Looking into the mirror, with two minutes until he had to rush out the door to catch the bus, Rusty decided to escape his stagnant pool of missed opportunities. He thrust the comb under cold water and raked a thatch of cowlicks to the opposite side of normal, transforming his image from passive schlub to feral predator.
“Huh,” he said to the unfamiliar reflection. He’d have to think about this.
Riders mashed together in the center aisle of the bus, every seat taken. An old woman rose. “Please,” she said, “You take this.”
“No, I insist—sit.” It came out too much like a command. She sat. Rusty felt a little bad. And a little good.
He’d been at work less than an hour when the boss called him in over a late deliverable. “I’m not motivated,” Rusty said to the boss, a beige sloth of a man who all but disappeared against the white wall of his office. “I want a raise.”
The boss looked at him for five, ten, twenty seconds. “You might want to interview tomorrow for the position in sales. It could mean a lot more money.”
“I’ll think about it,” Rusty said.
“Don’t think too long,” the boss said.
It occurred to Rusty that he’d need a suit for the interview, so that evening he went to the mall. The salesman wore a brown three-piece suit, a puce tie and matching pocket square.
Rusty pulled a crimson outfit off the rack. “I like this one.”
“You don’t want that,” the salesman said.
“Because red is sex and aggression. It causes bulls to charge and feet to slam brakes. I couldn’t sell a thing if I wore that.”
“I’m not selling suits.” He’d never have had the balls to say that in the reverse polarity of his usual coif.
The salesman chuckled, willing perhaps to take a fool’s money if pressed. “The tailor’s backed up. We can have it for you next Tuesday.”
“I need it tomorrow,” Rusty said. “Make it happen.”
On the morning bus, an elegant older blonde woman in a leopard print trench coat and stiletto heels insisted he sit beside her. “My Mercedes is in the shop, but tomorrow you ride with me,” she said, slipping her personal cell number written on the back of her business card into the pocket of his red coat.
At work, Emily brought him a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, just the way he liked it—how could she have known? He’d mooned over Emily for years, unable to venture beyond discussion of the best brand of three ring binders and troubleshooting tips for copier malfunctions. He handed the cup back. “I take it black now.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
The boss called him into the office. “That’s quite the fashion statement.” He scanned Rusty from oxblood shoes to gelled hair. “About that sales position—.”
“Yes?” Randy flared his nostrils and, for ten, fifteen, twenty seconds deployed the glacial stare he’d practiced in the mirror. The boss wore a blue suit and the grease stain on his tie smelled like bacon.
“I’ve decided to take the job myself,” the boss said. “You can have my office. From now on, I report to you.”
“No.” Rusty had already grown used to the idea of prowling a territory. “Not acceptable.”
“What do you mean, ‘no’?” the boss said. “Until yesterday you were top of the list for the next round of layoffs. Nobody’s even sure what you do around here. Is our competition recruiting you?”
“Maybe.” It was hard to know how good his hand was when two days ago he held no cards. “Middle management is small potatoes. I want the top job.”
“You’re welcome to try.” The boss’s smile described an arabesque.
Rusty walked into the executive suite without pausing at the front desk. Mr. Duncan sat in his black leather chair behind a lacquered black desk devoid of files or dust, its only decoration a sleek telephone console and a silver letter opener. Various awards made of plated metal and angled glass stood on a credenza within easy reach.
Mr. Duncan stood, a jaguar of a man, suit, shirt and tie dark as death. Brick-colored stains marked the white Berber carpet.
“Remarkable suit.” Mr. Duncan slinked from behind the desk, flanking the avenue of retreat. “Halloween already? Trick or treat?”
For a moment Rusty regretted parting his hair in the direction opposite to the twelve consecutive school pictures chronicling his loss of baby fat. He reconsidered buying the suit, accepting the business card from the woman in the leopard raincoat, sending Emily back for coffee too bitter to drink, turning down the job.
A glance told him this was the way it had to be, the die already cast. Hesitation was tantamount to castration; regret an unaffordable luxury for a man launched into the world at this precise angle.
No time to think.
He lunged for the letter opener.
Robert P. Kaye lives in Seattle. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Pear Noir!, Ellipsis, Per Contra, The Los Angeles Review, Metazen, Green Mountains Review, Jersey Devil and elsewhere. He can be found at www.robertpkaye.com.
Bolitas by Benson Kua (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABolitas_(2186855706).jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.