Zoe lifted her sunglasses so Barnaby could see she was watching and said, “Go ahead, baby!”
Barnaby, who wasn’t yet 3, crouched, wiggled his butt, and jumped into the pool where Bill caught him before he went under.
“Good job!” Zoe said, clapping.
Bill smiled and waved. Zoe waved back. Then he turned and crossed the resort’s pool giving Zoe a few minutes to relax in the sun.
The vacation was Bill’s idea. He planned everything, even booking first class tickets for both of them.
“I can fly down there and save us—“
“No way! I want you next to Barnaby and me the whole time. We like your company,” Bill said, kissing her on the forehead.
Zoe liked hearing that. She work had eaten up a lot of their time together.
All Zoe needed to do was request time off work and enjoy her vacation.
“Another daiquari, ma’am?” the waiter asked.
“Please,” Zoe said, settling back in the lounge chair and closing her eyes.
Nearby someone whispered, “Look at that!”
Zoe heard gasps and murmuring; then the familiar click of high-heeled boots. ‘How were those even useful footwear for a superhero?’ Zoe often wondered.
“Thermo?” Flying Girl asked.
Zoe sighed and opened her eyes. “Use my real name when I’m not in costume.”
“It’s a Code Burgundy,” Flying Girl said, ignoring the reprimand. She tossed her hair so it gently bobbed in the breeze.
Zoe considered Flying Girl a sanctimonious tool.
But with a Code Burgundy, Zoe couldn’t ignore her, even on vacation.
She spotted Bill swimming towards them, with Barnaby on his back. A knowing and disappointed look on his face.
Before Zoe offered her usual apologetic look, Bill shrugged and gave a half-smile of understanding which said, “If it weren’t for the health insurance…”
Zoe crooked her lip in response: “Damn benefits.”
Bill blew her a kiss, turned, and swam Barnaby off to the other side of the pool so he wouldn’t see mom leave. Hopefully she would be back before Barnaby woke up from his nap.
“Thermo, there’s no time to waste,” Flying Girl said, placing her fists on her hips.
“You’re single, aren’t you, Jennifer?” Thermo said, standing up. Before Flying Girl responded, Thermo flashed into the sky, leaving a pair of burnt footprints on the cement deck.
Flying Girl glanced around, seeing if anyone heard Thermo’s revealation of her secret identity. She would file a grievance as soon as she got back to the office.
Twenty minutes later, Thermo, in full costume, strode into the conference room.
“Thermo, glad you made it.” said the Purple Decree, who sat in his usual spot at the head of the table. Mike, the Middle Manager, sat to his right. “I trust you’ve been briefed on the situation?”
“No, I was poolside at the resort when Flying Girl notified me. There wasn’t time for an update,” Thermo said, hoping she accented the words ‘poolside’ and ‘resort’ without coming across as passive-aggressive.
“Then let’s jump in,” the Purple Decree said. “Mike, bring us up to speed.”
By ‘us,’ he meant ‘her.’
“Happily,” Mike said, connecting his laptop to the projector and dimming the lights.
Thermo maintained a corporately passive look, despite finding her vacation cut short to view one of Mike’s powerpoint presentations.
“Approximately ten hours ago, Buffalo, was wiped off the map,” Mike said. A picture of Buffalo’s former downtown flashed on the screen.
“What happened?” Thermo asked, concerned since Buffalo was a major city in her portfolio.
“That’s what we’d like to know,” the Purple Decree replied. “Mike, please continue.”
“We don’t know what destroyed it? Do we have anyone on the ground?” Thermo asked.
“Of course we know how it was destroyed. We’re here to figure out what happened,” the Purple Decree replied.
Thermo felt her temperature rise, but kept her questions to herself.
The screen changed. Security camera footage showed beasts rampaging through Buffalo.
“Approximately 16 hours ago, space yeti attacked and ultimately destroyed the city,” Mike said.
The screen changed again to read: “Thank You! Compiled by Mike Glaston, Middle Manager.”
The lights came back on.
“What happened when they attacked?” Thermo asked.
“We’ll let Mary Preston explain. Dial her in, Mike,” the Purple Decree said.
Mary Preston, Assistant City Manager of Buffalo, and Thermo’s primary contact on the account picked up on the second ring.
“Hello? Ms. Preston? This is the Purple Decree at Heroes Inc. I’m sitting with Mike, the Middle Manager, and Thermo to figure out exactly what went wrong.”
“I’ll tell you what went wrong. No one did their jobs! I must have called three dozen times and sent no less than fifteen urgent emails, but Thermo did not respond! Now everyone is dead and I’m out of a job!” Preston shouted.
“Mary, I’m so sorry. I’m not sure what happened—“ Thermo began, but got cut off.
“Like always, you were unresponsive!” Preston snapped.
“I’m not sure when you feel I’ve been unresponsive before, but this time I was on vacation. The Warlord Warrior was covering all of my accounts. Perhaps if we could—“
“How am I supposed to know the Waylaid Warfarer is covering your accounts? All I know is I called and emailed and got no response!”
Thermo took a deep breath, avoiding eye contact with Mike and the Purple Decree.
“When we spoke on our call last week, I mentioned I’d be out of the office. My voicemail and the out of office message on my email—“
“Buffalo was destroyed and you’re referring me to an out-of-office email! Are you saying this is MY fault?” Preston shouted.
“No one is saying anything of the sort,” the Purple Decree said, stepping in. “I heartily agree, Ms. Preston, now is not the time to get mired in details. We should be figuring out who is accountable for this disaster.”
Thermo felt her temperature rise.
“It’s good someone at your organization is willing to take responsibility! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig through the rubble that was once my house,” Mary Preston said before hanging up.
“It sounds as if Ms. Preston attempted to contact us,” the Purple Decree said.
‘Me,’ Thermo wanted to say. ‘She attempted to contact me,’ but instead said, “I can bring up the emails and voicemails.”
“No need,” the Purple Decree said. “As long as you’re sure you set your out-of-office messages?”
“I am,” Thermo said, failing to keep the annoyance from her voice.
“I’ll trust your word on that,” the Purple Decree replied. “Did you follow protocol of having all emails forwarded to your backup?”
“Of course. The Warlord Warrior and I tested it last week before I left. Perhaps if he joined us we could—“
“Oh, he’s dead. He was killed in an assault by Cheethor two days ago,” Mike, the Middle Manager, said.
“Ah, yes. I remember the email,” the Purple Decree said.
Thermo lifted her mask, staring at the two buffoons across the table. “Warlord is dead?” she asked, enunciating each word. She steam hissed through her ear canals.
“Yes, didn’t you read my email?” Mike asked.
“Nevermind that. I’m concerned about what happened in Buffalo,” the Purple Decree said. “Tell me, Thermo, how do you think we can do better for our clients?”
There was the ‘we’ again.
“The Warlord Warrior was dead and I was on vacation. Who was supposed to cover an attack on Buffalo, or any of my clients for that matter?” Thermo asked, a puff of black smoke escaping her left nostril.
“Thermo… Zoe, this sounds like a problem instead of a solution,” the Purple Decree said, folding his hands on the table.
“I’m just pointing out a possible procedural breakdown, if we don’t have a failsafe for a vacationing, or dead, superhero this could happen again,” Thermo replied, clenching her teeth.
“We have a plan. When a superhero leaves the company, their Middle Manager assigns their workload,” Purple Decree replied.
“So Mike was supposed to delegate the workload?” Thermo asked.
Convincing Barnaby to eat his peas or Bill she needed to work late was easier than this conversation.
“We’re not looking to point fingers, Thermo,” Purple Decree replied.
“And I’ve been swamped compiling expense reports. There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” Mike replied. “It’s why I depend on my colleagues to be independent.”
“Independent?” Thermo repeated, as the back of her chair began melting.
“See, Thermo? If we don’t support each other cities, lives, and accounts will be lost. We need independent, outside-the-box thinkers who can work beyond protocol. Buffalo is a sad reminder of what happens if we don’t. So I would like you and Mike to come up with a workable solution for future breakdowns of this sort—“
“Purple Decree, I have a suggestion,” Mike, the Middle Manager, said.
“Oh good! Thank you, Mike, for bringing forth a solution for Thermo’s oversight. What are you thinking?” the Purple Decree asked, swiveling in his chair so his back was to Thermo.
“Perhaps if Thermo, or any superhero really, is out of the office, they should be expected to check their email and voicemail on a regular basis. This way they’ll always be up to speed on what’s going on and can plan accordingly. If Thermo had been aware the Warlord Warrior was dead, she could have made alternate accommodations for her clients,” Mike replied.
“Wonderful idea, Mike! And thank you for offering us a solution. How often would you recommend heroes check-in?” the Purple Decree asked.
“I don’t think more than once an hour is necessary,” Mike replied.
“Once an hour!” Thermo exploded, quite literally in a blinding flash of heat and light. Fortunately the conference room at Heroes Inc. is outfitted against such internal disasters, as it’s often used by HR for layoffs.
Shielded from Thermo’s explosion, the Purple Decree and Mike gave her a moment to pull herself together.
“I’m sure you understand what a privilege it is to work here,” the Purple Decree said.
“Of course, and I’m sorry for my outburst,” Thermo said, sounding as apologetic as a volcano. “Now, Mike, who will be backing up my other clients for the rest of my vacation?”
“As the Warlord Warrior’s backup, I’m sure you understand we’ll need you in the office. I’ve gotten word a giant algae mass has been spotted off the coast of Portland, and—”
“But my vacation—“
Purple Decree lifted a finger. “I’m sure you understand how, after the incident with Buffalo, vacation time should not be your first priority.”