Frederick was intrigued. Okay, I am waiting for it. Will I meet you there?
Ocaxa opened her hands. Maybe; will you come?
Frederick/Nume reached for her, only to have her glide away. He chatted, I’ll be there and I hope to see you! She vanished before his eyes but the chat box remained live; he waited for the information she’d promised, imagining what she had in mind. He suddenly sat bolt upright in his chair: what if she was there? She would see Frederick, not Nume. The chat box flashed with an address that he knew was on the other side of town, along with the name “Southpine.” He wrote it down and signed off after about 10 minutes when Ocaxa did not return. It was only 5pm, which gave him six hours to panic enough not to go. He went over some figures for a client meeting he had on the schedule for the next day, took a shower, and had a glass of wine. He figured it would take him only about 20 minutes to get to the address Ocaxa had given him but he liked the idea of getting there early to check the surroundings. He dressed in a dark pull-over with matching slacks and comfortable shoes in the event he needed to make a quick get-away. He checked himself over in the mirror one last time and went down to hail a taxi.
Frederick rarely visited the area near the pier; his destination was about a block away from the water. He had the driver leave him near the cannery and then walked back to the address Ocaxa had sent him. The building was a nondescript brick, like the others near the pier; above the metal door hung a weak street lamp. Cars lined the block but it was not evident to which buildings they belonged. He felt a chill but continued to the door, where a slot opened as he approached. “What’s your word?” the person behind the door asked.
“Southpine?” Frederick hoped this was how it was supposed to go. The door came open heavily as the sound of music and the smell of fried calamari, sweat, and smoke wafted out. Frederick stepped in and was surprised to find no one behind the door; he shut it and blinked at the sudden blanket of darkness within. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that he was in a club. Music was all around him and as he was drawn deeper into the building a beer was thrust into his sweaty right hand. “Thanks?” he called to no one in particular.
“You’re welcome, Nume,” he turned to find a Rubenesque woman leaning against a door frame. She smiled at his shock and clicked her beer against his. “Nice to finally meet you, my love,” She said in his ear as she pressed against him briefly. “My non-MU name is Josephine, by the way.” She turned and started walking away, but looked at him over her shoulder briefly. “Come with me.” She moved into the back of the club; Frederick’s eyes had fully adjusted and he now saw couples and groups of people sitting together at small tables, conversing over drinks and enjoying the music. As they reached the back of the room, Josephine pressed her hand into an indentation in the wall, causing a door to open on a flight of stairs. She grabbed one of the torches lit at the entrance and started to descend. So as not to get left in the dark, Frederick picked up his pace carefully so as not to fall. As soon as he had reached the third step down, Josephine waved her hand and the door behind him shut with a thud. He wanted to ask so many questions but the atmosphere stifled him; the stairway was still and warm, to the point that he was thankful for dark clothing that would not show sweat stains. They reached the bottom and stepped into an open space; like the rest of the building, this area was also brick, including the floor. It resembled a library rotunda: shelves lined walls that curved around a well-worn floor of stone. He followed Josephine through it and down a passageway to a comfortable sitting room. As she settled onto a couch and tucked a leg demurely beneath her, she motioned for him to sit opposite and laughed as he did so. “Please make yourself at home,” she said kindly.
“Don’t tell me you live here,” Frederick stated as he looked around.
She laughed again and he realized he liked the real-world Josephine. “Actually, I do. I’ll give you the full tour later if you like but for now, welcome to Southpine. This is my home and business.”
“You own the club upstairs?”
“Yes; would you like another beer or maybe something a little stronger?”
“Yes, please. Scotch if you have it.”
She went to a sideboard cabinet and returned with two neat glasses. He sipped and looked at her admiringly. “Aberfeldy 21, eh?”
“You know your single malts. I like that.” She went back to the sideboard and returned with the bottle, which she placed on the low table by the couch. “Help yourself.” After taking her seat again, she looked at him deeply. “So am I what you expected, Nume?”
He blushed. “Please, call me Frederick.”
“Very well, Frederick; am I what you expected?”
He looked deeply into her eyes. “To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought about what you would be like in real life. I guess I assumed that you would either look somewhat like Ocaxa or you would be her opposite. I was worried after I got your invitation that if you did show up you might be looking for someone who looked like Nume.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You know that didn’t really answer my question, right?”
It was his turn to laugh and he did. “You’re right; I have to say that while I think Ocaxa and Nume make a great couple, I like what I see.” The scotch had obviously given him a bit of debonair swag, as he had never been particularly articulate with the opposite sex.
Josephine put her hand on his knee. “I like you too, Frederick. So what do you say we get to know each other a bit better as non-MU?”
He swallowed hard and felt the sweat creeping back into his armpits. He liked her and her forwardness aroused him. “I would like that, Josephine.” He liked the way her name felt in his mouth.
She leaned back, suddenly business-like. “Good. So let’s talk about what you are going to do tomorrow when you go back to work.”
“What do you mean?”
She held her glass up to the light and swirled the liquid within. “You aren’t going to let Blaze get away with pushing you out, are you?”
He frowned, having pushed thoughts of work from his mind since earlier in the evening. “I told you what happened; my having to go was out of Blaze’s hands. The board made the decision.”
She put her glass down and grabbed his hand, pulling him up from the couch. “Come with me; I want to show you something.” She walked him deeper into the underground residence to an office space. He wondered if this is where she connected to MU. As if reading his thoughts she said, “I keep this computer for work and use the one in my bedroom for MU.” He shuddered at her glance, feeling for a moment that she was in fact reading his mind. She turned back to the computer and brought it to life. “Here,” she said, motioning to the office chair, “sit down. Click that link that says ‘Blaze’.”
Frederick opened the indicated file to find what looked like official company documents. “How did you get these?”
Josephine smiled again in a way that made his heart flutter. “Just read,” she purred.
He clicked through the various documents to find a notice to rescind his dismissal, a form approving a 15% raise, a requisition for a private office, and a lease document with his name on it for a company-funded condominium. Frederick swallowed hard and whispered, “What is all this?”
Josephine handed him another drink. “It’s your future, darling. Our future. When you go to work tomorrow, be prepared to get a call from Blaze’s office. You are not getting fired, you are getting promoted. In a day or so, you’ll even have a company car. Yes, Blaze founded the company, but you have been a dedicated worker who has added to the stockholder bottom line in a way that he never could. Those fools on the board needed to know that.” Frederick was a bit taken aback and wondered about the tone in Josephine’s voice, but before he could ask any additional questions, she grabbed his hand. “It’s already after 12:30; you will have a big day tomorrow and you need your rest.” She kissed him gently on the cheek at the corner of his mouth. “We’ll meet up online when you get home tomorrow night and you can tell me all about your day, just like usual, okay?”
Frederick nodded mutely and allowed himself to be led back up the stairs and out the front door, where he found a taxi waiting. He turned to Josephine, who remained in the shadows. “Good night,” he said, frowning as he tried to comprehend all that had happened.
“You goin’ cross-town, buddy?” The taxi driver called.
“Yes, just a moment,” Frederick replied; as he turned back to the front of the club, he found that Josephine had quietly shut the door and he was alone.
Well, howdy! It’s only been an age since I’ve revisited Frederick and his weird job thing. I jumped in on the 7 Day story challenge and decided to use this as my project. Yeah: smack me for that… Anyway, it’s gotten me back into the flow a bit and hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have it done. If you missed the first four chapters, pop over to the Speculative Soap Operas page to catch up.