Letters and symbols vibrated on the screen—C# programming conditions that barely made sense to him anymore. Blinking, he tried to halt their rebellious dance, but each moment of blissful darkness brought Mel that much closer to involuntary shutdown. He’d never gone twenty-two hours straight before, nor beyond a ninety-hour work week, but here he was.
The clock in the lower corner reminded him that this sleep-deprived torture was far from over. 6:58AM. Brad’s Lexus would be parking across two visitor spaces out front by now. His entrance was always a whirlwind of douche-baggery.
Moments later, the boss stormed off the elevator, his briefcase swinging wildly as his heavy footfalls stopped at Sheryl’s desk. She looked up at him with half-squinted eyes, as if anticipating the full force of Brad’s backhand. Sheryl was new, only employed since the second quarter began, but she’d been around long enough to experience the worst. He must have something on her too, Mel thought as he peeked over the low cubical wall, otherwise why would she put up with this?
“Good morning, Sir,” she said.
“Don’t just sit there on your fat ass like you’re at home surfing Pinterest for your recipe wishlist, get me the latest shareholder’s report, the morning paper, and the status report for the Streamline project.”
Brad’s verbal barrage didn’t stop there. His demands and insults continued as he marched down the hall to his office, stopping for a moment as he reached his desk. He flopped the briefcase down, shaking the glass walls surrounding him, and sighed in a dramatic exhale. “For fuck’s sake, Sheryl. Where’s my double-espresso latte? You know I need it ready by 7AM.”
With an expletive of her own, she hurried off to the break room to fulfill his request.
Mel kept his head down, preparing himself for the inevitable summoning.
“Code-monkey,” Brad shouted. “Get in here.”
Mel rubbed his face in a brisk motion—trying to wipe the stress away—before shuffling into his bosses’ office. After squeezing into the chair Brad was crowding from his perch atop the desk, Mel stared down at his hands. Despite feeling cold and numb, as they usually did after long bouts of typing, they were sweating. Mel tucked his hands under his thighs for warmth just as Brad opened the discussion.
“How much farther did you get last night?”
“I scripted most of the control statements and I’m close to completing a prototype shell of the app, but as I said before we have to confirm the core attributes before—”
“We talked about this, Mel,” Brad said, tossing his hands. “Just get it done, we’re on a tight deadline.”
“I understand that, Sir. But, we cannot guarantee anything without—”
“Whoa! What the fuck, Mel? Don’t ever mention guarantees; they lead to lawsuits.” Brad punctuated his command with a sharp slap to the back of Mel’s skull.
The strike froze him for a moment; shoulders raised, eyes squinted, mouth half-agape in mid-syllable. Then Mel reset his posture with slow resignation—funneling all his frustration into a moment of gritted teeth that his dentist would surely complain about at his next appointment.
Unsheathing his hands, he offered them up in placation, hoping to dampen his boss’s fuse as he explained further. “Sorry, Sir. I hear what you’re saying, but without defining all the client specifics like intended application interaction or even required platform compatibility, we’re setting ourselves up for massive revisions. If I could only have a conversation directly with the client, I think—”
“No!” Brad shouted at him, thrusting a finger in his face. “Leave the thinking to me. I manage the clients. You do the programming. Got it?”
Sheryl bustled into the room and, with great care, placed a large cup of coffee on Brad’s desk behind them.
Brad turned and stared her down, annoyed eyes screaming about her ill-timed entrance. Taking his meaning, Sheryl slunk out of the room, visually cringing from the attention, but not before exchanging a quick glance of understanding with Mel.
Maintaining his ocular assault, Brad picked up the tall cup and sipped.
“Sheryl, dear?” he called after her.
“This is liquid-shit and you’re fired.” Despite Brad’s calm, Mel winced at the statement. Sheryl was a nice, intelligent woman. She didn’t deserve to be fired over coffee, let alone catering to mundane requests in the first place. The change of job might benefit her in the end, but it would still hurt. Sheryl had two daughters to care for and this salary was her only means of putting food in their fridge.
Sheryl’s mouth fell open, and before she turned away, Mel saw tears already streaming from her eyes. He clenched his fists. His cold fingers now pulsed with a swollen heat, the same sensation that stoked his gut with a churning energy.
“Mel,” Brad cooed, feigning compassion while he perched on the edge of his desk. “The project scope isn’t going to change until we show the prototype and we don’t have the budget for extensive revisions, so get it done and do it right the first time… am I understood?”
Mel seethed in silence—a furious bouncing of the right leg, white knuckled fists, and longer, deeper breathing.
“I needn’t remind you that my father owns Maven Digital Media. Your poor mother’s position might be eliminated if suggestions are made for leaner operations.”
The sound of Brad’s voice seemed distant behind the maddening rush of blood pulsing through Mel’s body. Accelerated breaths pressured out his nose like a show-prepped bull in Madrid’s main arena.
“Oh, and I talked to the client on the way in this morning.” Brad continued, leaning closer. “Due to competitive market pressures, I had to shorten the deadline by another week to keep them happy.”
Mel’s jaw cried out, threatening to strain muscles or chip teeth. The voice in the room was nearly washed out by the white-hot torrent surging through his mind. A rising growl started to form in his throat.
“…don’t care if you sleep under your desk, you’re going to—”
“Shut up!” Mel screamed, releasing the words at full volume. They reverberated off the office walls as Brad fell silent in their wake.
His boss phased through multiple emotions in a matter of seconds: from clenched anger, to confusion and finally landing on pale disbelief.
Mel watched him. What was he doing? Where was the predictable backlash?
Still emboldened from his rage, Mel prodded. “Well?”
His boss remained silent. Beads of sweat formed across his brow above an expression that Mel had never seen from him before. Still, no reply.
“Say something!” Mel conceded.
“Ghw-wha da fuck did you do to me?” Brad touched his throat and sucked air as if someone had been choking him.
“I couldn’t talk.” Brad explained, fumbling the words between breaths. “I—I tried but nothing came out. You did something to me. Did you poison my coffee?!”
Mel, more frustrated and confused than anything else, splayed his fingers incredulously.
“What? I didn’t do anything to you. I just told you to shut… up.” As the words fell from his mouth, a crazy, sleep-deprived thought popped into his head. No sane person would ever consider it to be possible, but sanity was a foreign state on days like this, in work environments like this.
Mel needed to know. Brad was still complaining, when Mel spoke again.
“Brad, be quiet please.” He said causally, barely audible over his boss’s ramblings—ramblings that suddenly halted.
Mel’s eyes popped wide. So did Brad’s.
“Grab your index finger in one hand,” Mel said, dishing an order that would irrefutably prove his illogical theory, “…and break it!”
His boss’s eyes somehow opened even wider as his right hand clasped his left index finger. While frantically shaking his head against his own actions, Brad bent his finger backward until there was an audible snap. A muffled cry leaked out of his sealed lips.
Mel shot to his feet—his chair toppling over backward—and clutched his head with both hands, as if to keep his mind contained; to keep it from exploding. “What the fuck?”
Hearing the commotion, Sheryl rushed into the office, still holding a box of her personal effects. Her gaze of confusion shifted back and forth between the men.
Mel turned to her, “Wait there… you gotta hear this.”
She didn’t budge.
“Brad,” Mel said firmly. “Pick up your coffee and pour it on your head.
He did. Again, he cried out a muffled whimper of pain. His soaked shirt steamed.
Sheryl’s mouth fell open.
It was a smile that told of much more than humor. It was wider than normal and yet still concealed his teeth. It reeked more of foreshadowed mischief than of satisfaction. It was a smile that would make others uneasy, but Sheryl, in this odd moment in time, found it comforting.
“Brad, apologize to Sheryl. Rescind her termination and offer her a fifty percent raise.”
He did, despite an expression of great struggle—words sloppy from forced syllables. His complexion reddening as veins bulged in his neck and forehead.
She accepted with a nervous laugh.
“It’s okay.” Mel said to her. “It’s true. Go ahead and unpack your things.”
She left the room with a smile on her face.
“Now. Here’s how it’s going to go,” Mel instructed.
“You’re going to forget my mother completely. You’re going to hire at least two more programmers to work under my management. You’re going to give me a fifty percent raise and you’re going to allow me to communicate directly with clients during project planning. Oh, and you’re going to stay out of my business. Got it?”
Brad nodded with such force that he might have earned a mild concussion.
“Oh, and if you deviate from my wishes at any time,” Mel said, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll tell you to slit your own throat.
“And, just so you don’t think I’m bluffing… break another finger.”
Brad did as he was told.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.