Anybody looking at this from the outside might think that nothing much is going on. Looking, for instance, from the vantage point of one of the security cameras that sprout from the ceiling. Tiny glass-eyes that you never want to look at, because you don't want to think that someone, somewhere is watching you all day while you stumble about your life. How embarrasing.

But now. Now I don't care. They would think that nothing is going on, because of what's happening.

But they would be wrong. Because what's important is what's not happening.

What's happening is, I am sitting in the main meeting room of my floor, alone.

What's not happening is the meeting.

Everything is painted in deep red, the sun plunging just outside the window into the concrete below.

This is the only room on this floor with a window.

For the clients, you know.

So I'm here, basking in the sunset, alone.

The glass looks outside into the city, but it reflects my face. I'm thinking, this must be the most expensive mirror in the world. I'm wondering if maybe they will move the entire building with me and my reflection in it, and I won't even notice.

And I'm waiting.

I didn't see a single person when I walked on my way here. The entire floor was quiet, I could even hear the humming of the fluorescent lights. Eddie must have vanished on his way up. Ted must be grooming his suit somewhere, or socializing in the bathroom. Tony and Little Bernie may have relocated to a restaurant to continue their culinary experiments.

I've been waiting for fifteen minutes. It's thirty minutes after the time the meeting was supposed to start.

And no one's here.

This is typical. Show up on time to a meeting and no one comes. Maybe they cancelled it.

Wait a minute.

Maybe they canceled it.

I press the red button with a bell in it, but nothing happens. Strange.

The elevator has stopped. The lights are on, but the alarm doesn't work.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, the white letters say, PRESS THIS BUTTON. Then there's a black button.

The letters are white on red, just like the alarm button, behind a tiny metallic door that is just below the buttons you press to go to this floor or that.

I didn't open the tiny door. I punched the panel in anger and it opened on its own, slowly, inviting.

There are more letters below the button. WAIT FIVE SECONDS FOR MANUAL RELEASE, the letters say.

This is another situation that becomes an out-of-body experience. Too much tension, so you just pretend it's not you standing there, waiting for some mechanism you can't see to do its magic. The tension comes purely from fear.

You press the button.

You count. One second. Two seconds.

What you are afraid of is not that the elevator will fall.

Three.

What you are afraid of is that it won't.

Four.

This is familiar territory. From years ago. Deja vu.

You never get to five because the hand release mechanism does what it's supposed to do and a slit of brightness appears in the metal. Your fingers go in and you pull. Reality takes me back in. They're my fingers now. I pull.

The doors open.

I am between floors, and the view from here is what rats or cockroaches see every day. The view from the trenches. I can see the dirt on which we walk up close, what we throw, what they eat. Some people say that rats will inherit the earth. I think that rats gave the earth to us. They used to run things, but then they decided that it was much better to let a bunch of egotistical primates do all their work for them, and they let us be in charge of creating food and shelter and such things.

One day, we'll take the rats to Mars, free of charge. And they will get there without having to worry about balancing the budget.

I have stop thinking about rats and space travel, and get out. This thing might start up again.

I pull myself out, crawling. My arms hurt. I stand up, look around. Sixth floor.

As soon as I'm out, the elevator starts to move until it reaches the floor. Ding, Dong, it says.

Figures.

Well, at least I got here.

There's no one in sight. The workers that were here in the morning are gone. And it's not five o'clock yet.

What I'm doing now is going floor by floor one last time, trying to find Eddie. I approach the doors. Carefully. I cover my hands with the sleeves of my shirt, and I push. The doors open.

I walk in. There's the smell of things that have just been built, paint, wood cut or drilled, solvent. There are pieces of carpet everywhere. What's left of sunlight cuts the floor in sharp shadows of chairs, lonely cubicle walls and tables. I'd never seen shadows in the office.

A sound, coming from the side.

I turn to it, and there's a sort of... what is that? Some sort of wall...

Eddie? I say.

Eddie's head shoots up behind the wall. What? he says, nervously.

I clear my throat, then say, Are you building a fort?

Protection, Eddie's head says. Protection.

Protection, I think, In a fort. Is there any sand here? And I left my pail at home.

Protection from what? I say.

You know, Eddie's head says, then it disappears. Eddie crawls out from it, from a side, then stands up.

What? he says. Whatdoyouwant?

I make an effort to stop looking at the hideous structure behind Eddie and I look at him. The meeting's soon, I say.

This is my excuse for looking for him, the result of minutes of preparation and hard work.

Oh, Eddie says.

Plus, you said you'd explain later, I say.

Ha! Eddie says, YoushouldtellJordanI know what'sgoingon.

Jordan?

I haven't seen Jordan in weeks, I say.

Really, he says.

Well, I'm nottelling you anything, he says, then starts to walk, and goes past me. I turn around and he's by the door. I walk after him.

I get to the door, open it, and he's already on the elevator, doors closing.

Wait! Where are you going? I say

The meeting, Eddie says. Then his face disappears, only shiny metal left.

The meeting. I look at my watch. It was a good excuse then.

The meeting is now.

Jordan looks back at me from the edge of the bed, where she's sitting, half-naked.

What you have to understand, she says, is that when you exercise every day, say, by running two or three miles, your whole world view changes. You spend all day pumped up on adrenaline or whatever. Everything is black and white. There is no thinking, just acting, as if you had an artificial warzone in your head. Making choices becomes easy. You might be wrong, but you don't care. You should try it.

Please, I say, I don't want to talk politics.

Jordan knows what she's talking about. She has been running two miles a day every day for the past four months. She still smokes half a pack a day, but that doesn't seem to affect her. Me, I run after the bus for half a block and my body is already declaring a state of emergency.

She lights up a cigarette, and offers one to me.

Tobacco seriously damages health, I say.

Yeah, well, she says, Life is a terminal disease, but babies don't come with government warnings. Then she says, Do you want this? and she nods at a cigarette in her hand.

Sure, I say.

I rise a bit, enough so my hand can reach hers, and grab the cigarette, then fall back on the bed.

This is about three weeks ago, in my apartment, the last night we were together. She was leaving on a trip, didn't want to say where. She didn't leave a phone number. I'll call, she said. She didn't.

But that's okay. As a way of dumping me, it seemed almost effortless. No fighting. No arguments. Also, since she didn't actually dump me, she could come back. I don't know what I feel, but I'm not sad. She knew what she was doing, whatever it was. I could say I'm so calm about it because I trust her, but it could also be denial. You never know.

The reason I'm thinking about this is, I've been chasing Eddie through the entire building for the last hour. I went back to the office after the basement nearly killed me, and there he was, rummaging through the contents of my cubicle. When he saw me, he started walking away, discreetly. I followed. Eddie and me playing this game of cat and mouse through the office. We must have looked like idiots.

I am behind him, trying to walk fast without attracting attention, and the distance between us is enough that I can't really call out for him.

I walk faster. He looks back, and sees me gaining on him. Then he walks faster.

I walk even faster.

And so on.

We never break into a run though, because when we get to the lobby he manages to get into the elevator that is leaving, and that's the last I see of him.

And so the chase began. Elevators, stairs, floors, more elevators, more stairs. It's as if I was chasing a ghost, something that could move through walls, or as if he knew where I'd be next so he managed to avoid being there. Everywhere I went I asked if they'd seen him, and the answer was always something like Yeah, sure. He was just here a second ago...

I am past the point of exhaustion, my legs hurt, even my shoulders hurt. My shirt is sticking to my armpits.

So that last conversation came back to me, and now I see what she meant. Before, I wanted to find Eddie to reason with him. I was angry, but it was anger full of ambiguity, of trying to understand his position, of trying to make him understand mine, etcetera. Right now, I don't even want to talk to Eddie. I just want to find him, then throw him out the window. If someone told me he'd done it already, all by himself, I'd be happy. Problem solved. Normally I am not like this.

I guess it must be the exercise.

I just got out of the elevator, into dim light, and a pile of black filing cabinets is collapsing. And I'm in their way.

This is a timeless instant, one of those rare moments when you realize that nothing matters. It's what some people call a near-death experience.

But you call it that only after the fact, because in that moment there is nothing but death staring at you right in the face, asking for credentials. And instead of life flashing before your eyes you have a simple, innocuous thought in your mind, like What? or And I left the door open!

You should be thinking about what you accomplished in life and the only thing you can think of is your cable bill. Inane words wrapped in recognition of something, like the flash in your head when you see a long-lost friend walking down the street, and then it's gone. The philosophical pretensions follow. The analysis. That's when you say, That was close. I will change my life. I will enjoy it. I will do what I really want.

And then you just check your clothes for dirt spots and walk on, back home or wherever, back to a living room to watch tonight's baseball game or your favorite sitcom, or back to your office and the two-hour meeting that had just been rescheduled. Slowly, the moment fades away. Then it's just a memory. One more tale to tell.
But not right now. Right now, it's just me and this heavy hunk of metal that is falling on me and I'm looking at it, noticing little details, like a scratch on one of the cabinets or the drawers as they slid open while the structure falls, head first so to speak.

Something, I don't know what, breaks my deer-in-the-headlights phase and I jump ahead. Behind me, the cabinets hit the floor in a loud series of bangs. It's over.

I turn around, and look at the heap of painted metal, paper and binders that now exists between me and the door to the elevator. I imagine that something had been holding this mountain of filing convenience against the elevator door, and when the door opened everything came crashing down.

A trap.

Where I am now is in the basement. I came here looking for Eddie, and I found myself facing Death By Crushing.

After the bathroom I went back to my cubicle, and I saw the unopened package that Eddie had received. I opened it. Inside were some reports that discussed Action Plan B, and a memo. The reports appeared to be just like the others I'd seen, but the memo was new. The memo said that I should be consulted on this, and that I should be able to lay the groundwork.

I.

Me.

I have trouble getting right the order of the buttons on my shirt, how can I provide the groundwork for anything?

The memo was addressed to all the department heads, including my manager.

The sender was the CEO.

It had to be fake. Who would go and do such a thing? Who would care?

But then I remembered that Eddie had ignored the contents of the package. Eddie knew. I had to ask Eddie. He would probably tell me off, or come up with some bullshit story to appease me. But I had to try.

Eddie was nowhere to be found. I walked all over the floor, something I had never done before. I walked past Little Bernie's cubicle, desk covered with open cereal boxes and tupperware. I walked past Marge's cubicle, some seventy square-feet with so many plants it looks like a greenhouse with no glass ceiling. I even saw the common printer for the first time, lonely inside its own cubicle, merrily spewing reams of memos and documents, charts and everything, secure in its job.

I couldn't find him, so I looked for Kathy.

Kathy said that she didn't know, but that she'd heard him say something about the basement as he was leaving the office. So there I went, and here I am.

I assume that the trap, if that's what it was, was for me, but I can't be sure. I can also assume that it was Eddie, but who knows? Many people take revenge on their peers as random recreation.

Even me.

I call out for Eddie, but there is no reply except the echoes of my voice, dilapidated for a moment between the old furniture and the silent computers. Eddie's not here.

I retreat, carefully, over the metal and the binders and the forgotten memos. I call for the elevator, and wait. Next stop: Eddie. Wherever he is.

Everything around me is white, white ceramics on the walls, white floor, white plaster ceilings. The seat I'm on is not really called a seat, it's a cover. Plastic. Below it is what's actually called the seat, another slice of plastic with a hole in it. Big hole. The plastic below me creaks and moans every time I move, so I try to stay still. This is where I find my peace, the ultimate sanctuary.

Where I am is in a bathroom stall, in the toilets of my floor. I only come here in emergencies, metaphysical or the other kind.

This, is an emergency.

Excess of truth, that did it. Just as Don Cicce was pulling away, I had an idea. There was one more thing I had to ask. I ran after him and his clacking cart and stopped him.

I said, One more question.

Don Cicce looked at me, inscrutable.

When are they planning the move?

Ah, Don Cicce said, Tomorrow-a!

Tomorrow? I said.

Yes, Don Cicce said, and left me standing just like before. Tomorrow.

So I walked back to my cubicle to sit down and think, and as soon as I relaxed the phone rang. God! Let a person have some rest! I thought, even though I wasn't really tired and I hadn't done any real work in quite a while. What is it with my job that it feels like work even when I'm doing nothing?

Anyway, I had to get out. I went to the kitchen, but Tony and Little Bernie where there, apparently performing surgery on a sandwich and talking excitedly about different types of Italian dressing.

The kitchen was not an option.

So, here I am. The door is closed, and everything is silent except for the remote dripping of a faucet somewhere. I've been here for maybe ten minutes, and still the image of that sandwich with two grown men slobbering over it as if it was made of gold haunts me. Two words, whispered, reach me. The horror. The horror.

All the movies about Vietnam put together are nothing compared to this.

I am trying to concentrate on the problem at hand, namely, the fact that I might soon be out of a job, when I hear the bathroom door open.

Steps. A faucet opens. Water. A deep breath.

The door opens again.

A voice. A woman.

There you are, the woman says.

What is a woman doing here?

The water sound stops, and after comes the creaking of the mechanism as it's pushed beyond its limits. Then comes the reply.

What? I recognize the voice. It's Ted's.

No one else here?

Let me check, Ted says. I raise my feet from the floor, and wait.

A moment passes. Yeah, we're alone, Ted says finally.

My feet go back to the floor, slowly.

When are you talking to your people?

Later today, Ted says, I figured it was better to tell them at the end of the day.

Good. Be tactful.

Tactful? I think.

Some people are not taking this too well, the woman goes on, Mark Spielman, from Corporate, had a guy throw a tantrum in the middle of the meeting. The guy ran to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of ketchup. Splattered ketchup all over everybody.

Savages, Ted says, When was this?

Just now, the woman says.

I try to think who would do something like that, but the conversation goes on.

What happened to your pants? the woman says.

My pants? Ted says.

Did you wash them with wine or something?

Picture Ted in his dark purple pants, the one he's so proud of he went on about them for a week, explaining everyone in the office how he'd gotten a great deal on them in his trip to Italy. They are the latest over there, he'd said.

Yeah, my wife screwed up, Ted says.

A beeping sound. Then hands running over clothing.

Look, I gotta run, says the woman. See you at the meeting at eight.

Okay, Ted says, and I can see his fake smile at full volume.

The door opens, then closes. I wait.

And wait.

The door opens and closes again.

I still wait.

The door opens once more, and this time I raise my feet again. I can imagine Ted crouching next to it, double checking.

The door closes.

Feet go back to the floor and they stay there, still, but my head is spinning. Maybe I shouldn't pack.

Maybe I should just get my hands on a large supply of ketchup.

As I walk to my manager's office, I notice that few people have come back from lunch. Another floor with too much silence. But this one is my floor. Who would have thought that I would miss all those annoying office noises?

Next to Ted's office is the big surprise, an empty cubicle. All its contents have been packaged and stacked, just like Sally's cubicle and the others. It seems as if a strange virus is spreading through the building, or as if we are under attack by some invisible enemy that makes people disappear and wraps everything else in transparent plastic.

I look at the empty chair and try to remember. Who worked here? A woman. What was her name? Have they relocated her from my mind too? What did she do?

My trip down memory lane is suddenly interrupted by Ted walking out of his cubicle.

Hey! he says, Finished with those memos?

Yeah, I say, No problem.

Good, he says.

You know, I say, I have a question for you.

Shoot, he says.

Damn. I left my .357 at home.

What's happening? I say.

He scratches an eyebrow, then says, With what? Happening?

All the empty floors, cubicles with no people. Everything packed up. Reorgs.

Empty cubicles? he says.

I take one step back and point at the empty cubicle next to his.

Oh, that, Ted says.

Yeah, that.

You'll be at the meeting this afternoon, right? he says.

Yeah.

Great, he says, You'll find out then! Excuse me.

And with that, he leaves.

Confrontation didn't work. He didn't know, or he didn't want to tell me. Who might know about this?

A metallic sound growing in the distance brings the answer. Don Cicce.

Don Cicce is the man responsible for nourishing the caffeine addiction of the executive ranks of the company. He travels from floor to floor delivering the goods. Coffee made with imported beans, pastries and sandwiches that are so good he has to cover them to prevent a wave of heart attacks as he pushes the clanking metal cart with its precious cargo. Rumor has it, he even has M&Ms. For the CEO, you know.

And now he is approaching me, whistling a happy tune as usual, pushing the cart along. If he doesn't know what's happening, no one does.

Don Cicce! I say.

Bambino! he says, raising his arms. One day I will find out what bambino means. I'd bet it's an insult.

Hey, I say, I wanted to ask you something.

You want some coffee, yes? he says in his inimitable Italian accent, hands already moving to pick up a cup.

No, no, I say, Just a question. Do you know why so many floors are empty? The people gone?

Ah, the ree-org, he says, Nobody knows. They are-a moving to a new building.

And you don't know where, I say.

No, niente, but I am-a working extra tonight, he says.

Thanks, I say, and I pat him on the back. He leaves, and as he walks past me he starts whistling again. A happy soul.

They are moving the entire company? It seems the meeting today is not going to be a happy one. Not that I didn't expect a layoff or two. But future layoffs, not everyone laid off today... and Ted is so relaxed...

Precisely.

I wonder, should I start packing?