The receptionist looked older than Cassie’s grandmother. Brown spots speckled the backs of her hands and the thin, loose skin was a disconcerting contrast to her dark red acrylic nails. There was something about her face that reminded Cassie of a fox.
“Cathy, that’s a beautiful name,” the receptionist said.
“My name is Cassie.”
“It’s so unique. Cathy isn’t something you hear on every other girl nowadays. It sounds sophisticated.”
“My name is Cassie.”
“Who are you here to see, dear?”
Cassie would have thought a high tech company would have someone more sophisticated greeting engineers and international executives. It didn’t make the company look sleek and hip with a grandma, even a gayly decorated grandma, getting your name wrong and labeling you with affectionate terms.
“Let me look him up.” She woman turned to her computer and tapped the keyboard with her index finger. Her nail clicked on the hard plastic. “Is your real name Catherine? I know Cathy is often just a nickname.”
“My name is Ca-see Morgan.”
The woman smiled. “Here he is. And your appointment is at four?”
The receptionist picked up the handset and punched in five digits. Outside, a major storm was advancing. It was expected to drop two inches of rain in the next twenty-four hours. The sky was filled with black clouds. The lobby, that relied on natural light from windows that went from the floor up past the open balcony of the second floor, was dark. It gave everything a deserted look, not helped by the fact that the parking lot had been nearly empty when Cassie arrived. At her current company, the parking lot was packed full until after six o’clock. Big storm or not, this place had a desolate feeling. She shivered.
The receptionist spoke so softly, Cassie couldn’t make out her words. Maybe they were sucked into the vast, empty space above her. No voices trickled down from the second floor and there hadn’t been another person in the lobby during the few minutes Cassie had been standing there.
The receptionist replaced the phone.
Despite Cassie’s annoyance at the mis-representation of her name, and the unprofessional air she was giving off, she blurted out her discomfort as if the woman were her grandmother. “Where is everyone?”
“Oh . . .” the receptionist waved her hand toward the ceiling, “the storm.”
“So they all went home?”
“It happens.” The receptionist stood. “Darren must still be in his other meeting. I’ll escort you up to the waiting area outside his office.”
Cassie glanced over her shoulder at the front doors. “Don’t you have to watch the door?”
“The interior doors are locked. It’s okay if something comes into the lobby.”
“You mean some-one.”
The receptionist smiled. She walked around the end of her desk, handed a visitor’s badge to Cassie, and walked toward the elevators. Cassie followed, clipping the plastic badge to her lapel. They entered the elevator on the left, the doors already open as if someone had just come down, but no one had. The receptionist pressed the button for the seventh floor. The doors closed slowly and the air seemed to slip out before the two sides came together.
The moment the doors were sealed, the receptionist let out a harsh cough, almost like a bark. The rough sound continued all the way to the top floor. When the doors opened, she whispered with a strained voice, “Go ahead, Cathy.”
Cassie gritted her teeth and stepped out. The hallway was dark with only a faint bit of light coming through the window at the end. All the office doors were closed. “Is anyone here?” She turned back. The elevator doors were closing.
“Where am I supposed to go?”
The receptionist coughed harder and placed her hand over her face, fingers spread, red nails touching her hairline. The doors closed.
The entire floor, at least as far as Cassie could see, was empty, and she had no idea which office might belong to Darren Lopez. She pressed the down button and listened for the sound of the elevator returning. Rain began to thunder against the roof. She wasn’t sure whether the heard the elevator with all the racket — it sounded as if it had turned to hail. The light on the down button went out, but the doors didn’t open. She pressed it again. The light came on but no sound of gears or cables moving.
She walked to the end of the hall. None of the doors were labeled with an exit sign or suggested they might lead to a staircase. She pulled out her phone and look up Darren’s contact information. She entered his number, then saw she had no service. Her heart started to beat faster, keeping time with the ice pebbles pounding the building.
Slowly she retraced her steps, trying the handle of each door. She no longer cared if she looked out of place or interrupted a meeting. Each door opened to an office but none of the lights were on, the computer screens were dark, and the chairs were unoccupied.
When she was standing in front of the sealed doors of the elevators once again, hitting the button, she began to cry. The only sound was the ice pelting concrete and glass. She pushed the down button and held her finger there, but it did no good. She turned and looked at the window at the end of the hallway.
The receptionist stood there. She crooked a finger at Cassie and indicated she should join her in front of the window. Cassie walked slowly down the hall.
“Don’t be frightened, Cathy. They’re all gone, but I’ll take care of you. My daughter’s name was Cathy.” She smiled and for the first time, Cassie realized the woman’s teeth were those of a canine.
“My name is just Cathy, it’s not a nickname.”
“That’s what I thought.” The receptionist grinned.