He could feel their eyes studying him as he walked across the room. Clearing his throat nervously, he tightened his grip on his briefcase and made his way to his usual seat at the conference table.
Not one to enjoy scrutiny of any kind, Mark Walters knew he was the object of their pity. They had obviously heard about Joe’s condition.
“Sorry to hear about your son, Mark,” his boss said in the deep, throaty voice Mark had come to despise.
He nodded his head in acknowledgement and wordlessly opened the folder sitting on the table in front of him.
“How’s the donor situation looking right now?” the annoying voice continued, making it painfully obvious that Mark was going to have to volunteer some information.
“Joe is top on the list for a heart,” Mark responded, looking slowly into the eyes of each of his co-workers before resting helplessly on his friend, Bob. “We just have to sit back and wait for a suitable donor.”
“What do they need for a match?” Bob Simon leaned forward in his chair.
“Unlike other organ transplants, all we need for a heart transplant is someone with the same blood type and body size as Joe.”
As he waited to see if there would be any further discussion, Mark found himself thinking back over his ten-year career with Bolster Advertising Agency. Having been the unfortunate victim of a layoff at his previous employer, Mark had been relieved at how quickly he had found a new job. Joe had just been diagnosed with a rare heart condition. The image of standing in an unemployment line when his son needed medical coverage was daunting at best, so when he was offered the job at Bolster, he jumped at the opportunity.
Within a few short weeks, Mark became painfully aware of why there was such a high turnover at the ad agency. Tom Bolster, his boss, was a first class loser. The man seemed to take great pride in ridiculing his employees every chance he had. The more public the better. If it hadn’t been for the financial reality of Joe’s condition, Mark would have quit long ago. But he couldn’t. The hospital bills were mounting and his insurance coverage was nearing its cap.
His one saving grace at work each day was the quiet friendship he had developed with his co-worker, Bob Simon. Bob was the kind of friend who came along once in a lifetime…thoughtful, compassionate and loyal. They enjoyed the same activities and were built enough alike that they were sometimes mistaken for brothers.
“While you were out last week, I got some pamphlets for everyone on organ donation,” Bob said, watching his friend with concern. “I know it won’t help Joe, but I wanted you to know that several of us have signed donor cards so that maybe we can help someone like Joe one day.”
Mark could feel his eyes moisten. He looked up at the ceiling quickly as he fought to regain his composure.
“Not that I plan to kick the bucket anytime soon…” Tom Bolster chimed in.
Bob ignored their boss’s tasteless comment and continued.
“Joe is type A positive, isn’t he?”
“Yes he is.” Mark willed himself to stifle his anger toward his boss and concentrate on the touching gesture by his co-workers.
“Hell, maybe I shouldn’t have signed that card after all…I’m A positive too,” Tom interjected, slapping Mark on the back.
The feel of his boss’s hand caused every muscle in his body to tighten in rage.
Who the hell does he think he is?
“Okay men, enough of this sissy stuff…let’s get to work,” Tom Bolster said quickly, before launching the first of many embarrassing tirades on the newest employee sitting beside Mark.
He stared at the wall clock across from his chair and tried desperately to ignore the rantings of Tom Bolster. The pity Mark felt for the new co-worker was almost overpowering.
Get out while you still can, guy…
“…oh, and Mark?”
Realizing that the object of his anger was addressing him once again, he slowly moved his eyes in the direction of his boss.
“I realized last night that I overpaid you on your last bonus check. You owe me two thousand dollars. You can write me a check after the meeting.”
* * * * *
Mark pulled the collar of his overcoat around his face and hurried into the parking garage. He was dreading the drive to the hospital. It was so hard to see Joe’s once-athletic body lying in that depressing hospital bed.
Irene was constantly at Joe’s side, caring for their son. Mark on the other hand, hated being there…hated the overwhelming helplessness that blanketed him every time he looked at his son.
“We’ve just got to find a heart before it’s too late,” Mark said aloud, his voice echoing through the concrete structure.
“Keep talking to yourself and people are really gonna think you’re a nut case.”
Mark whirled around in his tracks and came face to face with the arrogant, self-absorbed man he had grown to detest more and more with each passing day. The intense rage that enveloped him was overpowering, as he resisted every impulse he had to wipe the smirk off Tom Bolster’s face once and for all. He watched with pure hatred as his boss unlocked his red Porsche with the push of a button and sank into the black leather driver’s seat.
Medium size…A positive…
Embarrassed by the sinister thoughts that suddenly filled his mind, Mark shook his head quickly as he tried to dislodge the images that flashed before his eyes.
“Hey, why don’t you follow me and I’ll buy you a drink…I’m not ready to face another evening at the hospital just yet,” Mark said, surprised at the invitation he heard escaping his own lips. He really was losing it.
Mark slipped into his own four-door family sedan and took a deep breath as he backed out of his parking spot and headed for the exit.
Five minutes later, his mind reeling with contradictory emotions, Mark looked into his rearview mirror and waited impatiently for his boss’s car to emerge from the parking garage.
Where the hell is he? He was right behind me…
He thought about the look in Bob’s face just a moment ago, when he passed him in the parking garage on his way out. Was it his imagination or had the hood of Bob’s car really been propped open?
Mark rubbed the palm of his hand across his eyes and tried to relax. The one guy who had been by his side through everything with Joe, and he had blown him off to have a drink with a boss he hates? What the hell was wrong with him these days? He had to get a grip or he was going to be useless to Joe and Irene…
But Tom Bolster had pushed his last button. He could barely see straight, let alone think straight. And where the hell was Tom anyway? Surely that pricey piece of metal he was driving could make it around the curves in the parking garage faster then this…
Mark checked his rearview mirror again and noticed that the slick red sports car belonging to his boss had finally emerged from the garage. The dreary cold day had turned into a treacherous night. The icy roads made driving difficult, and Mark grateful for the traction control feature in his car. A secondary look into his rearview mirror indicated that his boss was having difficulty maneuvering on the slippery streets.
“So much for those expensive cars,” he mumbled under his breath, adjusting his defroster.
Overwhelmed by the total lack of helplessness he felt in his life, coupled with the utter hatred in his heart for the pompous man behind him, Mark took the next curve much quicker that he normally would. As he would expect, his boss did the same.
“Not that I plan to kick the bucket anytime soon…maybe I shouldn’t have signed that donor card after all…people are really going to think you’re a nutcase…”
Like an old 45 with a skip in it, Mark’s mind replayed his boss’s comments over and over as his earlier rage came back even stronger. Ten years of ridicule, ten years of butt-kissing, ten years of misery was suddenly more than he could bear.
Knowing that Tom Bolster could never resist a challenge, Mark headed straight for the curviest road he could think of.
“Maybe this S.O.B. can be good for something after all,” Mark said in a near whisper. He stepped on the gas as he rounded a particularly tight curve. He could feel the car slip on the ice-covered roadway beneath him and the traction control kick in once again.
Mark watched in his rearview mirror with little emotion as he saw Tom Bolster’s car hit the same patch of ice just seconds later. The red Porsche spun out of control and plunged down a steep ravine. Mark stopped on the gravel shoulder and climbed out of the car. He looked over the cliff at the mangled sports car below. There was no movement inside.
He turned slowly and walked back to his car. He reached for his car phone and calmly dialed 9-1-1.
“Yeah…I was just driving down Lake Ridge Drive and I noticed some tire tracks that appear to go down into a ditch…I didn’t see a car but I thought you might want to check it out.”
* * * * *
Two hours later, as Mark Walters stepped off the elevator onto the fourth floor he couldn’t help but feel hopeful.
Maybe, just maybe.
“Mr. Walters, we have been trying to reach you…”
“Is everything alright?” Mark searched the nurse’s face for any indication his plan had paid off.
“Everything is wonderful. A heart came in for Joe just a little while ago and he is up in surgery right now.”
“Thank God. Where’s my wife?”
“She’s down there”. The woman gestured toward the waiting room at the end of the hall.
Mark quickened his step as he headed toward the tiny room. When he approached the chair where his wife was sitting, he noticed Bob Simon’s wife beside her. He was instantly humbled by the ceaseless support the Simon family had shown them over the years.
Irene jumped to her feet when she saw him.
“Did you hear the news?”
“The nurse just told me.” Mark wrapped his arms around his diminutive wife and lifted her off the ground. “What great news.”
“Joe’s new heart…”
“What about it?”
“It came from Bob.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked as nausea racked his body.
“He was in a car accident after work this evening. Tom Bolster was driving.”