First Page: Unpublished Fantasy Novel
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Anwicke International wasn’t on a main thoroughfare after all. Nor was it the sleek skyscraper Reid expected. The pre-war building with its weathered cornices and grimy windows barely cleared the topmost branches of the creaking oaks huddled around it. That it still stood might be testament to a small town’s civic-mindedness. That it hadn’t been condemned years before was more likely testament to a small town’s lack of funds to raze the place.
Reid glanced at the envelope in his hand and up at the street numbers carved in granite. The numbers stubbornly continued to match.
“Damn.” He’d never again take another job out-of-state without first staking out the business and getting an eyeful of the amenities. This eyeful was discouraging, but as he made his way up the Mayanesque steps to the entrance, he doggedly reassured himself that this job would be better than the job he’d left in Colorado. Not to mention the ones in Arizona, Nevada, and California.
Well, maybe not California. At least-‘not Angela and Cathy. And Denise. Oh, Denise. He still occasionally regretted leaving that job behind. Any hope that Anwicke employed pretty receptionists faded as he stepped into a chilly lobby and took note of the bulky mahogany desk and the person, neither young nor female, seated behind it. Eighty if he was a day, the receptionist raised a snow-white head and squinted out across the scuffed green linoleum like the captain of the Titanic hunting with an uneasy eye for whatever had just bumped into his boat. Down came the bifocals resting on his head and he seemed to remember someone else’s instructions to smile, which he did with ungainly effort. “Welcome-‘” He cleared his throat and went on in a voice still as thin and hoarse albeit sincere. “Welcome to Anwicke International, son. What can we do for you today?”
Reid glanced at the name plate on the corner of the cluttered desk. Gairden Smith. “I’m Reid Delaney, Mr. Smith.” He stuck out a hand and Smith’s thin fingers wrapped around his with a fragile grip. “I’m here to see a Mr.-‘” He checked the envelope again. “Mr. Adlam or Mr. Leach. Either of those gentlemen in?”
Smith’s smile collapsed and a hesitant confusion took over. “Mr. Adlam? Mr. Adlam’s passed on, I believe. Yes, yes, that’s right. Adlam’s dead.” He held on distractedly to Reid’s hand. “Had the funeral-‘oh, what? In the winter. That’s right. Poor old Adlam. I’m afraid you won’t be able to see him.” His watery blue eyes regained focus, his mouth twitching. “Unless you’re hit by a bus.”
A receptionist with a macabre sense of humor. Maybe the job wouldn’t be too bad. Reid relaxed into a grin and slipped unobtrusively free of Smith’s grip. “I think I’ll hold off on that for another fifty or sixty years, if it’s okay with you. Mr. Leach is still around, isn’t he?” Since Leach had signed the letter less than a month ago, Reid certainly hoped so.
The light of amusement went out of Smith’s gaze, shadows of uneasiness taking its place. He glanced down the corridor to his left, then his right. “He’s always around. Always around.” His voice had dropped to a near-whisper. “Second floor. Waiting room’s at the end of the hall.” He fumbled for the old fashioned buzzer fixed to the side of his desk. “Stairs are that way,” he said, gesturing, “if you don’t care for the elevator.”
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