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Mar 06, 2021

American Contemporary Fiction

He did not take the news very well.

“Why do you hate me, Jim?”

“Danny…”

“Daniel. I told you that many times. Now, why do you hate me?”

Jim Stephens, a man who had managed Daniel Simon’s team for only six months and already wanted out, held his head up and repeated what he said. “All staff is going to be required to work through the long weekend. All vacation time is therefore reduced for essential workers.”

“Essential…”

“Look…”

“How essential am I? All the paperwork is in and you won’t even need to have me on for the group projects.”

“Yes. That is right. Group projects.” Jim found an opening there. “You are part of the group. It is teamwork. Corporate knows that we are all part of the same team and they like the way we work together and that is how they want it done.”

Daniel felt his back hurt as he sat back in the chair.

“You get time-and-a-half on top of everything.”

“Don’t want it or need it.”

“You still have a week to enjoy…”

“I booked for two. You also know that, right?”

Yes, Jim thought, he knew that, for Daniel and about fifteen other workers. It was all he could think about on a Monday morning.

“Right. Anyway, that is what they want. Sorry.”

Daniel got up and took a long deep breath.

“No worries.”

Jim looked at him. “What?”

“No worries. What has to be done is gonna be done.”

Was that a threat? Did he know this man well enough to judge?

“Right…”

“Anyway, see you later.”

He left the door open and Jim looked down the hallway as Daniel turned a corner and disappeared.

Something was going on.

*

Some laughed; some cried; some mentioned ripped out hearts and stress-related illnesses that would only get worse without the break. But most of that week was pretty peaceful. By Friday, he noted that Daniel had not said a word about his vacation or the extra work. That was interesting…

Who did he work with in that department?

“Michael!”

“Mike.” Mike Ronson never hid his feelings of contempt for Jim. He was supposed to be the office manager until Jim showed up in the middle of the week and a memo was emailed to every desktop mentioning this new hire. He turned back to his egg salad.

“Yes, Mike. You work with Daniel, right?”

“We are in the same department.”

“Of course. Interesting.” He looked down at his French Vanilla cooling in his mug. “Has he said anything about work or anything?”

“Like what?” Mike sprinkled tobacco on his sandwich.

“Like…is he going to show up or is he…pulling a fast one?”

Mike tried very hard not to shake his head. “Pull a fast one? This isn’t a gangster film.”

“Right.”

“And he did not say anything to me, besides the usual.”

“The usual?”

Mike chewed and stared at Jim. Jim finished his now cold coffee.

“Everyone complains about something sometimes. And they always look up for a target. You must complain about corporate people; we complain about you; other staff complains about us, and it goes on from there.”

He tossed the tinfoil into the recycling bin behind Jim.

“But don’t worry. He’s a team player.”

Jim did worry. Mike left the cafeteria without saying anything that sounded like a threat, but he still wondered about Daniel and what he might have planned for next week. It was now Friday and they all knew they would have to be in for the week-end and the next work week. There must have been something he was missing here. Daniel must have had a plan.

*

Saturday arrived, and it was truly beautiful. Jim felt the wind in his hair as he drove down the highway. When he pulled in for gas, he looked for the coffee counter and bought an extra large dark roast, two Danishes (lemon and cherry; the right combination), a packet of four chocolate bars, a sandwich (tuna on whole wheat) and hot sauce. The clerk, a high school kid who was only on that morning because it was now the March break and wanted to go back home and play online games, was surprised by the amount of things the old man in his store was purchasing.

“Anything else, sir?”

“No, this is it.”

He scanned the items and stared at the man.

“You planning a trip?”

“Ha! You sound like my coworkers.” Jim realized that he was a little too energetic with his response. “No, I just feel like stocking up for now and not having to come back later.”

“Good plan.”

“Anyway, I saw that there was no one here and thought now would be the time to get this stuff.”

“Right. And it’s still early…”

“Just early enough not to be noticed.”

The kid began to put things in a plastic bag the man had not requested.

“That’ll be…”

“Right.”

Jim paid in cash and did not take his change. The kid, after yelling after the man now in his car, pocketed the extra twenty and wondered if he really wanted anymore responsibility than that of a clerk. Those office types were so damn weird.

*

The kid was right. It was early, so he had time to wait in the parking lot and look over the news feed that day. 

He started with some of the sports. No surprises there. His team was always getting its ass kicked and he knew that the score would be completed lopsided from last night’s game. He had been too busy to watch, anyway.

Other news: celebrities breaking up and sleeping with and leaving and loving and hating each other. He really did not care at all about what happened with them, but it helped him focus on his own good luck.

There was local weather (he could see it all around him over the roar of the engines; everything was fine) and local stories (man rescues five from house fire, including cat; well, people needed heroes). And that was it with the usual nonsense he bothered with in the mornings.

What was he really looking for?

Ah, the business section…

Six months of his life trying to figure out who to put this one and Daniel was perfect for it. All his information and personality studied and analyzed so well by the time he knew that their competition would be taking over. 

He sipped his coffee very slowly.

It was an early flight. He had demanded it and the use of the island’s main resort if they wanted him to work as a mole. Most of his time had been spent building up a profile that the office could use to pin it on one of the most popular workers he had ever seen. 

On the laptop, he could see numbers being posted, police officers being interviewed, Michael Ronson (sorry, Mike) looking disturbed and very confused.

“You know a guy all these years you don’t think that he is going to…”

They never do, thought Jim.

He had his bag in his hands and shut off the laptop just as Danny - ah, Daniel - Simon became the latest business pariah. He was now being posted all over the place…

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning. Just one bag.”

“Excellent.”

The monitors behind him had the latest arrest and very vocal pleas of Mr. Simon echoing silently on their screens.

“Have a good flight, sir.”

“Thank you.”

He walked past another set of screens and waited to board. He was looking forward to his flight.

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