“One way or another, I’m gonna find ya’
I’m gonna get ya’, get ya’, get ya’, get ya’
One way or another, I’m gonna win ya’
I’ll get ya’, I’ll get ya’”
-“One Way or Another” Blondie
“And these are our various conference rooms and joint workspaces down this side. As you can see, more often than not, associates will be piled into any one of these rooms working on a case together instead of their individual desks.” The tall, thin woman turned to face Alessa, her arms folding in front of her as she quietly assessed the new associate who was looking through the glass wall of one of the conference rooms. It was easy to understand why Denny chose the very pretty brunette. She was a quick study, and Jude could see cunning intelligence in her blue eyes. She barely hid that voracious hunger to excel under a cool veneer of indifference.
“Any questions? Good, last thing is to set up your computer and all of your accounts and passwords. We run two different systems for managing our clients, depending on the nature of the client. They are very streamlined, allowing you to enter your billable time, use interoffice communication, write memos, basically all of the transactional work, so if anyone needs anything on a client, it is all centrally located. It is also where you will be assigned your work. The partners assign the associates, counselors, and paralegals their various tasks with due dates. Granted, around here, everything is due yesterday.”
Jude continued to talk as she led Alessa back to the HR department. As Alessa followed behind, she still struggled to surface from the drowning surrealism she found herself. When she had received that phone call two Fridays earlier from the head of HR, congratulating her on being chosen and officially offering her the position, Alessa was stunned to say the very least. She was certain that Denton Ashbury had, for reasons unknown, decided against her; that the first portion of her interview was the more accurate indicator of her likelihood for gaining the position, not the latter when they had had a lively debate on all things law.
She took the weekend to decide on an official answer, knowing firstly that it was the more expected reply, but secondly, was secretly confused and therefore frightened by Mr. Ashbury’s behavior and subsequent selection of her. Alessa wondered if she could work with him after what had transpired, not knowing his true opinion of her, but in the end, she had decided he was only a very small part of the firm, and if she kept her nose down and worked like mad a few years, she would be free of him.
When Alessa had arrived that morning, the nerves she had been desperate to hide had flared when she was introduced to the head of HR who would be responsible for her orientation that day. Jude Macrae was a senior partner in charge of personnel development and management, was Australian by birth, and had been a super model from the time she was fifteen. And most likely the most beautiful woman Alessa had ever seen. Alessa was well aware of her own attractiveness, knowing since she was in the sixth grade when Eli Duncan had wanted to sit next to her on the school bus because he thought she was pretty, but Jude Macrae, even in her fifties, was the epitome of an Amazonian beauty. Alessa was taller than most, but she figured Jude had to be nearly six feet tall, maybe an inch shy. Her hair, which had once been dark auburn in her youth, was lighter now, and hung nearly to her waist in soft, professionally-set-looking waves. Her white pantsuit was flawless on her amazing figure, and her husky voice tinged with that Australian accent was enough to melt butter.
She had thus far been professional, if not a little austere, which made Alessa wonder. When they arrived back at Jude’s office, the older woman turned to catch Alessa staring in a quizzical manner.
“What?” she asked brusquely.
Alessa nearly blushed at having been caught staring. She cleared her throat before answering. “It’s only…I was simply wondering if it was standard practice for a senior partner and head of HR to perform the orientation of new associates.”
Jude narrowed her eyes. “You’re rather cheeky,” she admonished. She gave her an appraising look. “But you are correct. No, it isn’t common.”
“Then why?” she pried.
“Maybe I was interested in assessing the new talent.”
“First thing Monday morning? And it’s not as if you couldn’t see me around the office. And meeting me is quite a different thing from assessing my talent.” Alessa’s brow was lifted in doubt.
Jude pursed her lips. “Denny said you were tough, but goddamn you’re argumentative.”
Alessa looked away, instantly regretting she had said anything.
“Let’s just say,” Jude relented, still eyeing her speculatively, “that’s not all Denny said about you. He wrote quite the…interesting report on you, and it made me curious, that’s all,” she admitted with a casual shrug. “At any rate, while I did make the sacrifice to complete your orientation this morning, I didn’t commit my whole day to it, so let’s get you set up so I can get on with more important things.” Alessa might have thought she was irritated with her, but she caught the small tug at the corner of Jude’s mouth, and felt a measure of relief.
Once she was set up in their system and had finalized the last of the contracts for employment, it was lunch time and the office crowd was thinning in various departments, most notably the administrative support staff and a few of the senior partners. The majority of the associates were taking a break in the employee lounge, eating and laughing. But when Alessa finally sat at her desk, pulled up her accounts on the computer system and saw just how many tasks had already been assigned to her, she pulled out her lunch box and ate as she worked.
Denny was quite proud of the restraint he showed, only walking past Alessa three or four times, spying her from across the room. After much internal debate, he decided it would be normal for him to meet the new hire and officially welcome him or her, instead of avoiding them like the plague. So that’s what he would do now.
As he walked toward her group of desks, he saw Josh Caplin sitting at the edge of her desk chatting away as she distractedly thumbed through a thick stack of files, not even glancing up. Denny delayed his arrival, intent upon studying her. Caplin’s face was smiling, his hands folded on his lap, his pose lax. Denny rightly read his body language as flirtatious, though Alessa seemed to pay him little attention. Once again, just like his previous observations all those years ago, her indifferent behavior was not lost on him.
“Ms. Allen, Caplin,” he greeted the two as he approached. The younger associate stiffened up at Denny’s appearance, his charming demeanor sobering. Alessa also looked up and went through a similar adjustment of posture before he stopped before them. He noticed her eyes were not welcoming, but intense and unsure.
“Mr. Ashbury, I was just welcoming our newest comrade.”
“What a coincidence, I was just popping over to do the same thing.” Alessa was silently taking him in while the two men spoke. She noticed with no small amount of annoyance that he was still as handsome as she remembered from her interview three weeks ago. He also had suspenders on again, she could see as his jacket pulled back from where his hand was in his pocket. This time they were a cool gray color just slightly darker than his white shirt.
“Well, I guess I’ll get back to work. And remember what I said,” Josh directed at Alessa, smiling again and tapping her arm with the file in his hand, “anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be more than honored to help.” A great flash of teeth.
Smooth, Denny thought. He watched as Caplin walked away before turning to Alessa. “Quite the warm welcome,” he commented.
Alessa raised an eyebrow. “Yes, well, at least some people in this firm know how to act civilly without the need of a reprimand,” she intoned drily.
“A little warmer than civil, don’t you think?” Denny teased with a mild acerbic note to his voice. “But I assume you are used to that.”
The humor fell from Alessa’s eyes, she straightened herself up before looking back down at the stack of files as if contemplating them and the work she still had to do. “I am accustomed to working hard for respect from my peers and superiors, the rest is,” she frowned and gave a dismissive shake of her head, “inconsequential.” She looked back up at him, a bland and somewhat annoyed expression on her face. “There was something you came to say?” she asked.
Denny focused his gaze, taking in her words and their deeper implications. “Yes,” he replied, his teasing manner gone and replaced with warm conviviality. “I wanted to make sure you were settled in properly and had everything you needed. And to welcome you, of course.” He was smiling and polite, his words genuine and not mere platitudes.
“Of course,” she replied warily, uncertain what to make of his fickle attitude towards her. “Thank you, yes, everyone has thus far been helpful. And I suppose…” she began but faded a moment, then looking back up at him continued, “I should thank you, genuinely, for the position,” she amended. “When I left that Tuesday, it didn’t feel as though I could count on it. After the way we began, that is. So, getting the phone call was…surprising to say the least.”
Just for a brief moment, Denny saw under the shield of confidence she wore like armor to the vulnerable girl beneath. He gave an understanding nod. “As I said at the time, my behavior was of my doing, my wrong, and I wouldn’t allow it to color my decision.”
“And I hope that you didn’t simply hand me this job because you were afraid…of anything,” she shrugged looking around.
“Forget about it,” he assured, watching her waves of confidence and vulnerability, “I knew you were the best I interviewed. You were hired because you belong here.” Her eyes returned to his and she struggled to keep her breathing even and her cheeks from flaming. How did his eyes do that to her?
They were silent, Alessa wanting to ask the cause for his fluctuating behavior, especially given moments like now when in one second his words were thinly-veiled, mean jibes and in the next he made her heart speed and her cheeks feel warm. But she wasn’t that brave, nor did she even know if it needed to be asked or if she wanted an answer. “I’ve just started working on some of these cases,” she indicated to the open computer and the files on her desk steering the conversation away from anything uncomfortable.
“Getting familiar with the software?” She nodded. “Then I’ll leave you to it.” He turned to go, but added, “And Alessa, since I did hand you the position, don’t you dare make me look bad.”
Alessa’s eyes widened, but when his back turned to her, she narrowed them in determination. While she didn’t understand the man, the reasoning for his mercurial behavior towards her or her disconcerting responses to him, somewhere—too deep inside for her to even place it—a need awoke and a resolve burned in her. She would prove to Denton Ashbury she had what it took to make it at Wiles, Mayer, and Schecter.
Alessa worked at her desk through the afternoon, not looking up from the files before her. However at six, an internal switch went off. She closed up her paperwork and gathered her things. Denny was chatting with another partner about dinner options when he witnessed Caplin catch up to her at the elevators.
“Hey, newbie!” Josh called stalling her exit. “Leaving so soon on your first day? Don’t you know you’ll have to work more than eight hours a day if you expect to make it here? Usually we order take out when we work late. Interested in staying?”
“Oh, I’ll be back. I just have to run an errand,” Alessa assured him as she punched the down arrow.
“Oh. Okay, then. Well, see you in a while.”
Denny watched as the elevator chimed open and she stepped on, saying nothing as he returned his focus to his own conversation.
Over the following weeks, time seemed to slowly drip by as Denny struggled with Alessa’s nearness and his resolve to take his time to completely understand her before seducing her. He kept as great a distance as possible, only seeking her out to speak with her strictly for business when an email or communication on the server wouldn’t suffice, his words succinct and void of all those little daring words he wanted to say.
Mostly, he would discreetly observe Alessa, watching her interactions with the others, performing subtle reviews on the work she turned in, taking note of what she wore, how late she worked, what she ate.
For the most part, Alessa kept to herself and worked diligently at her desk. Though she was polite and tolerant of her colleagues, she didn’t seem concerned with forming attachments, which didn’t surprise him. And while his first inclination might have been to credit her ambitious, competitive drive for that, something in her eyes made him suspect the reasoning ran deeper, that the avoidance was purposeful and not simply neglectful.
Her work ethic was without question the best he’d seen. Most associates knew that success required sacrifice of time and often worked long hours, but that tenacity never failed to dwindle once the high of being hired at the firm faded. Eventually they found a somewhat suitable balanced rhythm of working roughly ten-to-twelve-hour days. But Alessa seemed dauntless in her pursuit to advance. Often she would already be there, files open, computer on, pens and legal pads abounding, before he even arrived in the morning. And she was always at her desk, in near the same position when he left in the evenings. If it hadn’t been for her change of clothing, Denny would have suspected she slept at the office. And the quality of her work was exemplary, as he knew it would be, and before long, she was the choice interoffice memo writer for several of the partners. She was proving invaluable, and Denny knew she would advance quickly.
Secondly, he noted her habits, namely that she always ate at her desk as she worked; she always ate extremely healthy and never partook of the take out ordering that was common amongst those associates who stayed in the evenings; she would stroke the back of her neck once her hair was up as she read documents; and when she had coffee, she seemed to prefer Starbucks over Peet’s. And he was becoming increasingly interested in her mysterious habit of disappearing every evening at six on the dot, though she would return in an hour and half for another several hours of work. Her clothing was always professional and well-chosen for her figure and coloring. Her hair would begin down in soft waves, but by late afternoon she usually put it up in a ponytail, as though that was who she really was, and with professional hours gone, she could slip more into her own skin. And the few times he allowed himself to be within easy distance of her, he noticed that same sweet aroma he had first noticed in the dark of the alley all those years ago, and that scent invariably aroused an aching yearning he could not satisfy.
While spending the several weeks observing her in order to understand her defenses and discover the chinks in her armor, Denny was also devising ways to spend more time with her. He was vying for a new client that had corporate offices in Seoul. And though there were a few in the office that were fluent in Korean, no one would think it suspicious if he chose the new associate to act as translator and cultural advisor.
He was looking over a rough draft proposal for the client when a knock sounded at his door, drawing his attention up. Macrae stood leaning against his doorjamb with her hands in the pockets of her shiny black pants. She was cool and casual as ever, but her expression gave her away.
“Macrae, come in,” he invited to the beautiful woman. Like a cat, she looked around as though scouting for a better offer, even though she had come to him. She then took a few slow steps while scanning his smaller office, perusing his books as though she’d never seen them, before eventually walking to the side of his desk to lean against the sill and look out his window. He waited patiently, knowing she wanted something, but was unwilling to gratify her by asking what it was.
“So,” she began before turning to look at him. Still he said nothing, but his eyes were calculating and intrigued, a hidden smile tightening his mouth. “Tell me about this new associate.”
Denny’s eyes widened before he narrowed them again. “What is it you want to know about her?”
Now it was Jude’s turn to smile with a hidden understanding. “She’s done well for herself so far. Roy and Keith both say they’ll only use her for their Asian market research now. Even Schecter seemed impressed with her when he asked for an update. I think he was quite impressed with your ability to find such a diamond in the rough, as well.” She smirked at him.
Denny was getting a creeping suspicion. “What exactly is your interest in her, Macrae?”
She studied him a moment. “I suppose that depends on your interest in her.”
Denny sat back in his chair looking at the statuesque beauty that any man would be blessed to be loved by. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but she isn’t like that.”
“You sure?” she asked amused.
“But you’re not really sorry to disappoint me, are you?” she challenged with a seductive and evil glint in her eyes. Denny only smiled wickedly in return. “So you hired her for your own personal interests, then?”
“She has been an excellent employee thus far. There’s no reason, and furthermore, no proof to suspect otherwise.”
“Except your letter of recommendation for the post wasn’t really a recommendation. You were almost begging Schecter and me to hire her. Admit it. You want her and you’re using her job as an excuse.”
Denny could barely contain his smile. “And what if I am?”
“Denny,” she said seriously, “you know the rules. You’ve done an excellent job for yourself and you’ll no doubt be a senior partner someday. But this could ruin your career. If you get into trouble, if you harass her, she’s not the kind to take it quietly. She’ll be trouble for you if you’re not careful,” Jude warned.
Denny sighed and sat forward, his elbows on his desk. “I know what I’m doing. You don’t have to worry.”
“Do you? I wonder,” she murmured as she appraised him. “Well, if you’re certain, then I’ll leave her alone, though I’m not entirely convinced,” she said with a smile in her voice again.
“Trust me, I have near-indisputable proof.”
“In the world of law, that leaves the door wide open for you to be wrong,” she teased.
“But I’m not.”
“Fine. Have it your way. But remember what I said. Don’t screw up your career for a bit of pretty tail.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he answered blithely, having every confidence in himself. Jude left him to his work, her words of warning only serving to further incite his curiosity and solidify his resolve.
Alessa was at her desk, her fingers flying on her keyboard, endless clacking of the keys sounding like a spray of machine gun bullets. “Alessa!” Lou said as she bounced up to her desk. “Did you see you were assigned to be a part of our Mingo Industries’ charter redrafting?”
Alessa looked up to the smiling young woman who seemed to have boundless pep and charisma. Her first day on the job, Lou, who informed her that her full name was Louisa Rachel, but nobody called her that, had introduced herself between swearing at the espresso machine in the employee lounge. Within five minutes Alessa had unwittingly learned; not only her full name, but that she was from the U.K.; she didn’t want to be a lawyer; moving to the states had been her only form of protest against her over-controlling parents; her father was black and her mother Indian; she had no religious affiliation; she was dating a skinny rocker who lived in Oakland; she had two cats, though one was possibly dying from cat diabetes; and she had a blog for fashion and hair, but really couldn’t find the time to keep it as up-to-date as she would like given her heavy work schedule, which she charmingly pronounced as shed-ule. Her easy and open demeanor had been hard to dislike or ignore, as Alessa usually preferred, and so she instead begrudgingly tolerated the pretty sprite.
Alessa had been at first reluctant to be companions with one who wasn’t interested in her own law career, but she quickly discovered that despite any profession of disinterest, Lou was cunning and actually enjoyed drafting some of the best contracts Alessa had ever read. She was also influenced by the Brit-tongued girl’s encouragement of her own career, openly celebrating every small accolade Alessa received for her work. She found her cheerleading style almost disconcerting, given it was contrary to the intensely competitive nature of law school, but Lou’s genuine, sweet personality overrode any mistrust that may have formed.
Alessa had already begun to suspect that her above-average performance was not going unnoticed, and with Lou’s announcement that she was to join an actual team, she was quietly thrilled that the nature of her work was quickly being upgraded. “That’s fantastic,” she responded, keeping her enthusiasm strictly checked.
Lou gave her a comical, disbelieving look. “You could be a little excited. Hell, I remember I didn’t do anything but research and memo writing my first six months here. It’s a big deal Denny assigned you to this team.”
At the mention of his name, Alessa sat up straighter, adjusting her position to take in information. “Mr. Ashbury? This is one of his clients? What sort of company is Mingo?”
“Oh, heavy equipment. You know, like construction equipment. They’re based out of Lincoln-”
“That’s the one, but they’re expanding big time, at least trying to, pushing to be a multinational company. They have offices in L.A., Munich, and now in Seoul. I think their goal is to compete with Caterpillar and Kubota,” she offered nonchalantly as she gazed down at the orderly desk. It was clear to see that Alessa was heavily entrenched in her work, but that she operated in a clean and efficient manner; it was a stark contrast to Lou’s own desk, which was piled high with numerous files and documents scattered haphazardly about. “I can’t believe you get any work done,” she commented with a tinge of disgust.
Alessa followed her gaze to her desk top. “What do you mean?”
“Only that my desk ever looked like this one time. And that was my first day here. Since then it’s been buried under all my paperwork. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went on vacation and didn’t come back and I just haven’t noticed,” she joked.
“I don’t know how you can get any work done with such a messy desk,” Alessa countered, knowing her mind would be just as scattered as her environment if she didn’t keep it tightly reined in. “I can’t think straight when there’s clutter. I have this unavoidable compulsion to clean it.”
Lou gave a very unfeminine chortle at that. “At any rate, I came over to see if you fancied going out for lunch? Or did you pack your veggies again?” she asked coyly.
“Yes, I brought my own food. Not only am I on a budget but I save an hour of my life if I can work right through lunch,” Alessa confessed, returning her attention to the computer to refresh her tasks list as if to confirm she had indeed been recruited for the Mingo team. As Lou had said, there she found three tasks and two new roles assigned to her, one being as official translator for anything Korean. She bit her lip as she tried to hide her smile while Lou still sat there.
“Yes, but what are you saving your life for if you never use it?” Lou quipped. But when Alessa just looked at her confused, Lou gave a shrug of her shoulder. “Fine, be that way. I don’t know why I like you,” she pouted, standing up, “you are such a stick in the mud.”
Alessa gave a self-deprecating, half grin and sigh. “Yes, I’ve been called that before.”
“I don’t doubt it. Alright, later, then,” she called in parting.
With her gone, Alessa attempted to turn back to her work, anxious to finish the project at hand so she could reevaluate her priorities and perhaps move on to Mr. Ashbury’s assignments. She struggled against the spinning nervous tingles in her stomach, her excitement and subsequent anger wrestling against one another. She didn’t care for her response to the prospect of working with him.
In the first weeks of her time there, she found she could avoid thinking about him if she propelled herself deeply enough into her work. Her endeavor was aided by the fact that they infrequently had need to speak to one another, and in those spaces of hours and days when they didn’t interact, she hummed along, putting away her feelings of attraction, driven by the unconscious hunger to impress him. But then she would spy him from across a room, and when she realized she had paused to watch him, all her self-delusion that she could be indifferent to him would crumble.
And now, with an actual project that would repeatedly force her into his presence, apprehension over her uncontrollable, burgeoning attraction put her stomach in knots. And this was only the beginning. She had years to work with this man. Would her response to him ever even out? Would she ever see him as just another man she could ignore like all the rest?
She rubbed her temples and then returned to her work, eventually becoming absorbed enough to make some head way on her to-do list. At six, she closed her work down, grateful to have a reason for detaching herself from the grating of her mind. As usual, she gathered her things and headed toward the elevators.
“Oh, Alessa, I’d like for you to meet someone,” Denny said as they met on their way to leave. Alessa stopped, noticing the man next to him. “This is Hyun-Joong Park. He’s CEO of Kyohan Technologies. Hyun-Joong, this is Alessa Allen, our newest associate and one of our brightest assets,” Denny said, his eyes washing over her warmly.
Alessa was tempted to give a traditional Korean greeting, but Denny had introduced them in English, and it seemed smug to do it now. “Hello, nice to meet you.”
Hyun-Joong took her hand and shook it, smiling broadly. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he returned in English and accent free.
Alessa smiled. Hyun-Joong was not quite as tall as Denny, but taller than most Koreans she knew. He was very good looking, and he had an air about him that said all American, making her wonder about his back ground beyond the business realm. “Of course I know you by reputation. You successfully merged three smaller technologies companies here and in Seoul to create Kyohan.”
“Aw, well, I definitely had the drive, but Denny here was the real mastermind behind the mergers. I couldn’t have done it without him,” he bragged as he slapped a hand on Denny’s shoulder and hung his arm there.
Alessa’s eyes shifted to Denny who was smiling rather boastfully at her. “Ah, yes, I recall reading that when I did my research on you,” she murmured, reluctant to brag on him. “You were fortunate you knew such an entrepreneurial friend, then,” she remarked, not certain if she was digging at him or simply stating a fact.
Denny narrowed his eyes at her, a small smirk on his lips. “I like to think I make my own luck.”
Hyun-Joong chuckled at them. “Well, as much as I enjoy chatting, I am starving, and Denny here has promised to take me for dinner. Why don’t you join us?” he offered.
Alessa turned her gaze back to Denny who nodded. “Yeah, you can come if you want,” interested if she would break her habit of distancing herself if a client was involved.
There was a moment of teetering before Alessa made a decision. “As lovely as that sounds, I really can’t. I have a prior engagement and then I need to get back here to the office. I have several more hours of work ahead of me.”
“Are you sure?” Hyun-Joong prodded, but then relented when he saw Alessa would not. “Okay, well it was very nice to meet you. I look forward to working with you, especially if you’re as bright as Denny says.”
“I would like that, too,” Alessa replied as the three began making their way toward the elevator.
Alessa pushed the down arrow, and as they stood there waiting, Hyun-Joong continued their conversation. “So how long have you been with Wiles?” he asked casually.
“Just a few weeks now.”
“No, I graduated a few years ago, but have been working over at the Asian Museum.”
“Aw,” he intoned as if very interested. “Like Asian cultures?”
She nodded with a smile and then added, “Korean especially,” smiling brightly at the implication.
He smiled in return. “Speak it?”
“As a matter of fact I do.”
“Where did you learn it?”
Denny noticed it appeared as though she were about to give an answer and then changed her mind quickly, offering instead, “College.”
“And where did you graduate?”
“Berkeley. Boalt Hall.”
“Oh yeah? So you’re from around here?”
“Uh, yeah, in Walnut Creek,” she answered, hoping he knew where that was.
“Oh, okay. Been out there a few times. Hiking’s decent out around there.”
“It can be,” she agreed with a smile.
“Do you still live there?”
She gave a small shake of her head. “No, here in the city.”
“Cool.” They reached the ground floor and the door dinged open. “Well, it was nice meeting you,” he said again, shaking her hand once more.
Alessa nodded and then her eyes slid to Denny, feeling the need to slip from his presence as quickly as possible. He was watching her intently, and the force of his eyes made endless eddies roll in her stomach. She nodded once in his direction and quickly split from the two, walking south toward Market. Denny stood there watching her quickly flee.
“Denny, your car’s here,” Hyun-Joong called.
Reluctantly, he tore his gaze from her and got in the waiting car. Over dinner, Hyun-Joong continued to ask questions about Alessa, discovering all he could about the pretty woman. He noted something in Denny’s voice as he answered his questions, something of pride and admiration, as well as desire. But he chose not to breach the topic.
The next evening, Denny was ready to uncover her secret, having already positioned himself in the lobby, leaning against a pillar. Just after six, Alessa emerged from the elevator and strode across the marble floor and out the doors. He waited a second before following her, knowing it wasn’t yet quite dark enough to go unseen if he chanced to get too close. As predicted, she had turned south toward Market again. Denny darted across the street to follow from the other side. At first he counted himself lucky that there were so many people about, filing out of the various buildings to head home for the evening, the crowded street providing ample cover. However, when they nearly reached Market and she turned right and out of his sight, all the people that had acted as cover now stymied his progress. Before he could reach the corner, the light had changed and he was stalled as endless traffic came down Montgomery and turned onto Market. When he at last had the light and dashed back across Montgomery, he had lost her.
The light was now too dim for him to easily see, and he couldn’t find her amidst all the bobbing heads before him. His pace sped, until he was pushing past people in an attempt to catch up with her. He went two blocks before he stopped, realizing she was gone. Perhaps she had caught a bus, or had gone underground to get on the BART, or maybe had slipped into one of the dozens of buildings now looming over him. In any case, she had vanished.
Denny stood on the smooth, maroon brick of the sidewalk, his hands on his hips as he attempted to catch his breath. He scanned repeatedly, giving a last look for any signs of her, but with no luck. And then as he turned to head back to the office, he stopped. Across the street, he spotted her in a second-story window. When traffic was clear, he jogged across and then slowly walked to where he could spy her easily. She stood visible in the high, floor-to-ceiling, corner window of a gym. She was on a treadmill, looking down at her phone. He could just make out the white earphones dangling from her ears. He watched as she seemed happy with whatever she had done to her phone, tucking it onto her arm band, and then turning her attention to the machine she stood on. Before long her legs were moving, gradually picking up speed until she was jogging. Her dark hair swung in rhythm with her legs.
Denny stood on the street, staring up at the lit window, oblivious to pedestrians passing by him; to the sounds of the city; to the other gym-goers visible in the large window. He watched entranced by the figure now running in place, a peace washing over him, somewhere in the back of his mind recalling how she would come to their political science course after she had run and that in her file it reported she had been on the track team at Berkeley in undergrad. It all made sense now, his panic that she had been perhaps meeting someone now dissolving in the reality of those fast swinging legs.
Eventually, he turned his attention back to the street and made his way back to the office. One mystery solved, and so many more to come.