14 Mart 2023

One Wild Night

Athletic

“Did we get the data back after the crash? Dennis is going to have a fit if this sets us back too far!”

Three men stood in the path of this angry declaration.

Two of them looked to be right out of college. Young men who appeared barely old enough to shave, let alone have important corporate jobs. Their names were Frank Cooley and Josh Andrews, highly prized recruits from the Ivy League.

The third seemed almost out of place in the scene. Much older, with a few wispy gray hairs mixed in with the black ones on his head, he frowned at his boss’s tone but remained silent.

“Ask Karl! He was in charge of the recovery,” snapped Frank defensively.

Three pairs of eyes pivoted to the older man, Karl Groves, a twenty-year veteran of Sellinger Brothers, one of the premier engineering and construction outfits in the United States.

“Well, Karl?”

Karl licked his lips and worked carefully to contain his temper. He was no fan of the man asking the questions, or his younger colleagues who stood shoulder to shoulder with him but seemed prepared to throw Karl under the bus.

“I started the run this morning, but the catalog was corrupted, so I had to pull one from tape. It will be another six hours or so.”

“Just great…” mumbled Jackson West, the boss in this little drama.

Only six years older than his Ivy League employees, Jackson had enough arrogance for all three. Karl had taken a disliking to him from day one, and the feeling was mutual. Jackson saw the older man as out of step with the times, a throwback to an earlier era of client/server systems and local area networks. This was the new frontier, and “Cloud Computing” was the order of the day.

“You should have migrated that data to our cloud provider. Why was it still on our local servers?”

“The data included proprietary design stuff from our R&D department. I was told that it hadn’t been cleared to move to the Cloud yet.”

“Check your e-mail, Karl, I cleared the moving of all data yesterday!”

“Sorry, Boss. My mailbox got migrated to the Cloud yesterday and still isn’t working yet,” said Karl smugly.

Jackson gritted his teeth. He had been hired based on his pitch to cut costs by moving this company’s infrastructure off-premises, and it looked bad on him when transfers didn’t go smoothly. The e-mail migration was moving slowly, and there had been several hiccups along the way.

“Fine. Just…keep me informed and let me know when the server is back online.”

Jackson dismissed the younger men but halted Karl before he could walk away.

“Since you didn’t get the e-mail for obvious reasons, I should tell you that we are going to be taking Orion offline two months earlier than we planned. There won’t be any need for it.”

Karl stood impassively before his boss though his emotions churned beneath the surface. Orion was their enterprise backup system. He had been in charge of it for the past fifteen years, upgrading it multiple times until it consisted of a dozen servers controlling various backup appliances, including removable hard drives and digital tapes. The system as a whole handled the archiving and retrieval of hundreds of terabytes of company information. At least it had, until now. Jackson was itching to mothball the whole thing as an unnecessary cost now that the data would be off-site and handled by their cloud provider.

“I see. So, I’ll be reassigned then?”

“I’m…uh…Still working on that,” said Jackson noncommittally.

Privately, Jackson intended to mothball Karl along with the system, another cost cut in the war against the red ink. Retraining Karl would be too costly when he could just get some college kid for half the money.

“Right. Thanks, Jackson.”

An awkward silence descended before Jackson nodded and grunted a half-hearted farewell, turning on his heel and heading down the hallway.

“What an asshole!” came a voice from the cubicle behind Karl.

“Eavesdropping, Murray, is an unflattering trait.”

“This is a cube farm, Karl. People can’t help but overhear each other.”

Like a desert prairie dog rising out of its hole, Murray Sleins’s bald head popped up over the cubicle wall.

“How do you put up with that guy? I mean the way he talks down to you all the time…”

“It’s his department. He can talk to me anyway that he wants to,” sighed Karl, coming around the edge of the cubicle and plopping down in Murray’s guest chair.

“Still, you’ve been here twenty plus years, Karl, that has to count for something. A little respect, maybe? You should go to Dennis and…”

“And what? Tell him the guy he hired is being mean to me? This is a business. I don’t have to like the guy to work for him, and besides, I need this job too much right now.”

Murray’s face softened, “The papers came through?”

“We go to court on the second of next month. Eighteen years of marriage…I never saw it ending this way.”

“What about the kids?”

“Jill is going to be primary. I get every other weekend and some holidays,” said Karl.

“I’m yenibosna escort sorry, Karl,” replied Murray sincerely, knowing that the thing that hurt Karl the most was not getting to see his two sons as often.

“Did I tell you she’s dating her scuba instructor?”

“Seriously? Hell, the bed isn’t even cold yet.”

“I suspect it never got cold, but I can’t prove that,” murmured Karl.

“You think she was seeing him before things went south for you guys?”

“It would explain a lot. I guess it hardly matters now. I should get back to work.”

Karl started to stand up, but Murray stopped him, putting a hand on his arm.

“You didn’t forget about tonight, did you?”

“Ah! Murray! I’m not really up for anything…”

“This isn’t just anything. It’s your freaking birthday for crying out loud! I’ve been beating the drum all week to get folks out for a happy hour party to celebrate.”

“The last thing I need right now is to be reminded I’m another year closer to my grave.”

“You’re hardly old enough to be worried about dying, Karl.”

“Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but definitely another year toward irrelevance.”

“The milestone birthdays are always the worst, aren’t they?”

Karl smiled sardonically at that. He was forty-nine, about to tip over the top of the mountain and begin the long, slow slide into old age.

“I just thought at this point in my life I would be more…”

“Content?”

“I guess, or at least feel like I had accomplished more. Instead, I feel like I’m starting over at a time when most guys are taking their victory lap. You know what I mean?”

“I hear you, but that’s just one more reason to go out with your friends and tie one on! Let’s show this younger generation we can throw up in a gutter just as pathetically as they can!”

Karl laughed and patted his friend on the shoulder while standing up to leave.

“Okay, Murray, if it means that much to you.”

“You won’t regret this, Karl. Time of your life, I promise.”

“Sure, Murray, sure.”

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER –

Karl stood in the bathroom of his office building, washing his hands.

He was already having second thoughts about this whole birthday happy hour thing. Unlike his younger colleagues, Karl was used to going home on a Friday night and having a quiet evening, maybe tossing a baseball with his oldest if there was still sunlight enough in the sky. He hadn’t been a part of the bar scene in years.

“You could have drunken any of those kids under the table in your youth, though, couldn’t you old man?” he asked his reflection.

Truthfully, for a guy pushing hard on the door to fifty, he didn’t look it. Still reasonably fit, despite being mostly desk-bound during the day, Karl had the luck of good genes being built naturally slender like his mother with the handsome, roguish features of his father. If it hadn’t been for the gray hair and a few crows feet around his eyes, he might have past for being five years younger than he was, maybe ten in the right light.”

“Like the darkness of a coal mine,” he joked to himself, throwing the wadded up paper towel he had just used to dry his hands into a nearby wastebasket.

He sighed, looking at his watch. It was time to go.

The bar Murray had chosen for the festivities was an old favorite of people from their office. It was called the “Landing Zone” and had the design and ambiance of an World War Two bunker, complete with combat netting hanging from the ceiling and vintage war paraphernalia displayed on the walls. Behind the bar was a giant painting of the D-Day landings with soldiers piling out of a Higgins boat looking for trouble.

Trouble was what Karl was afraid he was going to find as well at the rate people were shoving drinks in front of him. The upside to being the birthday boy was that everyone wanted to buy you a round, that was also the downside.

“To Karl Groves, a hell of a guy!” shouted Murray, swaying slightly as he tried to bring a shot glass to his lips.

Karl feigned lifting his mug, and quickly put it back down while Murray had his eyes shut. The others at their table didn’t seem to notice, busy with their own drinks.

“Who’s getting the next round?” slurred Toby Guest, a programmer from their R&D group who was squinting through his thick glasses, likely not able to focus his vision even with their help.

“Is it your turn, Bob?” mumbled Murray to a rotund, Hispanic man leaning on the table next to him.

“No way! I got the last one,” groused Bob, shaking a finger in Murray’s face.

“I’ll get this one,” offered Karl, sliding off the stool where he had been sitting.

“You can’t buy…this is your party!”

“It’s okay. I want to stretch my legs anyway. This stool is getting hard on my ass.”

“I heard that’s Jackson West’s job!” offered Toby causing a general outbreak of laughter at the table.

The joke hit too close to home for Karl to find it funny, but he managed a chuckle for the zeytinburnu escort benefit of his colleagues before making his way to the bar.

Since their arrival, there had been a shift change. Gone was the grizzled looking former marine who had been taking their drink orders since they arrived. A much more feminine presence had taken his place. At the moment, Karl couldn’t tell much about her since she had her back to him other than she had a head of curly red hair that ran down across her shoulders and a very nice rear end in the black skirt she was wearing.

“Excuse me,” he began.

“I’ll be right with you,” said the new barkeep over her shoulder while she cleared the register in front of her.

When she turned around, Karl momentarily forgot all about his drink order.

All his life, Karl Groves had been attracted less by the kind of voluptuous, blond bombshell types that drew the attention of most of his male friends, and more by the girl-next-door kind, women with a wholesomeness about them that, at the same time, concealed a certain sultriness underneath. The young woman that stood before him had that look in spades.

She was about five-foot-six, he guessed, with dark-brown eyes that seemed to glitter slightly in the low light. The fair skin of her face was covered with a smattering of freckles that ran up over the bridge of her nose, making her appear almost too young to be working in a bar.

“What can I get you?” she asked, pulling her perfect, full, light-pink lips into a smile that made Karl’s heart race.

“I…Uh…Beer?” he said hopefully like he was grasping for the answer to a particularly hard test question.

“We have sixty different beers on the menu, Pal. Think you could narrow it down for me?” she replied sarcastically.

Karl shook his head, embarrassed at his reaction to a girl who was probably twenty-five years younger than him and likely to get creeped out if he kept leering at her the way he was at the moment. Looking away, he fought to sort out his thoughts.

“Sorry…I meant three Heineken and a Corona with lime.”

She didn’t reply but went about filling his order while he attempted to focus his attention on anything that wasn’t her body. He wasn’t entirely successful, noting that, in addition to a pretty face, gorgeous hair, and a devastatingly incredible ass, the young bartender also possessed a lovely pair of round breasts that were peeking out over the top of her t-shirt. He noticed what looked like a leaf and maybe the edge of a twisting vine inked on one and was fascinated, wondering what sort of tattoo was coloring her creamy-white skin.

She set the drinks in front of him.

“Twenty-four-fifty.”

Karl fished for his wallet, nearly dropped it, and finally managed to pull a twenty-dollar bill along with a ten from inside handing them over.

The bartender turned away from him again, her long-nailed fingers dancing across the register keys before pulling his change from the till and spinning back around.

“It’s a rose,” she said as she dropped the money into his waiting palm.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The tattoo on my breast that you’ve been staring at for the last two minutes. It’s a rose.”

Karl fumbled the money, two quarters hitting the bar and one, amazingly, landing perfectly on edge, then rolling to the end some ten feet away before it fell back on one side, Washington’s face staring into the distance.

“Impressive. I bet you couldn’t do that again if you tried.”

“I’m sorry about your breast—I…I…mean your tattoo. I mean…looking at your,” Karl stuttered.

She laughed for the first time, a pleasant, almost musical sound that made Karl even more nervous for some reason.

“It’s okay. Guys stare at my chest all the time. Don’t sweat it.”

Karl decided to ignore the runaway quarter but put the rest of the money in his hand in the tip jar next to his elbow.

“Thanks. Is that because I gave such prompt service, or because you’re feeling guilty about leering at my tit?”

“The first one?” offered Karl trying hard to sound sincere.

“Good answer.”

Feeling foolish and trying to minimize the damage, Karl beat a hasty retreat back to his table.

“What took so long?” moaned Murray, “I was getting thirsty!”

“Drown your sorrows,” said Karl, pushing a Heineken over to his friend.

“Seriously. Why did it take so long?” asked Toby.

“I think I see the answer,” laughed Bob, looking back the way Karl had come.

“Oh! When did she come on duty? What a hottie!” whistled Murray.

“Easy there, Grandpa. She’s young enough to be your daughter,” cautioned Karl, feeling oddly jealous.

“I don’t have any kids,” he replied, still staring.

“Big surprise! What woman would want to sleep with your fat ass?” teased Bob.

“You got some room to talk!” shot back Murray.

Bob patted his round belly, “Not my fault, my wife cooks great meals! Besides, when you got a good piece of equipment, you build a mecidiyeköy escort shed over it!”

This got them all going again, and to Karl’s relief, it also got their attention off the bartender.

“Here’s to getting this damn migration done and Jackson off our case!” called out Toby, lifting his mug.

They could all drink to that and did.

A loud shouting from one corner of the bar drew Murray’s gaze, and he tapped Karl on the shoulder.

“Hey! They have a couple of those fancy electronic dartboards. Didn’t you tell me you’re super good at those things?”

“I’m alright…” said Karl modestly.

“Let’s go check it out,” said Bob.

It turned out that the gathering was a contest. The bar was offering a free drink of their choice to anyone who could throw three bullseyes in a row. A line of contestants was stepping up and taking turns.

“Think you could do it?” asked Toby.

Karl shook his head, “I don’t know. Three in a row? That would be pretty tough…”

“They’ve been trying for a couple of hours now. A couple of people got two, but no one has gotten three,” remarked a girl at the back of the line.

“Come on, Karl! It’s your birthday. The universe will be on your side,” offered Murray.

“It would have to be.”

“What have you got to lose?”

It was a fair point.

Karl finished the beer he was drinking and got in line, watching as one after another the people in front of him tried and failed. When it became his turn, he walked to the board and retrieved the dart the last person had thrown, checking the balance of it as he sauntered back to the white line painted on the ground. For a worn and not very expensive dart, it didn’t feel too bad in his hand.

You get three warm-up throws,” said the waitress to his right. She was a chunky blond who wore too much makeup, trying to cover some unfortunate acne scars.

“Right…”

He took his free throws, the first nearly missed the board entirely, and the next two were far to the edge of the outer ring. It was not a promising start.

“You going to take all night?”

Karl turned around and found himself staring into the face of Frank Cooley.

“Relax, Frank. Your turn is coming.”

He took a slow breath, trying to push the crowd noise out of his head. Carefully, he sighted along the spine of the dart in his hand, trying to imagine his release point.

“Jesus! Karl! I could have thrown a dozen by now!” grumbled Cooley.

Karl stepped off the line and shot Cooley an irritated look.

“What?” snapped the younger man in a belligerent tone.

“I need my job. I need my job,” mumbled Karl to himself, fighting the urge to slug his colleague right in the jaw.

He toed the line again, snapping his arm back and releasing the dart with a slight flick of his wrist as his arm shot forward. The distant board lit up with a cacophony of bells and whistles as the dart hit the bullseye squarely.

The crowd behind him clapped and cheered politely while Frank Cooley crossed his arms and gave Karl a dirty, unfriendly look.

The chunky waitress was nice enough to retrieve the dart for him, pushing it into his hand.

“Thanks.”

“Nice throw. Just two more!” she reminded him.

Karl drew another slow breath and repeated the motion. The board lit up again, and the audience behind him cheered more loudly this time.

When the waitress returned with the dart, he could see the excitement in her face.

“Just one more…of course, I’ve said that more than a few times tonight.”

“Hush! Everybody! Give the man some space!” yelled Murray, trying to calm the crowd.

Things didn’t quiet entirely, but the crowd behind him, which had grown a bit, did lower their voices to a dull roar.

Karl took his stance, sighted his target, and drew back his arm.

“I got fifty-bucks says you don’t even get it inside the outer ring!” called Cooley.

All eyes fell on Karl as he barely stopped himself from slinging the dart completely over the machine. Turning on his heel, he faced Frank Cooley with a wave of flickering anger in his eyes.

“You know what, Frank?”

“What, Karl?”

“Fuck you!” he spat in the younger man’s face while turning and firing the dart in one motion.

The board lit up like a Christmas tree as the dart slammed right into the center ring.

The crowd behind him exploded, and Karl Groves was caught in a small storm of back-slapping and high-fives, mostly from strangers.

“I knew you could do it!” crowed Murray, smacking him hard on the shoulder. Karl thought it would leave a red mark that would last for days.

“Pay up, Cooley!” yelled Toby.

“No way! He never said he took the bet,” moaned Cooley defensively.

“Cooley! You cheap fuck…” started Murray in an angry voice.

“Never mind,” said Karl calmly, he didn’t want Frank Cooley’s money anyway. It had been more than enough satisfaction for him to put the arrogant prick in his place. His friends followed him back to their table, but he moved on to the bar to claim his prize.

The young, red-headed bartender was waiting for him with a smile.

“Well, look at you. First, the quarter and now three bullseyes in a row. You make a deal with the Devil, Mister…”

“Karl…Karl Groves,” he replied.

“Okay, Karl Groves. You’ve earned yourself a free drink. What will it be?”

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