Fool's Gold (Contemporary Romance) (10 page)

BOOK: Fool's Gold (Contemporary Romance)
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Chapter 17

didn’t do hangovers. He wasn’t really a drinker. Sure a beer or two with dinner and the odd night of excess were well within his experience, but the nights of excess were generally planned for a Friday or Saturday, not a Sunday when he had to get up the next morning. And definitely not when he had to go to a freaking interview.

“You doing okay, Beta-dude?” Jerome walked alongside him, nursing a cup of coffee.

“I’ll live.” He wasn’t entirely sure he would. The morning sunlight was making his headache worse, and his stomach felt like it had been hit with a steamroller.

“Here.” Jerome stopped at a food cart. “Two bagels, cream cheese,” he said to the proprietor.

The swarthy guy running it nodded and set to work with a wickedly long knife. Jerome paid him the $2.50 and passed Beta a bagel.

“It’ll help settle your stomach.”

Beta took it a bite. Anything would have to help. “Thanks.” The bagel was warm and soft and practically melted in his mouth.

They continued on down Hudson, across Houston and past a park. “That’s my building,” Jerome said, a block later. “You’re just up there.”

“I can find it on my own.”

“It’s cool, dude. I don’t need to hurry into the office. We’re pretty laid back, and besides, no one else will be in until at least nine.”

They stopped at a pale stone building. A set of glass doors led to the office space. A bistro flanked it on the left, a liquor store on the right. It made for a convenient lunch combination.

“This is you, dude. Good luck.” Jerome shook Beta’s hand. “They said this should be an all day thing. Call me when you finish.”

“Will do.”

Beta discarded his half-eaten bagel and let himself through the doors. The security guard at the desk took his name and left him to wait. Butterflies were dogfighting in Beta’s stomach. Jerome and Charity hadn’t kept him out much past midnight, but they’d gotten a little carried away at some bar. The place had a hundred beers on tap, and they were all awesome. A few minutes later a middle aged guy in a gray suit with a vest came to retrieve him.

“Benjamin?” The guy shook his hand. “I’m Bob. Come on up.”

Beta followed him into the elevator, already worrying that he wasn’t dressed up enough. He had a blazer over a periwinkle shirt and his newest pair of Dockers, but that was a far cry from a freaking vest.

Bob led him through a soulless cubicle farm to a conference room with a view of the rooftop next door and the side of the building two doors down. “You’ll be in here for a while,” Bob said. “Two of our architects will be coming to do the first round of questions.”

Beta sat in a mesh chair at the far end of the table and waited. It was cold in the conference room. Sterile. His eyes still burned, and he was sure they were bloodshot. The humming from the fluorescent lights was making his headache worse.

Two programmer types came in and introduced themselves. Sven and Paul. They were young. Probably not even thirty. Beta wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not. All the software architect types in Omaha were older, but if New York was a hipper, younger environment that was fine by him. The thing that threw him, though, was their suits. Their suits were nowhere near as nice as Bob’s, but still a step above Beta’s blazer. Beta wasn’t sure if this was a software company or an investment bank.

“So, Ben, we have some questions for you about your experience.” Sven pushed his blond hair out of his eyes. “Can you tell me how long you’ve been doing development in C++?”

C++? Beta glanced between Sven and Paul, trying to decide if it was a joke. “No? I haven’t ever used it.”

“Oh.” Sven scribbled on the notepad in front of him.

“That’s fine.” Paul turned his paper over. “Your resume says you’ve done web development. Python, PHP, some work with Ajax.”

“Yes.” That was a line of questioning that made sense, at least.

They followed that with some elementary object oriented questions. Kid stuff. The position was supposed to be entry level, but “what is an object?” seemed too simple.

“Now we have some logic questions for you.” Paul said it, but Beta’s eyes were on Sven. He was doodling on what looked like a resume, not really paying attention.


“Why are manhole covers round?” Paul had an intense expression, as if the question really mattered.

“Uh...” Beta tried to remember the right answer. This was some crap question Microsoft had used back in the ‘90s, back before everyone realized brain teasers were a terrible way to measure software people. “Because manholes are round?”

Paul frowned and scratched at his notepad. “Okay, you’ll need to write on the white board for this one. Can you code a Shell Sort for us in C++?”

Beta cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t know C++.” Then, because he couldn’t help himself, he added, “You already asked me about that, remember?”

Paul’s frown deepened. “So code it in Python or something.”

Beta grabbed a dry erase marker and faced the white board. A Shell Sort wasn’t something that got used much, and he couldn’t remember how it worked. It was a stupid question. He could google it in thirty seconds and write it, but he had a feeling that wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

He started outlining what he could remember, then gave up. “I don’t remember it. Could I just do a quicksort instead? It’s more efficient, anyway.”

“No, that’s alright.” Paul scribbled furiously while Beta sat back down.

“I think we’ve covered all we need to cover.” Sven stood up, gave Beta a nod and left without so much as a thank you. Paul filed out after him.

Beta stared at their empty seats in shock. Had they really just abandoned him? He was still staring when Bob came back in.

“Well, Mr. Tanner, we really appreciate you coming all this way to see us. If you’ll come with me?” He motioned toward the door out of the conference room.

“What do we have next?”

“We’re finished.”

Beta stumbled, caught himself on a cubicle wall. “I’m sorry?”

“We’ve covered all we need to cover, Mr. Tanner.” Bob stopped at the elevator and let Beta enter before him. Then he leaned around the corner and punched the button for the ground floor. “I trust you can find your way out?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Have a good day then.” He turned and walked away, leaving Beta to ride to the lobby alone.

Beta wanted to puke. His hands shook. He walked through the lobby and back out to Houston Street in a daze. They scheduled him for an all day set of interviews, and then they kicked him out after barely an hour? And they had asked terrible questions. He stumbled over to one of the trees that lined the sidewalk and leaned against it. People strolled past, ignoring him.

He forced himself to be positive. He had met Murderboat, finally. He had seen New York for the first time. And if he was lucky, he might even get to see Victoria. 

Chapter 18

checked her watch, tapping her foot nervously as she did it. The N train was running right on schedule, but she wasn’t. Beta had one night in town, and his sister was in Philadelphia. That left her to go see him on her own, and she was already half an hour late.

The train stopped at the Prince Street station and she hurried out, pushing her way through the crowd. Hudson Square wasn’t part of the city she knew, but her phone indicated the bar where they were supposed to meet was only three blocks from the station.

She reached the top of the stairs and emerged into a light rain. It was getting cold enough that she wished she’d brought something heavier than a jacket. Half a block down Houston, her phone buzzed. “Hey Trent.”

“Hey, baby, I got out of work earlier than I thought. You want to get something to eat?” He sounded tired. The last time they’d talked he thought he’d be at the office until midnight, so it probably wasn’t good news that he was out at half past eight.

“I’m going to meet Beta from back home. Hold on--“ She sneezed away from the phone. “Sorry. Did you guys meet?”

“The dweeb from the concert? Yeah, I remember him. Where are you going? I’ll meet you.”

“Uh...” She didn’t really want Beta and Trent in the same room together. They were from different parts of her life that were better off separate.

“What, is he like some ex-boyfriend or something?”

“He is a boy and he is--was--a friend.” Victoria stopped under an awning as the rain picked up.

“Look, I don’t know why you think meeting ex-boyfriends behind my back is just fucking okay, but I don’t like it.”

“Jesus, Trent. It’s not like that. If you want to come, then come. We’ll be at Antarctica on Hudson Street.”

“Fine.” The phone went dead.

Victoria stuffed her phone into her pocket. How he could go from charming to prick in ten seconds boggled her mind. She ducked her head against the rain and hustled down the street, trying to stay as dry as possible.

It didn’t work. She was pretty well soaked by the time she reached the restaurant. A glance in the mirror behind the bar showed her looking like a soaked kitten. Fabulous.

“Victoria, over here.” Beta was sitting at a table by himself, two pint glasses in front of him: one empty and the other nearly so. He looked like he had on the same clothes he’d worn he’d taken her out back in June in Omaha.

“Mr. Tanner. Good evening.” She forced herself to smile.

“You sound like hell, Vicks.”

“I have a cold or something.”

“Sorry to hear that. I didn’t think you were going to make it.” He finished off the nearly empty beer. The glass wobbled as he set it on the table, and Victoria had the distinct impression that those two weren’t his first drinks of the day.

“You been here long?” She looked around for a waiter.

“Hour or so. How are you, Vicks? It’s been a while.” His eyes were glued to her.

“I’m good, Beta. The city has been treating me alright. No offense, but you look like hell.”

“Had an interview today. It didn’t go well.”

“An interview? In New York?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to turn a corner, you know? A buddy of mine works up here. Helped me get this thing. It didn’t work out, though.”

“I don’t know how software companies work, but they usually call you back, right? Maybe you did better than you thought.”

“I don’t think so.” He snorted, then looked away, expression vacant. “Oh, I saw Charlotte a couple weeks ago. She tell you about that?”

“She mentioned that she ran into you. She said Chuckles is doing well.”

“Chuckles is great. Charlotte’s looking in on him while I’m out of town.”

The door to the restaurant banged open, and a gust of cool air blew in. Victoria grimaced. Trent stood in the doorway, scanning the room. She gave him a minute to look, then waved.

“What was that?” Beta asked.

“Trent’s going to be joining us.” He was already heading their way, oversized umbrella dripping in his hand.

“Your asshole boyfriend.” He covered his mouth with his hand. “Sorry. Slipped.”

God, he really was drunk.

Trent stopped at the table and loomed over them. His eyes narrowed, then he grabbed a chair and pulled it up. He sat in it backwards, leaning in toward them. “You must be Beta.”

Beta met his gaze, a sneer forming at the corner of his mouth. “Only to my friends. You can call me Ben.”

Trent laughed. “Nice. Well, I’m Trent. To my friends and enemies alike. What brings you to my city, Beta?”

“Ben. Business.”

“That right? What kind of business are you in?”

“Software.” Beta spat the word. It was like he wanted to fight. She had expected Trent to try to bully him, but never that Beta would stand up and fight back.

“So boys, I think we’re all a little hungry. How about we order some food?” Nothing actually sounded good, but anything was better than having them snipe at each other.

“Nah, I’m not hungry,” Trent said.

“Me either.” Beta spun an empty glass on the table, smearing a puddle of condensation.

“Well, maybe we should be going, Trent.” Victoria stood up. She didn’t want to leave, not that soon, but these two were like two tomcats staking out the same alley. “Sorry about your interview, Beta. Better luck next time.”

Trent laughed. “What? You bombed an interview? Dressed like that in the city, I’m not surprised.”

Color rose in Beta’s cheeks, and he glared at Trent, but, blessedly, he didn’t say anything. Victoria grabbed Trent’s arm and dragged him toward the front of the restaurant.

Trent laughed the whole way. “You sure know how to pick the winners.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The streetlights on Hudson were obscured in the falling rain. Tires squelched as trucks rumbled past.

“That kid? He’s a dweeb. Total loser. Dressing like that for an interview here? This isn’t California.” He spread the umbrella above them before they left the awning.

“He’s just trying to make something of himself. He probably sees his sister up here succeeding and wanted to get out of the Midwestern doldrums.” She let her voice fall. “I felt the same way.”

Trent slipped an arm around and pulled her closer. “Good for you, but that kid? He’ll never amount to anything.”

Victoria didn’t feel like arguing. Beta wasn’t worth a fight.

Chapter 19

The cubicles in Beta’s office looked shabbier than ever. Hell was a beige box surrounded by a million other equally drab boxes. Hell was a boss that didn’t care about you. Hell was coworkers that spent their days yapping on the phone or frantically instant messaging you about the “virus” they had just picked up surfing porn websites.

Hell was work, and Beta was in it.

He stared at his screen, skimming through the emails from earlier in the week. In a perfect world, he’d have been able to take the whole week off and not gone back to work on Wednesday after getting home late Tuesday night. No, in a perfect world he’d have gotten the job in New York and would have just quit on the spot.

But he wasn’t living in a perfect world. He was living in hell.

“Tanner, can I talk to you in my office?” Chad leaned over the wall, peering down at Beta’s monitor.

“Yeah.” Beta followed him to the office. To his surprise, Chad closed the door.

“Have a seat.” Chad waited until Beta was sitting, then continued, “I’ve just been in a meeting with Jim up in HR.” Chad slid a folder across the desk. “I have copies of your last performance evaluation here. Ben, I’m sorry, but we’re going to be letting you go.”

Beta blinked at him. “You’re letting me go?” His hands shook as he reached for the folder.

“Unfortunately you aren’t maintaining the standard of work that we want. The Prime Lawn website was late, and the customer wasn’t happy that it was missing features. You took two days of vacation with only a week of notice. It’s just not acceptable.”

Beta’s heart pounded. He wanted to go back to his cube and cry. Or stand up and scream. He didn’t do anything. Just sat, mind racing, and opened the folder. The performance evaluation had a fat “Below Expectations” at the top and Chad’s name at the bottom. The paper shook in his head.

“So when is my last day?”

“Today. I need you to gather your things and turn in your keys.”

Beta closed his eyes. Savings weren’t a luxury he had ever been able to afford, and rent was due in two weeks.

“Tanner, are you listening?” There was a hard edge in Chad’s voice.

“I’m listening.”

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

He wanted to rant and rave and tell Chad what a terrible manager he was, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Still, the urge to burn that bridge and salt the ground behind was overwhelming. But the fact was, Beta was a coward and he knew it. All he said was, “No,” and got up.

Chad followed him back to his desk and waited while he gathered up his stuff and dumped it into a box some thoughtful asshole had left on his desk. The lack of phone chatter in the adjacent cubes was conspicuous as Beta handed over his magnetic key and trudged to the back door.

Getting fired was bad enough. Telling his parents he was going to need to move back home was going to be way worse.

BOOK: Fool's Gold (Contemporary Romance)
13.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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