I literally cried with laughter when I read that.Sternbetrachter wrote:ah! so they are dating!As for Michael and Alex being related, they’re not buuuuuut…. There’s a relationship.
If Max had any lingering ideas that Michael was going to give him an easy ride in his new job, they were quashed soon after his arrival at the Evans Ltd. Building. He had to first report to the personnel department where he received a stern rebuke from a middle-aged woman named Cheryl for arriving so late on his first day. He then had to sit and listen as she talked him through the rules that he would have to obey: the dress code, the anti-sexual harassment code, the internet user code and a whole list of others that he knew he’d never remember. After that speech she left him alone to watch an introductory film about Evans Ltd. that included an impersonal message from his father welcoming the new employee into the fold and wishing him well in his career.
Cheryl returned, and he was taken down to the security desk to be issued his new ID card and pass. When he complained that his ID photo looked like a corpse, Cheryl met him with an indifferent look and simply hurried him back into the elevator. Max realised that instead of being nervous of bossing an Evans around, Cheryl was enjoying the task. And he had a feeling that Michael had chosen her especially for him.
She brought him to the third floor and to a small office overlooking an alleyway. The sign on the door read, ‘Stationary Department.’
“This is where you’ll be working from,” Cheryl informed Max with a smile. “Nancy will be along soon to show you the ropes. If you need anything else just let me know.” If he really had needed anything else, it wouldn’t have mattered. She was gone before Max had a chance to open his mouth.
The office was small and dark but neat and clean. There was a hatch looking out into the empty hallway and a heavy looking gray door set in one wall. It was locked. Large files and folders were lined along shelves on the wall, their titles in strange abbreviations and initials that made no sense to him. He sat at the ordinary plastic desk, a far cry from the beautiful ornate wooden ones in Michael’s and his father’s offices. The chair was a normal desk chair, certainly not the fancy one that Michael used. It was set so high up that his knees barely fit under the desk.
He reached for the lever to let it down but a voice stopped him. “Adjust that chair and you die.”
Max jumped in surprise and looked up to find a short woman glaring at him through the hatch. He stood up as she walked through the door.
“That’s my desk.”
“I’m sorry. Cheryl from personnel brought me here. I thought –”
“I’m Nancy. Not Nance, not Nan and not the Nazi. I sit at the desk because I’m the boss. So you can stop thinking. I tell you what to do and you do it. No arguments. Understood?”
“Good. Follow me.” Nancy produced a key from her pocket and unlocked the heavy gray door. It led to a room stacked high with all kinds of stationary. There were no windows and the walls were painted a drab off white.
“This is where we keep the company’s stationary. It must be kept locked at all times unless you or I are here. Everything that goes in and goes out must be noted down in this ledger. Nobody is allowed to take anything out unless I have approved it. If they want anything, they submit a request by email. I make delivery rounds twice a day. Understand?”
Again Max nodded.
Nancy gave him a strange little file and handed him a sheaf of papers. “This is the weekly inventory. I need you to count everything here and tick it off on the list. For example, we should have thirty-three boxes of 2b pencils. One box is open and there should be seventy in it. Make sure that we have the correct number of boxes, and the correct number of pencils in the open box. Also, make sure that there are only 2b pencils in that box. If the number is incorrect, check the ledger to see if any were taken since the inventory was printed out. Understand?”
Max looked at her in disbelief. Was she actually serious? The stern expression on her face certainly looked as if she was serious. “It’ll take me all week to do that.”
“And this is something that has to be done weekly?”
“Yes. You might think that this is a pointless job and that I am too strict, but most companies lose thousands of dollars a year on stationary and supplies that are wasted unnecessarily by employees. I run a tight ship, Evans. Understand?”
Max understood perfectly. Michael had chosen this job for him to make him suffer. He had two choices, grin and bear it or quit and bring his father’s anger and disappointment down on his head. He had made a promise and he was determined to stick to it. If that meant spending months locked in the supply closet under the close watch of the Stationary Nazi, then that was what he was going to do. Max reached out and took the inventory list from her. “I understand.”
Maria watched through narrowed eyes as the social worker chatted to the doctors and occasionally scribbled something in her notebook. She would have given anything to know what was being said and what was being written down. One of the doctors spotted her and waved his hand in her direction, causing the others to spin around. Maria quickly made herself look busy.
A few minutes later a hand tapped her on the shoulder. “Excuse me, Nurse Deluca. My name is Sandra Lopez. I’m the social worker on Maddie’s case. I wonder…are you free for a few minutes?”
“Sure.” Maria smoothed down her uniform and followed her into the office.
“The doctors have been filling me in on Maddie’s treatment. It’s wonderful to hear that somebody has paid for her to receive the metsophomine treatment. I see so many babies in Maddie’s condition and it’s heartbreaking to see such innocent little babies go through it. I only wish there were a way for them all to receive it.”
“Me too.” Maria smiled sadly and felt herself relax. For some reason she had been dreading the visit of the social worker and the possible consequences it would have for Maddie but she realized that her fears were unfounded. This woman was on the same team.
“Do you have any idea who the mystery donor is?”
Maria shook her head. “None I’m afraid. I…kind of think Michael Guerin might have something to do with it, but I’m not sure.”
Sandra made a note of his name. “He has been coming to see her I understand.”
“He’s been here a couple of times. His mother is sick, so he’s in the hospital a lot and he calls up here after he’s done visiting his mother.”
“I see. And there has been nobody else?”
“A couple of different people showed up claiming to be the parents, but I didn’t meet any of them. The police are satisfied that they had nothing to do with Maddie and that they had just read about it in the papers.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about them too.”
“What’s going to happen to her?” Maria asked, unable to keep the desperate worry out of her voice.
“Her future is a little uncertain at the moment. We’re in the process of making her a ward of the court. Once she has been released from here she will most likely go into foster care. After that, I really can’t say. I’d like to think that she could be adopted but without the mother’s consent, she will probably remain in the foster care system.”
“Even though the mother just left her under a car and ran?”
Sandra sighed and nodded sadly. “I’m afraid so.”
Tears came to Maria’s eyes and she blinked hard. “It’s not fair. After everything she’s been through already….”
“I know. If there was anything else I could do for her, I would.” Sandra slipped her notebook into her briefcase and pulled out a pamphlet. “You care a lot for her.”
“Have you ever considered applying to foster? I’m sure that you would be accepted and we could make a good case for Maddie to be given to your care.”
“Really?” The idea had never struck Maria as a possibility before, but she found herself intrigued by it. “Even though I’m single, I could still foster?”
Sandra smiled and handed her the pamphlet. “Of course. Why don’t you look through this and consider it. If it is something you are interested in doing, then the sooner you apply the better.”
She and Sandra shook hands and the social worker left the ward. Maria tucked the pamphlet and Sandra’s card into her pocket and let herself into Maddie’s room.
“Hi sweetie,” she cooed to the sleeping infant. Maria ran her finger down Maddie’s arm. “Guess what? You might be able to come and live with me when you get out of here. Would you like that?”
Maddie grasped Maria’s finger in her tiny hand without waking. Maria grinned proudly at the sleeping girl. She had made so much progress in the last twenty-four hours. Maria sat down in the chair to watch Maddie sleep, her mind already planning how to make the little girl hers.
A silver Porsche, badly parked across two spaces, blocked Alex’s own reserved spot when he returned to the center after a meeting. He squeezed his battered Jeep halfway into another space and halfway up on the curb and walked toward the front doors.
He could hear two voices yelling from the center even from the parking lot. One of them was the distinct accent of Karl, their New Zealander counselor. The other voice, a female voice, was one that Alex recognized with a sinking heart.
“You can’t fucking stop me.” Izzie was trying to push past the Kiwi.
“Alex,” Karl called in relief.
“What’s going on?” Alex demanded.
“This retard won’t let me in,” Izzie pouted. She was wearing dark sunglasses that covered most of her face, but Alex didn’t need to see her eyes to know she was wasted. After a while in his job, he had learned how to spot it.
“I’m sorry Izzie, but I’m afraid Karl’s right. You can’t come in here while you’re under the influence of drugs.”
“I am not under the influence of anything.” Isabel’s outrage was almost convincing.
Alex nodded his head for Karl to leave them. He grasped Isabel gently by the arm and led her outside. “Izzie, I’m sorry. As a volunteer here you are expected to behave in a certain manner because you have a degree of influence over the people who use this center. I can’t allow you to come in while you’re in this state. Not as a volunteer.”
Isabel threw back her head and laughed bitterly. “What are you suggesting? That I should come here? I’m not like these losers. So what if I’ve taken a couple of pills. It’s no big deal. I’m under a lot of stress at the moment.”
“I’m sure you are Izzie,” Alex responded genuinely. “And whatever it is, I’m here for you. If you need to talk, I’ll listen. Drugs aren’t the answer Izzie.”
“Drugs aren’t the answer. God, you sound like one of them. You don’t understand. Nobody understands what I’m going through. You said you were my friend but you’re just like the rest of them. Well screw you, Alex. Screw you and your stupid center. It’s going to be a mall in a few months anyway.” She wrenched her arm away from Alex and turned to walk away. As she marched towards her car she fumbled in her purse for her keys, spilling makeup and tampons along the way.
Alex hurried after her, scooping up what she had dropped. He caught up to her just as she was about to open the car door and thrust her belongings at her. Surprised, Isabel reached out for them and dropped her keys as she did so. Alex grabbed her keys and pocketed them.
She rolled her eyes. “Oh please. Give me a break. I’m okay to drive.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Alex snorted waving his hand at the badly parked car. “You have two options here. You can either fight me for the keys, in which case I’ll call the cops and report you for a DUI, or you can let me call you a cab.”
Alex glanced down the street, knowing that Karl would have called a cab after he had gone back inside. Surely enough, one pulled up in front of them about thirty seconds later.
Izzie tossed Alex what he guessed was a dirty look under her dark lenses and climbed in. He leaned in the window and spoke quietly to her.
“I’m here when you need me Izzie.”
“Yeah right. Like I’m ever coming back to this dump again.”
“She’ll be back for her car,” Karl pointed out as Alex walked back into the center clearly dejected.
“Thanks man. Can you round up everybody? We need to have a meeting in my office.”
Twenty minutes later twelve counselors were crowded into the tiny space. There was an air of gloom already and Alex knew that they had guessed what was coming. Alex decided to cut to the chase.
“I’ve just come back from a meeting with the Downtown Drugs Project. As you know they’ve been one of the main backers of the center since we opened. Unfortunately, they now feel that the money we receive could be better spent elsewhere and so effective next month, they will be withdrawing funding.”
“All of it?”
“They’re not even going to see out the budgetary year?”
“How can they do that? They were raving about us the last time they were here for an inspection, and that was only a few months ago.”
Karl pounded the desk with his fist. “Is it them?” He asked through gritted teeth.
Alex didn’t need to ask who ‘them’ referred to. “The DDP denied it of course. But it might interest you to know that the Evans Family foundation has offered to build a new Detox center for the DDP, to be announced next month.”
“So what now?” asked Sara, another of the counselors. “There are other organizations that fund projects like ours, aren’t there? We just have to get another one.”
“It’s not that simple. I’ve been looking into it in the last few months because of the difficulties we’ve been having. I was hoping to find assistance to fund procedures or maybe another counselor to replace the ones we lost, but I haven’t had any luck. Realistically, the chances of finding another group willing to provide the amount that the DDP were funding us is bleak.”
“So is that it? Are we finished?”
Alex shook his head vehemently. “Absolutely not. Nothing’s over yet. I’ll keep searching for a backer. If you know of anybody we could try, please let me know. In the meantime, it’s business as normal here. Speaking of which, back to work everybody. Thank you for your time.”
The counselors filed out quietly though he could hear them murmuring furiously in the hallway. He wondered how many would hand in their notice before the week was out. Not that he blamed them. He’d jump from the sinking ship too if he hadn’t invested so much in it.
Michael flipped through the file quickly before looking back up at his detective. “Any connections to me or Evans Limited?”
“None that I can find, but I’ll keep digging. It’s not uncommon for people to take an irrational dislike of celebrities or rich people from knowing very little about them. And…uh…well, the behavior of your brother and sister is well documented in the press. Many people find them…well…Frankly, there are as many anti Isabel and Max websites as there are fansites.”
“I think Maria’s dislike is personal for some reason.” A thought struck Michael that turned him cold. David Evans had died in the summer of 1982, which meant that it was possible. “When you say her father isn’t in the picture, what does that mean? Do you know who he is?”
“A Brian Deluca, he married Amy in the fall of nineteen eighty-one but skipped town in December just before Maria was born.”
Michael let out a sigh of relief that he didn’t know he was holding. Somehow the idea that Maria could be his half – sister was really, really disturbing. But that still didn’t explain her hatred of everything Evans and him in particular. “Ok. It’s important, so make this your priority.”
Chris’s eyebrows shot up. “Uh….yes sir. And the other project?”
Michael turned in his chair to face out the window of his office. He said nothing for a number of minutes, his mind in turmoil as he debated his options. Eventually he swung back around. “Go ahead as discussed.”
“Very good sir.” Chris nodded and left.
Alone, Michael replayed the conversation with Chris in his mind. Why did he care whether Maria liked him or not? He didn’t care what anybody else thought of him, so what made her opinion so special?
He leaned back in his chair and sighed. He already knew the answer. It was the same reason he had felt relief when Chris had confirmed that Maria wasn’t David Evans’ daughter. It was because he was falling for her.
Wasn’t it bad enough that he was starting to care about Maddie? Why did he have to fall for the nurse too? What had happened to the stone wall that he had so carefully re-erected after Carla? It was supposed to be impenetrable. Anybody who had got through it before had to fight long and hard to crack it and suddenly a little baby girl and a woman who hated him were walking through it as if it didn’t exist? What the hell was wrong with him?
There was only one thing to do about it. He had to stay away from them both. No more visits to see Maddie, no more breakfasts with Maria. They would be fine without him. After all, Maddie was getting the treatment she needed so badly. And he certainly didn’t need them.
Michael didn’t need anybody.
Max was beginning to think that five o’clock would never come. The day had dragged on and on until he thought he would lose his mind.
If he never saw another pen again, it would be a thousand years too soon. Somehow Max was going to have to get himself out of bed the following day to come back in and do it all over again. And the day after that. And the day after that. And every day for the foreseeable future until Michael decided to move him. Max figured that when Michael did finally move him, it would be into another job as equally hellish as this one was. Still, Max had to wonder. Could there really be another job as bad as counting pencils?
At last Nancy bellowed, “Time to go.”
He jumped down from the ladder he was perched on and tried to make a bolt for freedom, but it wasn’t that easy. Nancy made him wait as she checked the pages he had been completing all day, then produced a number of ledgers and entered figures into them. Finally she closed them with a snap and returned them to their places on the shelves behind her.
“Can I go now?” Max asked.
Nancy’s eyes drifted down to where his hands were stuffed into the pockets of his chinos. She looked suspicious and Max fully expected her to demand that he empty his pockets before he left to make sure that he wasn’t trying to steal a red pen or a bottle of white out.
“You may go,” she said at last, almost sounding friendly. “See you tomorrow.”
Surprisingly, there was a silver lining to the job from hell as Max found out later that night.
He had told Liz all about his first day at work and she was full of sympathy for him. Seeing her beautiful brown eyes fill with compassion for him made the whole thing worthwhile.
“That sounds horrible, Max. You poor thing.” She placed her hand on his knee and squeezed his leg gently.
“And I get to do it every day,” Max added with a grim smile. He poured himself a glass of champagne and swallowed it down in one go.
“I couldn’t do it. I’d lose my mind. But at least you get to keep your clothes on,” Liz joked.
Max’s chest swelled. Liz sounded as if she admired him for what he had done, as though putting up with Nancy and the hundreds of pencils was something to be proud of. He returned her smile. “I can just about imagine Nancy’s face if I started stripping. I think it would kill her.”
Liz giggled at the thought before sobering up. “I can’t believe that your brother is making you do that. What a jerk.”
“Yeah, but I had it coming.”
“Why? What did you do?”
He shook his head. “If I tell you, you’ll hate me.”
“I couldn’t hate you.”
Max looked over her shoulder at his own reflection in the mirror. He averted his gaze to the floor.
“Michael was engaged to a girl. Her name was Carla and she was perfect. She was beautiful and smart and sweet and perfect. You kind of remind me of her actually.”
He looked at Liz. She took his hand in hers and nodded for him to continue.
“I slept with her.”