This story is by Gayle Woodson and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Timing is everything. It takes 30 seconds for the security camera to scan down the hallway. There is a slight click as it reverses to sweep back toward the elevator. Between cycles, I slip around the corner and take cover in an alcove, near the door to Vernon Atkinson’s office. He’ll be here by 8 pm, without a doubt. That bastard is so predictable, like clockwork.
The elevator door swooshes open and I flatten myself against the wall. The smell of his disgusting cologne precedes him. He doesn’t see me as he walks by. I knew he wouldn’t. His eyes are perpetually glued to his smartphone. I hold my breath and fight the urge to jump out and strangle him. But I won’t make my move yet. I’ll give him time to get settled, sit down at his desk. I want him to be facing me.
When I hear the click, I set the stopwatch on my phone and count down the seconds until I know that the camera points back toward the elevator. Five, four, three, two, one. On cat’s paws, I spring into his office.
I give him two seconds to see my face, register who I am, and see the gun. Just enough time to comprehend what is about to happen to him. And why.
I pull the trigger.
No blood spurts from his face. There’s just a clean hole, right between the eyes. The hemorrhage flows from the back of his skull onto his Herman Miller Aileron Chair. Too bad the stains won’t show on its True Black finish. I’m wearing gloves, but I still wipe the Berretta, just to be sure I haven’t left any fingerprints. One can’t be too careful about these things. I put the gun into his cold—I mean, still warm—dead fingers. Of course, the forensic pathologist will know that he didn’t shoot himself. No powder burns. But maybe the first people to find him won’t think of that. The silencer worked. No one came running. With any luck, he won’t be found until morning.
I climb out the window and down the ladder, which I carefully prepositioned. The drop is only six feet, but I didn’t want to risk turning an ankle or breaking a leg. There is plenty of space between the hedge and the wall and I carry the ladder down that path all the way to the parking lot.
Darn it. My ladder won’t fit in the car. I can’t just dump it. And maybe there’s a surveillance camera in the parking lot. I didn’t think of that.
The loud cracking noise of a bat hitting a baseball startles me back into reality.
Beryl slaps me on the back. “Did you see that?” I can barely hear his voice over the cheering of the other parents in the bleachers.
Down on the field, our son trots around the bases and I join in the applause.
Owen looks our way and lifts a victorious fist in the air.
I strain to keep focused on the rest of the game, flashing plastic smiles at Beryl and making appropriate comments. “That was a great catch.” “Lovely weather.” “We’re lucky it didn’t rain.” “Did you remember to lock the back door?”
My mind drifts back to my assassination plot. I can’t just leave the ladder right under the window. And I shouldn’t leave my car in the parking lot where anyone could see it. Someone might remember that it was there.
Beryl is clapping and cheering again. “Way to go, Owen!”
Apparently, our son hit a double, drove in another run. I pretend that I saw it. “Yaaaay, Owen!”
The whole team descends on Pizza Hut for a victory celebration. The table is laden with cheese and peperoni pizzas that reek of too much garlic. I warn Owen, “Don’t burn your mouth. Let it cool off first. Cut off a piece and wave it around.” I don’t think he hears me. The boys are chattering and laughing and punching each other. A fragment of breadstick zooms past my ear.
Beryl and Rob, one the other dads, clink their beer mugs together.
“How’s it going?” asks Rob. “Have you found a new job yet?”
“No, but there’s no hurry. Right now, I’m just happy not to be in jail. I can take my time to find just the right position. I got a good settlement.”
Why does he lie like that? The lawyers chewed up all the settlement money.
Rob looks at me. “You’re still with the company, aren’t you? It must be hard.”
“Greta’s holding up well.” Beryl pats me on the back. “Really strong through all this.”
Rob stares at Beryl. “They’ll hire you back, won’t they? Now that you’re totally vindicated.”
“In theory. But I’d rather get a fresh start. Being charged with embezzlement…people never look at you the same. Besides, Vernon is the CFO now. I can’t see myself working for him.”
“I don’t blame you. He gave all that false information and…”
“He says it was a mistake.”
Rob shakes his head. “You should sue him.”
“Litigation is slow and costly. We just want to move forward.” Beryl puts his arm around me. “As Confucius says, ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.’”
There he goes again. Channeling his therapist. Keeping up a brave front. I’m the only one that hears him calling out in his sleep. I see him get up in the middle of every night to sit in in front of a silent TV with a bottle of Scotch.
We get into the car to drive home but my mind is lost in strategy. I should have an alibi for my ambush, maybe go to New York for some conference. I could slip out of my hotel room in a wig and glasses, leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Would I have time to take the train back home, walk to the office, and then get back to New York before morning? I’ll have to check the schedules.
Beryl taps my shoulder. “Did you hear me?”
“Sorry. I must have been daydreaming.”
“Owen wants to stop for ice cream.”
We pull up in front of Shultz’s, with its pink and green neon ice cream cone in the window. Owen is out of the car and running into the shop before Beryl puts the car in park. He reaches for my hand. “I’m worried about you, Greta. You’re so preoccupied.”
No shit. I am stuck working for the man who stole our life. Thirty-two resumes sent out and not one response. No one will touch Beryl. Flipping burgers at MacDonald’s will not pay the mortgage.
He rubs my shoulder, “Shouldn’t you see a counselor? It’s like you’re slipping away. Please talk to me. I can’t stand it.”
Those are actual tears brimming in his eyes. He’s right. I’ve got to stop fantasizing about revenge. I’ll never shoot anyone. I’ve never held a gun. I don’t even know what a Berretta is. I’ve just read about them in spy novels.
I hug him. “I’m sorry. Maybe we should go somewhere for a weekend. Get away.”
“That would be nice. But you–”
“I’m OK. Really. Let’s go get some ice cream.”
Owen is perusing the rainbow of flavors under the glass case. I know he’ll go with the bubble gum. I order a two scooper, Jamoca Almond Fudge and pomegranate sorbet, and Beryl gets strawberry and vanilla.
Guess who walks in?
Vernon Asshole and his wife. All friendly like. “Great to see you!”
The room grows dim, as though clouds have rolled over the sun. Everything is hazy and out of focus. Except the evil face of this man. The pointy nose and beady eyes are crystal clear. I feel a vise gripping my chest.
He orders a waffle cone with Chocolate and Cookie Dough, and has the nerve to smile at us. “We come here every Saturday.”
I’d like to put rat poison into his ice cream.
Owen says, “Mom, you’re dripping ice cream on the floor.”
We head out the door. It occurs to me that rat poison would be too slow. And it takes repeated exposures. He might just get sick and not die. Of course, that wouldn’t necessarily be bad. His hair could fall out. I grin at the thought of bald Vernon.
Beryl opens the car door for me, “It’s good to see you smiling again.”
I could put ricin in his ice cream. He wouldn’t taste it. I heard that it’s really lethal. It would be a painful death, but he wouldn’t drop dead immediately, right there in the ice cream shop. It would happen later. I wouldn’t get to see it, but then again, I wouldn’t need alibi.
Beryl and Owen are singing along with the radio. My mind is in Schultz’s on a sunny afternoon. I’m standing next to Vernon with a tiny vial in my purse.