Hooked

Babes

SMOKEY SAGAS

4:

“Hooked”

***

May 31st, 8:22 p.m.

The merry, merry month of May was less than four hours from over. Spring was past full bloom, summer a mere three weeks away. The given evening’s sunset was nothing short of amazing, a purple, orange and blue eclipse of cloud and horizon. The thermostat had hit its day high of 79°F four hours ago, and was now lightly floating just below a balmy 74. And the hustle-bustle simply didn’t quit; the further south downtown on the map, the later into the wee twilight hours the city remained active. Especially at the crossroads of Wellings Street and Cherrywood Street.

Fifty feet north of the Wellings-Cherrywood intersection stood one of the tallest, most monumental office buildings in the city, the Gailmore Towers, at thirty stories high. It sported a vertical spectrum of prestige, maintaining a steady ratio of altitude to salary. The higher workers rode the elevators or strode the staircases to their jobs, the more on the average they earned. Indeed as was the case of one particular occupant of the offices on the 26th floor.

Zachary Harris, an international research consultant employed on floor twenty-six of the Gailmore Towers, worked what would be considered ridiculously long hours stacked up next to schedules of many others. He typically got into the office around 6:00 six days a week, and on a good day could get out by about 5:00, maybe 5:30. But most days, like this one, he was compelled by his business obligations to take it well upwards of twelve hours. On top of which, he did more traveling in a month than many did in a lifetime.

Being global, these professionals were hired—more like summoned—by foreign businesses at what felt like the drop of a hat to trolley off to the airport, go through gate after gate, customs after customs, hotel room after hotel room, all for a meeting to discuss and advise on foreign economic or business policy, sometimes for as short a time as thirty minutes, depending on the extent of meeting purposes.

And at 38, ten years’ experience under his belt, Zachary was starting to really tire of it all. In every sense of the word.

He was starting to think he really needed something a little different to shake up what only a literalist would refer to as his life. Before again hopping on a plane with a temporary farewell to his neglected U.S. abode, he more and more often found himself wishing he was doing something—anything—else for a living. Preferably anything that entailed permanently staying on one continent. He wasn’t even that concerned which continent it was.

He forced himself each time to look at the pros of his situation. In a highly esteemed field with some of the most expansive time spans possible spent at work, and without the typical longing to live as luxuriously as peers at his level, he was well past comfortable financially. His B.A. in business wouldn’t make it that difficult to land a position nearly as advantageous, even in such a competitive market. Realistically, by this point, he might—might—be able to ditch it all and ride out a nice, reasonably cushy, less demanding lifestyle and occupation with fewer hours, fewer obligations, fewer frequent flyer miles and the weight of jet lag lifted off his shoulders. At least for the next significant chunk of his existence.

Heaven knew he would have had more than enough time to think about his life options on the planes, but after all that terminal-hopping, all he tended to do on most airline trips was sleep. Heaven also knew he didn’t have all the time in the world to sleep in his own bed in his own home. Airplane seats being not nearly as comfy as any manufactured brand of mattress available for public sale, he didn’t end up with the most cheery disposition at many meetings.

And he did ask himself time after time, Well, Zack, God’s sake, why not just take a vacation for crying out loud? You’ve accrued plenty of time, and it’s not like you can’t afford it! And yet, with the connotations a vacation indicated, the very idea tuckered his mind out before he could even consider his activities. He couldn’t mentally kick back on the beach or relax in a four-star suite with a drink, a TV and a king-size without first picturing the method of transport. He did this all the time! He already jumped on planes—trains, busses and taxis—with such staggering regularity the act almost literally made his head spin. And however long his vacation lasted, sooner or later, he’d be right back on the planes again, doing more of the same.

Needless to say, agents such as caffeine, aspirin and Visine had become some of his best friends—another element severely lacking in human form in his everyday quote-unquote “life.” Outside of colleagues, Zachary’s social calendar might as well not even have been purchased. There was no allowance of spare time for outings with friends, even if he’d had that many. He had family members bursa escort here in town who lived relatively close by (no pun intended), but he virtually never got to see them either. And dating—at least steady dating—was absolutely an impossibility. Besides all the other factors stacked against him in the courtship arena, the female half of the drones and zombies in his profession, foreign and domestic, erased his memory clean blank of what an attractive, animated, interesting woman even remotely looked like.

It was true; for all intents and purposes, Zachary Matthew Harris was, essentially, a zombie. It was only on Sundays when he actually closed his eyes for several consecutive hours at a time. Lately, those precious few hours of unconsciousness had systematically become the happiest he got to experience. Oh, he usually slept four to five hours on normal days, and pretty well. But during the days he went without the substantial Sunday amount, the need and desire for it lessened its toll on him. He hadn’t had sex with anyone other than himself in years, but that yearning hadn’t surfaced in months either. Actually, the only legit source of non-drone human contact he had on a regular basis was the solitary co-worker with whom he’d made friends, Dan.

Zack and his buddy Dan Kline certainly didn’t talk or interact nonstop all day long, but they managed to have a decent frequency of lunches together, and oftentimes after work made their way down to the corner pub for a quick drink before catching a taxi home. They didn’t have cars—at least not which they drove anywhere near here. They’d waste way too much time going down twenty-six floors, feeding the meter, going up twenty-six floors, back down to feed it again, ad infinitum. There were plenty of cases in which time really was money, and paying a cabbie for a simple fare plus tip was far simpler and more efficient than the alternative.

It was after 8:00, and they were starting to get pretty wiped.

“Man, let’s blow this popsicle stand, how ’bout it,” Dan called to him from his cubicle.

“Best idea I’ve heard all day,” Zachary agreed. They each rose with a stretch, grabbed their belongings and headed to the elevator. If they ever felt they could use a little exercise, they could take the stairs, but with schedules like theirs, they were still finishing waking up in the mornings, and they were drained of stamina by the evenings. The only mileage the staircases above floor nine or ten got came as the result of a broken elevator.

They got outside finally at 8:22. The cool late spring breeze stopped by briefly to refresh them.

“So what’dya say?” asked Dan. “Feel like grabbing a beer?”

He shook his head. “Nah…thanks. You go ahead; I’ve got a flight early in the morning. I think I’m just gonna check in, try and get a wink or two.”

“Heh! Well, good luck with that!” said Dan, also of course abreast of what crazy hours their occupation entailed.

“Yeah…I’ll tell ya, man, I’m really starting to feel like just calling it quits,” Zachary admitted. “‘S seriously stressing me out.”

“Oh yeah?” replied Dan. “Well, y’know what, a while back I was kinda feeling the same way, so y’know what I did, I went and saw this chick hypnotist, right up around Columbia Street, I think. Dr…Starr, I’m pretty sure she was…” He thought. “Oh, shoot, what was her first name again, uh…Annie, Angie, something like that. Anyway, dude, she is freaking amazing. I’ll find you her number if you want.”

“Uh, heh…” Zack hesitated sarcastically. “Thanks, man, but…I really doubt that kinda thing could help me. I’ll see ya later.”

“Well, a’right, but seriously, you might wanna think twice about it, just saying. See ya, dude.” He turned and started for the pub.

Left alone in front of the Gailmore, Zachary, who was carrying both his briefcase and his suitcase for the trip, flipped through the former to make sure he had the paperwork for the meeting the following day. He was certain he did, orderly as he always was; it was simply incumbent upon him to check.

Folks passed by him to and fro on the way to wherever they were headed next, but he hardly noticed them, even after he verified he had all his notes and put them back in the briefcase. The next morning yet another journey was scheduled, this time all the way north into Europe to Norway. Thank God it was summer—or nearly so, he thought to himself. He’d booked a hotel room for the night because this particular hotel was much, much closer to the airport than was his house, and this flight tomorrow morning departed especially early.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all the traveling was the inability to ever settle down in any one foreign land and maybe, just maybe do something as radical as enjoy some leisure time there. No time at all to do silly, frivolous things like go on tours, take pictures and see historic sites and landmarks and museums; no, gotta bursa escort bayan get right back on that next flight and back home to immediately schedule the next one. The more he thought about it, the more he pushed himself towards finding some way out of this rut he called his career.

He was certain he couldn’t just strut into the big boss’s office and say, “I quit!” because, well, for one thing, it wasn’t good business etiquette. Technically, one could get away with doing so, in theory; it wasn’t illegal, but it wasn’t very considerate of his boss or fellow employees either, and if he just up and quit, besides not exactly leaving him and the boss on great terms, should any future potential employer want the boss’s recommendation, he’d end up kind of S.O.L. Unless as in certain extreme cases, like, say, death, it would be best to provide two weeks’ to a month’s notice.

Well, he reasoned with himself, the more he thought about this, the more he would weigh out and balance all the factors until he could arrive at the best decision.

“Hi there, cutie, you want a date?”

He looked up to see a young woman leaning against the lamppost, blithely smoking a cigarette, sporting a flamboyant hairdo, a decent amount of makeup, high heels and a skirt that didn’t leave much to the imagination. She was smiling at him, her face turned to the side with a coy, flirty expression. She gave him a finger-wiggle wave when he looked at her.

Oh, Lord, he thought, turning away from her for a moment.

“Look, I’m-I’m really sorry, ma’am, but I just haven’t got the time right now,” he told her, glad to have a harmless excuse to remove himself from this situation. He signaled for a cab, but someone else got it first.

“You sure, babe?” the woman asked.

“Uh, completely sure, yes.”

“Tickle your balls with a feather?”

“Excuse me?” he turned back to her, a little startled.

The young woman looked at him innocently. “What? I said, ‘Particularly balmy weather.'”

Zack could have sworn he heard her say something else, but it wasn’t worth it to him to argue over it. Still, she tried again.

“Come on,” she cooed. “I’d make it worth your while and then some,” she provocatively added.

I’m sure you would. “No, no, again, sorry, but I’ve really gotta get going.” He more insistently flagged for another cab. Still no luck. He thought, ah, the heck with it, and started walking in the direction of the hotel. It was many blocks up the street, but maybe he’d get a taxi on the way there.

The woman started to say something else to him, but he interrupted, “Uh, I’ve gotta go, really. Goodbye.”

“Suit yourself, honey,” she waved sweetly. Starting on his way, he heard her ask someone else, “Hi, handsome, how about a date?”

***

May 31st, 10:03 p.m.

After a late dinner consisting of not exactly the best Salisbury steak he’d ever had, Zachary returned to his hotel room. He let the door swing shut, lock automatically, tossed his credit card-shaped key on the table and flipped on the TV. He didn’t really intend to actually watch it, he just wanted to have something in the background while he went over things for the next morning.

He emptied his briefcase on the bed and popped open his portable laptop. He looked in his suitcase. Well, that’s weird, he said to himself. I could have sworn I brought my pajamas. Apparently not. Well, he certainly couldn’t sleep in his suit, but he guessed he could just sleep naked.

Once he was satisfied that everything was in order and ready for the Norwegians the next day, he turned the TV off, slipped off the suit, hung it up, turned out the lights and hit the hay, in the nude. For the few minutes before he fell asleep, for some reason he found himself thinking about that prostitute on the street. What in the…why would I be thinking about her? he wanted to know. For the one brief moment he looked at her, there seemed to be something about her body in that red skirt she was wearing and the matching heels that…

Oh, come on, man, he told himself wearily, The woman’s a hooker. Forget her. Go to sleep.

And so he did.

***

June 1st, 12:00 midnight

Zack was in the middle of a deep, deep sleep. So deep was he under the veil of slumber, in fact, that he did not hear the hotel’s fire alarm going off until about fifteen to twenty seconds in. The noise through the speakers in all the hotel rooms finally dug far enough into his dream to smack him back into semi-consciousness, a siren sound rising in pitch, followed by a voice commanding, “Evacuate immediately! Evacuate immediately!”

He thought he realized what was happening. He thought he was still dreaming. Only semi-conscious, he had no idea why a fire alarm would go off in his dream, but he instinctively threw the blanket off himself and ran out the door to his hotel room. When he finally awoke completely, actually realizing escort bursa this was not a dream, he also discovered he had forgotten the key. The doors swung closed and locked automatically. He was unable to get back into the room. He’d taken nothing outside with him.

Besides which, he had forgotten…oh yeah…I’m naked.

Ohhh, God Almighty.

The ascending siren stopped. The voice returned. “This has been a fire safety drill. Thank you for your cooperation; you may now return to your rooms.”

Are…you…kidding??

But thinking more about it, he hadn’t really been listening to what the lobby receptionist had been telling him when he checked in, and now he thought he recalled talk of something about there being a fire drill tonight…oh, hell, he even thought he remembered being asked to read the brochure they gave him. Well, a whole lot of good that did him now.

“Oh, geez,” he muttered out into the open air. “Really??”

He tried to be silent, for several reasons. Fortunately for him, they’d given him an outdoor-facing room, so at least his nudity was shrouded in the darkness, as opposed to being exposed by the always lit-hallways. He knew it wouldn’t be of any use, but of course he had to at least try the door once. Yup; no luck.

Oh, great, he thought. I guess I’m gonna have to go down to the lobby somehow and get them to give me another key. He loathed the thought of having to do so, but…well, what choice had he? Maybe he could hide around the corner and call out to someone to help him.

Around the corner came a (female) voice, talking to herself sarcastically, saying, “Yeah, that’s terrific. Sure, now that I’m already up, thanks a lot…”

Oh, hell, thought Zachary, hearing her coming towards him in a nightgown and a pair of sandals. He stood sideways up against the door, covering himself, just trying to hide his visibility in the darkness.

To his temporary relief, she ambled past him, shuffling her hand along the railing, a bottle of water from the vending machine in her other hand. She didn’t notice him just at first.

Whew, he thought. But the obscurity tactic had failed to work perfectly. Two steps past his door, she stopped. In her mind clicked something strange. She cautiously turned back around. Was someone…standing there?…

She squinted and looked a little closer. It appeared, yeah, there was somebody there…and he was…

“OH my gosh!” she exclaimed embarrassedly, seeing briefly that he was in fact in the buff, hands over his crotch. She turned to the side and put her free hand in front of her face. “I’m sorry! I’m-…I’m-I’m not looking,” she reflexively said.

Forcing herself to keep her eyes closed and her voice low, she asked, “Uh…wh-what are you doing?”

She was embarrassed, but not nearly as much as he was. “I, eh…I ran out when I heard that alarm, and I didn’t get my key.”

“Ohhh, damn,” she said. “Well, uh…I’ve got mine, and, uh…”

He looked up at her hopefully.

“…I…guess you could come in my room for a little while…at least so you don’t have to run around out here. I…I wouldn’t want you to get arrested or anything.”

Whew again, he thought, grateful past words. “Oh, geez, thank you, thank you so much…”

She led him further down the way she was going. Zack tried to stay low, attempting to minimize any chance of being spotted by someone else. The trek around the winding outdoor hall to her room seemed endless. When they finally got there, she retrieved the key, turned to the side, said, “Still not looking,” opened the door and herded him in.

The first place Zachary went was naturally to the bed, as she flipped on the light. Imaginably, he automatically covered most of himself up with the blankets.

“Still not looking,” she assured him, remaining turned around.

“It’s okay,” he replied. “I’m under the covers.”

“Oh, good,” she smiled, turning to him. The truth was, in the one split-second after she turned on the light when he lifted the blanket with one hand and slid under, she’d snuck a quick peek at him. She entertained herself briefly replaying it in her mind.

“Well, uh…” she said, “I’m sorry I don’t really have anything for you to wear in here, except towels. All that’s in my closet are skirts and heels.”

Skirts and heels? Who doesn’t wear anything but skirts and h—

Something clicked in his mind and he widened his eyes. He looked up at her for a moment. He realized that he had seen her four hours earlier, right outside his office. It was the prostitute herself, the same one that had come on to him while he was trying to get a cab. Oh, Lord, he mentally repeated, sinking a little further under the blanket. No wonder she was willing to let him into her room. He probably should have recognized her voice, but he was of course very preoccupied with just trying to fix the compromising situation outside his hotel room door. Had he looked closer, he would’ve noticed she had no makeup on, and her hair, which on the street had been playfully teased up to make her look more enticing, was now frizzed back down to normal.

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