After Farker had gone Max could have taken the rest of the day off. There were plenty of CEOs who did that sort of thing, he knew, following the ancient advice: let your people do their jobs and get out of the way. He was well aware that having a boss look over your shoulder might inspire certain types to work harder, but in his opinion, that could be overdone. It's hard to work on a computer while looking over your shoulder. And after all, what was the point of being the boss if you chained yourself to an office?
He swiveled in his leather executive chair and gazed out across the darkening New York cityscape. (His children called it Nyork, but he preferred the older, longer name. He'd be damned if he would bow to fashion just to save one syllable.) The street lights far below had already switched on in the dimming of dusk, catching up at last to the glimmering Cubist Christmas trees of the skyscrapers. Rivers of cars flowed toward him and, once past the PanGames building, continued unseen, outward to the west, as the old city exhaled, blowing most of its population back to their homes in the suburbs. Past the glittering monoliths, out over the Atlantic a wall of gray was closing in on the city. Within it, lightning flashed in synaptic sparks, threatening an evening rain. He made a mental note to ask Farker again if there was any way to improve the computer's electrical shielding.
The problem, he realized, was that he liked his office. But why was it so important for executives such as he to perch so high in their concrete roosts? He amused himself by ticking off the reasons and rationales. First, there was the advantage of inconvenience. You get fewer trivial interruptions when you're sixty floors above street level. Second, there was physical security: the higher up you were, the fewer break-ins. Third, there was the prestige. Everyone assumed the higher up in the building you were, the more important you must be. Well, nearly everyone. He'd read in Farker's file that the man had declined an upper office, saying he wanted to be closer to his beloved computer, buried deep inside the edifice. He had to laugh at that one. His impression was that Farker had made himself too comfortable here. Then there was a fourth reason, the obvious one for an executive: he was close to the landing pad on the roof.
But screw all that. The real reason for him, and, he suspected, for most other executives, was simply the view. Real estate was precious here. Anyone in the lower four-fifths of the building would find themselves looking out at the vertical wall of an adjacent building. Only the upper offices of the taller skyscrapers could see out over the rooftops and get a really good look at the whole Apple.
It was empowering, that view. In ancient times, he believed, kings and queens had gazed out from their tower apartments over the huddled roofs of their Keeps and out, across the curtain walls of their castles. You'd never catch a king living in a basement. He imagined that the Pharaohs had ascended to the tops of their pyramids on occasion, surveying their domains from the pinnacles of their man-built mountains of stone. He was merely doing the same, every day.
Yes, he liked his office. He'd worked hard for it. This was his castle, his reward, his monument. Sheila called it his prison, especially on nights when he stayed late, like tonight. But he didn't give a rat's ass. He lifted his cigar out of the ashtray and surveyed it. It had gone out. By now Sheila would be pretending to resent finishing an early dinner while she prepared herself to venture forth for an assignation. His progeny would be busy studying (i.e., partying) in their Ivy League dorm rooms. So why rush home?
Standing, he padded across the expanse of carpet to the liquor cabinet, dropped a couple of ice cubes in a glass and poured himself a couple fingers of Stolichnaya. Jiggling his hand, he swirled the glass's contents, letting the tinkling of the ice soothe him while he thought about the test results. The melting ice orbited in the tiny whirlpool, echoing the spinning in his head he had felt when the prognosis was delivered.
Crossing the room again, he let himself fall into the padded chair and picked up the cigar again to stab the burnt end into the maw of the executive lighter. A red flash of laser light winked, and it re-ignited. He raised it to his mouth and took a puff. Why not? The damage was done. He swallowed a mouthful of the vodka and took a deep drag on the cigar. Take that, you fuckers! he told his traitorous lungs.
He coughed and dropped the cigar into the ashtray, rotating to gaze out the window again. The gray wall was closer now. Maybe he should stay even later than he had planned. He didn't relish the thought of calling for his floater only to become a bubble of air in a tempest. But the gray wall was coming; his eyes said so, and so did the twinges in his lungs. It was coming both inside and outside him.
Outside, the gray wall was only meteorology. What an absurd word, he thought, recalling that as a boy he had actually thought it meant the study of meteors. But it was colliding air masses, temperatures and pressures, gradients and updrafts, the cold and clinical stuff that modern science had raised in opposition to the more personal myths of storm gods. Progress marches on, hooray!
Inside him was another story. Deep in there, one or more cells had fomented rebellion, refusing to do their ordinary jobs. Oh, they still consumed glucose and oxygen, the bastards. In fact, they secreted chemical messages demanding more, telling his body to digest itself to feed the growing tumor, the mass of cellular freeloaders who existed now only to feed and multiply.
He knew now from his reading that many cancer patients died from the wasting rather than from the tumor itself. Oh, the tumor itself could kill, certainly, if it happened to be in the heart, brain, spine or kidneys. The vast metropolis of his body, like the city outside, had its essential services and would die if they were interrupted. For the city outside, these were water, power, gas lines, sewer lines, and such. For the city of his body, they were the power lines of his nerve fibers, the piped circulation of his blood, the waste removal of his kidneys and bladder, and so on.
He took another slug of vodka. It was funny, in a way: he had actually been happy to be losing weight without dieting. Until he found out why.
Max thought himself a realist. He had left organized religion behind him long ago. There was no Thor out there in the approaching thunderclouds, swinging a mighty hammer, no old gods bowling with Rip Van Winkle. No Heaven, and no Hell, just “this petty pace” that leads us all from the mystery of our birth to death, the period at the end of everyone's life sentence.
Now, he found that he wanted to believe. Wanted for there to be a happy ending, Paradise or Valhalla, something that would make sense of the whole rooster parade. But he just couldn't make himself swallow the sugar pill of organized religion; he was sure it was only a placebo designed to allay despair, or the bogey man of eternal punishment for finite transgressions, the threat of a celestial bully who disapproved of misbehavior, conjured by priests to maintain order in a society that might otherwise collapse into anarchy.
But oh, how he wanted to believe. He stared down into his glass, seeing that the ice had nearly melted away, as the fat cells in his body were melting in response to the chemical commands of the metastasized rebellion within him. They used to say we're blocks or rocks carved by experience, and Time is the sculptor, he thought. And I believed I was a mountain. But all this time I was really an iceberg.
And icebergs melt.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish