Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(6)

By: Ingrid Reinke

This came as quite the relief for our group of employees. We knew that when Elaine was on the phone terrorizing the contractor, she was occupied and couldn’t terrorize us about the merger—for the moment.

After stashing the goods in my locker, I sat back down at my desk unnoticed. I scanned my emails for anything urgent and didn’t find anything worth my attention, so I picked back up with my text conversations, burning up the rest of the afternoon until I could leave for the day.

“Dude! There you are. Did you hear what happened?” The IM was from Maya, my favorite and most gossip-y Legal Associate.

“Jesus, what now?” I typed back, expecting a report on Elaine’s spazz attack.

“You know Leila Carson at NorCom Portland? She motherfucking DIED last night! She didn’t show up at work this morning and her cleaning lady found her in her bathtub sometime this afternoon.”

“Holy burning ballsack. Serious????” Whoa. That was not at all what I was expecting to hear. Leila was the head of legal for NorCom PR, the competitor in Portland that Merit was trying to merge with. Elaine and the rest of our team had worked constantly with her over the past few months trying to get everything ready for the big announcement.

“Yeah. Messed up, right? I guess they are saying it was an accident. Maybe she got drunk and fell down in the shower. Remember that meeting in April when she drank 2 bottles of wine by herself?”

Maya had a point there. It was pretty obvious to everyone that Leila liked to, er, “let off steam” after work. I didn’t really know Leila, my only interaction with her being some emails to Elaine that she’d copied me on and the occasional conference call, but the news was sad and shocking nonetheless.

“That is some seriously crazy ass news. Who is taking over as point person on the merger? Wasn’t she Elaine’s direct liaison at NorCom?”

“I don’t know. Maybe that Bob guy. This is fucking nuts. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”

“Thanks. I am totally sneaking out right now. I have a date tonite. Cover for me.”

“K, have fun. Use a condom : )”

Maya signed off. It was exactly ten minutes until four, so I got up, grabbed my purse, and sneaked out of the office toward home.

Chapter 2: Stinky Cheese Towels

I lived in Greenlake, a weird neighborhood in the northern part of Seattle. There was an actual lake, which was beautiful, but the main draw of the area was the three-mile running and biking path surrounding it. To the east of the lake was a plethora of organic sandwich shops, biking supply stores and yoga studios, as well as a Subway, Starbucks, several wine bars and a World Wrapps among premium Seattle real estate. Despite these distractions, there were always at least 100 people running around the lake. Even in January. In Seattle. The few attempts I had made to run around Greenlake had been pathetic to say the least, and I quit after a group of moms with jogging strollers lapped my sorry, air-sucking, purple face while they laughed and gossiped. My current experience with the lake boiled down to either driving by it or sitting and eating the scones and donuts from the bakery across from the kids’ wading pool. This was my new thing: giving up easily when confronted by adversity. I found that it suited the dream-crushing nature of my life better than the pointless optimism of my early twenties, which had slowly been chipped away with each new and recent disappointment, until I’d abandoned it almost completely. These days what I had left of my optimism was housed in a tiny, cramped basement apartment somewhere in my mind, only to be let out to delude me after the occasional 3+ glasses of wine, or when singing loudly to anything from Mariah Carey’s 1993 album Musicbox. Alone. Most of the time it was securely locked up and chained in the depths of my personality, hanging out with my other popular delusions, like becoming a professional dancer or running away with Prince Harry to a tropical island where I will swim in the ocean every day and be a size two forever without dieting.

In stark contrast to the fancy area on the east side of the lake, directly to the west of the lake was Highway 99, the old interstate that wound through downtown Seattle and led north. This charming part of the city, also known as the “drug and prostitution watch area” (literally, there are signs. In my opinion they should say: “Avoid the crazed hookers” or “Don’t buy crack from that one shady guy with the concealed shank”). This scary place was only three blocks away from Greenlake, practically adjacent to the kiddie-pool play area and the multi-million dollar mansions.

I lived kind of in-between these two areas, in one of those tall, skinny townhouses with the tiny, fenced-in, fake-grass yards in front. At one time, probably around 2006, this townhouse was probably worth close to three-quarters of a million dollars. I would guess that the poor sucker that bought the thing was now out roughly 50% of his original buy-price. I rented from a property manager who was also working for the owner in an unsuccessful attempt to sell the townhouses. There were six of them smooshed together in a sad skinny row, and three of them were on the market and had been for at least the past year. It didn’t really surprise me that no one was lining up to buy: they were in that cheesy, slapped-together-as-quickly-as-possible building style that completely ruins the look of any respectable neighborhood. The siding was actually aluminum—the wavy kind that you would see in a mechanic’s garage or some depressing chemical dump yard as a fence—but the builder, in a weak and misguided attempt to make it look acceptable, had painted it the worst available shade of bright green, then basically glued it in panels over the dark plastic “wood” that the homes were shellacked with. In the future, when the housing bubble becomes part of our national history, townhouses like mine will be preserved by the historical society as cautionary tales as a warning to future generations.