Today's Reading

At 6:30 a.m., an email crashed into Zanne's inbox, shattering her flow. Monkey got loose. In the server cage. Come quick!

Ninety seconds later, Zanne stood among the small crowd of landscapers gathered at the end of a long hall in the IT cottage, fingers pressed against their ears to tune out the high-pitched screeching. She poked her head inside the server room to confirm with her eyes what her ears already knew. Yep, that right there, crouched atop the racks, was Alfie, an escaped capuchin monkey that was supposed to be "adorable in a suit" and "well-behaved" and "good with all people, including children." Instead, he was losing it.

"Shitshow," Zanne said under her breath.

If only Bill, the animal handler, had arrived on time at 10:00 a.m. instead of keeping farmer's hours, this would have been the events team's problem and not hers. Then again, you could go down a rabbit hole of if only's—if only Holly Stabler hadn't thought a jungle nursery theme for tonight's party would be "cute," if only academic jobs grew on trees, if only capitalism didn't exist. Life had taught Zanne to let go of hypotheticals and deal with the conditions before her. She shouted at the others, "Where's Bill?"

One of them pointed to the storage room next door, where a ladder was set up beneath the access panel to the cottage's attic. She climbed up and popped her head in the vaulted space.

"How's it going, Bill?" she hollered. Bill Jorgensen—solidly built, with a full beard that had already gone white—could have had a thriving film and TV career as Santa Claus. Surprised to see her, he hiked up his jeans by the belt. "I thought maybe I could get him from above, but if I punch down through the ceiling, I'll get debris all over him."

"And the server!" she shouted.

"That, too!" he said, nodding.

"Jesus Christ," Zanne said quietly, wondering for the millionth time how so many men got their stellar reputations when all she'd ever seen them be was average. "Come on down, Bill," she said.

Zanne hopped off the ladder and went down the hall to where the IT workstations were set up. She followed the maze of gates strong enough to protect state secrets, grabbed the server cage keys from the safe, and doubled back in time to find Bill pleading with Alfie to "Settle down, bud." Alfie would not. At the sight of Zanne, he shrieked his displeasure. She flinched—what was that sound? Part pig, part cricket, part laser to the meat of her brain.

She put the key in the padlock and paused. "Now, Bill," she said, "when I open this cage, are we gonna have a problem?"

"Alfie's my best baby! Don't worry, I've got this."

"Okay. Get ready."

Zanne turned the key in the padlock and opened the cage door. Alfie stopped vocalizing, watching with interest as Bill walked in to comfort him, arms outstretched as if reaching for his son.

"That's right, bud. You're such a good boy."

Or was he? Alfie screeched, jumped on Bill's head, punched him in the ear, and scrambled down his back and out of the cage. Zanne watched it happen, powerless to do anything but jump out of the way. Bill spun around like a confused tornado. Out in the hall, the landscapers let out a chorus of expletives.

Bill tore after his monkey, down the corridor and out the front door, the men close at their heels, leaving behind a stench that reeked of smoke, something electric, and faintly of...urine? An archipelago of droplets lay on the tile floor and the main server began to hiss.

"Fuck me," Zanne said. She pulled out her phone and dialed the IT manager.

"I'm twenty minutes out," he said, a note of panic in his voice, as if he'd been caught out past curfew.

"The monkey pissed on the server. We need to switch over to the backup."

"I...uh..." Zanne could hear his gears turning, trying to yoke those three disparate words—monkey, pissed, and server--into the kind of logic problem MIT had trained him to solve.

"Now, Greg! Talk me through it," she said.

The next ten minutes were tense and ridiculous (not the red wire, I said the blue wire!—like they were in their own buddy cop movie) but also strangely satisfying for Zanne. To have foreseen, if not the monkey itself, then the possibility of network failure, to have averted it by good planning, to have been the one, always the one, to make things right—it was why Ted and Holly Stabler had hired her, why she'd climbed so quickly up the ranks of their personal staff of thirty.

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