Wincing, Stevie tried hard to look calm and complacent as the heavy files landed on the table, the loud thud echoing through the room.
“I’m telling you, this isn’t good enough!” his manager shouted, spittle flying out of his mouth and covering the smooth, polished surface.
“I’m sorry sir,” Stevie murmured, glancing down at his tightly clasped hands so their gazes wouldn’t meet.
“Just look at me! Do I look like I’m joking?”
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Stevie nervously glanced up.
His manager glared back at him, his eyes narrowed as he leant on the table, his hands curled into fists.
Stevie felt a shiver run through his body as they looked at each other. It felt as if his soul was not only being read, but, somehow, drained.
“No sir, of course not.”
Sighing, the manager pulled out a chair and dropped onto the leather seat, the material of his pants rubbing against it.
“Sit down,” he said, running one hand through his thinning hair, and gesturing towards another seat. “I’m not a hard man Stevie, I’m really not, I don’t ask much of my employees, well I don’t think that I do. But I do ask that they complete their jobs.”
Not sure what to say, Stevie kept both feet placed firmly on the ground as he balanced on the edge of his seat, his hands twitching as they rested on the arm rests.
“What are we going to do about this?” the manager said, slapping the top of the files with the palm of his hand so hard, his skin would have been tingling.
Maybe that’s the way to get to the top, Stevie thought, maybe you have to risk everything, and expect those around you to do the same. Be the same.
Coughing slightly, Stevie loosened his tie with one sweaty finger.
“Maybe we could just add some other figures sir,” he said quietly, almost wishing as he said it, that he hadn’t.
Slowly the manager sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers against each other.
“I like it,” he said. “By Jove, I didn’t think you’d have the guts to even suggest it! Guess I was wrong about you!”
Forcefully he reached out and grabbed Stevie’s hand, grasping it tightly as he pumped it up and down enthusiastically.
Stevie forced the smile to remain on his face, trying hard not to flinch as he felt the cold sweat touch his skin.
“Yes sir,” he mumbled again. “But sir, it probably isn’t the right thing to do.”
“Eh? What’d you say?” the manager grunted, not listening as he shuffled pages around in the file.
“I said, it’s not the right thing to do.”
The manager glanced up at him, “Nonsense, it’s what you have to do to stay ahead in this game.”
Casually he touched a small button blending into the wooden surface.
“Jackie get in here!” he barked.
The door opened and a secretary so small but so timid that she looked even smaller, poked her head around.
“You called sir?” she whispered.
“Get in here!” the manager yelled, the skin on his face starting to turn red. “I can’t dictate a letter to you with you standing outside!”
With a small squeak, Jackie scuttled in, closing the door softly behind her and clutching a notepad and pen tightly in her hands.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes sir,” Jackie whispered, the thin wire framed glasses starting to slip down her nose.
Stevie exhaled slowly. The manager was no longer looking at him, his soul was safe for the moment as he targeted Jackie, shouting and berating her.
“And I want all that sent off in the next hour!” he screamed, waving his hand at her to leave.
Quietly sobbing, Jackie scuttled out of the room. Stevie noticed several tears running down her cheeks.
“Well, what are you going to do?” the manager shrugged at him. “You’ve got to tell them, be firm, you know. Hey, in a couple of more years, you might have a secretary as well!”
Stevie felt a shiver travel down his spine. Almost as if something terrible was about to happen.
Or maybe it was? he thought.
The manager was grinning as he continued to flick through the file.
Stevie watched him as he mumbled to himself, only catching small snippets as he stared.
“…here’s a place we could add a figure to two…”
“…maybe we could just cross this part out? No, that would be too obvious, some one would be bound to see it, some busybody…”
The manager’s face started to relax as he talked out loud, the grin becoming more pronounced as he spoke his ideas.
A demonic grin, Stevie thought, the grin of some one who lost their soul a long time ago.
“Sir,” he said loudly, making them both jump. “I don’t think I can do this and, I don’t think you should either.”
Pausing, his hands hovering in the air, the manager stared at him again, his eyes narrowed and cold.
“Is that so?” he asked quietly.
Stevie felt his face go pale as the blood seemed to drain away from him, “Yes sir.”
Maybe this is what my grandma meant when the devil would test me. Stay strong Stevie.
“Well, as far as I can see, we only have one option left to us,” the manager said, his voice still dangerously soft and quiet. “And if you’re not with me, then you’re against me.”
Silently he lifted an arm into the air and pointed dramatically to the closed door.
“You know where the door is,” he said. “Leave.”
Stevie felt his stomach bubble.
He’d have no job. No money. And there was a pile of bills at home, and another pile that he’d stuffed into a drawer hoping by some miracle they’d disappear.
“No sir, that’s…” he started to say.
A quiet knock at the door before it slowly opened.
“I’m sorry sir,” Jackie whispered, proffering a sheaf of papers. “But you just need to sign these.”
“Get out of here!” the manager yelled.
“Hold on a moment Jackie, I’m coming to,” Stevie said, pushing himself up. His hands felt calm, and his stomach settled.
“If you walk now, you’ll never return,” the manager warned.
Stevie glanced back and smiled, “But in the end, I’m going to the better place.”