by Bill Kowaleski
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself in Seattle, Washington. He knew this because his alarm clock radio told him. Its first words were: “It’s six a.m., Seattle! Looks like another week of drizzle. But this is December, after all.”
Being a traveling sales representative, he at first found all this rather unremarkable but, as he rose out of his soporific state, a wave of panic hit him. Was I not supposed to be making a presentation to Target today? Then why am I in Seattle, not Minneapolis?
His phone’s map app quickly confirmed the radio voice: Seattle, downtown. He had a meeting with all the top executives scheduled in just three hours... no, the time difference! It was really just an hour from now! Calls would have to be made, excuses invented. But his mind refused to move farther in that direction. It wanted to know first why he was in Seattle. His need to know was so strong that nothing else really mattered.
He replayed the end of the previous day: the short flight from Chicago, the rental car, the bitter cold, the drive into downtown. It was as vivid as any recent memory could be. He had definitely arrived in Minneapolis, had eaten broiled salmon with a grilled vegetable medley in the hotel restaurant in Minneapolis, had fallen asleep in Minneapolis.
He remembered also the view from last night’s hotel room of cars and buses creeping along snow-covered streets brightly lit with Christmas decorations, of the few pedestrians, bundled in heavy coats, mittens, and stocking caps, scurrying along the sidewalks.
His hotel room window this morning presented a different world. A slate-gray sky drizzled light rain, visible in the wet streets and the umbrellas and rain ponchos of the many pedestrians below him. There was not a flake of snow to be seen.
Then his cell phone rang.
“Greg,” said his tech rep, Barry Schneier, “where are you? We were supposed to meet in the hotel restaurant for breakfast this morning, remember? I asked the front desk to ring your room, but they’ve got no record of anyone with your name.”
“Barry,” pleaded Gregor, “make some excuse, whatever, I don’t know. I need some time. Something’s not right, and I’m totally confused.”
“So, uh, we’re not doing it, Greg?”
“No. I can’t. As you already know, I’m not in Minneapolis, though I distinctly remember arriving there last night. So—”
“Let me get this straight,” said Barry. “You arrived here last night but now you’re not here?”
Barry was always so annoyingly logical, but this did not seem a time for logical explanations. “Correct. Let me sort it out, OK? Say whatever you want; put the blame on me, if you have to.”
“You know our competitors are going to be there, too. This is the show-and-tell. It’s now or never.”
“Then do it yourself! You’ve got my presentation. At least we can show the flag, even if we lose.”
“Yeah,” said Barry, a thread of pride in his voice. “Who really needs a sales rep anyway? I can handle it!”
“Before you go, Barry, a question.”
Silence. When Barry had nothing to say, he said nothing.
“Do you, um, happen to know any way that someone could, ah, go to sleep in Minneapolis and wake up in Seattle?”
A pause, just a little too long, then, “Yeah, I see, Greg. You’re right. You’ve got a lot to sort out. I’ll take care of things here. Don’t worry. Got to go.”
Gregor determined that if he hurried, he could catch a late morning flight for Chicago. He quickly packed up his few things and rolled his carry-on to the front desk.
“Checking out. Gregor Samsa.”
The clerk peered closely at Gregor, smiled and said, “You sure don’t look like a giant insect!”
Another overeducated front desk clerk, sighed Gregor. “Really, I just need to check out now.”
“Yes, sir, looking.” The clerk clicked and clicked until Gregor said, “I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“Yes, of course, but, I don’t see a Samsa. Could you tell me your room number?”
Gregor rummaged through his pockets for his door keycard but found nothing.
“Funny, I thought I had that,” he said.
The clerk waved a young, beefy uniformed man over. They talked softly, but Gregor’s hearing was quite good.
The uniformed man said, “Same as last week. That woman... never did match her to a check-in.”
The clerk nodded then turned to Gregor. “Go ahead. Don’t miss your plane. Just let me get a copy of your ID before you go.”
In the taxi, Gregor considered what he’d heard. A crazy thought entered his head, but the traffic was slow, so why not?
The hotel he’d checked into in Minneapolis put him through to his room where the phone rang six times before going to voice mail. Schneier had lied to him.
There was only one female account rep that he knew of that worked with Schneier. Denise Wachter answered on the first ring. “Hey, Denise, Greg Samsa here. Say, I was thinking that maybe there could be some synergies between my Target account and your Coca Cola account. Perhaps—”
“Greg!” Denise interrupted. “You need to get into the office more, or at least read the corporate announcements. I was taken off of Coca Cola last week. And I just now saw that Barry Schneier, you know, that ambitious tech guy, was assigned lead account responsibility for Target. They gave him my Coke account, too. Looks like they’re opting for younger blood.”
Gregor felt a wave of revelation. All the dots connected, all the lights came on. “Denise, did you and Schneier have a big presentation scheduled at Coke last week?”
“Yeah, but I, um, I had some problems getting there so...”
“Is it at all possible that you woke up somewhere other than Atlanta? Maybe Seattle?”
There was a long silence before she said, “Did Schneier tell you that?”
“No, Denise. But I woke up in Seattle this morning when I was supposed to be doing a presentation with Schneier in Minneapolis.”
Now there was yet another very long silence. Gregor waited patiently for it all to come together for her.
Finally, in a small, slow voice she said, “You know, Greg, I think we’re going to have to be very, very nice to Mr. Schneier from now on.”
Copyright © 2018 by Bill Kowaleski