Ever have one of those manipulative bosses? This story gets me.
|Formerly: "Death of a District Salesman"
"I hardly ever drank, before I met you. You used alcohol like a necessary evil, to lure me in with promises of raises and the job opportunity of a lifetime, to work long hours and get paid nothing more than the same chump change every week. You held that promotion over my head like a carrot with that amused look on your face. You made me fight it out for the store manager position with that flunky, beer swillin' friend of yours. I had to socialize with your beer brood to get your attention. You put my life, my world in danger, and then you took it all away. Now, your world is in my hands."
I held the rifle to the back of Roger's pointed little head, while words rumbled out of my mouth like a freight train busting through a dark tunnel. I get emotional like this, sometimes. Beads of perspiration were getting in my district manager's eyes. All he could do was blink, with his hands awkwardly tied behind the high back office chair. His short, curly, black mop was silhouetted against the storeroom wall. I enjoyed the image, like some cartoon on a poorly receptive television. I could blow his brains out on the cement floor, mop it up, throw his worthless, uncollectable body in that green trash dump bin out back and be done with it.
Roger was silent, the way I like him best. I could have broken those twig-like arms, but I'm not a violent person by nature. But he is so much smaller than me. I'm 6'4'' 260 and muscular. I forgot how big I really am. That was until one day, while we were on the road to help set up some more of the company's chain stores, I saw myself. I stood there next to him, our reflections in a men's washroom mirror. It struck me like lightening. I took in the diminutive stature next to me, the one that always intimidated me into working longer hours, who mocked me when I misspoke, the asshole who held that damn carrot over my head all these years. This wisp of a man, what was he? Five and a half feet tall? I let him make me feel small. Things were gonna change.
Roger Anders hired me three years ago at an unemployment office. Help was needed to set up an electronics store in my hometown. I had lost my sales job after the Shoe King went under after just a year in our suburban strip mall. The job at Smart Media would be my salvation. I was the first he interviewed in that small office cubicle. Visibly shaking, this pimpled faced boy of a man fumbled with questions. I felt sorry for him. But that skinny little nuthead would inflate over time.
The better my store performed, the better his numbers looked on paper. The more employees I trained and promoted to relocate and manage newly built stores, the taller he stood, proud of his own success as he ascended the ladder to be greeted by his superiors and peers. All because he hired me. My store was outperfoming all others. His district was number one in the chain. And now here I stand, wanting so badly to see that jughead splatter against the pale cinder block backdrop.
The muzzle of the 20-gauge I swiped from my cousin's gun rack was nuzzled against Roger's left ear. Kevin won't notice it missing, because he is half way to the Dominican Republic where he will enjoy the sandy beaches, marguaritas and Cuban cigars. Prodding the pale flesh, I began to imagine the chill of the heavy black steel, feeling the vacuum from that barrel hole where a bullet could flash out at any second.
"Got any regrets, Roger?" I used the sight to line up with his left jugular. He wouldn't or couldn't answer. Hesitant, he twisted that scrawny neck and just stared up at me holding back his anger with pleading fear. With pride I took in the pathetic face, darkened by a welt and blood congealing on his thin lips.
He had come back to the rear entrance of the store to complete his Sunday paperwork. Concealed behind a stack of wooden pallets, I had waited for my chance to greet him with a good drubbing. No one will notice him missing for the next 24 hours or more. No one at home, since his wife left him six months ago. Apparently she is just as disgusted with the sniveling, contemptible, corporate-ladder-climbing pig. And of course, there were the rumors he was sleeping with his latest hire, a 24-year-old single mother of two. I wonder how his wife got wind of that? The doush bag have more enemies than me?
Roger liked to hit the road without telling anyone where he was going. He kept his cell phone off, only using it to call his store managers, like the times he sat out in the parking lot watching us work. He would teach me to do this to keep tabs on my own employees. I felt like a worm casing the joint from the back of the parking lot in my car, having to follow them after closing to make sure they got right to the bank with the deposit, to watch for that one hour they were inside the store before opening in the morning. Was anyone making trips to and from their car without someone at the door checking their coat and belongings, which was company policy?
Yup, by the time someone figures out they need to look for him, his car will be cooling its wheels at a sleazy motel in Birmingham. They'll find it eventually, maybe by Tuesday, possibly Wednesday. And no trace of him. A cold trail. The tiny dumpster behind the store will have met with the business end of a dump truck early Monday to take out the trash. Across the county, that waste will find its final resting place. Compacted and dropped into one of thousands of cells in that sprawling landfill, it will serve as a most just resting place.
"What I don't get is why you did it? Why did you get my employees to conspire against me so you could fire me? Huh?" I nudged him a little harder with my cylindrical extension of justice. "Feel like yelling for help, loser? I don't think anyone wants to help you. You don't deserve it." I kicked the back of the chair to watch it glide across the small room before his knees cracked against the wall.
"Ow! Sunofabitch, Carlson!" The words were immediate, commanding, no...domineering -- better yet! This was the man I had come to know and follow for two years and two months to the day he said, "You can quit, or be fired." Oh, he had me cornered all right, the way I have him cornered now, a loathsome silverfish that slithered out from under me in the night thinking I would let him pass across my carpet.
It was a Tuesday, the day after the conference call with all the Smart Media managers in his district. It had been a month since Roger told me company loss prevention had a reason to fire me, but couldn't tell me what it was. It had eaten away at me. My wife and I were both working stressful jobs, with little time off, trying to save our money so we could finally buy a home. And now, a dark cloud hung over my head.
I didn't know what I had done. I thought I had followed all company procedures. I double-checked my merchandise returns to the warehouse to be sure there wasn't any inventory screw-ups. I went over receipts and return authorizations, and even asked employees if they had seen any violations of company policy. I got a lot of bewildered, puzzling looks. My employees saw me in all my paranoid glory.
I sat in the store backroom with my coat on, keys on my desk, watching the door, waiting for a loss prevention official to come in and strip me of the badge I had worked so hard to earn. For 29 solid days, nothing. Then, Roger visited.
"I've got some bad news. I don't know how to tell you this, but loss prevention was going to be here today." I quietly listened. "They were coming here to fire you. There's nothing I can do. It's their decision."
"Well, what have I done?" I tried to say calmly. I didn't want Roger to get the upper hand on me like he usually would with his superior attitude. He stood a good distance away while I sat in my office chair. He reached into his black bag, the bag he took with him to every store he visited. He pulled out receipts, employee purchase receipts. My wife's parents had made two purchases the day after Christmas, after they traveled 850 miles to visit us for the holidays. In-laws were not allowed company discounts. I had violated company policy, apparently willfully in the eyes of loss prevention, and especially in the eyes of my former mentor. The receipts authorized by me showed a savings of three and a half dollars. But there was more.
My wife had visited the store on occasions and came into the backroom to use the bathroom. Only employees are allowed in the back of the store. "And customers," I reminded him. No answer. Also, she had used the phone behind the register while it was being operated. Apparently, my wife's presence in the store was a threat to loss prevention. It also made me realize that an employee or employees had turned me in. And because it was reported directly to the loss prevention hotline, it was out of Roger's hands. So he said.
But just two months earlier, he was in my face asking me if I had called him 'loser' and 'idiot' behind his back. He grilled me in front of his senior store manager, who rifled through my desk and files looking for examples of poor record keeping. They found four mistakes. Roger went from telling me I was the best manager he had to remarking, "You're not that good of a manager," getting right into my face.
I suffered a humiliating moment then and a week later, when Roger's boss, the lordly regional manager Jimmy Santos, came around the stores for the annual visit. It was obvious my superior had pumped him with stuff about my anti-company sentiment and failure to run a tight ship. Santos cut right to the chase. There was the comments about poor inventory management, a disorganized backroom, and failure to get product out on the floor. He was suggesting I wasn't doing my job. I worked my butt off hoping for redemption, but Roger made sure I would get none of that.
"You know, when he tells you to do something, it's because I tell him to tell you." Santos looked me square in the eyes for about half a sentence, looked at my store shelves some more, looked at me and then at Roger, who was giving him the, 'I told him to do that' smirk. The little parrot enjoyed watching my feathers get ruffled. I truly felt sorry that I could not manage the store the way he wanted. Yet, I had the best store in the company. Somehow, my store's crew had managed to win top honors in a company-wide sales contest that ended just before the Fall company conference.
"One day hero, next day zero," the inverted subtitle from a Jim Carrey movie that Roger repeated over and over to motivate his managers. "You blow it, and all your good deeds are wiped out. You'll have to work even harder then." I was imagining myself being held down so deep in a hole that these two company clowns cast me in, I would never be able to claw my way out.
Roger hired me, built me up and knocked me down, all in the span of 26 months. He would try to be my friend after Santos' visit, empathizing with me after all of his stores got hit below the belt from the 'big guy.' But, it wouldn't end there. Roger came into my store several weeks later, hanging his head so low.
"Loss prevention is investigating you."
"Cash overage you had last week. You were nine dollars over."
"For what!? Nine dollars, over? You have got to be kidding."
"I know," he said, then drooped some more. "I need to call them. Would you wait outside?"
Wait outside? He had me sit in on two other calls with loss prevention when I was being written up. He had said not to worry about the write-ups. He was not concerned he would lose me then. But all of a sudden, I was on the other side of the door.
Part of me wanted to laugh, the other part wanted to cry. It wasn't even my overage. Two employees failed to report the extra money and left it in the change drawer, which I counted and discovered the next morning. They said they knew about the money, but didn't know what to do. They thought about depositing the extra money. After reading the company policy book, it was decided to keep the cash in the change drawer with a note.
Mysteriously, this money had showed up in the change drawer, not in a register where a mistake should have occurred. No one could explain how the extra money got there. Extra money was not a bad thing, though. People were written up for cash shortages, not overages. The two employees were not disciplined but told to reread the operations manual on bank deposits. I reported the money error and now the heat was coming down on me.
Robert got off the phone and said we'd have to wait. He spent the afternoon telling me horror stories about loss prevention and how much he hated his job. He wanted to quit right then. The company was a lousy one to work for, and he did not get along with his boss Santos -- the same kind of anti-company sentiment I supposedly espoused in front of my employees. So why did he get so mad at me? Why did he suddenly share my feelings? He got no 'amen brother' from me that day. In fact, a large shipment had arrived and it needed to be stocked on the floor. I wasn't able to get much of it done as he droned on. I imagined Santos walking in to fire me on the spot for my repeated inability to get this particular task done in a timely manner.
The phone never rang that day. After five o'clock, Roger left for another store. All he could say was that apparently for now the matter would not be taken up by loss prevention. We rarely spoke again, except for conference calls. He never visited his number one store to help it through Christmas like he usually would, opting to help out his alcoholic buddies instead.
In those early days of January, my wife and I were thinking about relocating again with the company -- take a store closer to home. Christmas and the turmoil at Smart Media made us yearn to be on our own turf. I had called Roger to see about sending me back to the store where it all started, or any place close to home.
"I don't think I can do that. I was going to call you and talk to you." His ominous tone was obvious, and he was sounding frustrated with the company again. "I'm not supposed to tell you this." There was a bit of uncomfortable silence.
"What?" I prodded, not daring to think it had anything to do with loss prevention.
"I suppose you should know." He took a little more time before spilling the bad news...loss prevention.
"Well, I know. But, I'm not allowed to say. I know what it is, and I can tell you that you won't survive this one." That suggestive statement he let hang longer than any other that day. The word terminate rattled like a death knell.
I didn't have it all figured out then. Not even a month later when he showed up in my store with the option to quit or be fired. Yet days later, one of his favorite flunkies was running my store, not the assistant I trained to succeed me. It was sinking in. It was like some pyramid scheme you hear about. You promote a certain number of people to a position and you get a promotion. Roger had promoted me to manager and had asked me to consider becoming a DM like himself before our fallout. I didn't think I should be setting my sights that high.
I had cut out drinking and carousing all together. After marrying Lynn just a year after joining the company, and having been promoted to manager, I didn't feel the need to socialize with booze any more. I had my drinking problem licked with a solid marriage and a good job. But a new problem cropped up. Roger wasn't taking me on road trips any more, said that I hated store setups. But it was because I wouldn't swill that bitter beer he bought by the case, to waste away until the wee hours of morning before another 12-hour day of slapping together shelving units and throwing up stock.
I couldn't take it any more. I began to see him as the alcoholic I was. He had two other managers that would follow him around, polarized by the magnet protruding from his ass. He didn't need me any more. My store was the biggest and the best in the district, region and company chain. Give it to one of those bozos, and provided they don't run it into the ground, one of them is sure to get a future promotion to DM. Then Roger will get his rewards, a bigger payday with perks.
I was cut loose. I was let go. They stalked me, prodded me, collected evidence against me, stretched the truth, intimidated me, and finally conned me into quitting. I couldn't collect unemployment. We were living off Lynn's tips and meager salary as a family restaurant waitress. We had to spend our little bundle on rent and food, instead of building up a down payment on a home just outside city limits. A dream vanished; a little cloud burst inside my head.
"You terminated me. Now I terminate you!"
"Wait! Let's discuss this!"
"You took my job, Roger. You took my good name and made me out to be some kind of a thief. You paraded me in front of your boss and my employees to make me look like a fool. You take my pride and my job and for what? So you can get ahead? So you can climb that company ladder? I thought you were my friend once. What was I thinking? Parties until three a.m. in the store, drinking beer and helium from a rented balloon tank. We played satellite radio at deafening levels, hackysack, and you insisted we watch a few nudie flicks on home stereo department. Harmless fun? We broke a lot of rules. My mistakes compared to your blunders are minor blemishes."
I grabbed a handful of that scruffy hair and yanked his head up. "I spent the last nine months trying to imagine how you were going to die for this. I thought about following you to one of your motels on the road while visiting another store. It would be dark. I would be waiting. You would already be drunk. It would be so easy. You would be out cold. Put you at the wheel of your car and send it careening down the mountainside. Crash and burn. But, that plan could fail...and you wouldn't suffer.
"I imagined you coming to visit my store -- yes my store. The store that I helped build up and run before you needlessly took it away from me. Same routine, and I wait until you get to your motel room, club you unconscious and take you inside where I dismember you piece by piece. But, that's too bloody and too close to home.
"I knew if I kept quiet for awhile, everyone would forget about me. Lynn and I would struggle with our minimum wage jobs, avoiding eviction. Even tried to move back, but it's pretty hard to do when you can't scrape up $500 to get a moving van. We're stuck here. We're stuck in hell. Of course, we can't let on how humiliating it is. Our poverty is our secret.
"I waited for this day. I monitor your conference calls. You didn't even know. I used the 800 number and nobody knew I was there. By the way, good one about taking care of that 'personnel problem' the Monday after I walked. I noticed your flunkies chuckled at that one.
"Anyway, I knew where you would be. I knew that Marie finally left you last April. I watched you come home every week. No Marie. My wife didn't leave me. Stuck by my side. You made her a part of it. Her parents, too."
Roger silently stared at the wall. He was surprisingly calm. I had rehearsed the speech I would give time after time in my head, not daring to speak it out loud until this very moment. The speech would change every time. I would start to ramble, trail off. I was losing focus. A man was tied to his office chair and I was asking myself 'why?' But as I saw him strain, those wrinkles in his forehead, I was reminded.
3-2-1 BANG!" I shouted. He looked up. He was terrified. "Good, that's more like it. You know, you could act a little more like a victim. Plead with me for your life the way you wanted me to plead for my job. Come on, this is my retribution. You took my job, I take your life." I stared at him. His head seemed to tremor a little. I wanted to raise the firearm and point it directly into his eyes. But, I didn't want to be too intimidating.
"Do you remember what you told me? It's coming back to me now. You said, 'Now you know how it feels.' What did you mean by that?" Still silent. "I'll tell you what it means. My employees turned on me just like I turned on you. Don't you think that's a little telling? You set me up. You got my employees to do your dirty work so you could get rid of me." I paused to let the words sink in the way he would do.
"Did it hurt to be called names behind your back? Did you think my inflammatory remarks against you were anti-Smart Media? Did you really believe I was going to take your whole district down? I know, it's because I didn't want to take that next step and be a DM. You thought I was going to hold you back. Remember when you said that the reason why you got promoted was because of me? My performance, the work I did got you somewhere? Where did it get me? Gee, out of a job with no hope of a good reference in a town I was paid to relocate to.
"Does it make you feel good to take somebody down? Did you really think you were doing it for the good of the company? I had the best store in the company."
By now I am getting bored with my quiet counterpart, so I lift my gun one more time, squeeze the trigger and blow a hole in the side of that bean shaped head. The spray was enormous and satisfying. The head snapped back, dropped forward and the red gushed from the black wound. I could imagine a presidential limo speeding for a Dallas hospital.
I tipped the head of a small bottle of cleaning solution into a rag and cleaned up. A map and some sales tracking sheets would have to be removed. After a half hour, the blood from the wall, floor and chair are completely gone. I didn't have finger prints to remove. I wore gloves.
I roll Roger in a long plastic sheet that came from my duffel. My cellophane corpse is next wrapped in black tarp. I had dropped it behind the building before parking my car out of sight.
I had already made room for Roger in the dumpster. I arrived early, at sunrise, to make room to unload his lifeless body. I hefted the corpse over my shoulder, tarp and all, like a roll of carpeting. He probably weighed 150. I had removed his shoes, socks and neck tie -- any garments that could fall off.
In the washroom, I take off my shirt and pants and put them in a laundry bag. I cleaned myself and bathroom. A fresh pair of pants and shirt waited in my duffel. It's 7:25 p.m. and plenty dark. Everything was placed in a plastic bag that, after I cleaned up, was put in a large plastic bag and placed in the trunk of my car parked behind some trees obscuring an adjacent parking lot. It was the quiet end of town. No homes in the area, just a gas station, the small strip mall, and a donut shop across the street and out of view. The staccato of the interstate could be heard buzzing in the distance.
Fortunately, Roger liked to park in back and go in the back way, the quickest route to his desk. I knew he would be there at 4 p.m., when he was through watching football. I worried he might take in a double header, but he had been true to form. It was time for a 90-mile journey to Birmingham, where Roger had enjoyed a few of his favorite strip clubs. I park his car there at about 10, and then park it again at the motel two hours later, get out, and hop into Lynn's car in the Wal-Mart parking lot two blocks away. I had been there two days, and without notice I'm certain, since the 24-hour store never closes. I drive back home and drop off the car. I would wait until the next morning to drive back to pick up my car, and Lynn would drive her car back home.
Great plan. The police don't come around until Tuesday when Santos can't make contact with Roger. They check out his office, find it unusually clean, but empty. They might suspect foul play until they discover his car in a Birmingham motel parking lot the very same day. The focus is shifted and they ask questions, find out his car was spotted at the strip club the night before, but can't figure out why he disappeared. It's perfect. It can't fail.
But, I feel the police are breathing down my neck. They are good. They track down former disgruntled employees, assuming his disappearance was murder. They call on me and Lynn and I say that we were home or out shopping in the malls that weekend. Why, what happened? Roger is missing? He doesn't come around here. The questions are done, for now. Police can't link us to his murder because we can't be in two places at one time. He could have been killed in his office, but why did his car turn up in Birmingham. Just coincidence. But they don't cross me off the list.
I go about my business. Life would return to normal. Police collect hair samples, fibers, try to match them with mine but find nothing. I burned the clothes. I wore a hair net. I had it all planned out. What could go wrong?
The phone rings, we nervously answer. Lynn's on the other line. It's not the police, but are they bugging the phone? Are they watching our every move? The deed is done. I am happy to be rid of the slimeball. My life is restored. I find a job managing a clothing store. My sales skills impress. There's promise of a promotion as the boss asks if I would join him for a trip to the strip joint.
I sit up in bed and shudder.
"What's wrong, honey," Lynn asks, turning to look at me over her shoulder.
"I can't sleep."
"Well, stay here. I don't want you going out there and watching T.V. all night again."
"It's the only thing that helps me relax."
"It's the only thing that distracts you so you can't think. When are you going to put Roger behind you?"
I look at my wife. I can't kill her. I love her. I have nowhere to turn but my fantasies. "Sorry, honey." I get up. "Tell you what, tomorrow, I'll go out and get some Sominex."
"Yeah, sure. Whatever." Her usual response.
I shut the door behind me and quietly creep into the living room. I pick up the phone and dial. It rings four times before a woman groggily answers and I hang up. Feeling satisfied, I turn around and head back to bed to fall fast asleep, perchance to dream again.