Malcolm tossed the hefty bookend, and the shirt and slacks he’d worn to work into a trashbag, and then buried the bag beneath
Malcolm tossed the hefty bookend, and the shirt and slacks he’d worn to work into a trashbag, and then buried the bag beneath the garbage already souring the inside of his trashcan. He’d missed the Tuesday morning pick up.
Lightning streaked across the starless night sky as he wheeled the smelly, rubber trashcan to the curb outside his home. He was relieved the trash would be collected in three days, on Friday morning.
He hadn’t meant to kill his boss.
Earlier that day as he greeted his boss’s secretary, she’d informed him that Mr. Cohen wished to see him.
“’Morning, Charlotte,” he’d sung like every morning as he strode pass her desk, on the way to his cubicle. “How’s the old man?” he’d always ask, trying to gauge Albert Cohen’s mood for the day. Lately, the choices had been cranky and crankier. He guessed the stress of owning the accounting firm was finally wearing on his aging boss, but that the man was still too stubborn to retire.
“His usual self,” Charlotte had replied with a wink before adding that Cohen was expecting him in his office.
He’d worked for the man for nearly twenty years, long enough to witness Cohen’s hair thin and whiten, and his eyeglasses to thicken to triple bifocals. Cohen was growing increasingly forgetful, too, and was relying more and more on Charlotte to take care of certain tasks for him, including reminding him to pick up his dry cleaning.
Malcolm once felt an inkling of pity for the man. Cohen had never married or fathered any kids. He seemed alone in the world—just him and his money. But bearing the brunt of his boss’s cold, callous ways over the years caused Malcolm to feel mostly hatred for Cohen, these days.
Still, he hadn’t meant to kill him. Rip him off–yes. Kill him–no.
“I appreciate all your hard work, lately,” Cohen told Malcolm, that morning, as Malcolm sat nervously in the uncomfortable armchair in front of Cohen’s desk.
Malcolm forced a smile. “It was nothing, really, sir,” he boasted, trying to keep his voice steady.
“You’ve been with me since…” Cohen paused. He squinted and pursed his lips, struggling to sift through his memories. “Your late twenties, right?”
Malcolm nodded yes.
“All those years, and I never saw you for the thief you are,” his boss then stated in a cool tone that knotted Malcolm’s stomach and made his heart pound. Albert walked to the other side of his desk. “That was a fine try, son, you setting up that bogus company out of a post office box.” He planted a condescending pat on Malcolm’s shoulder. “I hope you enjoyed my money while you could. I want every penny of it back, and expect to receive it as a special delivery from you, tomorrow. Then, I’m turning you in to the police.” He sneered. “Now, get out of my office.”
Malcolm had spent the rest of the day in shock. He’d been embezzling money for seven months, and most of the money had already been spent on more expensive suits, shoes, a new computer, a laptop, and a plasma television. While the money totaled far less than a million bucks, he would have to rob a bank in order to repay the few thousands he’d stolen. He tried desperately to see Cohen, again, to try to work something out with the man, but his requests were refused. As a last resort, he drove to Cohen’s home, later that night.
“Go away,” he’d yelled through his front door after learning it was Malcolm ringing his doorbell.
“I’ve figured out a way for you to cash in, also,” Malcolm stressed. “Please, let me in to explain.” After his plea had been met with silence for a few seconds, he turned to leave. Then, the door clicked open.
“Make it fast,” Cohen snapped, as Malcolm entered.
“All you’d have to do is take over the fake company–”
“And rip off myself?!”
“I set up the phony company as an agency that helps your firm perform audits, and I billed you for imaginary work performed. I decided to go low-tech by using the post office box. Keep what I created, and you could end up with tax-free dollars in your pockets.”
Cohen narrowed his eyes at Malcolm. “Are you suggesting tax evasion?”
“Well, I like the sound of it.” Cohen scratched at his chin stubble, pondering. “But I still wouldn’t need you,” he blurted. “I’ll take it from here while you rot in prison.”
“Good night.” Cohen turned to open his door.
Malcolm grabbed a stone owl from a nearby bookshelf then aimed for his boss’s head.
Albert collapsed, unconscious, from the blow.
The reality of what he’d done sank into Malcolm’s brain as suddenly as the act he’d committed. He dashed from the house, jumped into his car, and then sped away.
He’d returned home and discarded the incriminating evidence.
He paced his living room floor, now, only stopping to plop down on the sofa to click through local ten ‘o clock news casts for mention of the murder. None came. Exhaustion soon claimed him, and he fell asleep on the couch.
He jolted awake to distant ringing. Dazed, at first, his head quickly cleared. Morning sunlight spilling into the living room stung his eyes. He staggered to his bedroom to shut off the clock radio’s alarm. He showered, dressed, and then left for work, performing the tasks but feeling disembodied.
His stomach churned as he approached Charlotte’s desk. He fed her his usual morning greeting along with a weak smile and a nod.
“What’s this?” she asked, and he paused. “Not going to ask about Mr. Cohen?”
Her words nailed his feet to the carpet. He paled.
Charlotte frowned. “You okay?”
“Just fine,” he mumbled, and then slinked away.
The morning inched by. Malcolm stayed hidden in his cubicle, picking up on snippets of his co-workers’ conversations. From what he could discern, Charlotte grew concerned about Cohen after failing to get in touch with him, and she’d gone to his home. By noon, she still hadn’t returned.
Malcolm spent his lunch hour parked in one of the downtown mall’s garages, sobbing at the thought of Charlotte discovering Cohen. The urge to hit the highway and keep driving soared through him. But his sudden disappearance would cause him to be spotlighted as a suspect. After the hour winded down, he turned his sedan’s ignition and headed back.
An unnatural silence fell over the entire office, and remained even as Malcolm and his colleagues shuffled out of the building at five p.m.
At home, he collapsed into bed after failing to force himself to eat dinner and to scan the local news.
His alarm woke him in the morning. He trudged through the motions of his morning hygiene, and then drove to work.
Charlotte was missing from her desk for the third time in the ten years she’d worked for Cohen. The faint rosy scent of her perfume lingered in the air, but she was absent.
Malcolm rushed pass the vacant desk. When he arrived at his cubicle, the large, brown envelope on his desk caught his eye. It was labeled Special Delivery, the bold, red letters written in Charlotte’s handwriting, and had a brief note taped to it. Malcolm peeled off the note. ‘Mr. Cohen had instructed me to deliver one of these packages to you and a similiar one to the police, by today,’ it read.
The note shook in Malcolm’s trembling hand. His knees weakened to putty, and he flopped down into his chair.
He tore open the envelope’s sealed top, and then tipped the envelope forward. Eight by ten photographs of him arriving and departing from the post office box, and a private investigator’s business card slid onto his desk.
He knew it wouldn’t be long before the cops busted in to arrest him. As he sat waiting, he remembered it was only Thursday morning. His garbage hadn’t been collected, yet, either.