Darnell Loman walked out of the elevator and into the office at 8:15 Friday morning, wearing his best gray suit. He tossed a smile to Christina the receptionist (red-head, Roman nose, single), and headed for his cubicle. He walked on his toes and jangled his keyring around his finger. The weekend was in sight, and he had successfully shaved a quarter-hour off the last workday. He flopped down into his high-backed executive chair (tan, faux suede, cushy) and sighed. Today was the day he gave the big presentation for the president of the company. He could nearly taste that raise. He smacked his lips almost lasciviously. And of course, there was the special something at 9:30. He powered up his desktop. He could take it easy until at least 9. Hubert, his small-mustached manager (fat, sweater-vested, chronic coffee-carrier) didn’t usually shuffle his way around to the 2 block until then. He slouched, and stacked his feet on the desk.
His watch beeped the hour. He swung his feet to the floor and began typing away. Two minutes later, Hubert came around the corner. His round belly preceded him like a gelatinous majordomo. He wheezed at Darnell.
“Ready for your presentation?”
“Hubert,” said Darnell, leaning back in his chair and stretching his arms overhead, “I am not the kind of person who goes into a big meeting like this unprepared. I think I can handle myself.”
“Mm” Hubert grunted. He rubbed his small mustache with his meaty fingers. “Working hard?”
“Hardly working!” he chortled, offering the joke with raised eyebrows.
Hubert’s eyes went squinty. “Don’t make jokes like that around the president.”
The broken accordion of Hubert’s wheezing accompanied his carpet-shuffle away down the hall. Darnell smiled to himself. The only role Hubert had at Dillinger Industries was a jelly roll. He chuckled. His watch blinked that it was 9:25. He rose, and sauntered towards the water cooler, glugged out a paper cup-full, then meandered around the corner to the tucked-away supply closet. He cracked the hollow metal door open and slipped inside, shutting the door behind him. A woman in a gray silk business suit was standing in front of a shelf of paper. She looked up quickly as the door chunked shut.
“You were nearly late, Darnell. Is that any way to treat a lady?”
“No, ma’am. Perhaps I could…make it up to you?” he said, loosening his tie and slipping it off.
Darnell planted a final kiss on the wife that wasn’t his. “We gotta stop meeting like this,” he smiled. Disa Perry sighed, her head propped against his chest. “Mmmm. Greg still doesn’t know. We could do this forever and that oaf wouldn’t know.”
Sudden quick footsteps sounded down the hall. They both looked at the door, panicked. The door was still locked. Darnell pushed Disa off and dove behind a stack of cardboard filing boxes.
“Quick! Pass me my clothes” he hissed. A ball of clothes hit him in the face as she swung it around the pile.
A knock. “Disa? What are you doing in there?” It was Greg. “I need the cellphone. Had to use the FindMe app to figure out where you were at.”
“Grabbing some paper, darling. Just a minute.” She finished buttoning her blouse and ran a hand through her hair. Darnell, watching through a gap in the boxes, saw her legs walk to the door and saw the door open, then swing shut behind her. He crawled out from behind the pile, clutching his shirt, pants and tie. That had been too close. He redressed, straightened his hair, and fastwalked back to his cubicle. His pants were uncomfortably tight, he noticed. He would have to hit the gym soon. He sat himself at the desk and pulled his chair up to his desk. Twenty seconds later, Greg popped his head in.
“The meeting’s about to start. You ready?”
“The what? Oh, the meeting. Right, right. Coming” he said, trying not to breathe fast.
“Wait a second,” Greg turned back.
“Your collar’s up at the back.”
He relaxed. “Thanks, Greg.”
That was the thing about Greg, Darnell pondered, as he picked up his notes and made his way to the primary conference room. He always noticed the little things. It was a miracle he hadn’t detected the affair before now. It would have to end. It had been too close, and a man with his kind of reputation just couldn’t risk the discovery. And anyway, it was just a short office fling. Nothing serious. Disa would understand.
As he reached the conference room, he saw Disa skittering towards him on her heels, gesturing frantically. The last thing he wanted to deal with was a strangely distraught Disa. He quickly opened the door and slipped inside, and shut it behind him.
Everyone was listening to the first presentation (monotone, statistical, boring), and the chairs in the room were all filled except the one on the end, next to Greg. For some inexplicable reason, it hadn’t been taken. Darnell slipped into it gratefully. He took out his pen and notepad. The pen fumbled from his fingers and dropped into his lap. He glanced down.
The pants were not his pants.
His whole body stiffened. His mind hurled about for a microsecond, then focused on the supply closet. She had been wearing a gray business suit. He was wearing a gray business suit. She had tossed him his clothes. Obviously, she had given him the wrong pants. Damn that idiot Disa! he raged momentarily.
Then his entire body blushed and he forced his head back up. How could he have missed it? They were on his damn legs! He checked himself. Maybe the pants were only subtly different from men’s. He looked down again. The material was wrong, the pockets were wrong. Probably not one person in thirty would notice. But Greg was the one. Only the fat overhung lip of the table was protecting his reputation. He clutched at the table in a grippy panic. He stared numbly down at the brown surface in front of him. Oh God. His presentation. His presentation was in five minutes. He would have to stand. While he was thus robed, he absolutely, most definitely, could not stand. It might take minutes, but Greg would finally see. Greg would notice. Greg would know. Exposure (ha, said a rebel corner of his psyche [shut up shut up shut up]) was imminent.
A dozen different ideas streaked before his mind, each more worthless than the last. What could he do? One last wildly hopeful idea presented itself. Why choose? Why not shoot for both the raise and the cover-up? A truly first-class salesman could pull it off. He could do it. He could work his trouserlessness into his presentation, make it some masterful metaphor for his topic. There was nothing else for it. He would have to remove his pants below the table. His only chance to hide was to bare all. He subtly inched his hands into his lap and slowly slipped the front button undone. It was fortunate that he was at the far end of the table. It left him more freedom of movement. Two minutes later, he kicked the last leg off underneath the table. Just in time. The president made a motion for the next presenter.
“Thanks, Mr. Sprague. Next we have Mr….” he consulted his iPad. “Mr…ah, Loman.”
Darnell peeled his fingers off the table. This was the moment. He stood, briefs flashing (Fruit of the Loom, elastic, white), and a gasp sprinted around the room. He ignored the open mouths and whispers, strode to the front of the room, and turned to face the table.
“What, may I ask, is the meaning of this, Mr. Loman?” the president gaped.
His head was whirling. His cheeks were flushed. His mouth opened and words came out.
“Openness and honesty, Mr. Dillinger,” he said. “Honesty is what the common man wants, and what he so rarely finds in a corporation. I give to you the new ad campaign for Dillinger Industries: Nothing To Hide.” He advanced from strength to strength. His presentation grew in force. He piloted wild flights of fancies. He came up with brilliant ideas he had never dreamed of, born of the effervescent desperation that burned in his temples. He glided to a final halt. The watching rooms eyes were still, resting on the glowing Darnell. The president straightened his tie (purple, cotton, horseshoes), then straightened up in his creaking chair. He spoke.
“I’m impressed, Mr. Loman. In all my years of guiding this company, that was the most…unique and creative presentation I have ever heard. Thank you very much.”
Darnell stepped quickly back to his chair and sank into it. It had worked. He had won. It was all going to come off. The meeting came to a perfunctory close, and everyone began to gather their papers. Greg skooted his chair back and turned to Darnell.
“Wow. Just wow. That was amazing. I don’t know how you come up with these…” his voice tapered off as he looked at something on the floor. Darnell looked at Greg’s chair. A pair of women’s pants (gray, silk, incriminating) were caught on the leg. “Oh, your pants!” Greg chuckled as he picked them up and held them out. Then he paused. “Wait a minute…” Darnell saw his eyes narrow, then scan, then widen. His head came up and thunder was in his face.
He ditched his papers and ran. Greg’s angry bellow followed him, but he had a good twenty feety on him. He skidded past the reception desk (Christina stared) and flung himself through the closing elevator doors. He heard Greg thud against the doors, too late. He turned around. There were six other people in the elevator, but he didn’t care. He had had enough.
It wasn’t until they reached the lobby that he remembered he had walked to work.