What is this? It's one of these.
What are the rules? Those are over here.
Ready? No? Good. Let's go:
Even though the sidewalk was a wet path cut between decaying dirty drifts, and the wind still came howling down the canyons of downtown directly from the Far North, Sabine could smell Spring in the air, and it showed in her strut to work that morning. Just a hint of that green smell, carried from somewhere beyond the city core on the back of exhaust fumes and it was sufficient to lift her soul and put some bounce in her step. She'd smelled it all morning, from the first moment she saw the sun flash in the crevice between her building and the one next door, and it had inspired her choice of shoes (leopard-print flats with gold toecaps that flashed bravely in the morning sun), clothes (pants that were maybe just a scoche too lightweight for the howling Arctic winds), and the decision to stop and splurge on breakfast (six ounces of deliciously sweetened milk fats suspended in barely-recognizable caffeine). It carried her on wings past the crowd of commuters scowling their way through the financial district to their respective offices, inspired her to drop a few heavy coins in the battered Tim's cup of the first homeless guy she spotted, and brought her to the front door of the squat gray bank building where she plied her trade. A red-and-white flag flapped over the door in the wind, and the burnished plaque bearing the name of the place glinted in the sun. Giving the guard outside (Jimmy? Mark? Gary? Marc?) a wave, a wink and a smile, she pushed the door open.
Inside, the bank was quiet, filled with an oppressive hush made worse by the murmur of the tellers counting off their cash drawers. A few pensioners waited between threadbare velvet ropes, girding themselves for arguments about missing cheques for accounts held at other branches for the institution that had owned this location a decade ago.
*Shit. Shit. Shitshitshitshit.*
Sandrine glanced up at the big clock overlooking entrance — 9:06.
She immediately began scurrying her way across the floor, painfully aware of the scraping of those gold taps against the stone floors. The aftertaste of her coffee became sour on her tongue, and her pants felt like they'd shrunk half a size. One of the tellers (Bernadette, that old *bag*) slammed her cash drawer shut, pointedly.
She passed through without incident, wondering if maybe her underwear was visible through these pants in this light, and through the door into the financial advisors' office.
Well, the *less senior* financial advisors' office. The real advisors, who dealt with real money from real people and cruised through the bank at their leisure, each had their own offices that they hardly ever used. Everyone else was crammed into a single space at the back of the building, a dank windowless room with half a dozen half-walled cubicles, rank with ambition and overseen by Mr. Lawrence (first name? Last name? Who knew?), the *least* senior of the senior advisors.
It was his voice that rang out as so as she slipped inside.
"Ms. *Blaz*kowicz, how *good* of you to join us at *last*."
"Sorry!" Sandrine held out her coffee cup, lukewarm and heavy with liquid she knew she'd never drink now. "The lineup was crazy! Ha ha ha. You know how it is."
"Of *course*," he said, striding over. "It's not as if your phone's been ringing off the hook, after all."
Sandrine smelled a trap. She'd worked hard to pass the exams and get the hell out of the front lines, where you had to talk to people's faces, and smile all damn day, and do it in *heels*. Her feet broke out in a cold sweat, and she felt suddenly guilty about yesterday's late night nail polish shopping binge on Amazon (the US one, *obviously*).
"Ha ha ha. Well, end of fiscal, you know." She made a kind of a half shrug and waved her coffee cup again, as if that said it all.
"I should get to my desk, now."
"Yes. Yes you should."
The coffee cup made a loud wet thump when it hit the mostly empty waste basket under her desk. Sandrine heaved her purse (genuine Coach from last summer's trip to Orlando!) onto the desk, and plopped down in her chair. While she waited for her computer to boot up, she leaned back and stared up at the ceiling.
The tile above sagged under a series of concentric brown stains, vaguely circular, steadily darker towards the middle, and disconcertingly fuzzy. It predated her accession to *most junior* junior financial advisor, but nobody else had been brave enough to take the desk under it.
"That's got to be a health and safety hazard," she mused aloud.
"Did you let Maintenance know?" Martin's head looked up over the half wall between them.
"Yep. Day after I got here." She swivelled gently back and forth in her chair.
He checked his watch. "Well, you've probably only got another six to eight months before somebody shows up, then."
"Oh, good." She logged in to her desktop, and waited while a suite of fiscal management programs slowly began to load. Her PC chugged along merrily.
Sandrine rubbed her eyes. It had seemed like such a good morning, too. She watched splash screens spring forth on her monitor, looking at but never reading a litany of status updates from a year to a decade ago, listening to the hard drive spin and cough occasionally.
It was weak and muffled, but definitely sounded like a noise you did *not* want a hard drive to make. Sandrine silently prayed for the intervention of the IT Gods.
Apparently they were taking the day off.
She bent closer to the floor and her machine to better hear, and fervently hoped she was having an auditory hallucination.
It wasn't coming from the computer at all. It sounded like it was coming from her *desk*. Sandrine sat up and stared hard at the single drawer in her desk, never opened, the stained bronzey key still in the lock.
Brow furrowed, she eased it open.
A goat, smaller than her palm, but brown and white and otherwise absolutely perfect stared up at her from a field of grass, chewing slowly.