By Paul M Clark
I’m in the shit. I know it. He never sees anyone in person. I stare at the plastic sign on the door —black with the word “Boss” in white Comic Sans. Not like the stylish Hugo Boss logo, which is what I’d go for if I were the boss.
I slide into his office and his face confirms my pessimism. Is this about my attempt at sushi during our shared lunch? I know gutting a fugu with a letter opener wasn’t the best idea, but I maintain it was my choice of tools that sickened people more than the fish. Anyway, it was Bob’s fault for suggesting a fish theme with a difference. He was the one claiming sushi tested people’s bravery. In the end, no one ate the fugu, so what could possibly be wrong?
Nerves make me speak first. “Is there a problem, Boss?”
“I’m glad you brought this up,” he replies, elbows on the desk, fingers steepled.
He glances at the parrot in a hanging cage.
“Mrs. Benniford,” it croaks.
Mrs. Benniford was the woman with the brown curly hair and one of those ticks where her left eye would wink and take half of her cheek with it. She chain-smoked and never spoke to anyone.
“What about her?” I ask.
Realizing I’m directly addressing the bird, which is strictly against company policy, I turn back to the Boss. “I thought she’d left the company.”
“She did, but you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?”
He picks up a clunky remote—not a slender, modern TV remote, but the sort you open garage doors with—and points it at one of his stationary cupboards. He presses the button like a toddler using a Speak & Spell. The door swings open and Mrs. Benniford’s bloated body thumps out onto the carpet, head wrapped in cling film and silver duct tape.
There’s a bowling ball in my chest. Why is he showing me a dead body?
“What’s going on?” My only words. Pathetic, I know.
“You did this,” cackles the parrot.
The Boss nods, angling his computer screen towards me. On it, I see a grainy CCTV image of badly edited clips of me trying to interact with Mrs. Benniford, whose ignorance of my attempted conversation is overwhelmingly obvious. My mother always told me that my unconditional politeness would be my downfall. Then it cuts to this office, showing Mrs. Benniford filing paper. A large man dressed as Santa Claus enters the room with a tube of cling wrap. They talk. They laugh for a few seconds. They kiss! Then she turns her back to him and sticks out her ass. Her face splattered with a come-and-get-me look.
“Christian Gray. Christian Gray,” the bird croaks.
On the screen, Santa wraps cling film around her head. She struggles—only a little, though. I’m imagining being in her head right now—thinking that this is some sort of Santa-sex-sub-dom game. Until it isn’t anymore and her arms start grabbing at thin air. Santa secures her limbs with duct tape. He holds her tightly until her flailing turns to shuddering. She goes limp. Then he stuffs her into the cupboard.
“Well?” asks the Boss, pressing pause.
“You think that’s me?”
“Well it isn’t Santa Claus, is it?” he replies.
“You were Santa!” squawks the bird.
The Boss shrugs. “Pretty conclusive. You were Santa.”
My mind races. Of course the film is not conclusive. Of course it isn’t me. At the Christmas party, I dressed up as the green, pre-Coke-advert Santa. Not like the red one on his screen! This is a complete set-up. But the Boss’s word is final—company policy. The only witness is the bird—and lawyers know that birds make the most reliable witnesses due to their inability to lie. My breath labors. Only one thing to do. I march over to the cage and pluck out the parrot, clenching my fist around its body. As it pecks me, the nip reminds me of my lack of success in all things.
“What are you doing?” shouts the Boss over the squawking bird.
I look at him. His mouth agape. Perfect. Like one of those toys where kids put the stars, squares, circles, into the corresponding holes. I grab my Boss’s head and stuff the parrot into his mouth. The harmony of screams from both merge into one. He coughs and blows a few times. Red and green feathers puff into the air like confetti at a wedding. Then silence. Boss slumps in the chair, head back, feathery tail protruding from his mouth.
A knock on the door! I examine the scene. Dead woman on the carpet. Dead Boss in the chair. Dead parrot in dead Boss’s throat. This will take some explaining.
Stress of the job… yes! Stress can make you racist, homophobic, perverse… and now, homicidal. It should work. No… I’m deluding myself. That stuff only works with politicians.
Another knock. Louder.
The door opens. Three senior executives enter the room. My mind races. Police. Courts. Electric chair—killing parrots is morbidly serious.
All three stand in a line by the desk. Undeterred by the carnage, they applaud.
“Congratulations on your promotion,” says one, “You are the new boss.”
The other two approach the old boss and heave him out of his seat, discarding his body onto the floor. They gesture towards the chair.
I freeze. Is this the real test? Of course. This is my proving ground. Where my disregard for kindness, the sanctity of life and endangered species will be the very qualities the company requires from its leader. This is the test.
So I sit. The plush leather contours my body. So comfortable.
“We will dispose of the bodies, Boss,” they continue, “but tell us, what is your first decree?”
That’s easy. “Change the sign on the door. I want the same font as Hugo Boss. I think it’s called Walbaum Bold.”