by Ted Lietz
Well after the close of business, as I packed up to go home, Phil called and said, “Glad I caught you. Could you come to my office?”
Phil was my boss. Was my boss. No official announcement, but reliable word had been out for hours that he’d been fired for defrauding the company.
I could have blown off Phil’s summons. But I was curious enough to take the elevator to his floor. Why was Phil still here? Why hadn’t the cops come for him by now?
As I rapped my knuckles on the metal doorframe, a tinny sound echoed through empty cubicles, vacant conference rooms, deserted coffee stations. Phil stopped loading personal items into a cardboard box and looked up with a half-smile, making that absurdly oversized mustache skitter like a cockroach across his upper lip. In a tone cheerful out of all proportion to the situation he said, “Please come in, Grasshopper.”
Grasshopper. As if we were in that old TV show, Phil the sage monk and me his disciple. But where the monk’s teaching always focused on peace and love and generosity, Phil was all about finding ways to benefit himself. Things he taught me by word and example.
Taping the box shut, Phil said, “I can confirm a rumor you’ve probably heard. I’m leaving the company.”
That was my doing.
Phil’s career had plateaued. The only clear path for me to advance was by replacing him. So I began secretly recording our conversations. At lunch on Friday afternoons, Phil tended to have one drink too many. Sometimes, it was hard to keep up with him. Anyway, one Friday he boasted about padding his expense account in a way the auditors never noticed. It amounted to a lot of money over the years. Without my recording, the auditors might never have caught on. And Phil might still be employed.
With all the faux sincerity I could muster, I said, “Sorry to hear you’re leaving. I wish you all the luck in the world.”
“To quote a great baseball executive,” Phil said, “luck is the residue of design.” He took a nearly empty bottle of Drambuie from a desk drawer. “You’re favorite quaff, right?” Pouring what remained into two glasses he said, “You seem to be the logical choice to replace me. Let’s drink to luck.”
Taking a glass, I said, “Glad there are no hard feelings. I’ll miss you.”
Phil’s grin turned to a sneer. “Miss me? Please, a little respect. I’m out because of your recording. If you get my job, you will have played most foully for 't. A line I stole from Shakespeare. As you demonstrated to the auditors, I’m a thief.”
I set my glass down and headed for the door.
“Wait,” Phil said. “Please.”
“What you did, the way you did it—flattering, in way. Your boss has a weak moment, and you take advantage. Something I might have done. I have taught you well, Grasshopper.”
Phil’s phone rang. “Uh-huh,” he said. “Still here, but probably not much longer.”
HR, pressing him to leave the building?
Phil put the phone down and said, “You and I were going to take tomorrow afternoon off to play golf—”
“I’m about to be promoted,” I said. “I can’t take time off now.”
A ding from the elevator bank.
“Hear that?” Phil said. “I believe that particular bell tolls for thee. Another bit poetry I stole. And I doubt you’ll be available for golf tomorrow, or anytime soon.”
A pair of police officers appeared. Pointing to me, Phil said, “That’s him. What took you guys so long?”
“Called to a shooting scene,” one of the cops said as the other cuffed me and read me my rights. “Took priority over a white-collar offense. But thanks for stalling this gentleman.”
“Officers,” I said. “What is the charge?”
“Allow me to explain,” Phil said. “You made a big mistake, imagining the pupil had exceeded the master. Do you remember—no, maybe you don’t. At the time, you were several Drambuies to the wind. But you bragged about your insider trading, and I recorded you. Turns out the authorities were much more interested in your crime than mine. I still lose my job and have to pay the money back with interest. But for cooperating, lucky me, I won’t go to prison. You, on the other hand…”
“Screw you, Phil!”
“A bit of parting wisdom, Grasshopper. In prison, it’ll be in your interest to befriend the biggest, strongest, most ruthless inmate you can find. But don’t even think about ratting on him. Cross a guy like that, an you might just get squashed.”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.