Love or loot? The god of money and Erin’s husband Chris once competed for her hand. Erin chose money. But, should they go another round, would she select the same champion?
Erin scowled as the telephone rang. Its sound reverberated through the musty “cow pen,” the warren of cubicles in the vault beneath the sleek, glass-and-steel building that rose high above the streets of lower Manhattan. As the ringtone sounded a second time, she began to push aside her collection of reports, balance sheets, and financial projections, hunting for the telephone, sending a gold-framed photo of a sandy-haired young man clattering to the floor.
Since she wore no wedding ring, people would often assume the man in the photograph to be Erin’s boyfriend, but, when asked, she would stoically shake her head.
“No such person exists,” was all she would say, and she would avoid further discussion of the man’s identity.
No one needed to know he had once been her husband, nor that he had walked away eight years earlier, refusing to join her, he had said, in “chasing leprechauns and plotting to steal their pots of gold.”
“This had better be important.” Erin finally located the telephone, hiding behind her computer monitor. She pulled the phone across her desk, leaving it teetering on the edge as she slipped out of her chair. Dropping onto all fours, wincing as her right knee struck the hard, concrete floor, she crawled under her desk, coughing as a cloud of dust filled the air, disturbed for the first time since the floor was mopped a month earlier, and wishing for a flashlight to help her see as she searched for the photograph.
It was one of only two personal items in her office. The other was not the obligatory photo of her children—no one need know about that aspect of her life either—but a fanciful print, a portrait of the ancient Greek god of wealth. He was pictured as a handsome young man, clean shaven, with reddish-brown hair, clad in a sparkling white toga. A necklace of gold coins encircled his neck, and he was surrounded by three massive, thigh-high urns, each overflowing with the same gold coins. In one hand, he cradled a cluster of grapes, and in the other he clutched a goblet of wine. The rewards of wealth, Erin supposed.
This image hung also in a gold frame, but, rather than sit on her desk amidst the clutter, it graced the wall, illuminated from above by one of those fancy little clip-on LED lamps, made just for this purpose. More than one person had compared it to a painting suspended on the wall of an ancient church, glowing in the light from the candles on the altar.
Chris, her former husband, and Plutus, the god of wealth, had once competed for Erin’s loyalty, but, while a man certainly might provide a pleasant diversion, Erin made no bones about which master she now served. Preferred serving, if the truth be told.
As a result, even after eight years, no other man’s picture had ever appeared on Erin’s desk, no messages from suitors had ever been tacked on her message board, and FTD had never delivered flowers on the morning following a sleepover. She kept the photograph of Chris only as a warning against other entanglements.
So she said.
The telephone rang a third time.
“Answer the phone already.” A voice rang out from one of the other twenty-nine carrels crammed into the former stockroom adjacent to the loading dock.
“Quiet,” someone else shouted.
Erin flung her arm over the edge of the desk, feeling for the telephone, pulling the entire set off the desk, causing it to crash onto the floor beside her.
“Come on,” another voice called. “Hold it down. I have work to do.”
Erin snatched up the receiver.
“Erin Stephens,” she snapped. Hearing no response, she huffed as she flipped it so the mouthpiece was near her mouth, rather than her ear. She rolled her eyes, at a loss for any rational excuse for requiring staff to use landlines in the office.
“Erin Stephens,” she repeated. “Who is this?”
“This is Alexandra Cooper, Ms. Stephens.”
Erin was still on her knees, reaching for the picture, and she didn’t immediately respond.
“I’m Mr. John Jamison’s administrative assistant.” Alexandra Cooper’s voice rose at the end of the sentence, turning it into a question, prompting Erin to recognize the name of her new supervisor’s aide.
She slapped her hand across her mouth, horrified.
“Ms. Cooper. Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course, I know…I didn’t mean…”
She scrambled to her feet, placing the picture safely on a shelf above her desk, and remained standing, as if Ms. Cooper had entered the cubicle, rather than calling.
Alexandra Cooper chuckled. “Quite all right. I was told you had asked not to be disturbed.” She paused. “But Mr. Jamison wants to see you. Now.”