A Single Step
“Accidents will happen.”—George Colman
It was around 3:00 when Ike found enough nerve to get up, but once in motion, it felt easy. He was steady on his feet, if not in his head. The desk at the end of the hall was empty, but a glance toward the lobby revealed Krasnoski emerging from the conference room. He nodded at Ike and meant to go, until he saw that he was the young man’s quarry.
“Sir, might I have a few minutes of your time?” Ike asked.
Krasnoski nodded gravely, forcing away a bitter smile as if he knew what was coming. He gestured back toward the empty conference room.
“Ed,” Ike said, as he sat in front of his boss, feeling awkward with the familiarity cultivated in the office toward such a famous architect. “I’ve been approached by a man to design and build a house—in Butler—and I intend to do it.”
Krasnoski stared at Ike, not studying him, more fixated with incredulity upon the young man, as if his features might betray the source of this reckless bravado.
“Do you have any idea what you’re getting into? You aren’t even registered—you’re barely out of school.”
“I know it’s really soon for me, but I’ll find a way. Building I can do, I’ve done it for 11 years.” Ike shrugged. “Designing I think I can do, and as far as code and technical issues, I have a fair idea who to ask for help. I appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given here at FKRS, and with times being what they are, maybe I could work part-time over the next year or so, on an hourly basis—“
“Are you nuts, kid?”
“No, sir. You’ll save money while preserving your Gym project team, with no worry of keeping me busy beyond that if the economy doesn’t improve.”
“And you are willing to forego job security?”
Ike leaned back in his chair. “The economy is a wreck. Architects are getting laid off all over. Is there job security? Besides, I’m 24. What do I care?”
“Might I see what you have in mind?”
Ike lifted the thin portfolio from his lap. The older man seemed a little surprised, but stifled the reaction in favor of glancing at the cover rendering.
Krasnoski lingered over the parti, without comment, then flipped to the plan and elevations.
“Amateurish. I suppose you may grow out of it.”
His suggestions of books and buildings to study were few and gruff; Ike absorbed each word. Closing the folio and laying his long fingers upon it, Krasnoski looked up at Ike.
“What’s your square footage?”
There was an extinguished expletive in the exhale. “Who wants to live in that? No wait, don’t tell me—it’s all they can afford.”
“My client and his wife have been living in a small trailer all their married life; now they want a house. They want a little more room, for specific needs; they want a porch. It’ll be an outdoor room when the weather’s good.”
“Replacing the lawn chairs under a tarp on poles, I suppose?”
“I think so.”
Krasnoski scrutinized the young man across from him. “You’re going to build for this client?”
“I’m going to build with this client.”
Krasnoski lifted an eyebrow, stood then, extending his hand across the table. Ike shook it the long, cool fingers, enjoyed the confidence of the grip.
“You’ve got a few borrowed ideas and a lot of nerve, which is about all it takes to get a business off the ground, if you want the truth. What you discover beyond that is any man’s guess, as it is for all of us. I’m glad we hired you, young man. I can agree to this. You won’t use the firm name on this project, but I suspect you have no desire to.”
“No, sir. Respectfully.”
Krasnoski sank his hands into his pockets, a hard smile slowly growing.
“You tell me when you want to return to salary and we’ll discuss it. If I can, I’ll bring you back. Good luck, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Krasnoski bowed his head gravely, and walked swiftly from the room. Ike collapsed into the chair. He’d done it; he was off the road and walking up an unknown hill. He felt even better than the day he landed this job six months ago. It wasn’t a prize this time; it was an adventure. His adventure.
Fred never returned to the lunchroom, and Ike did not see him the rest of the afternoon; in fact, the fiduciaries had been strangely absent altogether. Didn’t look like Fred would be at the bus stop either; he was always there first. Ike was excited to share his news and to hear what the deal was with Ed and Colin. Sirens screamed a few blocks over as fat, drifting flakes piled up on Ike’s shoulders and over the cobbles of Fourth Street. A police car screamed past him headed east, straight through the light.
The bus was 20 minutes late, then took a long time getting past Smithfield where cops were directing traffic. The few people on the bus with Ike peered through the darkness and swirling snow at the jumble of flashing lights that looked like a carnival about five blocks up. At least Second Avenue was deserted and it took no time for the bus to get to Ike’s stop on Frank Street.
The streets were slick here too, and Ike knew his hill would be precarious, so he played at running and skidding his way down to the driveway. He burst into the living room with a gust of laughter, snow flying from his coat and hair.
Fred clicked the mute button, turning from the ottoman where he was studying the grainy picture on the television. Light reflected off his glasses, blind headlights in a death’s mask. Ike dropped his bag, dread coursing coldly through his veins.
He did not like the terrible expression twisting Fred’s face. In a daze, he crossed the room to his side, braced for whatever it was that had shattered his friend. Fred returned the volume.
The television showed chaos, a jumble of images and sound scrambling for sense in Ike’s head: police lights in dizzy blue and red, the word “Live” in the corner of the screen, a car across a sidewalk, it’s front end buckled, a reporter batting snow from her eyes, yellow tape cordoning a street, maybe Sixth, a weird hole in a building. Beside him, Fred’s shoulders were frozen and tense. Ike’s pulse pounded, his breathing going fast and shallow.
The camera cut from a mannequin in a striped shirt lying in the street, a strange torso without legs, to a shot of the Bank Tower Building.
Ike felt his knees turning to liquid.
“…pronounced at the scene…”
“Holy fuck.” Ike’s knees hit the floor.
Fred nodded, a man hypnotized.
“…Colin Radnor, age 53…”
“Jesus Christ,” Ike muttered, and what came after was a prayer.
“I am the scythe of the Spectacle,” Fred whispered in a voice wet with tears.
The phone rang and kept ringing, one more shrieking instrument in the Dies Irae of sirens and noises that filled the entire world, as far as their heads could comprehend it.
You can find the beginning here.