There was email awaiting Kurtzburg when he got back to his desk. Also not a surprise. There was always email waiting for him. One of them wasn't like the others, but Kurtzburg wasn't aware of that until he opened it up.
"Hi Piotr. We're the Heart Squad!"
It was followed by a picture of four extremely attractive and provocatively attired women sitting in the back of an expensive limo. They were all smiling at the camera and holding their arms out. Kurtzburg recognised one as the gorgeous flame-haired courier who'd delivered his card and chocolates this morning.
"We're so looking forward to making your Valentine's Day an unforgettable one."
Kurtzburg frowned. He was normally super-careful about which emails he opened. He was sure this had been another work email when he'd clicked on it.
He lifted his small round spectacles and rubbed his eyes. Must be tiredness. It had been a hard slog over the past couple of weeks to get the latest patch ready.
He became aware of someone standing next to his desk and hurriedly deleted the email.
He looked up and saw it was Leah Betts from the QA department. She was looking down at the chocolate box.
"Aren't you going to open them?" she asked.
"I dunno," he mumbled.
"You do know it's customary for employees to share their Valentine's chocolates with the rest of the office."
He tried to remember if anyone had ever brought chocolates around to his desk. Not that he would have remembered or even registered if they had.
He glanced back at his screen. Was that email with the picture of the four hot semi-naked women in the back of a limo gone yet? Yes. Thank fuck for that.
Not that he needed to worry. Betts was still staring down at the chocolate box. "Go on. Open it up," she said.
Kurtzburg shrugged. He opened it up. It was a box of chocolates. The cover was sickeningly saccharine. Kurtzburg flipped the lid. Yes, they were chocolates.
"Ooh, those are fancy," Betts said. "Have you got a posh bird you've been hiding from us?"
Her hand hovered over the tray like a vulture about to swoop.
Kurtzburg was reluctant to take one. Where had they come from? Why him? You heard stories. Food being tampered with.
Betts selected one she liked—a little brown nut from near the centre of the tray. She plucked it out and brought it up to her mouth.
"Wait!" Kurtzburg said.
Betts stopped, eyes opened wide in sudden surprise.
"I don't know where they're from," Kurtzburg said.
Betts's frozen expression of surprise thawed out into a contemptuous grin.
"They're Valentine's Day chocolates. You're not supposed to know who they're from."
She rolled her eyes and popped the chocolate into her mouth. She chewed. Her eyes widened.
"Ooh, these are yummy," she said. "It tastes like... ooh." A hand involuntarily drifted down to her crotch. Her cheeks reddened.
"Mandy, you have to try one of these," she called back to the adjacent QA section.
She looked back at the box with naked avarice.
"You look busy," she said. "You want me to share them around the office for you?"
Kurtzburg mumble-grunted a yes and Betts went away, taking the box of chocolates with her.
Then his attention was caught by something on his monitor. A heart-shaped balloon floated to the top of the screen and popped to reveal the word, "Tonight." A lipstick kiss flashed on the bottom right of the screen and was followed by, "The Heart Squad."
Kurtzburg's stomach lurched. Had that email downloaded a virus onto his machine?
He went through a series of diagnostics and found nothing untoward. He rubbed his eyes again. He couldn't have imagined it, could he?
And what did they mean by "tonight"?
* * * *
The first text message arrived at two o'clock.
to be continued...
(Also, Monmusu Quest: Paradox [part 2] playthrough to resume