I did the right thing.
I know I did.
It was the right thing.
Why do I feel so wrong?
I sit at my desk in my cubicle and tap the keys on my keyboard so it sounds like I’m doing something. I am doing something. I’m listening.
Listening to the buzz of conversation around me. Some of it is my co-workers on the phone doing their jobs. Some of it is illicit cell phone conversations. Who’s going to come out here and do anything about it? Some of it is about me. I just don’t know how much. Don’t these people know I did the right thing?
My phone rings and makes me jump. I push the red button that sends the call to voicemail. I’m too busy to worry about an idiot client right now.
I sneak a look under my desk at my backpack. I can’t see the nine millimeter pistol with the dull black finish buried in the pack, but knowing it’s there calms me. My hands aren’t shaking as much. The sweat is still flowing from my body, though. I hope no one notices the smell. Not that anybody here would care. They’d just have something else to ride me about. They are going to notice, though.
My computer dings and the “New Message” icon flashes in the top right corner of the screen. I ignore it and continue to randomly tap the keys. I know I should just let them talk and not worry about it. That’s what my counselor says. I know she’s probably right. I know I should listen to her. She’s a trained professional. I just keep wondering, though, how somebody who’s never been in my situation knows what I’m going through. And if she doesn’t know what I’m going through, how can she tell me how I should handle it? Just wondering.
I think she and my wife are in cahoots…
My phone rings again. I reach over with my left hand and without looking push the red button, again, while I continue tapping the keyboard with my right hand.
…because they both said that the right thing to do is always the thing that makes me happy. Me. Not someone else. “If it doesn’t make you happy, then it’s not the right thing for you,” my counselor said. That just didn’t seem right when she said it. It still doesn’t, but it makes this easier.
My wife and my daughter and my son stare at me from my cubicle walls. They’ve kept the three-quarter dividers from closing in like a trash compactor and crushing me since I moved into this cubicle three years ago. I should take them down. Pretty soon she won’t be my wife anymore, and I won’t see my kids again. I wish I had kissed them goodbye this morning.
My computer dings again and another New Message icon begins to flash. I ignore it.
My wife told me to leave it alone from the start. “You’ve been friends forever,” she said. “Pete’s a great guy. Do you really want to throw that away? Besides, it’s not your business. If you don’t like what he’s doing, just don’t hang out with him anymore.”
I tried to explain that he could cost all of us our jobs. The whole company. “Not your business,” she insisted. “Let upper management deal with it. That’s what they get paid for.” I told her it was my responsibility as lower management, and she just sniffed and said, “I’m glad you’re not my friend.” Now she’s glad she’s not my wife.
I thought things would get better. I guess they did for a while. Mr. Johnson called me into his office and thanked me. He told me my integrity and courage would take me places. He forgot to add that it wouldn’t be in this company. He gave my promotion to a new college grad. I’ve been here for seven years, and this kid got my job, my raise, and my extra vacation week. I got a handshake and a pat on the back because I did the right thing. Mr. Johnson said the environment right now isn’t conducive to my moving up. “But you just hang in there,” he said.
Pete got a new job. With a raise and an office He’s doing fine. He’ll never do right, but he’ll always do fine. He was pretty pissed with me. Said he wasn’t doing anything everybody else wasn’t doing. Anybody with any brains, anyway. He’s still friends with everybody here. I’m the one they can’t stand. He was robbing the company blind, and I’m the asshole.
They make fun of me where I can hear them. They talk about Brittany leaving and taking the kids like it’s something I deserved. They wouldn’t have jobs if I hadn’t done the right thing. Their precious 401(k)’s, their family vacations, their SUV’s, and their kids’ soccer games. All of it would be gone if Pete hadn’t been stopped. But I’m the asshole.
Jeffrey looks over the top of my wall. He doesn’t say anything, just shakes his head and disappears back into the cubicle next to mine. I realize that I’m pounding on the keyboard now. No longer tapping.
I pull my backpack from beneath my desk and place it in my lap. I loosen my tie and wipe the sweat from my face with my shirt sleeve. I thought this would be easy. It’s not. It’s the right thing, though. I know it is. Why is the right thing always so hard?
I look at my wife and children again. All of the snapshots pinned to the walls and the framed portrait. We look happy in most of them. I guess we were.
My phone rings again and I ignore it.
My family doesn’t need to see this. It’s just not right. So I start turning the pictures. One by one I pull them free and pin them back to the wall with the white paper backs facing out. Maybe I can protect them one last time. When the pictures are all turned and the portrait is lying face down on a stack of paper I sit back and look around.
My computer is still on, so I shut it down and turn off the under-cabinet fluorescent lights over my work area. I pause and look around, then slowly unzip my backpack. I move my lunch aside and pull out the self-help book my counselor wanted me to read. I guess it didn’t help much.
My phone rings again. This time I hit the red button to shut it up. I can’t be distracted right now.
I look at the bundle of cloth in the bottom, and know that it’s the right thing. It’s what will make me happy. Me. I reach in and feel the weight of the pistol against my fingers, then drop it and pull the pack shut when somebody behind me says, “Hey, snitch. Johnson’s been trying to get you. He wants to see you in his office.”
I look at him and say, “Huh?”
“In his office. Now, he said.”
“What does he want?”
“How do I know? Come on.”
I sling my pack over my shoulder and follow the flunky to the elevator. Neither of us speaks while we wait for the doors to open. Finally there’s a beep and the green Up arrow flashes on. We try to get in when the doors open, but we have to wait on a security guard and a young secretary carrying an empty cardboard box to get out first. Halfway up to Mr. Johnson’s floor it hits me who they are and what they’re doing.
“What’s going on?” I ask the flunky.
“Don’t know,” he sneers. “You’re the one who knows all the dirt.”
We get off the elevator and go into Mr. Johnson’s office. His secretary looks at me like I’m something she forgot to throw out with the trash last night. Then she smiles like a shark and says, “Go ahead. He’s waiting for you.”
I go alone into Mr. Johnson’s office and he’s behind his desk. “Close the door,” he says. I do, and when I turn back around I realize that the chairs in front of his desk have been removed.
“This is a hard conversation,” he says, “especially in light of your, uh, dedication, to the company.” He presses a button on his desk, and two burly security men come in.
The floor falls out from under me.
“But,” he continues, “I’m convinced this is the right thing to do.”