The Crate

Bizarre
2005-07-27

 

Wednesday, 8:36 am

 

“Hey, Jack-O. ”

 

Rob Wiltsey winked and smoothed his silk tie as he plopped into a chair.

 

            “Rob-Meister. ”

 

Jack Anderson bobbed his square, chiseled jaw in return and toyed with the gold fountain pen clutched in his manicured hand, clicking it open-closed-open-closed.

 

“Running late again, Buddy? Shit like that goes on your permanent record. You don’t want anything to screw up the big promotion. Know what I mean?”

 

            “Fuck you. ” Rob grinned. “Buddy. ”

 

Rob scooted the chair closer until his soft belly pressed firmly into the edge of the conference table, and pretended to sort through the thick ream of paperwork that was laid out in front of him. He absently acknowledged a few guarded hellos from the other well-dressed attorneys already seated around the gleaming, polished walnut table. The gentle buzz of excited conversation began again after Rob settled in.

 

Not a typical meeting this morning. Today held a different agenda. Rob had been waiting for this day for months.

 

No, longer than that.

 

Years.

 

Rob glanced at the vacant chair at the front of the room and checked the time on his diamond Rolex. “Where’s the old man? I didn’t notice him out front…”

 

            “Dunno. ” Jack shrugged. “Waiting till you got here to make his grand entrance. ”

 

            Rob grinned. He couldn’t help it. “Right. ”

 

            “Good morning everyone. ”

 

            The sudden hush of activity was broken only by the whoosh from the buildings air-conditioning. Rob checked his tie again, and along with everyone else in the room, sat up straighter as Vanden Smith himself (the Vanden Smith – senior and founding partner of the corporate law firm of Smith, Marshall, Adams and Rodgers – that Vanden Smith) breezed into the conference room. Rob felt an aura of great respect bordering on awe fill the room.

 

Smith paused at the door and whispered to someone outside the office before entering the room, and then he crossed to the head of the table and smiled down at his senior staff like a proud father on his child’s graduation day. Tiny laugh lines creased his face, tanned an even brown from weeks spent sailing in the Caribbean every summer, his iron-grey hair cut short, his dark blue silk suit immaculately tailored to fit his tall, trim frame.

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   A large diamond pinky ring flashed as he adjusted the knot on his tie.

 

He cleared his throat, and at that moment, Rob swore he could have heard a pin drop.

 

            “Well. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had the privilege of being in your fine company, hasn’t it?”

 

            A low murmur of agreement rose from around the table.

 

“First, I want to take this opportunity to personally thank each and every one of you, for all the hard work you put in each and every day. ”

 

            Bright smiles from everyone.

 

            “As you all know,” Smith went on, “since David Rodgers unexpectedly retired at the beginning of the year, several names have been bandied about as to who might be on the fast track for a significant promotion. One or two of those names, I might add, come from this very office. ”

 

            Smith nodded in Rob’s direction. Rob flushed with pride, and for a brief moment, he felt every eye in the room on him.

 

            “Our core company values have never been better represented.

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   We expect nothing less than tireless, selfless hard work from our attorneys. And in return…well. ” He paused theatrically and grinned. “Well. Today I am very proud to both acknowledge and reward that very same relentless devotion to this firm from one very impressive individual. ”

 

He paused for effect before continuing.

 

“A person who I believe exemplifies every quality this company stands for and stands as a role model for everyone in this room. ”

 

            Rob beamed and nodded, letting Smith’s rich, deep voice fade quietly into the background and wash over him. This was his moment, the one he’d committed his entire adult life for. He leaned back slightly in his chair, the leather crackling under his weight. He was confident; waiting impatiently for Smith to finish up with his little speech while the butterflies bounced wildly around in his gut.

 

            Finally, he thought.

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Finally.

 

Finally, he was going to hear the magic words that would vindicate the last twenty-five years of his life, his utter dedication, his resolve to succeed.

 

Smith’s dazzling smile grew even larger, exposing his perfectly even, white teeth. The teeth of a movie star. “And so, without any further formalities, I’d like to introduce you to our new senior partner…      

 

This was it! Rob felt the flush creep up his neck to his cheeks, burning the tips of his ears. This was the moment he’d been working towards since he was just a boy, a child, when his asshole old man first called him a fat, stupid loser.

 

Smith stood back, extending his arm, and Rob began to stand…

 

“Yvonne Craig!”

 

***

 

            “Wha…”

 

            Rob was halfway out of his seat before he realized what had happened.

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            “No…”

 

            Mistaken as he was, everyone else took his cue. The entire room stood and cheered as Yvonne Craig bounced through the door, giving a victory salute with her hands clasped together, waving her arms around like a major league slugger after hitting a grand-slam and sending the ball flying over the ballpark fence. She was looking sharp and sexy in a coal black suit, her heavy breasts bouncing in her crème colored silk blouse.

 

More cheers and a few cat-calls as she hugged Vanden Smith and left an imprint of her lips on his cheek from an impulsive kiss. Next to him, Rob heard Jack laughing as everyone else in the room applauded loudly.

 

Rob fell back into his chair, confused and defeated. The room spun around him, and suddenly he couldn’t breathe. Sweat beaded his forehead and trickled down his back as he loosened his tie, unbuttoned his starched shirt; he felt suddenly claustrophobic, needing air, space.

 

He stared at the happy, smiling faces of the people he considered his colleagues, faces that suddenly seemed to mock him.

 

How the hell could this happen…?

 

He closed his eyes and tried to tune out, tried to escape to his quiet place, but he couldn’t concentrate; the sound of Jack’s harsh laughter rang in his ears. Rob squeezed his eyes even tighter and covered his ears with the palms of his hands, chanting under his breath until the others were seated again, listening intently as Vanden Smith continued to praise Yvonne Craig.

 

Smith droned on and on, until his deep voice blurred with the echoes of Jack’s laughter in Rob’s mind, slowly changing, until it was the voice of his father, taunting Rob’s latest failure from beyond the grave.

 

You stupid, worthless, good-for-nothing idiot…

 

***

 

…and I expect everyone to join us at MacTarahan’s tonight at six sharp and celebrate! I’ve been informed that Old Mac will have an open bar and grill ready for us, so don’t be late!”

 

“Hear, hear!”

 

“Al-right!”

 

Rob groaned inwardly and watched everyone file out, heading back to work and grinning with visions of drunken revelry. He gathered his things and stood slowly. When he reached the head of the table, Vanden Smith cleared his throat.

 

“Robert, I’d like you to stay for a moment. ”

 

He indicated a chair for Rob, who blinked and sat, confused again.

 

“Now, then,” Smith sat for the first time during the meeting.

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   “Robert. ”

 

He punched a password into the computer built into the edge of the table and eased back into the plush leather of his chair. He steepled his fingertips under his chin, watching Rob with narrowed eyes. Rob squirmed uncomfortably.

 

“Yes, sir?”

 

Smith took a deep breath, exhaled. Tapped the computer screen. “Robert, when we hired you, we made you aware of the priorities of this firm. Yes?”

 

Rob blinked, not sure how to answer. “Um, yes. Yes, of course. ”

 

“Good. You see, we’ve had Yvonne evaluate each of our attorneys’ performance over the last quarter. ” Smith smiled, his teeth gleaming. “We’ll spend the next few days speaking with everyone.

”

 

“Oh…I see…”

 

Smith punched up a file. “Looking at your caseload, we’ve noticed some issues.

 

  â€

 

“Issues?”

 

“Mm. The LeineCorp case immediately comes to mind. ” Smith raised an inquisitive eyebrow, one of his patented court gestures. “This was a settlement?”

 

“Uh, well, yes. They decided to settle after…”

 

“I’ve read the case files. ” Smith waved his hand, turned to Yvonne. “How many billable hours did we lose by settling this out?”

 

“Hundreds, at least. Probably thousands. ”

 

Smith settled his gaze back on Rob.

 

“Hundreds. Robert, do you realize how much money that translates to? Even at a low estimate?”

 

Wet stains appeared under Rob’s armpits and his mouth went dry. He shook his head, no. Smith just kept smiling, but the smile never quite reached his eyes. Rob felt like he was pinned to his seat, like a butterfly on display.

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Smith tapped the table with a fingertip. “Yvonne?”

 

“Potentially?”

 

“That’s fine for our purposes. ”

 

“Millions. ”

 

Rob could almost literally see the walls closing in.

 

“Millions, Robert. Think on that for a moment. Mil-lions of dollars, lost. Because you allowed the idiots running LeineCorp to settle out of court. ”

 

The door to the room opened, closed. A cool, air-conditioned breeze stirred the room, and a pair of heavy foot-falls thunked across the carpet and settled to a stop just behind Rob’s back. He resisted the urge to turn around. Smith speared him with another look, and continued with barely a pause.

 

“Robert? How many other clients have you allowed to settle this quarter?”

 

“Well, I…”

 

“Four. ”

 

“Four, sir? I don’t…”

 

“Four. Four multi-million dollar cases. ” There went the eyebrow again. “How about for the last year?”

 

Rob wanted to run, to hide. “I don’t…”

 

“Robert, Robert, Robert. ” Smith swiveled his chair back and forth. “Not the kind of track record I look for in my attorneys. ”

 

Rob felt like he was drowning. He glanced at Yvonne, hoping for a friendly face, some encouragement, but she just stared back at him, her beautiful tanned face cold and impassive.

 

Smith nodded at someone over Rob’s shoulder and a massive shadow appeared on the table in front of him. A large, scarred hand clamped tightly around Rob’s bicep, pulling him clear out of the chair like he weighed nothing more than a child.

 

“I’m sorry to say it, but we’re letting you go. ”

 

“What? No…I…you can’t!” Rob stammered, dumbstruck. “I…my things, in my office…I…”

 

“Your personal effects are already packed and waiting by your car. ” Smith waved his hand, dismissing him. “I believe we’re finished here. Yvonne?”

 

She shook her head. “That’s all. ”

 

“Good. Well, then.

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   Good luck to you, Robert. Clarence will show you out. ”

 

***

 

Wednesday, 5:55 pm

 

At five-to six, a very drunk Rob sat in his Lexus outside MacTarahan’s restaurant with the stereo on loud and an open, half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels resting on the seat next to him. He was staring at the plain white envelope in his hands, turning it over and over.

 

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit.

 

I can’t believe it…

 

His last paycheck from Smith, Marshall, Adams and Rodgers.

 

They fired me.

 

Fired.

 

Me.

 

Why? Why? Why?

The same thoughts had been going round and round in his head for most of the afternoon, interspersed with the unshakable need to get rip-roaring drunk.

 

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  • 5in">Rob couldn’t remember the last time he got drunk. Not like this.

     

                A sleek new black BMW pulled to the curb several spaces in front of him. The doors opened, and Vanden Smith stepped out and walked around to the passenger door. A moment later, the car alarm beeped and Smith escorted a smiling Yvonne Craig across the street.

     

    Smith dropped the keys into her outstretched hand, and then, arm-in-arm, they disappeared into the restaurant.

     

                “Holy shit. Lookit that. ” Rob whispered, open-mouthed. Suddenly, he knew.

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       He understood everything. “That fucking cunt-hole got me fired. ”

     

                Half a second later, tires screeched and horns blared as Rob ran across the street after them, bottle of whiskey in hand.

     

    ***

     

                Jack caught Rob as he shoved through the crowd in the restaurant lobby, making for the banquet room. He grabbed Rob by the lapels of his rumpled suit jacket and hauled him to a stop. Rob struggled enough that Jack had to shake him to get his attention.

     

                “Robster! Hold up man! Where do you think you’re going?”

     

                “Goddammit Jack, lemme go! I’m gonna fucking kill that skinny old sonofabitch…!”

     

                Customers standing, waiting in the lobby were staring. The Maitre de raised his eyebrow and reached for a phone. Jack shook Rob, making his head pound.

     

                “The hell you are. ” He shook Rob again, glancing at the sloshing bottle clutched in Rob’s sweating hand. “Look at you, you dipshit. You’re so drunk you can barely stand up. ”

     

                “Fuck you. ”

     

                “Now that’s the Robster I know.

     

      â€ Jack grinned and guided him gently back to the door, nodding casually at a hostess. “Sorry everybody. ” Jack tried a goofy grin, hoping he could diffuse the situation. “Just a little ruckus between us lawyers. You know how crazy we get at parties. ” He dropped his voice and whispered in Rob’s ear. “C’mon man. You don’t want to do this. Don’t cause a fucking scene here. Go home and sleep it off. ”

     

                Rob spun around and tried to push past him.

     

                “Hey!”

     

                “Fucker!” He shouted into the restaurant. “I’ll kill you, you fucker!”

     

    “Knock it off!”  Jack manhandled Rob out the door and practically carried him halfway down the block before letting him go and stepping back. “Just go home and go to sleep.

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       Everything’ll look better in the morning. Okay, buddy? Seriously. ”

     

                “They fucking fired me, Jack. They fired me. He did it, ‘cause…because she’s sleeping with the sonofabitch, and…. ”

     

                “Shit. I know. I know. ” Jack pushed open the glass doors and gently pulled Rob outside. He straightened Rob up and shook his head. “Go home, Rob. You don’t want any trouble, do you? You know what’ll happen if old man Smith see’s you here. ”

     

                “Fuck. ” Rob groped in his pocket for his car keys. “Fine.

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       Fine. ”

     

                “Shit. You didn’t drive here like this, did you?”

     

                “What the fuck do you think?”

     

                “Here, give me those. ” Jack snatched the key ring out of Rob’s hand, pulled off the keys to the car and handed the others back. “Jesus, Rob. I’m not going to let you drive home like that. Here. I’ll drive your car over to your place later. Now, call a cab and go-fucking-home. ”

     

                Rob glared at Jack for a second, then shrugged and took a messy swig from his bottle. Whisky ran down his chin, soaking the front of his suit.

     

    “Arrrh!” he grunted, grimacing like a pirate as the fiery liquid poured down his throat.

     

                Jack watched him stumble across the street, tossing the car keys in his hand. After Rob melted into rush-hour crowd, he pocketed them, then adjusted his tie and rolled his neck.

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       A second later, someone altogether different drifted after Rob like a ghost.

     

    ***

     

                Rob staggered back across the street and leaned against the brick wall of a hotel, drinking. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and decided he needed to take a piss. He groped his way into an alley behind the building, feeling suddenly like one of the bums he and Jack used to flick pennies at.

     

    He belched and set the bottle precariously on the edge of an open dumpster. He unzipped his trousers, spread his legs and braced himself with his forearm on the grimy wall. Rob hummed to himself while he pulled out his dick, wiggled his ass around a bit to get the old juice flowing, and sent a warm, steaming jet of urine splattering onto the filthy pavement.

     

                “Well, well. Look at you, my friend. ”

     

                Rob jumped, startled, the last drops of piss soaking his foot. A tall, well-dressed man stood at the mouth of the alley, blocking his view of the street. Underneath a shock of black hair, the man’s eyes seemed to glow a deep, fiery red.

     

                “That was quite a spectacle, back there. ”

               

                “Holy shit!” Rob blinked.

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       He grabbed for the bottle of whiskey and held it if front of him, like a club. The last of the booze ran down his arm. “Who the fuck are you?”

     

                The man just stood there, staring at Rob with his head cocked to one side, a snide little grin twitching at the edges of his mouth.

     

                “That’s perfectly good Jack you’re wasting, Rob. We could be drinking that. ”

     

                “I said, who the fuck are you?” Rob shook the bottle menacingly at the stranger. “…And…and how the hell do you know my name?”

     

                The man stepped closer. His teeth flashed white, and his eyes burned against his dark face.

     

                “I know quite a bit about you Rob. I know what happened to you at work today; why you’re standing here now in a filthy alley, pissing on your foot, instead of across the street, in the bar, celebrating your promotion with your friend, Jack. As for me? Well. ” He spread his hands, and the grin widened. “I ‘m the man that can make your dreams come true. ”

     

                “What? What the hell are you talking about?”

     

                The smile grew even wider, until Rob couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. The rest of the world seemed to fade away, until all he could see was the smile, and the man’s eyes…

     

                “Why don’t I let you buy us a few rounds, Rob, and we’ll talk.

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      â€ The man stood to the side and extended his arm. “How does that sound?”

               

                “You’re fucking kidding. ”

     

                The man’s head tipped further to the side. “Why would I do a thing like that?”

     

                “You a homo?”

     

                “Now, please. Were all adults here, Rob. Was that supposed to be an insult?”

     

                “Huh?”

     

                “Oh, bloody hell. How did you ever graduate law school if you can’t answer a simple question? No wonder they fired you. ”

     

                “Fuck you. ”

     

                “Now, now, Rob. ” The man sighed. “Are you a homo?”

     

                “Shit. You’re not a fag, you’re English. ”

     

                “Ah. My accent. No, I’m not from that hellishly damp little island.

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      â€ The man smiled his crazy smile again. “Well, that’s close enough for shits and giggles. Now, how about that drink, my friend? You can tell me your troubles. Perhaps afterwards there will be something I can do to repay my debt. ”

     

                “Thought you said ‘drinks’. ”

     

                “Oh, quite right. I did. ” The man grinned about that, too. “Yes, drinks. Plural. Many. More than one. Several, in fact. ”

     

                Rob tried to think his way through his drunken haze. What the hell, he decided, and tossed the empty bottle toward the dumpster.

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       It shattered in a spray of glass. “Yeah. Sure. Why not?”

     

                “That’s my boy. ” The man grinned and wrapped a long, thin arm around Rob’s round shoulders. “Let’s spare no expense!” He paused and sniffed. “Hm. I forgot about the urine. Well. Perhaps we can find a less reputable establishment that won’t mind the bloody awful smell. ” He waved theatrically. “Now, let’s be off!”

     

    ***

     

    Thursday, 6:45 am

     

                Vanden Smith checked his teeth in the mirror, licking the tip of one sparkling incisor with.