A bit back, Jay Stringer, one of the henchmen over with the Do Some Damage gang, threw down the ol’ flash fiction gauntlet. The topic this time? The recession. Happy days are here again, indeed. Here’s what I got.
“Sure, Mike, I’ll be right up.”
Jesus, quarter to five on a Friday? Just like that little fuck Warren. One of the stupid games Dave Martz had put up with ever since corporate passed him over for the district slot and brought the little shit in from New York. First week, Warren calls all the managers in for one-on-ones, blows smoke up their asses about how he’s there to learn, wants to know their ideas. Then he cherry-picks all the best shit, takes it out to New York alone and comes back as the new Senior VP. His teammates? Had to throw them under the bus before anybody got to talking about what ideas came from where.
Except for Martz. The sales engine that ramped the numbers up twenty percent in the middle of a shit-ass economy? All of that ran off the lead-tracking system Martz had built from the ground up. Demand generation tied directly to client e-mails, real-time response to automated lead scoring. Data coming out of better than 50 field offices, half a dozen internal legacy systems, vendors, logistics, a fucking technical ballet. Warren might have the shiny Ivy League MBA, and he sure as hell had his tongue all the way the right asses, but this baby? It was a goddamn sales Ferrari – it ran like hell, but it was a temperamental little bitch. Without Martz, the wheels would come off inside a quarter.
Martz cell rang as he headed for the elevator lobby. After the promotion, Warren had moved his office up to the power corner on fifteen. SVPs got a decorating allowance, and Warren went with his Shogun theme, little water fountains and the dumb-ass table with his sand garden in it. Corporate saying no raises this year on account of the economy, changing the cut line on Martz’s bonus so he got chump change, and Warren gets to drop almost twenty G’s on his sandbox and the Kill Bill swords on the credenza. Cheryl in accounting had cut the checks. Martz checked his cell – his daughter.
“Hey Daddy. You going to make the show tonight?” Sally was in her sophomore year up at Northwestern. Drama major, playing the lead in Le Miserables this weekend. Tuition at Northwestern was a killer, but a man provides, and after his wife ran off with the orthodontist, Sally was all he had left to provide for. All he had left, really. He’d never focused on friends – his wife always made those, and she’d got all of them in the divorce.
“Front row, kid, you know that. Just gotta run up to Olympus and see Zeus first.”
“Don’t let him make you late, Dad. “
“Don’t worry, he’s just tugging my leash. It’s not like he ever wants to stay late.”
“OK Dad. And hey?”
“Love you too, Kiddo.”
Warren was behind the desk, coat on, tie all the way up. Whole damn world had gone business casual, the little fuck didn’t even take his jacket off to sit at his desk. Tailor-made suits – he’d told Martz all about it during his review, explaining how Martz’s demeanor – the khaki pants look, the careless hair, his “overly familiar” ways with some of the staff – were areas where Warren would like to see some improvement. Basically, if Martz wanted to get a head, he was supposed to spend more on clothes and be meaner to people.
Warren was looking down at some papers, his hands steepled under his chin, when Martz rapped on the door frame. Warren held up an index finger, his face still down, and took a good ten seconds before he folded the file shut and looked up with his usual, thin smile, like in the five minutes between calling Martz on the phone and Martz rapping on the door, Warren had been clasped to the bosom of capitalism’s muse and Martz had endangered the moment by his mere presence. A couple months back, Warren had pulled the same stunt. He’d had to step out for a moment during their sit down, and Martz had flipped the file open. Shit from Expedia on some ski place in Gstaad.
“No easy way to say this, Dave. I’m still under pressure from New York on headcount. We’re going to have to let you go . . . .”
There was more, some conciliatory crap about what an asset Martz had been to the organization, something about severance and outplacement counseling, but Martz wasn’t tracking it. His mind was racing – the hit his 401(k) had just taken when the market tanked, the COBRA premium, the odds of finding a job at 52, the interns Warren had been stacking in his department, learning his system so Warren could fill his slot with some twenty-something puke at half his salary. And Sally. Jesus. No way he could keep her at Northwestern.
Martz got up from the chair and started to turn toward the door. He felt as if he were dissipating, actually ceasing to exist, drifting apart like some cloud. He lost his balance, leaning on Warren’s credenza, saw the Kill Bill swords on the rack in front of him. He grabbed the top sword, the longer one, and in one motion pulled it from its scabbard, turned, and swung it down into Warren like an ax. The blade sliced into Warren at an angle, where his neck connected to his right shoulder and down, through the collar bone, through the sternum, lodging down in the rib cage. Martz couldn’t decide whether he meant to do it or not, but it was done.
And he remembered the insurance. He’d always maxed out on that during benefit elections, even buying up the extra coverage because it was so cheap. He’d had that policy better than twenty years – way past any suicide exclusion. More than enough. Sally could get through school, could focus on the acting, and not have to wait tables for dicks like Warren. Martz pulled the shorter sword, placed the tip against his stomach. He’d heard about the Japs doing this on the History Channel – you ram the blade in and pull it across. How bad could it be?
Martz took a deep breath and drove the blade home. Bad enough, he decided.