Short Story: Detour

This story appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One, by Pantoum Press in 2012.
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Detour
by Mitch Lavender

 

It was almost unheard of for someone like me to be called to a meeting with the Director of Global Operations, so I made sure I was prompt for our 10 a.m. appointment. The title on the e-mail invitation read, Career Planning, Fiscal Year – 2012, and I dared hope that my years of dedication to the company had put me on the radar with upper management. This might just be it; my ticket to level 16 and a 7-digit salary.

Mary Harlington was waiting for me in the meeting room, attentive to her notebook computer on the conference table. The room could accommodate 25 people, but it was just the two of us. Mary Harlington didn’t rise as I entered, but she did look up.

“Close the door, Mr. Jakobs. I trust your morning has gone well?”

“Hello!” I chirped my voice an octave higher than usual. “Yes, very good, thanks. How was your trip from Corporate?” I knew she had flown in from Chicago early this morning.

“Fine. Thank you for meeting with me. Take a seat.”

Cutting right to chase, nothing less was expected. Mary Harlington was six levels above me, her time too valuable to exchange niceties with the likes of me.

I took my seat where she indicated and opened my steno pad, pen jacked from my pocket and ready to make notes.

“Please do not write anything down,” she said. “Do you have an audio recorder running on your phone? One of those recorder pens, perhaps?”

“Uhm, no.”

She pulled out a small device, about the size of a cell phone and pressed a button. It beeped once and showed a green L.E.D. Her eyebrows raised, surprised that it did not detect any recording electronics, and she put the device back in her bag. Alarms went off in my head, Jacked up! Jacked up!

Folding her hands on the table next to her notebook, she said, “We know about you. We know about your blog.”

The alarms in my head went to giant, red, capital letters. JACKED UP! JACKED UP!

I coughed and said, “You’ll have to explain for me please, Ms. Harlington.”

Jackedup-warning“Jakobs, we’ve read your blogs with interest. You have some strong opinions concerning the direction our company is taking.” She looked me square in the eyes, conveying no emotion or tells. Never play poker with this woman.

“Ah. I… I can explain that,” I began, but she interrupted.

“Some agree with you. If the company continues on this path, we are doomed to failure. Some think it would be one we could not recover from.”

She paused, waiting for my response. I knew this ploy; make the other party acknowledge before providing the next piece of information. It’s a control maneuver, and while I didn’t like being manipulated, I played the game. I had to know where this was going.

I said, “Okay.”

“We think you are the man who can do something about it. Would you like to take an active role in insuring the company’s future?”

There was only one correct answer. “Of course I would.”

She smiled, though the corners of her mouth hardly rose. “Then we will empower you to do just that. On January 12th, you will meet with our president, Stan Balsam. The pretense will be that you are the employee of the year, and as you know, the president always has dinner with the employee of the year.”

Another long pause. I have to acknowledge. “Okay.” The red letters of the JACKED UP! sign in my head started to flash faster.

“You will kill Stan Balsam. You will wear a small device that, when activated, will cause his pacemaker to fail. Are you prepared to take the company in a new direction, and to a brighter future, Mr. Jakobs?”

JACKED UP! JACKED UP! JACKED UP!

I dropped all reserves and spoke openly, shocked. “Why would I do such a thing? Just because I express concerns about the company’s future? Just because I doubt that cloud computing and cell phones are a good investment? You think I would kill a man because of that?”

“You killed your wife for far less,” she said, her poker face giving nothing away.

She paused again, trying to manipulate my response, but I wasn’t playing. Five seconds of silence. Ten. Fifteen. JACKED UP! JACKED UP!

“I see, Mr. Jakobs.” She unfolded her hands and went to her keyboard. After some typing, she turned the computer so I could see the screen. The video that played stunned me.

My bedroom. I am taking a pillow and shoving it down over my sleeping wife’s face, holding it there as I sing, “Goodnight sweetheart, goodnight.” It’s a moment I had blocked from memory, but there it was, in high definition, with low light filters, in the fluorescent illumination of the meeting room.

I realized my mouth was hanging open and closed it, turning my eyes from the screen to meet Mary Harington’s gaze.

“The cable boxes you have been beta testing for the company have surveillance cameras. You conveniently had one in your bedroom. We know what you did. We know what you thought you got away with, Mr. Jakobs. We know what you are capable of.” She smiled that almost smile again, “With the right motivation.”

My eyes were fixed on hers, almost unbelieving. Almost.

“I expect your girlfriend – what is her name? Missy? I’m sure she would appreciate your new salary, quite a bit.  Speaking of which, you would be increased by five levels, to level 18. Right up to $999,999. More than adequate to pay off her student loan, don’t you think?”

I sat transfixed. JACKED UP! JACKED UP!

“Do this, and you are set for life, Mr. Jakobs. Decline and you will go to jail. They have the death sentence in this state, don’t they? Think of this assignment as a detour on your bright and promising career path. One that will lead you to success beyond your dreams. By the way, this meeting never happened. It will be erased from the database and this room was never reserved.”

I adjusted my tie and cleared my throat, trying to compose myself.

Mary smiled that not quite a smile again and closed her laptop. “I have other meetings today. Take care, Mr. Jakobs. We are counting on you.”

After she left the room, I noticed a small device on the table. It had a single button on the front and a clip on the back to affix to the inside of a lapel.

***

Boarding the plane for Chicago, I took my seat beside the window. The flashing JACKED UP! sign began to throw sparks and short out.

 

~~~~~

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