Chapter 2: DESPAIR AND HOPE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 28

NUMBER ONE

A Novelette

Nicholas Cochran 

Chapter Two

 

As if spying his balcony for the first time, MacDonald rushed through the doors into the spectral gloom of the late October afternoon. Zachary quickly followed. MacDonald breasted the vortex of blustering wind and hammering rain. Rain that dripped on dying pungent leaves.

Upon reaching the railing, he shouted into the wind. “In fact, these quirks—his charms?—no, his quirks, are all part of the myth—his myth—his goddamned legend . . . his ‘bit’; Jesus, what a jerk.”  He slowly shook his head. Pasty forearms stuck out from his white short-sleeved shirt. He tensed them to muscle while he gripped the top of the balcony railing.

“So, Zachary,” sighing, “I know you’re new here,” his voice was now deep and almost comforting, “in fact, you barely got here, right; what, two months; something like that, three?” Zach stood behind and to the left of MacDonald, studying this pear shape in baggy flannels who was about to cast him into the shark tank with Garth Grant. 

“Three . . . yeah, three; about.” He briefly sensed hope in the fact of his inexperience. His mind hit overdrive to find how he might use that bald fact to slither from underneath what was rapidly shaping up as the assignment from Hell.

Unfortunately, MacDonald charged ahead, trampling Zach’s nascent hopes.“Well you’ve been doing great; I know; I keep track. George Lick tells me you’re a bloody sensation with the guests on “7.02”; they love you.  You handle the Studio well; you’re quick—you never panic.” When he paused, the wind, rain, and smell of Toronto autumn, receded, as though they were waiting to hear more about this lad, this recent ‘talk’ of the Corporation, this handsome addition to the wantonly capricious industry of CBC television in the sixties.

“That’s why I chose you for this,” cautiously, “ of course there are other guys who have been here longer, obviously, and they certainly have more experience than you do . . . but this guy, Zach, this Grant . . . this bloody Garth Grant,” reflecting, “ well he takes a different type of handling; a different personality,” without removing his hands from the balcony, turning in Zach’s direction,  “your personality.”

There was some merit in MacDonald’s conclusion. Zach had this ‘way’ about him. Armed with a resonating baritone, he got attentions—particularly female ones—and this helped him with those circumstances where some verbal horse-trading was required. From his summers as a camp counselor, a grunt putting telephone poles in muskeg, a welder’s helper, an oiler on a backhoe, and the clamp man on the thirty-six inch TransCanada Pipeline, he learned directly, as well as by osmosis, the ways of men.

After a moment, MacDonald, with shaky confidence, “George swears you’ll pull it off; guarantees it even,” laughing, “hey, no pressure or anything, eh, Zach?”

Try as he might, Zachary Coleman Kell could not come up with a laugh. When the wind-whipped rain resumed its monotonous drumming on the awning, Zach felt like the driving rain was hammering him, drowning him. And the leaves stunk.

“Anything else I should know about him?” His voice was not unlike that of a dead man barely standing. MacDonald turned, determined. “Well, one thing is no noise; for crissakes no noise,” pausing, “ he likes baseball; loves to drive his big old car; but I should tell you, or rather, I should warn you, that he is, without doubt, the absolutely worst ___"

Zachary cut in. “What about preparations; like something I can do before he gets mad?” Zach was rapidly realizing he was being thoroughly and righteously hosed; that this ghastly assignment immediately required a playbook of all the defensive moves, mechanisms, and motifs, which would—or could—soften what was shaping up to be a week of acute agony.

“Hey, Zachary, anything you can do to keep this jerk stable . . . you know, on the rails; anything to get us past this bloody Hell Week,” sighing, “ So: now I’ve told you everything I know about what this jerk hates; and, about all I know about what he likes, which isn’t much.” He gazed upon  Zachary with hopeful eyes, wanting to believe; to know that this was a good decision; that his future was secure; that his career would continue to rise; that ___”

“Ah,” Zach paused, “what the hell,” shrugging his shoulders, “how bad can it be, eh? And it’s only for a few days, right? . . . we’ll be okay.”

*

While rummaging through a desk drawer, one of Grant’s scarves caught in a handle, yanking his head back to normal height.

“You know, Burt; my friends—such as they are—think they’re jealous; you know, the CBC types . . .  yeah, jealous,” slowly sucking in his breath, “but jealous of what, Burt? Who the hell would want my schedule?” softly, “who the hell would want my life?

*

MacDonald spun around, grabbed Zach’s hand, and pumped with frantic relief.

“All right! . . . hey, Zach, don’t let me down on this one. I know he’s a miserable self-centered demanding bloody jerk—a talented jerk—but he’s our bloody jerk . . . CBC’s ; Toronto’s,” nodding, “ Zach: Canada’s." He lowered his eyes.

“You’ll do fine, Zach.” Filtered through the wind, the scraping, and the hammering rain, MacDonald’s tone sounded more as if he thought giving this assignment to a raw rookie might be the worst decision he ever made. He would get roasted by management, lose his clout, his Department, his favorite program; ‘Jesus; I could even lose the love of my wife . . .everything. ’Russ MacDonald straightened to his full six feet four inches to look Zach, also six feet four inches, squarely in the eye. After a slow short pause, he clapped Zach on the back with a dismissive slap that packed most of his two hundred and fifty pounds.  Zach said nothing.

*

Looking through the glass upper half of her office façade, Valerie Goodson followed Zach while he walked from MacDonald’s office toward his island of industry. This was his office: a desk set in the open expanse of shiny linoleum covering the area outside the surrounding cubicles. Head down, shoulders a bit forward, slowly unclenching his hands—all told Val the ‘talk’ with MacDonald did not go well. She came out to intercept him. Usually Zach would greet her with a laugh or, at least, a warm smile. Today she got the thin—and rare—pursed-lip display; plus a clenched jaw.

“Oooo, was it really that bad?" soothingly, offering Zach a cigarette. Almost at once, Zach smiled.  

“Naw . . . hey Val, how are you?” With her warm smile in return, she acknowledged his predisposition to be forever ‘up’, consistently cheery, “and no thanks for the smoke. I’m trying to quit—again,” pausing, “but my new assignment may give me the excuse to cancel that."

“What assignment, Zach?” coming closer to him and looking up into his hazel eyes while he stared down into her sapphire-blue eyes. They were the first—well, second thing that Zachary observed about Valerie. Her irises were like rings of diamonds. When there was any light, certain facets reflected that light, producing flashes and sparkles. The first time he saw this effect, Zach believed this marvelous display would disappear when she blinked. Surprisingly, as soon as her lids parted, the dazzling effect continued, making it extremely difficult for him to concentrate, once captured by her gaze.

They went on a few dates, which were only slightly more than platonic; perhaps because of the dangers lurking in a workplace romance. Nonetheless, she definitely captivated him with her charms, particularly those eyes. Val was a few years older than Zach, and divorced from one of Canada’s leading news anchors. She was tallish, slim, with dark hair, perfect teeth and a splendid smile. Here again, were those eyes. They instantly warmed his humor. 

“Tell me Zach,” as he sat on the edge of his desk, “what's it's all about, this mysterious assignment?” She sat beside Zach. They were two young vital people sitting on the edge of a desk planted in the middle of a large room rimmed with cubicles housing those favored with seniority. Zach wasn’t even on the waiting list for a cubicle. Yet his collegial nature ignored any thoughts of discomfort—or even embarrassment—at being adrift on a sea of linoleum for one and all to pass around and constantly avoid while they made their way to and from their various areas of toil.

Soberly, turning toward Valerie, “I get to babysit Garth Grant for a week.” Her look—and those eyes—made him expect a kiss, ‘but not here in public,’ reading her thoughts between sparkles.

“Oh,” in a tone reserved exclusively for the doomed.

“Oh indeed,” gulping, “starting Monday.” He stood and looked at the series of work-pens housing the much more fortunate than he. His gaze returned to Valerie. She sat in a perched position—straight arms and tilted head—waiting for ‘the plan'. 

 "What are you going to do?” Her tone was business-like, but contained levels of affection. Zach contemplated the wonder of her eyes while grumbling,

"What the hell can I do Val; he’s the Canadian Wonder Boy; and knows it,” pausing, “and I’m the Canadian Wonderfully Hosed.”  

Unexpectedly, a broad smile pushed aside the morose expression from his tanned face, “hell, Val, it’s only for a week; maybe I’ll learn something.”

“Well he is very, very bright; from what I’ve heard . . . and oh, I read an article about him in Macleans a little while ago, which said that he has a great sense of humor; which I severely doubt, given some of the stories I’ve heard  from the other A.D.s.” She immediately wished she hadn’t said the last part. All the same, her look remained animated by optimism, mostly because she didn’t want to dishearten Zach any further, if that were possible.

For the next twenty minutes, they exchanged ideas for surviving the Grant Week Wreck. When they both dried, they simply looked into each other’s eyes. They smiled.

She took his hand and squeezed it. “I think we have this thing whipped,” laughing, and soon doubling over, unable to contain her joy; or was it release of her fears; or was it simply pure freedom: that state of freedom, which permits and impels you to do anything at all, simply  because you have absolutely no command whatsoever of your situation; a situation that you simply have to deal with.

On the other hand, was it something deeper than tenderness? She squeezed Zach’s hand tighter as he joined in her doubled-over guffaws. Their hysterical exuberance quickly brought heads up over the wooden bottoms of the surrounding offices into the glass areas, through which they all, to a person, stared rather stupidly at this handsome couple, holding hands and shrieking with desperate laughter.

End of Chapter Two


Submitted: February 27, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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