I paused taking one last deep breath of the crisp fall air, then stepped through the automatic glass doors into the building. The week before Halloween was unusually busy this year and I was coming back from my third outcall since lunch. Sometimes being a business owner is really lousy, especially when so many of my clients are personal acquaintances and they insist on having me personally come out and fix their network problems. Maybe it's just because I only have a secretary and no other qualified network people working for me, I don't know. At any rate, we were steadily building up a large client base and sooner or later I was going to have to hire someone else just to take care of the outcalls.
I snuck by Alice, my secretary and all around watchdog, in a vain attempt to get into my office, shut the door, put the laptop in one of the chairs, moved an abundance of paperwork off my desk and onto the floor and began to work on the proposal I had for the brokerage house. Their network contract was up for bid since they were moving to a new building and I was hoping they'd go with an independent rather than staying with IBM as they had for so many years. It's hard trying to compete with large corporations sometimes, but I thought I would have an edge being in a small town. When IBM gets called in, they have to send someone in from out of town, and I was trying to use that to my advantage. I was working on a wireless network proposal for them and trying to do it as cheaply as possible. Not having time to work on the proposal was damaging to my mood.
Alice beeped me a few minutes later, interrupting my work.
"Andy, I've got a call for you on line 3," she said in her usual cheerful tone.
"Take a message," I growled back.
"No, I think you want to take this one. Sounds like new business," she insisted.
I sighed and picked up the receiver. Settling it between my shoulder and ear, I regarded the open proposal on my desk as I hit the flashing button marked line 3.
"Thanks for calling Networking Solutions, this is Andy, how can I help you?" I asked by rote.
"Hi Andy," came a bubbly reply, "I've got a new business and I was wondering if you could help me out?"
"What exactly are you looking for," I continued looking at the brokerage proposal.
"Well, I'm a veterinarian and I need a small LAN for my office space. It'll only be like four or five machines, but I need something that will allow for file sharing between them but also allow for Internet connectivity and email. Can you do something like that?"
"Sure, it's a pretty basic set up. Are you wired for the Internet currently or are you looking for wireless?"
"Wireless would be great and probably a bit more beneficial to me and honestly I don't know if this place has been wired for the Internet."
"Hold on a moment," I said. I hit the mute button and sighed. I saved the proposal and began writing down some notes. "Still there," I asked a moment later.
"Yes I am."
"Ok, why don't you give me your address and I'll come down and see what your place looks like and we can talk about it."
"Thanks so much," she gushed, "I'll see you in a few. We're located at 4267 Ridge Road, out by the airport."
I thanked her and hung up the phone. Her place was on the other side of town, but it was on the way home. Glancing at the clock, I opened my email and sent the current copy of the proposal to my home computer. Shutting things down, I grabbed my laptop, walked out of my office and paused at Alice's desk.
"I've got to run across town to see what I can do for that lady vet... What was her name?" It occurred to me that the woman had never offered her name.
"Leigh Goldman," Alice supplied helpfully.
"Yeah, the vet. Anyway, I'm going to call it a day at that point so don't expect me back."
Alice smiled, "Yes sir. See ya tomorrow."
I grumbled under my breath and left once again.
As I fought the early traffic across town, I turned the name over in my head. Leigh Goldman. It sounded so familiar, yet I couldn't place it. I arrived at the address she'd given me fifteen minutes later and parked in the first available spot. Ms. Goldman had moved into the old vets place and I knew the building well. Jack Green had been the vet in our town for longer than I could remember before retiring last year. I knew how the place was wired and had done a proposal for Jack the year before. He'd retired instead and now I began planning to reuse the same proposal for his replacement.
There was something familiar about the attractive brunette wearing blue jeans and a white tee shirt was waiting for me just inside the door. I couldn't quite place it as I walked across the parking lot.
"Good to see you again Andy, how are things going for you?" she said, her eyes lighting up as she leaned over to hug me. That's about the time it all clicked. Leigh Goldman had graduated from high school a year after I did. We'd been friends, close friends, but nothing more. She'd changed quite a bit over the last ten or so years and I hadn't recognized her at all.
"Leigh," I replied, trying to cover my shock, "it's good to see you. What brings you back here after all this time?" I pulled back from the hug to look her over. The years had been very kind to Leigh. She'd gone from being a skinny awkward teenager in glasses with an interest in computer science to an athletic, curvy woman with a PhD in veterinary science. The glasses were gone and her eyes a different shade than I'd remembered. Instead of deep chocolate brown, they were more gold, like a cat.
"Well, I finally finished school and I'd been working for a vet out in North Carolina for a while, when that last hurricane came through and damaged our office pretty badly. Jake is rebuilding, but in the meantime I was out of work. When mom told me that Jack had retired and the place was for sale, I couldn't help but decide to move back. Jack sold me all his equipment for a big discount and suggested I call you for the rest." Leigh was beaming as she told me the story.
"So what have you been up to Mr. Network Guru?" She asked pointedly as she guided me into one of the hard plastic chairs. I sat down while she curled herself into the one next to it.
I shrugged. "Got a liberal arts degree, went no where for a few years, found a program I liked at FSU, got my Masters degree in Information Studies, worked for Sprint for a few years as a network tech, came home and opened my own business."
"Good for you," Leigh smiled, "So do you like the boss you work for?"
I grinned, "He's a hard taskmaster, but fair. A lot better than the last one."
Leigh laughed along with me for a moment. When we calmed down, she stood up. "Do you need to look around or were you just planning to sit and bs with me all afternoon?"
"Well, I could look around. To be honest with you, I did a proposal for Jack last year and unless they've completely remodeled this place, I doubt I'll make too many changes to it," I told her as I stood up.
Leigh nodded, "Jack told me. I haven't really remodeled at all and don't plan too, but you might want to look at the equipment I'm getting and let me know if I need to make any changes before I have it ordered."
We spent the next few hours discussing her computers and how she wanted them set up. Not surprisingly, Leigh had a few good ideas of how she wanted things to be set up. I checked the blueprints and wiring diagrams that Jack had left for her and soon had a good idea of what kind of wireless set up would work for her. We dickered over details until almost seven that night.
"That should just about do it, I guess," I said, stifling a yawn.
"Do you have plans for dinner," Leigh asked, "'cause my stomach just started rumbling."
"Ahh... actually no. What did you have in mind?"
"Mexican," she said with a large grin, "I've been deprived living in North Carolina for so long that I'm craving good New Mexico green chile."
I grinned and replied, "I'll drive."
Dinner dragged on for quite a while. We talked about old times, what we'd done since high school and that sort of thing. It was nearly midnight when I dropped her back at the vet's office. Driving home, I realized that I had missed her. Leigh had one of those bubbly personalities and was hard not to like. She was everybody's friend, and I was glad she'd moved home. I walked into my dark house. Locked the door behind me and headed for bed.
The next morning came far too quickly and I headed into work with just a cup of coffee to fortify me. Alice met me as I walked in, handing me three messages. The first was from the brokerage house. They had been told to close the bids earlier than advertised and wanted my proposal by the end of the day. The other two were current clients who had problems, both of which could be solved over the phone. I called the two current clients and solved their problems - you need to make sure you have power to the new outlet if you unplug something and move it people! - then instructed Alice to handle everything while I did the proposal. I told her I was not to be disturbed unless it was an absolute emergency. I was just printing out what I hoped was the final copy when she stuck her head through the door.
"Leigh Goldman calling for you," she said sweetly.
"Grr... Ummm take a message," I asked.
"No," she said calmly, "It's almost five and I have to take that proposal to the brokers. She's on line 2." Stepping into the office, she calmly snatched the last five pages and slipped out the door again. I heard her using our old binder to attach the proposal as I picked up the phone.
"Hi Leigh, what's up?"
"Not a whole lot. The computers should be here tomorrow morning. Would that be convenient for you to start your thing?"
"Wow, that's quick. Ummm..." I looked over at my monitor and pulled up my calendar. Alice had already entered in that I would be at Leigh's all day. "Yeah I'm free. It will probably take a few hours to get everything hooked up. What time is good for you?"
"I'll be in around 8. Should I call you when the machines get here?"
"That'll be fine."
"Good. Oh, Andy, I have one other thing to ask."
"Well, my friend Marilyn is having a costume party this weekend, on account of it being Halloween and all. Can you go with me?"
"I... er... I'd love to, but I don't really have time to get a costume."
"Oh that's no problem, I have something you can wear."
"Ok, if you're sure," I said doubtfully.
"See ya tomorrow," she replied as she hung up the phone.
I sighed, looked at the mess that was my small office, and went home hoping Alice had gotten the proposal dropped off in time.