Short Story Saturday


by Roy Dorman

“So would you like to go to Galerie Jacques over on 52nd Street for a power nap before going back to work? I’ll buy.”

Susan St. Clair had only been in New York City for three weeks, but she had already heard of the newest craze in the business district. A business power nap after a business power lunch was being sold as the ultimate in networking. Landing her first real job after college during the summer after graduation had been a lifesaver. She had grown up in a small town, population 1150 and falling, and had escaped by going to college. During her senior year she had almost dreaded graduation because it meant going back to Chatwood’s Corners until she found something. But find something she did.  She went from her campus housing, to a quick weekend at home, to New York as quickly as possible. She liked her job, but this…

“I don’t know, Mr. Butler,” said Susan. “I really have a lot of work to do this afternoon; there’s so much to learn.”

“You can just stay a little longer tonight and finish things up. That’s what power napping is all about; giving you a second wind. And Susan; please call me Allan.”

Allan Butler wasn’t Susan’s direct supervisor, and he was only a few years older than Susan, but he already was well established with the firm and Susan didn’t want to offend him. Allen could do a lot to help her career…or not.

“Okay, I guess I should give it a try,” said Susan. “I’ve heard so much about it. Do you really actually go to sleep?”

“Most people do,” said Allan. “I usually nap for about fifteen or twenty minutes, though you have the cot for a half hour if you need it.”

“Is it true that there are ten or fifteen people all in the same room? That seems, I don’t know, it seems sorta creepy going to sleep with a bunch of strangers.”

“The cots are all in one room, but each cot is surrounded by a floor to ceiling black curtain. There’s a small nightstand with your own alarm clock. It has an earplug so only you hear the alarm. After twenty-five minutes, if you haven’t shut it off, it quietly buzzes to tell you time is up. Each cubicle has a security camera and you get a copy of the recording to show that you were alone during your nap. It’s all very secure. I’ve never heard of any sort of problem.”

“Okay, let’s go,” said Susan. “You’ve sold me.”

The whole experience went just as Allan had explained it. She actually did nap; she’d been working late lately, and really did feel refreshed when she and Allan got back to work.

“Thanks, Allan,” said Susan. “Have a good rest of your day.”

* * *

That night as Susan was getting ready for bed, she remembered the security flash drive she had been given at Galerie Jacques. She was told to bring it each time she came in for a nap and the sessions would be taped and dated in chronological order. She slipped the drive into her computer and watched as it showed her lying down on the cot and closing her eyes. She didn’t intend to watch the whole twenty-five minutes, she was too tired for that, and did a couple of fast forwards to move it along. Just past what was probably the middle, she noticed the video shift very slightly.

“Hmmm. I wonder what that was?”

She backed the video up a bit and started forward again. It did it again.

“Okay, one more time and then I’m going to bed.”

This time, as the video started to play again, Susan’s eyes were drawn to the digital clock on the nightstand. It was at 1:15. She was still staring at the clock when the shift hit once again and she stared in shock as the clock now said 1:20. Where had that four or five minutes gone? Had somebody tampered with her video? Horror crept unto her mind as she realized that she may not have been alone in the cubicle during that time.

She took her coat out the closet and went through the pockets. There was only a partial package of gum that she had bought at a newsstand yesterday. She opened her purse and dumped everything on her bed to take inventory. Everything seemed to be there and there was nothing that wasn’t hers, so had somebody just come in and watched her sleeping? Maybe even touched her while she was sleeping?

Thoughts as to what she should do swirled in her head. Susan decided she would have to confront the people at Galerie Jacques, but it was too late to do anything about it at this hour. She thought calling the police might be necessary if she didn’t get satisfaction at the Galerie. She didn’t think she would say anything to Allan because it had been his idea to go there and she didn’t want him to think she blamed him. There was her career to think of.

After checking the deadbolt on her door, she got into bed but it was a long time before sleep came.

* * *

The next morning she was having coffee at a little shop a few blocks from her work. She had decided that she would go to the Galerie during her lunch hour. She was seated at a window table watching people hurrying past the shop to work when Allan stopped in front of the window and smiled at her. He motioned he was going to come in and Susan tried to put a smile on her face, but it was a little strained; she hadn’t slept well.

“I’m getting a coffee to go,” said Allan. “We can walk to work together.”

Later that morning Allan stopped at Susan’s desk and asked her if she wanted to go to the Galerie.

“I don’t think I have time today. Besides, I left my flash drive in my other purse.”

Allan looked at her strangely and then smiled. “Okay, maybe I’ll catch you later.”

Susan decided she wasn’t up to confronting the Galerie management at noon and instead went to a little Mexican restaurant near her work. She had just placed her order when she saw Allan walk in the front door.

“Hello, again,” he said. “Do you mind if I join you?”

Actually Susan did mind. In fact, she was a little freaked out by Allan finding her at the restaurant. But her career…

“No go ahead and sit down; I just ordered.”

* * *

After work, Susan took a cab to a little art gallery that was having an open house. This was one of the things she liked about living in New York; there was something going on all the time.

She was enjoying a glass of cider and looking at the artwork when a voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Hi, Susan, what do you think of the artwork?” said Allan.

He had come up behind her and was looking over shoulder at the painting she had been admiring. Susan almost dropped her cider, but quickly recovered. Three times in one day told her that these were not chance meetings. Something was wrong here; Allan was stalking her. And it didn’t seem like he cared if she knew it. But what should she do? She did not want him to show up at her apartment later that night. She may have to start looking for a different job. But how was he finding her?

With Allan still standing there smiling, a thought she considered paranoid popped into her head: The flash drive she had been given had some sort of tracking device in it.

“Actually, I just stopped in a whim,” said Susan hoping she sounded casual. “I have to be leaving for a dinner appointment.”

“Well, maybe I’ll see you later,” said Allan, his smile a little less broad than it had been.
Susan hailed a cab and told the driver to take her to Times Square. She took the flash drive out of her purse and pushed it between the seat cushions. At Times Square, she got out and took another cab home.

“Let him follow the cab around for a while. It’ll serve him right.”

Susan had written down the cab driver’s name and cab number. When she got home, she waited a bit and then called the cab company and left a voicemail.

“Hi, I was in Eddie Johnson’s cab, or maybe it was Eddie Jackson, something like Number 2870, a couple of hours ago and I think a flash drive I was carrying may have come out of my pocket. Could you have him check the seat and see if he can find it? I suppose it could have worked its way into the crack between the cushions. If he could drop it off at 2407 Kedzie, Apartment 7, I’d be glad to pay him something. My number is 555-3534. Maybe you or he could call me if he finds it.”

The cab company called a half hour later and told Susan that Eddie Jackson was on the way over with her flash drive. They told her there would be no charge, but she could give Eddie a tip if she chose to. Susan did give Eddie a ten dollar tip and sat down to think what she should do next. She now accepted the fact that with any plan she made, her career security at the firm was no longer her first concern. Allan could be dangerous.

* * *

The next morning when she got to work there was a post-it note on her computer screen. “Very funny, Susan,” it said.

Susan had already e-mailed Alice Fitzpatrick in Human Resources from home and had asked to meet with her that morning. Sitting down in the chair opposite Alice, Susan said she loved her new job, didn’t want to be a problem employee, but was receiving some unwanted attention.

“It’s Allan Butler, isn’t it?” said Alice.

“Yes it is. How did you know?”

“This isn’t the first time. We’ve had two other young woman new-hires leave the company in the last year-and-a-half. The first wouldn’t say why she left. The second told about being harassed by Allan until she couldn’t take it anymore. We talked to him, he denied everything, and we told him we wouldn’t tolerate any more of such behavior.”

Susan then told Alice the story from beginning to end. “It’s not just flirtation; it’s stalking and it’s really scary. It’s like he wants me to know he’s doing it and telling me I’m powerless. I don’t know what to do first: go to the police, go to the Galerie…,”

“You did the right thing by coming here first,” said Alice. “I’ll meet with Allan’s supervisor and then you and I will go to the Galerie. If they don’t find out who’s responsible for this breach of security on their own, we go from there to the police. You see, so far there may not have been anything against the law here. The Galerie certainly has some business responsibility as to their customers’ privacy, but Allan could say he was just being friendly to a new employee.”

“But are you saying…”

“What I’m saying is that maybe as far as the law is concerned, technically no crime has been committed. But, Susan, make no mistake, Allan is finished working for this company. What more we can do to him remains to be seen.”

* * *

Andrew Taylor, the CEO of Galerie Jacques, had just finishing reviewing the video with Susan and Alice and was momentarily at a loss for words. Susan and Alice had first talked to an assistant manager with their concern, then a manager, before finally threatening to just go find an investigative reporter at one of the city’s reputable newspapers. That got them in to see Andrew Taylor.

“I’d like to run that again if you don’t mind,” he finally said.

Getting to the middle, he ran it back and forth as Susan had done the night before.

“It could be a technical glitch…”

“Bullshit,” said Alice. “You’d better get whoever is in charge of making these videos in here right away. Also, anybody who works under him or her and has access to the flash drive process. Somebody put a GPS tracking device of some sort in Ms. St. Clair’s drive after they deleted four or five minutes of her video. There’s no glitch here; there’s grounds for a lawsuit that could put your company out of business.”

Alice then took the flash drive from the computer. It had occurred to her that this piece of evidence could easily get lost.

Reading her mind, Susan said, “I downloaded it to my computer this morning before coming to work and e-mailed an attachment to my brother in Milwaukee. I didn’t tell him what it was, I just told him to save it.”

“Just the type of employee a quality company would like to keep,” said Alice raising an eyebrow at Andrew.

Andrew Taylor had a supervisor and two technicians in his office in five minutes. Somebody had obviously told them there was a problem, because all three of them looked like kids who had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Somebody in your unit tampered with a customer’s flash drive,” he said to Alex Johnson, the supervisor of John Edwards and Dwight Smith, the two technicians.

Alex Johnson and Dwight Smith turned as one and looked at John Edwards. A little late, Edwards realized that if he wanted to avoid being a suspect, he should have also looked at somebody with suspicion.

“You can’t prove anything,” he said.

“I don’t have to prove a thing,” said Taylor. “If you tell me exactly what happened, I may be able to give a neutral recommendation to an inquiry from your next employer.”

Edwards looked to both Johnson and Smith, but they just looked straight ahead. Everyone in the room was now pretty sure that Edwards had done this on his own.

“This regular customer asked if I wanted to make some extra money. He said it could be a lot of extra money. He said he just wanted to watch another customer sleeping in her cubicle. I thought it was kind of creepy, but didn’t see any harm…”

“You didn’t see any harm or you saw the chance to make a lot of money from a possibly dangerous man?” asked Taylor.

“Okay, I admit it, I wanted the extra money. But I didn’t see how anybody would get hurt. At first. But after I edited the video, he told me to install a tiny GPS unit into the flash drive. He’d picked up the GPS online someplace. I told him I didn’t like where things were going, and he said he’d give me more cash. So I did it and then he laughed at me when I asked for my money. He said I should complain to my supervisor. Or take him to court.”

“You’re fired, Edwards,” said Taylor. “Security will watch you clean out your desk and walk you to the door. Johnson, tell payroll to cut his last check to include anything he has coming to him.”

“What about my recommendation, Mr. Taylor?” asked Edwards. “You said if I told you…”

“Don’t push it, Edwards. I’ll make that decision when the time comes. You’ve probably learned a valuable lesson here, but you’ve still caused a lot of pain to one of our customers.”

Susan, Alice, and Andrew had just started going over what had just occurred when they heard someone yelling outside of the office.

“Susan! Where are you?”

“It’s him,” said Susan. “He’s tracked me here.”

And then from just outside the door, “You! What did you tell them.”

Two shots were fired and Andrew Taylor took out his cell phone and called 911. He explained the situation, said he’d stay on the line, and walked over to lock his office door. His face was ashen and the hand holding his phone was shaking.

After a minute there was a knock on the door. “Mr. Taylor, it’s Ed Burns from Security; everything’s under control.”

Nobody moved. Taylor used the interoffice landline to call his receptionist.

“Betty? Is Ed Burns out there? Is everything under control?”

“Yes, Mr. Taylor. Security has somebody in handcuffs.”

Susan, Alice and Andrew stepped out of the office and into the hallway. Allan Butler stood up against a wall with his hands behind his back. There was a pistol on the floor in front of him.

“Your two techies disarmed him,” said Ed Burns. “My guys and I heard the shots fired and these guys had him on the floor when we got here. This could have been a lot worse.”

Two Techies? Andrew Taylor looked at Alex Johnson. Johnson shrugged and said, “He’s probably still running, sir.”

“I’m going to sue this place for assault,” said Allan.

“Well, good luck with finding an attorney who would touch that one,” said Andrew. “I see the police are here and you can call one from jail.”

After a brief discussion with Ed Burns, the police retrieved the revolver and took Allan away.

“Susan,” said Andrew after they left. “I’d like to sit down and talk to you about some sort of free use of our facilities when you feel up to it.”

“You’ve been very professional about this and I do understand how your company should not suffer unduly for the indiscretions of one employee, but I don’t think I’ll be using your service again. Ever. As to a lawsuit or exposure to the press, I don’t think that will be necessary. You, I, and John Edwards all learned a lot today.”

“I play racquetball at lunch three times a week,” said Alice. “I could teach you.”

“Really? That’d be great,” said Susan.

“I think it would be nice if Mr. Taylor offered to pay off some of your student loans,” said Alice. “Don’t you think that would be nice, Mr. Taylor?”

Andrew Taylor put on his practiced CEO smile and said, “I think that Galerie Jacques should be able to make a pretty good dent in those student loans.”

The smile stayed on Andrew Taylor’s face for a bit after everyone had left. He knew that Galerie Jacques had dodged a bullet. This time.

◊ ◊ ◊

Roy Dorman
Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years.  At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer.  He has had flash fiction and poetry published recently in Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Press, Drunk Monkeys, Birds Piled Loosely, Black Petals, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Cheapjack Pulp, The Creativity Webzine, and Yellow Mama.

4 thoughts on “Short Story Saturday

  1. This was different, I initially was looking for the twist but there wasn’t any or at least what I thought might be.
    Read it again, without the expectation and found it an enjoyable story, comupance comes from strange places.
    Thanks for writing this.

  2. Glad you liked it, Jeffrey. Most of my fiction does end with a twist of some sort. I also noticed the lack of a twist when I was pretty much finished writing this and wondered if I should work at finding one. I guess the risk one takes with writing a story without a quirky ending is the “they all lived happily after” stigma may be attached to it, right?

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