Bill stood looking out his window at the dark storm clouds. His fingertips tapped the top of his putter, and he stared longingly at the practice green nestled between the executive buildings in the Ballantyne office complex. Sheets of rain poured from the skies. With a scowl, he slipped his putter back into his golf bag and returned to his desk. The glow of the computer screen reflected off his blue eyes inside the dark office.
He checked his sent messages to confirm his email to the home office in London went as expected. The file sat there with a local timestamp of nine a.m. It was now two pm, and his bosses in the U.K. would all be on their way home. Bill scowled. No new messages had arrived.
He leaned back in his chair and put his feet on his desk. He looked up at the ceiling, “Why?”
His feet hit the floor with a thud. Bill stood, walked back over to the window, and tap mindlessly against the cold steel frame. Rain blew against the glass from a gust of wind. He turned towards the doorway, took two steps, and stopped himself. Bill returned to his desk and buried his head in his hands.
“Anything I can do?”
At the sound of his administrator, Bill looked up and shielded his eyes from a flood of fluorescent light.
He squinted and waved her over, “Carol, close the door and have a seat. I need some advice.”
Without saying a word, Carol closed his door and glided along the floor in her four-inch stilettos. Bill admired her dark, firm legs. She had the physique of a runner. Her black eyes met his for a moment. He looked down at his desk.
She sat down and said, “You don’t want my advice.”
“I know this is about Lori.”
His eyes widened. “Oh, you’ve heard?”
Carol gave a quick wave of her hand, “I’m your administrator. Nothing gets past me; that’s my job.”
Bill crossed his arms, “Alright, give it to me. What are you thinking?”
“I think you’re a damn fool.”
Bill rested his elbows on his desk and leaned closer to Carol, “I’m sorry, what?”
Carol leaned in towards Bill until their faces were inches from one another. “You heard me. What were you thinking? Dating a subordinate and then getting her knocked up?”
Bill flopped back in his chair, “It isn’t like that. Besides, who said she’s pregnant?”
“Please, women know these things. She’s been glowing for weeks, and I don’t mean because of her makeup.”
Bill cleared his throat, “Who said it’s my kid? I mean, assuming she’s pregnant.”
Carol let out a sarcastic laugh. “I’m sorry, Chief. I see how she looks at you. It’s obvious.”
“Does anyone else suspect?”
Carol shrugged, “Just the gossip crowd. I told them they should keep their thoughts to themselves, but you know how much good that does.”
Bill nodded, stood, and started to pace.
He asked, “Have you heard from the home office today?”
He walked over and leaned against the window pane. “If they went to you instead of me, it can’t be good.”
“I’m not sure what it is.”
“Well, give it to me,” responded Bill.
“I got a cryptic email saying they would be sending a man over to meet with you personally about personnel options.”
Bill sighed and was quiet for a moment.
Carol said, “That doesn’t mean you’re fired.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I planned for this.”
“Is that why you bought that little shack in Stallings?”
Bill answered, “It’s hardly a shack. That real estate is in a prime location and a great investment. Besides, three bedrooms are plenty for a couple starting out.”
Carol pointed at Bill’s chair, “Have a seat.”
Bill walked over and sat down.
Carol asked, “We’re friends, right?”
“The closest of friends.”
“Good. I need to talk to you as your friend.”
Carol continued, “I don’t like what Lori has done to you. First, you sell off your condo in uptown Charlotte.”
Bill interrupted, “Uptown isn’t what it used to be.”
“Granted, but there’s more. This sudden move to the suburbs among the working class instead of one of Ballantyne’s nicer neighborhoods. I feel like she’s lowering your bar, not raising it.”
Bill cleared his throat. “It’s like this. I assumed I could lose my job. When you tell your boss that you’ll quit if they fire your fiancée, you don’t really have a bargaining position. We wanted an inexpensive property we could afford and would do well when we sell it later.”
Carol asked, “What will you do if they fire you?”
“I’m thinking of day trading. After all, I’ve made other people rich. Why not take my savings and help myself?”
Carol ran her finger down her partially exposed thigh. “I just feel like you could have done better.”
Bill raised his eyebrows, “I never thought of you as the jealous type.”
Carol’s eyes grew wide, and her jawline tightened. “If I wanted you, I would already have you. I, for one, don’t think you should sleep with your boss. At least, not as long as he is your boss.”
Bill leaned back in his chair, quiet for a moment. “It wasn’t like that. You make her sound cheap. I pursued her.”
“Oh, so she was the most attractive woman in the office?” asked Carol sarcastically.
Bill stammered, “No, I mean, well, yes. I’m not sure. Look, you made it clear, hands-off.”
Carol nodded a couple of times as she smiled. “I see. So, you were trawling for women at the job like the gossipers say.”
Bill looked up at the ceiling, “Why?” He looked back at Carol, “Look, I’ve never had a family. Family means more than money or anything else to me.”
“You’re a successful investor. Women aren’t a problem.”
“I don’t want women; I want a wife. I want someone who will be my partner, and maybe someday we’ll have kids of our own and raise them together. I realize that sounds a little strange in this place, but you should try growing up as an orphan. Families are more valuable than gold.”
Carol answered, “So, you couldn’t go to church like every other single man and woman and find you a decent spouse?”
Bill looked down, “I haven’t been to church since I left the orphanage. God hasn’t seemed interested in my life. I prayed for a family day and night. I believed God would give me one. Isn’t that what they teach? Faith like a mustard seed or a little child. Well, I had that and more. Still, nobody ever adopted me. Adam, the administrator, said my birth mother wouldn’t allow it, but if there was a God, it seemed to me that’s a small detail. If he couldn’t find me a family, how can he possibly find me a wife? No, the church isn’t for me, thanks.”
Carol stood, “Alright, family man. I don’t know who the office is sending, but I wish you luck. Whether you stay or go, I’ll always have your back, and we’re friends forever.”
Bill stood and quickly made his way around his desk. He gave Carol a long hug. Coconut and vanilla filled his nostrils, and before he could stop himself, he nestled his face into her neck. They stood for several seconds, and Carol finally pushed him back.
“Take it easy, family man. Your future wife may disapprove if she walks in.”
Bill protested, “It’s just a hug.”
“I know, but you have to start thinking about what Lori sees when we’re talking together.”
Bill pushed his hands through his thick, black wavy hair. Carol opened the door. She gasped, staggered backward, and collapsed on the floor. Bill rushed to the doorway. A man dressed in black with a black ski mask shoved his rifle butt into Bill’s diaphragm without saying a word. Bill fell to his knees, gasping.
His eyes blurred, and he attempted to lift his head and focus. Another man clad in black stood by Lori in her cubicle down the row from his office, and two more men appeared to be guarding the front entrance.
The stranger next to Lori spoke with a British accent, “Are you the bloke in charge?”
Bill’s forearms tingled, and soon his entire body felt like he had stuck his finger in a light socket. Muscles tightened, and vibrated. His vision went black, and a bright light appeared.
An unseen voice whispered, “Protect the village.”
The office came into view.
The assailant beside him hit Bill in the head with his rifle barrel and ordered, “Answer the man.”
The sharp pain instantly turned into the most pleasurable feeling Bill had ever felt. Bill grabbed the rifle barrel and growled, “Do it again.”