Secretary Sylvie Baudeloque was now in a panic. She paced outside the director’s empty office. Where the hell is he? What do I do?
It had been a bizarre day. Of course, any day working for Maximilian Kohler had the potential to be strange, but Kohler had been in rare form today.
“Find me Leonardo Vetra!” he had demanded when Sylvie arrived this morning.
Dutifully, Sylvie paged, phoned, and E‑mailed Leonardo Vetra.
So Kohler had left in a huff, apparently to go find Vetra himself. When he rolled back in a few hours later, Kohler looked decidedly not well . . . not that he ever actually looked well, but he looked worse than usual. He locked himself in his office, and she could hear him on his modem, his phone, faxing, talking. Then Kohler rolled out again. He hadn’t been back since.
Sylvie had decided to ignore the antics as yet another Kohlerian melodrama, but she began to get concerned when Kohler failed to return at the proper time for his daily injections; the director’s physical condition required regular treatment, and when he decided to push his luck, the results were never pretty—respiratory shock, coughing fits, and a mad dash by the infirmary personnel. Sometimes Sylvie thought Maximilian Kohler had a death wish.
She considered paging him to remind him, but she’d learned charity was something Kohlers’s pride despised. Last week, he had become so enraged with a visiting scientist who had shown him undue pity that Kohler clambered to his feet and threw a clipboard at the man’s head. King Kohler could be surprisingly agile when he was pissé.
At the moment, however, Sylvie’s concern for the director’s health was taking a back burner . . . replaced by a much more pressing dilemma. The CERN switchboard had phoned five minutes ago in a frenzy to say they had an urgent call for the director.
“He’s not available,” Sylvie had said.
Then the CERN operator told her who was calling.
Sylvie half laughed aloud. “You’re kidding, right?” She listened, and her face clouded with disbelief. “And your caller ID confirms—” Sylvie was frowning. “I see. Okay. Can you ask what the—” She sighed. “No. That’s fine. Tell him to hold. I’ll locate the director right away. Yes, I understand. I’ll hurry.”
But Sylvie had not been able to find the director. She had called his cell line three times and each time gotten the same message: “The mobile customer you are trying to reach is out of range.” Out of range? How far could he go? So Sylvie had dialed Kohler’s beeper. Twice. No response. Most unlike him. She’d even E‑mailed his mobile computer. Nothing. It was like the man had disappeared off the face of the earth.
So what do I do? she now wondered.
Short of searching CERN’s entire complex herself, Sylvie knew there was only one other way to get the director’s attention. He would not be pleased, but the man on the phone was not someone the director should keep waiting. Nor did it sound like the caller was in any mood to be told the director was unavailable.
Startled with her own boldness, Sylvie made her decision. She walked into Kohler’s office and went to the metal box on his wall behind his desk. She opened the cover, stared at the controls, and found the correct button.
Then she took a deep breath and grabbed the microphone.