Lex lies in a restless funk on his too-soft bed, eyes wide open and
semi-focused on a jagged crack in the ceiling. His mind is overflowing with
words and wishes. He wants to talk, but there is not a solitary soul inside
of his world that he wants to talk to about the things now rumbling through
his mind. Lex doesn’t want to be considered a trivial man. He knows that if
he were to speak, his words would come out as a jumble of cross-references
and non-sequiturs. Besides, all personal matters are supposed to be OBE now.
After all, the world has changed forever, even if Lex has not.
Connie lies beside him deep in sleep, dead to the world, unmoving. Lex
has an urge to touch her cheek to see if she’s still warm, to see if she is
still alive. He does. She is.
The alarm clock will be going off any minute. Lex knows that the
benevolent thing for him to do would be to get up right this moment and
reset the clock for ten or ten-thirty. Connie has got to return to the
Pentagon at noon for a forty-eight hour stretch, two sixteens and an eight,
split up by a couple of four hour naps on an army cot in a crowded
It does occur to Lex that if the alarm clock were to go off before he
had a chance to reset it, and if the sound was loud enough to arouse Connie
from her slumbers, perhaps he would be able to chat with her for a short
while before he had to head off for work.
Lex realizes that Connie is the one most in need of an opportunity to
talk; she has lost a couple of co-workers and a former boss in the Pentagon
attack. She's been working around the clock, and she is quickly developing a
hacking cough from all the smoke that she has had to inhale over the past
three days. The fires at the Pentagon are still smoldering, and the smell of
burning plastic and wiring and plaster and probably many things worse seep
into her office, in spite of the large floor fans which gallantly attempt to
vent the corridors.
With a little bit of luck, her workgroup should be getting temporary
quarters in Crystal City sometime in the next few days, away from the smoke
and the smell. That’s If the Navy feels like giving up a
little bit of their precious but plentiful office space. Christ, they occupy
half of Crystal City.
Lex wishes that he had a little more office space of his own.
These thoughts, Lex realizes, don’t matter much anymore. The best
thing he can do is keep them to himself.
The alarm clock does go off. It's Howard Stern at a bit past six, and
the show is just getting started. Howard is not bothering with much humor
this week, he is acting like a responsible news show host, perhaps a bit
more loose than most but still playing it straight, talking to the mayor,
the New York cops, doing a bit of cheerleading for the U.S. of A. It’s the
new, responsible Howard. The world has changed forever. Lex listens for ten
or fifteen minutes. You go to sleep and there is so much new happening by
the time you rise.
doesn't even cause Connie to stir. Sighing, Lex rises heavily from bed,
switching off the radio and resetting the alarm for ten-fifteen. He feels a
great surge of empathy for himself.
This has been a miserable week and there’s still today to live
through. Lex is now required to sign in with Mr. Rangler's secretary, Anima
Mundi, every morning when he arrives at work, and she'll rat him out if he
arrives even a minute late. Horrid woman. Snaggle-toothed old Harpy.
‘Your workday begins when you are sitting behind your desk with your
computer turned on, not when you're still lollygagging out in the parking
lot.’ So Lex has been told.
Yesterday Lex had been charged a quarter hour of leave for showing up
at 8:07. The day before he had taken liberal leave – it was available, and
he thought he had a justifiable reason. His wife was still at the Pentagon
and he was feeling tired and ill, but this wasn’t good enough. When he
returned to work, he had gotten quite a condescending lecture from one of
his so-called superiors for this willful act of shameful cowardice.
Apparently, every other person in his division except for Melinda had shown
up for work on Wednesday. And Melinda was to be expected.
The lecture boiled down to something much like this: A workers
response on September 12th represented nothing less than the
most basic expression of pride, loyalty and patriotism. It was a vitally
important symbolic act of support just to be corporally here at the job. You
I’m unpleasantly surprised that you either don’t or can't understand
that concept, Thompson. Wake up and smell the coffee. You must imagine
yourself as someone pretty special, and you're dead right about that, just
not in the way that you're thinking. You are a gear, you are a cog, we are a
watch, we are at war, we work as one. If the terrorists are able to scare us
away from our given mission, then we leave the soldiers on the sidelines. I
would have to say that’s an act that comes pretty close to sabotage,
wouldn't you? To be responsible for something as important as ensuring the
smooth operation of our Armed Forces' supply chain, and to just shrug that
duty off… Shit, Thompson, if we bow down to the pressure, then the
terrorists will have already won.
The speech rambled on for much longer than this, and the chastised but
unrepentant Lex was already creating rude and amusing variations of it in
his mind while it was being given. Co-workers smirked as they walked past,
some stopping to catch an earful. Lex wasn't sure what the terrorists would
have won, but if it was his job, they could have the fucker.
And what about those terrorists anyway? Flying Kamikaze into American
buildings filled with innocent people. Inhuman. That’s the word. Insane, any
way you looked at it. Maybe their hands should be boiled in oil. How many
more terrorists were lurking out there in their secret lairs? Scores of
them, perhaps hundreds, living the good life in Florida and Jersey, praying
to Allah and waiting their turn at martyrdom. Willing, perhaps, to crash
flaming planes into the very building where Lex was forced to spend a third
of his life. Are there more on their way now?
Well, there damn well could be, that's what the president was
intimating. There are thousands of these Al Qaeda cells, hidden all over the
world - that’s what they’re saying - many of them right here in this very
country, ready and willing to snuff me out like a candle.
What could be a more tragic fate, Lex wondered, than dying with leave
on the books?
Lex has yet to learn
anything further about his fate and future on the job, but he knows without
a doubt that something truly dreadful is coming his way. Oh yes, that much
is a certainty, a matter of when, not if. Losing his office and his job
title to that horrible Harry Johnson, that wouldn't be the end of the story.
Oh no. Indeed not.
And now the lighter side
of Lex makes an appearance.
But on the other hand, consider the situation. Today is Friday, thank
God, and if nothing else happens before quitting time, what with the aura of
fear, the heightened state of alert, and all the attendant confusion, they
might forget about me. All I have to do is hide back here in my new little
cubicle. I can wait them all out. Five more years and I'm outta here. I can
do five years standing on my head. Keep a low profile. Catch up on my
The cubicle is not all that bad, to tell you the truth. Probably the
nicest thing about it is the ability to hear people headed in your direction
from a mile away. And better yet, once they arrive, they can't really make
it back into your space without exerting quite an effort. You can easily
make it worth their while to just forget about trying to see you. For
example, take a coat, and since there's really not enough space to put up a
hook without invoking the wrath of the safety inspectors, you just hang the
coat over the edge of the narrow entryway and it cuts off access by at least
There is barely enough room in the cubicle to fit a small wooden
'guest' chair, where, theoretically, someone could sit were they to
successfully breach your perimeter in an attempt to speak with you. Sure,
that might be problematic in the business world, but it's easily addressed
on a government job. You just have to make sure that there's paper to burn,
and always be sure to have a healthy two foot pile of reports, tech
advertising, and periodicals stacked on the spare seat.
Maybe I can slip on by, Lex thinks.
All of Fort Belvoir is
operating on Threat Level Bravo, dealing with the evolving situation as best
as can be expected. The guards have not received nearly enough training in
how to deal with Islamic Terrorists - that needs to go into next year's POM
- but they are learning the territory fast; checking out incoming cars with
castered ground mirrors and bomb sniffing dogs, X-raying laptops, checking
and double checking IDs. Doing a pretty good job. The base is not as chaotic
as Lex would like to imagine.
Forget about Me? Nahh, that won't happen.
Lex tries to remain an unrepentant pessimist. It is an attitude that
has always protected him from unpleasant surprises. Government business runs
on dominance and submission, Lex theorizes. It is not written down in a
directive or a MFR, but everyone understands the rules of the game.
It can be a mighty stressful task to try to fire a government employee
these days, what with the union breathing down your neck every minute and
all of the paperwork involved, but humiliating a worker, that's a breeze.
Union don't mind. This is an area where management creativity gets a chance
to shine. You can have a true quid pro quid, where the employee is at least
as miserable as the manager. That is their common bond.
As Lex stumbles out of his little cubicle (accidentally kicking his
gray plastic rubbish bin into space) and heads down for a smoke, he looks at
the place where his cartoon used to be - just a memory - now replaced by the
odious Dilbert. This particular strip features the character Wally. Wally is
described on the official Dilbert web site as a "thoroughly cynical employee
who has no sense of company loyalty and feels no need to mask his poor
performance or his total lack of respect." Wally is wearing a new shirt in
today's strip - someone has monogrammed it with a large L.T.
Well, thinks Lex. Well.
He swings by Anima's desk and spies his old nameplate strategically
displayed inside the secretary's circular file.
Only five hours until Happy Hour.