“Listen Frank, I don’t want to do this anymore.” He slammed the stack of papers on the desk.
Frank thinned his lips between his teeth. He was about at the end of his rope with this guy. “You were hired for a job, here, fella,” he said, and was met with a glare of an intensity he used to think only he could match.
“I never asked for this part of it, Frank,” he snarled. “You want to get personal about it, fine, but don’t you call me anything you wouldn’t call yourself.”
“We all call ourselves things we wouldn’t call others. You know that as well as I do.”
Frank stood, hands clenched, shoulders relaxed. It was a forced posture, he knew, but it looked good and would fool anyone but the closest observer.
Just his luck.
“What made you think I would want to do this shit anyway? It isn’t like I have ‘Slave’ tattooed across my forehead.”
“Might improve your looks,” Frank said, and watched with grim unsurprise as his look was returned with a vigor that did not surpass his—but it was a close call.
“Why don’t you do this yourself if it’s so important?”
Frank strode around the desk in three quick steps, long steps that were not lost on his companion. His hands reached for what might have been a bad idea—clamping onto another person’s throat, never a good idea. He managed to stop himself in time, however, collected his thoughts and took in a deep breath. He let it out and tried a smile. Really he ought to be more patient, he reminded himself. He was in a leadership capacity here after all.
“I brought you on board because there are certain parts of this job I don’t want to do,” Frank said in what was, for him, heartbreaking agonies of truth. “Paperwork being one of them.”
“What made you think you not wanting to do them would make those aspects any more appealing for me?”
“Yeah, you have a point there.”
They locked stares. A long moment passed, one heartbeat, two, three. Frank would not be the first to break the gaze, but it was looking like he wouldn’t have a choice.
Just then, the door opened.
“Mr. Gascar, your eleven o’clock is here.”
The door closed.
“That was close.”
“I won’t argue with me. I mean, uh, you.”
“Well … ” He paused for consideration. “Can we agree that this is new to both of us, and we ought to work on just keeping from killing each other for the time being?”
“Yeah.” Frank closed his eyes. Never did he think this would wind up being so complicated. Otherwise he might have thought twice before going ahead with the process. “Maybe the rest will sort itself out.”
“Due time. It’ll tell.”
Frank turned his back and walked toward the window. Its wide vista showed rolling hills and a few buildings, none of which were important to anyone but those who worked and lived inside. Frank had never wondered about their occupants. He didn’t have much of an imagination, and thought that maybe this was part of what had led to the present situation. But there was no real objective way to tell. He shook his head, not even sure what he was denying, and went back to the conversation without turning around. Addressing the window seemed the safest course of action for the moment.
“I guess you’re right. But it seems like maybe … someone’s bound to catch on.”
“Your secretary there didn’t seem to notice anything.”
Frank huffed out a short laugh. “She doesn’t tend to.”
“Didn’t she order the kit for you?”
Frank stopped again, looked his way. He nodded. “You know, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about it, but she did tell me she thought it was a great boss’ day present. Double my work output, you know, we both had a laugh, oh ha-ha, then I put it on the shelf over there and didn’t think anything more about it … until, well, you know.”
“The Winkerman account.”
Frank grimaced. “Yeah, that one.” He still had nightmares. That night, when he’d been sitting at his desk, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, fifteenth cup of coffee cooling next to the desk organizer, finger-shaped furrows plowed through his hair, a living embodiment of every stressed corporate stereotype, and his eyes had lighted on the gift box. Some stupid corporate gag gift, he thought. A corporate gag … but he had a break coming, and after seventeen hours of staring straight ahead at line after line of bullshit, he was more than ready to believe anything. Or something, anyway.
And the direct result was now staring him in the face, a problem on top of a problem, whose presence was supposed to be a solution but had wound up as a serious complication.
“I don’t even know what to call you,” Frank said.
Frank grinned back.
“I don’t know what to do with you. Everything I can do, want to do, I already do. So what good are you?”
Frank continued to smile, but Frank thought it started to falter.
“You’re the one wanted a clone, Frank,” Frank said.
He waited. Frank didn’t answer.
His hand moved.
Frank froze. His throat wouldn’t work to push words out. But his mind knew exactly what he was going to say. To the syllable. But Frank’s dawning terror had gripped him. And hard.
Frank reached for an award he'd won for fifteen years of loyal and faithful service to the company. Finally coming in handy.
“Frank,” Frank said. “Now, Frank. Don’t do anything … hasty … you know, bloodstains can be a bitch to … get out of carpet … Frank … Frank!”
Frank wasn’t listening. But he was advancing. The chain clinked steadily against the heavy bar—a very heavy bar, the kind that wouldn’t bend when used to tighten a cinch. Why he had this in his office, he couldn’t say, but it was certainly coming in handy. If Frank would just stand still!
He was cringing back, pressing himself into the wall as though hoping Frank would forget he was there. But there would be no such luck, tonight.
“You were right about those bloodstains,” Frank said, and his voice sounded very far away.
Frank’s panic broke. He snapped out of his position and went running across the room, making a break, Frank realized, for the giant plate-glass window overlooking that view he was so fond of.
A plate-glass window that would be a real pain to replace.
Frank ran toward himself only to see him strike the window, full-force, but instead of leaving a Frank-shaped hole, he left a Frank-sized skid mark as he rebounded and bounced off the floor.
He was knocked out.
Frank smiled. As if his job weren’t easy enough.
He wrapped the chain around his throat, and the twisting began.
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