This story is by Ann Rapp and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Anniversary Wind-up
A distinct crack sounded as Jim stretched his arms over his head, arched his back, and squeezed his shoulder blades together. The drafting table and stool were designed to make the architect’s job easier, but he had been bent over his task for hours. He hurried to pack up and leave because he planned to go to the Mall to buy his wife Martha a new watch for their Anniversary this Saturday, but the boss stopped him at the door.
He handed Jim a fancy little gift bag. “Stop by Sniper Development’s office on your way home and deliver this to the secretary, Janine. Give her a big smile, and say it’s from Ray with love,” and he gave Jim a huge wink and a leering smile. “You know Janine, don’t you?”
“You mean the blonde bombshell?”asked Jim, with a disapproving look. Jim didn’t like Ray Leech, his boss and owner of Sunshine Rays Contracting. He thought he was a sleazy crook, but worked for him to please his wife Martha, who seemed to love her Uncle Ray.
“The very lady. I want to keep her happy, she’s been a big help to me” and Ray gave another leering, hearty guffaw.
Jim, the dutiful employee, reluctantly drove to Sniper Development only to find them closed for the day. He’d come back in the morning and try to get to the Mall tomorrow evening..
When Jim arrived home, he set down his briefcase and the gift bag side-by-side on the hall table, found Martha in the kitchen, kissed her and said,
“My darling Martha, do you have any idea how much I love you?” They chatted about the day, then Jim said, “I’m off to take a shower. Wash the day away!”
Martha popped a casserole into the oven and took her glass of sun tea into the living room. But she stopped at the hall table when she spotted a pretty gift bag next to Jim’s briefcase. Their fifteenth wedding anniversary was in just a few days, could this be Jim’s gift for her?
Jim was as honest and true as his last name ‘Straight’ implied, and Martha, who worked as a Legal Secretary at the FBI in Miami, hated anything underhanded. But she couldn’t help herself. Her heart began to pound as she opened the bag. Then she thought she heard the shower stop running, and quickly opened the box.
Inside was the most beautiful watch Martha had ever seen. She loved watches and wore her old wind-up every day. She gasped at the elegant strap, the small diamond-studded, mother-of-pearl oval face, and the name “Cartier.” Best of all, it could be wound by hand.
Martha had done her research on an anniversary gift for fifteen years of marriage–a watch or timepiece, to show the love was for eternity. For her Jim she had found a stately, old grandfather clock that he would enjoy winding each night. She had spotted it in an antique shop in Miami on one of their favorite weekend “antiquing” trips, and had gone back the next day to buy it. It was expensive, but her Jim was worth it.
She had never expected to own such a beautiful watch, which glowed from its black velvet nest. Martha’s face was glowing as she turned towards Jim coming down the stairs in shorts and T-shirt. She threw her arms around her husband and covered his shocked and astounded face with kisses, singing his praises and saying “thank you, thank you, thank you!” She was too excited to notice that Jim had gone quite pale and was speechless. He was shocked that Martha had opened the gift bag and horrified that she assumed it was a gift for her. He thought the watch looked very nice, but it wasn’t his to give her! What was he to do?
“I…, I think I need to sit down,” said Jim, playing for time. His pulse was racing. He looked at Martha’s happy face and knew he had to let her keep the watch. It would break her heart to know the truth. A clever scheme was forming in his mind. He would go to the market tomorrow and find a fancy watch that looked just like this one. Jim had seen the “Cartier” name on the watch and knew he couldn’t afford one like that from a jeweler. But he could afford a knock-off Cartier from the market, and Janine wouldn’t know the difference. Something nagged at the back of his mind—why was Ray giving such an expensive gift to Sniper’s secretary Janine?
Martha apologized for peeking into the gift bag, and told Jim that her gift to him would be delivered in two days’ time, on their anniversary. He assured her he didn’t mind her peeking, he was happy to wait, and that they could celebrate both today and on Saturday. They opened a bottle of champagne.
Jim left the house early next morning and found a couple of vendors selling knock-off watches. One of them had a beautiful gold and diamond watch marked “Cartier” for $60 in a velvet box, which looked good in the fancy gift bag he had retrieved. Jim set off to deliver the bag to Janine at Sniper Development. She simpered at him from under heavy eyelashes, making sure he had a good view down the front of her blouse.
On the day of their fifteenth Wedding Anniversary, Martha presented Jim with the grandfather clock and he loved it and set it up in the hallway. Jim and Martha declared that their love was now confirmed as timeless. They dined at their favorite restaurant and had some very good champagne, and a truly romantic and wonderful evening.
The blow-up occurred on the following Monday, when Jim was summoned into a fuming, red-faced Uncle Ray’s office and asked to explain what had happened to the Cartier watch and how it had changed into a cheap knock-off, which didn’t work properly and fell apart when the jeweler opened it up. Honest Jim told the truth. Ray fired him on the spot.
“Thanks to you we lost the bid for the Sniper job, so I’m not paying you for any of that work or any severance, and you’re never to mention this to anyone. Get out of my sight!”
Jim felt it was a punishment for his lies and deceit, and miserably confessed all to Martha that night. She apologized to Jim for encouraging him to work for her Uncle Ray, when she knew he hated working there. She confessed that she had used Jim to find inside information about some suspicious activities at Sunshine Rays, which the FBI were curious about.
Jim’s ego took a beating with that confession. He thought his wife asked so many questions about his work and his office because she was interested in how he spent his days. Martha made it up to him a little when she told him about an opening she heard about at a major competitor of Uncle Rays, the Solid Rock Construction Company. Jim called and set up an interview with the owner, Johnny Rock, who knew Jim was Ray’s best draftsman and worker and offered him a job as their senior draftsman. Jim told his new boss that he’d been fired because he’d been the cause of Sunshine Rays losing the bid on the Sniper Development contract. Johnny was of the opinion that the winning contractor had put in a bid so low he would be worried they might be using inferior materials.
“Well Jim, we may not win all the contracts we want, but we bid honestly and fairly and have a good reputation. I think you will fit in well around here. We’re certainly pleased to have your skills and experience, and, yeah, your honesty!”
Jim was pleased that things had worked out so well, but he was concerned about the possibility of a low bid and inferior materials for the Sniper project, a high-rise apartment block, and he and Martha talked late into the night. They decided to hand in the Cartier watch to the FBI as evidence, and Jim would buy the best watch he could afford for Martha.
At work the next day Martha made several phone calls and talked to the Special Agents involved, who intensified their investigations. They found evidence to convict Ray Leech and Sunshine Rays, and a couple of other contractors of breaking Antitrust laws by engaging in price fixing, bid rigging and collusion in using sub-standard materials.
Jim and Martha each received an FBI Director’s Award for Excellence for bringing to light the situation and assisting the FBI. They both wore new suits for the presentation. Martha’s had three-quarter length sleeves so she could proudly show off her beautiful new Gucci Anniversary wind-up watch.