If I Had a Heart ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“I feel like firing somebody today,” Mr. Punsley said. “Who shall it be?”
“I don’t know,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Go down the list and pick somebody.”
“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Punsley said, folding his hands and going down the list of names. “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?”
“Otis Nadler spends too much time in the men’s room,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“He has a chronic bowel disorder,” Mr. Punsley said, “so I don’t think we could get him for that. He might counter with a lawsuit.”
“How about Tenny Peterkin?” Mr. Cundiff asked. “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,” Mr. Punsley said. “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.”
“Yes, you’re right, of course,” Mr. Cundiff said. “As usual.”
“Always being right is what got me where I am today,” Mr. Punsley said.
“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Judith Traherne comes to mind for some reason.”
“Can’t fire Judith,” Mr. Punsley said. “She makes the best coffee in the office and, anyway, her father is on the board at the country club. We don’t want to make him mad.”
“How about Florence Lawrence, then?” Mr. Cundiff said. “She’s put on a lot of weight lately. That means she’s not carrying her share of the load.”
“She’s carrying a load, all right,” Mr. Punsley said. “Haven’t you noticed she’s going to have a baby?”
“No! I just thought she had been eating too many donuts,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“You can’t fire an expectant mother, no matter how much you may want to,” Mr. Punsley said. “Pick somebody else.”
“You pick somebody,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Somebody good. Just let me alone for a while. I feel one of my headaches coming on.”
Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff managed the company, or at least they thought they did. In reality, they did practically nothing, having no idea of what needed to be done or how to do it. When there was any real work to be done, they put it off on one of their underlings and sat back and took the credit (and the profits), if there was any to be taken.
Mr. Cundiff locked himself in his office to be alone to try to make his headache go away, and Mr. Punsley continued looking down the list of company employees for prospective firees. When this task became tiresome, he called one of his current mistresses, one Mona Montclair, on the phone and chatted with her for close to 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 or Paris?) 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. Punsley said.
“Have one of your little secretaries handle things while you’re gone,” she said. This was a reference to the dozens of female employees of Mr. Punsley’s of whom Mona Montclair was jealous.
By lunchtime Mr. Cundiff’s headache was better and Mr. Punsley had had enough of the office for one morning, so the two of them left to have a steak-lobster-martini lunch at the most exclusive restaurant in the city.
They made it a rule never to discuss office matters while lunching, so Mr. Cundiff didn’t ask Mr. Punsley who, if anyone, he had chosen to fire. Mr. Cundiff trusted Mr. Punsley’s judgment and he knew that Mr. Punsley would pick somebody who would be absolutely crushed at losing his job and would probably cry or maybe become violent and have to be bodily ejected by the security staff. It would certainly spice up the afternoon.
Mr. Cundiff had a dull, dowdy wife in the suburbs and four miniature Cundiffs, so he was always eager to hear about Mr. Punsley’s exploits with the opposite sex. Mr. Punsley had never been married, had always steered away from it, in fact, because, as he said, he would lose too much in a divorce settlement. He would lead women on, though, and make them think he was going to marry them, and then, pull the rug out from under them, in a manner of speaking, just as they believed they were on their way to the altar.
After two hours of excellent food and drink—and after Mr. Punsley had ogled all the women in the place from seventeen to seventy—Mr. Cundiff and Mr. Punsley paid their tab and left.
Once back at the office, Mr. Cundiff retired for a little siesta, while Mr. Punsley again sat down at his desk with the list. Now that his mind was clear after a good lunch and six martinis, he settled on the name of a person to fire: Nelson Dunwoody. When Mr. Cundiff emerged from his period of rest refreshed, Mr. Punsley greeted him with the news.
“Which one is Nelson Dunwoody?” Mr. Cundiff asked.
“He doesn’t talk much,” Mr. Punsley said. “He didn’t get drunk 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. Cundiff said.
“He always keeps his head down and doesn’t try to flirt with any of the ladies,” Mr. Punsley said.
“You’ll have to give a reason to fire him,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“Well, somebody told me he uses a lot of soap and paper towels when he’s washing his hands in the men’s room,” Mr. Punsley said.
“He must be very clean,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“And that he has arrived for work five minutes late two times in the last year,” Mr. Punsley said.
“Well, that was the commuter strike and the snowstorm, I’m sure,” Mr. Cundiff 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,” Mr. Punsley said. “Now, when employees begin stealing sugar from the company, you know it’s time to take some action!”
“Truer words were never spoken!” Mr. Cundiff said.
“And, if all that wasn’t enough, there’s simply something about the fellow I don’t like,” Mr. Punsley said. “I think it’s the way he carries himself when he walks. He seems just a little too sure of himself.”
“He’s cocky,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“Yes, that’s it exactly!” Mr. Punsley said. “I can always rely on you to find the right words.”
“Have your secretary show the man in, then, and we’ll get right to it!” Mr. Cundiff said.
Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff both greeted Nelson Dunwoody with enthusiastic smiles, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.
“Take a chair, please, sir,” Mr. Punsley said.
Nelson Dunwoody sat in the large leather chair in front of Mr. Punsley’s desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. Even now, Mr. Punsley thought, when he’s obviously in trouble, this Nelson Dunwoody person is entirely too sure of himself.
“What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Nelson Dunwoody asked.
“You’ve been with the company now for about—what is it?—sixteen months?” Mr. Punsley said. He was nervous and seemed to be having trouble getting the words out.
“Yes,” Nelson Dunwoody said.
“And how do you like it here?” Mr. Cundiff said.
“Well, I have to say I’ve found it very enlightening,” Nelson Dunwoody said.
“In what way?” Mr. Cundiff asked.
“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish and more,” Nelson Dunwoody said, smiling confidently.
“That’s fine!” Mr. Punsley 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,” Nelson Dunwoody 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. Cundiff asked.
“Yes. I didn’t think it would be necessary to give you the usual two weeks’ notice since my work here is completed,” Nelson Dunwoody said, taking a folded letter out of his pocket and placing it on the desk in front of Mr. Punsley.
“No, of course not!” Mr. Punsley said, not wanting to admit that he didn’t know what work Nelson Dunwoody was talking about because he didn’t know what Nelson Dunwoody’s job was.
“I’ve already removed my personal effects from my desk and said goodbye to my co-workers,” Nelson Dunwoody said, “so I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”
He stood up and shook Mr. Punsley’s hand briskly and then Mr. Cundiff’s hand and went out the door, leaving Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff at a loss for words.
“Well, I never!” Mr. Cundiff said.
“That’s very disappointing!” Mr. Punsley 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. Cundiff said, shaking his head.
“Did you ever see anybody with more gall?” Mr. Punsley said. “He wouldn’t even let me fire him!”
“It takes all kinds,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“I wasn’t even able to make him feel humiliated,” Mr. Punsley said, “and I’ve always been so good at that!”
“Well, pick somebody else from the list,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait until Monday,” Mr. Punsley said. “That fellow gave me a headache.”
“I’m going to take a little lie-down in my office,” Mr. Cundiff said.
At four o’clock, with one hour left to go before time to go home, Mr. Punsley 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 Punsley?” the tall man in front asked.
“Yes!” Mr. Punsley said, showing his indignant side. “And just who the hell are you?”
“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir!” the tall man said.
“What?” Mr. Punsley said. “I believe there’s been some mistake!”
Mr. Cundiff, also hearing the commotion, emerged from his office.
“Are you Mr. Alonzo Cundiff?” the tall man asked.
“Well, uh…” Mr. Cundiff said, unable to go any farther.
“I’m afraid you’re both under arrest, sir!” the tall man said.
“What is this all about?” Mr. Punsley asked.
“You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions later,” the tall man said. “All we’re doing now is taking you in.”
“In where?” Mr. Cundiff asked.
As a diversionary tactic, Mr. Punsley began grabbing articles and papers from his desk and throwing them about the room. While the tall man and the others were distracted, Mr. Punsley grabbed Mr. Cundiff by the arm and they ran out the side door into the hallway.
“What now?” Mr. Cundiff said.
“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. Punsley said.
“Me, either!” Mr. Cundiff said.
“To the roof, then!” Mr. Punsley said.
They ran up to the roof before anybody spotted them and, joining hands, jumped to their deaths, thirty-three stories to the street. They created a monumental traffic jam in all directions and were the top story on the evening news.
While Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff were sitting in Satan’s outer office, waiting to be admitted to hell, Mr. Punsley said. “Maybe we should have treated people a little better than we did. Showed a little more humility.”
“I think it’s too late for that now,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“You don’t think they’ll let us go if we apologize?” Mr. Punsley asked.
“I don’t think it’ll do any good now,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“Who would have ever guessed that Nelson Dunwoody was a federal investigator?” Mr. Punsley said.
“There’s no way we could have known,” Mr. Cundiff said.
“Who hired the fellow in the first place?” Mr. Punsley asked.
“It was you!” Mr. Cundiff said.
“No, it wasn’t me!” Mr. Punsley said. “I remember now! It was you!”
“What does it matter now?” Mr. Cundiff said. “I do hope, though, that I get a nice room with a private bath and a view.”
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp