(Trying something different today. Egypt has me simultaneously so optimistic, concerned, and confounded that I have nothing to say on the obvious topic du jour, so let's go off the board for $200, Alex.)
Joseph left the office at in order to make a short trip to the bank. He needed to do a quick bit of business before the bank closed so that he could leave for his vacation that night after work. The business wouldn’t take long, he knew, and he could then return to finish his final day as executive assistant to Mr. J. D. Camstan, CEO and Director of Camstan and Sons Payroll Accounting Solutions, Inc. He had worked without holiday or even one sick day for just more than thirteen years, always foregoing the urgings of Mr. Camstan to take a well deserved break from his ceaseless acts of duty and loyalty. He knew, after all, that Mr. Camstan, and by association the company, would fall apart without him.
And so he walked the three blocks north to his branch of the bank that he had patronized for those same thirteen years, the First Continental Bank, whistling as he walked and, some would later say, almost skipping down the cobble-stoned sidewalk that graced this corner of the financial district.
Joseph waved to the flower vendor at the corner who always set out her assortment of fresh blooms at precisely every morning and stayed faithfully, in rain or shine, until precisely six-thirty o’clock in order to allow every employee on the street the opportunity to take fresh flowers home. He appreciated her diligence and commitment, and bought a fresh bouquet every Friday under the guise of needing it for his Friday date. Each week she would smile as they exchanged pleasantries, and wink at him when he made his goodbyes so that he would not be late. On this day they politely nodded to one another and did not talk.
He stopped briefly at the tobacconist’s to buy a newspaper and, perhaps on a sudden whim, an expensive cigar to enjoy in the first class lounge at the airport. With the tobacconist, Joseph spoke for two minutes on such inane subjects as the weather and the scores from the hockey playoff game the previous evening.
The waitress at the café he frequented for lunch most Wednesdays also received a hearty greeting and polite wave as he passed her cleaning tables on the patio. For a long moment she didn’t seem to recognize him, but then a light went on and she thought she placed his unremarkable face and returned the wave. He did not notice that there remained a faint look of puzzlement on her face.
His ebullient steps brought him, finally, to the doors of the First Continental Bank where the guard was already waiting at the entrance to begin the lock down procedures at . The guard did not seem to note his arrival or even be paying attention at all, glancing as he was over his shoulder back into the bank lobby. Joseph thought he heard the guard making a soft cat-whistle as he passed.
Once inside the bank, he entered the queue just behind a younger fellow, also dressed in a suit, gray, and carrying an aluminum attaché case, and they made their way quickly to the kiosk positioned conveniently along the path of the queue. As he did so, Joseph enjoyed the soft click of his new shoes on the marble floor and the crisp sensation of the conditioned air after the humid spring day outside. He stopped to complete his transfer slip as the young man carried on to a window.
He took a slip from the kiosk and completed it, first writing his account number, then filling in the name and transfer number of the
Grand Cayman Bank account he was transferring to. Very carefully, he wrote the sum of the transfer on the slip, both in precise script – One million, seven hundred and twenty-four thousand, nine hundred and seventy-nine, and forty two cents – and then in practiced numerals - $1,724,979.42 – then, after taking a breath to steady his nerves, wrote his name – Joseph Merriman – perfectly but impersonally on the signatory line. Joseph checked his watch: . The timing was crucial and perfect. For good luck he patted his airline ticket and passport through the light summer wool of his suit jacket and turned to find an available teller.
It was at that moment that something strange happened, something that had never happened to Joseph Merriman in all of the thirteen years of his tenure at Camstan and Sons, and had never happened during one of his bi-weekly visits to First Continental. That had, in fact, never occurred in his adult life. Perhaps it was his exceptional good mood and the palpable happiness he exuded. Or perhaps it was the air of confidence he carried, something certainly unique to him on this day; the aura of someone whose ship had finally come in. Whatever the case, on this singular May day, as he looked up from his transfer slip and turned, Joseph Merriman caught the eye of a pretty young woman.
Moreover, he seemed to hold her gaze for several seconds without her looking quickly away; He made eye contact.
She was about the same height as Joseph, average for a woman, but had a slim and muscular build. Large, pert breasts showed prominently beneath a blue sweater that matched her eyes, accentuated by a golden aura of cascading hair. He could not help but peripherally notice black slacks, of some synthetic and clingy fabric, that graced and highlighted every curve and muscles of her hips and legs, nor, as she turned slightly, could he help but recognize how out of proportion her breasts were to her otherwise trim and lithe body. The guard’s whistle suddenly made sense. He also deduced instantly that they must be implants. This made his penis begin to swell.
Joseph was flushed. He knew that he was not an attractive man, having fared poorly in the genetic lottery as far as aesthetics were concerned. Now in his late-thirties, he had suffered the indignity of a receding hairline while still a freshman at college, a full retreat before graduation, and complete follicular abandonment by the time he was twenty-six. His frame was particularly thin and short and seemed insufficient to support the growing expanse of soft flesh around his beltline - and only around his beltline - that refused to be diminished by failed diet or the minimal amount of exercise that he could fit into his very busy life. His cheap suits were subsequently insufficient to mask any of his flaccid frame’s inadequacies as he made his bald way from place to place. All of this to say that Joseph was more than a little surprised to be the object of this lovely young woman’s subtle but unmistakably coy smile.
Such is the affect of an unprecedented event that for what seemed a long moment Joseph simply froze, without any concept of an appropriate response to such a shock. The glow of hubris began to burn brightly within his substantial brain. Finally, he thought, I have so obviously arrived at a station and place appropriate to my intellect where my appearance is overshadowed by the gravitas of my person and good fortune! And, he made the logical leap, this young flower is only the first of many who will recognize this new stature with only a glance. I will finally enjoy the fruits of a life denied me by circumstance and the vagaries of phenotypical genetics, and I will be admired as I ought. With some discomfort born of performing an act for the first time, Joseph returned her smile.
Again with the discomfort of a man performing a task he was not used to, still sharing the lusciously surprising gaze with the woman, Joseph made to turn to a teller while adjusting the small tent in the front of his pants, and at that exact moment time changed subtly and permanently for Joseph Merriman.
There was a shriek behind him and, with a poignant clarity, Joseph saw the beautiful woman actually notice him for the first time. The change in the direction of her glance was minuscule but unmistakable. He instinctively began to turn towards the sound behind him, eyes still fixated on the woman, and so saw her face transform as she saw him staring at her and smiling. Her visage fleeted through distaste, then amusement, then slid effortlessly past him and into a fierce grin. Then she was moving, but it was a blur to Joseph because he was turning, his head spinning faster than his body to find the young man that was ahead of him in line standing behind him. The man in the suit, his back now to the teller, his right hand lifted in the air, the hand full of gun.
The young man, composed in spite of the teller’s scream, projected into the hollow acoustics of the bank, “Everybody down”, in a slow motion drawl.
As his gaze fixed on the gun, Joseph’s mind played a small and acrobatic trick, reviewing immediately the young woman’s transforming visage. With familiar understanding, it became his face’s turn to fleetly stir through a mixing bowl of emotional expressions: There was a hint of disappointment which quickly blended into a practiced expression of self-chastisement – Stupid, Joseph, how could you have thought... – then a good pinch of surprise – Is that a gun? – and finally a full cup of fear.
Joseph’s body was still turning towards the shriek (and subsequently the gunman) while at the same time his mind made every effort to suddenly flee in the opposite direction. As his mind and body began an argument that both were bound to lose, a blur - formerly the young woman recognizing Joseph’s impending greatness, now another in a long line of cruel muses - moved between him and the exit, pointing – She has one too…! - her own gun, past Joseph and towards the door. Towards the guard, Joseph surmised without actually thinking it.
The mounting number of completely unbelievable realizations finally undid Joseph and, his body turning one way and his mind the other, his hopes tossed in the air and tent deflating, his now confused foot firmly met the heavy base of the stanchion supporting the velvet ropes of the queue. The momentum of his confounded body was too much for his fleeing mind to control and, defying logic, Joseph unrepentantly found himself launched forward into the air.
Naturally, his mind, disconnected as it was, recognized the absurdity of the action immediately and started to push a single syllable of abject denial past his vocal chords and lips:
“Nnnnnnnnn…!” he began.
He thought then of the transaction slip that was fluttering in the corner of his eye, now bereft of tether as his hands opened and pushed forward to break his fall; of the clean digits, all nine of them, complete with commas and a period; of the untraceable twelve years of embezzlement that they represented; of the small, cozy villa above a cliff on the coast of Belize; of the rum and cigars that were to be held by the very hands now flying up in front of him in less than a day; of the impending loss of his virginity.
This was what he was thinking as first one hand then the other firmly closed over first one then the other of the buxom young woman’s surgically enhanced breasts. For the second time, their eyes met. Joseph saw shock in hers, the pupils contracting and showing off, he couldn’t help but notice, the sweetest tiny gold flecks in the irises. He registered a revelatory feeling as his hands pressed into the firmness of the breasts, the small hardness of her nipples pressing through the soft fabric of bra and sweater into his palms.
“..ooooooo…!”, he continued.
He thought – So this is what a false breast feels like… what a breast feels like. His mind rushed through the endless litany of artificial breasts he planned on relishing in
. He thought about how much more enjoyable it would be when he didn’t have to rush or use them to break his fall. And he thought about what one might actually taste like, the firm nipple between his flaccid, pouting lips, as he felt and heard simultaneously a sharp punch in his back and a fierce explosion by his ear. Belize
“…oooooogglglglglllllhhaaaa…” he completed.
In the ringing blindness he realized that he had stopped falling. Each hand was still placed over each breast, but the two of them, he and the woman, laid together on the floor now. In the woman’s eyes, only inches from his own, there was a dazed look, as if she was in shock due to his clumsiness. Then he noticed the warm wetness spreading between them. He deduced that it must be blood, her blood, and that the dazed look must mean that she was actually dead. Perhaps the guard had saved them all.
Joseph felt he should get up and say his thanks, perhaps even manage to complete his transaction. Certainly, lying on the floor with this buxom thief fondling her dead breasts was unseemly in the extreme.
As respectfully as he could he slid his hands from her breasts to the floor and, suddenly too tired to move, laid his head upon the same sweater-covered softness.
Behind him, from the direction of the tellers’ wickets, he heard, “I think the fucker is dead.”
Just above him, “The girl too. Did she shoot him?”
Another voice, the guard’s perhaps, “Yeah, she shot when the chubby guy jumped her. I saw it. She missed him and got her boyfriend. Blind luck.”
And the first voice, “And the fucker shot the fat guy that was jumping his girlfriend?”
“Must have been…”
“Is the little guy dead?”
“No, he’s breathing sort of…” There was a pressure on his back then, soft and distant, in the midst of a heat more intense than he had ever felt before. “He’s gurgling pretty bad though. Fuck, look at all this blood. I can’t stop it.”
The teller’s voice, “He was so brave, just screaming “no” like that and jumping her.”
“Brave? Stupid fuck could have got us all killed.”
And close to his ear, “Hold on, buddy. Help’s on the way.”
And in a whisper above him, “He’s not gonna make it.”
Joseph Merriman felt a cooling breeze wash over his hot brow, chilling him, and thought, “Am I here already? Ah,
…” and closed his eyes. Belize