Friday, April 17, 2009

March's Contest First Place Winner: Keith Rawson

IN THE SHOWER, THINKING - KEITH RAWSON

The shower stall was huge, an absolute marvel of bathroom design. Twin stainless steel variable speed heads were set high into the opposing walls of delicate off-white pink-veined marble. When he first walked into the apartment he didn’t expect the shower to be so spacious. The apartment itself was nothing more than one large 800 square foot sparsely decorated room; a deep black leather couch, a wall mounted 37 inch flat screen plasma television, a small entertainment cabinet containing some high-end video game system he wasn’t familiar with. The faux adobe walls were decorated with four minimalist photography prints of what appeared to be tightly focused shots of seashells or water smoothed stones.

The only other piece of furniture was a king-size bed pushed against a far wall next to the bathroom door. The bed was unmade and rumpled, the stink of sweat clinging to the sheets. The apartment was flawlessly clean; no piles of unwashed clothes littering the floor; no stray ghost like dust bunnies; not even a dirty water glass sitting in the stainless steel kitchenette sink. But what else did he expect of Dale Walker?

Fucking Dale Walker.

Fucking faggot, queer-ass pillow-bitter.

Fucking Twitchy tourettes shit-heel, cocksucker, motherfucker.

When he pushed the bathroom door open he had no intention of stepping inside the oversized stall; he had no intention of stripping down to his tidy whiteys (he kept his black K-mart ghetto slippers on, too; just because Dale looked clean didn’t mean he kept his feet that way) and turning on the water and stepping under the two sprays and letting the steam open and clear his greasy yellow pores.

What he intended on doing was kicking open the front door of Dale Walker’s apartment and jamming the barrel of his shotgun in between Dale’s thin gray lips and squeeze the trigger until all eight plastic and brass shells were ejected from his 12 gauge Remington and Dale’s head resembled some lost abstract expressionist masterpiece. But when he saw the bathroom—and that Dale’s ultra modern apartment was empty—he couldn’t help himself, so he stepped inside the luxurious stall with his shotgun and waited for Dale to pop back in.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d showered. Five days? Six days ago? Maybe longer; things had been going down hill for awhile now, the days and weeks mixing, blending into a weird memory puree. The only thing he knew for sure was Dale Walker needed to die hard and gory, screaming, pissing and shitting himself.He tilted his face to the left, opened his eyes, and let the hard driving spray cloud his vision, turning the world into blinding static.

He caught brief glimpses of life before Dale; fragments of when he resembled a human; a rich successful life at the job, at home, with women. The back-before-Dale him would have stared down at the soaking wet lump of shit sitting in Dale’s shower in its filthy underwear and cradling a shotgun to its chest like a toddler’s favorite stuffed animal and laughed; maybe he would’ve even unzipped the fly of his Dockers and taken a long leisurely piss on the it of after-Dale.

The It wasn’t supposed to be him; he wasn’t suppose to be the psycho; the gun-toting maniac, the It was suppose to be Dale Walker. They had it worked out so perfect, him and his buddy Mike.

When was that?

When had anything worked?

Six months ago?

At the semi-annual top performers conference at the Sky Harbor Hilton. He was so bored; PowerPoint presentation-after-presentation of current sales figures, future sales figures, and of how the company and its sales force would accomplish those future figures.

He was falling asleep and decided to slip out of the pitch black conference room as yet another manager stood up to parrot what had already been said a half dozen times already. He stepped through the leaded swinging glass doors of the Hilton and out into the molten one-hundred-and-ten degree Phoenix, Arizona summer sun. He lit a thin white cigarette and spotted a bar across the street. A bar meant to look like a medieval castle. The grey stucco looked cool and inviting; a drink would go perfect with the cigarette.

The medieval exterior gave way to usual array of neon booze advertisements, dart boards, pool tables, and, unfortunately, twenty or thirty signs proclaiming the bar to be a smoke-free environment; he couldn’t help but keep thinking drinking without smoking was like shitting without pissing. But the bar was quiet, only one customer, a single mid-afternoon drinker: Mike.
Mike, his best friend.

He didn’t remember how they started talking. Maybe they recognized each other from the job. Or maybe they noticed they wore nearly identical laminated badges with the company name emblazoned across it.

He couldn’t remember.

But he didn’t exactly remember what Mike looked like either.

Same thing went for the first girl he ever screwed, or the color of his car or the face of his mother.

Whatever it was, they started talking, and drinking, and complaining about the job, about how much they hated the company and the thousands of useless people it employed. It went on like this for hours. He remembered that: Drinking and bitching.

They ended up at Mike’s apartment after last call. Two-thirty in the morning, parked on the couch, munching to-go-window deep-fried tacos, watching a replay of the local five o’clock news.
The footage they watched was of a UPS distribution center somewhere in California. It was shaky video shot from a hovering traffic helicopter; blurry images of a deeply tanned delivery driver named Kyle something or other; just some hard-working slob who lost his shit because of an ugly divorce and custody battle. Old Kyle What’s-His-Name slaughtered his ex and three kids and then decided to go to the job packing an SKS and a few semi-automatic handguns. Kyle Just-An-Average-Guy killed six of his co-workers and tore up a couple of dozen others before a wave armored SWAT cops dropped the hammer—the hammer being well over 400 rounds of ammunition.

It was old news, maybe three or four weeks old when they were watching it. The footage was being used as a way to punch up a new story of the families of the deceased employees and the injured who were suing UPS for negligence. The injured and the dead were really putting the heels to UPS and asking for fifty million. Most likely the shipping giant would settle the case before it even had a chance to reach a courtroom. Not that they’d done anything wrong, but they’d had enough bad publicity with this guy bringing his domestic problems to the office. They’d look like nothing but a bunch of assholes if they tried fighting the law suit, so it was just better if they kept their collective corporate mouths shut and offered up a quiet but adequate sum.

For some reason he and Mike reason started chuckling as they watched the tearful would be plaintiffs recount their torment and living day-to-day with the memories of the horror they experienced that day.

It was Mike who said it:

“That would be cool.”

“What?”

“If that shit happened at the job.”

He couldn’t remember what he said after that. He probably agreed. He agreed to just about anything when he was fucked up.

It was a couple of weeks or a couple of months when UPS was brought up again over a secret lunch. Everything he and Mike did together was in secret; Mike worked tech support, he worked sales, in their company, the divisions were mortal enemies and didn’t intermingle, and those that mixed blood were usually blackballed by their departments to the point of harassment. So when they met, it was in a restaurant fifteen or twenty miles away from work so they wouldn’t run into anyone from the office. It was like an affair, except they never saw each other naked or exchanged body fluids.

Mike had been thinking about UPS and the lawsuit. Mike kept calling the UPS lawsuit the lottery; a sticky, violent version of Powerball. He said the only difference was that a couple of really smart guys on the inside could fix the outcome.

He remembered saying: “How’s that gonna happen?” or something. Mike said a couple of smart guys could make a killer just like the UPS guy. That guy Kyle something-or-other was made, born from torment, from a bad marriage, from a shitty job. All a couple of smart guys like them needed to do was pick the right guy. Some dude who was already a little fucked up and drive him over the edge and when the guy finally popped, they’d be in the position to take him out, because they would know what was coming. Maybe one of them would have to take a bullet or two. But, hey, they would be heroes; the saviors of the company: They’d also be the ones to initiate the lawsuit.

There wasn’t a long list of weirdos to choose from at the job. The company did its best not to hire on losers; some slipped through (the finance department was a prime example of Human Resources occasional blind spot) but in their departments, the only name that kept popping up was a sales assistant named Dale Walker. He didn’t work with Dale directly; the guy was strictly a mid-level operator who’d never be able to keep up with the rapid-fire pace he set for himself. But the fuck-ups on his team loved the guy, despite the unbearable neck and head twitches, the incessant blinking, the occasional wrap of knuckles on any stainless steel surface he happened to pass caused by his tourettes syndrome.

“That’s it, man! This is the guy! Let’s start working this guy! Talk to your boss and have him transferred over to you! He’s perfect!” Mike was practically out of his seat, he was yelling, maybe.

“Hold on, Dude! It’s not like I don’t like your idea, but I ain’t fucking up my numbers for this shit! And there’s no way I want this guy coming after me thinking I ruined his life.” He said, something like panic in his voice.

“No, no, no. . .Dude you’re a fucking rock star in your department. A stone cold machine. You start in on this guy; chances are so will everyone else...”

He talked to his supervisor the next morning and the goofy motherfucker was working for him the same afternoon.

It was a Wednesday. Wednesday was his day of the week when he closed customers from the previous Thursday or Friday. Thursdays and Fridays were the days companies wanted to talk about upgrading or replacing their server OS’s. Monday and Tuesday were their days to think about it, make sure their budgets could take on the extra cost. Wednesday’s were his day to wrap it up and gain a commitment. Some of them tried playing it tough, play the hard ass. Closing the hard asses was a sport and he excelled at it. He worked the three lines of his phone simultaneously. He hammered Dale with invoice after invoice and he took it all with a thin, determined smile, his head barely twitching; the guy was focused.

He tried jumping down Dale’s throat more than a few times, but how could he?

Every time he transferred a call Dale was ready for it. Not even his regular assistant Pam could keep up with the Wednesday pace, normally she’d have to pull somebody else off their phone to handle the load, but here was weird Dale Walker making her look like a puissant amateur. By log out time, he’d closed seventeen accounts, and every single one of them had their order in the system, ready to be shipped. It was a new record on the floor and all of his teammates were gathered around Dale playing slap-ass.

He stomped past the newly formed sucking Dale Walker’s dick society, trying to give the guy a serious eye fucking; no one seemed to notice, least of all Dale.

He kept up the same radical pace, nothing. He made sure to tell Dale to fuck off at least twice a day, he didn’t bite. Mike even went so far as to hack into the company’s order database and screw with Dale’s orders, but the internet security guys caught on to the fix and corrected the numbers before it ever became an issue. But, after a while, he couldn’t help but start to like the guy. He was making money hand over fist and true enough the guy didn’t really have anything to do with talking the customer into buying—that was all him—but Dale was responsible for keeping the customer happy after the sale, which he was doing with such efficiency and charm, so much so that more than a few customers were asking for Dale’s direct line as he was inputting their invoices over the phone. Plus, just about everyone on the floor loved the guy, and truth be told, when a large enough group of people liked something, he was inclined to like it, too.

“Don’t lose focus here, dude.” Mike said, maybe slapping or burning him with a cigarette or maybe he was only taking a bite of his Caesar salad. “Find something to get this guy into a twist!”

He couldn’t help but notice the girl who’d stop by Dale’s desk once or twice a day. She wore her blonde hair short and above the ears; one those styles women wear when they have multiple kids and have no time to fuck around, but she seemed too young to have kids, and nothing about her body suggested she’d popped out a litter. Not that you could really tell these days. He’d dated more than a few women who were looking for a daddy for their kids (desperate mommies took the least effort to get in the sack) and with most of them, when the clothes came off, it was nothing short of perfection; no big ass, no stretch marks or c-section scars; yeah the breasts sagged a little from blowing up like balloons and then deflating after the milk was gone; but the ones who really gave a shit about their appearance would get their bra stuffed with silicone fun bags to make them stand at attention again.

He told Mike about the girl at lunch hour the same day, or sometime:

“That’s the trick, Dude. Hook up with the girl and break the motherfucker’s heart! If this chick goes for a guy like Dale, just think of how quick she’ll go for a guy like you?”

Mike was right; women around the office and the bars really went for him, mostly for a night or two and then he was ready to move on. He didn’t exactly make too many female friends around the office because of his sexual prowess; then again, he really didn’t give a shit. It was a great idea, though, a clincher; he loved the funny games men and women played with each other, especially if he was the center of those games. He decided to start having lunch with Dale to find out more about the girl and offer some sage wisdom about the opposite sex.

He started eating with Dale. No polite invitations, no hinted requests; he just flopped himself down at the same break room table where Dale sat munching what looked like a tuna sandwich and a bag of chips from one of the vending machines. They were the only ones there. The guy glared at him, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, eyelids fluttering. He could feel the cheap Formica table slightly vibrating; Dale’s knee doing a nervous jackhammer underneath. The glare was daggers, razors. Or Dale wanted to fuck him.

“What? Do you want to fuck me or something?” he asked.

“I’m eating.” The muscles of Dale’s neck twitched, the knee went into overdrive.

“By yourself?”

“Yeah, I like eating by my— ”

“Where’s that one chick?”

“What chick?”

“You know, the blonde one?”

“Cathy?”

“Yeah, her. . . You hitting that?”

“What?”

“Fucking her? Are you fucking her?”

“No, we’re just fr—”

“Just friends? What kind of shit is that? You're not friends with a chick like that, Dude.”

They sat not speaking, the table a 2.0 Richter scale. Dale took little nibbles of his sandwich, his eyes everywhere, nowhere, except on him.

15 minutes, 20 minutes...He jerked up from his chair, pushing the table hard into Dale’s stomach. He grinned down at the freak: “So since you’re not fucking her, maybe I will.”

All the little faggot did was shrug his shoulders and munch a neon orange Dorito.

The girl, Cathy, was up for the challenge. The same afternoon he had his first lunch with Dale, he stepped up to the girl just as she was leaving Dale’s desk and heading back to whatever far corner of the office she occupied. She smiled, she flirted, she twisted her fingers through her short blonde hair, preening like a monkey. They went to happy hour and then she screwed like a slut.

He made sure to tell Dale all about it at lunch the next day.

“She swallows.”

And the next...

“She likes it in the ass.”

And the next...

“I got my whole hand in up to my elbow.”

He had to admit, Dale took it all in stride. He didn’t say a word, not a peep. He turned molten red and stayed that way, but he kept his mouth shut, his eyes watering like he was getting ready to burst into tears.

He was getting to him, but not enough. What was he going have to do, lay Cathy right on top of Dale’s desk?

He got his chance right after lunch that day. She was leaning forward, hands planted flat on Dale’s desk, head cocked like a little dog staring at a bug it's thinking about swallowing whole. To top it all off, she bounced on the tips of her toes, making her hard ass jiggle just enough to pup tent his trousers.

He came up from behind her, reaching up, grabbing two glorious handfuls of tits and grinding his erection hard into her skirt.

“What the Hell!” She spun fast, her mouth a red snarl. He pushed his mouth into hers. He expected her to melt, her body liquid and willing, her legs hitching up around his hips, pulling him in tight with her ankles. He didn’t expect her long artificial nails to gouge into his eyes and rake down his cheeks.

“Baby!”

“What the fuck!” She screamed. ” Who the fuck are you?”

He was bleeding, each scratch burning, red flowing into his eyes. He tried reaching out to her again, but Dale was on his feet running interference.

“Get out of my way, asshole!” Dale didn’t move. What Dale did was hit him with a u-haul. His lips mashed into his teeth; his left incisor going loose and wiggly. He staggered but didn’t fall, positioning himself to throw his full weight at Dale and show him what a real ass-kicking felt like. But it was too late. By the time he was ready to take his first swing, half the office and a few security guards were on top of him, dragging him away from Dale and Cathy. His last sight of them was of Dale folding Cathy into his arms. He managed to shout “CATHY!” before the security clowns dragged him onto the elevator.

They took him down to HR. They had him sit alone in a quiet room, the blinds drawn. One of the HR bitches came in after a couple hours surrounded by a wall of security goons. She talked, he zoned out, impatient and wanting to get out of the room, maybe go and grab a smoke, maybe call Mike and let him know Dale would be heading into the office any day now carrying an arsenal and they should start preparing. He was diffidently going to call Cathy and ask: “What the hell, Bitch?”

They shoved papers under his nose and told him to sign. He did it without asking what they were. He wanted the fuck out of there. After he signed their papers, three security guards escorted him to his car and made sure he drove off and home. If they were treating Dale the same way they were treating him, there was no question the little freak was going to be going bug shit.

He speed-dialed Mike right as he was merging onto the I-10 and got his voice mail. He dialed another five times by the time he merged into the middle lane, leaving a message each time.

Get back to me.

Get ready.

Get ready for the shit.

He went looking for Cathy’s number in his address book. She’d given it to him at the happy hour when they first hooked up. He’d speed-dialed it. #8, he remembered: #8. Nothing there.

Maybe...

Maybe his phone got fucked up during the fight?

Whatever, her number was somewhere, maybe some cocktail napkin?

He tore his place apart looking for the number, he was going to let her have it when he found that number. He dialed Mike another fifteen or twenty times. The guy had him on ignore big time.

He fell asleep sometime around three in the morning, his place ripped apart to shit—the next day at work was going to be a bear, no question, but he’d made it through the day on less before.

He was late by a couple of hours, but he was sure his boss would understand, especially after all the shit from the day before. The whole problem was that when he tried badging into the building, the entrance light stayed red. He finally had to cut through a swath of early lunchgoers to get inside, but he was met by the same pack of security asswipes from the day before. They told him to leave, he told them he was late for work and all they did was look at him and tell him they didn’t want to call the police.

“What’re you gonna call the police for? I work here. Don’t you know who I am?”

It was a big black motherfucker who walked him out to the parking garage again. It was the same big black motherfucker who walked him out the next three days.

On the fourth day they had the cops waiting for him.

What the fuck? Since when did they fire you and call the cops on you for being late one goddamn time? One goddamn time!

The cops tried to explain the situation. They talked about trespassing and restraining orders and imminent threats. He nodded and pretended like he understood.

Yes, officer. Whatever you say, officer.

He left, understanding that he’d lost his job. Understanding that he’d been terminated for assaulting a co-worker; he tried telling the cops that he was the one who was assaulted.

He was the one.

The cops nodded, but insisted that if he was seen on company property again, they would have no choice but to arrest him.

He left understanding.

He left understanding that little faggot freak of nature ass-kissing Dale Walker had gotten him fired.

That piece-of-queer-ass-shit Dale Walker talked his boss into shit-canning him.Same thing with Cathy; he probably talked all kinds of shit about him until she got pissed enough to act the way she did when he touched her.

He remembered driving home. He remembered calling Mike.

Calling Mike. Calling Mike. Calling Mike. Calling Mike. Calling Mike.

Calling Mike and leaving messages until the voice mail was full; until the phone number was disconnected. Until he was alone with the robotic voice stating:

THE NUMBER YOU HAVE DIALED HAS EITHER BEEN CHANGED OR DISCONNECTED OR IS NO LONGER IN SERVICE. MESSAGE 278.

He turned his face away from the spray, his eyes blinking red and black spots. His vision clearing, washed in the sting of chlorine and heat. His eyes felt clean, his eyes felt open.

He thought about standing up.

He thought about just going home.

He thought about dumping his shotgun and the four semi-automatic pistols in the trunk of his car into some dumpster behind a Wal-mart somewhere and going home and going to sleep.

Just sleeping for days; that would be nice.

But maybe he would just sit in the shower a little while longer, wait things out.When he first kicked in the door he thought it was Saturday, but with the way his days had been lately, maybe he’d lost track. Maybe it was a Monday or a Thursday.

That meant Dale was at the office.

He was at the office with Mike and Cathy and his boss and the shitty big black security guard.
It might be an idea to go down to the job.

He was thinking that might do the trick.

Cathy and Mike and his boss and the black security guard and the HR bitch with all her papers for him to sign just might like seeing him.

But he’d wait just a little while longer, he’d wait until the hot water was all gone.

Just.

A little.

While.

And then, they’d all be so happy to see him one last time.

BIO: Keith Rawson lives in the Phoenix, AZ suburb of Gilbert with his wife and daughter. His stories have appeared (or are waiting to appear) in such publications as DZ Allen's Muzzleflash, Powder Burn Flash, Flashshots, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, Bad Things (read at your own risk), Crooked, Crimewav.com, PulpPusher, and Yellow Mama. He has also finished the first draft of a hard-boiled novel tentatively titled, Retirement. And yes, just like every pulp writer on the net, he has a blog which he occasionally updates when he's not chasing around a two year old or working on new writing projects. You can find it at: Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips

8 comments:

Corey Wilde said...

Oh, jayz, you are one sick dude. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Paul Brazill said...

Congrats Keith. I'll read this later. Sure it'll be a gem.

Mike Moreci said...

Congrats Keith! Great story.

beauvallet said...

Wow! Just wow! Terrific story. Congratulations on a well-deserved win.

Paul Brazill said...

very, very clever.Top story!

Julie said...

Big congrats, Keith - love the story. Great stuff!

Cormac Brown said...

Congrats for the win and the story, top notch!

Mystery Dawg said...

Powerful stuff. True NOIR!!!