Here’s a scene that didn’t make the cut in Spotless #5, but that I loved. For those of you who wonder what became of Krakky and Hadrian Ellingham after Beating Ruby…
It is now five pm, and I’m sitting in a meeting room on the fifty-ninth floor of EM Group International headquarters. Facing Satan.
Or rather, facing my former big boss’s big boss: Hadrian Ellingham, CEO of EM Group. Super billionaire, possibly a Nazi robot, loves all things Japanese, especially the food. Of course, I never worked directly under his orders: two years ago, I used to be a software engineer at EM Tech, a subsidiary of EM Group. I was a speck of dust under his sole, one of the 80,000 podlings who received their “Tomorrow comes today” T-shirt for Christmas in exchange for their life essence the rest of the year.
As I said earlier, a lot of stuff happened since. I won’t go over the details of what I believe should be made into a movie, but let’s just say I got embroiled in a major hacking incident that would have cost EM seven-hundred million dollars if March and I hadn’t recovered their money—as in literally plucked it back from the claws of a pack of man-eating platypuses! You’d think I’d have gotten a raise, or even a USB mini fridge over this, but Ellingham fired me because he’s an ungrateful douching apparatus.
Having said all this, guess who’s nonetheless still interested in cutting edge encryption protocols for his business? And guess who’s now a private contractor with a shiny degree from Columbia engineering and intimate knowledge of EM’s IT infrastructure? Also, I’m wearing an itchy black blazer and a pencil skirt. I’m totally qualified for this.
My spine has never been straighter as I stare at the pair of aliens sitting across a mile-long meeting table: a vampire in a stiff charcoal suit, with pale blue eyes and slicked-back blonde hair—Ellingham—and his sidekick, a brunette in her late thirties who always wears her red pleated Issey Miyake dress when Ellingham is around—Kerri Lavalle, CEO of EM Tech.
Grazing my laptop’s touchpad to display the last slide of my keynote, I’m careful not to smile or fidget as I drop my final and best line. “It’s a global race out there: the Chinese government is already moving to optical fiber quantum encryption as we speak. I’m not telling you you’re a step ahead of everyone else, I’m saying you’re barely on time for the quantum party.”
The silence that follows my presentation is so thick I’m starting to question reality itself. Have these two noticed that I’ve been sitting across from them for the past fifteen minutes? Am I even in this meeting room? Do I really exist if the quarks composing my atoms can never be directly observed?
Reflected in floor-to-ceiling windows and polished chrome panels decorating the walls, Ellingham trails a bored, icy gaze over the notes on his tablet. Maybe it’s not even the memo I sent him. Maybe he’s checking his mail or his Kawaii Farm ranking—there’s a persistent rumor at EMG that he’s secretly playing. Dammit, I can’t tell because he’s not saying anything, and he looks dead inside, like a store mannequin. Lavalle won’t speak either—she’d never dare to steal his thunder.
I lean back in my chair with my arms crossed and a deadpan face of my own—March does that when a client is hiding something from him or tries to negotiate Struthio’s daily rate.
Ellingham lets go of the tablet to cross his arms too. I brace myself and reach to shut down my laptop. This is the moment of truth… He nods once to himself and at last, speaks. “I see. Miss Chaptal. Follow me. I want you to meet one of our best analysts.”
Wow. Maybe that went better than I thought. Lavalle too shoots up from her chair though, her diaphanous pleated dress billowing around her. Ellingham raises his hand again. “You can leave us, Kerri.”
She whisper-squeaks, “But, Hadrian!”
He grabs his tablet and turns without so much as a glance for her flushing face. “I’ll email you.”
I press my lips tight not to snicker. Yeah Kerri, you don’t get to do the rest of our secret meeting. Because we’re all playing in a remake of Mean Girls and Ellingham is basically Regina.
After Lavalle stomps off, I take my laptop and warily trot out of the meeting room on Ellingham’s heels. We breeze down a dark-paneled hallway past a couple execs and assistants who don’t even dare to look at him. They lower their gaze when it meets mine too, making me realize that Ellingham’s nefarious aura acts like a force field shielding me from corporate assholery. He doesn’t even need to open the upholstered doors to his office: they mysteriously part as he approaches—I’d call it black magic, if I hadn’t noticed the tiny lens of an iris scanner encased in the wall near the doors.
I stare down at my ballet flats as they pass the brass threshold slicing through EM’s signature taupe carpet, toes curling in excitement: I seriously made it all the way to the top! I grip my laptop tighter, ready to sell him at least two weeks’ worth of outrageously overpriced consulting. March has never raised the issue, but I can’t ignore that with his extensive roster of more or less frequentable acquaintances, he brings home a lot more business than I do—all of the business, really. I want to come home tonight knowing I deserve my fifty percent share in Struthio. Island Chaptal: here to win!
A flash of turquoise register to my right, and I freeze in the middle of that minimalist cathedral overlooking Manhattan. Ellingham stopped in front of an aquarium that takes most of the wall behind his ebony desk.
“I presume there’s no need for introductions?” he says, and I could swear that the faint cleft lip scar streaking his cupid bow stirred. Not quite a smile, but nonetheless a sign of life.
My brow furrows in rising confusion until a pair of tentacles unfurl from behind a big rock inside the tank. An algae bush undulates suspiciously, and at last, the aquarium’s sole occupant swirls into view. An octopus, stretching gracious sand-colored limbs before flattening its innumerable suction cups to the glass.
Oh my God… “It’s Krakky!” I chirp, remembering the tiny, gooey baby octopus I saved from my plate at Ellingham’s favorite Japanese restaurant, a year and a half ago.
“Bertram,” Ellingham corrects, a touch of irritation to his voice.
Oh. I wrestle my cringe into a genial smile. I can’t say I like the cigar lounge vibe of it, but I guess it makes sense. Krakky moved from Mesa’s kitchen to a thirty-feet long floor-to-ceiling private aquarium sitting at the top of a skyscraper its employees have nicknamed The Castle because of its cutting-edge facilities and electronic Japanese toilets: he needs the name to go with his elevated social status. Man, he can even watch TV from here, I muse, noticing a glossy multiscreen display facing the tank and Ellingham’s desk across the room.
Recalling the exact chain of events that catapulted a young invertebrate from my sushi plate to Ellingham’s capitalistic claws, I ask: “So you really hired him to predict market trends?”
“Yes,” Ellingham confirms, leaning against his desk. It’s weird to see him . . . sort of relax. “And he’s exceeded my expectations.” Krak—Bertram’s rectangular pupils seem to widen as if he could understand his boss. Ellingham’s mouth goes tight as he adds. “In almost every aspect.”
Bertram’s tentacles coil around his body as he whirls away from the window to fiddle with a bunch of colored cubes lying in the sand. I watch him, fascinated. “How does it work? Does he, like, communicate?”
Ellingham moves closer to the tank. “Yes. We had his cognitive abilities evaluated shortly after he joined the group. His analytical skills were prodigious, especially considering his atypical academic background. He scored better than several tier-two applicants two weeks after we started training him.”
“But . . . training him how, exactly?”
A self-satisfied smirk cracks Ellingham’s controlled facade as he picks up a touch remote from his desk. “See for yourself.” His fingers flutter across the touch screen, prompting a pair of charts to pop up on the screens facing Bertram’s tank. According to their legend, they’re fourth-quarter projections for global refined indium market rates. One features a red line, and clearly predicts a stiff dive, whereas the other is blue and promises steady but limited growth. Ellingham raps at the aquarium’s glass with his knuckles to summon Bertram—who’s been busy burying his cubes under the sand until now. “Give me your opinion,” he says.
The octopus pauses in his business to turn narrowed eyes to the screen. Barely two seconds later, the water becomes clouded with silvery particles as Bertram frantically digs out one of his cubes. The red one. He coils a tentacle around it and swims back toward us, before using the cube to knock at the glass.
“He chose red,” I murmur, not daring to suggest that maybe Bertram just likes that color.
“He did,” Ellingham replies gravely. “His previsions turned negative three weeks ago and have remained consistent since. Market correction started on Monday, and we saved hundreds of millions by selling last week before rates plummeted.”
My hand flies to my mouth to conceal an amazed grin. “But how does he do it?”
“Like every single analyst out there. It’s not magic Miss Chaptal,” Ellingham snaps, his upper lip curling in disdain. “He watches market trends and analyzes public communications and insider intel.” He motions to the multiscreen display. “We feed him keynotes reports, and he watches a dozen different business channels. He favors Bloomberg, Reuters, but he’s not fond of CNBC, and we’ve noticed he seems to struggle with Hindi and Portuguese channels.”
“You make him watch financial stuff twenty-four seven?” I gasp, eyeing the mosaic of screens in horror.
As if he could hear us—and I suspect a sound system allows him to—Bertram flurries across the tank to wrap his tentacles around one of the cubes still resting in the sand. A black one. Once he has a firm grip on the toy, he uses it to tap at the glass urgently. I can’t help but to press my palm to the tank’s cool window, my lips parted in silent stupefaction. Ellingham wasn’t kidding: Bertram is seriously smart, although I have no idea what he wants as he keeps rapping his cube at the glass.
Ellingham’s nostrils flare. His jaw set, he shakes his head. “We’ve already discussed this. You may not watch Bravo during office hours.”
Bertram immediately drops the cube and dashes behind his rock in a vengeful cloud of ink.
His eyes angry blue slits, Ellingham opens his top drawer to retrieve a white cube, which he taps against the tank’s window much like Bertram did before. “Keep giving me attitude and I might forget to turn it on before I leave for the weekend.” He shakes his head and admits in a sigh, “He’s obsessed with Million Dollar Listing.”
I’m thinking, ‘Like father, like son’, but I don’t dare to say it out loud. Ellingham looks pissed enough as it is. “Maybe he does deserve a little extra Bravo for predicting the rise of quantum encryption techs,” I venture. When Ellingham’s brow creases and betrays the slightest hesitation, I push my advantage. “Plus, it’s Friday afternoon: it’s pretty much the weekend already.”
Ellingham’s mouth presses until his scar turns white, but he reaches for the remote and flips through the channels until a wild electro beat blares from the TV’s speakers. An overexcited New York realtor appears on screen, yelling in his iPhone, “Eight point six plus changes for Madison Square Park is a joke. Give me something to work with!”
Bertram immediately slithers out of his hiding spot and glues his suction cups to the glass. Unbelievable… I read conflicting reports that octopuses are deaf but can pick up and react to sound vibrations, which leads me to wonder what a three-beds four baths condo negotiation sounds—or feels—like for a cephalopod. Great, if I’m judging by the way his pupils are widening and he’s rapidly changing colors. As the numbers and the pressure rise between the buyer and seller, Bertram’s skin turns all shades of azure, orange, and silver, reflecting the bright sky, fierce spray tans, and skyscrapers flashing onscreen.
Ellingham dials down the volume, before his cold gaze lands back on me, firing ice shurikens my way. “Let’s leave Bertram to his entertainment.” He crosses his arms again. Defensive stance: bad news. “Now, Miss Chaptal, how much do you expect me to pay for the certainty that no one anywhere on earth will be able to intercept EMG’s communications, not even by physically tapping our optical fiber cables?”
I release a calming breath and crack my knuckles. “Well, the good news is that my consulting fees are gonna be a drop of water in your overall budget.”