My boss, Chet Overhill, and I had hated each other for quite some time — this became abundantly clear during performance review earlier this year — so, he probably surmised I was the least reliable of his sycophants to have witnessed him killing a hooker at this year’s Lead Simply motivational conference. The room service he’d ordered before the prostitute’s demise (and one may intuit when he still had an appetite) came, $42.99 for two ham and cheese sandwiches and a couple of middling pilsners, and I stepped out of the room to sign for it. Back inside, he sat on the end of the bed, continued to stare at his hands, his newly minted killer’s hands, and then into my eyes.
“Did you ever,” he asked, “kill someone, Breedlove?”
“Well, since we’re sharing. Yes.”
“During my tour in Nam.”
“You’re about thirty years too young to have served your country during that conflict.”
“It was a Perillo Tour.”
“Oh, I see. A joke.”
“I was really there to score some of the good stuff — Black Thai — and the tour guide, some local yahoo, kept on calling me Dude and the Mellow Peril. You’re sobbing silently again: maybe it’s time for you to make this all about you once more.”
“What am I going to do!? This will ruin my life. My service to our country during Korea, my service to the firm all these years, and to my family — all obliterated in one stroke.”
It had been a doozy of a stroke, though. Destinee’s performance review of Chet’s prowess was some admittedly highly unprofessional laughter, and his punch to her face had knocked her off the bed where she had struck her head on the corner of the bedside table. And then he was down on top of her, fingers around her neck, and she was done for in just about the same amount of time it had taken Chet to, er, not perform.
I looked at her body down there. “Well, sir, let’s put the corpse aside for now—I know she’s already fallen off the bed—but I’m not being literal. What have we learned at the Lead Simply Conference thus far?”
“Oh, God, Breedlove, you bastard. Do you really think this is the time for a dissection of today’s motivational seminar? I know you hate me, but I need your help, man.”
“That’s not leading simply, sir. That’s leading limply.”
“I’m going to have to beg you for help, aren’t I?”
“You going to have to motivate yourself, sir.”
“I always hated the way the word sir came out of your mouth.”
“I’ll start you off: the mnemonic device was V-I-S-E…”
“I told you to take notes, Breedlove: It’s V-I-S-A. Visa. Vise makes no sense.”
“Please enlighten.” I helped him stand, and I sat down in his place.
And I had to give the old bastard credit: he closed his eyes as he buttoned his shirt and smoothed a hand through his fine silver mane and breathed in deeply—he was going to explicate. His eyes still closed, he snapped his finger in the direction of his neck tie, which sat on top of the ice bucket. I retrieved it for him and he loosely placed it over his head. His eyes opened, and he began, and it was almost as if I weren’t in the room anymore, or the dead whore.
“V is for Vision—the Leader leads, but the vision leads the Leader. How can you expect someone to follow if you can’t make it clear to him what you see? And where does this vision initiate? From Inside. I is for Inside. And it is also from within that the Leader leads. Talent is a gift, Breedlove, but character is a choice. S is for Service—and though successes and gains are palpable things for any Leader, it is service to others the matters most: community, family, and co-workers—partners and underlings. Give and you shall receive. And finally, A. A is for Acknowledgment. Not of your own accomplishments, but of others, the others who have followed your vision and made it possible for you to lead them, and yourself, to success.”
“I’m astounded. That was excellent, sir.” I said the s-word differently, and he took note, and I think it touched him. “But how would you apply these principles to the current situation?”
He surveyed me (perhaps really for the first time). “I see what you are up to, Breedlove. And there may very well be a place for you in our ranks. First, I ‘see’ that space next to bed empty. To accomplish this, you will have to find a convenience store and pick up the following items,” I grabbed a pad and pen and wrote as he went on, “then we will have to get her body to the rental car, and find a suitable place to dump her. Are you with me? Prove yourself to me tonight, Breedlove, and all will be forgotten—and acknowledgement, my indebtedness to you, will be frank and without any resentment in the years ahead. Overhill, Freeman, Freeman, and Breedlove, eh?”
“That was very excellent, sir. And all without the PowerPoint. But I could’ve sworn the last letter was E for The Edison Method.”
“That has no practical application here. Make your plans public? Don’t be an…”
There was series of hard knocks on the door—they’d be the first of many.
“This is the police. Open this door now!”
I stood. “I added a note to the bill saying My Boss Just Killed A Prostitute In Here. I didn’t add any gratuity. It was already included.”
Chet looked at me, rather stung by my betrayal. As if any job was valued so as to be worth risking becoming an accomplice to murder for it—particularly one with a ninety minute commute to Stamford.
“I should’ve fired you last year.” He sat back down on the bed. “But I let Costigan talk me out of it. He said I had you all wrong. He sung your praises.”
“You should see the praises Costigan’s sung to that thirteen year old girlfriend of his that he met in Thailand last year. All in e-mails on his computer. You know, VP123 is a pretty weak password.”
“Blackmail’s a dirty business. But I gather it’s a calling for a person of your caliber.”
“How you wound, sir. Hey, you know who’s not calling? Ever again? Destinee.” I sat back down next to him again, and put my hand on his, “You’re always so keen on service, sir. To your country, your family, your partners. And I really have to admit, I really don’t admire that at all. But it’s time to serve again—for the last time, and this time, I’m with you all the way, sir. And I mean that with complete and utter sincerity and humility.”
“Because you will have to be stronger and more resilient than ever before. You will have to rise to a whole new kind of greatness—and God help me, I hope you pull it off and I want to be part of it, to watch you rise to the occasion for the remainder these awful years ahead. I have a feeling, Chet, that I’m going to be truly inspired.”
“I see.” His posture straightened and he stood. “Get the door, please, will you?”
I obeyed dutifully, committed to the cause, and said, “And I’ll visit every third Sunday, sir. Weather permitting, of course.”
“That would be satisfactory, Breedlove,” he said, as he adjusted his Pratt Tie Knot.
Andrew Riconda’s stories have appeared in The Amherst Review, Criminal Class Review (Vols. 3 & 6), Manslaughter Review, Oyez Review, Phantasmagoria, Rio Grande Review, Watchword (Vols. 6 & 7), The William and Mary Review and another is forthcoming in Crimespree Magazine. Otto Penzler and Harlan Coben selected his story for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2011.