Mark poked his head into Scott’s office. It was their morning ritual.
“Hey,” Mark said. “Good morning. You’re here early.”
Scott spun around in his swivel chair. He was holding a donut, and white powder framed his mouth. “Hey,” he replied. Then, smiling: “You heard what happened across the street?”
Mark leaned against the office doorframe, sliding his messenger bag to the industrial-carpeted floor. It was heavy from his laptop and the charger and all the files he’d brought home last night to work on the Atlas Project in bed. “No. What happened?”
“Some guy on 4,” Scott said. He took a small bite of his donut. Between bites: “They found him dead in his cube this morning.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Mark usually tried to watch his language in the office, but it was still early and no one else was in yet. From the window in Scott’s office, Mark could see the parking lot at the main building across the street slowly filling up.
Scott shook his head. “Nope. Not kidding.” And then he stuffed the rest of the donut into his mouth. “Poor fucker,” he said through a full a mouth. He swiveled his chair and his attention back to his laptop screen. “Grab a seat,” Scott told Mark without looking up. “I just gotta finish this e-mail. Almost done.”
Mark stepped fully through the doorframe, dragging his messenger bag across the stained carpet. He plopped into a seat at the little chair-table combination next to the couch. Scott’s office was pretty nice, considering the overall state of the aging building. And while Scott was the manager of their little team, he treated Mark and most of the other guys like peers. Friends, really. Work friends.
Mark waited until Scott had finished typing before he spoke again. “Seriously? Like, was he murdered? What happened?”
Scott swiveled back around and rolled his chair to the little table, joining his work friend Mark. He leaned forward and smiled again. “Sounds like he never went home last night, and his wife finally called. Like, she found the number to security at the front desk across the street, and she called them. They found him at like 3 this morning. Dead in his chair. Heart attack, probably.”
Scott paused for just a moment before adding: “I bet his eyes were open.”
“Jesus,” Mark said, and shuddered a little. “That’s fucked. I mean – Jesus. How’d you hear about this?“
“I got in early today. Had that meeting at 7 across the street. Sucked. Left home so fucking early to get there on time. Traffic was terrible.” Scott stood up suddenly. Mark was still seated, looking at his hands.
“Cops were all over the front of the building,” Scott said. “Wanna grab some coffee?
The two walked to the elevator and took it down one floor to the cafeteria, Mark staring at his shoes, Scott staring at his phone. Workers from other floors and other departments were trickling in to the building. Many of them would spend the day going back and forth between this building and the big one across the street for meetings.
There was a small line for coffee in the lobby cafeteria. Mark and Scott waited for their drinks – cream, three sugars both – and found a table near the window.
“Any idea who he was?” Mark asked as they sat.
“The dead guy, Scott!”
From her work-station across the cafeteria, the cashier raised her head and looked in their direction, alarmed.
“Jesus, Mark. Shhh.” The cashier returned to her newspaper. Scott blew on his coffee and said “Nope. No idea. But he was on 4. That’s all accounting and admin up there. No one we know, probably.”
“Jesus.” Mark said again, and stared out the window to the big building across the street.
“What’s going on at home?” Scott asked, brightly.
More employees entered the cafeteria, seeking coffee and donuts.
“Ah. Nothing new, really. You?”
Mark wasn’t quite ready to change the subject. “So, who told you about the dead guy?” he asked.
Scott sipped his drink, played with his napkin. “Murphy. I had that 7 with him. Can’t believe I said yes to that invite.”
“I know. Why did ya?”
“I need his help on Atlas. He’s a dick. But he’s an early bird, and he’s willing to help. Guess he saw the cops taking the guy’s body outta there at like 6 or so.”
Mark leaned back, stretching his arms against the table. “Murphy was here at 6? Jesus.”
“Yeah, he always is. But he leaves at 2:30 every day. For the bar, probably.” Scott laughed again.
“Oh.” They finished their coffee.
“They’ll find him dead at his desk next,” Scott said, standing. “You done?
“Lets head upstairs. I’m gonna grab a donut. You want one?”
“No, I’m good. Thanks. Have one in my bag upstairs.”
They rode the elevator up one floor and walked back to Scott’s office. Mark retrieved his bag while Scott rolled his chair back to his deck.
“I’ll see you later,” Mark said.
“Send me your Atlas updates, please.”
“Door opened or closed?”
Scott didn’t look up from the fresh donut on his desk. “Closed, please.”
Slinging his messenger bag over his shoulder, Mark closed the door behind him and slowly walked to his cubicle. It was tucked in a corner several hundred feet from Scott’s office. Mark’s was an older cube, and unlike the sleek ones with the low walls they’d installed last year to encourage collaboration, his had high walls that tended to keep out unscheduled visitors. He liked it that way.
Mark sat down and retrieved his laptop and his donut from his bag.
And then he started his day, in peace and quiet.