*Nainika's Note* So...this story is part of a bigger story that I'm writing. Just thought I'd put it out there for some feedback! Enjoy!
The middle-aged woman in the elevator glared at me like I had a rotting fish head on my shoulders.
Which was kind of offensive, given I was holding Sparkles the goldfish, who was swimming around in his fishbowl unaware of the hateful thoughts of my elevator neighbor. After the ninth annoyed huff from the opposite corner, I turned to her with a self-deprecating smile.
“Pardon me for noticing, but you seem to be awfully concerned about something. Is there anything I can clear up?”
Without breaking her glare, she shot back: “Are you applying for the manager position?”
I silently prayed to the gods for patience, although my gods had long since vanished from this world.
“No, ma’am. I’m dropping off Ella’s fish.”
Her eyes widened almost comically, jaw dropping to the ground. I could practically see the drool puddling on the plush rug in the elevator. Mentally rolling my eyes, I counted: one, two three-
Right on cue, her innate curiosity wormed out of the manners most likely beaten into her.
“You know Ell-I mean, Ms. Grahm?”
Nodding I held Sparkles up to eye level. He blew bubbles at me.
“This little munchkin has been at my place for the past week and Ella wants him back, so here I am.”
The woman opened her mouth to say something else, but right then, the elevator dinged and the doors opened on the seventeenth floor.
Thank the gods.
That was the longest elevator ride I’d ever experienced. And I’d been around since before elevators had been invented.
Rolling my eyes at Sparkles, I strode out of the elevator, smiling at Rebecca Elden, Ella’s executive assistant. She half-rose out of her seat, and I resisted the urge to push her glasses all the way up her cute button nose.
Really, some people were too cute.
“How are you, Mr. Harvey?”
Waving her off, I walked past her desk.
“Simply perfect, Becks, just dropping off Sparkles!”
She fell back into her chair, a blush rising on her neck. I saw her lips mouthing ‘Becks’.
“Ms. Grahm is in!” she called unnecessarily as I pushed open the door to Ella’s office.
Ella Grahm, more commonly known as the Stockbroker Queen of Manhattan, looked up as I entered her office, a single piece of lettuce disappearing into her mouth as she chewed and swallowed. A small burp came out of her mouth and she covered it up with a giggle and a hand over her mouth.
Putting down her sandwich, she rose, coming around her desk with a wide grin on her botoxed and surgically altered face. Looking at her wide green eyes and her perfectly plucked eyebrows, she looked barely forty years old.
She was almost sixty. Fifty-eight to be precise.
She took the fishbowl from me and pressed her lips to the glass, all eyes for her only pet. Pulling away, a bright red lipstick mark remained on the glass, and Sparkles eyed it disdainfully. Or maybe he eyed it happily. I couldn’t tell. Fish are notoriously emotionless creatures.
“How goes the job?” I asked, rounding her desk and peering out across Manhattan.
Ella’s view was one most in the city would kill for. The skyline of New York was backlit against a fiery sunset, almost the same scene on every postcard for The Big Apple.
Behind me, I heard Sparkles’ bowl being set down on Ella’s desk, and a loud sigh from the woman in question.
“I’m considering retiring.”
Turning around in surprise, I caught the tail end of a grimace on Ella’s normally content face before she covered it up with a sunny smile.
Before she could respond, a knock came on the door and Rebecca poked her head in. She blushed again at the sight of me and I smiled at her, leaning against Ella’s desk.
Rebecca focused, with difficulty, on Ella, her brows furrowed.
“Ms. Grahm, Mrs. Wulker is here for her interview.”
Ella jolted, nearly knocking Sparkles off her desk.
The goldfish’s life flashed before his eyes and he blew a few bubbles in indignation, before hiding behind his plastic palm tree figurine.
“Oh, yes, send her in after Mr. Harvey leaves.”
Rebecca nodded and ducked back out, and Ella turned to me with a guilty expression.
“Sorry Cain, I have to take this.”
I shook my head at her, frowning.
“You have a bad habit of leaving me hanging.”
Ella nodded, not meeting my eyes. She looked harried all of a sudden.
“How much do I owe you?”
I surprised myself with the chuckle that burst out of me at the question, and the light-hearted atmosphere of the office instantly shattered. Ella gulped, head falling as she realized she had written away her will.
The question was so open-ended. How much does she owe me? For six words, the options were almost limitless. How much does she owe me for her life? For her demise? For her soul?
Pitiful as it was.
“Look at me, Ella.”
Slowly she lifted her head until her watery eyes met mine, allowing me a glimpse into what lurked behind.
Ella Grahm’s soul was murky, a result of a life spent in deceit, and monetary pleasure. There was one bright spark, however. A tiny glimmer of light in her swampy-green soul. The spot for Sparkles. That alone was enough to keep her alive.
“Four years, Ella.”
She paled, and suddenly the wrinkles around her eyes and corner of her mouth were more pronounced, her three-figure makeup products wasted on this vile excuse of a human.
“I c-can’t,” she pleaded, “you’ve already taken eight.”
Tapping a finger on my chin, I stared down at her, eyes hard.
“Pardon my French, but who the hell said our deal was a negotiation?”
The color leached from her cheeks and the bright red lipstick looked garish against her pale skin. She covered up her wrinkles on the outside, forgetting about the fact that her insides were positively rank.
“Four years,” I said again, before reaching forward and tapping her on her nose.
Grinning, I waggled my fingers at Sparkles, who blew bubbles at me in reply, before taking in that magnificent view once more time. Maybe after Ella was dead and in the ground, the overturned dirt still fresh over her coffin, I’d take this office for myself.
With that happy thought, I opened the door and walked out of the Stockbroker Queen’s office, whistling merrily.
“Have a wonderful day, Becks!” I called as I pressed the button to call the elevator. She stammered out a reply in response, and I grinned again as I pictured her ecstatic face once she found out Ella was dead. Poor thing was worked to the bone with hardly any reward.
The last thing I saw of Ella Grahm’s office was Mrs. Wulker’s shocked face, and Rebecca’s bemused expression, before the elevator doors closed and I was lowered seventeen floors.