Ashes to Ashes – 4 – The Assistant


She sat, reading. Calmly turning the pages, feeling herself enveloped in the world the story laid out before her. She heard a noise outside the office door and quickly hid her book. She sat upright, ready for anything.

“You’re late,” she said as her boss walked in.

“My alarm never went off this morning. Any calls yet?”

“Not yet,” she answered. She thought he looked worn out, much more so than usual. She leaned back in her chair and took a deep breath. It was time to get to work.

Just as she was getting herself organized, the phone rang.

“Hi Judy, it’s Warren. Is he in?”

“I’ll check, just a minute,” she said, putting the call on hold and buzzing her boss.

“It’s Mr. Richards on line one for you,” she said sweetly. There was a pause. Eventually, he buzzed back, saying:

“Tell him I’m in a meeting, and hold all my calls, Judy.”

“Uh… sure,” she answered. This was unusual; the boss never ignored his calls.

“I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting.”

“Listen Judy, it’s important. I really need to talk to him, it’s urgent.”

“I’m sorry, I really can’t interrupt him. He has a very busy schedule today, why don’t you try reaching him tomorrow? Or maybe I could take a message and give it to him later.” There was a long pause on the line, as if he were trying to decide which was the lesser of two evils.

“Alright, make sure he gets this message as soon as possible. Tell him… ah, just tell him to call me alright?”

“No problem, I’ll tell him.”

“Good. So, we still on for later?”

“I’m looking forward to it, Warren,” she answered softly.

“Great, so am I,” he replied before hanging up.

She scribbled the note to give the boss later on and laid it on her desk. A few more calls came during the day, but she was able to work quietly for the most part. She even read a little more of her book at lunch time.

Finally, it was almost six o’clock, time for her to leave. She was meeting Warren at six sharp and she didn’t want to be late. She grabbed her coat and went over to say goodbye to her boss. She knocked on his door and waited. When no answer came, she knocked again.

“Yes?” she heard.

“It’s Judy, it’s almost six o’clock. I was just about to leave,” she spoke evenly, through the door. “I’ve left your messages on my desk.”

“Yes, alright I’ll see you tomorrow then,” came Jack’s reply, his tone flat, as usual. She sighed, turned and started walking down the corridor, headed for the elevator. She felt unappreciated. She was tired of her job. When she had first applied to be research and administrative assistant to a renowned microbiologist, it seemed like a great opportunity, a job full of promise. When she had been interviewed and offered the job, she couldn’t believe her luck. It had been too good to be true. Her ‘research’ efforts had consisted of reviewing her boss’ papers before publication–mostly internal publication at that. She hadn’t seen the inside of a laboratory for months. She sighed again. At least it payed reasonably well.

As she was making her way down the hall, she heard a door open behind her and Jack calling her name. She turned around, torn from her thoughts and saw him walking toward her.

“I… I, um, just wanted to say… thank you, Judy. You did great work,” he said.

“Well, it was tough doing what I do everyday, especially when I don’t even have to transfer any calls to you,” she replied facetiously and regretted it as soon as she said it. Here was the praise she had been seeking, handling every detail, working late nights… before becoming disillusioned.

“But thank you,” she added quickly, trying to sound as sincere as she could, despite her surprise. He reached out awkwardly and she smiled and shook his hand. He patted her on the shoulder, making her feel even more awkward, so she just nodded and turned. She walked to the elevator, wondering what had prompted the out of character behaviour. He had recently made a major breakthrough. She expected him to be reveling in the praise of his peers. Instead, he looked haggard and worried. She wondered what was bothering him. A woman, she decided.

She reached the elevator and headed down to the lobby. The doors opened and she walked past the front desk, nodding at the guard who smiled and nodded back. She opened the door, and stepped outside where the rain struck her like an angry wave. She was looking for her umbrella when she felt a strong hand grip her shoulder and spin her around. She found herself looking at an old man in dirty clothing, speaking very loudly and quickly. A wild light flickered in his eyes as he ranted wildly.

“…now, they have something new.”

“What? Who are…? What are you talking about?” she asked irritably.

“They have a virus, a weapon, a tool. It seems harmless, like a cold or a flu. I know because they infected me with it…”

In her shock at being accosted so roughly, she stood frozen. She tried to follow the verbal avalanche coming from the man. At first, she took it for the rambling of a lunatic, but a few sentences resonated. It almost sounded like he knew something about her boss’ work. But the thought faded as he reverted to sheer nonsense.

“Like a zombie!” the man was saying. “Well, not like a zombie, I mean everyone is like a zombie! But I couldn’t say no to them. But I got away! I had to! I have to warn everyone! I’m warning you!”

Recovering from her stupor at last, she shouted back.

“Let go of me!”

“Did you hear me?” he cried in anger.

She kicked him in the shin and wrenched her shoulder free from his grasp. As he bent over to rub his injured leg, she wheeled and walked away at full speed. She took a deep breath to calm herself.

“Crazy old man,” she thought, “they shouldn’t allow people like that to roam the streets. He should be in an institution.”

Yet something he had said bothered her. She couldn’t pinpoint what it had been… A loud crash of broken glass in the distance snapped her out of her thoughts. She looked around briefly before glancing at her watch and cursing softly.

She walked quickly, trying to make up for lost time. She finally arrived at the pre-arranged intersection. Glancing across the street, she saw Warren waiting for her, looking tense. She waved cheerfully and quickly checked both sides of the street before starting to cross. She waved again as she walked into the street.

Suddenly, she heard a loud screech of tires. She started to turn toward the sound when she heard another screech and felt a sudden overwhelming jarring pain. The world became a blur of sickening motion and blinding agony. She felt herself falling and her body crashed into hard asphalt. Suddenly, the pain seemed to fade very quickly, her vision became piercingly clear and the world around her became deathly silent. She could see Warren running toward her, as though in slow motion. He knelt by her head.

Her mind drifted and strangely, the vagrant’s words came back to her. Something about a virus…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *