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Contemporary Funny Fiction

There have been people in my life who have caused me a great deal of grief, but Eliot Wagman would have to rate at the top of the list.

Ever since we launched Christoval Enterprises five years ago, Wagman has been a thorn in my side with his persnickety personality and his constant criticism of our general operations.   

As founder and C.E.O. of Christoval Enterprises which specializes in making technology accessible to companies requiring assistance by bringing their operations into the Twenty-First Century, Eliot Wagman has been a constant irritant to me with his nagging.

“Oh Marc, you can’t do that.” He would say as we worked out a customer response system.

“Why not?” I would snap at him.

“Because you are not taking into account their needs.” He would shrug as if I was the only man in the room who did not “get it.” 

“I disagree.” I would put my hands on my hips.

“Have it your way.” He would wave his hand, a gesture he knew would infuriate me even more. 

The real kick in the head would come when time would prove him right.

If ever there was a justifiable homicide, Eliot Wagman was it.

He would go to a restaurant and leave a one star rating even after I left a sizable tip for the splendid service. 

“Why did you do that?” I would get red in the face as we walked to my car.

“Dreadful service.  Lousy food.  My God, small wonder they are still in business.” He would answer as he climbed into the passenger’s seat of my Audi. “Have you had the main liquids checked in this car?” 

“Yes.” I would turn the word into a multi-syllable word.  

“It seems to ride a little rough.  After all this is an Audi.” He would shake his head.

We had been friends since middle school, but his constant criticism had not been an issue until we went into business together.  He had been divorced without children and after talking to Doris, his ex-wife, I began to understand some of Eliot’s quirks, as she called them.

To me these quirks were a pain in the ass.

“Marc, you of all people should have known what a jerk he is.” She laughed.

“You’re right.” I bowed my head.

“You could have him bumped off.” She sighed, “I have an uncle who knows some people.” 

“Naw, it ain’t gonna come to that.” I shook my head.

“But if it ever does, let me know.” She laughed and went inside her apartment.

I was not dating her, because it would cloud my business relationship with Eliot, but she was sweet and had a great sense of humor. 

Bump off Eliot.  What a hoot.

I also knew Gladys, Eliot’s mother.  She worked as a cleaning woman in one of the biggest office buildings in the city.

“The day he left for college, I cried tears of joy.” She confessed to me one day when I dropped off some proofs for Eliot to look over. “He comes over for dinner, like he is tonight, and I can’t wait for him to go home.  I feel bad.  He is my son after all, but he’s so judgmental about everything.  He should have been a critic.  He’d be a good one, I tell you.  His father, God rest his soul, was just like him.  I tell you Marc, the apple don’t fall far from the tree.” 

“I am so sorry.” I handed her the documents.

“Whadda gonna do? God is having a good laugh at my expense.” She put the documents on her dining room table.

“At my expense, too.” I tipped my head as if I had a hat on it as I left.

“Mr. Christoval, we has to do sum-ting about Mr. Wagman.” Dave Voss said one afternoon.

“What do you mean?” I was startled since Dave was one of the most easy-going, level-headed project manager I had in the company.

“We had a meeting this morning…” He rolled his eyes as if he was looking up there for the exact words he wanted to say, “He is a pain in the hind-side.” 

“What should we do?” I asked, hoping for a good idea.

“Can’t we give him the heave-ho?” Dave let out such a deep sigh, I thought all the oxygen would vacate the room. 

“He’s under contract.” I explained. 

“I have a lawyer friend.  I’m sure there must be some legal loop-hole.” Dave shrugged and sat down. “Everyone agrees, you know.” 

Now it was my turn to sigh heavily. 

“Without him, I would have never had the capital to get this company off the ground.” I explained.

“So you kinda own him, eh?” Dave bowed his head to look me in the eye. I could not avoid his sad sparkling blue eyes that seemed to bore into my soul, “Marc, I had a brother-in-law who was a pain in the keister.”

“So, what did you do?” 

“Changed my address and got a new cell phone.” He laughed.

“I wish this was that easy.” I could not help but smile.

“It might be.  It might be.” He patted me on the shoulder. 

It is said that Yankee fans are some of the most critical people in the world.  If they are having an off-year, the whole Bronx trembles with anger.  Eliot didn’t have a clue who the Bronx Bombers were, but he was like so many of the fans I encountered when I went to a home game.  The pitcher was a bum.  The catcher was a bum.  None of the guys could hit.  The whole team was nothing, but scrubs.

The truth of the matter, critics come from every walk of life and few of them are actually invited.  While Yankee fans are the epitome of what I would call critics, the fact remains, all humans have some degree of criticism in them.   

When I worked on the newspaper, I got to know the movie critic and while he was no Roger Ebert, he had a way with words and understood the difference between a good film and a lousy one.  His name was Benny Shapiro and he loved bagels with cream cheese and locks so his office always smelled of fish, but he one time told me something I will never forget, “Marc, the only difference between me and a bleacher bum, is I get paid to be a paid in the ass.”  

It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. 

Later, Benny taught me the meaning of the word persnickety, because that’s what he called himself.  But if I were to look up the word persnickety in the dictionary, I’m sure I’d find Eliot Wagman’s photograph right there.  

I was dozing off watching Wheel of Fortune when the phone startled me from my cozy place. It was Eliot.

“Hey there Marc.” His voice was chipper.

“Eliot.” I tried to sound awake. 

“I have read over the proposal.” He hesitated.

“And?” 

“Well…Oh, where do I begin?” He huffed.

An hour later, I hung up with my head spinning.

Murder had never crossed my mind before, but with each contact with him, I began to fantasize about how I would do the dirty deed once I had my chance.  I found myself researching different murders over the internet and then destroying the search history, just in case.

There were a couple of interesting cases I found that turned out to be mob hits, but the modus operandi intrigued me.  Truthfully, I knew I would never be capable of doing the deed, but it seemed there was no shortage of professionals looking for work on the dark web.  

“You gotta be careful.” My brother Steve told me at a family gathering. “I’ve heard some really scary stuff happening on the dark web.” 

“Have you met Eliot?” I asked.

“Sure, sure when you graduated from high school, I met him at your kegger..” Steve smiled.

“What did you think of him?” I asked, peeking over at dad who seemed to be hovering.  The kegger was still a legend among my siblings, but dad never knew to this day why the picnic table was at the bottom of the pool.  

“I dunno.” He shrugged with that smirk still on his face, “Persnickety comes to mind.”

“Yeah, that’s the word.” I snapped my fingers.

“Does he have any friends?” Steve tilted his head.

“Not that I know of.” 

“You really picked a winner for a business partner.” Steve laughed. 

The next morning, Eliot brought in the proposal that appeared as if he had bled all over the document in red ink.

“A few minor things.” He spread out the document on my desk.  

Three hours later we concluded and the proposal was completely altered except for the “The” that started the first sentence. 

Later I called Mr. Landford Winggett, a lawyer Dave knew and found out under the present contract agreement, Eliot could take half of my business.  I felt as if I had been backed into a corner, something Mr. Winggett assured me was quite possible.

Later that day, the customer called to complain about the proposal presented to him by Eliot Wagman.  

I sat at Grayson’s Hole in the Wall having a few beers with a couple of the guys when Dave asked what we were going to do about Eliot.

“Poor subject.” I whined.

“Get rid of him.” Dave shrugged.

“Not that easy.  Mr. Winggett said he could take half of the company.” 

“Geese.” Dave whistled.

“What if he disappeared?” Nicky suggested as he sipped his beer.

“How?” I asked.

“He’d have plenty of company in the East River.” Nicky laughed. 

“That’s a murder rap.” I nodded.

“Maybe it’s time to consider more drastic means.” Dave shrugged. 

“What you are talking about is murder, plain and simple.” I glanced over at Nicky.

“So, it’s done all the time.  This is New York.” Nicky shook his head.

“How?” I asked.

“It’s a big city.  People disappear all the time.” Nicky polished off his beer and raised his finger for another. 

“Let’s face it, he is bad for business.” Dave snorted.

“Yeah, in a couple of weeks his persnickety attitude is gonna run us out of business.” I shook my head and signaled for another beer.  Usually I only have two, but tonight I had six dead soldiers in front of me and I wasn’t even thinking about stopping.  

I don’t remember getting home by cab, but my dreams were filled with ways to get rid of Eliot.  While I had dreams about death in a sewer, I knew Eliot was not a fish I could flush down the toilet. 

Riding the city transit the next morning with a splitting hangover headache, I could hear the seagulls calling to me, “Drown him in the East River, Marc.  Drown him in the East River.” 

I was not the man for the job, but after making a few calls, I found someone who would do it.  He was cheap, too.  Or at least cheaper than what I was expecting to pay.  Ten grand.  Felt like I needed a coupon for this deal.  

His name was Marshall Fennick, but I’m sure it was an alias.  We met in a secret locale and made the final arrangements on our deal.  

“It will be quick and you won’t know a thing.” He assured me.  He had arranged to meet me at Java’s Sushi since he told me he was a big sushi fan.  I was not, but they did serve other more palatable plates more to my liking.  

“How?” I asked.

“Better if you don’t know.” He slurped some of his raw fish and rice. “You could be an accessory.” He winked, but this did not fill me with assurance.  What do you want for ten grand?  

I handed him an envelope with five grand.  He would get the rest later once Eliot was resting with the fishes. 

After meeting with Marshall, I decided I needed a night on the couch watching television and trying to get my mind off what was about to take place.  Dave called me.  I nearly jumped out of my skin when the phone rang.

“Are things taken care of?” He asked which was code we had worked out between us.

“It is a clear night in Brooklyn.” I answered.  

“Good, good.” He purred before hanging up.

It was late October and I knew the water would be cold.  It was cold in mid-July too.  I did not want to think about poor old Eliot Wagman being tossed into the cold water.  I turned on Wheel of Fortune, but Pat Sajak said, “Sounds as cold as the East River.” 

He didn’t say that, but my imagination was on overdrive.  Vanna winked at me as if she knew what I was doing.  I turned off the television. 

“Marc, he was your best friend in school.” I heard his mother tell me.  

I put the couch pillow over my head.

By now Marshall would be pulling up in front of Eliot’s apartment.

In another hour Eliot would be going for a swim in the river with hands and feet bound.  Even though Marshall did not tell me how he was going to do it, I heard enough people talk about the preferred method to get rid of somebody.

I wondered how many stiffs were down there in that cold dark water. 

The phone rang again.  This time I fell on the floor when I landed.

“Hello?” I picked it up.

“Have you seen Eliot?” It was Doris.

“No, no, why would I see Eliot?” I felt like that guy on “Tell-a-Tale-a-Heart '' who chops up the old guy with the evil eye and hides his remains under the floorboards.

“Idiot didn’t pay alimony for the month.” She hissed, “You tell that bum, next time you see him, he’d better fess up.” 

She slammed the phone down.

No more alimony, Doris.  Sorry. 

I walked into my bedroom.  I got undressed and brushed my teeth wondering how things were going.

The phone rang again.

I spit toothpaste all over the mirror.

“Hello.” I picked up the phone with my mouth still full of toothpaste.

“Yeah, yeah, this is Marshall, you know, Marshall Fennick.” His voice sounded heavy like he was out of breath.

“Yes, I know.” 

“It is done.” He announced.

For a moment, I did not know what to say.  I could say thank you, but that just didn’t seem right.  Or I could say, “Good.”  But I wasn’t sure if it was.

“Are you there?” He asked.

“Yes, yes, I am here.” 

You don’t have to worry about Tucker Walters anymore.” He said confidently. 

“Why would I worry about him?” I swallowed hard.

“You paid me to have him taken care of.” Marshall sounded surprised.

“Sorry, I don’t know any Tucker Walters.” My head suddenly felt as if it was about to explode.

“That was the name you gave me.  I got it wrote down on my Post-It note.” He said and I could hear him unfold the paper.  “Oops.”

“What did you do?” I asked, feeling as if I was about to vomit.

“I messed up.” His voice was heavy again, but this time the weight came from a screw up. “I was supposed to do that job two days ago.  I guess I forgot.”

“What about Eliot Wagman?” I asked frantically.

“He’s a nice guy.  I met him at his apartment.  He said he was going to mail his ex-wife her alimony check.” He sounded much calmer. I closed my eyes.  Persnickety Eliot Wagman was still among us.  

“I paid you to get rid of him.” I hissed.

“I will stop by and refund your money, Mr. Christavol.” He said cheerfully. 

“Nevermind.” I groaned holding my aching head. 

For whatever reason, I slept like the dead that night.  When I woke up, the whole business with Marshall Fennick seemed like a bad dream.

Perhaps it was.  

The next morning, Eliot was first to the office, just like he had been everyday of his life.  He had a cup of coffee and he was reviewing some contract which he had attacked with his red pen, but for some reason, I was glad to see him there.  Some of the other guys were a bit surprised, but if the truth be told, I was glad to see him right where he belonged.  Persnickety or not, Eliot was a sight for sore eyes.  Red pen in hand, he proceeded to tell me how he had fixed the Meyers account that was filled with the usual mistakes. 

April 10, 2022 02:10

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2 comments

Felice Noelle
02:08 Apr 16, 2022

George: I haven't read this story yet, but I wanted to thank you for reading my story. I promise I will read this one, but I quickly looked through the wealth of short stories you have written, and I was drawn to quite a few. So I am going to treat myself to some of your stories. I'm not noticing a lot of likes or reads, but I don't think that is something to be concerned about. Sometimes the likes and reads just seem to "follow the herd," but what do I know, for I am a relative newbie here at Reedsy. I am going to give you a like even bef...

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15:36 Apr 29, 2022

Hope to hear from you in the future.

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