It wasn’t some miracle that allowed her to travel from the lobby of Bash Industries all the way to the 100th floor where Sebastian’s office was located, it was pure confidence. Agent X had been trapped in The Citadel for her entire life, and for her entire life, she had felt as if she didn’t belong, as if she was different from her Malum brethren. This allowed her to learn the underrated art of fake it till you make it; she had realized that as long as you acted as if you belonged somewhere, very few people would question you on that fact. So from the second she walked through the doors of Bash Industries she behaved as if she owned the place. She strutted from the revolving doors directly to the chrome elevator without glancing around to see if anyone was watching, without stopping at the front desk to ask for directions. She then rode the elevator all the way up to the 100th floor and when the doors slid open, she pulled out the cell phone she had purchased from a corner store. It wasn’t activated and there was no one talking to her on the other end, but no one else knew that as she raised it to her ear and strode out of the elevator, periodically saying things like, “mhmm, that sounds doable” and, “get right on this, we need those signatures yesterday”. A few people busily working at their desks did glance up at her as she passed, her heels clicking on the polished wood of the executive floor, but no one stopped her from proceeding all the way to the end of the hallway where the office of the CEO waited for her with a closed door and a tricky looking security access keypad. She could have pulled out her makeup compact and blown a little powder onto the keypad to reveal which numbers had fingertip oil on them, signifying what the entry code was, but this wasn’t a movie and that didn’t actually work, so she just pressed the silver button labeled CALL.
“Can I help you?” The thin voice of a woman crackled through the speaker.
“Braya Walsh here for Sebastian. We have an appointment” she answered briskly, noticing the small camera set back into the control panel which had softly whirred as it focused on her. She noticed the camera, but she pretended not to notice it, as she checked her watch and drummed her fingernails on the folder she was holding in a show of impatience.
“I don’t have you on the books today, Miss Walsh” the woman’s voice answered back, breaking midway through the sentence, betraying her nervousness and her lack of self-confidence.
“What’s your name?” Agent X snapped.
“Janelle” the woman responded, her voice thinner and higher than before.
“Janelle, this is a problem. Not a problem for me, but for you. This appointment has been made for weeks, I took time off from my company, and I stepped away from the job I was doing so well that your boss has been hounding me for months because he would rather I do that job for Bash Industries. I did that so I could be here, in this gray hellscape you call Corver City so that I could finally sit down with Sebastian and have him tell me how much money he’s going to throw at me to make it even slightly appealing to leave my amazing life and my terrific job to come live in this city that looks as if it was made out of dirty silly putty. I am already low on patience naturally, my parents said I was born disagreeable, and in two seconds I am going to walk away, get back on a plane and fly away from this place, and I promise you that once I do I will never come back. Janelle, it’s time to make a decision. Do you want to explain to your boss, who we both know is a man who was probably also born disagreeable, why the woman he’s been begging to come and work for him for the better part of a year will never take another one of his calls again, much less step foot in his building again?” Agent X spoke in clipped, measured tones and when she finished she held her breath. She knew she had taken a risk; acting this entitled only worked in a small number of situations, but something in Janelle’s voice had told her it would work here. Janelle was private assistant to the most demanding man in Corver City. That meant she was tired, burnt out, abused and most likely no longer knew which way was up. She certainly got yelled at whenever she messed up, no matter how small the offense, she had probably been made to feel so small and so stupid over the course of her time sitting outside of Sebastian’s office, Janelle most likely would have done anything to avoid making a mistake. But by this point she was so twisted and so beaten down she didn’t even have a good logical sense of what an actual mistake was. Agent X didn’t take pleasure in taking advantage of Janelle’s weaknesses or pushing her finger into the open wound of Janelle’s vulnerabilities, but she was here to do a job and that meant getting past this door at any cost.
The door buzzed and clicked and Agent X allowed herself a small pat on the back. Her risk had paid off, but as she entered there was a flurry of activity happening inside. She saw a small waiting room with a few chairs and a desk behind which a frazzled woman with dark circles under her eyes was sitting, she must be Janelle. There was one door in the room beside the one Agent X had just walked through, and that door swung open revealing a tall, broad-shouldered man who walked out, closing the door behind him. She realized that this must be Sebastian’s office, but who was this guy? She had studied the files of all Bash Industries employees and partners, anyone who Sebastian would have done business with, and she did not recognize him. This man had sharp blue eyes which grazed over Agent X briefly as he closed the gap between himself and her with three long-legged strides. He had a five o clock shadow and a satisfied look on his face as he moved past her and left the waiting room. As soon as he was gone, an angry voice cracked over the speaker on Janelle’s desk so loud and full of rage that it could be heard clear as a bell even through the thick door.
“JANELLE! Get the Corver City Police Department on the phone right now!”
Janelle jumped so violently when she heard Sebastian’s voice that Agent X saw her body literally raise up off the seat of her desk chair. The secretary moved her finger over to the intercom to respond but before she could the speaker crackled again.
“And if you let anyone into my office again without my explicit permission to do so, you will be looking for a new job, and last time I checked, there weren’t many of ‘em out there!”
Agent X allowed herself a split second to feel pity for Janelle before she slipped out of the office and back into the hall. Clearly now was not the best time to attempt to charm her way into Sebastian’s inner circle, and this new development held some potential that she hadn’t even expected. The man who had left Sebastian in such a state certainly held some interest for her, and she knew she needed to book it if she wanted to follow him and get some insight into who he was and what he had been doing there. Cursing her decision to wear the tallest heels she could find, Agent X clicked and clacked as fast as she could back to the elevator, which luckily was just arriving as she approached, and the man was the only occupant. She slid through the doors as they were closing, and she pretended to read the papers in her folder the entire ride down, keeping her eyes lowered and only allowing herself a furtive glance up once. The man was deep in thought, but he hadn’t lost the satisfied expression on his face, making itself known with the ghost of a smile on his lips. Agent X made some mental notes as she kept her gaze down. His shoes were brown and scuffed, not any name brand or fancy leather or suede, just basic loafers that were clearly worn for function, not form. The one hand she saw which hung down at his side was calloused and rough, and the fingers drummed with nervous energy on his outer thigh.
When the doors of the elevator slid open he stepped forward and made his way to the doors of the lobby which led outside, and Agent X followed, lifting her prop cell phone to her ear and keeping her eyes firmly on the back of the tall man who was walking so swiftly it was clear he was on a mission. She continued following him down the sidewalk until suddenly he spun around and fastened her in his deep blue gaze.
“Is there a reason you’re following me?” The man spoke directly to her, his eyes darkening like storm clouds moving across a blue sky.