If Mr. Shinliver Dies ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
As soon as I walked into the office and heard laughter, I knew something was wrong. Ramona Sugarman, the receptionist, sat at her desk filing her fingernails.
“What’s going on, Ramona?” I asked.
“Mr. Shinliver had a heart attack,” she said casually.
“Oh, my gosh! Is he all right?”
She shrugged her shoulders and trained her cross-eyed gaze on her little finger. “How should I know?” she said.
As I proceeded to my cubicle, all the way in the back by the window, a football whizzed by my head, followed by a burst of laughter.
“Uh-oh,” Buster Finney said. “I think he’s going to tell on us.”
Irvine Beasley caught the ball, gripped it with both hands and pretended to throw it right at my face. “No, he won’t tell,” he said. “Not if he knows what’s good for him.”
“No football in the office,” I said, but they knew I was only joking.
I entered my cubicle and set my briefcase on the desk. Theresa Belladonna poked her head up over the partition that separated my cubicle from hers. She held a lighted cigarette in the corner of her mouth like a street corner wino.
“Good morning!” I said.
She removed the cigarette and blew smoke in my direction. “Did you hear the good news?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t heard any good news so far this morning.”
“You know that conference that Mr. Shinliver and all the top brass went to in Buffalo?”
“Mr. Shinliver had a heart attack.”
“Oh, my goodness!” I said. “Is he all right?”
“They say he was in Miss Wagstaff’s room when it happened. You can only imagine what they were doing.”
“I’d rather not,” I said.
“He’s still alive but he’s on one of those machines that does his breathing for him.”
“Poor Mr. Shinliver.”
“It’s the best thing that’s happened around here in a long time.”
“How long will it be before they get somebody in here to take his place, though?” I asked.
“At least a few days,” she said. “A few days of peace and freedom. It’s exactly what we’ve needed here for a long time.”
“It’s probably some kind of trick,” I said. “Shinliver is probably watching our every move this very minute.”
“That old bastard! Isn’t there some kind of law against spying on people?”
“It happens all the time.”
“Not to me it doesn’t,” she said, lighting a fresh cigarette off the old one.
“I didn’t know you smoked, Theresa,” I said.
“Now’s the time to start, when there’s nobody around to tell me I can’t do it.”
On my way to the kitchen to get my customary morning cup of tea, I saw that Reynard Gilhooley, the resident beatnik, was sitting at his desk openly snorting what appeared to be cocaine with a rolled-up dollar bill.
“Good morning, Reynard,” I said.
“Can’t you see I’m busy?” he said.
“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” I said.
While I heated the water for my tea, I stood and looked over the tray of donuts. I was happy to see that there was still one left that was oozing red jelly out the side like a delicious wound. As I picked the donut up and bit into it, somebody clapped me on the shoulder from behind.
“Well, well, well!” a booming voice said. “Look who bothered to show up for work today!”
“I’m always here, Melville,” I said as I turned around and tried to smile. “I never miss work.”
It was Melville Herman, of course. The braggart. The blowhard. The man who managed to make himself offensive to everybody in the world, including a string of ex-wives.
“Did you hear the good news?”
“About Mr. Shinliver, you mean?”
“If the old boy buys the farm, guess who your new boss will be?”
“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” I said. I took a step away from him so I wouldn’t have to look at his big teeth.
“It’ll be me, you fool!” he said. “Who else?”
“What makes you think that?”
“It’s all but in the bag. Who’s the person with any competence around here? Who keeps this place afloat?”
“I don’t know. Miss Wagstaff?”
“Wagstaff’s just a puppet! And she’s a lesbian, besides.”
“Really? I heard that she and Mr. Shinliver were an item.”
He laughed his hyena-like laugh. “You are so funny!” he said. “Nobody talks like that any more!”
“I’m going to take some measurements in Mr. Shinliver’s office and see how my furniture is going to fit in there. I think I’m going to want some new curtains, too. The old ones probably smell funny.”
After Melville left, I sat down at one of the little round tables with my tea and donut and looked out the window. Off in the distance I saw a column of smoke rising into the sky. As I was trying to think what it might be that was burning, Mae Fudge came into the room. She was a big woman with a hairdo of elaborate curlicues that reminded me of pictures of Louis XVI.
“Before you ask,” I said. “Yes, I have heard the news about Mr. Shinliver.”
“Nobody’s going to get any work done today,” Mae said. “Probably all week.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?”
“They look up to you. You can talk some sense into them.”
“And have them hate me the way they hate Mr. Shinliver?”
“I’ve heard by way of the grapevine that if Mr. Shinliver dies, you’re going to get a big promotion.”
“What if I don’t want it?”
She looked at me suspiciously. “Everybody wants a promotion,” she said.
“I’m leaving this place,” I said.
“What? Have you found a better job?”
“I didn’t say that. I said I’m leaving this place.”
“Well, you don’t have to get all huffy about it.”
“I’m not getting huffy. I just don’t like having people asking me questions.”
Somebody turned on some loud music that could be heard all over the office. People came into the kitchen, not only to get donuts and coffee, but to dance in the space between the sink and the tables. Believe me, there is nothing more disquieting than white-and-gray accountants—one of them wearing red socks, I noticed—dancing with each other.
“They’ve all gone crazy,” Mae said.
“Their oppressor is gone,” I said. “They’re experiencing a heady moment of freedom.”
“It won’t last.”
“Of course it won’t. Mr. Shinliver will be back or somebody just like him.”
I went back to my desk to escape the loud music, but I could hear it all the same from there. I put on my headphones and listened to some Mozart and, while doing nothing, pretended to work. I was sure I was the only person in the whole place even pretending.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp