Monday, August 23, 2004

Instant Delayed Karma's gonna get you

Wednesday afternoon, 2:20. Telephone. Home office.

"Steve? This is Claire!"

"Hi, Claire!"

"Please hold for Mr. Johnson."

"STEEEEEVE!" He says.

"Good afternoon, sir."

"Steven, tell me how you're feeling."

"Unseasonably cool."

"Hahahahahhahaha! I love your sense of humor, Steve!"

"So, what can I do for you today?"

"Steve, I have something to tell you, and you may interpret this as bad news. But it isn't."

Hmm, let's see. You found out about my blog, but you crank one out every night while reading it, so you're not going to fire me?

"OK."

"I'm giving the promotion to Ross."

"The M & A promotion?"

"Yes, Steve."

Fuck.

"Steve, this is an opportunity. It's an OPPORTUNITY!"

"Forgive me, Mr. Johnson, but we both know how Ross got this job. Don't you think you're, well, rewarding inappropriate behavior?"

"Steve, let me tell you a little bit about what it's like to be a CEO. It's kind of like being the president of the United States."

You mean you drive drunk and lie about weapons of mass destruction?

"How so?" I say.

"Whether we like it or not, a lot of people - millions of people - own a piece of this company. I'm talking about the SHAAAAREHOOLDERS," he says, stretching the word almost comically. "And these SHAAAREHOLDERS make decisions to buy and sell our stock based on the CEO's decisions. Just like people watch the president and react to what HE does. Their confidence goes up, or down, based on his choices."

"Yes, I see," I say.

"So you see, Steve, hiring a young, unknown VP as a high-visibility corporate executive, over that VP's boss, well, that would look strange to a SHAREHOLDER, would it not?"

"So you're saying that Ross going to the board of directors had nothing to do with it?"

"It didn't help. But it was going to be a hard sell, Steve."

"I just don't think he acted like a team player. And it seems like he's being rewarded for it."

"Are you saying I made a mistake?"

HOLY SHIT. Ross is leaving. Ross's position is going to open up! Dan said this was an "opportunity"! Is he going to promote me to Ross's job?!

"No, no, I suppose not. Mr. Johnson?"

"Yes, Steve?"

"What did you mean when you said this was an 'opportunity' for me?"

"Steve, how would you like a $20,000 raise?" he says.

**********

6:15. Another long day. I walk down to the parking lot. It's almost completely empty.

I approach my car. I insert the key into the driver's side door lock and turn it. I hear the crunch of dirt and pebbles under feet. From the corner of my eye I see someone walk out from behind a concrete column. I turn around.

Rob is standing there.

Rob is quite a bit taller than me, at least six inches or so. And he's got 30 or 40 pounds on me. He can be very intimidating. His eyes are pink and watery. He's been drinking. Or crying. Or both.

Fuck. Kelly told Rob about Taylor.

There's a very real possibility that I am going to get beaten up tonight.

"What happened with you and Taylor?" He says, slurring his words.

"Rob, I..."

His mouth twists into a hideous snarl. "DID YOU FUCK HER!? DID YOU!!??" He screams.

"Rob!"

He reaches out and grabs my shirt with both hands. His arms are tan and sweaty, bulging with muscle. He shakes me violently. One of his hands slips off my shirt, and I hurtle backwards. I hear a loud, hollow thud, like a rock hitting a window, then realize it's not a rock, but my skull.

The pain is huge. My head pounds as if hit with a sledge hammer.

I'm disoriented. I forget how to stand up. I slip to the ground, ass first, smashing the base of my spine on the hard concrete.

I fall face down. My head, my ass, the pain seems to be everywhere.

Then he kicks me.

It's a single, hard, rocket-like sneaker to the gut, as if my rib cage were a football and Rob were attempting a 50-yard field goal.

The air rushes from my lungs. My mouth gulps silently at the afternoon air, gasping desperately for breath.

My God, I can't breathe!

"You were like my brother!" he is shouting. "I loved you! You were like my BROTHER! How the hell could you DO that to me?!"

He kicks me again. The pain explodes in my belly. It's like a grenade has gone off in my intestines. I can't move; I can't think. The only thing in the universe for me is the loud, excruciating ache.

It occurs to me that if Rob doesn't have an attack of conscience soon, I could be in some serious trouble. I wonder if he would actually kill me.

"You lousy fucking cocksucker," he says. "I fucking hate you-"

A car pulls into the parking lot and makes a right turn, away from us. I think it's Pablo, the cleaning guy. Rob stands bolt upright and rushes back to his car. He backs the car up and throws a beer bottle out his passenger side window. It hits my driver's door hard enough to leave a dent, then clanks to the ground.

He speeds away.

I suck in a giant breath and stagger to my knees. A fresh wave of pain blasts my stomach and I fall down again with a groan.

I finally slither, snail-like, to my car. I reach my left hand up to open the door, and needles of pain shoot up my side; I involuntarily convulse in agony.

I reach out again, careful not to overextend my arm, and open the door. Clinging tightly to the headrest, I rise to my feet and plop myself into the driver's seat. I look in the rearview mirror. Tears are streaming down my cheeks.

I sit there for a long time, listening to my own sobs.