They walked past various buildings in silence. It gave Fox a chance to reflect a bit on his reasons for coming here. He'd rarely been especially pleased with his life. He'd never really been entirely sure what he wanted to do with his life, in fact. His grandfather had hoped he'd be a writer. He wanted him to write science fiction. This was not something which appealed a great deal to Fox. It was probably the one thing in the world he could be fairly sure he didn't want to do. …His grandfather had wanted to be a writer. In fact he had considered himself a writer, though he rarely sold anything. Not more than one story every few years, and never got a novel published. Nevertheless, he was happy. He still wrote, and his friends read what he wrote, and enjoyed it. He could read other things, too, and watch TV and movies, listen to music, and just generally enjoy, even worship any and all sorts of art. …Besides, he was truly, deeply, madly, completely, desperately in love with a woman who loved him just as much. They alone were enough to make each other truly happy in life, and then anything else was simply a nice bonus.
Nevertheless, his grandfather had been disappointed that he never achieved the success he so wanted as a writer. To his credit, he did abhor the thought of living vicariously through his son or grandson, and this Fox could tell with unflagging certainty. He may have encouraged Fox to become an artist, especially a writer, but more than anything else he insisted Fox be his own person. This, Fox respected about his grandfather. There were a few things about his grandfather's underlying character that he couldn't help but admire and be glad of, take some small comfort in, despite how incredibly annoying he generally found him to be.
The only problem with being exactly who he himself wanted to be and not let anyone else tell him who to be, was that he never was quite sure who he wanted to be. In college, he worked part time in the mailroom of the local branch of a multi-national corporation. After college, he began working there full time, and every few years got a promotion. Once, his supervisor sent out a memo saying that positions were open for middle-managers, and full training would be provided to anyone who qualified. He still had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, but he'd recently met a girl, and was thinking it might be nice to make a little more money. So he applied, and was accepted.
Despite the fact that this wasn't what he wanted to do with his life, he was perfectly competent, and every now and then did something that seemed rather clever. And so, he continued to get promotions, until finally he had become executive vice-president of the local branch. His relationship with this girl had continued, and steadily improved. Recently, they had been talking about marriage, which made him happy. He didn't suppose he had nearly the kind of love with her that his grandparents had had, but as his grandfather had often said, their love was greater than any ever experienced by anyone in history. And Fox tended to believe that. After all, they were both insane, in their way; not the way his parents eventually became, but a more artistic sort of insanity which came naturally to them, and which wasn't so bad they couldn't control it and live more or less normally in society. And insanity- of whatever kind, he supposed- could probably allow one stronger emotions than most. Even love. …Perhaps his love wasn't even as great as that of his parents. But he was still very much in love with this woman, and wanted to marry her.
About this time, the president of the local branch of his corporation was retiring, and he was of course first in line for the position. He had no great love for this business, but at least over the years he had gotten used to it, and didn't mind it anymore. So, life didn't seem so bad to him. He had a job he didn't hate, was about to have a better job in the same place, and more money. He had some friends, he had a nice home, and most importantly, he had a girlfriend he loved who was soon to be his fiancé. And if society constantly reminded him of his grandfather, at least his grandfather himself wasn't around anymore to have any further involvement in his life. …Not that he'd ever claim to be, strictly speaking, glad that his grandfather was dead….
Well, just when he'd gotten a handle on life, it changed. He found himself one night lying in bed thinking of a passage from one of those books his grandfather loved, something about the Universe being this really bizarre thing that if ever anybody came to understand it, it would vanish and be replaced by something even more inexplicable. This came directly on the heels of his thinking the world was starting to make a bit of sense to him, and it made him shiver- he didn't even remember to be annoyed at thinking of his grandfather, he was so spooked. He calmed down after a minute, though. He didn't really believe until later that the thought had been prophetic.
He went into work the next day, the day his boss's successor was to be officially named. He'd been looking forward to this day. He'd talked with his boss about it often enough. They were friends, they worked well together, and they respected each other. They were happy for each other, for the changes coming to both their lives. He strolled casually, happily, towards the regional president's office. He actually fancied he might start whistling at any moment, but he restrained himself. He did, however, allow himself a small, self-satisfied chuckle; his grandfather had never been any good at whistling, and had always wished he had been.
Fox was just thinking of how he'd likely go shopping for an engagement ring after work; perhaps he'd allow himself to whistle while walking down the street to the jewelry store. It would be a better ring now, for his promotion and pay raise…. He got to the door to the office, and gave a quick knock before opening the door. He walked in the door with a smile on his face, and was greeted by a smile on another's face.
It wasn't his boss's face. It wasn't a terribly sincere smile, either, but rather one of those manufactured ones. He didn't recognize the man half-leaning, half sitting on the edge of his friend's desk, the smiling man. He looked to his friend, sitting, or rather slumping back in the chair behind the desk. He didn't like the look on his face.
"Fox," his friend said with a sigh, "…good morning. This is…."
"Hi, Fox," said the smiling man, who stood and walked a couple of steps to shake Fox's hand. "Tom Lester. I trust you're well?"
"Uh… yeah. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lester."
"Sorry… Tom…." He turned to his friend. "Jim, um…." But he couldn't think what to say. "What's going on?" he thought of asking, but it didn't sound quite right to him, so he didn't.
"Fox, Tom has been transferred here from the Chicago office. I didn't hear anything about this until this morning…. They want him… the corporation…." He sighed. "I'm sorry. They want him to take over, here."
Fox's smile, which had been slowly fading ever since he entered the office, was now completely gone. "But… I mean, I… it was all arranged. Today's announcement, well and the signing of papers… it was all just formality, really, yes? My promotion was approved…."
"Fox, I…." Jim began, but was interrupted by Tom.
"That it was, Fox, but, well, there've been unexpected changes, last minute stuff. Impossible to predict. And since you mention signing papers, well, as that hasn't been done yet, nothing was really official. I hope you understand. It's just, there are some new policies going into effect, new directions the corporation is taking starting now, so there's a great deal of reorganization to be done. I happen to have been closely involved in the planning of these new directions, and I understand them better than you. I truly am sorry about this, but it really is the best business decision." He was still smiling.
"Well…" he sighed, "I guess I do understand. Of course, yes. But, I'm sure I'll be up to speed after a while. I learn quickly. I'll be happy to work with you, and get to know you. I hope we come to have as close and enjoyable a working relationship as I've had with Jim…."
Tom wasn't quite smiling anymore, and his head was beginning to shake in a manufactured apologetic way. "I'm sorry, again, Fox, but I'm bringing my own management team with me. I'm afraid you're no longer vice president of the Boston office."
"…I'm being transferred?"
Jim was looking less and less happy by the minute. He constantly shifted his weight in his chair, and could never quite seem to find anything to focus his eyes on. But he stopped his fidgeting for the moment, and looked directly at his friend. "Fox… they're letting you go." He held his gaze a moment, and then let his head drop, and closed his eyes. They were way too sore for this time of day.
Tom's smile was back now, but muted, and with a manufactured apologetic edge to it, of the kind demonstrated by his recent headshake. He looked at Fox and said, "I truly am sorry. But you'll of course receive a generous severance package and a glowing recommendation from Jim here…. By the way, I love that name of yours. Hey, anybody ever call you 'Spooky'?" he asked with a friendly little laugh.