Lincoln Benson - 03/03/2004

it was strange, really. after that first ninety seconds where all the blood rushed to my head and the floaters inside my eyes did a big loosen-and-let-go, miming the snow outside the window, i suddenly didn't feel anything at all. not guilt. not fear. not happiness. nothing whatsoever.

so an hour passes. no customers, no phone calls. i start to wonder if i slipped into an alternate somewhere. or if i'm still asleep and dreaming all of this, and there's no windfall, no crime, nothing... and the alarm is about to go off and i'm going to get up and go to work and the deposit is really lost. and i'm back to stealing eighteen dollars and forty-four cents at a time.

and i want to look in my carry all and find out if it's real, but of course the cameras are running again.

so i watch the snow falling. another half an hour passes. the snow falls at the exact same rate and speed and density that it has been for ninety minutes.

is this purgatory? did i go crazy earlier today? a weird grin starts to creep up my face like rancid water creeps up a clean paper towel, and i decide that i need a cigarette. i get one out of my pocket, and a bent book of matches, and i walk to the front door. i prop it open with the doorstop that i hide behind the plastic dieffenbacchia and i stand just outside, feeling the warm air pushing its way out and the cold air wanting in, and watching snow melt as it crosses the threshold. i light my cigarette and neither feel nor taste it. the occasional wisp of smoke slips back into the office, and i know the cameras are catching this. fuck them if they can't take a joke, i think, and i smirk. i'd love to see them fire me for smoking on the clock.

i take another drag.

the snow suddenly starts to fall harder and the wind changes.

the phone rings.

in a swift (you'd think i'd been practicing) series of motions, i flick my cigarette out the door, undo the doorstop and replace it behind the fake dumbcane plant, let the door swing to as i walk back to the desk, and set my surprisingly un-clammy palms flat on the desk on either side of the phone.

it rings a second time.

and a third.

i do the cool trick from payback where you slam your fist down on the end of the phone where the cord attaches and it jumps up off the hook and i catch it in mid-air. never tried it before. never even thought of trying it. i've seriously got to be dreaming, i think. i vomit up the standard spiel into the receiver.

on the other end, my ex-boss's boss says, "we need to talk. can i come by the office now?"

perfectly calm, and through my all-business grin, i say sure, whenever is good for you, sir.

the way i saw it, the money was gone, the business plan apparently allowed for such sloppiness, especially considering the caliber of employees that they were able to find with these dirt cheap wages... there must have been something i was missing though. something obvious that would keep someone like me from just walking off with a whole week's profits.

see you then, sir. click.

so, seventeen minutes later, i'm sitting in one of the somewhat comfortable chairs in the lobby.

actually, wait a minute. fuck that. it's not a lobby, it's the front half of the office. it's twelve feet from where i was sitting when i hung up the phone. all i have to do is glance over the shoulder of the slightly uncomfortable-looking boss-o'-my-ex-boss's shoulder and i can see my carry all behind the counter. the bag that i am still not sure holds my key. the key to west. the escapemobile. the Way Out.

so i'm sitting there, waiting. he's been sitting across from me for two minutes, warming his hands and thinking. he's opened his mouth twice to speak, but has both times gone "hrmm" and shut it again. come on, i'm thinking. let's get it over with. let's go open my bag and call the cops and have it done with. something was wrong with my plan, the camera goes to a remote location, the gig is up, fucking whatever. i'm so tired of your shit. but of course, i have the calm smile on, and my hands are not shaking. not sweating. just resting lightly in an offhand way on the arms of this somewhat comfortable chair.

and then he flicks his eyes at me and smiles a little mischeviously.

"i know you didn't like your boss."

i lift one eyebrow and my smile widens imperceptibly. he raises both of his eyebrows in a "seriously, now" and i shrug slightly, never breaking eye contact. i think he just broke a sweat.

"i know you thought he was incompetent and couldn't do his job worth a shit."

i shrug again, less perceptibly, and lean back heavier into the chair, ready for the accusation that i set him up and took the money, never breaking eye contact.


he waits.

i'm not talking.

he loses his little smirk. he leans forward, hands clasped loosely.

fuck you, i think, you're going to have to say it to my face.

he waits. he scratches his nose. he starts to look exasperated.

i'm not talking.

"so do you want his job or not?"