Out to Lunch ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
On Friday morning I was about an hour late for work. I sat at my desk all morning, pretending to work but not doing much of anything except manicuring my nails and balancing my checkbook. Then I took an extra long lunch and when I got back Nipple Nose was waiting for me.
“I need to see you in my office right away, Aaron,” he said.
I hung up my coat, put on the best put-upon expression I could manage on such short notice, and went into his office.
“Sit down,” he said.
I sat in the smelly chair facing his desk and cleared my throat. “What is this about, Mr. Nipp?” I said defensively. “I have a pile of work to do.”
“You were late for work again this morning,” he said.
“I was up until two this morning watching the Joan Crawford festival on television and I couldn’t get up at the regular time. Have you ever seen The Damned Don’t Cry?”
“You were gone an hour and fifty-seven minutes for lunch.”
“You timed it?”
“Yesterday you were gone an hour and thirty-seven minutes for lunch and the day before an hour and fifty-one minutes.”
“You timed it!”
“This is a highly competitive business,” he said, “and we need to operate efficiently to maintain our standing in the industry. We can’t afford to employ slackers.”
“Slackers?” I said. “What exactly are you saying?”
“I’ve noticed—and others have noticed—that you don’t take your job seriously enough. We want people here who believe in what they are doing and who want to succeed for themselves and for the company. I’m afraid we’ve come to a parting of the ways. You’re all washed up here.”
“Do you mean you’re firing me?” I said.
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“What if I told you I have a good reason for taking extra long lunches?”
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t make any difference. Mr. Miggles and I have discussed this matter. He has already signed off on it. I’m afraid his decisions in these matters are irreversible.”
“If you fire me, I’ll probably have grounds for a lawsuit.”
“I believe I’ve heard that one before,” he said with a little laugh to let me know he wasn’t to be bluffed.
“You think I won’t sue you?”
“I think you’ll do what you believe you must do.”
“You enjoy firing people, don’t you, Mr. Nipp?” I said.
“No, but it’s part of the life of an executive.”
“I’ll bet you belong to the country club, don’t you?”
He sighed and looked over my shoulder at the closed door. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“In all the time I’ve been here, you’ve fired a lot of people, haven’t you?”
“I don’t believe that’s any concern of yours.”
“You fired a single mother with two small children. You fired a man nearing retirement with a heart condition and a woman with a sick child who needed to take a lot of time off. You fired a young man just out of school for making a joke about your secretary’s falsies. I think you should reinstate all of them, or at least call them and make the offer, although I don’t know why anybody would want to come back to this place after they’ve left it.”
“You may collect your personal things from your desk and then I want you to leave. Remember I can always call security.”
“I need to speak to Mr. Miggles before I go,” I said.
“He isn’t in and, even if he was, he wouldn’t want to be disturbed.”
“I am in possession of some information that I’m sure he would want to be apprised of.”
He picked up the phone to make me think he was calling Big Shirley, the head of security, former lady wrestler and nightclub bouncer.
I looked across the desk at him with narrowed eyes. “Do you know there’s at least one embezzler in the company?”
He put the phone back and looked at me. “What? Just what are you implying?”
“May I speak candidly?” I asked.
“I don’t see that there’s anything to be candid about.”
“You’ve been skimming funds from the company for years, to put it politely. Small amounts, to be sure, but lots of them.”
“I don’t have time for your little games,” he said wearily, going to the door and pulling it open.
“If people start looking around,” I said, “you might have trouble explaining your Swiss bank account in your wife’s name.”
He reclosed the door and went and sat back down at his desk. “It’s not exactly a secret,” he said. “It’s my wife’s inheritance.”
“That would be easy for an investigator to prove or disprove.”
“I have nothing to hide.”
“I know where Mr. Miggles lives,” I said. “I’m sure he’ll be willing to speak to me when I tell him I have some information that’s vital to the well-being of his beloved company.”
I stood up to leave.
“Wait a minute!” he said. “I won’t let you go to Mr. Miggles with a story like that!”
“For one thing, it’s not true!”
“Yes, it is true, Mr. Nipp. You know it’s true and I know it.”
“Mr. Miggles has a bad heart. You don’t want to get him upset by making these false allegations.”
“I think he would thank me a thousand times for telling him what’s been going on behind his back.”
“No, don’t go to Mr. Miggles! Please!”
“You said you have nothing to hide.”
“I don’t! It’s just that Mr. Miggles is an important man with a thousand things on his mind. You don’t need to bother him with trivial matters.”
“I doubt he’d find the theft of half-a-million dollars trivial.”
“I tell you what I’ll do,” Mr. Nipp said. “I’ll bring the matter up at the next board meeting. We’ll discuss it and take a vote.”
“No! I’m not going to let you get away with that!”
“I just fired you! You’re not in a position to make demands!”
“All right, then. How about if I go see my lawyer? His office is just a couple of blocks from here. I’ll tell him the whole story and he’ll advise me what to do. I’ll let him inform Mr. Miggles of all the hanky-panky that’s been going on this office.”
Mr. Nipp lowered his head and blew out his breath. It was as close to a gesture of defeat as I could expect.
“Just what is it you want?” he asked.
“You know what I want. I want you to apologize for firing me and say you didn’t mean it.”
“All right, I apologize for firing you.”
“You don’t seem to really mean it, Mr. Nipp.”
“I mean it, Aaron. With all my heart.”
“And what else?”
“You’re not really fired. Go back to your desk as if nothing happened.”
“I’m also going to need an apology for the remark about being a slacker. That really hurt my feelings.”
“I’m sorry I called you a slacker.”
“Apology accepted. I’m going to need a raise, too, though.”
“I can’t give you a raise now, Aaron. It just isn’t going to happen.”
“I think fifteen percent to start. Don’t you think that’s reasonable?”
“I’ll have to pull some strings, Aaron. I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’m sure you can pull all the right strings, Mr. Nipp.”
“Before I do all these things for you, Aaron, you’ll have to promise me to never breathe a word of this to anyone.”
“A word of what, Mr. Nipp?”
“About the half-million dollars.”
“Do you mean the half-million you embezzled from the company?”
“Please don’t use that word! Do you want to go to prison?”
“I didn’t do anything, Mr. Nipp. If word gets out, you’ll be the one to go to prison.”
“Let’s just forget the whole matter. Shall we? None of it ever happened.”
“Well, we’ll see how good I am at forgetting things,” I said.
I gave Mr. Nipp a gracious smile as I went out his door. I went from his office down the hall to the men’s room. It was vacant, so I went into a stall and closed the door. The tiny tape recorder was still recording inside my pocket. I rewound the tape and listened to it from beginning to end. It was all there. Every word as clear as the nose on Mr. Nipp’s face.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp