I have to admit that I know NOTHING about computers and what a programmer actually does during his workday. So forgive me the fact that I tried to avoid going into details about the parts happening in the office and during the characters workday actions and so on. (It's hard enough to write in English 'cause I'm not a native speaker... LOL)
And forgive me also if I wrote anything wrong or anything that may sound naiv about all the ENCOM business leadership etc stuff. It was already very confusing to me figuring out what a chairman actually is or a CEO or whatever. 'cause in German those terms have a slightly different meaning. And I don't really get that whole topic in my language LOL So please turn a blind eye while reading those parts. ;)
Chapter 2: Firewall
It was lunch break. Judith was in the cafeteria, standing in the row, tablet in hand, step by step moving forward.
There was no one of her workmates standing near her she could chat with, so she took the time to brood over Darek. Again… As if she hadn't wasted enough time already with scratching her mind about him… But she couldn't think about something else than the possible connections between Darek and Dillinger.
One thing was for sure: Darek had resurrected her feelings for Dillinger. He had breathed new life into emotions which had been almost death.
But what now? If Darek really was Dillinger's creation, dedicated to her as a gift, maybe even a recompense for being mean, what was the sense in all of this? Was Dillinger now suddenly interested in her as well, but too proud to maybe loose his face by being rejected by her and therefore waiting for her to make the first step? If that was true then he was either blind or completely unreceptive for her charms. Because she did give him signals. Plenty of them. A charming smile here, a warm word there, but causing no effect. He was cold as ice it seemed, never returning her smile, never looking at her the way a man should look at a woman he was attracted to. It was the same like two years ago when she showed interest in him while he was doing nothing but giving her the could shoulder.
She was pretty. That wasn't the problem, sure not. She was the kind of woman who possessed natural, genuine beauty which was shining through even without make up or nice clothes or haircuts. She had charms, was intelligent and attractive, slender, but with the curves in all the right places.
More than once she had thought about Dillinger might be gay… Gay, but aware of her feelings for him, feeling sorry about that and therefore had created a straight virtual love-machine for her…
Oh please stop that! She scolded herself, for she knew that thinking about all of this would only cause her endless frustrations, well knowing she wouldn't get answers anyway.
She was finally sitting at a table, eating, but her disobedient thoughts were still endlessly circling around the same one topic.
I need some distraction… she decided, looking out for anyone of her workmates. The only one she spotted was Dillinger. So much for distraction…
He was standing at the counter, paying something that looked like a sandwich from afar. But he wasn't eating at the cafeteria. He never was. As if it was beneath him to have lunch with his inferiors…
He passed the tables, hastily, greeting no one, looking at no one, just heading for the exit, probably for his office.
As he walked towards her, for she was sitting right on the edge of the table rows, she took her chance and dared to hold him up, waving and smiling at him. "Hi there! Want to take a seat?" She pointed at the free chair opposite to her.
He just slowed down his pace a little, but didn't stop, letting a dry, strained, put-on smile glide over his lips and said while passing her: "No, thanks. "
Judith shook her head. She had never met someone that cold and off-putting, even unsocial. And she doubted that it was possible to ever get through to him at all.
What shall I do, Junior, to get your attention? Should I wear a skirt that short it only just covers my ass, sitting on your desk begging for some overtime? Sure not… She wasn't that kind of woman. But she had to admit that thinking about this did turn her on somehow.
She sighed. Why do I have feelings for you at all? Why, for heaven's sake?
The rest of the day was filled with work and pressure and problems. And Dillinger was running in and out of his office, always busy, always hassled, always reprimanding someone who wasn't doing his job – the way he wanted it to be done.
Judith had the luck being very good at her job. On one hand this was offering her more chances and more interesting, more challenging work, but on the other hand she had also to accept the responsibility. And had to make some sacrifices as well. Such as freetime… It was nearly eight o' clock now and she still was at ENCOM, the only one left in the open-plane office of their department.
The overtime she had made in the last few days was mainly caused by the new task she had to work on. "EN-CORE", a very important, innovative new software project. And a very complex one too… Not enough of that, there was also a certain lack of clarity in this whole project Dillinger had entrusted her with. She knew that he considered her has his best employee – although he had never told her that personally – but maybe he had put a little too much trust in her this time…
There was no doubt she was the best one to handle this project. Besides Dillinger himself she was the fastest, the keenest, the most talented of the software design team. But yet there were still some essential elements which had to be revised and okayed by Dillinger himself.
He left me more or less a construction kit! She was thinking to herself, looking at the screen, slightly shaking her head. Why did he give me this? Actually this is his job…
And it was not the first time she suspected that he was heavily overworked…
She sighed and leant back, facing the fact that she was stuck, that she had to talk to Dillinger about how to go on. So she sent an instant message via the internal messaging system to the computer in his office. He wasn't answering. She was waiting... and waiting…
But she wanted to clarify that right now! Overtime was okay, but she wanted to spend it on something useful. Not just on sitting around and waiting for Mr. Edward Dillinger Jr. to condescend to answer her messages! So she stood up, heading for his office. And in the minute she wanted to knock on the door, Alan Bradley was stepping out, nearly running into her. She had completely forgotten about him having a conversation with Dillinger!
"Oh! I'm sorry!" she said.
Alan smiled at her. "No problem. " Then he made an inviting gesture towards Dillinger's office and said: "Go ahead. He's all yours. "
She returned Alan's warm smile and then stepped into the room. And in an instant she noticed that Dillinger was in a bad mood. A very bad mood… She saw it in the way his furrowed brows were leaving dark shadows around his eyes, his jaw was constantly tensing and he had his lips pressed together, their corners slightly pointing downwards.
He was standing in front of the wide floor-to-ceiling window of his spacious, luxurious office, arms crossed, looking at her as if she was an unwanted intruder. The moonlight was spreading a cold, pale light on his face, creating sharp shadows on every part unlit, making his features appear even sharper.
"What is it?" he growled dryly.
Without ducking or showing the slightest trace of intimidation, for she was just tired of letting herself being offended by his manner, she spoke to him in a firm, calm voice: "There is something I wanted to discuss with you about EN-CORE. Could you please take a look at – "
"Can we just stop talking about work for a second?" Dillinger snarled at her.
Judith froze, taking a deep breath, maintaining her composure, although feeling the childish, impulsive urge to just turn around on her heels and going off in a huff with some kind of a sharp answer on her lips. But she was too grown up and too professional to lose her temper.
But yet her voice was as dry as dry could be as she replied: "In this case I can go home for you don't need me here anymore", attending to leave his office.
To her self she was thinking, with bitterness in her heart: You stupid asshole… When ever I do show interest in talking about something else than work you are blocking me!
"Wait!" he held her back, the intonation of his words a severe commanding. "Are you going to Charley's for a drink afterwards, you and your workmates?" He asked, his tone not changing a nuance.
Judith was slightly puzzled.
"Erm… I don't think so. There's no one here anymore…"
"Well I am!" he remarked sternly, spreading his arms, as if she had insulted him by not counting him.
She was too perplexed to be upset by his tone.
Never, not a single evening in those two years she was working for ENCOM, she had ever witnessed him joining his inferiors for a drink at Charley's, the bar just around the corner where she and her fellow employees often went to after work. And although she really wasn't in the mood to spend an evening with a highly frustrated Dillinger, she felt like this was an event just too bizarre and exotic to miss; Dillinger, drinking a beer in a dim-lit, scruffy pub. She just had to experience this. So she agreed.
And there she was, sitting at the bar, Dillinger next to her. What an odd situation. For a moment she had to think about her encounter with Darek as he joined her at the bar in the Grid. But this was just too different to think about similarities very long. This was reality. This was a very tired looking, pale skinned Dillinger with rings under his eyes and slightly tousled hair, the palms of his hands clenched around the beer glass as if it was a hot cup of tea.
What had made him asking her to join him, showing such exposure, such frailty to her? He, who was always dead keen on showing impeccability and perfection in his appearance? She had to hold back herself from interpreting this as some kind of affection, 'cause thoughts like this would just lead to nowhere.
What should they talk about? Their private life? Their hobbies? She couldn't imagine Dillinger to have any hobbies. What kind of hobbies would that be? She couldn't think of anything fitting… Some images were coming to her mind: Dillinger doing jigsaw puzzles… Dillinger baking cupcakes… Dillinger singing in a Gospel choir … Dillinger doing Nordic Walking… She couldn't prevent a chortling laugh arising in her throat.
Dillinger looked at her, slightly miffed. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing…" she grinned, shaking her head.
"Funny to drink a beer with your boss, eh?"
"Um…yeah… if it's the first time after more than two years; yes, then I assume it's funny."
He raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of his beer. "I'm not that type of guy hanging around in bars. I have better things to do."
"So... what are we doing here then?"
He glanced at her, slightly piercing. "I don't know. How about getting drunk?" he answered, in his voice a trace of defiance.
"I'm not sure if that's a good idea. It's Tuesday…" Judith responded, drinking two sips.
"I have an agenda of my own. I don't need anybody to tell me what day it is," Dillinger said in return.
There it was again, that intense urge to just walk away from him. Maybe even pouring her beer on his head? Oh hell, yes! But Judith was just too curious about what Dillinger's intention to get drunk was all about. Maybe he would talk if that happened.
So she kept calm.
For some moments he was just sitting there, sipping his beer, staring into space, remaining silent.
Beginning to get bored, Judith made several attempts to start some light conversation, but Dillinger just didn't respond to it.
And she was just about to regret this whole waste of time, decided to leave as soon as Dillinger had drank out his beer – his second one already – , as he suddenly grumbled out of nowhere: "Damn Flynn bloke!" and then shook his head in a gesture of disgust, poured the rest of his beer down his throat, almost aggressively.
Ah! That's how the wind blows… She thought to herself, a little smirk in the corner of her mouth.
She knew that he hadn't much to laugh since Sam Flynn had decided to step out from being just the controlling interest shareholder and to actually lead ENCOM. Dillinger had a hard time working under him, someone who was even younger than him, taking his orders, having to be behind all of his decisions. For his style of leadership and of running a company was totally opposite to Dillinger's business philosophy.
"Know what?" he said to Judith, a bitter smile on his lips. "Flynn now definitely wants to make Alan his assistant manager! Not enough that he's the goddamn chairman…" He shook his head again, taking another fervent sip of his beer as if wanting to swallow his anger with it.
In a way Judith could understand him. From workmates of her who where working for ENCOM much longer than herself she knew that when Richard Mackey still was chairman, and Sam Flynn wasn't interested in leading the company, even less to make important decisions, Dillinger had quite good options to once get a higher position than he had now. And she also knew that Dillinger was after the assistant manager's post since ever, even had his eyes on becoming complete control over ENCOM like his father once.
Maybe he wanted to proof everyone that he was able to do this, without becoming a criminal, like his father. Maybe he wanted to whitewash his name. Inconceivable frustrations he must bare now that everything had chanced for him…
"That has a smell of nepotism," he stated with grim certainty.
Judith furrowed her brows, a little surprised about the irrationality of his argumentation, probably 'caused by the amount of alcohol he had knocked back already, but maybe revealing also a childish side of him which he usually held covered under his cool, rational behavior.
"I don't think so. It would be rather unprofessional of Flynn to give him this post just because of matters of friendship, wouldn't it? Not to mention the huge amount of experience Alan already - "
Dillinger's eyes were flashing at her grimly, interrupting her sentence by saying: "I don't give much on the professionalism of an unreliable daydreamer who prefers to do motorcycling and skydiving!"
"Remember what he did to OS-12…" she dared to argue, grinning unseen while taking a sip, feeling she could get away with it because he was drunk.
"Remember how I handled it!" he replied, defiantly. "He's just a kid who can hack! He knows nothing about leading a company! He's unable and incompetent!"
"Well … he has Alan at his side, so…"
"Both of them are not the right people for this! With their way of leading, they will run ENCOM into the ground sooner or later."
"The company has realized 3% profit last year…"
"With my way of leading we could make even 8%, believe me!"
"And for the sake of what? Less salary for the lower inferiors? Higher prices for our products? Why not heading for a more social way of leading a company?"
"That's just not how business works!" Was his last statement.
And their discussion subsided into silence.
"And I thought you didn't want to speak about work…" Judith said after a few moments and looked at him, smiling a little cheeky in the corner of her mouth.
Dillinger furrowed his brows, slightly peeved, but too drunk by now to be really upset. "Well then… Do you have another topic to offer?"
She kept her eyes fixing on his.
How about Darek?
And for a moment Judith thought she was spotting something like fear flaring up in Dillnger's eyes, as if he just had read her mind. Or was it only her imagination? Whatever, he broke their eye contact, drank the rest of his beer in one go and ordered a new one.
"How about some virtual reality?" Judith asked him.
Dillinger coughed and brushed his wet stubbly upper lip with the back of his hand. "What…?"
Judith grinned, pointing to the back of the bar where a few arcade games were put in a row.
"ArcWars. One of ENCOM's classics. Ever played it?"
"No! I'm a programmer, not a gamer!" Dillinger stated as if it was beneath him to play video games.
Judith slipped from her barstool and grabbed her glass. "Well… there's a first time for everything, "she said, encouragingly smiling at him, calling on him to follow her. Dillinger rolled with his eyes and conceded, unwillingness in his every gesture.
They were doing the two-player mode. And he lost every single game… Five of them so far. Judith was highly amused about that, but didn't show it.
Well, Junior. You have to face the fact that you're not perfect in everything you do!
With every new game they started his determination to win was growing. Seeming to have quite an intoxication, he ordered one beer after another. Obviously not a good idea… And as his reactions were slowly fading, his frustration was growing instead, and he began to hit the machine, shouting and swearing at it, Judith decided to interrupt this gaming session. She wasn't quite sure if she should feel embarrassed or amused to witness a side of Dillinger she didn't know existing. But she felt like it was better to put a stop to it before it might got really shameful.
"It's late. I'm going home", she said. He glanced at her with his lips pressed together, slightly huffy. His once neatly groomed bangs were nothing but wet strands anymore, hanging tousled into his forehead.
But he didn't contradict her. Probably to somehow save his face. As if there was much left to save…
So he called himself a taxi and she did the same. And before he got into the car he held her up, telling her urgently, in a gesture meant to be warning but only went out appearing pathetic: "Work and free time should be treated separately, understood, Judith?"
She nodded, and off he went.
He doesn't want me to gossip, she interpreted his words. He must have every trust in me.
Should she feel flattered about that? She didn't know…
The next day.
Judith just arrived at her desk, not a minute too late, changing some words of greeting with her workmate Gloria and was just about to boot the computer, as Dillinger was walking towards them, in a severe hurry it seemed and slightly stressed. "Come on, come on! No time for chatting! We have a lot of work to do today!" He ordered them, clapping his hands as if they were school kids
"Asshole", Gloria mumbled between her clenched teeth as Dillinger had disappeared around a corner.
Judith probably would have been upset, if there weren't some things she was highly amused about. Maliciously amused. Things like Dillinger's slightly swollen eyes, his pale skin, the not so well trimmed edges of his beard and the way he was stroking his forehead whenever he felt unobserved.
Are we having a hangover, Junior?
And for the rest of the day, when ever he was near, she started silently whistling the melody of the song "Tuesday Afternoon". She didn't know if he noticed it. She didn't even know if he was familiar with this song at all. But she was deliciously enjoying herself.
Later that day Dillinger had to lead a conference, a very important one with all of the board members. Judith had to help him preparing his presentation.
And there she was in the boarding room, about fifteen minutes before the board members would arrive, checking the data, which Dillinger had uploaded to the server of the boarding room's desk computer, and preparing their proper transfer to the presentation screen.
Suddenly she realized: There was a mistake in Dillinger's data. A huge mistake.
He's about to make a complete fool out of himself! Judith stated, shaking her head. In front of all the board members! In front of Alan and Flynn! Oh Junior… What have I told you about boozing on a week day?
But she kept cool and made a decision, very quick, very professional; to fix the mistake. And she succeeded. Nearly two minutes before the conference would begin.
Suddenly Dillinger was charging into the boarding room, breathing hard, his skin even paler.
"There is a mistake!" He panted, looking behind him quickly then closing the door, hurrying towards Judith.
"There is no mistake", Judith said calmly and stood up, slightly smiling, starting to spread handouts on every board member's seat.
"What?" Dillinger furrowed his brows, shook his head and then was heading for the main computer, already beginning to operate the keyboard. "There's a mistake and I have to fix it immediately!"
"There is NO mistake!" Judith repeated, her smile now broad and complacent, her voice severe and full of confidence while she stopped his typing by giving his one arm a brief, soft, interrupting touch. "Not anymore…"
"Everything is ready," Judith confirmed, winking, giving him a warm smile.
He just remained standing there, not saying anything further. And Judith tried hard not to giggle at this sight; Dillinger, speechless for one time, his eyes big behind his glasses.
The first board members were now arriving, and from one moment to another Dillinger's appearance changed. Full of fascination Judith was watching his transformation. Suddenly he was all cool and down-to-earth again, not showing a trace of the desperation Judith just had witnessed.
You know how to wear a mask…She was thinking to herself.
And she was wondering if she might was the only one who he allowed to look behind it.