“What the hell is this?” he growled, storming into the office and slamming the papers down on the desk. The jumble of busy-office-chattering-reporters-gurgling-water-cooler shut off with a bang as door met jamb.
I jolted upright. “What is what?” I said dumbly, scrambling to compose myself. Lazy, confident, a bit disheveled – okay, now for the sneer – don’t reach for the papers too quick- oh, dammit.
“I gave you the recommendation you’ve been working so hard for and you threw it all away. The brass took all of five minutes to find this filth.”
I turned the packet around. Sure enough, I found my name emblazoned at the top of the page. Every keystroke below it felt like a punch to the heart.
“Where’d they find this?” Shit, I could have denied it. I cleared my throat. I’d just thrown that option away, so it was no use crying over spilled milk. Or spilled beans, in this case, even if it was one bean and not even the kind imported from Brazil.
“On the internet.”
“I thought they shut that down for good.”
“The government can get to it. So can anyone else with enough money. And the brass – our brass – has money.” He shook his head and stared out the window, short-cropped greying hair limned in the light. Pulling out a cigar and a lighter from his breast pocket, he brought the tip to a glowing ember with practiced ease. Now, the cigar was from Brazil. Or something. It was fancy. That was the point.
I sat in my un-fancy chair, wearing my un-fancy blazer and dress shirt, a pretend two piece suit, chewing my lower lip. I allowed myself to be paralyzed. At this point, it was probably better than whatever I could muster, and it still looked like the boss had something to say.
“You know, kid,” he said, confirming my hunch, “I really liked you.” Uh oh. Past tense didn’t sound like the best tense for my sense of self preservation. He went on, “but there’s no place for you here. I’ll give you until noon to pack up.”
I smelled Brazil waft by, aflame, followed by aural chaos until the jumble of busy-office-chattering-reporters-gurgling-water-cooler eased to silence.
I leaned back, threw my legs up on the desk I’d never sit at again and plucked a page from the front of the report. “Damn them,” I muttered, and sent it fluttering to the floor with a flick of my wrist. I scanned the next one. “Damn me.” Another page spun madly on its way to the ground. “Damn them.” Another. “Damn me.” Another. “Damn them. Damn me…”
Finally, I found myself staring at the last page, cheek to palm, eyes half closed.
Then I took my feet off the desk and threw the page over my shoulder as I turned to leave. A thousand pages with my name on them circled the desk, and the final one came to rest in my chair. It was too bad I didn’t have the boss’s lighter. I stepped into discordant noise and shut the door behind me.
Maybe it was me.