by Jude M. Eriksen
Robert had his boss by the balls. He only had to stick to the plan now and see it through to the end.
By five o’clock he’d accomplished very little in the way of real work. The same spreadsheet sat open on his desktop—the fields almost as empty as they’d been since he’d logged in that morning. Ruminating over the details of his scheme hadn’t left much time for anything else.
The email he’d sent from home Sunday evening had set the hook as intended, evidenced by the reply awaiting him in his inbox this morning. All he had to do was reel in the catch and collect his payday. As he read the brief missive from his boss again, he couldn’t help smiling.
Let’s talk about this after work today. I’m sure we can work something out.
As the other staff pulled on their coats and made their way toward the elevators, Robert lagged behind. When the last of them cleared out, he logged out of his computer and skulked down the hallway. Steeling himself for what was to come, he counted to five before knocking on the heavy oak doors leading into Dom’s office.
“Come in,” said a muffled voice.
Dom sat behind his desk, gazing through the floor to ceiling windows facing the frozen river that wound through the city like some great white snake. Snowflakes drifted down out of the darkening winter sky. They reminded Robert of dull confetti as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Pot lights mounted in the ceiling of the expansive corner office cast anemic pools of light down on the chunky hardwood floor. In the corner, a record warbled on an antique turntable. Strains of a Led Zeppelin song wafted through the air, mixing with the rank odour of the cigar Dom clasped between his fingers.
What a cliché, Robert thought. Just like a scene out of a movie. I’ll bet there’s a mirror with a pile of coke on it in his desk drawer too.
“Care for a drink?” Dom asked, gesturing toward an ornate bar cart near the record player. “I have scotch, rum, and whiskey. No mix though. I find it just pollutes the flavour.”
“No thanks, I have to drive.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, crushing his cigar out in an ivory ashtray.
Rising from his desk, he sauntered over to the cart and poured himself three fingers from one of the crystal decanters, then eased back into his plush leather chair. When he pointed to one of the empty chairs on the other side of the desk, Robert sat down.
“Well Robert, the email you sent me last night certainly is troubling. Would you mind explaining what it is you think you’ve found?”
Robert cleared his throat. He’d been practicing this speech all weekend.
“Since it was announced in September that we’d be undergoing an audit in the new year, I’ve been going through the books. I wanted to get ahead of any obvious issues before the government bean counters show up. To make a long story short, I stumbled across the way you’ve been funneling cash out of the business and putting it into those shell corporations.”
“How do you know it was me?” Dom asked, taking a sip of the amber liquid in his glass.
“Only you have direct access to all of the accounts.”
“That’s true. So, what’s your plan? I know you want something or you would’ve already gone to the authorities.”
“Twenty-five million. Half in blue chip stocks, half in cash.”
“Don’t you think that’s a tad greedy?”
“Not as greedy as you’ve been. I have evidence that you’ve siphoned at least fifty million dollars out of Black Industries in the last year alone.”
“Well it is my company.”
“It is, but the last time I checked, money laundering and tax evasion are still illegal.”
“You’ve got me there,” Dom said, gulping down the rest of his drink.
“I just want my cut.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I’ll go to the FBI, obviously. And by the way, if you’re getting any ideas about silencing me, you should know I’ve already given copies of the evidence to several confidantes. If anything happens to me, every newspaper in town will know within hours.”
“It sounds like you’ve worked out all the angles.”
Robert only sat there. He knew what he was doing.
“There’s just one little problem, though.”
“What’s that?” Robert asked. His face remained impassive, but something about the way Dom was grinning made his stomach lurch.
“Do you know what I do with that money?”
“No and I don’t care.”
“Once it’s been divorced from any connection with Black Industries, I use it for any number of personal endeavors. For example, I might supply a rogue general in some backwater country with the funds to purchase weapons so his militia can topple the local tinpot dictatorship. When the bullets stop flying, I go into business with him as part of the deal. These men who thirst for power, they’re all the same. Give them a fat bank account and a steady stream of whores and they’ll do anything to keep it flowing. Everyone has their price and most of the time it’s a lot cheaper than you’d expect.”
“So? What does that have to do with me?”
“Ask yourself this, Robert: do you think I’d do business with such unsavory people without having a way of protecting myself from the exact thing you’re trying to pull?”
Robert shifted in his chair. Stick to the plan. He’s just blowing smoke up your ass.
“Doesn’t matter, I’ve caught you red-handed. You can’t worm your way out of it, no matter what you say.”
“I don’t deny that,” Dom said, “but I could also ruin you.”
“How? You’ve got nothing on me.”
“Are you sure?”
“What do you mean?” Robert asked. His throat clicked when he swallowed against the lump that had formed there. The room was growing noticeably warmer and a faint odour of some unidentifiable smell now tinged the air, like an omen.
Dom got up and wandered over to the long bank of windows. He stood there for several seconds with his back turned as he watched traffic moving across the bridge spanning the ice-choked river.
“Have you read the bible, Robert?”
“A bit in Sunday school. Why?”
“It’s an interesting book, filled with tales of greed and betrayal.”
“Maybe if you’d studied it in earnest, you wouldn’t have turned into such a terrible human being.”
“Look,” Robert said, standing up. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do and I don’t care. Just give me what I want or you’re finished.”
“Sit down, Robert.”
Before he could finish his sentence, Robert’s legs gave out and he fell back into the chair. The room grew hotter still as he tried to stand again, but his limbs wouldn’t cooperate. The inputs had been cut. He tried to speak, but his tongue was like a dead thing inside his mouth.
Dom regarded him with a mixture of pity and bemusement as the young accountant struggled.
“Aside from doing illicit business with warmongers and criminals, I also have a thing for corruption. Let me tell you: there’s few things more satisfying in life than watching people wrestle with their consciences before finally giving in to their base instincts. Murder, rape, thievery—it’s fun to set them on the path and watch them go. But it has to be drawn out for maximum effect. Push too hard and it’s over before you know it. There’s no fun in that. Playing the long game makes their downfall all the sweeter when it comes.”
Robert’s eyes bulged out as sweat trickled down the small of his back and soaked into the elastic band of his underwear. Did he hypnotize me somehow? Why can’t I move?
Dom skirted around the desk and stood over Robert as his grin spread wider, his gleaming teeth appearing far too big for his mouth.
“Do you remember when you were six years old? That time on the playground when you saw that other boy’s marbles; you wanted them, didn’t you? Especially the ones with the golden cat’s eyes mounted in the center. But you weren’t good enough to win them from him fair and square, so you stole them when he wasn’t looking. That was the first time you gave in to greed. It’s alright, you can admit it.”
Robert’s tongue loosened and he could speak again.
“How could you know that?”
“I know a lot of things about you. You could say you’ve been a subject of interest for quite some time. From the day you stole that boy’s marbles, I had my eye on you. But like a garden, just planting the seed wasn’t enough. You required regular care and feeding to ensure you grew to your fullest potential.”
From Robert’s perspective, the room tilted drunkenly to one side as the acrid stench in the air grew more pronounced. He recognized it now. It was the rotten-egg smell of burning sulfur. The heat was growing unbearable too—like being inside an oven.
“It was amusing to watch you stumble into each little trap over the years. At every turn you could have chose to resist temptation, but you didn’t. Not once. Whether it was taking money out of your mother’s purse or stealing from the collection plate at church, you just couldn’t help yourself, could you? You got even greedier when you went to university. I wonder, Robert, who do you think made it possible for you to steal all that cash from the student union discretionary fund? Who do you think orchestrated the circumstances that allowed you to blackmail your professor, when you caught him with that female student in his office? You think that was all just random circumstance?”
“How can you know all of that?” Robert said as hot tears spilled down his cheeks.
“I think you know how,” Dom said. His face glowed with soft light, like it was being lit from within. Underneath the luminous flesh, thick black veins pulsed just beneath the surface. “I think you knew the second you couldn’t get up out of that chair.”
The realization of what he was confronted with etched itself across Robert’s face as warm wetness bloomed in his crotch and ran down his legs.
“Ah, there you go. I knew you weren’t stupid. Naive perhaps, but not stupid. I wouldn’t have hired you otherwise.”
“There’s no such thing,” Robert said as watery snot dripped from his nose. “This is some kind of trick to scare me into letting you off the hook. You drugged me or something.”
“Oh, but there is such a thing, Robert,” Dom said. His voice had become grating, like slivers of glass scratching across hard stone. “There most certainly is.”
“Please, I made a mistake. Just stop this and I’ll drop the whole thing.”
“It’s much too late for that, I’m afraid. In all honesty, I abhor resorting to these unsubtle displays,” Dom said, his leering grin growing ear-to-ear, “but sometimes it’s the only way to get through to people. You know Darlene from marketing, right? I came to her last year with some ideas of how she might rise in the company. Unfortunately, she didn’t like my suggestions much and decided to quit. That same night those three animals raped her in the alley right across the street. I wonder how that filthy sock they jammed in her mouth tasted?
“No doubt you heard about that. What you probably didn’t know is that she found herself with child three months later. When she came crawling back to me after her short-term disability ran out, I sent her to a doctor friend of mine. Once the fetus had been removed, she returned to us. I doubt she’ll ever try to leave me again. Just to make sure, though, I also gave her a glimpse of my true form. The look on her face was almost as priceless as yours is now. The point being: no one escapes once I’ve set my sights on them.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“Why?” Dom said, imitating Robert’s sniveling voice. “I do it because I can—because I want to. Why should there be any greater reason than that? This is the bitter pill you apes can never swallow. When God created mankind do you really think he did it out of altruism? He did it because he could and when his creation turned against him, he sent me down here to expose your wickedness. You haven’t disappointed in that respect.”
“I don’t deserve this,” Robert said, gagging on the rankness in the air. Sheets of sweat poured down his face as his stomach churned.
“Of course you do,” Dom said as the shape of his eyes began to change. “All must reap what they sow and you have sown so very much.”
“God help me,” Robert pleaded, looking up toward the ceiling. “Please.”
Dom followed his gaze and laughed.
“You’re a deft accountant, Robert, but it’s plain to see you didn’t dig deep enough when you were formulating your little scheme. The name on all of those offshore accounts where the money’s been going—it’s yours, my friend. Same with the signatures on the transfer slips. Why else do you think I hired you straight out of university? Perhaps I should make the call to the FBI myself. I’m sure they would be eager to speak with you about it. Then, after you get out of prison in about fifty years, you can be sure I’ll be there to ensure your last days are filled with unending misery. And when you die—like your so-called confidantes are doing right now at the hands of my acolytes—that’s when the real fun begins.”
The room was so hot, Robert’s head spun as if he was drunk. Dom’s face had grown radiant as the sun and the light that shone forth from his eyes resembled twin golden laser beams in the darkening room. Penetrating Robert’s staring eyes, they sliced through the meat of his brain and seared the inside curvature at the back of his skull.
“What do you want from me?” he cried as his mind gave way.
“I am the morning star—the devouring lion of the prophet Daniel’s account,” the thing towering over him said, its voice now like deep rolling thunder. Its mouth continued to reshape itself across the increasingly confused geography of its hideous face as the pupils of its eyes became golden vertical slits—like cat’s eyes. “Since they were shat out of their mother’s wombs, the sons of mankind have been drawn to my brilliance, like moths to a flame. All who follow me shall prosper in abundance. All who resist shall wither and perish under my infernal gaze.”
Abruptly, the blazing horror reverted back to its former appearance as the stench and suffocating heat in the air dissipated like they’d never been there in the first place. The room righted itself and Robert was overcome with relief when he realized he could move his arms and legs once again.
“It doesn’t have to be that way, though,” Dom said with a friendly smile. “Become my willing disciple, Robert. Submit to me and you shall never want again.”
Robert stared out the windows at the pale moon rising above the city as night descended. The choice was so obvious, it wasn’t even really a choice at all.
The next morning when he stepped out of the elevator, Robert wore a suit he never dreamed he could afford. Of surpassing quality, it clung to him like a luxurious second skin. He smiled at everyone as he walked past their cramped little cubicles and when their trembling lips smiled back, he sensed they weren’t just showing respect. They were filled with a terrified awe at what he’d become.
Though he wasn’t much more than a semi-autonomous puppet now, he beamed with happiness. As he sat down behind the desk of his new corner office, he remembered something Dom had said the evening before, at the end of their meeting.
The world doesn’t know how badly it wants to be eaten, Robert. Fill your belly and rejoice. You’ve earned it.
Robert nodded as he looked across the city and realized that he wasn’t just hungry, he was ravenous.