Bob Lansky brought the gun to work in a brown paper sack. He had never laid anyone off before and his stomach went acidic. He belched. A fiberglass window adorned with venetian blinds separated his office from the small pond of cubicles. Lansky pulled hard on the cord that closed the blinds and then sat down. He set the gun on his desk, and then promptly knocked it over as he reached for a manila file. The gun made a soft thud when it hit the carpet, but Lansky was not afraid. The blinds were closed. He did not pick up the gun.
Lansky tried several times to focus on work. There was an important audit coming due and he would meet with the client later in the week. He read the same page from the file twice over before he stood, walked to the window and separated the blinds with his thumb and index finger. Miley was out there, but so were Chester and Goff now. James and the three others were not in yet. The office was nearly empty with four people gone.
At 8 AM the day officially began. Staff should be getting coffee, checking emails, postponing the workday. None of them knew the danger. Nobody knew or appreciated that Lansky was all that stood between them and a massacre. He would protect them at any cost. Fortunately, with only four staff members present, three of whom would be gone shortly, protecting the rest would be easier.
Lansky watched through the blinds as Miley picked up the phone and dialed three quick numbers, an internal extension. There was a ring from somewhere inside Lansky’s office. He bent over and picked the gun off of the floor with his right hand and answered the phone with his left.
“Did you still need to see me this morning, Bob?” Miley asked.
Lansky tried to stretch the cord to the window, but the phone dragged across the desk and fell just as he looked out on Miley. He thought to himself that he should have checked their desks. If they were going to cause problems, it would be with whatever is in their desks.
“Yes, just not, not right now. I’m busy. Please update that spreadsheet. Once you update the spreadsheet we’ll talk.”
Lansky did not have to dig deep in the bottom left drawer of his desk to find a bottle of Crown Royal, half full. He poured the remainder of his morning Starbucks into the trash and replaced it with a healthy dose of blended whiskey.
Eugene Miley had updated the numbers on the spreadsheet four times over the weekend, and the numbers did not lie. The truth they told was that he was failing, as were Chester, Goff, and James; in essence, all of the business in Lansky’s department was in a quagmire of horizontal fatigue. None of them had brought in new work for months and the work they did have was drying up fast, leading to an obvious conclusion that Miley did not like. Some of them would have to go, but it would not be Miley, thought Miley.
To protect against this the books had been cooked in his favor over the weekend. It was not rocket science. It simply took access to the numbers and the responsibility to verify them. Miley had both. With this access, he took 10% of the profits earned from Chester, Goff, and James without anyone knowing.
That Monday morning Miley was proud of the success he was having that year so far.
Lansky withdrew a makeshift map of America he had composed from the road atlas in his car. He had taped the slightly torn map onto poster board that he kept behind his laminated oak credenza. Using pink highlighter he marked the 37 office shootings he had researched. There were pink dots on most major U.S. cities, but none near Phoenix. Lansky called this a “striking and foreboding pattern.” For him, the likelihood of a Phoenix shooting was tantamount to celebrities dying in groups of three, or cats landing on their feet, or the insane prancing about at full moons; all things that are guaranteed in Lansky’s mind.
Bill James called the office twice that morning. First he dialed Lansky’s office to tell him he would not be in. James told Lansky he had the “pig flu” and the doctor did not want him to go to work. The second call he made was to Miley.
“How are the numbers looking?”
To which Miley replied, “I think you’re safe. 3% profitability.” James is Miley’s next door neighbor and the person who helped Miley land the job. Miley did not have the heart to cut his numbers to nothing.
“Thanks, man. I appreciate the help,” said James with the uncomfortable sincerity of a serious professional football fan.
The Best Defense
Lansky deliberated long and hard about the plan. He had stayed up the night before watching old westerns and working through as many fatal flaws as he could discover. During commercials he dropped to the floor with a fading blueprint of the office and worked up a defense against the potentially violent disgruntled. Using pink, yellow, and orange highlighters he plotted. First, he marked all of the exits with yellow. Next, with dashed orange he routed the straightest paths to the exits from each desk. Finally, with the pink he tracked the location of the desks of the employees he would be laying off. Lansky marked Chester’s location in a deep wet pink that stained the documents behind it.
But before he could do anything, Lansky needed that spreadsheet. The spreadsheet would be his defense, would prove their violence was a product of their own poor performance. He dumped the bullets from the paper sack onto the desk. And then he called Miley who told him the spreadsheet was almost done.
The best defense is a good offense, thought Lansky.
Goff was a young playful guy who liked to drink too much. It was Goff who began the rubber band thing. He sent the occasional red or green projectile flying across desks and between cubicles. A lighthearted game quickly escalated into a great battle. Miley bought a toy rubber band gun for revenge against Goff. It was an imitation handgun that could shoot several rubber bands in succession. Not to be outdone, Goff purchased a rifle version that shot rubber bands further and more rapidly. Trying to fit in, pudgy Gail the receptionist, who Goff had once slept with, bought a little cannon that could shoot rubber bands 20 feet.
It was fun and games until a Friday afternoon when Goff hit Lansky in the face with his rifle. The rubber band whizzed by Miley and nailed Lansky as he stepped from his office. Lansky closed the door. Five minutes later an email hit everyone’s inbox:
I recently read a story about a small boy who was shot to death by the police for playing with a toy gun. The police thought the gun was real. I wonder if the police might think the same about shooting rubber bands. Please see below:
Goff and Lansky did not see eye to eye after this. Goff called Lansky “the old fart” from that day forward. The office was small. Lansky had heard about this in the bathroom stall while reading his morning newspaper. Goff would be the first to go, he told himself.
The Other Spreadsheet
Just before noon Lansky took a long serious look at the private spreadsheet he had assembled since his staff-cutting directive from corporate. The spreadsheet was called, “Office- Retaliation-Stats.xls.” Using Yahoo, Google, Bing, and Duck Duck Go search engines, Lansky documented the details of the 37 office shootings he had researched. Armed with this information he created rows and columns of the time of day, the locations, number of casualties, and the gunmen’s stated targets and logic.
Unfortunately, all of the gunmen except one were shot dead by police, so the logic was largely a guess. When questioned, that one gunman repeated, “I will get him. I will get him.” Lansky naturally assumed “him” was the man’s unfortunate boss, who was probably a great guy when you got to know him.
Lansky was more nervous about Chester than he was about the others. Chester had been in the worst of the first Gulf War, ’91. While digging a latrine, a Persian boy walked up to Chester and offered old newspapers for sale; the population used paper and wood for fuel whenever the bombings killed the electricity. Chester only told the story once of how he rubbed the kid’s head, smiled, and pulled out the empty white pockets of his pants to show the boy he had no money, and how at this the kid stumbled back and pulled a short wire cord beneath a denim shirt. There was a loud noise that took part of Chester’s hearing for life.
In the end only half of the bombs detonated and Chester survived the fractured ribs and dismembered right foot. After a long convalescence in a military hospital in Germany, Chester returned home to earn an MBA, get married, and have a child. He also found Christianity and landed in Lansky’s branch as part of a patriotic corporate recruiting initiative.
Each time Lansky glanced through the slats of the blinds at Chester, concern ramped to fear. Just now Chester stood and shuffled on his prosthetic foot to get coffee.
Miley checked over the spreadsheet one last time. Chester made polite but unproductive calls to potential clients. Goff talked big to Gail, the receptionist, about his triple in softball last night, “Do you know how hard it is to hit a triple in 16 inch?”
And Lansky counted quietly to himself, one, two, three, four, five, six, as he inserted the bullets into his silver-plated six shooter. Somewhere he vaguely heard the beeping reminder from the calendar on his computer that the time had finally come. Another electronic sound, something arriving. Lansky glanced at the screen. Miley had sent the spreadsheet. He could now move forward on the firing.
Lansky pounded back two quick belts of Crown Royal and set the manila file aside until everything else was done. He then called Miley to verify the numbers one last time.
Gail searched for a new job online. “I don’t see anyone leaving, which means no chance of advancement,” she had told her roommate the night before.
James was becoming alarmed at the onset of a sore throat and runny nose. He might really be sick.
Chester finished his coffee and dialed several numbers. The first two were calls to clients who had not paid bills. And then Chester called his wife to see how their newborn was doing. The baby was fine, but Mrs. Chester wanted him to bring home ice cream. For some reason she was craving ice cream.
Miley rubbed his forehead and glanced at his belly. He had grown the belly when he was laid off during the dot com bust. His pants felt tight today. The weight from that unemployed year never came off. He did not think he could wear his favorite pants any longer if he went another year without work. Miley checked the spreadsheet a last time and smiled at the banner year he was having. The same could not be said for the others. His phone rang. It was Lansky’s extension calling.
Goff was playing with a large green rubber band, stretching it as far as he could, which nearly covered his wingspan. He saw the weakness in the band where it necked down and changed color to a rubbery white as the fibers slowly and then rapidly pulled apart, finally breaking as Lansky called Goff into his office.
This was wrong. The numbers did not support a phone call from Lansky. Why had he called? It must be a mistake. Goff was practically worthless and gimpy Chester, with his stupid throwback crew cut and Holy Bibles and crosses all over his freaking desk warranted immediate dismissal if only for being mind-numbingly uninteresting. Was the whole thing backfiring? Maybe Lansky was sharper than Miley had thought. Maybe he had figured it out.
Avoid. Miley refused to answer the phone. Instead, he stood and walked by Goff, who was sitting at his desk stretching a large green rubber band, looking at its elastic capacity with childlike wonderment. Miley had decided a long respite in the john would provide adequate cover until he could think of something better. He sat on the toilet, opened his cell phone, and played a video game to pass the time.
A Preemptive Strike
“Hey Chief, you wanted to see me,” Goff smiled as he closed the door.
The gun rested on Lansky’s lap where he gently rubbed it with his left hand beneath the desk. Goff noticed the rubbing and bit his lip to stifle the joke about Lansky “being happy to see him.”
Lansky finished the nearly full contents of a Starbucks cup before beginning the talk. He did not raise his voice when he began.
“As you know times are tough everywhere and this office is no exception.” That sounded better than Lansky anticipated. Perhaps this would not go badly.
Lansky stifled a belch and continued, “You’ve probably noticed there have been a lot of closed door meetings. Most of these meetings have been about just how to keep things profitable,” he nodded at the computer screen, “I had Miley prepare this spreadsheet. It tells a story, and that story is not a good one for you I’m afraid. I’m sorry to say, management has…”
Anticipating Lansky’s next words, Goff sat on the desk and interrupted with a youthful grin, “Look Chief, it’s a tough economy. The way I look at it—and I’ve mentioned this before—the company is investing in its future with me. You got to figure a guy like me can’t stay down for long. I mean…”
Frightened by the young man’s bravado, Lansky grasped the gun tightly with his left hand and pointed it from beneath the desk at Goff. “Please get off the desk,” said Lansky, who suddenly thought he could feel every hair on his left arm moving independently.
Goff leaned closer to Lansky, intending to look at the spreadsheet on the screen. Lansky repeated himself, “Please, I feel that you should get off of the desk immediately.” Each hair on his arm shifted in random patterns as the droplets of perspiration navigated around them toward the butt of the revolver.
Smiling, Goff offered a tip of an invisible hat, leaned toward Lansky and said with surprising seriousness, “It would be a mistake if you do what I think you’re going to do. I’ve got real potential.” This was intended to come off as striking sincerity, but Lansky heard it as a threat, a justification of every fear that had consumed him since he was told who to eliminate and when to eliminate them.
Chester learned an awful truth about himself when he heard the quiet muffled report of a gun from within Lansky’s office. Ten years of therapy, countless talks with ministers, an infinite number of prayers, and the love and confidence of Christ Almighty offered no strength against the bitter and subtle sounds of a single gunshot. He could not move. Urine flowed along a circuitous path through boxer shorts, leg hairs, socks, becoming trapped in a small crevice between the stump of his foot and his plastic prostheses. Chester felt the embarrassing wetness and could not move.
Gail briefly lifted her head from the internet at a quiet bang. Someone had dropped something somewhere. She returned to her website. It was a horoscope, one with a positive outlook.
The sense of fear Lansky had lived with for more than a month became security. He thought of nothing but self-defense and protection when he showed Goff the gun. In a flat tone he announced, “I need to make sure nobody gets hurt. This is the end and there is no reason for anyone to get hurt.”
Backing toward the door, Goff responded with hands up, “Hey, boss. I’ll do better I promise. Just let me get back to my desk and I’ll work harder.”
Lansky held the gun higher. His hand shook and a drop of perspiration fell onto the manila file on the desk where it left a dark yellow stain. “Please, we cannot have violence. Nobody needs to get hurt here.”
Confused, Goff repeated himself, “I’ll do better. I promise. I just need to get to my desk.”
There appeared visions of Goff pulling a small machine gun, an Uzi, from the top drawer of his desk. The young man playfully clicks and mouths a drrdrrdrrdrr machine gun sound and laughs. Nobody laughs with him. He gets angry and loads the thing. He aims, pulls something back on the gun, small holes everywhere, including people. Nobody lives, everyone is dead, and Goff lords over them like a greyhound marveling at its own speed. This was the contents of Lansky’s mind as he closed his left eye and aimed.
A strange gurgling sigh from Goff just after the left side of this body leapt backward. Staggering and grasping his breast Goff cried in the low bewildered whisper of a child with a big secret, “What’d you do that for?”
“We cannot have you coming back here shooting up the place. I will not put my employees in danger.”
Goff fell to his knees and gasped, “I am an employee. What about me?” A small trace of blood emerged from some organic alchemy in the man’s lungs and appeared on Goff’s lower lip.
“The safety of my staff is the most important thing. We must stay calm in these situations. Times are tough.”
Grasping his chest, struggling for a breath that mattered, Goff fell to the floor. This was nothing Lansky ever wanted to do as a manager, but he had to protect his staff. At a minimum they deserved to feel that they could come to work every day and be safe from revenge-crazed ex-employees.
The Men’s Room
Miley sat on the toilet playing the video game to keep his mind preoccupied. This could not happen to him. There were bills to pay and vacations to take. This could not happen to him. He had just started dating again after a terrible divorce. The lawyer’s working out a better custody situation for the kids. His mind toggled between recollections of on the job mistakes and laziness, and then the strategies to win over Lansky by rectifying his whole sordid history of working failures. There had to be an angle, a way to make this right.
A door opened into the men’s room. Distracted now, Miley looked up; the cell phone beeped a tragic song as Miley lost a last life in the game he was playing.
A Good Offense
Feeling secure and strong Lansky opened the blinds for the first time that day. He stood in the window sipping from his Starbucks cup. Goff would hurt no one now, but this did not mean it was over. And Miley, where was Miley? Nowhere to be seen. A fact that could only mean he was lying in ambush, in the break room maybe. And what about Chester? He saw Chester, sitting straight-spined and rigid, a phone to his right ear, left arm in motion. Jesus, Lansky thought, I can’t see anything in front of him. What the hell is Chester doing?
What Chester is Doing
Calmly repeating, “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus,” to himself, Chester raised the last bit of courage in the largely vacant pit of his soul and dialed 911. He dialed with his left hand, the hand Lansky could not see. Chester dialed. “Oh Jesus. Lord. Oh Lord Jesus.”
What Lansky Did Next
What the hell is Chester doing? My God, he could have something dangerous there. A weapon? Someone could get hurt. Christ, someone could really get hurt! A job was not worth this and nobody came to work thinking someone might get hurt. A job was not worth this. Somebody had to protect these people. With a rapid downward jerk Lansky opened the blinds.
With his pocket as makeshift holster, Lansky put on his sport coat, grabbed a portfolio out of habit, and stepped from his office. Gail threw a perfunctory smile at Lansky, unsure if he needed something from her. And Chester’s hand stopped moving when Lansky spoke, “Has anybody seen Miley?” Christ, thought Lansky, Chester’s hand has stopped moving.
Get away from Chester, before Chester gets you, thought Lansky. He glanced at Gail who seemed to have no idea of the danger she was in. Lansky had to protect Gail and those lamblike bystanders in the right place at the wrong time. He darted toward the bathroom to his right and away from Chester, whose head never waivered and whose spine never slouched, despite the seam full of urine between the nub that was his foot and the plastic replacement the VA hospital had given him.
An immediate pang of regret hit Lansky as the bathroom door closed; he should have gone into the women’s restroom. Chester never would have followed him into the women’s restroom. He briefly debated a run across the hall to safety, but then he heard the fading beep of a video game at its conclusion. “Miley,” he whispered, “Are you in here?”
There was a long interval of silence, broken by tears from one of the stalls. And then the voice, which was stronger than it had been with Goff, “Miley we need to discuss your performance.”
No doubt about it, without a job Miley would lose his house, the kids, the new girl. “Please,” Miley sniffed, “I can work harder. I’ll just go to my desk and work harder.”
The repetition was heartening for Lansky. He stood tall as he walked to the stall door and asked Miley to step out. “We need to talk. There’ll be no need for violence. It’s just a talk.”
A Maker is Met
Two more shots. Chester had distinctly heard two shots coming from the bathroom. He glanced at Gail, she heard them too. Dear God, he thought, to survive torrents of smart bombs and hand grenades, to perform all the right works in the eyes of the Lord, and to rediscover a world with significance after all those years of hollow bitter hatred. He had worked hard to go where love is allowed again, where he could crack and not fall apart knowing that it was just a small fissure and not an explosion. Oh, Jesus, why me?
The bathroom door opened.
Like the distant memory of a fire or a car accident somewhere far in the city, sirens sounded deep inside of Lansky’s head. He tried to comport himself and cover up the red splotches of Goff and Miley that had landed in Rorschach’s on his shirt and sport coat. It was Chester’s time. The firm no longer needed his services. His performance had been diligent, but inadequate. Chester would have to go and Lansky did not want violence. Nobody needed to get hurt over a job.
The sirens projected horror onto Lansky’s mind and despite the presence of only two remaining staff members, he could envision the bloodied bodies of colleagues strewn over cubicle walls with gore and viscera dropping, getting caught on the small tray at the bottoms of wipe boards.
Lansky would tell the police, “I knew he was a veteran, but he always seemed pleasant to me. Of course, he was quiet, always quiet. Seemed to keep to himself an unusual amount. But he was a heck of an employee. Who am I to judge?”
For the first time Lansky recognized the sound of real sirens coming closer, coming to save them from disaster. But were the officers close enough? How could one tell? This is a busy part of town with emergency sirens flying by at regular intervals on their way to provide succor to the world. It was too risky to just guess at their proximity, although they sounded close. It was just too risky.
The Last Dismissal
“Chester, we should talk in my office,” Lansky announced, nervously straightening his tie with the hand unburdened by the gun.
Every part of Chester’s body refused to respond. The legs refused to stand. The head refused to turn. The voice refused to sound. It seemed the only parts of his body that worked were the ears that heard the unmistakably close metallic blare of the sirens, and the eyes that caught the comforting red and blue lights strobing through the open windows of the foyer and onto the edge of Gail’s desk. A few more minutes and all would be safe.
Gail watched the two men with the vague sense of doom that she had only experienced at bad horror films. It was as if something terrible might happen to poorly crafted secondary characters. You know what is going to happen, you do not care, but you want to watch, she thought just as the phone rang.
“Gail, please get the phone,” demanded Lansky, who, like Chester, was hoping it was the police.
“Hello, Surefire Financial Services,” said Gail, whose feeling of stale dread was replaced with confused pain as she spoke across the cubicle pond to Lansky, “Sir, it’s the police. They’re asking if everyone is okay.”
Lansky said in a calming voice, “As long as Chester here joins me in my office everything will be fine.”
“Sir, they insist on speaking with you,” reiterated Gail, whose mind was beginning to assemble the pieces of the last 45 minutes.
“Gail, please put them through to voicemail. Chester, can you please stand and join me in my office?”
Though listless and nearly immobilized, Chester was not without resources. While Lansky was in the bathroom, Chester methodically searched his desk for an adequate weapon; an envelope opener, a weighted pen, a stapler, or a scissors, or anything that could offer some protection in this moment of crisis. Nothing. So Chester looked to the last large and blunt object he could think of. With great care, shaking the urine to the floor, he unhooked the artificial appendage that had given him the balance and stability to walk this world with Christ. With it and with many prayers, he would do what he could.
“Chester,” Lansky pulled back the hammer, guessing that Chester knew the sound, “We need to talk.”
At last Chester pushed himself away from the desk and lifted his tall body using his left hand to keep himself vertical, and to keep the ghostly stump between his right ankle and the floor from touching the ground. Behind him on the desk, hidden from Lansky by his frame, was his last line of defense; a nearly perfect replica of a foot.
The sirens screamed and a voice echoed like a ball bouncing somewhere inside an endlessly deep cavern, “This is the police. We would like to talk with Robert Lansky. Please confirm that Robert Lansky is still inside.”
James at Home
James could not move now without causing a coughing riot. Between the hacking and comforting of an increasingly runny nose, James tried to nap to the slow sounds of game shows and soap operas. But sleep did not last.
A newscaster’s indifferent voice interrupted, “We have limited information at this time. All we know is that there has been a shooting inside the Phoenix office of Surefire Financial Services, LLC. It appears that someone is exiting the building. As you can see, the police are standing by, weapons drawn.”
A Hero is Born
A slight move of Lansky’s head, a shifting of the eyes is all Chester needed to quickly grab the plastic foot and apply. The echo sounded again, “Is Robert Lansky available to talk? We would like to speak with him if at all possible.”
Lansky looked to the front desk to have Gail tell them that everything is under control. He will gladly provide a statement and comply with any investigation, including subsequent psychological profiling of the three men who plotted against the office. Lansky wanted to let them know that he had done his job and done it well. But Gail was no longer in the office. She had left without telling anyone. A terrible breach of company policy. There was nobody left to answer the phones.
“Gail!” shouted Lansky. “Gail, if you don’t return we are going to need to talk.” Lansky yelled after her, his eyes shifting between Chester and the front desk. “This is going to be in your performance review.”
Then a sound. He did not know it at first, but when he saw the object on the ground he knew the sound was a plastic foot flying by his head, careening off of Gail’s desk and landing in the dead space between the front door and Lansky.
Chester took a frantic step and the air beneath his lame foot collapsed and he was on the floor of Goff’s cubicle, frantically pulling at a rotating office chair to help himself up. The chair spun around and Chester struggled to get upright. He opened a drawer and used it and the chair as leverage to stand. The blue and red lights flashed more rapidly than Chester remembered and the sirens grew louder, but none of the police entered. Why did the police not enter?
Lansky could not see all of Chester behind the cubicle wall. Was this a ploy? Nobody needed to get hurt here. It’s a business cycle. “Look, Chester, nobody needs to get hurt here. This is a business cycle.”
Panting with strain, Chester defended himself, “I work hard. Every day I work harder than anyone here.” Chester glanced around for something to throw. The only thing available was a small wooden rifle that shot rubber bands. He picked it up.
Lansky looked at Chester who was pointing a toy gun over the cubicle wall. A series of rubber bands flew to the floor and some landed behind Lansky. Chester shot blindly, hoping, “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus,” to keep Lansky at bay just long enough for the police to enter. The sirens were louder than ever, but nobody entered. The blue and red lights replaced the sun and streamed through the windows. Everything in colors. Blue and red through the windows. Green and yellow rubber bands on the floor.
And then there was a deep wine color coming from Chester’s stomach. He heard a loud sound that had somehow come after the wine poured from his belly. The wine color he recognized, but he had never seen it come in such rapid spouts. He was on the floor now. Although the rubber band gun was empty, he clicked it twice more in the direction of Lansky before his fingers stopped.
Nobody Got Hurt
In his office mirror Lansky checked himself. There would be reporters and this jacket, covered with reminders of his sacrifice for the company, would not do. He removed the jacket and straightened his hair and washed the anxious perspiration from his face. Before leaving he withdrew the map of 37 office shootings from behind the credenza and dropped it into the waste basket.
At the front door, about to step into the flashing police noise, Lansky checked his hair with his hands for stragglers. He straightened his tie for the third time. And then he paused to stifle a small proud tear that wanted desperately to come out. It had been a long day and the outcome was never certain, but in the end nobody was hurt. He opened the door and stepped outside.