Waring: Somewhat graphic content follows the "Read More" link.
Barbara enjoyed the solitude as she typed at her computer. Having the office to herself, after everyone else went home was the best of both worlds: it made her feel professional but without the demands of maintaining a professional façade with her colleagues. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them. She liked them all well enough. It’s just that she felt something of an imposter. She’d recently rejoined the workforce after taking a few years off to start a family. Now, with her two children in school, she was trying to learn how to relate to adults again.
The rituals of the working world take time and are as intricate as those of the Freemasons, though likely less codified and with fewer funny hats. Except on Funny Hat Day. Barbara didn’t quite understand Funny Hat Day. She liked doing her hair, putting on a flattering dress, chosen for style rather than how easily puke stains would come out of it, and a pair of shoes in which she could never negotiate a Lego-strewn family room. “Why would you want to deliberately mess that up,” she thought? Especially when the day’s work remained unchanged? The hats were just there, peripheral. Three minutes of chuckles and seven hours and fifty seven minutes of hat head.
Fortunately, it wasn’t Funny Hat Day. It was just a regular work day. Barbara liked those. Not that she didn’t enjoy the office’s collegial vibe, but what she really loved was that she was taken seriously, as a capable woman. She wasn’t somebody’s mom, she was somebody.
Barbara saved the draft she was working on and closed the document. She glanced at the picture of her family on her desk as she thought about the e-mail she was about it write. As she sat there, she heard a noise. She’d been hearing noises for about an hour, since the last of her colleagues went home. She had been dismissing them as the building settling, wind, or machinery. It wouldn’t do to let her imagination get the better of her. There was something different about this noise, though. It sounded like the outer door to the stairwell closing with its characteristic clang. There shouldn’t be anybody coming in that door. All the staff entered through the main door, using their electronic pass cards and either took the main stairs or the elevator to the third floor office. The fire stairs were only used as a shortcut to the parking lot when people were leaving at the end of the day.
Barbara sat a moment thinking about what she should do. She thought she could hear footsteps in the stairwell. Her mind raced to scenes of women in heels being chased by killers in countless movies and TV shows. They always tripped or twisted an ankle, their vanity being their undoing. Feeling silly, Barbara reached down and began to unbuckle the straps on her shoes. She’d loved them when she bought them, but the three-inch heels weren’t made for speed.
She heard the fire door open. That was odd. The door was supposed to be locked, only able to be opened from the inside, just like the one at the base of the stairs. She was reaching for her purse, and the phone it contained, when she heard a voice. “Helloooo Barbara,” it sang out. Just as the greeting ended, Tom came into view at the end of the row of cubicles in which Barbara sat.
“Tom, you scared me,” Barbara said, feeling herself relax. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“Sorry, Barb. I didn’t mean to.”
“My heart is beating a mile a minute.”
“Didn’t mean to, but it’s only fair, since you always have that effect on me,” said Tom as he stopped at Barbara’s cubicle and leaned against the partial wall. She could see the small smile on his face and the subtly raised eyebrow.
Barbara laughed a little and blushed a little. Tom had been flirting with her since a month after she arrived at the office. One of the first conversations they had was him asking her out. This was despite the wedding ring she wore and that, at 34, she was about eight years older than him. She had laughed and blushed that time too. She had to admit to being flattered. Tom, while not overly tall, was a good six inches taller than her and fairly solid, if not muscular. His dark brown hair always looked as if he had just rolled out of bed and run a brush through it once or twice before heading into the office.
“I saw your car in the parking lot and I thought I’d come up and see how you were doing,” he said, crossing his arms.
“Oh, um, fine, really,” replied Barbara, averting her eyes from his gaze.
“In no hurry to get home, huh?” As he said this, Tom moved closer to her and picked up the picture of her family. It had been taken when she and Gary had gone camping with the children. Barbara loved Maria’s smile in that photo. Jake had refused to smile, trying to mimic his father’s look of mock anger at the request to pose for yet another photo. Tom studied it briefly, sitting on the edge of her desk while he did so. Then he placed it on the desk, face down.
“I just wanted to get a few things finished before I head back home. There’s so much to do there, what with making dinner and getting the kids to bed and making sure everything is set for the morning.” Barbara stopped, surprised by how much she had just told Tom. She tended to be on the quiet side when she was in the office. She found herself particularly flustered by Tom, ever since the day he’d casually asked her if she wanted to catch a movie after work. Now here she was just blurting out everything!
“C’mon! It’s got to be nice to get away from the white picket fence and cooking and cleaning and the old Saturday night usual,” he said with a wink. “I wonder how a beautiful woman can live with those constraints.”
He didn’t know the half of it, she thought. Before she’d married, Barbara had lived a life that would probably surprise Tom. In her early twenties, she had been a fixture at the clubs and there wasn’t much she hadn’t tried. Thirteen years of marriage had transformed the lithe, redheaded hellion of her youth into a respectable housewife. She was grateful for that, really. Had she kept at it, she probably would have pushed things too far and paid the price. She nearly had. And Tom was certainly wrong about the “Saturday night usual.” Her husband didn’t approach her for sex anywhere near that frequently. Two or three times a year was more like it, and then it tended to be perfunctorily vanilla. Could he see that in her? Could Tom tell how hungry she was to be taken up, wrapped in flesh and sweat?
“Oh, no, married life is great. I really like it. It suits me. I love the kids and my husband is great. I admit I like coming to the office for the three days a week, though. It’s good to get to act like an adult for a change.”
“I imagine it is. Want to act like adults right now?” Tom lowered his chin and raised his eyebrows as he locked his brown eyes with her green ones.
“Um…well…you know,” Barbara stammered, flustered. She imagined that look, their eyes locked, as she writhed beneath him, the warmth of his belly pressed against hers. She shifted slightly in her chair, trying to push back the thoughts.
Tom chuckled at her awkwardness as she felt her face flush. “Oh, come on. Let’s go have a bit of fun. You and I can have a drink, maybe get a bite to eat. Then I can drive you back here to get your car. Maybe stop off at my place and talk a bit, get to know each other better, or, you know, whatever.” He smiled broadly, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
She couldn’t believe what he was saying. He was so forward! She had worked so hard to build this life for herself and now he was denigrating it. She had known so many men like him before. She looked at his face and saw none of the warmth that marked her husband’s face. He didn’t want to build anything with her, only kick at, to soil, what she already had. Why then, was she finding it so tempting?
“Really, Tom, that’s really inappropriate. Please stop. I don’t want to have to report your behaviour.”
“Cut the crap, Barbara. I know you love the attention and I know you want some of this,” he said, pointing to his crotch. “You might fool everyone else with your shy act, but I know better. I know your type. I know you.”
No, you probably don’t, thought Barbara. Still, she couldn’t help looking where he was pointing. She’d caught him eyeing her on numerous occasions. Whenever she did, he held her gaze for a few beats, often giving her a sly smile before she averted her gaze. He wasn’t much different than other men she had known when she was younger: arrogant and proud, interested only in conquest. She’d learned long ago it was in her best interest to say no to them.
She squeezed her legs together, trying hard not to think about what was happening, how empty she was feeling. How empty she had felt for a long time. A mechanical, hard attack sounded exactly like what she did want. She wanted to feel hard, solid evidence that she was desirable, that she was a woman, not just a mother and a wife. She wanted someone who would give her that and go, who would leave her in her life. Damn him! This was all under control before she came here and he started in on her. Could Tom be what she needed? “No, Tom. I’m not interested,” said Barbara, looking him square in the eye.
“I can see evidence you are,” said Tom, as he stared at her erect nipples, evident through the fabric of her dress. He leaned in quickly, a hand cupping her breast, the other the back of her head and pressed his lips to hers, in a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss.
She was stunned by the action. It felt like a jolt of electricity when his hand landed on her breast the nipple covered by his palm. Her lips felt hot, wanting so much the attention long denied them by anyone. It lasted only a second.
With all her strength, she pushed him back. “No!”
Tom’s usual cocky smirk had been supplanted by, clenched, bared teeth. When his eyes met Barbara’s, she could finally see what was really inside him and it was not arrogance, it was anger and loathing. “You bitch,” he said in a low voice.
He grabbed her wrists and held them tightly. As she struggled to free herself, he squeezed harder, his strong fingers making the deep impressions where bruises would later bloom.
“After all the time you spent leading me on, acting shy and coy and lapping up all the attention I give you, now you have the nerve to act like you don’t want it? You can’t fool me. I know you do. I knew you were going to be staying late. That’s why I taped back the latches on the doors when I left,” Tom said. “I knew you’d like to keep it quiet. Figure I’d sneak in and we could head out and I’d show you a good time. Why else would you be staying late so many nights?”
“Let me go, Tom. You’re hurting me.”
“Shut up! I bet you like that, don’t you? That’s why you’re playing so hard to get. You don’t like nice guys.”
“You’re deluded! You’re an egotistical, pathetic loser. Let me go,” Barbara yelled as she struggled. She broke one hand free from his grip and raked it across his face, her nails leaving three bloody furrows across his cheek and nose.
Tom let out an angry cry and touched his fingers to his face. He felt the warmth of his blood on them. “Damn you!” Tom released her wrist and grabbed her throat with both of his hands and started to shake her as he tightened his grip. “Stupid,” he hissed through clenched teeth.
Barbara struggled, unable to get a clear hit anyplace that hurt him enough to make him loosen his grip. His rage was completely uncontrolled. She had no doubt he wouldn’t stop squeezing until the life was gone from her. If she didn’t do something quickly, she’d die here and now.
She reached down beside her chair, stretching her right arm out as she curled her right leg up, bringing her ankle up to her palm. Her hand fumbled with the unfastened buckle, pulling the strap loose. Once she felt it was free, she slid her had down her ankle and pulled her shoe off. She tightened her grip. She was getting light-headed. She swung hard at Tom.
Barbara felt the jolt of solid contact radiate down her arm as the narrow heel connected with Tom’s temple, punching a hole through flesh, down to the bone. She immediately pulled it back, the taper of the heel allowing it to slide from the wound. Tom turned to see what had hit him just as she swung once more. She felt contact again, but not as solid or jarring, as she followed through on the swing.
Immediately, her ears were filled with a loud, animalistic wail and the vise squeezing her throat was gone.
As she gasped for breath, Barbara saw Tom stagger backward against the wall of her cubicle, his hands at his face. Her shoe obscured his left cheek, ichor dripping from the toe as the smashed remains of Tom’s eye ran down his cheek, flowing around the edges of the sole.
“What the…you bitch! I’ll kill you,” Tom bellowed, the hands on his face doing little to dampen the volume of the words and nothing to reduce their fury.
Barbara scanned her desk, grabbing the scissors from her pencil holder. Planting her unshod foot on the floor she leapt from the chair toward Tom. Landing on her left foot, her ankle wobbled but she stayed upright on the heel. She pushed herself upward, using the heel as leverage and drove the point of the scissors into his throat until the handles stopped them. The groans of pain stopped, replaced moments later by a wet gurgle. She backed away.
Tom’s hands moved from his face to his throat. He pulled weakly at the scissors as blood seeped around their edges. He fixed his remaining eye on Barbara and tried to speak. No sound passed his lips, only blood. He collapsed backward against the cube wall and slid down.
Barbara fell heavily back into her chair, gripping the arms tightly to stop her hands shaking. Then she reached for the phone on her desk, opened a line, dialed 911. “I think he’s dead, “ she said and hung up. Then she reached in her bag, took out her cellphone and pressed the speed dial button for her husband.
“It’s happened again…yes, dead…drop the kids off at your parents and bring me a pair of comfortable shoes, please…me too. See you soon.” She put her phone back in her purse and put the purse back on her desk. She could hear the sirens growing louder. She looked at Tom’s unmoving form, focusing on his unblinking eye. “No. You don’t know me at all.”