Stephen D. Rogers
Despite the fact that he blocked out the sun, his uniform was dazzling white. "Mr. James says you shouldn't come back."
"Yes, the told me that."
"Mr. James says I should emphasize the point."
"This is a new dress." Wearing a muted pastel print of over-sized flowers, I was certainly no threat to the likes of Victor James, or so I hoped he would believe. As the administrator of a long-term health facility, Victor was accustomed to eating people who looked like me for breakfast and then having them invite him back for lunch.
The giant grunted.
"Listen. You're just trying to do your job. I'm just trying to do my job."
"So you've done your job by emphasizing your boss's point. I have to do my job and report to my client that your boss is a crook who will take her mother for everything she has."
"Mr. James would not like that."
"I don't suppose he would. But, hey, a job's a job. Right?"
His muscles did not ripple as much as resemble mice running back and forth under a comforter. Make that rats. Or South American capybaras. This guy was huge.
"Mr. James said I should impress upon you that silence is the best discretion."
"Consider the message delivered."
When I shifted position, I swear the earth actually trembled.
"Mr. James wants me to leave no doubt in your mind." Again he let the rodents loose.
We were the only two people in the parking lot and I didn't notice anybody waving from the few windows that faced this way. While his hands appeared more than capable of squeezing any doubts from my mind, I was not only hardheaded by thick-skinned.
"Listen, friend--" And without further ado, I slammed my fist into his solar plexus.
He leaned forward as if to hear me better.
I repeated the blow. Twice.
Stepped back in preparation for delivering a kick that would give my upper body muscles time to recover from throwing punches at marble. How, exactly, was I supposed to hike my dress while I kept my hands up for balance and protection.
He slowly folded in half and then tipped over with a resounding thud.
One down. One to go.
The receptionist pointed at the clipboard as I came through the front doors.
"Dana Cooke." I didn't even slow. "Just cross out my last exit time."
Victor's office was down two long hallways, windows on one side and framed art on the other. He could probably go for months without seeing a single resident and I doubted the design was by accident.
I pushed open his door and marched over to his desk. "The employee you sent to deliver a message? He might need a little help standing."
"I thought I told you to stay off the premises." Victor's bluster was impressive. I'd give him that.
"Yes, well, I'm sure that more than one person has told you it's wrong to steal from people in your care. And I'm telling you now that it's wrong to send muscle after a private investigator. Wrong and not very wise."
Victor reached for the telephone. "I'm calling the police."
"Yes, do that. I'll save my minutes for later when I inform my client you've been cuffed and stuffed."
Victor folded his fingers together. "I'm not sure you appreciate the finer aspects of this situation."
"Actually, I'm quite familiar with the many forms of elder abuse available to lowlife scumbags such as yourself."
He didn't even blink. "I've been realizing I need to hire a security consultant, not that there would be any duties associated with the position, but having someone on payroll would reassure the residents in these uncertain times. A win-win situation all around."
"Looking for referrals? Sorry. All the investigators I know are above board. Unlike some administrators."
"I'm hoping you might be interested in the position yourself." Like I thought earlier, invite him back for lunch.
"Taking money for nothing just doesn't seem right."
"Peace of mind at any price is always a value."
"What about my client?"
"Peace of mind." Victor smiled as though he'd just solved the problems of the world. "You have the power to provide comfort during a very trying time. That's all anybody wants, to believe that the easiest decision is the right decision."
"Truth be damned."
Victor shrugged. "The truth is...we're all going to die. All the money in the world isn't going to change that."
"Is that how you justify robbing people blind? Once they're dead, they won't know the difference? And any heirs: well, what did they ever do for you? In fact, you took the aging relative off their hands. They owe you."
"Peace of mind." He picked up a paperweight and shifted it from hand to hand. "That's what I offer."
"Piece of crap. That's what you are." I took a deep breath. "Since you didn't call the police, I'll step outside to dial them myself. I'm sure the detective who handles elder abuse will love to hear what I've uncovered. He really enjoys his work."
Victor stood and came around the desk in one long, smooth movement. "Let's not be too hasty here. We still have quite a bit of latitude in our negotiation."
I laughed. "You do that."
The door opened behind me and I turned to see the giant from the parking lot. He didn't look too good or too happy to discover I hadn't been suitably impressed by his message.
I feinted a punch and he jumped back, slamming into the wall, sending a framed picture crashing to the floor. Then I pivoted and drove my fist into Victor's gut.
His body wrapped around my hand and then unfolded to drop like a rock, the paperweight still clutched in his fist.
The giant running down the hall send another picture crashing.
Bio: Over five hundred of Stephen's stories and poems have
been selected to appear in more than a hundred publications.
His website, www.stephendrogers.com, includes a list of new
and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.