Okay–for the next four days, I’m introducing you to my four main characters of THE ELEVATOR. The text you’ll be reading isn’t perfect, but it’s third-draft. In any case, it’ll give you a taste of what’s coming . . .
Wrapped in the remnants of a dream, Michelle Tilson rolls onto her back and smiles at the ceiling until she remembers the monster out in the Gulf. She reaches for Parker, but the spot where he should be lying is empty and cold. She pushes herself up, the satin sheets puddling at her waist, and looks into the bathroom, which is empty.
Of course—he’s gone to the office. He said he might not be here when she woke.
Groaning, Michelle falls onto his pillow and breathes in the minty scent of his cologne. Typical Parker, the disappearing man. Here for a night, gone for a week. Most women would resent his inconsistency, but she’s become accustomed to his vanishing act.
She props his pillow against the headboard and leans back, surprised she can feel so relaxed on a Saturday morning. Weekends usually depress her, but despite the hurricane warning she floats in a curious contentment, as though the previous night’s love and laughter has splashed over a levee and flooded the normally arid weekend.
Parker is good for her. The man knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play, a lesson she’s been struggling to learn.
She reaches for the remote on the nightstand and powers on the television, still tuned to the Weather Channel. A somber-faced young man appears before a map on which a swirling bull’s-eye is moving straight toward Florida’s west coast. Hurricane Gordon, already a category four, has left Mexico and is churning toward Tampa Bay.
Michelle squints as her mind stamps the map with an icon representing her little pink house. Nothing changed overnight; she’s still in the hurricane’s path.
At least she’s well-insured. Parker’s made sure of that.
She turns down the volume on the television, then drops the remote and considers closing her heavy eyelids. She could easily sleep another hour, but Parker might call and she wants to be alert if he does. He’s already told her he plans to ride out the hurricane at his house, but who knows? This could be the weekend he’ll take her to meet his children . . .
She eases out from under the comforter and reaches for the computer on her nightstand. The laptop is always online, maintaining a quiet vigil as it files incoming email and searches the web for prospective clients.
Michelle slides her glasses on, then clicks on her email program and checks the inbox: three inquiries from her website, http://www.brantleyheadhunter.com/, a note from her administrative assistant, four ads for fake Rolex watches, three for cheap (and probably illegal) pharmaceuticals.
The spam gets deleted without a second look, but Michelle smiles as she opens the web mail. The first inquiry is from Don Moss, a Houston CFO who has recently lost his job with an oil company. He’s looking for a management position in the $400,000-$500,000 range and he’s willing to relocate.
The second is from a young woman with a newly-minted MBA and “a strong desire to succeed.”
The third email is from a school principal who needs to move west due to his wife’s failing health. Can Tilson Corporate Careers possibly help him find a university position?
Michelle clicks her nails against the keyboard as she considers the requests. The CFO will get her full attention; he’s probably good for a $15,000 fee. One of her associates can coach the girl with the MBA on how to write a resume and urge her to attend industry conferences. She’ll not bring in much money, but she should find a job on her own within a few months. The principal might be tough to place, but since he’s probably been in education a few years, he’s bound to know someone who knows someone in Arizona or New Mexico. He’ll land a job . . . eventually. Tilson Corporate will simply have to make sure he exhausts all his resources.
She moves all three messages into her “action” folder, then clicks on the message from Reggie.
She sighs when she reads that he’s taking his wife and new baby to Georgia to escape the storm. I’ll keep an eye on the news, he promises, and you can call if you need me. I’ll be at my sister’s house in Marietta.
BTW—last week one of the counselors took an application from a young guy who’s looking for a management position. Nothing unusual in the app, but I saw him through the window and recognized him— he belongs to the gym where my wife works and he’s a reporter for the Tampa Tribune. Long story short, Marcy chatted him up and found out he’s doing a story on employment agencies who don’t meet their contractual obligations. Looks like we’re at the top of his hit list.
I pulled his file and left it on my desk—the name is Greg Owens.
Michelle swallows hard as her stomach sways. Her agency does find jobs for clients, though not as often as their brochure claims. And while their advertising states that they typically place people in positions with salaries ranging from $75,000 to $750,000, she can’t remember the last time they referred a prospect to a situation worth more than eighty grand.
If she doesn’t find a position for Greg Owens, he’ll be all over Tilson Corporate Careers. If he checks into her company, he’ll begin by investigating her.
Reporters ask questions; they verify facts and check entries on resumes. If she doesn’t find Owens a job, he could crucify her.
She presses her hands to her eyes as a rush of dread whirls inside her gut. Only one thing to do, then—find the fake applicant a real job, and pretend to be surprised when he doesn’t take it.
That part, at least, will be easy. She’s been pretending all her life.
* * *