Writing Prompt: You’re at work and you print something personal (and sensitive). Unfortunately, you’ve sent it to the wrong printer and, by the time you realize it, somebody else has already scooped it up.
It’s a Tuesday morning, not unlike most mornings during the week at our house. Three kids to get ready, a husband who doesn’t think cooking is his domain, and I am still putting on the last touches of makeup, hot curlers cooling down. It’s our anniversary—number 10—and I still haven’t had a definitive commitment for a dinner out tonight. Carl’s “Maybe,” was all I could get. But I’ve lined up a babysitter anyway, just in case.
I leave for work, kids eating cereal at the counter, Carl behind a newspaper. I’m only 35, but I feel a hundred. Until I get to work.
The doors to our offices are double wide, glass and chrome, the employees streaming in, Starbucks in hand. They’re well dressed, professional, smart. I look like all the rest of them, in my designer suit, heels, toned body all packaged nice and tight.
My office reflects the taste of the entryway—chrome and glass, floor to ceiling windows, contemporary but comfortable furniture. I am a well-paid, respected contributor to the teams. My main responsibility is to keep our key clients happy and coming back for more, both of which I do extremely well.
The admin outside my door has my schedule printed out, she’s talking before she’s fully in my office. I have a busy schedule. She tells me Wesley was by earlier looking for me. He works for a company on a floor above us and we met at the coffee bar on the first floor. I know what he was by looking for, but my day is too jammed to think about it right now. I’m beginning to feel the Flow. I’m powerful. In charge. I’m good and I know it.
At 10 am I look up from the contract I’m reviewing. I stretch my arms above my head, swivel my chair around so I can look out at the skyline of the city. It’s finally spring, and the pale lime green of new leaves flows over the dormant branches, all on the cusp of bursting forth. I feel the hopefulness of spring, feel renewed, my thought drifting towards tonight and wondering if Carl will make time for us.
I get an email from the health clinic. My test results are back. I log into my health portal, and the document is queued up. I steel myself, and double click on the icon. The doc opens.
My worst fear.
It was what Wesley was waiting for. I compose an email to him, cut and paste the pertinent information from the document to the email and hit Send. I’m not totally surprised—who is—but I had hoped the precautions we had taken would have been enough. Obviously not.
It had all started innocently enough. I stayed later and later, avoiding going home to chaos and a husband ready and waiting to fight. I’d go down to the coffee shop, and Wes would be there. We’d talk. We went for a drink one night. And, well, he made me feel attractive, desirable. He would look at me when I said things. He didn’t interrupt, didn’t try to win the argument. He just listened. And then one night he put a sympathetic arm around my shoulder, supporting me, telling me I was so talented, so smart, so beautiful. My resolve began to melt, and a few weeks later we were meeting at his apartment instead of the coffee shop or lounge.
I glance at my watch—it’s 11:15. I check my email. No response from Wesley. It’s odd. He’s normally so prompt. I send a text. “Did you get my email? Do you want to meet for lunch?”
I immediately get a response. “No email. What’s up? Can’t do lunch today.”
I’m puzzled. No email? I go to the Outbox. The email isn’t there. I search on his name. The email is there. I look for it. It’s in Drafts.
I open it, and am trying to figure out what happened. And then I see the likely cause of the mystery. We had gotten a new email system, and the Send button is right next to the Print button. I must have hit Print.
The printer is shared and down the hall a few steps. I jump up and quickly walk to the printer. It’s been over an hour by now, and I’m sure many items have been printed since the email. And I’m right. My email is nowhere to be seen.
I’m not sure what to do. I’m trying to picture what I wrote, how incriminating it is. Did I put Wesley’s last name in it? Would they see his email address? Shit, and how do I get it back? What’s the collateral damage going to be?
I walk up to a few folks that I know share the printer. No one knows a thing. I don’t want to broadcast that the document is missing for fear that I’ll be asked what it was about. OMG OMG OMG.
It’s Thursday, and there hasn’t been any sign of the printed email. Wesley is going to meet me after work. I’ve had sex with Carl, just for insurance. Next week I am travelling to New York to visit clients. Day to day work goes on.
Emily pokes her head into my office. “Got a minute?” she asks. “I’ve got something to cover with you.”
I’m curious because Emily doesn’t work directly for me, but is down the org a few layers. No worries, I have a few minutes.
She walks in, closes the door behind her. That gets my attention. She cuts to the chase. “I know your secret, and if you want to keep it that way, it won’t be hard. I just need a few favors from you.” She’s tall and young, maybe 27. I’ve noticed that she’s ambitious, always talking up the chain of command, ignoring the minions below.
“Your email was stuck to some of my papers. I see you’re in a pickle,” she says smiling. “I can keep quiet, but I want you to help me get that management job that’s opening in marketing. I can do it, and you can bring the doubters in. It’s a little thing, won’t be hard for you to do.”
I look at her incredulously. She’s too junior for the job, even though I agree that she probably could do it but there are at least three others in line for the position who have been at their jobs longer. But the email is the elephant in the room.
I start, “I’ll have to think about…” but she cuts me off.
“You don’t have time to think,” she says. “Do it now, or I go to your husband, your kids, to the folks here at work. You’re connected. You can make it happen. Do it now,” she repeated.
I was sweating. My hands were clammy. I was going to tell Carl I was pregnant in a month or so. Wesley? I didn’t really care about Wesley. And my job was my life. This would be a major issue for some of the guys I worked with, some of the women, too. I was pretty high on a pedestal around here.
“Emily, I can’t do anything today. The Director of Marketing and the Group VP are out of the office until Wednesday. I can talk to them then. But how do I know you won’t use this against me again later?” I asked.
“You don’t,” she said. “But I’ll give you the email, and I’ll give you my word. That’s all I can give you.”
“Tomorrow,” she says as she turns, opens the door and walks casually out.
I’m frantic. “She’s poison,” I think. I can’t go to anyone. Wesley bailed when I told him, and I don’t want to get deeper in that mess anyway. No one at work. Definitely not Carl. I’m a rat in a cage, trying to find a way out, running along the edges, looking for a loophole. Nothing.
The apartment building is in an older part of the city, streets are dark, the neighborhood is sold as “trendy.” I’m in my car, the compact Glock 42 resting on my lap. I’d just finished my Conceal and Carry class, so I am a card carrying pistol owner. Carl had actually purchased the gun for me and I find it’s fun to shoot. I like the sound of the magazine clip as it loads and it feels powerful to retract the slide to clear the chamber. The action sounds just like on TV.
I see Emily approaching, her fine leather hobo handbag crossing her body, bumping her leg as she walks. She’s walking towards me, so the angle is almost straight on—no need to follow the target—the target is getting larger and larger as she nears.
I calmly squeeze the trigger. It sounds so loud! Emily hesitates for an instant, and then drops to the ground. I pull out of the parking spot, and drive slowly away. Looking back through the rearview mirror, doors are opening on either side of the street. One guy in a white t-shirt is walking out to his doorstep, looking out.
“Hah!” I think. “Serves her right, trying to blackmail me. She’ll think twice before she does that again.
“Hah! I guess she won’t have to,” I say to no one in particular.