Company Business - chapter two

 

Chapter two:  Home

Departing passengers glared at James in Stamford, sneered at him in Noroton Heights, and mocked him all the way up to Southport:  The idiot who had pulled the emergency brake, holding up the train for a police investigation. The man who ruined the evening commute.  11 o’clock, and nothing was well.

Metro-North had stopped for James Morrison.  Every train between Harrison and New Haven had come to a halt.  Policemen in dripping slickers tromped through trains, questioned passengers, interrogated James, and found nothing.

Nothing.

Perhaps some felt pity for the poor, overworked young man in his sodden woolen finest, but most regarded him with contempt.  So handsome, so crazy. Their derisive comments, unconcealed hatred, and bilious looks made James shrivel further into his seat.  No longer an object of desire, he had become an outcast in the suburbs.

He remembered a similar feeling from his childhood.  The older boys were playing a game of pick-up football in the field near his house, where he often watched, envious, and alone.  The big boys complained of gnats and bugs.  Seeing an instant solution from the sidelines, he hurried home, and returned with a can of Raid to extinguish the vermin.  Alas, his heroic deed was met with derision and anger, catcalls, and threats of retaliation for making them breathe the deadly fumes, or freeze their precious lungs. 

He remembered that disgrace, multiplied it by his years, and sunk deeper into the vinyl seat, as if the humiliation would outlive him.

At his stop, just a shrunken man, he skulked from the train and slinked to his awaiting Range Rover.  His wife Rebecca put the car into drive before she said a word.

“Well, Captain, what brave deeds did you do today?” she whispered, perhaps a bit short on sympathy.  “Couldn’t you have waited?  Called a conductor?”

“Jesus, Rebecca, how would you—?“ He sputtered, ire drawn.

“Shhh, I’ve got the phone on speaker – didn’t have anyone to watch the kids.”  She nodded toward the open phone on the dashboard. “Had to save my hero.”

James reached up and pressed mute. “You couldn’t get Jan or one of the other neighbors…?”

“Jan had school.”  She tried to look contrite, while inside she was seething with the fear that she was, somehow, a horrible mother.

James looked at her, then started more softly.  “How could I wait?”

“Well, they never found any body, James…”

“There are times, Rebecca,” he began, paused, then started again: “There are times when the right thing must be done! Be they popular or not.”  The words sounded ridiculous, even to him, Shakespeare as rewritten by Glen Beck. He knew the emergency brake was the last resort – and wasn’t that what this was?  Surely, it hadn’t been a dream.  Surely it wasn’t his silly comics come to life.  No – he knew what he’d seen.  And yet, the surer he wanted to be, the less he was.

Rebecca regarded him coolly as she pulled the car onto their rain-slicked street.  “Well, Jimmy Olson, why don’t we get you home and dried off?” she smirked.  She did this every time he imagined himself heroic or gallant.  James narrowed his eyes as he looked over at her, ready to respond, but thought better of it.

They drove the remaining two blocks in silence, windshield wipers flapping, rain spraying, tires hissing on pavement.  They climbed out of the SUV and rushed into the house.  Together they raced upstairs, James stepping out of his sopping clothes along the way.

“It was the most terrifying thing…” he whispered, but Rebecca shushed him as she eased open a bedroom door.

There, amidst the whirling of a jolly Sci-Fi nightlight, two boys purred and sputtered through childhood dreams. The walls of their room were covered with big geometric patterns, nothing like the Lichtenstein-like murals of benday-dotted heroes he’d imagined, but a safer choice, much more in keeping with Rebecca’s graphic sensibility.

Rebecca tucked the little one in.  James smoothed the older one’s hair and kissed his cheek. The warmth of the room, the ironic safety of these innocent children, reassured James.  Perhaps his father had done the same to him those many years ago, before rushing off for business.  James wanted to crawl under the fuzzy covers, hug his whole family tightly in his arms, and forget about this hideous night.

He felt a shiver as he looked out the window, rain drops splattering against the panes, running in rivulets to the bottom.  He straightened up, imagined himself as the real Clark Kent, ready to protect his family.  But he closed the drapes just to be sure to keep out any leering eyes.


Stripped to his Calvins, James stood in the kitchen of their handsome abode (what other word was there for their domicile in Southport, CT?).  Every nook and cranny was polished and appointed in the latest catalogue chic, ready-made to create a home with history where none had been. Vikinged and SubZeroed to the gills, the Morrisons were ready to take on the Joneses any day.  Well, soon anyway.

Rebecca nodded to a plate of foil-covered food, but he selected a bottle of good tequila and knocked back a stiff one.

“My poor, overworked baby,” she cooed, coming up behind him and squeezing his muffin tops, nuzzling his neck.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened in all my life.” James kissed the top of her head and plopped himself down at the kitchen island. “It was like a scene from a horror movie.”

Rebecca helped herself to the Gran Patron.  “Shhh….just eat your dinner.”

“You think I dreamed it?”

“Well…they never did find anything.” She tried her best to sound understanding.  “Maybe you saw something else…maybe you thought you—“

He turned over the rumpled legal pad so she could see the gruesome face he’d sketched, now complete with piercing knives and lavish slashes of black blood.

Rebecca bit down hard on her lips, trying to suppress a guffaw.  She took the pad in hand, breathed in until the giggles subsided, and asked.  “The Joker?”

“Hey--!”

“No – the Riddler!”  she turned it around. “Green Goblin?”

“I know what I saw!” He was agitated all over again, imagining laughing demons and bloody knives.  Amazing how one quick comment from the one he loved most could deflate him.

“Did you show this to the police?”

James shook his head, defeated.  He slouched on the stool and poured himself another stiff one. “No.  By the time I added all the …” he pointed to the knife, the speeding train wheels.  “After all that, no, I figured it did look like a comic book.”

Rebecca made her boo-boo face, mouth turned down.

“What you need is a break – we can always change the agreement.”  Rebecca dropped the word casually, knowing the ripples could be profound.  Prior to her popping out a couple of kids, they’d settled on an arrangement: he would put his art career on hold and pursue a more secure path with the consulting firm, and she’d put her stuttering architecture career on the back burner to raise the kids.

As much as he wanted to say yes, as much as he wanted to relinquish the business world, the painful commute, the torpid meetings in favor of drawing and painting, he knew better.  His artwork had deteriorated in the years since school, and now felt childish and messy.  It would take years to get back to his former talents.  He stirred at his plate with his fork, swirling the food together listlessly.

“You’ll take an Ambien and get a good night’s sleep.”  She snatched a potato from his plate.

James looked over at her – wondered how he could do any of it without her.  She was his rock – his alpha woman.

He glanced down at his briefs, revealing a trace of his inner hero, then back to his wife, “Or…we could make love right here on the kitchen table?” 

Rebecca flipped her hair over her shoulder, a mock-sultry air, “why Mr. Morrison, the things you say.”

The ringing phone interrupted their flirtation. Rebecca raced to pick it up before it awoke the children.  His ardor wilted, James again envisioned grinning faces and blood-drenched windows.

Upstairs the little one hollered.

“It’s your boss,” she said, handing him the receiver.

“James Morrison!” the unmistakable voice of his evaluator burbled, as if a business call this late was run-of-the-mill. 

“Bud?” James sat up straighter, ready to adjust a non-existent tie.

“Sorry it’s so late. I need to see you first thing tomorrow morning.” James could swear Bud was chewing something.  “ASAP, as the kids say,” he chortled.

James felt further alarm leach poison into his stomach.  “Sure, Bud.  Anything wrong?”

“Nothing that can’t be fixed tomorrow,” Bud advised, before hanging up without so much as a ‘so long.’

James clicked the phone off and set it down on the table.

“Bad news?” Rebecca prodded.

“I don’t know.”  James crumpled the drawing, tossed it in the trash, and reached for the tequila.


Read chapter three

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