This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Neber's Deli

This is part of the Neber’s Deli novel I am currently working on.

Making Claim

Drayden stood at the door fingering the dark, glossy knots highlighted by the natural wood colored stain and lacquer. It was smooth and still had a light smell that penetrated the new house scent of fresh cut wood and drywall.

He looked back over his left shoulder at the large, empty loft (essentially his own living room) outside his new bedroom. To the right, across a divide that was open to the main floor below, was a mirror image, his brother’s loft and bedroom. A “bridge” connected the two lofts, spanning the entry way and overlooking the great room below. The bridge hung thirteen feet back from a majestic front window, a single piece of iconic house-shaped, pentagonal glass that stretched twenty feet from the entry door to the peak of the roof with no panes obstructing the view. It looked as if a twenty by twenty foot section of the wall was missing. Off either end of the bridge, like two rams horns, the boys each had their own circular staircase to rush from their respective lofts down into the entry and tackle any intruder, catching them by surprise.

As he continued to look over his shoulder towards the blue sky and morning sun, confirming to himself that this was the best vantage point ever built into a house, his eyes soon came down to meet the front yard as it stretched out and ended at the line of newly planted spruce and willow trees down by the divided parkway, which also had a line of new trees in the median. Each small tree had long, white, plastic collars encircling their small trunks making them look stiff and pre-fabricated. From ground view the hedges running along the rustic two-rail fence seemed to stretch forever in both directions obscuring the street and granting a certain level of privacy. However, from up here Drayden could see over the hedges and trees as the occasional dump truck drove by taking dirt to another “pad.” The front yard was long, wide, and flat—the size of a football field—with trees scattered around the edges and corners. The open back yard was two football fields stretching down to the lake. The rest of the land, eight acres total, was wooded providing a buffer from the developing neighborhood. White fluffs from the cottonwoods that inhabited the old, overgrown golf course drifted through the air like early-June snow flurries.

He watched as the landscapers worked near the small foot bridge by the crystal clear creek. Sandy bottomed, knee deep, five feet wide with a steep six foot bank on either side, it cut through the north-eastern portion of the front lot as it curved around to the lake in back. There were a few areas of turbulent currents that could trip up anyone walking along the bed as it grabbed at their ankles, but his father said without rain it would frequently dry up. Right now it was swelling from last night’s downpour, a canoe wouldn’t even clear the space under the foot bridge. Not that they had a canoe, but they ought to.

The creek’s dark timber bridge was designed by Drayden’s mother to match the open timber construction of the house and to grant access to the orphaned land where she planned a secluded garden by the willow tree and untamed lilacs. It wasn’t much now, just dirt with Hostas, Columbine, Daisies, and a few other plants his brother helped transplant from the old house last week. Along the creek and around the yard were twelve neatly dug holes waiting for shrubs and trees. One man held a waist high shrub upright in the hole closest to the footbridge as a woman shoveled and patted dirt around the root ball. A third worker, further down the creek near the shrubs along the street, stood smoking as he lazily watered a patch of grass. The corner of Drayden’s mouth went up as he realized from this angle it looked as if the guy were taking a whiz.

The thought gave rise to his own urge which he gently held in as he looked back to the door where his hand had already, unknowingly, moved to the bronze knob. The whole idea of what lay behind the door becoming his room was starting to feel real. It wouldn’t be long until it was his room several times bigger than his old room plus the loft. It made the thirteen-year old feel remarkably independent.

When he began to turn the knob he heard the faint sound of a toilet flushing from his brother’s bedroom across the divide followed by a distant, hurried voice, “Holy cow that flushes! Dray, is yours amped up too? Damn, that thing is GONE!” Apparently Colby had just flushed his first solid.

Drayden continued to hold in his urge as it pushed harder from inside, stinging a little.

Toilet Christening was taken seriously by the Beckers. It was a race to the bathroom at each hotel or guest house they stayed at, often holding it in during the last few hours of a trip, forgoing the final pit stop before their destination, taunting each other by shaking plastic bottles of water, humming “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” And now with twelve, count them, twelve toilets, there were enough six per boy on a first come, first claim basis.

Taking a dramatic, deep breath, Drayden shivered as he pushed his bedroom door open. Sensing his entrance the room’s skylights and windows switched from a cool, energy saving dark tint to full transparency. He stared into the now sunlit room at the soft beige carpet, natural wood built-ins, plenty of desk space, cabinets, and shelves for his hobbies and projects, sliding glass door opening to a private balcony offering his own personal view of the wooded back lot and lake.

The carpet was freshly re-laid yesterday (his father didn’t like the original installation) and it pushed the room from being a dream on paper, sample books, or virtual walk through simulations into a final product. The new carpet smell permeated his senses, taking away some of the harsh smell of stain that seemed to coat the inside of his nose and throat.

His hand automatically went for the light switch as he stepped into the room but it found nothing but a smooth glass plate that came to life with a gentle blue glow. He swiped his finger up and the lights turned on. Staring at it he swiped it to the left and a thermostat came up. This was more advanced than the ones at home where they only controlled a single overhead light. Drayden decreased his room’s temperature to seventy two.

He then crouched down on the floor, felt the carpet and slowly laid down on his stomach burying his nose in the fibers. The smell was awesome. He could still taste the smell of stain in the back of his throat, but the carpet smell was still awesome.

“Dray, you do it yet?” Colby asked from the doorway behind him.

Drayden, with his face still buried in the carpet let out a muffled, “No.” He didn’t want to move, the carpet felt so inviting and clean—and movement put unwanted pressure on his full and tender internal organs.

“Damn, what have you been doing?”

Carefully rolling over, Drayden looked back at his older brother wiping his hands on his green t-shirt. “I’m enjoying the carpet,” Drayden replied.

“Well, I want to get to Seth’s before he takes off for Lincoln.” Colby turned and walked into the loft towards the stairs. Before he started down he urged, “Take a leak and let’s go. Suzanne said the towels are dry.”

Drayden wrinkled his nose, turned back on his stomach, and started moving his arms and hands over the carpet as if making a face-down snow angel. After three strokes he stopped, rolled over and looked at the vaulted white ceiling with its timber beams and crystal clear skylights.

It reminded him of the Colorado resort his family frequented. The cabin they usually rented had all-wood flooring, fun to slide on just like much of the main level in this house. Colby and Drayden shared the open loft that required a ladder to climb up to. Hopefully the smell of pancakes made their way up on lazy mornings here too.

If the smell of stain would ever leave his nose. Boy, did it just stick there.

Looking over at his walk-through closet, a small room in itself, he let out a sigh, carefully climbed to his knees, then his feet, and headed through the closet door. He paused, glanced up toward the long and narrow, horizontal window above the empty shelves and racks before taking a right into the bathroom. His bathroom. It was all his from the sink basin with curve necked lights over the mirror, to the ivory white toilet and tub. It was all picked out by him, for him. He didn’t need to share it with anybody or anything. Everyone had their own space to claim in this house as well as on the surrounding eight acres.

Relishing in the fact that it wasn’t a cold, cement basement floor, but one that offered its own heat, he sat on the edge of the tub—which, unlike the master bath and three guest rooms, didn’t have jets—pulled off his socks by their toes, and set his bare, light olive feet on the crème tile floor. It was disappointingly cold and it made him have to go more.

He watched his toes as he wiggled them, picking out a piece of sock fuzz, “Suzanne?”

“Yes, Drayden,” responded a mature, naturally caring voice with no hint of being synthesized.

“Please set my bathroom floor to heat every morning before six.” He felt silly talking out loud, giving a precise, unnatural command.

There was a pause and then a tone confirming the request. “Pending approval from your parents, I have scheduled your bathroom floor to heat every morning before six a.m.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” It was a quick, natural response with a sense of attentive satisfaction.

He smiled and sauntered over to the toilet—his toilet—to formally make his claim.

New Position

The empty desk by the expansive window on the third floor of Building 7 had maintained its emptiness for three weeks. No one dared sit at, lean against, go behind, snoop, or place a drink, snack, or piece of paper on the emptiness. It was sacred space. Not because the former occupant was held in high regards—a position she rightfully held—no, the sacredness was the result of the heart-crushing elephant that now occupied it.

The mind’s image of the inspired leader that once sat there was juxtaposed with her quick and unexpected resignation followed by a security escorted exit. There was no fight or remarks of innocence or injustice. She went out calmly and quietly affording no eye contact to her stunned team.

Brent arrived this morning at five ready to pull the team back together. His old desk now sat empty among the other workspaces, its contents moved before the team and the elephant arrived for work. His new work space was now set up but he left most of his flare stowed in three copy paper-boxes under his modular desk—including, among other things, an old and dusty Angry Bird Star Wars Darth Vader Pig, an unopened Coke from Argentina, and a foam model of the first GTI autonomous vehicle (“Herbie I”). He didn’t feel comfortable bringing his old persona as lead product experience designer to the new location and role. The difference in how he surrounded himself would keep him focused while grappling with reinstating the director position and redefining his working relationships within Spatial Controls and Automation.

As his co-workers—team members—came in, each giving a smile, congratulations, or indifferent nod, Brent busied himself behind his three monitors reading tech news, company communications, development progress, and company league standings. His Frisbee golf team was ranked fifth and they were playing Mapping Services on the Neutral Zone at two.

Occasionally he’d look to either side of his keyboard, his phone docked on the right, tablet on the left, checking notifications and messages. Sometimes he’d pretend to sit looking at his phone but instead his eyes focused just beyond it on the digital photo glass that cycled through his pictures. There were six, but Brent always seemed to catch the one with Addie sitting on a rock in the Argentine countryside, a wide Latina smile beaming through the toils of the day. To most it was just a honeymoon picture, but to Brent, and the locals on the bus with the broken axel, it was a testament of working through unexpected troubles.

After thirty minutes of mindless work, Brent looked up from his sparse desk and examined the entire team, his team, of project leaders, all twenty-two, as they sat working, many with headphones, a quarter sitting on balancing balls, half at standing desks (and half of those with treadmills effectively making them a walking desk), but all either focused on their computer or consulting with a project partner. At 10 o’clock they would disperse to lead their own teams before reassembling after lunch. He turned around in his chair and looked out at his new view over the clean cut grassy field of the Neutral Zone with its short cut croquet and bocce ball greens on the right and Frisbee and lacrosse fields on the left as it stretched towards the round, mirrored, teal glass façade of Building Zero.

“Getame?” Brent properly pronounced it “Gi-tah-may.”

“Yes, Mr. Ribeiro?” Asked a young, female voice with an undistinguishable European accent. It wasn’t as refined as the Suzanne persona, but the previous director had hated Suzanne and preferred, or rather insisted—let’s not sugar-coat it, vehemently mandated—the default voice assistant, Getame, to be used in Building 7. Brent wasn’t going to change that policy—yet. He hated Getame just as much as Val hated Suzanne. Getame seemed cold like a no-nonsense woman that one would suspect transformed into a dominatrix if given the power. Hundreds of amateur videos and nighttime comedy sketches were devoted to lonely men suggestively issuing just the right commands to elicit a somewhat naughty-sounding response. Lawmakers had even accused GTI of purposely seeding the commands and responses and requested they be removed lest they be in ear shot of impressionable youth.

Brent was somewhat amused the voice had achieved cult status, but never found it funny when Addie tried to imitate her. Getame was creepy whereas Suzanne was like the girl next door, a classmate, a confidant, a sister or friend.

After a moment of thought the 29-year-old director made his request, “Display our corporate motto on the panel behind my desk.”

A twenty foot section of the seamless 50 foot wide window darkened to semi-transparency with a slight teal hue as the words “Guided by Selfless Direction, We Lead as ONE,” came up as two lines in three foot tall, white Helvetica letters before him.

Some behind him took notice and looked at the window their new director was staring at. As Brent turned back around, his eyes caught everyone’s emotions at once. He was afraid to look, fearful of what he would discover about their attitude towards him. Tina called out a congratulations, followed by a few other words of encouragement from Bhri, Emily, Chris, and Yolanda. Some sat back in silence smiling while others just focused their attention elsewhere.

The reactions (or lack thereof) and who they came from (or didn’t come from) wasn’t a surprise to Brent. He sat smiling on the outside, as he hardened himself on the inside, and tried to ready himself for anyone’s first criticism. He wasn’t sitting where he was because he asked or even wanted to be there. He did nothing outright to put himself there and he definitely wasn’t the most senior. He was sitting in front of the various team leaders because he was selected by Building Zero to get the group back on track, focused on a common goal, and move forward together.

As a director he just had to learn to survive and navigate. Pass by what he could and meet head-on what he couldn’t. But he didn’t want to dwell on the future problems. He had things to tackle today.

Crash and Reboot

So far Joel was unimpressed. Maybe it was because he hadn’t seen much progress in the research and development labs today. Or, maybe, it was because of the three a.m. party that had occurred in the hall outside his hotel room. Unable to sleep through the loud talking, drunken running, and wall banging in the next room, Joel got up, shaved, showered, and walked around the corner to Dunkin Donuts for his five-o’clock morning cup of coffee before arriving at the Chicago labs. He now stood, five hours and two meetings later, fidgeting almost uncontrollably trying to stay positive and awake. He’d rub his already harsh 10 o’clock shadow on his cheeks and chin, smooth his thick, black eyebrows with his pointer finger, and occasionally scratch his ear lobe as it held back his dark, neatly trimmed and styled, long and wavy hair which curled slightly above his shoulders.

He checked his watch. There was a travel reminder for the flight back to Omaha at 7:06 P.M. It was only ten. There was also a pending request from his son, via Suzanne, to adjust the bedroom temperature and heated bathroom floor. He yawned. Rahmi continued on about the supposed progress that had been made. The product itself was considerably awesome, and Joel recognized it. However, it didn’t meet the quality he established to always nail it right out of the gate and never leave the client underwhelmed after the awesomeness wore off and the bond financed payment plan kicked in.

It wasn’t polished and, therefore, not ready. For him, Chief Product Engineer and Associate Vice President for Industry and Consumer Products with access to the latest technology in research and development, he was underwhelmed.

He smiled, trying to show interest in the progress report and shook off another yawn along with the disappointment of what the table before him couldn’t do. The table top was positioned at a thirty degree angle giving him a bird’s eye view of the three dimensional holographic map displayed upon it. The hand that had covered his yawn was now hovering over the lifelike model of Shed Aquarium. He motioned to the right. The cityscape made up of particles and light moved with buildings disappearing off the right edge of the table as new buildings came into sight on the left. He slid it back into position, focusing on the Willis Tower.

Rahmi started to get the demonstration rolling, a pre-determined and well-rehearsed script intended to impress the AVP. “Getame, zoom out to view all of Chicagoland.” The features grew small across the table as more area was displayed, almost removing the need for it to be three dimensional, except for the hovering labels. “Show average E.R. wait times. Color code.” New labels hovered above the Chicagoland hospitals with stats, each point on the map depicted by a color from green to red denoting their rank, red being the longest, almost six hours. “Clear. Show fire calls in the last six months.” Addresses lit up, red for residential fires, orange for business, blue for auto accident or car fires.” He covered three more commands: emerald ash borer cases, household fast food consumption, and average daily household mileage. Each one responded without a hitch. Joel kept a cool, interested look without a smile.

The table was impressive. If it didn’t require a municipal bond to fund, he’d order one up for his uncle Lou. But, except for the hovering labels, Joel recognized this was the same as a two dimensional table they already had on market. He also saw through Rahmi’s careful sequence of commands, it was the same technique they used at tech shows to skirt around bugs, preventing the system to crash in front of the media and investors.

Time to break it.

Joel put his hand up as a signal to Rahmi to end his demonstration. “Getame, zoom in on the Loop.” It zoomed in and he pushed the skyscrapers away from him to bring the shore of Lake Michigan into view. The glow hurt his eyes less than the last time he saw the demo, the lag was still there as the buildings where he centered his hand followed behind a little as he repositioned the map.

He pulled Navy Pier in front of him and bent forward to peer into the windows. They were black, but he felt like a giant—no, God. Feeling guilty he took it down a notch—a god, lowercase “g.”

“Getame, re-center on Wrigley Field and show me traffic after last night’s game.”

Downtown faded (rather than the original zoom out, whiz by, and zoom in again of the early prototypes that often made some sick). The Friendly Confines soon faded in with the surrounding neighborhood. Grey generic cars, trucks, and buses filled the streets moving along flawlessly. Aside from the faint glow in the dark room, it looked real, better than any model Joel had ever laid eyes on. As God once said, “It was good.” This is what the 3D version was meant to do.

The vehicles and streets soon turned red and orange as simulated speeds lowered and a traffic jam developed around the stadium. An El train glided into Addison Station.

He gave another command, “Show labels.” Just like the labels before, white rectangles appeared above the streets and structures with string-like strands descending down towards the object they named. Viewer-oriented 3D, they were readable from any position around the table as sensors tracked up to thirty sets of eyeballs and presented a unique and correct view to each individual observer. “Getame, show foot traffic.”

The table flickered and went dark. The amount of light originally given off by the model was now noticeable as the four engineers stood silent, their eyes adjusting, trying to read their Associate Vice President’s face.

Joel tensed his lips and gave a sideways glance to the Director of Digital Modeling. Frank, in turn, pressed his tongue against the inside of his cheek, creating a noticeable bulge illuminated by the brightening table going through its reboot cycle with the GTI trademark red, teal, and green spinning globe hovering a foot above the table’s surface. Frank opened his mouth to speak, reconsidered, and closed it.

Joel spoke for him. “It crashed.” It was a harsh observation with a pissed tone. “Do you know why?”

“NullPointerException,” stated Chris, the hardware lead as he looked at Ingrid, the software lead with an, “I told you so” smile.

Ingrid looked down at her hands against her stomach, “Buffer overrun, too much data to calculate, some gets dropped resulting in a length mismatch.”

“Resulting in a NullPointerException,” Chris offered. By the tone Joel could tell it was a phrase Chris knew nothing about but had latched onto in order to sound smart.

“If the memory isn’t clear.” Ingrid looked at the table and widened her eyes. “Pretty trippy results otherwise. The software is optimized, the hardware just can’t send us the data quick enough.”

Joel shook his head during the blame game and began the famed Zombie scenario GTI used to frame each technology issue, “We’re tracking a million zombies closing in on you and the President of the United States.” It proved practical to come at a problem from unlikely scenarios, plus it directed fears away from the harsh human vs human vs nature reality of disasters, disease, conflict, war, terrorism, and structural and societal failures. It was easier to think about zombies than the next Hurricane Pauline or 9-11. “We have an Apache helicopter on its way to Wrigley Field. Do you want this to crash before the extraction is complete?”

They all shook their heads.

“This is not a toy. 98% of the use is city and transportation planning. The other 2% is in highly critical situation rooms in emergency operation centers providing real time holographic imagery of reality. Life critical situations. No crashes. Software needs to handle hiccups from hardware,” he then looked at Chris, “and hardware needs to be able to supply a firehouse of data.” Joel got angrier as he spoke, realizing everything he was saying was in the specs and was not being followed. “Hardware and software need to work together.” His hands boxed the words “hardware” and “software” in the air before him as he began to speak quicker and louder, “The data needs to stream flawlessly. If we’re just going to display a neighborhood with pretty buildings, damn-it—” Trying to calm down, Joel stopped his tirade and brushed his hair back away from his eyes and cheek while looking at the table. The boot screen finished and Wrigley Field was displayed again absent any traffic or people. It looked as if life had been obliterated during the reboot. As if he had been calm the entire time he asked, “What will it take to get the pipes big enough to transfer that data?”

“Another two or four GX37 HPUs, five to eight thousand dollars?”

“Then double that. I want a total of sixteen parallel holographic units, and not GX37s, that’s gonna be last year’s model in a few weeks. Use GX39s, they’ll be the platinum standard by time this ships. That’s what drives us to the future, not next week.” Joel then looked at the model and began verbally tearing it apart, calmly with constructive criticism. “The light is still too harsh, the vehicles look like semi-transparent ghosts, and the drag is too long. I feel like it’s being pulled with a rubber band lagging and lagging more and more as I move it around. If I put my hand over Wrigley Field and swipe, Wrigley Field should move with my hand—under it—not drag behind. When I pull it towards me I don’t want to keep repositioning my hand in order to zoom in on it.” He put his hands into the pockets of his blue jeans holding back a swear. Still calm he spoke frankly and honestly while shaking his head, “We can’t sell this. We can’t even think about selling this as it is. We’ll continue R&D and I’m not scheduling a public reveal yet.” He now had nothing for the September event unless the shipping and transportation team back in Omaha pushed themselves. This project, however, was going to be another six months before it could be revealed, tack on another nine before it could be launched. By then they may be beat by another company. GE was rumored to have something similar in the works that was actual shape shifting, not just light mixed with particles.

Joel continued, “And when it tilts, the motor is too loud. It needs to be silent, magical, not even a purr.” His hands then came out of his pockets violently as he held them out in wonder, his anger returning, “Why the f*ck does it even have an electric motor to begin with?”

Joel continued to play with the map as he talked, swiping it back and forth, zooming out and in. It was fun to play with and he broke into a childlike smile, the same he’d have whenever he saw his Uncle Lou’s basement train layout. He couldn’t believe he was standing in front of such a wondrous world. “I’ll be back in a month. By tomorrow let me know what you plan on fixing in the next thirty, sixty, and ninety days. You guys have done a lot of work. It really is impressive, I’m seriously tearing thinking about it. You guys are bright and smart, the best, and that’s why I’m pushing you to do what I know you can. At any other company it’d ship and fail within a week. Your team deserves better than that. I know you want to do it right.”

Joel shook hands and patted shoulders. He could feel that the engineers were sweaty and shaking, but their faces looked only somewhat relieved and promising. His head hurt. As good as it was, it was now delayed. He had nothing to bring up the tail of their September product announcements, nothing to keep the momentum and product buzz going among the tech media and bloggers as Joel outlined GTI’s vision of the future. A phone and tablet announcement, greater GTI data coverage, and fiber in three more metropolitan areas as well as top speed connectivity in remote areas of two additional continents. And then, “That’s all folks! Nothing more futuristic from us this year! Investors, I guarantee we will have something new and innovative next year!” When Joel ran it through his mind it took on Porky Pig’s voice and stutter. “Th-th-thaat’s all folks!”

It was all small potatoes for the summer of 2020. God, he didn’t know who was let down more, him or the GTI fan boys and girls.

Chicago

His headache was gone as he passed by the room whose occupants had given him trouble so early in the morning, a Do Not Disturb sign was stuck in the key card swipe. Joel pulled it out, flipped it to request maid service, and put it back in the slot. Hopefully the hung over and strung out youth would get their own wake-up call. From what he gathered they had been an opening act for some band performing at the United Center. He had pieced together very little as he tried to ignore them earlier that morning.

Down three more doors Joel knocked on 1517.

A calm yet deep, firm voice came from behind acknowledging the knock. Soon the door opened and Markus Williams, a dark, tall, and slender man with a gripping handshake and a smiling face welcomed Joel in. Joel walked past the somewhat young forty-something President-CEO dressed in his trademark light green golf shirt and tan khaki pants. As he entered the main living room with a kitchenette, he questioningly eyed the suitcase lying on the bed in the bedroom. “It’s only noon.”

Markus touched his brown cheek signaling his tooth was still bothering him. Joel noticed his CEO was smiling a little less. At first he just thought it was the failure of the trip. “I’m sorry but I’m ducking out early. The pain has gotten worse, my dentist will be leaving for Florida tomorrow and I roped him into an emergency appointment tonight.” He spoke with his native Boston accent, something he only did when he felt comfortable or overly tired. Right now he was both.

“Are we calling it quits or do I have another flight?” Joel hoped it was quits. He didn’t like multi-night trips without Janice or the boys.

“I’m leaving the jet for you and taking a two o’clock back to Omaha. I reserved a seat next to a guy that prefers not to talk on flights. He’s an artist.” Their preferred airline allowed them to select seat mates based upon social profiles.

“Okay. So I’ll see you Friday to debrief?”

“Maybe. I might be heading to New York on Monday before leaving for Antarctica. If so, I’m moving my weekend around. Chicago labs are in your hands right now.”

Joel sighed. A little more warning would have been nice.

“And after my expedition I need to talk to you about the next phase.”

Markus received another questioning look as he folded his pants and placed them on top of his balled socks. “It’s moving forward?” His eight year struggle of developing a personal device division was about to earn its own place in the company. It had grown too big in the confines of the heavily structured industry tech sector. Joel knew this would be recorded in the company’s 60 year history as his legacy and after 20 of his own years he’d be a founding V.P. for “something.” A victory that seemed too easy.

Markus smiled at the mixed expression displayed on his Chief Product Engineer’s face. “Joel, you keep your chief engineer title. Your V.P. title will change with the new division. We’ve worked hard, you’ve worked hard, everybody on the board believes you’ve earned it and deserve to be in charge. You’ll be Executive Vice President for Device and Service Solutions. The Founding V.P.”

Joel stared blankly at the generic painting on the wall above the bed. “I’ve thought about that.” He considered it for another moment. “Everyone on the board? Even Garrison?” Garrison possessed one of the most well-known family surnames in Elk Grove. And after Joel was a witness to a Garrison boy’s drunk driving habits in seventh grade, he found life extremely difficult around town. Before he left for college he pissed off the town’s other big family name too. Small towns, big egos.

Markus smiled. “I’m flying out to his ranch this weekend.” He shifted the spotlight in their minds away from the largest shareholder (37 percent), the board’s chairman, retired president, second generation of the founding family. “You know, this will allow you to focus more of your time and energy on spaces and devices. Not to mention your family.”

Joel didn’t like the way the sentence was phrased. He was focused. “Is this because of Wichita?”

There was an uncomfortable pause as Markus turned back towards his suitcase and rolled up three golf shirts, each one its own shade of green. Without taking his eyes off his handiwork he replied, “That was a natural disaster.”

Key word: “disaster.” The service failure happened on Joel’s watch. If he hadn’t been trying to woo Cupertino with the idea of replacing the Google Maps app with GTI-Maps back in 2012 he could have caught the Emergency Management System design flaws foreshadowing the failure in Wichita several years later. His lack of attention was for nothing as he didn’t even secure the map app contract. Now, a year after the storm, the disaster’s toll still tore into Joel, even though GTI was determined to not have acted negligibly.

“Wichita is in the past, you can move forward with what you learned.” Markus broke out of his Boston accent as the Geographer, Author, Adventurer, and Explorer put on his PR face, “We’ve displaced Microsoft as third in the mobile market. That is the success of what you’ve created! And God! Smart Spaces! We’re taking over with a smart presence in over 50 million homes, eight million of which have sixteen or more of our devices, a total buy-in to our eco system!” Markus rested his hands on Joel’s shoulders, gave a long and silent smile to let the future outlook burn into Joel’s mind before turning away, again busying himself with his suitcase.

Joel sulked again. Spatial Controls and Automation had been a tough route too, and with the current turmoil surrounding ex-director/college mate, Valerie Torkanova—a 15.5 billion dollar acquisition six years ago—it was no wonder Garrison detested him as an employee. Joel was continually distracted, setting the company back when long-shot bets didn’t pay off and pushing extra hard to make up for lost time and revenue. He always seemed to catch up but always wondered what could have been accomplished if he had a strong footing to begin with. If only he had known, or paid attention to the dysfunction and signs of trouble around him. If he had, they could have been second in the device market. Maybe even first and make Apple wish they would have gone with GTI’s mapping app back in 2012.

The Slide

Once the towels were emptied out of one of the two dryers stacked on top of the washers in the laundry room, Drayden folded them on the center counter and set some on a wire shelf in the corner. All 30 were hot, new, and fluffy, the later something he didn’t know a towel could be. He held one light blue towel up to his nose and smelled the warmth again, fresher than any towel he had ever before heated up in the dryer as he showered in the dank basement laundry room at the old house. He would miss having a warm towel to embrace his body in on a cold day. But this house, even empty, seemed warm and welcoming, and as this one grew on him, their current house lost most of its luster when returned to at the end of the day. This was home, and he felt it every time he stepped foot into its spaciousness even as it threatened to remove him from his memories and friends, willing to only receive his family and their belongings.

He now looked out the laundry room window to the world outside and saw his brother wearing headphones engrossed in his phone as he leaned against his orange sports car by the rock water fixture in the center of the turnaround in front of the house. Soon, Colby would realize what time it was and come in yelling for Drayden to get his ass moving. Drayden was in no hurry.

Carrying the stack of towels from the laundry room through the family den and on to the kitchen, he surveyed the large, open living room and dining room (great room) before him with its massive windows looking out to the deck and backyard (lakeside or west grounds). He crossed the great room passing the entry on his right with its circular staircases and made his way towards the dim hall that lead to his parent’s room (master suite) next to the main floor guest room (no, it was a “suite” for some reason). As he entered the hall the lights automatically turned on and he stopped.

“Suzanne?”

“Yes, Drayden.”

“I don’t need dim rooms lit. I’m fine.” There was enough natural light making its way throughout the house from the numerous windows and skylights that he felt any extra was wasteful, especially if he was just passing through. He eagerly looked through the energy consumption reports, right now with only a week’s worth of data for an unoccupied house, and compared them to their current house. The carbon footprint was about the same.

“Drayden, I will calibrate a ‘dim’ setting for you.” The lights turned off. “This is considered dim for you. I will monitor your use of lights over the next few weeks to better understand your needs.”

“Thank you.” Suzanne gave him a “You’re welcome” as he continued on into the master suite. He paid little attention to the large, empty room with a gas fireplace in the corner, large, flat panel display above, and dark armoire already set next to the sliding glass door. Instead he took an immediate right to pass through the closet, and into the Master Bath with its walk-in shower, a separate round, double-sized tub with water jets, double sink, and of course, the toilet he had previously claimed.

After he placed the towels, hanging two outside the shower cove, and stacking the rest in the empty closet, he eyed the door to the master suite’s private, four-season porch. He thought about taking a different path back to front entryway. Out onto the master four-season porch, across the open deck to the kitchen’s four-season porch on the other side, and re-enter the house through the breakfast nook.

As Drayden tried to figure out if he would ever give into calling various rooms and grounds spaces by their formal names, he worked his way back the way he came, through the master suite down the hall towards the entry (dad calls it a foyer).

At the end of the hall, he stopped outside his dad’s office and looked into the great room. A stone fireplace and chimney stood large and tall against the wall to the right, stretching a full two stories from the wide base on the floor until the sides gently tapered off to just three feet wide at top where it met the angled ceiling between two of five scissor beam trusses. Stone was also used around the pillars that supported Drayden’s bedroom wall above the left side of the great room and around the wood fire pizza oven in the kitchen near the nook.

The open rooms were so spacious and empty it was like having access to an abandoned factory or church. Well, maybe not quite that big, but it was definitely spacious, empty, and the two rooms had more square feet combined than the entire first floor of their current house.

Before the flooring and wallboard was installed his dad brought him on a surprise Saturday morning trip where they spent all day, just the two of them, building ramps with scrap plywood and the builder’s tool boxes and raced some of Drayden’s radio controlled creations, smashing one as it fell from a three feet jump landing against the stone pillar. It was one of the best times he had with his dad.

Now, with the pristine wood floors trucks and shoes were now banned, but there was one thing he could do. Drayden backed up against the solid oak front door and stood on the soft carpet remnant where his tennis shoes lay overturned, laces strewn. He kicked them out of the way. One hit the closet door to the right, knocking some dried mud onto the floor.

He smirked a little and bent over to adjust his white socks pulling them up tight just above his ankles. He then clutched the bottoms of his basketball shorts, rubbing the white silky polyester between his fingers and palming the red letter “N” sewn on the side. He played a little with his wristbands, pushing them up tight towards his upper arm. Then, pressing his back firm against the door he looked up at the bridge between the lofts above, took a deep breath, paused, and went for it.

After six or eight quick steps—for once he wasn’t counting—he went into an exhilarating slide from the circular staircases into the great room. His heart raced as he felt the motion with his body and saw the walls, empty built-in shelves, and kitchen island whiz through his peripheral vision.

About Chad Leigh Kluck

Chad Leigh Kluck
I am the author of the book I Think Therefore I Am, A Collection of My Thoughts (2000). I don't write humor and fiction as much as I used to, but I still remain active online writing about technology, DIY projects, railroads, and history. More...

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