UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
JARED WARD

Dog Eat Dog

         Sweat made the wrist slippery. His sweat, beading up on his arms and running into his palms. Richard wiped both hands on his Riviera dress pants.

Peter Howson, A Pocket Full Of Poesies

         It was thirty yards to the dumpster at the edge of the lot. He grabbed the limp arm and started the long, slow drag, backing his way off the grass, off the curb, over the pavement. He’d pull the arm towards him ten to twelve inches, let the body sag to the ground, and take a step back before pulling again.

         He bumped into a silver Acura Legend, reset his line. The clothes caught on the ground, once, twice, three times. Just as he developed a rhythm, the shoulder snapped out of joint.

         “Goddammit,” he said.

         The arm slapped when it fell, and Richard walked to the legs. Since it was face down, he had a great view of the dark stain spreading at the ass of the pants.

         “God,” he said. “Dammit.”

         Turning his back to the sight, he hitched an ankle under each arm, doing his best to maintain a distance from the stain and pervasive odor filling his nostrils. Like a plowhorse he dragged the corpse the rest of the way to the dumpster, its face bobbing and bouncing off concrete.

         When he got there, he dropped the ankles and shook his head at the body. “Crazy day, huh?”

         No answer. He scanned the lot, sweating next to a stoic, stiffening corpse.

***

         That morning the alarm barely buzzed before he’d flipped the switch off. It took ten minutes and three tries to decide on attire. His razor tapped the sink between strokes like John Bonham’s hi-hat, his tie needed constant micro-adjustments, and he couldn’t remember chewing one bite of his corn flakes.

         But it was understandable.

         It was, after all, promotion day, and it was down to Donald Pollock and him. For a month since the announcement, it was all he could think about. A move from the main floor cubicle maze to an office with windows. Power to delegate and second row parking. Money. More money. Vacations in Fiji.

         Just the thought made him Google Fiji to find where it was.

         The decision was scheduled for two, and the morning clock slowed to a crawl. Even his usual corned beef and pastrami had been left half-eaten, in good company with an untouched chopped pecan salad.

         Finally the announcement came.

         “Everyone’s attention,” Westmoreland called out, standing near the receptionist desk. It was the most open area on the floor, chairs and a couch lining both walls, funneling visitors towards an interminable stretch of cubicles. “In two minutes, we’ll begin the final promotion procedure.”

         Richard and Donald arrived at once, and gradually the entire staff filtered in. They circled around, bustling but hushed. Westmoreland stood in the center, arms folded over his massive gut. He was front row parking. It was his show, as head of the division, and everyone knew it.

         He looked at the two candidates. “You know how this works. Last man standing gets the office.” Richard took off his jacket and snaked his tie from under his collar. “Any questions?”

         Donald shook his head and rolled his neck, keeping his eyes focused on Richard. Richard looked down, bouncing on the soles of his Park Avenue’s. He remembered how Westmoreland got his position, how he’d ripped off his shirt and nearly smothered Greg Sizemore with his sweaty belly. He shook his head.

         “Alright then, on three,” he said, and Donald sprung at Richard, hands clawing through air.

***

         Richard smoothed over his shirt. “That was a cheap shot, Donald.”

         Donald’s face lay flat on the ground. Richard hooked a hand under each arm, and sat him up against the green metal dumpster. He stood with his hands on his hips, catching his breath. There were tiny bits of glass stuck in the hair. Gravel clinging to the blue pinstriped shirt. He knelt down, picked the glass out and brushed the shirt as clean as he could.

         “Much better,” he said. The silence between them grew long and awkward. Richard stood and cleared his throat.

***

         A white roar erupted in Richard’s head. White like every color banded together. He heard his own breathing, ragged and torn. Heard the screams from his peers. Fingers knotting his shirt, inching for the skin of his throat. But each sound bled into the next. Indistinguishable. United.

         They leveled the front cubicle barrier in seconds, exposing innards of technology and basic office supplies. Flat LCD monitors. Pneumatic adjustable chairs. Organized compartments of paper clips, pens, and beige rubberbands.

         His vision connected with Cheryl from accounting, mother of three in her mid to late forties. In charge of the yearly office retreat, baker of the best brownies ever. She stood on a chair, looking over the top of the throng, screaming, “His eyes, rip his motherfucking eyes out.”

         He was trying. Instead, in the struggle for balance, they ended up veering across the room, tripping each other at the foot of the receptionist desk. He rolled away and scrambled to his feet. Donald grabbed a tower of plastic stackable trays and launched them, invoices and memos swaying to the ground like falling leaves. He flew through the clutter of paper, knocking Richard through another divider and pinning him to the floor.

         Richard groaned, providing the perfect target for the unseen weapon. It was a flawless strike, slipping past his teeth and clamping his cheek with a single hole punch.

         Click.

         It sounded like it came from inside his head. Instinctively, he snagged Donald’s hand before it tore off the side of his face.

         His right hand flailed beside him, searching for anything useful. He came down on a push-pin stuck in the steamrolled divider, the one tacking up a picture of Rodney’s shovelnose sturgeon he caught in Wyoming. He jammed it into the hollow of Donald’s left clavicle, Rodney’s proud smile and huge fish staring up at him.

         Donald reached for the thorn in his collarbone. Richard bucked him off and stumbled away, falling into John from IT. Blood from his cheek splattered John’s face, who pushed him back to the center, shaking his fists in Richard’s face.

         Richard turned to face Donald, hole punch dangling from his cheek.

***

         He kicked the corpse, tasting blood in his mouth, and spit on it. “That hurt, motherfucker,” he said. His pulse still throbbed in his mouth, the hole already swollen and clotting.

         Walking back where he started the dragging, he picked up the dustpan and broom from the grass. Glass was splashed all over the concrete.

         A voice from above yelled fore.

         He looked up. A hole gaped from the fourth floor, a broken tooth amidst the mirrored reflection of the Re-D Box home office, where boxing’s our business. Out of the hole flew a dark wadded blur, falling like a suicide at peace, landing a few feet away.

         Donald’s jacket.

         He started sweeping, a tinkling scrape of glass on asphalt.

***

         It had taken both hands to pry open the hole punch. As it came off, Donald rammed him, shoulder to gut, crushing him against the door of Milton Westphal’s office. It buckled under the force, Philips-head screws splintering the composite wood frame at the latch.

         They careened into the office. Donald had Richard’s shirt and throat, slamming him into the wall. He saw the sky, shaded by mirrored windows, then black as his eyes closed. Donald grunted in rhythm as he was pulled away, smashed. Pulled away. Smashed.

         He began to go limp, and Donald flung him face down on the desk. Something wedged under his right nipple and he reached down, his hand closing around a red Swingline stapler. His thumb triggered the lever as Donald was flipping him over.

         In one motion, Richard swung the Swingline, and popped Donald square in the temple. Donald dropped to a knee, clutching his head where the OfficeMax No. 10 had punctured the skin.

         Richard swung again, stapling Donald’s baby blue pinstripes to his shoulder blade. Again and again, until a patch of metal stitches fastened the wound.

         With one last surge, Donald sprung forward. Richard caught him, spun, and torpedoed him through the glass, hands and legs flailing all the way to the ground.

         On the main floor of flattened cubicles, Westmoreland waited, hands resting on the belly of doom.

         “Congratulations to Mr. James, our new Logistics VP,” he said. Congratulatory shouts echoed. “But first…” he paused, motioning left.

         The day janitor slipped through the crowd, carrying a broom in one hand, a dustpan in the other.

         “When the mess out there is gone, the job is yours,” said Westmoreland. “Everyone else, let’s get this place clean. Budget meeting in thirty.”

***

         He dropped the jacket near Donald, trashed the remnants of window, and set the broom and dustpan aside. Flies landed and re-landed on pools of blood going black in the afternoon sun.

         A bulge in the jacket caught his attention. He reached into the pocket, pulled out a hard pack of Camel Lights with a lighter inside. He smiled and lit one.

         Leaning back, he spotted Donald’s good eye wide open. Watching. The other side of his face was ground chuck from the fall and the drag to the dumpster.

         “The hell you looking at?” he asked. Donald kept staring. “Fine,” he said. “You win.”

         He pulled the cigarette out of his mouth, leaned over and stuck it between Donald’s lips on his good half. It dangled and held, a thin wisp of smoke curling away.

         Lighting another, he leaned back again, closing his eyes and turning his face to the sun. It reminded him of being a kid.

         He laughed.

         Donald just stared, a quarter inch of ash limp-dicking down.

         “Sorry,” he said. “Just thinking.” He dragged in and blew out. “Hey, Donald, you ever pretend play as a kid?”

         Donald said nothing.

         Richard laughed again. “I did all the time. Summers. Playing Super Friends and shit. I’d always be the good guy, whipping bad guy’s and getting with Wonder Woman or the hot little Wonder Twin.”

         He picked up the broom. “Should’ve seen me.” Unscrewing the head of plastic bristles, he gripped the handle and swung through the air. “I had skills, Donald, serious skills,” he said.

         The dangling cigarette fell at last, and Richard tossed his to the side. “What, don’t believe me?”

         He swung at the air, ducking and dodging unseen combatants. Crouching down, he slipped next to the dumpster, then leapt out and cracked Donald’s head to the side.

         “I got moves, Donnie-boy,” he said, whirling into a smack, knocking the jaw off its hinge. The beating continued, ribs and cheekbones snapping, hands crunching as he stomped each palm into the pavement, femur firecracking under a two-legged cannonball.

         With a flourish, he brought the tip of the handle to the motionless adam’s apple.

         “Yield?” Richard lifted the chin with the handle, yelling, “Do you yield?”

         “James,” he heard from behind, “what the hell are you doing?”

         He turned to face Westmoreland and a crew of VP’s. The handle rattled on concrete. He wiped sweat from his face. “Just finishing,” he said.

         Westmoreland smirked. “Well hurry up, we’re headed to Starbucks.” The group turned away, and he heard Westmoreland snort. “Newbie.”

         “Yes sir, right behind you,” he said. He turned back to Donald, still slumped on the ground. “See what you did?”

         He tossed the broom, dustpan, and jacket into the dumpster, then leaned over to Donald. “Your turn,” he said, and caught hold of the armpits. The dead weight flopped over him. Donald’s face mashed against his, and he inched his shoulder down to the stomach.

         Thrusting upward, he flung Donald toward the lip of the dumpster, catching it just beneath the shoulder blades. His body shook as he fought for balance, his face firmly planted in the dead man’s crotch, one arm clutching a leg, the other shoving against the loaded ass of the pants.

         He pushed, using his face for leverage, until Donald fell in, one leg sticking out. Richard gave it a half-hearted swat, then let it hang.

         Donald’s scent clung to him, but when his breath returned he smiled anyway.

         “New Logistics VP,” he said, and raised his arms.

         He patted Donald’s foot, shut the lid, and headed off for a victory White Chocolate Mocha.

Jared Ward has had work accepted at West Wind Review, Evansville Review, New Delta Review, The Dos Passos Review, Zone 3, Hobart, and others.







© 2008 Underground Voices