It was raining outside, the wind lashing curtains of water against the windows in a thrashing frenzy, trying to beat a way inside. I was sat at my desk, illuminated by the harsh glare of the flat-screen monitors, the pallor of my skin rivalled only by the empty whiteness of the spreadsheet in front of me. Two black numbers floated in a sea of vacant cells, and nothing I could do could make them any better. Somewhere on the floor above there was the distant sound of a door slamming and then a single, solitary scream like the call of a cormorant, and I knew that the Managing Director had cut short the Executive Committee meeting in his inimitable style once again.
I clicked once on the mouse, closing down the spreadsheet and revealing beneath it the GANTT chart that had lead me to open up the spreadsheet tool. The little blue lines showing who would do what work and when stretched off to the right in a never-ending regimented march, spilling beyond the deadline and then beyond. I looked at the figures for the fiftieth time that morning, and finally accepted what had been obvious all along. I could not deliver this project on time.
I felt the cold chill of a ghost walking across my grave. There was only one way to present this to the Executive Committee that wouldn’t get me called into the Managing Director’s office to explain myself, and that was circumstance that were clearly beyond my control. An earthquake and a failed disaster recovery plan might do the trick. Or burning the office down. Or….
I crossed myself as I opened the browser and selected the secure browsing mode, aware that the IT department would see it immediately. After all, why would you go secure unless you had something to hide? I opened up the Pinterest site and then clicked quickly on fifteen different links, opening them all in new tabs. Then knowing that they’d be checking them all to see what I was trying to hide, I opened up the standard browser and selected the special site. The one they only whisper to you on the project management course when they’ve tested your loyalty (don’t ask how) and they’re sure that you’ve got the nerve to go and look at it. That one.
I entered the name of my lead developer and crossed myself once again. The little dialogue box opened, with the plain black border and the tiny skull in the bottom right corner. The single text entry box was waiting, as I knew, for a date. I entered today’s date, and a time for just after lunch. As soon as I’d entered the last digit the box closed and the browser promptly caused the computer to crash.
“What were you doing when the computer crashed?” asked the IT tech as he stood next to me, watching the computer power-up again. He’d appeared without being called. “Looking at Pinterest,” I said, knowing that they knew that. He was clearly here to find out if I’d been trying to get to anywhere that they’d not logged yet.
“Boring,” he said dismissively, but his eyes were watching me the whole time. I was sweating.
“There were pictures of a renaissance fayre on there,” I said. I’d done my homework too, and I knew that he liked live action role-playing and spanking. I hadn’t dug deep enough to find out if he combined the two.
“Oh?” He pretended he wasn’t interested, but his eyes drifted away from me.
“You know, women dressed in gauzy costumes,” I said, hinting that I might have been perving just a little.
“Still boring,” he said, but he walked off before the computer finished booting up, and I knew he was going back to the log files to look for those pictures. He’d be back when he couldn’t find them, but that was fine. I didn’t think he’d get back fast enough.
At two thirty-five a man dressed like a ninja walked in through the door, tail-gating behind the lifer-coder who microwaved fish curry in the tiny kitchen every lunchtime purely to annoy the people in the office. The lifer didn’t challenge him, or even turn round. The ninja raised a hand and a crossbow appeared in it like he was performing a magic trick. There was the thunk of the crossbow firing, and my lead developer fell face-forward onto his keyboard, the back of his head a bloody red mess. I counted to five and started screaming.
“It’s very strange,” said Miss McIntosh, head of the Executive Committee, “but that computer crash of yours… somehow it managed to make it look as though your GANTT chart updated to accommodate the death of your lead developer fifteen minutes before he was killed.”
“I was looking at porn at that time,” I said.