Everybody looks out-of-place somewhere. Liz stood out to me, because I couldn't shake the feeling that she'd look out-of-place anywhere.
Her careless brown hair pulled back into a messy bun and her youthful, makeup-less face proclaimed her a college student, but the careful and expensive lines of her skirt and the quality of her leather high heels hinted at a professional career. (The obvious age and subtle repairs to said shoes didn't speak well for that profession's salary.) Her shoulders were straight and serious, as were the delicate wire-rimmed spectacles perched carefully on her nose. Yet the look in her eyes—there was a softness there, and a keen intensity, as if she was taking everything in, and it was threatening to make her laugh.
Needless to say, I was impressed: very few people were a mystery to me. I couldn't remember the last time I'd met someone who left me wanting more. I'd only had one glimpse of her shy, honest smile, and already I wanted to buy her a drink. Of course, it was out of the question; don't get personally involved with people while you're living under an alias. It was one of the first rules.
As for myself, I blended in perfectly: it was crucial that I did. Clothing professionally-casual, trendy but tasteful, befitting the staff of a young bon vivant who fancied himself a playboy, but still remembered what it took to maintain his millions. He liked to keep up the facade of a hip, carefree workplace, but every single secretary was hired for her typing skills (as well as her looks) and the kids in the copy room wore eighty dollar Limited Edition Converse and attended Ivy League business schools.
Hard as each worker tried to carve out their own niche, to look like an 'individual', they each fit into their roles as pieces into a puzzle, combining to form a seamless whole that thrummed with efficiency like an old, reliable machine. The nail that stood out got hammered down, and each new hire learned quickly what little quirks and idiosyncrasies were tolerated and encouraged, and which would draw the boss's disapproval. But then, I'd been prepared; I knew just what to expect, and I knew just how to fit in. It was part of the job, and I was good at it.
When she looked my way, I allowed myself to stare for just a moment longer before turning back to my computer with an exaggerated yawn. Why shouldn't she catch me looking? As I said, she stood out, and who wouldn't look a second longer at the office temp that had wandered into the hipster bar? I had every reason to look, and yet I was still inwardly irritated that she'd caught me staring. The irritation turned to mild alarm when she stepped away from the receptionist's desk and began walking toward my workstation.
The click of her heels against the polished wood floors announced her approach, even if I couldn't feel her eyes on me the entire way over. "Hi, are you Sabrina? My name is Liz Kaplan. I'm a reporter with the Standard."
I recognized the name. She was a feature writer, covering local arts and culture stories. It explained what she was doing here, and what she wanted with Mark Henshaw.
Years of practice and training kicked in the moment she started speaking. I made my expression bored, and turned slowly to regard her outstretched hand with a sneer. "Yep, that's me." I let the affirmation hang there with her hand, until she awkwardly dropped it back down to her side.
"Yeah. Okay, well, I'm here to interview your boss about his collection—the Yoruba artifacts? The receptionist told me that you're his private curator. I thought maybe you could tell me a little bit about the collection while I wait for Mr. Henshaw to get out of his meeting."
Her nerves had her fidgeting slightly, shifting her weight from foot to foot, but I admired the way she kept her voice level and confident. Still, I had a part to play. "I don't know," I answered slowly. "Mark's a funny kinda guy—doesn't like anyone to know more about his toys than he does. I don't know if he'll like me spilling the details before the big reveal."
She was worrying her bottom lip between her teeth now. Her lips were soft, pale pink, and without lipstick. I bit my own cheek to clear my head so I could concentrate on her answer.