As the chairman called the meeting to order a tall, rawboned man in a black business suit quietly slipped into the room and softly closed and locked the door. The deep hollows of his eyes encircled a vacant stare, devoid of sparkle. The chairman watched in silence as the man silently took the seat at the far end of the conference table. Only as the man settled into his chair and rested his elbows on the table did the chairman notice the other dozen board members were as transfixed by the tall man as he. Only then did the chairman notice the morbid silence hanging over the room like a crushing weight suspended by a single hair. The tall man, at first tense, dark eyes darting back and forth, suddenly relaxed and leaning back in his chair clasped his hands over his stomach, crossed his feet upon the table and fixed a cold, withering gaze into the chairman’s eyes.
The chairman detected a trembling starting in his hands as they grasped the edges of the podium and his knuckles turned white. “Eric, it’s a pleasure to see you again. I—that is, we thought you were still in the hospital.” The board members nodded in agreement as if they understood.
Eric said nothing but continued staring. Not a muscle moved. His eyes did not blink. The corners of his mouth did not move.
The chairman cleared his throat and glanced at the papers, now meaningless, on his podium. “I—I just want to say, Eric, that I am truly sorry that I could not give you the vice president’s slot. Your application was evaluated fairly and, unfortunately for you, we had to give the position to someone with a broader range of experience. There were no personal feelings or animosities involved. Ours is a competitive business at every level. You understand, of course.”
Eric drew what appeared to be a .45 automatic from inside his jacket and laid it on the table with his hand on top guarding it from anyone who might try to grab it. His eyes never blinked, though the corners of his mouth raised a little when he saw the room gasp and flinch.
“Eric, let’s be reasonable. After all, we are all reasonable adults. I know you don’t want to do anything hasty. You have always been such a quiet, contemplative, studious sort of man. In your fifteen years with this company I never knew you to do anything that wasn’t thoroughly considered from all perspectives.”
Eric never blinked. His hand lay relaxed on the pistol with his palm spread across the grip and a clean, pale index finger with a closely bitten nail lying comfortably across the trigger as if the two were lovers.
“Eric, I can understand how you must feel. After all, I have, on occasion, failed to get the position I wanted—
Eric’s trigger finger twitched.
“Er, that is— there have been a few positions, which I have been denied in my climb up the corporate ladder. There are few things more disheartening than to be denied a position for which one firmly believes himself to be eminently qualified and especially if one believes himself to be qualified far and beyond any of his peers. Truly, I sympathize with you, Eric.”
Eric’s jaw tensed. The hand lying over the pistol never shifted its position, but began to tremble and then suddenly relaxed as Eric sighed.
“What is it you want, Eric?”
Eric said nothing but started drumming his fingers on the pistol while staring relentlessly into the chairman’s eyes.
“You have to tell us something. What do you want? For God’s sake, say something.”
Eric continued to stare and drum his fingers as if waiting for something inevitable and unpleasant, except that his lips began to move to emit words slow, deliberate, and cold. “You know what I want.”
The chairman fixed his own worried eyes onto Eric for a heartbeat until his lips began to tremble and then he glanced first at the board members to his right and then on those to his left and then back onto Eric. He swallowed and cautiously licked his lips. “I know. You want me to confess. Okay. I will confess. I did have an affair with your wife. But the break-up of your marriage had nothing to do with me. It was already breaking up by the time I came along. I wasn’t the first. She did not leave you for me. At least, that is what she told me. I left her after you were — hospitalized. There, I have said it. Is that what you wanted to hear? Is that it?”
Eric said nothing, but continued drumming.
“You want more? Do you want me to continue? Say something, man, for God’s sake!”
Eric stopped drumming and gripped the pistol’s handle until his knuckles turned white. His voice raised into a firm commanding tone. “Go on. Continue with your confession. Bring it all out. You know what you’ve done.”
The chairman grew pale. “Okay! Okay. Your wife was not the first.” The chairman glanced to a tall, silver-haired man to his right and swallowed. “Jack, I hate to tell you this, but I also slept with your wife.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “For how long?”
“Six months, but it is over now. It ended almost a year ago.”
Jack covered his eyes with a hand and dropped his head onto his chest. The chairman looked at Eric.
“Go on,” said Eric. “You’re not finished yet.”
The chairman looked to a rotund man on his left. The rotund man shook his head in disbelief.
“I had yours too, Stan, for eight months. As a matter of fact, the affair is still going on.”
Stan wept openly. The chairman looked back to Eric.
Eric suddenly slapped the top of the table with his free hand. “Go on! Enough of your penny-ante sins! Get to the heart of the matter.”
The chairman dropped his gaze to the tabletop and slowly shook his head. Tears started to form.
“Go on,” commanded Eric.
“I—I set you up. The books weren’t your fault. I embezzled the money and set you up to take the blame.”
The board members gasped.
“I must confess that I knew jail was a possibility for you, but I had no idea that you would have a breakdown. In hindsight, I can see that the strain of the investigation must have been incredible, but I never meant to do you any physical harm — much less anything psychological.”
“The money is in a Swiss bank.”
“And in two in the Bahamas.”
“Go on? Go on with what? That’s it. That is all I have done. Do you want me to confess to stealing office supplies?”
Eric bolted up and leveled the pistol at the tip of the chairman’s nose. “Go on with your confession! Enough of this crap! Confess your real sin! Confess it!”
“I don’t know what you are talking about!” Tears flowed down the chairman’s face. His hands quivered. “Honest to God, I don’t know what you are talking about! That is all I have done.”
“Bull! Now confess it!”
“Okay! Okay! I launder drug money for the Columbians. They will kill me when they find out I told this.”
“What’s the account?”
“There are three accounts: one is called Montoya Investments, another is Vasquez Imports, and the last is Barnes Enterprises.” The chairman dropped into his chair, leaned his head back, wiped the tears from his face, and smiled. “Go ahead and kill me now. My life is worthless when the Columbians come.”
Eric’s hand holding the pistol began to tremble. His brow knitted as his eyes widened in a moment of burning hatred and his upper lip trembled. “Do you think I will let you off that easy? Do you know what crap I had to put up with because of you? I took pride in my job. I loved my job. I loved my wife. Now all that is gone. Everything that meant anything to me in life is gone because of you. What kind of human being are you that you would destroy someone that worked his butt off for you and for this bank just so you could get your rocks off with my wife and the money I controlled for you? I had a lot of time to think about you and this company while I was banging my head against the wall in that padded cell. I thought for a long time that I was the one who was going crazy. Then one day it came to me that it wasn’t me who was crazy. It was the world that was going crazy. I look back on that moment when I was standing naked on my desk throwing parts of my computer at anyone who came near and screaming obscenities at God while the SWAT team closed in around me and I realized that that was a moment of revelation. For once I saw the world in all its foolishness. I have spent a lot of time with crazy people over the last several years. I have come to know them quite well. And one thing I have come to know is that each of us lives in his own world and whatever acts a man commits make perfect sense in the world in which he lives. In your world it’s perfectly rational to have sex with another man’s wife and frame him for something he didn’t do. Just as it is for another man in whose world it is perfectly rational to go from car to car in a parking lot and scream out the license plate numbers at the top of his lungs. Now, in my world, at the moment of my revelation, it made perfect sense to throw my hard drive at the janitor, who I saw as just another brainless minion of the system. But, you see, I no longer throw things because I now understand how things work. I see the world for what it is. And I have been in the system for so long that I know how to play it. When the rest of the world goes crazy and locks you in a cell, the only thing a sane man can do is to act crazy and they will let you out of the cell. That’s not easy to do. That takes a lot of discipline. That takes a lot of self-control. That takes a lot more self-control than you had when you decided to nail my wife! But I digress. The point of this little tirade is that as the last sane man on earth, I have come to realize a very important fact. It took me months of staring at blank walls, months of lying awake staring at a dark ceiling for hours after lights out, months of kneeling in the asylum chapel until I came to an inescapable conclusion. But these are all just words and you know how meaningless words can be. You’ve used words as your toys and your slaves to lead me into believing that my job was secure, my wife was faithful, my future with the bank was assured. But true meaning lies only in action. Only in action can we come to know the true character of those around us, both of those in front of the gun and of those behind it. It is when the pressure is on and the heat intensifies, melting away all that is not steel, all that is not tempered, all that is not true in every sense of the word, that we come to see each other for what we truly are. And now with a single act I shall reveal what we both are and you shall come to recognize in a single heartbeat the fact that it took me months to uncover. One. Two. Three.”
The board members screamed “No!” and took cover under the table as the chairman screamed “Mercy!” and a thin, red line noiselessly streamed from Eric’s pistol and splattered against the chairman’s aquiline nose and then flowed down his pampered cheeks and dribbled from his strong chin onto his pressed white shirt. Again and again the red liquid pulsed from the barrel as if a vein deep within Eric’s arm had burst in a vengeful fury. The chairman shook and quivered, screaming “Mercy! Mercy!” as the board members peeped from under the table trying to discern what vile chemical was about to eat away the chairman’s face. But all they saw was the room going unexpectedly quiet as the chairman quieted and bowed his head to gaze perplexed at the strange, red drops on his tie and jacket and then, puzzled, wipe the liquid off his cheek with his hand and holding it under his nose, sniff.
Eric smiled as his eyes began to sparkle. “That inescapable fact is that I shouldn’t take life so seriously. There’s a much bigger world out there than I could ever find in this stinking little career.” Whereupon he pointed the pistol into his own mouth and squirted twice. “Mmmm,” Eric said, “cherry kool-aid. My favorite. Leaving here was the best thing to ever happen to me. It got me out of the middle-class mindset that all there is to life is work and success at all costs. I have learned that I can do other things, that there are ways to enjoy life, that I do not need to be a slave to an unspoken system that dictates I shall have one career my entire life and shall retire from it and have failed as a man if I am anything other than wildly successful. Now all I do is run a little bookshop and make love to a woman of average beauty, but I am happier than I ever thought I could be and I shall continue to be so until the end of my life.”
Eric put the pistol into his jacket pocket. “Well, my work here is done. It has been great talking to you. Take care now.”
As Eric reached for the door, the chairman shouted, “Stop! How did you know about all the things I did?”
When I was sitting in the asylum, I realized
that only a person of weak character could enjoy destroying another man’s
life and if you were of weak character, you would fold under sufficient
pressure and confess everything you ever did in front of God and everybody.”
Eric produced a small cassette recorder from inside his jacket. “Oh, and by
the way, don’t worry.
All interested law enforcement agencies,
investors, and anyone even remotely interested in this bank will get a copy
of our conversation, as will each board member here.” Eric grinned a final
time and, closing the door behind him, bid the board, “Gentlemen, have a