The door latched shut behind Jia, and she had the distinct notion that what she was feeling right now was similar to being trapped inside the gated chute of a rodeo ring with a bull pawing the ground in her direction. Difference was that Atlas Grayson looked a lot more intimidating than any bull she knew of.
“How do you know Daniel?”
Jia hesitated only long enough for Atlas’s eyebrows to begin furrowing. Uh-oh. “We met a while ago, just once,” she said quickly. “I haven’t seen him since.”
“When? And how?” he insisted, refusing to be deterred by vague details.
Jia grimaced inwardly. She hadn’t wanted to bring up the topic, as embarrassing and awkward as it was. But it would do her no favors to lie to soften the blow against her pride, either. “It was when I first applied here,” she said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible. “I met Daniel, and he was able to help me.”
“Help you h
Jia had taken her lunch exactly at noon as Lydia instructed (though she had been too nervous to eat anything at all, even if she had had the pocket money to spend on a lunch in this too-expensive commercial district). She was just now returning to the office after twenty minutes of wandering the stairwell at the back of the building, ten minutes before she was due back. Lydia, however, didn’t seem surprised by her early return, and instead was visibly pleased.“Oh, good,” the woman said as she pushed in her rolling chair under the desk and scurried to the door on click-clacking stilettos. “Now, don’t do anything while I’m gone. I’ll be back as soon as I can, and if Mr. Grayson needs anything done, do not do it. Let him know I’ll handle it since you can’t do anything yet.”Jia stepped to the side and held the door open for Lydia to pass through. “Okay,” she agreed. “Enjoy your lunch.”She took no of
“Maybe I should try to contact Lydia,” Jia attempted to say again. He hadn’t heard her the first time when he had been slamming his fingers on the express elevator button three times in a row. “But I don’t have her contact information, so if I could get that from you -”“You don’t have to do anything,” he interrupted. “Just stand by the door and make sure to turn away anyone who’s looking for me until the meeting is over.” The doors slid open with a hiss, and before they had even fully withdrawn, Atlas was already standing inside the elevator carriage and in the middle of turning around. “Quickly,” he snapped.Jia nearly jumped at the biting impatience in his voice, but with the quick reflexes of someone well accustomed to responding to the barked orders of unreasonable superiors, she scurried inside to join him just before the doors closed behind her. With a hum, the cab began to descend.Lydia had warned her against this
Jia spent the next minute attempting to discreetly catch Anthony’s eye so that she could properly greet him, but he appeared almost desperately adamant to avoid just such a thing. Finally, she gave up and turned her head to face forward, opting to stare at a particularly colorful abstract painting hanging on the opposite wall. She had never been an artist nor schooled in its intricacies, but she was fairly certain it was supposed to look like a trumpet.Oh, this was killing her. She closed her eyes and tried to quash the boredom and agitation growing inside her now that she had nothing to do but wait. She checked the time on her phone for the seventh time and closed it again with a soundless sigh. Lydia wouldn’t return to the office for another ten minutes and some change; she hoped the woman wouldn’t summarily lose her mind at finding them gone.But that was the least of her worries. Once Jia explained to her that she had reminded Atla
“Then, if that’s all…?”Atlas stood up from the leather chair and extended his hand across the table toward George Burhock. They had sat at the end of it that was closest to the front of the room, well away from the door: though there was little risk of eavesdropping thanks to the soundproofing of the walls, Atlas could neither prove that nor did he expect the man to simply take his word for it. Emphasizing privacy was a demonstration of a small courtesy that he had no issue extending. Especially not for a multi-million dollar arrangement.“I see everything I’ve heard is true,” the older man said. He got to his feet with a grunt and reached over to shake his hand. “That has to have been the most soulless exchange I’ve ever partaken in.”Anyone else would have taken that as an insult, but Atlas considered it nothing but a point of satisfaction. What use was a soul in matters like these? “Efficiency, Mr. Burhock.” He withdrew his hand
The goodbye was only temporary, so it was a quick affair: a brief handshake between everyone, a promise to meet again tomorrow, and then Mr. Burhock’s and Anthony’s subsequent disappearance into a waiting vehicle in front of the building. Jia gave them a final wave before the luxury sedan disappeared down the street, and then Lydia tapped her on the shoulder, urging her to follow. Atlas had already begun heading back inside.“Lydia,” he said just as they discreetly caught up to him with hurried but careful steps to avoid the tell-tale clatter of stiletto heels on the ground.“Yes, sir?”Lydia squeezed in through the revolving glass door just in time behind Atlas, leaving Jia behind to helplessly wait for the next enclosure to come sliding around. She didn’t even get a chance to overhear what it was that Atlas had to say, and she fervently hoped that missing his next words wouldn’t be her undoing. She hurried into the ad
Firmly caught between Atlas Grayson and a hard place, Jia had nowhere to run. She couldn’t even muster up the courage to glance around for an escape route, for fear of breaking the stare that he had entangled her with like a sea turtle in a fishing net. Instinct told her that the moment she looked away, he would make her regret it.“I thought you had something to say, Ms. Moon.”Jia swallowed hard past the growing lump in her throat. “I - I did, sir” she squeaked, failing miserably in her attempt to stand her ground and hide her panic. Her voice completely broke on the last syllable.“Ms. Moon?”“Y-yes? Sir?”Atlas relaxed his arms that remained braced against the closed elevator doors on either side of Jia. He slowly leaned in, forcing her to press herself back harder into the metal. Maybe if she exerted herself, she thought, she could melt into the doors and become one with the buildi
It didn’t take long for Jia to swear off riding in a car ever again, at least when it came to riding shotgun. Idling in the backseat where she couldn’t see most of the road was fine, but sitting in the front and feeling the dangerous proximity of every single other two-ton machine on the road made her feel sick to her stomach.She closed her eyes every time the car in front of them suddenly pressed their brakes, and wondered if her fate was to die of an unfortunate rear-ending after everything she had been through in her life. And every time Atlas changed lanes, she held her breath, waiting for the inevitable fatal collision with some other unwitting driver.But the worst were the massive tractor trailers that occasionally trundled along beside them like deceptively docile T-rexes. Jia stared out the darkened window at a white sheet of studded steel just above the gigantic tires that could crush Atlas’s sleek Lamborghini into scrap metal. She wonder
Jia had never been to the airport before, but if asked, she would have adamantly insisted that there was no such thing as a special terminal for VIP passengers only. Surely they had to come through the same dog door just as everyone else did, even if they happened to also have a celebrity’s welcome waiting for them once they disembarked.She was, of course, completely wrong.The Lamborghini coasted down a road that forked just ahead, with one lane leading into the airport pick-up area and the other going off in some other mysterious, winding direction marked only with a bland, forgettable sign: “616 DESIGNATED PICKUP.” It was cryptic and vague; on a dark night, she wouldn’t have ever chosen to wander that way.But of course, that was the lane that Atlas chose to take, because why not. At least it was broad daylight right now - if some modern day highway bandits were lying in wait for some unsuspecting driver to come alo