Blinking beneath the glare of
the twin rows of four-globe fluorescent lights which spanned
the length of the corridor ceiling, he glanced at the
black-vinyl chairs which stood in pairs along the walls.
Between each pair of chairs stood either a gravel lined box for
smokers, or else a small, glass-topped table, holding half a
dozen magazines. But Jones did not smoke and was much too
nervous to read.
Jones wondered why Uhd had
called for him. He had hoped to hear from Gordon Koch that
the promotion was his. For fifteen years Jones had been
passed over for less experienced, but more highly educated
juniors, each time a big promotion came along. But this time
it would be different. He knew that he was in with a big
chance, because Gordon Koch, the Assistant Vice President, had
virtually told him that the job was his for the
But Lawrence Uhd would never call Jones in to tell him
that. Uhd was the bringer of sad tidings, the grim reaper. He
left the giving of good news to Koch, deriving a sick pleasure
from bestowing bad news personally.
'Perhaps it's to tell me that
I've been passed over again?' thought Jones. But no even that,
bad news as it would be, was too insignificant. Uhd would leave
that to Koch.
'No, it has to be something
else,' thought Jones.
Then he realised: 'Of course,
the typewriter!' Why hadn't it struck him
It was a brand new $450
lift-off correction, electronic typewriter. The office had been
in an uproar since the machine had gone missing a fortnight
earlier. The building had been virtually turned upside down in
the search for the typewriter. But all to no avail. No one
could explain what had happened to it. No one that is, except
Jones knew where it was, of
course, because Jones had stolen it! He had felt the urge two
weeks ago, when working late by himself, and had slipped the
machine into his bag and had taken it home.
For two weeks Jones had lived
on the edge of panic, wondering when he would finally be
'Oh why did I ever give in to
the compulsion?' he asked himself. 'Why couldn't I be strong,
But Jones' kleptomania had
plagued him since his early childhood. For most of his life
Jones had taken things. He had tried his best not to steal, but
had been unable to control the urge and so had lived upon the
edge of fear. Fear that the craving would strike again. Fear
of the consequences if he were ever discovered: his name and
photograph splashed across the news services. The shock, doubt,
then final acceptance of his guilt by his friends, who would then
avoid him. The expensive fine and possible gaol sentence.
And, of course, having to resign, or being dismissed.
Perhaps worst of all, the
things he stole were usually of no earthly use to him anyway.
As a teenager Jones had stolen literally hundreds of ballpoint
pens and grey lead pencils from local supermarkets. He had used
some at school, however, the bulk of them had leaked, been lost,
or else still lined the drawers of cupboards at his home. At the
same age Jones had ridden the streets at night on a yellow bike,
raiding open car windows for cigarettes, which he choked upon,
along with pens and pencils which he added to his vast
collection. Every once in a while he had found something
special: A cassette of Elvis Presley's Golden Hits, Volume
Three; an occasional screwdriver or wrench, and, of course,
the watch. It was designed like an old-fashioned fob watch,
except that upon the back was a large, circular magnet to hold it
firmly to the car's dashboard. At fifteen Jones had taken an
expensive oak-handled claw hammer from the open back window of a
Now that he had finally taken
something of value, he had been caught out.
'Or have I?' wondered Jones.
There was still the chance that it was about the promotion. Or
about something else entirely.
"You can come in now, Jones,"
said the voice of Lawrence Uhd, the Vice President, over the intercom,
sounding like the voice of a robot in an early science fiction
Steeling himself, Jones threw
open the office door and stepped inside, almost tripping over a
box of filing cards as he entered. Reams of computer printouts
and old filing cards were stacked high against all four walls of
"Take a seat," said Uhd,
indicating with a sweep of his hand a leather chair before his
desk. "I won't be a moment, just have a few papers to go over."
In fact the desk was almost invisible, concealed beneath a mass
of computer printouts and manila folders filled with
Jones could hardly keep from
shaking as he watched the bald head of Lawrence Uhd bobbing up and down as the Vice President
pored over his work. He remembered the times when he had been
within a whisker of being caught shop-lifting.
Once at the supermarket Jones
had picked up a handful of small electric circuits and had
delayed for only a second before deciding to steal them. It had
been that slight pause which saved him. Jones' hand had not yet
started to move toward his coat pocket when a voice behind him
had bellowed, "What're you think you're doing?"
The man had been tall,
thick-set, and dressed to look inconspicuous, but like the early
television cops, his light grey suit gave him away, like a neon
light that flashed: DANGER SHOP WALKER! DANGER SHOP WALKER!
"Looking at these things,"
Jones had replied lamely.
"Well put 'em down and get
lost!" the shop walker had ordered and Jones had been quick to
reply, almost running out of the supermarket.
Another time Jones had been
riding the streets on his bike at night, looking for open car
windows. He had spotted one ahead of him and had ridden right
up to the door, before seeing the grey-haired old man sitting in
the driver's seat.
"W...what do you want?" asked
the old man, nearly swallowing his false teeth in his
"My dog ran under your car,"
lied Jones hurriedly.
At that moment a tiny fox
terrier ran past on the footpath, so Jones took the opportunity
to say, "there he is," then rode quickly away with his heart
pounding in his chest like Poe's 'Tell-Tale Heart'.
"Won't be more than a few more
minutes," said Uhd, glancing up from the seemingly undiminished
stack of paperwork on his desk.
Then, of course, there was the
one time that he had been caught. Jones had been thirteen at
the time, and had been stealing comics from a local newsagency
for over a month, when one day while he was slipping a pile of
comics into his green vinyl school bag, he nearly jumped out of
his skin, when a heavy hand descended onto his left
"Can I have a look inside your
bag please, young man?" had asked the tall, skeletally thin,
"Look inside my bag?" Jones had
echoed, trying to keep the fear out of his voice.
"That's right," confirmed the
old man, taking the bag from Jones and unzipping it to remove the
nine Marvel Comics.
"What do we have here?" the old
man had asked gleefully.
"I bought them in a shop down
the road," lied Jones.
"Then why do they have my stamp
Jones had had no answer for
"I've noticed comics
disappearing from my shop more than once before. But until now
I didn't know who to suspect. I'm not going to go to the police
--" Jones had audibly breathed a sigh of relief -- "but I don't
intend letting you off the hook either, young man. I know your
parents and they will be hearing about this!"
Jones had hurried to leave the
"Oh, and young man," the
newsagent had called after him, "don't ever set foot inside my
For a month afterwards Jones
had sweated, wondering when his parents would raise the subject.
But they never had. He never knew whether it was because they
had not known what to say, had known of his affliction and had
realised that it was not his fault, or whether the old man had
only been bluffing.
Ever since the day in the
newsagency, Jones had lived in terror of the day when he would
again feel the hand of doom descend upon his shoulder. And at
last the day had arrived, so Jones could forget all about the big
'God how he must be laughing
inside,' thought Jones as he watched Uhd doing his paperwork.
'That bastard has done everything in his power to stop the big
break from coming my way, ever since I started work here, fifteen
years ago. But this time there was nothing he could use against
me...Until, like the weak fool I am, I had to go and hand it to
him on a platter....
'Oh well, if I've lost the big
chance again, maybe I can at least hold onto my job, if I make a
clean breast of it, explain about my illness, and offer to return
the typewriter...If the bastard refuses to listen, I'll go to see
Gordon Koch. If I can convince Gordon that it isn't really my
fault, he might agree to go over Uhd's head and speak to the
company president for me.
'Yes, that's what I'll do,'
thought Jones. He cleared his throat noisily to attract the
Vice President's notice, then said, "Mr...Mr. Uhd?"
"Er, yes, Jones," said Lawrence
Uhd, capping his ballpoint before place it onto his desk. "I'm
sorry to have kept you sitting there for so long, but there is a
new man at your desk now, so the section won't fall behind in its
"A...a n...new man?" stuttered
Jones aloud, thinking to himself, 'My God, the old bastard hasn't
even waited to hear my side of it, before making his move!
What'll I do now? Once word gets around I'll never get another
job as long as I live, unless I settle for factory work, paying
half as much money for twice as much work!'
"Yes, that's right," confirmed
Uhd, "you won't be working there anymore, needless to say, after
'Needless to say,' thought
Jones, feeling sick to the stomach.
"I just wanted to tell you to
'I'll just bet you did, you old
bastard!' thought Jones.
"You've got the
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