Destiny ran the damn place.
She was the thieving Christian lady who had managed the school office for the last fifteen years up on the hill at Watertown High. She didn’t have to steal, she just had a peculiar need that couldn’t be sated by the usual rate of honest human exchange.
Though her office window was filled by a postcard view of the blue lake and rolling mountains, it didn’t feed her huger. Destiny craved slyness and misdirection, with a nice helping of vengeance. Her salary was plenty for someone of her position and lack of formal education, but she wanted more. A bunch more.
Destiny needed lots of things. Not for any good reason like clothes for kids or safe tires for the car. No… she just liked having nice things.
She hoped it made family and friends feel less than her. Destiny used to feel “less than” till she figured out a way to get more stuff, to feel the rush of hoarding worthless possessions, piles and piles of twisted coup d'état. But mostly, by stealing from the school, she felt a rush of power over those who thought they were so damn superior. By taking some of their pile and not getting caught, she felt it proved just who was smarter than whom.
Destiny and the school custodian had a pretty good side business stealing and selling cleaning supplies. He would casually roll in with his cart hauling jugs of bright green cleaner, boxes of industrial strength trash bags and purple rubber gloves. The warehouse shipped out lots of wrong orders, so no one would miss a few things, now and then.
“Afternoon, Miss Destiny,” he said.
“Afternoon, Lamar. How you doing?” Destiny said.
“Just fine,” he said as he unloaded the cart behind her desk so no one could see it from the hall doorway. He pulled a clean rag from his back pocket and swiped at dust on the shelf.
“Well, that’s good,” said Destiny, as she shoved the stolen goods with the toe of her size 5 ½ pumps into nooks and crannies till she could get to them later. Her efforts twisted her swivel chair to face the low bookcase behind her desk where she kept her Thermos of coffee, generously doctored with Cutty Sark to round the edges of her tedious days.
She poured herself a cup, spun back to face paperwork and overshot the desk. Her toes barely reached the floor even with the adjustable chair in the lowest position. She pulled herself back around by the edge of the desk to settle into a little work.
Tipsy from several refills, she swerved and a dollop of coffee did a swan dive onto her report. She lifted the paper and tilted and swirled the brown liquid into a kind of Rorschach blot.
“Shoot,” she said. “Sara’s gonna have to start this all over.” She smiled.
Destiny would take one item at a time and hide it away in the spacious file drawer labeled ‘W’ that held just three files for Warren, Whitley, and the Wolfgang twins. There’d been a bunch of Williams, but they’d up and moved back to Georgia years ago, clearing a good seven inches of room, enough space for a dozen boxes of rubber gloves.
Then there was the blessing of the completely empty metal bin of “XY&Z”.
Not one student in the school had a last name beyond “W”. It was a big drawer. A small child could easily hide there. It was perfect. No honest person had reason to look there. Ever.
Sara, well over sixty with no thoughts of retiring, watched Destiny like a relentless Cold War veteran. Every move counted when collecting information on her enemy. It was all espionage. Nothing escaped her meticulous watch. Sara kept score. Everyday, she took a tally of Destiny’s personal phone calls, missing office supplies, even the pens in Destiny’s desk cup that had once been her own, especially the nice ones. But Destiny was the boss now, so Sara didn’t say a word. Not to Destiny.
She noticed Destiny would act perturbed that the jugs of cleaner were underfoot and would get up, grunting as she slammed items into the metal file bin as if solving a problem of office space. She’d lock it tight with the key she kept on a green ribbon and slip it back down the front of her top like it was Fort Knox. Destiny went about this like it was official business, but it wasn’t. It was killing Sara not to say it.
“I’m telling you,” Sara said to Jenny, “she’s stealing.”
Jenny, sitting at the folding table she used as a desk, turned off the video camera on her phone. She liked to shoot little scenes around the office for her Becoming a Web Master online class so she could practice her editing skills. Sara was her usual subject because, well... she was right there. Sara had taken to making lunch a dramatic visual affair. She wore more lipstick, flashy outfits, and her hair was perfect. She had a good sense of dynamic props.
Jenny didn’t want to talk about their boss again. Jenny had been the “new girl” for almost five years and needed the job until she started her own website design business.
“Maybe someone gave her permission,” said Jenny.
Sara picked up an apple and started to peel it. Jenny couldn’t help herself. She turned her camera back on to capture Sara’s performance. She could edit out the sound and add a musical soundtrack later, maybe something upbeat.
“No goddamn way,” said Sara.
She and Jenny were having lunch at their desks as usual. The same every day, except on Thursdays when they went out just to feel like there was a world still out there with people who did not have to do what the hell Destiny wanted. Every Thursday, Destiny always had to run to the bank and wouldn’t be back for a full hour.
“She’s up to something.” Sara turned the little apple in her hands, her nails redder than its skin. She flayed off the fiber and vitamins in one long curly strip with the sharp little paring knife she kept in her desk.
“I know she’s selling that stuff on the side,” said Sara, holding up the peel and admiring its bounce. Jenny held the shot for ten seconds, and gave her a nod of approval.
“That big black shoulder bag she hauls around is real leather.” She peered over her glasses. “It’s a three payment item,” she said. “Pricey, I saw it on QVC.”
“Maybe she’s taking it to her church,” said Jenny. “Like a donation.” She put down the camera phone. Jenny was a devout Catholic, optimistic and voluntarily dense.
Jenny was preparing for her citizenship test and it was safer to stay clear of controversial topics in case government officials asked co-workers about her politics.
She grew up in Cuba and floated to Key West on a raft of old tires with her mother and uncle, after he shared his thoughts in a rebellious rant against Castro.
So, Jenny kept her mouth shut. Most days she read over her worn copy of I Am America study guide while she ate cold black bean soup, listening as Sara schooled her on the culture of overworked and underpaid women. Like Jenny didn’t know.
“Like hell.” Sara sliced off a thin piece of the crisp apple and snapped it between her teeth. “Destiny’s all about Destiny. I’ve heard her poor mouth to members of her church group, on the phone at work, about her sick husband. The lazy bastard hasn’t struck a lick at a snake in years since he got on the disability.”
Jenny had no idea what she meant about the snakes. English is a messy language, and Sara was native to this small town with its mix of rocket scientists and cotton farmers. She had a unique cache of metaphors, so Jenny learned she just had to nod to hurry the stories along.
“But Sara, his back is injured terribly,” said Jenny. “He walks all crumpled over.” To illustrate, she curled her body forward and pushed her head down towards her shoulders.
“Well, I hear he can bend over pretty good on bowling nights.” Sara gave Jenny a look over her glasses that meant that wasn’t the worst of it. “Even my coffee isn’t good enough for her. Whatever’s in that Thermos of hers seems to have her mighty relaxed by the end of the day,” Sara said. She huffed and shook her head. “Poor old thing. Shameful.”
She flipped the perfect apple peel and its naked core into the trash.
Jenny laughed and spit soup across her desk full of paper files of graduating seniors. She was transferring the records to the new computer, but now with all the bean spray smeared across the test scores spread sheets, it was anyone’s guess who was going on to a good university, community college or headed for nothing. She looked around, peering through the glass partition into the next room that housed the half wall maze of pathetic desk space for the teachers to do their grading and prep work.
The school counselor glanced up like she knew something.
“Sara, shhhh! What if someone hears you?” said Jenny, wiping bean soup.
“Hears me? Since they hired Destiny, no one’s listened to a damn thing I’ve had to say about it. Sherlock Holmes couldn’t crack this case. They’ve all turned a blind eye to it. They’re scared to death they’ll get sued again by that one,” said Sara. She flashed her eyes in the general direction of Destiny’s desk. “Sexual harassment my butt. Hal Thompson didn’t go for girls.”
Jenny didn’t want to hear about it.
“God sees what she does, you just need to trust,” said Jenny. “Have faith, Sara.”
Sara gave her a steady gaze. “What I need is proof and what I have is a plan.”
Sara sat at her kitchenette counter while the coffee brewed and gurgled as the sun began to lighten the sky. The studio apartment was plenty big enough for living alone, the picture window helped it feel bigger. Sara just wished it didn’t face the town cemetery.
The box from The Spy Store over in Huntsville sat in front of her. It seemed so tiny to hold a technological miracle. With tax and the gas it took to drive round-trip, she’d spent over a hundred dollars. Sara was sure it was worth a future without Destiny.
The I Spy pen could be set to start at a certain time or adjusted to record when tripped by sound or motion. It didn’t look like anything special, just the average pen people steal in every office in the world every damn day. A little thicker through the middle of its plain black body to conceal the camera and audio device that recorded up to twenty hours in life-like digital HD.
Sara got out the little booklet and found instructions she could read after the disorienting gauntlet of Spanish, German, Japanese and she thought, maybe French.
“Well, good Lord! How’s a regular person supposed to use this thing with all this rigamarole!” said Sara. She decided it might be a good idea to have a record of her intent. She read the English directions, then she picked up the pen.
She pushed the secret button twice to start, and twisted the pen cap a slight turn. A tiny red light flashed briefly on the end of the pen cap.
“This is Sara Roberts and I just want to do the right thing and let everybody know who’s been stealing what from the school supplies,” she said. “I think it’s important to know the truth so no innocent, hard working people get the blame for another’s lazy work ethic and thievery. This will prove what’s going home with one of the school’s oldest and most trusted employees.”
She hit the button again, once, to stop recording and twisted the cap back to “off”.
Now, if the damn thing worked, it was on record that she was the higher-minded person here, even though she didn’t go to church anymore. She’d learned her lesson about God-fearing women like Destiny.
“If a woman has to tell you more than once that she’s a good Christian, you best put one hand on your husband and the other on your pocketbook,” Sara told her Cozy Mysteries book club after the divorce. “Chances are good she’s after both.”
After that, her best friend from the ladies’ choir did not return to their book club.
Sara set the I Spy pen to start recording just after five in the afternoon when she and everyone else left for the day. Destiny always stayed till five-thirty to lock up.
“I guess you could say hauling stolen supplies to your car is tidying up,” Sara said as she punched in the numbers on the timer. She put the cap on the end of the pen, twisted it slightly and a tiny red light on its top flashed a few seconds to indicate all was set.
She went to her sewing cabinet and pulled out her hot glue gun and assorted shiny rhinestones in pinks and purple. In less than five minutes, she had bedazzled the hell out of the cap of the pen.
Sara held the pen and turned it over and over in her hand. It looked harmless enough, but a little masculine. She went to her sewing cabinet and pulled out her hot glue gun and assorted shiny rhinestones in pinks and purple. In less than five minutes, she had bedazzled the hell out of the cap of the pen. When the light flashed now, it would hardly be noticed.
“That should do it.”
She grabbed her keys out of the bowl, wrapped a lighter-than-air chiffon scarf around her neck and stepped out onto the porch into the late spring sun. It was a gorgeous day. Everything was yellow, her favorite color.
Around three o’clock, Jenny put down her last stack of files before an afternoon break. She motioned to Sara she was going outside for a smoke. Sara glanced over and saw Destiny wrapping up a call. She knew all Destiny’s body language for every occasion from her twirling her hair if she was charming someone, afternoon drowsy eyes from too much Scotched-up coffee, to the rhythmic nodding when she was trying to get off the phone.
Her head was nodding like a metronome.
For over fifteen years Sara had sat at her own desk involuntarily memorizing all of Destiny’s habits. It started when Sara’s old boss, Mr. Hal Thompson, hired Destiny to help out with typing and filing, basically the job Jenny had now. Without Sara, he would have been lost.
Sara scheduled his lunches, kept up with rule changes and wrote excuses for his canceled meetings. Sara had worked closely with Mr. Thompson for nearly twenty years when he took an overdue retirement. She was the natural successor to his office managerial chair, but Destiny pulled it out from under her.
Destiny was always half-assed at her little job and Sara spent many a late afternoon fixing her mistakes caused by, frankly, pure laziness. Destiny was more interested in gossiping with the teachers and sitting on the edge of Mr. Thompson’s desk and whispering what Sara was sure were off-colored jokes. He always looked uncomfortable, kept adjusting his clip-on bow tie.
But that was okay.
Sara had been certain that her time as boss was coming and she could whip this place into the more efficient machine she knew it could be. She’d sat at her desk and daydreamed about rearranging the room, bringing in live plants instead of Destiny’s sagging, plastic ficus plant in a the green brass pot that was too small and the whole deal kept tipping over in the corner. And no question about it, she’d replace the overhead fluorescents with a calm, amber glow of soft white shaded desk lamps. It would be so comfortable, cozy.
But the first thing she’d do, she had told herself, was fire Destiny.
Now that was a long time ago.
Impatient to set her trap, Sara waved Jenny off to the smoking alley, shuffled papers, and wagged the bejeweled I Spy pen between her fingers. Destiny hung up the phone. She reached for her cup, fumbled it and spilled cold coffee all over her notepad full of doodles.
“Well, damn it!” Destiny said. She picked up the soaked note pad and dropped it in the trash. “We need to get the new test results to the superintendent’s office before the end of the week. Double check Jenny’s files, be sure all the numbers add up, if you know what I mean.”
Destiny gave a little conspiratorial laugh. Sara knew exactly what Destiny meant, and she didn’t like it. These new testing scores and grade averages were not about education and helping children get a good start in life. No. They were about the distribution of funds and who got money for what in the coming year. Destiny got a regular bonus check in her mailbox.
“Hon, I know,” said Sara. She also knew that this was Destiny’s way of forcing her to do some menial work that was clearly beneath her experience and job duties. It was a sneaky put-down that Destiny loved to visit on her with regularity. And it meant altering grade scores.
If she could, Sara would just tell Destiny to go to Hell, quit, and go sit at O’Charley’s all afternoon and drink cold, white wine by the glass. But there was her age, being decidedly single and all those bills left behind from her ex-husband’s fall into decadence. She didn’t want a new job, but Sara had to work… so she had to get rid of Destiny.
Elbows on her desk, Sara held the pen in her left hand, closest to her boss, and leaned her cheek against her tight little fist and sighed.
“Let me make you a cup of strong coffee,” she said. “I got your favorite donuts,” she said. “You know, bite-size with the almond-maple icing.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet, but there’s still coffee in my Thermos.”
“Nonsense. It’s got to be bitter by now. You deserve a treat.”
Destiny eyed her suspiciously as Sara hopped up and practically skipped over to the coffee pot beside the file cabinet. She was still holding the gaudy pen. She turned around and put it on Destiny’s desk.
“Can’t juggle all this with that in my hand!” Sara said. She turned back to the coffee. Sara was pretty sure she had placed the I Spy pen in direct eye line to the file cabinet so anyone putting anything in or getting anything out, would be on camera. She meant to be so busy with the coffee that she’d convincingly forget it when she went back to her desk.
At first, Destiny thought the spangled pen was something she’d like to keep, but another look curbed her impulse. Destiny frowned. The pen looked like someone had spent a lost weekend in Vegas. It was a messy appliqué job, too clunky. Tacky. She looked closer while Sara clattered the dishes. Something about it looked familiar.
Sara picked up a paper napkin and plucked a little donut out of the box.
It looked delicious. No way in this world was she going to eat anything like this in front of anyone. It would mean she was off her new diet again. Sara would love that.
It was annoying that she couldn’t just fire Sara, but the woman did her job so damn well, Destiny had no good legal way to let her go. Human Resources people were such a pain.
Destiny knew Sara would always see her as undeserving of the job as office manger, she’d made that clear. Every day. It soured Destiny’s authority at times. A boss should be able to get rid of whomever they pleased, but it had to be clean, no questions asked. So Destiny made nice till she could find a way. Or blackmail some loser in the school district’s HR office.
Sara poured fresh coffee into the dainty white cup. She slipped the matching, delicate saucer beneath it. She thought if Destiny drank out of a mug like regular folks, she wouldn’t slosh so much around the office with that fancy, low-slung china cup. She added the fresh little donut.
“There you go, it’ll give you a pick-me-up,” Sara said.
“You’re too good to me.” Destiny picked up the cup and pushed the saucer and donut to the side like she didn’t want it. Sara noticed.
“Well, you deserve it,” said Sara. She started back to her desk.
“Don’t forget your cute pen,” Destiny pushed it with the back of her polished nails.
“Keep it, I’ve got so many pens…”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t. It looks really special. Did you make it?”
She made the couple of steps back and grabbed up the pen. She stuffed it into a side pocket of Destiny’s purse slouched on a chair near the file cabinet and twisted the pen so the lens was clear. She clapped her hands together.
“It’s a gift. I’ll make more to sell for a little splurge money on the trip with my mystery club. We’re going to England to visit Agatha Christie’s hometown. On my little salary, it’s tough.” Sara smiled sweetly and strolled back to her desk all casual and calm.
“Wasn’t she that lesbian tennis player?” Destiny said.
Sara sagged back down behind her own desk in her chair.
Jenny came back in and tugged off her damp cardigan. “It’s starting to rain,” she said. “I can’t wait for summer-” then she was hit with a coughing fit.
“You should stop that smoking nonsense, Jenny.” Sara pulled a fresh pen out of the little catchall cup on her desk. “That’s just plain foolish.” She took a deep breath, stealing a little hit of the tobacco smoke lingering on the breeze Jenny stirred when she came in. She remembered her last cigarette. It had been a Tuesday at lunch, long before Jenny.
“Sara, could you do me a favor and run to the bank today? I’ve got a few more calls. Do you mind?” Destiny picked up the bank bag and held it out to Sara. Destiny always did the bank run. Always. Sara kept her face pleasant. Though Sara sensed a trap, she wasn’t going to let Destiny bother her, not a bit.
“Sure thing.” Sara took the bank bag and grabbed a red umbrella from behind the door. “Looks like rain, but it’ll be nice to stretch my legs.”
Sara was assured by the heft of the deposit that it must have been a good week in the cafeteria. Kids were crazy about the new pizza and corndogs.
“Jenny,” Destiny said. “Pull up the grade files so we can chat about a few things.”
Sara gave Jenny a “talk later” look.
“Be right back,” said Sara. “Jenny, stay away from the donuts, they’re for Destiny.”
Destiny picked up her donut and devoured it in one, unhinged bite.
“Delicious,” said Destiny. “The bank?”
On the steep, downhill walk to the bank, Sara was assured by the heft of the deposit that it must have been a good week in the cafeteria. Kids were crazy about the new pizza and corndogs. Sales were way up. She didn’t know any exact numbers—Destiny handled the books—but Sara had seen a lot of cash stacked over on that big desk before Destiny’s weekly bank run.
A guard opened the door as she reached the top step.
“Hi, Miss Sara. How you?” said the guard, holding the door for her.
“Fine, Millard. You?”
“Oh, fair to middling,” he said.
“Good,” she said and glided on by him, up to the teller counter. She slipped the bag under the window and smiled up at the young woman behind the glass.
“Just a deposit today, dear,” said Sara.
The teller unzipped the bank bag and looked up, confused.
“Ma’am, did you forget something?” She held up a handful of school stationary notepads.
“Well, I’ll be…” Sara said. “I guess someone is playing a joke on me.” The teller pushed the bag back to Sara.
“We close in a few minutes, so…” she said.
“See you tomorrow,” said Sara. She marched out the door and back up the steep hill.
Destiny didn’t look up when Sara came back in. She tossed the bank bag on her desk.
“There’s nothing in there but notepads. Not a dime,” said Sara.
Jenny blustered back into the main office and was out of breath. Her sweater was balled up under her arm, like a package.
“Another smoke break?” Sara said.
Jenny looked panicked.
“Sorry, sorry.” She took a deep, long breath and tucked the sweater behind a box on the floor. “Poor Twyla cornered me about some of her family troubles.” She crossed herself to ward off bad luck and flopped in her chair. She shuffled files around to appear back at work. She looked around sideways at both women, not helping the tension in the room.
Sara crossed her arms and squinted.
She said, “I thought you just took a break— ”
“I had her run something out to my car,” Destiny said. “All good in the parking lot?” Destiny inhaled another fresh little donut. She licked icing from her fingers.
“Si, okay. Poor Twyla, I’ll pray for her,” Jenny said, crossing herself.
Sara sighed. So now Destiny had made Jenny a part of her gang. She must have threatened her. Destiny was a mean woman, a natural damn bully.
“Hell, we’ve all prayed for that girl. You’re wasting your breath,” said Sara.
Destiny picked up the bank bag. She unzipped and emptied it on her desk.
“So, you say when you got to the bank, the cash was just… gone?” She looked at Jenny, then back at Sara. “How odd. There was close to five thousand dollars from a week of lunches and snack sales. Counted it myself. Jenny, you saw me, right?”
“It was empty when I got to the bank, ask the teller yourself.” Sara said. It sure sounded like Destiny was accusing her of stealing. Jenny stared at her paperwork.
“Did you unzip it for some reason? Maybe it fell out, you never know,” said Destiny.
“I know!” said Sara. She calmed herself. “Check your desk.” Sara was trembling with anger. “I’ve never lost a thing and you know it.”
Destiny gave a light, dismissive laugh that was supposed to sound good-natured, patient.
“Well, we all forget things, especially as we get older,” said Destiny. She clenched her mouth in a grimace and tapped a manicured nail against her teeth. “Unfortunately, this is a serious slip, a costly senior moment and…”
“That’s a damn lie!” Sara took a couple of steps toward Destiny.
“Sara, I can tell you’re a little confused, but I’m pretty upset right now. I need to think about what to do. Why don’t you go home early, get some rest,” said Destiny. “We’ll discuss the situation tomorrow, when things are clearer.”
Sara remembered the spy camera she’d carefully placed on Destiny’s bag. She thought, Everything will be real clear.
All she could do was hope the camera in the I Spy pen worked. Without that video evidence of Destiny carting off school supplies, Sara was screwed. She knew if they didn’t settle the missing cash before she left for the day, she would loose her job, maybe go to jail, especially without Jenny able to back her up.
But she had no choice. Sara straightened her desk, grabbed her purse and left.
The rain was coming down cold and hard in the school parking lot. Sara tried to start her car again for the tenth time, but no dice. It sounded like it wanted to cooperate, but it couldn’t quite turn over. Someone knocked on the window. It was Poor Twyla, the teaching assistant.
“I can give you a ride home,” Poor Twyla said, soaking wet and all stooped over, through the fogging window. She was so goofy and disorganized that everyone called her Poor Twyla like this was her full name. Sara rolled the window down a little.
“You sure?” said Sara.
“We can call AAA in the morning.” Poor Twyla smiled like she was a damn genius for thinking of it.
“Thank you,” Sara said. She glanced at the bleak sky. “I sure don’t feel like waiting in this weather.”
Thankful, but beat down at the same time, Sara hauled herself out into the darkening afternoon and poured herself into the backseat of Twyla’s old Honda. The passenger seat was missing and there was an overflowing storage bin of clothes and shoes in its place, a hobo mess.
“No problem, I can pick you up in the morning too.”
“Thank you,” said Sara. She pushed some empty chip bags and to-go cups with her shoe.
“No worries,” said Twyla.
“Well, that must be nice,” said Sara.
The next morning, Sara breezed in the door with her arms full of three small potted flowers she picked up at the garden shop on the way. Poor Twyla hadn’t minded stopping at all.
Sara couldn’t wait to see if she got any evidence with the I Spy pen.
Video could show just what Destiny had been up to for years, probably clear up some serious accounting mysteries. Then Sara thought about maybe shopping for crisp, new blinds for the office windows, get rid of those raggedy-ass curtains. The office needed a breath of fresh air. And that new start required Sara to have the dirt on Destiny, some indisputable proof.
When Sara put down the plants, she realized Destiny and Jenny were sitting at their desks sipping coffee and working. It was unnaturally quiet. She’d forgotten the rest of the school was out for a staff in-service day, so only the office was occupied.
Because of yesterday’s fiasco with the bank and the unsettled way it was left, it was uncomfortably silent as well between the three of them, so Sara volunteered to run out to the sandwich shop to pick up breakfast biscuits in hope of lightning the mood.
When Sara got back to the office, the I Spy pen was clearly placed in the center of her desk and her computer was on with a video paused on the screen.
Sara put down the paper bag of food and put away her purse. She tried not to rush.
“Did y’all eat already?” she said. She noticed the donut box was empty.
“I’m still on the diet,” Jenny said. “I’ve lost almost five pounds by—”
“Shut up, Jenny.” Destiny slow rolled her eyes. “Sara, I think you might want to see that,” said Destiny. She jutted her chin towards the computer.
Sara took a closer look. It was a blurred, frozen image of the W and XY&Z file cabinet. The little black arrow waited for her to press the Play button so the image would roll.
Sara felt dread pound though her.
Jenny jumped up, knocking over the mass of files behind her table. The pile flattened and scattered, and Sara saw what looked like a car part. Many a Saturday afternoon, Sara had helped her father tune up their old car to save money, so she knew the basics. It was a distributor cap. Her distributor cap.
“Sara, I’m sorry!” Jenny’s face warped into a nightmarish mask smeared with a burst of tears and sobs. “I can’t go back to Cuba. I can’t!”
Destiny calmly took a sip of her coffee. She gave Sara a little arch of the eyebrows and sat back and waited. Jenny stood stock still against the wall, trying to vanish.
Sara braced herself on the desk and pressed Play.
The image jumped to life, the lens close to the file cabinet. She sat down.
The drawer squealed open to reveal four gallons of cleaner, boxes of gloves, liquid hand soap and a few reams of paper. Someone, she couldn’t see who, lifted it all out and after a brief moment, closed the drawer. Then the camera seemed to float up on top of a cart loaded down with the goods. The tape played the trip from the office, out the side door and into the parking lot. Fade to White Out.
When the image came back up, what Sara saw made no sense. A license plate, clearly in focus, was from her own car. The trunk popped open to reveal it was loaded with more office supplies. The gallons of cleaner, gloves and paper were loaded into the trunk, and then it slammed shut. The camera swung as if … well, as if it were attached to a shoulder bag.
But it was worse than that.
The volume was up and she heard her own voice. She felt dizzy.
“This is Sara Roberts and I just want to do the right thing and let everybody know who’s been stealing what from the school supplies,” she heard herself say as the video showed the file cabinet being emptied. Then the camera showed the Exit door open and she heard herself say, “I think it’s important to know the truth so no innocent, hard working people get the blame for another’s lazy work ethic and thievery.” It sure sounded like a confession.
Then, the coup de grâce as the trunk closed. “This will prove what’s going home with one of the school’s oldest and most trusted employees.”
“You shouldn’t have fucked with me, Sara.” Destiny stood up and poured herself more hot coffee from her Thermos. She blew on the coffee to cool it. A little black tsunami splashed over the white china rim. She’d had a lot of her Scotch-soaked coffee already.
“You’re a damn thief and a drunk, and I mean to stop you,” Sara said. Her rage restrained, she kept her voice low and calm. She nodded at the screen. “This is horseshit.”
“Prove it,” Destiny said. “Hasn’t our Jenny gotten good at her editing thing?”
“Shame on you for getting her involved,” Sara said. “You’re flat out evil.”
Destiny sipped her coffee. “She goes out to the parking lot half a dozen times a day to smoke. I figured no one’s going to notice a Mexican carrying cleaning supplies.”
Jenny stood up straight. “But Destiny, I’m from Cuba—”
“Tomato, Tomotto…who cares?” said Destiny. She looked back to Sara.
“They all drive junker cars, so they have to know their way around under the hood. All I have to do is mention I’ve heard a few un-American comments and she could be deported,” she snapped her long, spindly fingers, “just like that.”
“You’re a goddamn She-Devil!” said Sara.
“Maybe, but you’re the crazy old woman who steals soap and loses cash,” said Destiny.
“No one will believe it. I’ve been here longer and I never sued anybody,” Sara said. “Hal Thompson didn’t last a year after all that mess your lies caused him.” She let that sink in.
“But I have your fingerprints all over that ridiculous I Spy pen I’ve seen on the QVC. We Googled the instructions.” She let it hang. “Jenny witnessed the missing cash yesterday when you returned the empty bag from the bank with no deposit slip. Plus, the teller at the bank will be a witness that you thought the notepads were money. The tape will just look like a crazy cry for help. So Sara, the only history around here… is you, dear.”
Sara looked her in the eye.
“Jenny won’t betray me. She doesn’t care for your shenanigans either.”
“Please… Jenny will get your job.” Destiny sipped her coffee. Her lip curled to a sneer. “This is cold.”
Sara turned to see Jenny study the floor.
Destiny got up and wobbled over to Sara’s desk to lord over her, slow and threatening. She’d worn extra high heels that day for just this purpose. Otherwise, her four foot eleven inch frame was childlike. Destiny thumped the I Spy pen and it spun, twirled around and teetered on the edge of the desk, pointing at Sara like a nightmare game of Spin the Bottle. The bedazzled cap hung over the side.
“I have the pen’s hard drive.” Destiny hissed like a snake. “May I suggest an early retirement? I hear Costa Rica is perfect for old women with no money. Right, Jenny?”
Destiny made grand, sweeping gesture in Jenny’s direction. It was a drunken swing and she teetered. It appeared that Jenny tried to catch her arm, but instead, gave her an awkward push. She put too much flair on it and Destiny’s coffee poured out of her cup and into the vent atop Sara’s computer, sparking fireworks, ruining its brain. She grabbed the monitor and when it shocked her hard, she stumbled again, snapping the heel on one of her expensive pumps.
Destiny slammed her head against the edge of the desk, her left cheek striking the I Spy pen, just so, impaling her right eye on the exposed sharp end, up to the bespangled cap and into her brain. She snapped back up like a robot, swiping at her eyes. Jenny flattened herself against the wall, as far from the gory mess that was ruining the face of Destiny.
Finally, the sparks and pops went silent. Destiny dropped her cup and fell, stone dead.
In the socket where her eye used to be, the I Spy pen’s little flashing red light flickered wildly, then slowed and dimmed to black.
Sara took a deep cleansing breath. Jenny screamed and fled out the door.
Sara pulled her little paring knife out of her drawer, and walked around her desk and squatted beside Destiny. Lifting the green ribbon that held the file key, she cut it off the corpse’s neck.
Sara stepped over the body and went to the window. She leaned over and pulled a small blue bottle out of the torn hem of one of the old curtains. It was her mother’s old arsenic bottle Sara had kept out of sentimental reasons. Her mother also survived a long office career.
Sara had planned on sprinkling more drops on another box of doughnuts, so in a few days, Destiny would have been gone anyway. “Almonds hide the bitter aftertaste” she’d read in some research for her mystery club book discussions. She slipped the bottle in her skirt pocket. Cause of death was about as obvious as it could be, so no damn autopsy.
Things were looking up.
She unlocked the file cabinet and slid open ‘W’ just above “XY&Z”. Destiny must have been planning to frame Sara for quite some time, because the amount of cash looked like she’d been skimming money for years. Why else would she always take the trip to the bank herself instead of making her or Jenny do it? Obviously, she’d been a chef at cooking the books.
There was a large bank bag stuffed with cash and the I Spy pen’s tiny hard drive tucked away. Sara took the drive out and smashed it with her sensible heel. Then she dropped the cash in Destiny’s big black purse and put it by the door by her own bag. When it came to stealing, Destiny was smart. Sara knew this embezzled cash was clean as a whistle.
Sara looked around the office. She would stay, but make some changes.
She’d forgive Jenny and promote her, and hire Poor Twyla to do the filing. She’d ask the principal if Jenny could teach a workshop on video editing and design a website for the school. Or she could go on back to Cuba.
Outside, sirens howled to a stop. Men yelled orders, equipment rattled and doors slammed open. Jenny’s voice and the clatter of help came rattling down the hall.
Destiny just lay there, like an unplugged cyborg.
Sara was leaning on the file cabinet with her hands up to her face like she’d been crying.
As the EMTs rolled the body out on a gurney, one of the men stopped by and gave Sara a little comforting pat on the back.
“Sorry about your friend, ma’am,” he said. “She’s in a better place.” He walked on.
Behind her hands, Sara hid a sweet little satisfied smile.
Once this mess got cleaned up, she’d get the office back in ship-shape. She’d paint the walls, keep the plants alive and pull the blinds wide open every morning. She was pretty sure she still had plenty more good years left in her.
Really good ones.
C. Williams writes in a tiny storefront studio among busy shops on the East Side in Nashville
because writing, like life, is a contact sport. If the door is open, you never know who will walk in, but there’s always a story. Her fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, Motif, Appalachian Heritage, and Revolution John. C. Williams is also a photographer.