Bereavement Leave ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in The Dirty Pool literary magazine.)
“I feel like firing somebody today,” Mr. P. said. “Who shall it be?”
“I don’t know,” Mr. C. said. “Go down the list and pick somebody.”
“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. P. said. “We have lots of suckers to choose from. Are there any standouts? Yes, there are many, many standouts. Anybody you’ve found especially offending lately?”
“Ed Boyce spends too much time in the men’s room,” Mr. C. said.
“He has a chronic bowel disorder,” Mr. P. said, “so I don’t think we could get him on that. He might counter with a lawsuit.”
“How about Frank Taplin? I’ve noticed him staring off into space a couple of times lately when he ought to be working.”
“He just lost his wife to an automobile accident. We gave him three days’ bereavement leave, but I think it takes longer than that to get over the accidental loss of a wife. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a heart, or at least pretend we do.”
“Haw-haw-haw!” Mr. C. laughed. “You’re right, of course, as you usually are.”
“Always being right is the thing that got me where I am today!”
“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. C. said. “Who to fire? Who to fire? Betty Ballantine comes to mind. I don’t like the way she lounges around in the break room, showing her legs like a whore in a waterfront saloon.”
“Can’t fire Betty,” Mr. P. said. “She makes the best coffee in the office and her father is on the board at the country club. We don’t want to make him mad.”
“All right, then. How about Florence Smalls? She’s put on a lot of weight lately. That means she’s moving slow and isn’t working as efficiently as she might.”
“Lot of weight is right!” Mr. P. said. “She’s going to have a baby.”
“You don’t say! I just thought she had been eating too many donuts.”
“You can’t fire an expectant mother, no matter how much you may want to. Pick somebody else.”
“I’m starting to get one of my headaches,” Mr. C. said. “Finding somebody to fire is just too taxing! You pick somebody from the list. I’m going to take a little snooze before lunch.”
Mr. P. and Mr. C. believed in their heart of hearts that that they managed the company, but the truth was they did nothing. When there was any real work to be done, they put it off on one of their minions and sat back and took the credit (and the profits), if any was to be taken.
Mr. C. went into his private office and closed the door. Mr. P. continued studying the list for somebody to fire. When he grew weary and decided it was time to take a little break, he called one of his current girlfriends, one Pansy Ruff, on the telephone. Pansy was a failed actress and had spent some time behind bars for cashing other people’s checks.
Mr. P. and Pansy spoke for over an hour about sundry personal matters, including her two pet poodles and the lousy manicure she had from a manicurist who was obviously high on drugs. Then she told him about how she had been taxing her intellect looking at travel brochures, trying to decide on a vacation destination (the French Riviera, Rome, or both?) and grew pouty when he told her he didn’t know when he would be able to get away to join her.
“You don’t know how difficult it is to run a large corporation with thousands of employees,” Mr. P. said.
“Have one of your perky little secretaries take care of things while you’re gone,” Pansy said. She was referring, of course, to the dozens of short-skirted, large-breasted female employees of Mr. P.’s of whom she was jealous.
By lunchtime Mr. C.’s headache was better and Mr. P. had had enough of the office for one morning, so the two of them left to have a steak-lobster-martini lunch at the fanciest restaurant in town.
They made it a rule never to discuss office matters while lunching, so Mr. C. didn’t ask Mr. P. who, if anyone, he had chosen to fire. Mr. C. trusted Mr. P.’s judgment and he knew that Mr. P. would pick somebody who would be crushed at losing his job and would probably cry and throw things, maybe turn over some chairs, and would have to be removed by the security staff. It would certainly spice up the afternoon.
While they were lunching, though, they talked of personal matters. While Mr. C. had a dull, dowdy wife and three dreadful children in the suburbs, he lived vicariously through Mr. P.’s exploits with the opposite sex.
Despite Mr. P.’s penchant for the ladies, he had never married, believing it would be unfair to the female population to confine himself to just one. Also, he was afraid of how expensive a divorce would be for someone of his stature. No, he would continue to make himself available to large numbers of women and keep everybody—but mostly himself—happy.
After two hours of excellent food and drink—and after Mr. P. had ogled all the women in the place under the age of seventy—Mr. C. paid their tab and left.
Once back at the office, Mr. C. retired for a little siesta, while Mr. P. again sat down at his desk with the list. Now that his mind was clear after a good lunch and a spate of martinis, he would find the perfect candidate for termination.
In no more than five minutes, he settled on the name Paul Schiller. Paul Schiller had a German-sounding name and he wore hideous ties with birds on them and the American flag. He kept to himself and didn’t seem to enjoy the three-hour meetings that everyone was required to attend.
Mr. P. couldn’t wait to share the news with Mr. C. He buzzed Mr. C. to come into the main office and, when Mr. C. appeared looking sleepy-eyed, Mr. P. burst out with the news.
“Paul Schiller!” he said. “He’s the one we’ll fire.”
“Oh? Which one is he?” Mr. C. asked.
“He’s an accountant or something. He’s a mousy sort of a short man with a mustache. He didn’t get drunk and act like a pig at the office Christmas party the way everybody else did. In fact, he wasn’t even there.”
“I still don’t know who he is,” Mr. C. said.
“He always keeps his head down and doesn’t try to flirt with any of the ladies.”
“You’ll have to give a reason to fire him,” Mr. C. said.
“Well, word is he uses a lot of soap and paper towels when he’s washing his hands in the men’s room.”
“He must be really clean.”
“And that he has arrived for work five minutes late two times in the last year,” Mr. P. said.
“Well, that was the commuter strike and the snowstorm, I’m sure,” Mr. C. said. “Everybody was late those days!”
“Somebody else told me they saw him put a packet of sugar in his shirt pocket, obviously to take home with him. Now, when employees begin stealing sugar from the company, you know it’s time to take some action!”
“That is so true!” Mr. C. said.
“And, if all that weren’t enough, there’s simply something about the fellow I don’t like,” Mr. P. said. “I think it’s the way he carries himself when he walks. He seems just a little too sure of himself.”
“Yes, that’s it exactly!”
“Have your secretary show the man in, then, and we’ll get right to it!” Mr. C. said, rubbing his hands together.
Mr. P. and Mr. C. both greeted Paul Schiller with enthusiastic smiles, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.
“Take a chair, please, sir,” Mr. P. said.
Paul Schiller sat in the large leather chair in front of Mr. P.’s desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. Even now, Mr. P. thought, when he’s called into the boss’s office, this Paul Schiller person is entirely too sure of himself.
“What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Paul Schiller asked.
“You’ve been with the company now for about—what?—sixteen months?” Mr. P. said.
“That’s right,” Paul Schiller said.
“And how do you like it here?” Mr. C. said.
“Well, I have to say I’ve found it very enlightening,” Paul Schiller said.
“In what way?” Mr. C. asked.
“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish and more,” Paul Schiller said, smiling in a way that Mr. C. found disconcerting.
“That’s fine!” Mr. P. said. “The reason we asked you to come in and chat with us today is…”
“Well, I’m afraid whatever it is, it won’t matter much now,” Paul Schiller said. “I was just typing my letter of resignation when the secretary came and said you wanted to see me.”
“Oh? You’re leaving us?” Mr. C. asked.
“Yes. I didn’t think it would be necessary to give you the usual two weeks’ notice since my work here is finished,” Paul Schiller said, taking a folded letter out of his pocket and placing it on the desk in front of Mr. P.
“No, of course not!” Mr. P. said, not wanting to admit that he didn’t know what work Paul Schiller was talking about because he didn’t know what Paul Schiller’s job was.
“I’ve already removed my personal effects from my desk and said goodbye to my co-workers,” Paul Schiller said, “so I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”
He stood up and shook Mr. P.’s hand briskly and then Mr. C.’s hand and went out the door, leaving Mr. P. and Mr. C. at a loss for words.
“Well, I never!” Mr. C. said.
“That’s very disappointing!” Mr. P. said. “I thought we would at least see a temper tantrum from the fellow and have to call security.”
“You just never know about people!” Mr. C. said, shaking his head.
“Did you ever see anybody with more gall?” Mr. P. said. “He wouldn’t even let me fire him!”
“It takes all kinds,” Mr. C. said.
“I wasn’t even able to make him feel humiliated,” Mr. P. said, “and I’ve always been so good at that!”
“Well, pick somebody else from the list.”
“I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait until Monday. That fellow gave me a headache.”
“I’m going to take a little lie-down in my office,” Mr. C. said.
At four o’clock, with one hour left to go before time to go home, Mr. P. was relaxing in his big chair in front of the window, thinking about where he was going to have dinner and with whom, when he heard a commotion in the outer office. Before he had a chance to go and see what it was, three men, with several others behind them, burst into his office.
“Mr. Cornelius P.?” the tall man in front asked.
“Yes?” Mr. P. said, blusteringly. “And just who the hell might you be?”
“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir.”
“What?” Mr. P. said. “I believe there’s been some mistake!”
Mr. C., also hearing the commotion, emerged from his office.
“Are you Mr. Alonzo C.?” the tall man asked.
“Well, uh…” Mr. C. said, unable to go any farther.
“I’m afraid you’re both under arrest, sir!”
“What is this all about?” Mr. P. asked.
“You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions later,” the tall man said. “All we’re here to do is to take you in.”
“In where?” Mr. C. asked, his fingertips in his mouth.
Desperate for a stalling tactic, Mr. P. began grabbing articles and papers from his desk and throwing them in all directions. While the tall man and the others were trying to get out of the way of flying articles, Mr. P. grabbed Mr. C. by the arm and they ran out their private door into the hallway.
“What now?” Mr. C. said.
“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. P. said.
“To the roof, then!”
They ran up to the roof, both knowing in their hearts that it was all over for them; there was no way to get out of the trouble they were in. They had been embezzling money from the company for years and it had been so easy. They had no reason to believe they couldn’t go on in the same way forever.
Crying real tears, they joined hands, stepped to the edge, and leapt to their deaths, thirty-three stories to the street. They created an epic traffic jam in all directions and were the top story on the evening news.
While Mr. P. and Mr. C. were sitting in Satan’s outer office, waiting to be admitted to hell, Mr. P. said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have taken quite so much money. Maybe we could have treated people a little better. Showed some humility.”
“I think it’s too late for that now,” Mr. C. said.
“Maybe they’ll let us into heaven if we apologize and promise to do better,” Mr. P. said.
“I don’t think it’ll do any good. Once you’re in hell, I don’t think there’s any getting out.”
“Who would have ever guessed that Paul Schiller was a federal investigator?” Mr. P. said.
“There’s no way we could have known,” Mr. C. said.
“Who hired the fellow in the first place?”
“It was you!”
“No, it wasn’t me! I remember now! It was you!”
“What does it matter now?” Mr. C. said. “I do hope, though, that I get a well-appointed room with a private bath and a view.”
“As for me,” Mr. P. said, “I’m going to insist on a supervisory position.”
“Yes,” Mr. C. said. “We’ll let them know we’re not going to take this hell thing lying down. We can beat them at their own game.”
“Yes,” Mr. P. said. “We’re two very special and unique fellows. We’re not going to stand for any ill treatment here.”
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp