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 asking.
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
‘No, it has to be something else,’ thought Jones.
Then he realised: ‘Of course, the typewriter!’ Why hadn’t it struck him before?
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.
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 caught.
‘Oh why did I ever give in to the compulsion?’ he asked himself.‘Why couldn’t I be strong, just once?’
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 station wagon.
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 movie.
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 the office.
“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 papers.
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 terror.
“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
“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 shoulder.
“Can I have a look inside your bag please, young man?” had asked the tall, skeletally thin, grey-haired newsagent.
“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 on them?”
Jones had had no answer for that.
“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 newsagency.
“Oh, and young man,” the newsagent had called after him, “don’t ever set foot inside my agency again!”
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 promotion.
‘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
‘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
‘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 workload.”
“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 this.”
‘Needless to say,’ thought Jones, feeling sick to the stomach.
“I just wanted to tell you to your face....”
‘I’ll just bet you did, you old bastard!’ thought Jones.
“You’ve got the promotion!”
© Copyright 2010
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.