THE HELP DESK • by Todd Wells

It was quiet. Usually by now they’d be putting the screws to me, but I’d already been at my desk for half an hour and, like a Minnesota duck pond in the middle of August, nothing had gone south yet. Might as well take advantage of it, I figured. I pulled a bottle out of my desk drawer and poured a shot into my coffee.

But my luck didn’t hold. I smelled the trouble before it arrived. Chanel Coco Noir.

She walked right in. Didn’t bother to knock. Not her style.

“I need you to help me find something,” she purred, “I had it last night, but this morning it was gone.”

“Sure, Doll, I can help you. What was his name?”

She looked me over. “C’mon, Eric. You sound like an idiot when you start talking like that. This is serious. I was working on a Word doc yesterday and made a bunch of changes and now they’re all gone. Do you think there might be a backup somewhere?”

Doll was trying to play it cool, but I could tell something was up. Something big. If I didn’t want to get rolled like some two-bit palooka, it’d be best to go along.

“Sorry, Gwen, I, um… What’s the name of the file?”

She handed me a sticky note. ‘Presentation.docx’ was all it said. It wasn’t a lot to go on. I took a slug of coffee.

Doll looked at me, and at my fortification. “Do you really keep a bottle of hazelnut syrup in your office?”

“Yeah. Want some?”

She shook her head. Coy. I shrugged, and stashed the bottle back in the drawer. “Let me check the network backups first.”

I put the word out for the missing file. My sources got back to me right away. “No items match your search” was all those nogoodniks had to say. But I don’t like coming up short in front of the dames, if you know what I mean, so I stalled for time.

“I’ve got a couple other places to look. I just need a few minutes.”

“Okay. Some of the managers are flying in from New York and I was putting this together for Mr. Henderson, and if I don’t have it ready…” Doll was a treat for the eyes, but not when she was down. Me and that file were going to have words.

“Ten minutes,” I said.

“Thanks so much.” I watched her leave. No jane could work a pair of gray, woolen slacks the way she could.

With temptation out of the room, I strapped my gumshoes on. There was one place these saps always liked to go low, and that’s where I was headed. But first I needed Doll’s address. I pulled the list of everybody who works for the syndicate. There she was, Gwendolyn Hughes. I dialed her up.

I tapped out the secret knock, and headed straight for the speakeasy in the back. I found the door with the faded ‘Temporary Internet Files’ printed on it, and walked in. The joint was full of lugs out on the lam, but my guy was easy to find; he had his name written all over him.

“Hey, Presentation.docx.” He looked up.

“Nice try, fella, but there’s a sweet tomato looking for you, and I wouldn’t mind her owing me one. So why don’t you come with me, and ixnay on the funny business.”

I slapped the cuffs on him. Piece a’ cake.

That’s when I noticed the mug sitting at the next table. Something was off about him. He didn’t look like he was in the right place. “Where you supposed to be going?” I asked.

“Matthew88. Over by yahoo.com.” I must have left my poker face in my other suit, because the mug said, “Ooh, you look a little surprised there, copper. What’s that, you didn’t know she had a squeeze? Ouch.”

As I moved in to teach him some manners, I saw the briefcase. Printed in big letters on the side was “Valentine4Matt.jpeg”. A folder poked out, warning: “Photos — Do Not Bend”.

The mug smiled a mouthful of rotten teeth. “Go ahead, open it. Take a look. I bet she’d really owe you one if you told her you found this.”

I stared at the case. Seeing Doll one pair of slacks short of a full wardrobe would be Christmas both ways — naughty and nice. It was an easy decision.

I raised a gun to the mug’s head and said, “Just looking at all that sugar would give me a cavity,” — I pulled the trigger — “but my insurance doesn’t cover dental.”

I dumped the stiff in the garbage can, grabbed Presentation.docx, and, like the hand you don’t shake, left.

***

I tracked her down at her desk. “Gwen, I found your file and put it in your network folder. You’re all set.”

“Really? Wow, thanks, Eric, that’s great. I owe you one for this. How did you get it back?”

“Sometimes when you open an attachment straight out of an email it gets saved to a hidden temp folder way down in the file structure. I just dialed into your computer and copied it back to the network.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah, lots of people don’t realize that when they’re playing with attachments sometimes copies get left behind.”

“Oh…” I could see Doll chewing on this one.

“Your presentation file was the only one in there, so no big deal.”

She relaxed. “This was so nice of you.” She flashed me her pearly whites. “Isn’t now when you say, ‘It’s elementary, Watson’?”

I don’t really go in for that old-timey stuff, but hey, might as well humor her. I said over my shoulder as I left, “Yes, elementary, my dear Gwen, elementary.”

It’s too bad, but this case looks closed.


Father of three and husband of one, Todd Wells plays upright bass in a rockabilly band and hosts international visitors through World Chicago exchange programs. Other sites where his scribblings have appeared include Theme of Absence, Funny in Five Hundred, 365 Tomorrows, and AntipodeanSF.


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