I Know Where Mr. Rheingold Lives ~ 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 without doing much of anything except daydreaming. Then I took an extra long lunch and when I got back Needle Nose was waiting for me.
“I need to see you in my office right away, Fullerton,” 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 plastic chair facing his desk that looked like a bus station reject and cleared my throat. “What is this about?” I said defensively. “I have a pile of work to do.”
“You were late for work again this morning,” he said.
“I was up most of the night watching the Joan Crawford festival and I couldn’t get up this morning. Have you ever seen The Damned Don’t Cry?”
“You were gone an hour and fifty-seven minutes for lunch.”
“You timed it?”
“Yesterday it was an hour and thirty-seven minutes and the day before an hour and fifty-one minutes.”
“You timed it,” I said incredulously.
“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?”
“You don’t take your job seriously enough. We want people 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.
“I’m afraid so.”
“What if I told you I had a good reason for taking extra long lunches?”
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t make any difference. Mr. Rheingold has signed off on this. His decisions in these matters are irreversible.”
“If you fire me, I’ll probably have grounds for a lawsuit.”
He laughed his mirthless little laugh. “I believe I’ve heard that one before,” he said.
“You think I won’t?”
“I think you’ll do what you must do,” he said.
I decided to try a different tack. “You like firing people, don’t you?” I said.
“No, I don’t like it, but it’s part of my job.”
“If you don’t like it, why do you do it?”
“We can’t always do only what we like doing. There are unpleasant tasks that need to be done along with the pleasant ones.”
“I’ll bet you belong to the country club, don’t you?”
He sighed and looked over my shoulder at the closed door. “That has no bearing on the subject at hand,” he said.
“In all the time I’ve been here, you’ve fired a lot of people, haven’t you?”
“I don’t believe that concerns you.”
“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 remark 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 can go collect your personal things from your desk and then I want you to leave. Remember I can always call security if I need to.”
“I need to speak to Mr. Rheingold before I go,” I said.
“He isn’t in and, even if he was, he wouldn’t want to be disturbed.”
“I have some information that I’m sure he’d be interested in hearing.”
He picked up the phone to make me think he was calling Big Shirley, the head of security, former lady wrestler and nightclub bouncer.
“There’s at least one embezzler in the company,” I said.
He put the phone back and looked at me. “What are you saying?” he asked.
“I know you’ve been skimming funds for years, to put it nicely. Small amounts, to be sure, but lots of them.”
He tried to smile but it didn’t quite come off. “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. Rheingold lives. I’m sure he’ll listen with interest to what I have to say.” I stood up as if to leave.
“Wait a minute!” he said. “I won’t let you go to Mr. Rheingold with a story like that!”
“Why not? You said you have nothing to hide.”
“He’s a very important man. He has a lot on his mind. He shouldn’t be bothered with these trivial matters.”
“I doubt he would find the theft of half-a-million dollars a trivial matter. He’ll at least want to know about it so he can find out if it’s true or not.”
“There are some things that just don’t need to be said.”
“So you’re admitting it’s true!”
“Of course not! I just don’t want you going to Mr. Rheingold with a fantastic, made-up story like that!”
“Goodbye,” I said. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”
“Wait a minute!” he said. “What is it you want?”
“You can start with a humble apology.”
“I’m truly sorry.”
“For thinking of firing you.”
“And for calling me a slacker.”
“I want you to get on your knees and say it.”
He came out from behind the desk, knelt and spoke the words again.
“I want next week off, with pay of course,” I said, “and I want a ten percent pay increase.”
“Next week off with pay and a ten percent pay raise.”
“That’s right. You can get up now.”
“And you won’t go to Mr. Rheingold?” he said.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” I said. “I want to see how things work out before I decide.”
“So, I guess we’ll see you a week from Monday,” he said with a smile, reaching out to shake my hand as if we had just completed a business deal.
“You will unless I change my mind,” I said as I went out the door.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp