In the way one climbs a ladder, ambition led him to climb the bodies of everyone he could step on. He was ruthless. Heartless. Borderline cruel. His name was Lloyd Mauldin. Lloyd always wore black. Black slacks, a black suit, a black tie, and a black coat. Intelligent eyes glistened behind his glasses. It was said he would sell his own mother for a dollar. Impossible though, as his mother died when he was eight.
He had a corporate job for an insurance agency checking insurance claims. And he was very good at his job. His black attire and sunken cheeks made him appear as death itself. Lloyd could look a dying child in the eye and tell the parents the company won’t pay for a life-saving treatment. He wouldn’t blink an eye as the parents broke down into tears, begging for him to help. He left a trail of corpses behind him without touching a single one.
He climbed the corporate ladder, ignoring the metaphorical bloody handprints he left behind. He was paid well for his job, and he took advantage of this luxury. He owned a nice large house, and a fancy car. He ate steak and caviar and truffles and indulged in other splendors.
Lloyd slept peacefully on silk sheets, on a bed three times his size. There was not a remorseful bone in his body. He lived alone, though that never seemed to bother him.
Lloyd Mauldin cared for only one thing in the world. He had a gorgeous zebra angelfish in a massive 30-gallon tank. He had owned it for the past 11 years, and it showed no sign of aging. Despite his twisted nature, Lloyd adored the elegant fish. He had named it Mirari, meaning ‘Miracle’. It swam in the tank, a beacon of light compared to Lloyd’s own nature.
Lloyd received lots of mail. Death threats were a common occurrence. He disregarded them with the simple belief that ‘it’s just my job’. One day while throwing out death threats he came across an invitation to a funeral of someone he did not know. It was for a man who died around Lloyd’s own age just a week earlier. The name on the invitation was Anthony Collins. Contradicting his apparel, Lloyd did not like funerals. The only one he had ever attended was for his own mother. He tossed the invitation aside as well, and did not attend. He did not think twice about it.
Lloyd lived as though it was his last day on earth. He indulged himself in the finer things of life that he believed he had earned. He did what he wanted and said what he wanted, and didn’t care what people thought. He was unapologetic, and he would entertain no one. Even when I pointed the gun at his forehead and asked if he remembered me.
He shrugged, “No, so why don’t you get on with it.”
“Not even a guess?” I prompted.
“I can assume this is about an insurance claim.”
He shifted in his seat on the chair in his living room. “So, did someone die. Your mom? Dad? Sister?”
“You didn’t bother coming to the funeral.”
Lloyd blinked as the memory of the invitation crossed his mind. “Mr. Collins?”
“That was him. My father.”
“My condolences.” But both of us knew that it was an empty gesture. “I don’t recall his name. Are you sure I’m the one who investigated his claim?”
“It was 10 years ago. And the claim was for me.”
Lloyd remained silent, waiting for me to continue.
“I had leukemia and need a bone marrow transplant. You came to my hospital room to deny it. You said the same thing then. ‘My condolences.’ My parents went into debt to afford it.”
“Well, you lived. Congrats.”
I narrowed my eyes. Behind me, the water of the fish tank bubbled. “Yes, you could almost call it…” I paused as I approached the tank. Mirari swam peacefully, her graceful movement mesmerizing. “A miracle.”
In one swift motion I slammed the butt of the gun into the side of the tank. The glass broke into pieces, cutting my own hand in the process. Water gushed out and onto the floor, and with it came the angelfish.
Lloyd began to move forward, so I pointed the gun at him again. He shifted back into his seat. Mirari twitched on the floor, suffocating.
“My mother worked herself to death. When I was well enough to work, I spent every penny of my own earnings to help. My father… He couldn’t make payments. Everything was reclaimed. The stress killed him.”
I moved close until the gun was pressed directly against his chest. “Your decision destroyed us. But you’ve never thought about anyone else, have you?”
I backed up, narrowly avoiding stepping on the fish as it flipped around. “We suffocated. And you eat steak every weekend.”
“Your misfortunes are not my burden,” Lloyd said.
I suppose he was right, in a way. But I had years of resentment on my side. “You could have saved my life. My family’s life.”
“There are a lot of lives to be saved. But that doesn’t get you a promotion.”
My mother and father’s lives, all their savings, crushing debt, and a decade of working to the bone all for another man’s promotion. My finger found its way to the trigger.
Lloyd stared down the barrel of the gun, death itself. For a second, I thought I saw the tiniest slither of remorse. I pulled the trigger, and jerked back as blood splattered everywhere.
My ears rang for a moment. Down at my feet, Mirari continued to gasp. I scooped the fish up and placed her into the few inches of water left in the shattered tank. She righted herself the best she could.
I lowered myself to look into her small fish eyes. “A miracle…”
I had nothing now. No family. No home. Nothing saved.
And Lloyd never finished climbing his ladder. Ambition is, unfortunately, as easy as a thing to drown in as debt.