Friday, October 22, 2010

How about a short story?

For a change of pace, here's one that posted to an ezine, first serial rights, many years ago. It's now mine to print, so enjoy.


He’s done it to me for the last time. Now he’s going to pay.
I threw my briefcase on my desk and sat down in disgust. The guy gives new meaning to the words control freak.
Why do I let him get by with it?
I’m a professional. Why, I’ve been in healthcare far longer than he, know the clients better, and have better communication skills. Trouble is, he has the job. And since Becky and I, the two people who work for him, were raised with a real work ethic, no one knows the way he manipulates us and leaves us to complete his work.
I turned to my ancient, jumping computer screen, blankly staring at the piece I’d completed last night. Take for instance this latest article. He sprang it on me at four forty-five yesterday. Told me it had to be done for a nine-thirty presentation this morning. I’d stayed at work until eight finishing it, then left it on his chair. At eight-forty-five today, he called to say he didn’t have time to come pick it up, despite the fact he lives a mile away. So, could I please bring it downtown?
Steamed, I’d done as he said, only to find him absent at the meeting. Thirty minutes later he entered and took the article. “Thanks. Looks like I made it just before my presentation.”
I jumped up and paced the room. No one on the Board would believe his average work day. Fact is if someone had told me before I came to work here, I wouldn’t have believed it either. Jack’s day starts at eleven-thirty, barring no scheduled meeting, which is rare since he normally schedules them. Of course, during the abbreviated six-hour workday, he takes an average two-and-a-half-hour lunch break and also schedules his haircuts and massages. One massage a week, one haircut every three. Then there’re the errands. Dry cleaners, grocery shopping, taking friends to the airport. He claims he comes in late because he works for hours after the rest of us leave. But the truth is he only stays a half hour, maybe an hour longer. That is, if he doesn’t leave before we do. If he sticks around, he does it so he could snoop. That I know. Almost every morning the evidence of his sitting in my office from the night before is obvious. My computer screen isn’t on the same file where I left it. Candy’s missing from my front desk drawer. Sometimes the wrappers aren’t even discarded but thrown on top of my blotter.
“How do you want to kill him this time, Roger?” Becky asked from the doorway. “Electrocution or poisoning?”
“Both are far too humane.” I slammed my fist against the wall, and immediately shook my throbbing knuckles. “I’d probably end up killing myself if I tried to murder him.”
“But just think how relieved you’d be. How peaceful the office would become.” She sighed. “I swear I’d do it if I wouldn’t get caught and my conscience would allow it.”
“It’s tempting.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “You know, I don’t think my conscience would even mind. Not anymore. The truth is he driving me insane. Any jury would say it was a justifiable homicide.”
“True.” Becky laughed as she turned to leave. “If only.”
“If only.”

I jumped as my computer started to sputter and spark. “Not again!” I marched into Ruley’s office. “Jack, I can’t work on that damned computer anymore. It’s bad enough the company bought it eight years ago, and it has the memory of an ant. Now the thing is sparking.”
“Stop exaggerating,” he said as he balanced his checkbook. “A chip may be getting ready to go, and when it does, we’ll replace it.” He finally glanced up, one eyebrow raised. “Not until.”
“How do you expect me to get my work done?” I asked, throwing my arms wide in total frustration.
“Use Becky’s computer.” He looked back down at his checkbook.
“She’s using it herself.” I put my hands on my hips and groaned.
“You do have a flair for the dramatic, Roger.” He shook his head. “Don’t ask me about this issue anymore. Not until the chip blows.”
“Right.” I stomped out of my office and strode to the front reception area and poked my head into Becky’s office. “I’m going outside for a minute. Clear out the cobwebs.”
“And the steam?” She bit her lower lip to keep from laughing.
“This is not a joking matter. My mental health is at risk.”
“I know, Roger. Sorry. I just have to joke about it so I don’t cry.”
“Got that right.”
When I re-entered the office, Jack was hovering over Becky’s shoulders, his hands on the back of her chair. “No, that’s not the file. You saved the file! Where the hell is it?”
Becky’s arms quivered. “Jack, that document was written before I started to work here.”
“Well, Sherrill had to tell you where it was.” He looked up at me, and smirked. “Why is it no one around here can remember anything? Do I have to do everyone’s work for them?”
I grabbed the doorframe in a white-knuckled death grip. “Becky and I will find the file, Jack. Go sit down. It’ll just take a few minutes I’m sure.”
“Better not take longer than that, Roger.” He looked at his watch. “I’m supposed to join friends for drinks and dinner at six, and first I have to go home and change.” He straightened his shoulders and walked past me, brushing my side as he did.
I winced at his mere touch. Walking over to Becky, I patted her hand. “Let’s find the file and then scoot.”
She nodded, tears in her eyes. “You know what I said about conscience keeping me from killing him?”
“Not anymore.”

I’d stayed awake almost the whole night, replaying what Becky’d said over and over. How could we murder him? There had to be a way to do it and not be caught. But how? Strangulation was out. He wasn’t likely to choke on a wire like in the movies. At least not in the office. A wet floor might cause him to break a limb, but most likely wouldn’t cause death. Bullets and knives were a little too obvious.
Suddenly my eyes flew open, and I sat up in bed. My computer. That was the ticket. . . .
The next morning I whistled on my way to work. My step was lighter than normal when I entered my office. Even when I saw the porn website up on my computer and more wrappers than normal on the blotter, it didn’t matter. Not after tonight. I smiled as I sat down. I picked up the phone and dialed the owner of the company chuckling until she answered.
“Hi, Ann. I just wanted to let you know that Jack has asked me to price computers. This one of mine is sparking. I’m afraid it might short out on me any time.” I listened for her response.
“Cost? Oh, no problem. Jack built it into the budget.”
I smiled. “I’ll call you tomorrow and tell you what he decided.” I hung up and leaned back in my chair with my hands crossed behind my head.
“Hi, Jack.” Becky smiled broadly as she stood in the doorway, a paper bag in one hand, and a single cookie wrapped in the other.
“Well, you must have had a great night’s sleep. I thought after yesterday you’d still be stewing.”
“Oh no.” She shook her head. “That was yesterday. This is today. I just have faith things will get better.”
“Me too.” I sighed. “What a difference a day makes.”

Thankfully, Jack was out of the office when I was ready to leave, but I knew he’d be back tonight. His house keys were still on his desk. I waited to prepare everything until Becky left, and sure enough, she looked into the office shortly after five.
“I’m going now, Roger.” She smiled, and I swear she looked younger than she had in years. “By the way, don’t touch that cookie I put in the break room. Not that you would. It’s a test to see how greedy Jack is. I told him not to eat it.” She laughed. I put cat food in the middle. These little tricks make life a bit more bearable.”
I laughed. “Gotcha.” I sat quietly in my chair until I heard the front door close behind her.
I opened my briefcase quickly and removed a screwdriver, and began to perform surgery on my computer.

Three days later I stood next to Jack’s casket and shook his sister’s hand. “Sorry about your brother Mrs. Garner. That was an awful accident he had.”
She smiled weakly. “Thank you, Roger. I know he was a difficult man, but he was my brother.”
“He’s in a peaceful place now,” Becky said, as she patted the woman on her back. “Who would have thought he’d have a heart attack?”
“And then get electrocuted,” I added. We looked at each other. “Rotten luck.”
Mrs. Garner sighed. “I told him to watch all that fatty food.”
I shook my head. “Who knows what’ll kill you these days?”
We walked away from her and back towards my waiting car. “Becky?”
“Did you know the police found crumbs on my keyboard?”
“No kidding? It just gets weirder and weirder.” She stretched. “I wonder how that frayed wire shook lose from your CPU?”
“Got me. But you have to admit I warned him.”
“That you did,” she agreed. “And so did I.”