Walt scratched his chin thoughtfully.
“I got it.” he said. “When you hear me say, ‘It looks like we’re going to be stuck here for awhile.’ turn the lights off.”
“Perfect.” Joe said, watching Jimmy’s confident young nephew adjust his leather jacket in the mirror. “Fifty bucks says you don’t make it to Third Base.”
Walt considered it for a second. “You’re on.” he said with a handshake.
He turned to leave.
“Yeah, but how do I know when you’re there?” asked the electrician.
“I’ll say: ‘I can’t see in here.’” Walt supplied. “That’s your signal to bring us back up.”
“I’m on it!”
Lisa sighed as the elevator slowly descended, suffering privately from her great burden. She had to somehow break it to Walt that she only liked him as a friend, but had to do so without hurting his feelings. He stood close by, examining the inside of the car with passive interest. Walt noted the worn spots on the carpet underfoot, the scratches that marred the control panel, and the faux wood grain pattern on the walls.
Although Lisa didn’t realize it, his quiet exterior masked a wave of terrified uncertainty. In reality, Walt had never been so scared. It was the first time he’d been completely alone with Lisa, the woman of his dreams, and the fact that he’d seen her practically naked really didn’t help the matter any. He was petrified with fear, wondering if the plan would work.
“Lisa… I just want to say how much I enjoy working with you.” he began.
“Don’t worry about it, Walt, you’re not going to get fired over a few typos.” she replied, noticing the way he wrung his hands with uneasiness. “You just have to keep your mind on the work.”
The elevator jolted to a sudden stop as the brakes locked up. The force of gravity sent Lisa grabbing onto Walt for support. She looked around in panic.
“What happened? Why did we stop?”
“I don’t know,” said Walt. “Maybe the circuit breakers went out.”
“Let’s call for help.” she said, pressing the red emergency button on the control panel.
Ten floors above waited Joe, with his two-way phone. Right on cue, his voice crackled over the intercom speaker.
“Joe, the elevator is stuck. It just stopped moving. Can you fix it?” asked Lisa.
“Where are you?”
Lisa looked at the control panel, but the digital readout was off. She relayed him this information.
“Okay, try to open the doors with your hands. They’re pneumatic, but they should slide open with the power off.” he instructed.
Together, Walt and Lisa forced the doors a few inches apart only to be greeted by a featureless gray wall of solid concrete, streaked with cobwebs. Lisa backed away from the chill that seeped from the passage into the car.
“It’s no good, I think we’re between floors.” she reported.
“Okay, just hang tight. This may take awhile.” The line went silent.
Walt helped her push the doors closed, metaphorically sealing out the rest of the world in his mind. Lisa moved over to the back wall, determined to be as far from the cold chasm as possible. She looked miserable. Clearly, getting trapped on an elevator with him was not on her daily agenda. Before Walt could formulate his next move, he was assailed with a vision of Lisa’s panties dropping to the floor around her smooth, bare ankles. It gave him a spark of hope, fueled by a surge of adrenaline. He shrugged at her with an affable smile, hoping to convey a sense of helpless acceptance. But his charm had no effect on the steadfast member of the opposite sex. Walt suddenly had the feeling that seducing the reporter was going to prove difficult as getting blood from a stone.
He pounded the wall in mock frustration.
“It looks like we’re going to be stuck here for awhile.” Walt noted with false nonchalance.
“I guess so.” she conceded unhappily.
Then the lights went out, suffusing the stalled car in pitch blackness. Lisa berated Joe loudly as she groped for the intercom button. Walt bumped into her deliberately, preventing her from reaching the phone.
“Sorry.” he apologized with an unseen smile.
“That’s okay, it was my fault.. I think.” Lisa said.
They both stopped moving around, and everything became quiet in the small elevator. Almost too quiet. Lisa chewed on her lip in the darkness. It was a major shock for the reporter to find herself suddenly deprived of the senses that she took for granted everyday. Without light, experiences now had to be quantified in touch and sound, and life transpired in a different medium altogether. Since there was nothing visual to respond to, Lisa felt free and uninhibited. She found it strangely empowering.
“So… What’s your favorite movie?” Walt began.
Lisa smiled at his juvenile question. She was grateful for it, in fact, because it put her more at ease.
“Don’t think I’ve ever seen it.” he admitted.
“It’s very good. Yours?” asked Lisa, warming to the distraction the game provided.
“The Fifth Element.”
“What’s your favorite book?”
“Oh, definitely Jurassic Park. I’ve probably read it over a hundred times.”
“Well, I prefer literary classics, but if I had to choose just one, I’d have to say Jane Eyre.”
“Okay, favorite color.” Walt announced, changing the subject. He wasn’t eager to get into a discussion about Elizabethan writings with her. “I like orange.”
“Lilac.” she stated. Now it was her turn. “Favorite song?”
Walt thought for a moment. “Anything by The Real McCoy.”
“Mine’s ‘Almost Paradise’, from Footloose.”
“Good song. Okay, um… favorite actor or actress?”
“Sandra Bullock, hands-down.”
“You’re kidding. I like Sandra Bullock, too!”
“Why do you like her? Wait, let me guess: because she has a fabulous body with a great ass?”
“Actually, because she’s so beautiful and intelligent. She’s almost the perfect woman...” Lisa felt a hand on her shoulder. “Almost.”
“Walt, I’m hardly perfect.” she said.
In the moment of silence that followed, Lisa was overcome with the strangest feeling, a cross between uncertainty and expectation. She sensed that he was now right in front of her, even though she couldn’t actually see him. Then it occurred to her that their situation might be more than just a coincidence. What were the odds? she wondered.
Walt lowered his voice. “Nobody’s perfect until you fall in love with them.”
She felt a wave of heat across her face, and had to remind herself that he couldn’t see her, either.
“No, Walt. No. Listen to me, this can’t happen.”
“Why not?” he persisted, stroking her shoulder gently.
She jumped involuntarily as a spark zipped through her body from his touch. Her breathing came faster, and her heart pounded with anticipation. Stop it, stop it. It was too loud, and she worried that he might hear it. Lisa told herself that the state of euphoria she felt was nothing more than her chemical balance shifting gears. It was textbook biology, she reasoned. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and phenylethylamine raced through her body, and ignited the pleasure receptors in her brain. That was the cause for her physical sense of elation, and nothing more. Knowing that, she should have been able to control it. But she couldn't. If she wasn’t in love with Walt, then why she was she reacting this way?
“Walt…” she began. But it was no use. She couldn’t fight it anymore.
Everything took on a surreal quality as they met in the fathomless dark, suspended above a 14-story drop that might have been the edge of eternity. Lisa was dimly aware that things were moving too fast, but the momentum of their passion thrilled her beyond words. As Walt stroked the side of her face with an amorphous touch, the newswoman struggled to rationalize the feelings that drove her to this impulsive behavior. It was unlike her to throw caution to the wind in the heat of the moment, but this time it felt right. She felt safe with Walt, somehow knowing that nothing bad would happen as long as she was with him. Just go with it, Lisa thought as he slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her close.
“I love you, Lisa.” he whispered to her.
“Oh, Walt…” Lisa cooed, “I know you do.”
The Boston-bred reporter felt giddy, feverish and light-headed. She never knew it was possible to feel this way about a younger man. The world spun around her like a dark hurricane, and her knees buckled out from under her. Lisa lost her balance, but her gallant young admirer held onto her protectively, refusing to let her fall. He kissed her on the forehead like a teenage matinee idol. Lisa wanted more than anything to be able to look into the eyes of her hero.
“I can’t see in here.” she complained at the lack of illumination.
“Yes you can!” Walt put in quickly.
The floor shuddered below them as Joe turned the power back on.
“Finally!” Lisa exclaimed as the light returned.
“Kiss me!” ordered Walt in desperation, pulling her tight against him.
Lisa narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips in desire, resolving to give Walt the passion she had denied him for far too long. She took his face in her hands and moved in.
The world ended just as their lips touched.
Walt sat up in the darkness, alone and disoriented. He felt a sheet of soft material over him, and realized that he wasn't in the elevator anymore. He reached out blindly, groping for anything that would help him get his bearings. His fingertips grazed a hard, ridged surface to his right that he knew must belong to a lampshade. Walt switched on the light, dismayed to find himself sitting in bed in his downtown apartment. His heart fell as the horrible truth dawned on him. Everything he'd been through with Lisa over the past two days, no matter how real it seemed, had been a complete fantasy; His growing relationship with her was actually nonexistent. The nebulous effects of the reporter's kiss was already fading from his lips, but it gave him determination. He looked at the giftwrapped CD on his nightstand, hoping that Richie Havens was up to the challenge. Walt was going to need all the help he could get.
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