I sat at my boss’ desk with my hands clasped on my lap. I would have been the picturesque image of a model employee, had the gauze wrapped around my skull not started leaking again.
I touched two fingers against my head and pulled them away wet and red and sticky. I frowned. “Well, that is out of character. Normally my skin keeps all this stuff in.”
I laughed a little and grabbed the desk to keep myself from falling out of my chair. The majority of the things in my line of vision fluttered in and out of focus.
Dilbert sighed. “You’re exceptionally light headed right now, aren’t you?”
Dilbert Cline runs this whole Double Thumb operation. He is a pretty great boss, all things considered, but I still can’t help but get nervous sometimes when he calls me into his office. It’s how you feel when your dad says he’s disappointed in you.
You know that look.
I would have nodded to answer his question, but I’d probably have lost consciousness if I did. So instead I waggled my tongue around outside of my mouth in what I hoped he took for an affirmative.
“Kevin, this is not a performance review,” Dilbert said when I posed the question, forgot, then asked him again. “I’m concerned about you. You’ve seemed off for a while. Coming in late, alternating crying and laughing hysterically. Now here you are with all this gauze and blood.”
“I’m fine!” I said, slurring only most of my consonants.
Dilbert’s eyes narrowed. “You’re in a fight club, aren’t you? Goddamn it, first Chris and now you! Look, I appreciate that you’re working out your nihilistic angst and everything, but you can’t let it affect your work!”
Waving him off took a lot more energy than I expected. “No, no, nothing like that. Well, not really anyway.”
Dilbert leaned in. The look he gave me was as earnest as it was intense. “Kevin, per section seventeen, paragraph nine of the company handbook, I am legally required to genuinely care about my employees. Now please, tell me what’s going on.”
I avoided his gaze. How was I supposed to explain this whole thing to him? Hell, I didn’t even understand it myself…
I had already been asleep the first time she came to spend the night. The draft from the open window blew across my face. I sat up and saw a shape at the foot of my bed. She was primarily obscured in the darkness, but the moonlight highlighted her beauty in subtle, tantalizing pieces. Before I even saw her face I knew who it was. I could sense it.
Store Girl. Aphrodite. Melanie.
I fell in love with her months ago, but so far it had always been unrequited. And now here she was, sneaking through my window in the middle of the night, perhaps willing to accept me after all.
My heart played an extended drum solo against my ribcage. I reached out to her and she glided toward me. Her hand slid into mine. Wordless, both of us. The breath caught in my throat, as pent up for release as the rest of my body. Melanie moved beside me, the soft expanse of her skin inches from mine. I closed my eyes and absorbed her presence.
She stabbed me in the shoulder with a hunting knife.
* * *
When she slipped into my room the second time I will admit that I was less receptive than before. I shouted and tried to scramble out of bed, but the sheets caught around my ankles and brought me to the ground. The stitches from my knife wound tore and the thing started to leak like a sternly gripped ketchup bottle.
I decided to just lay perfectly still. Hopefully by the time she got around the bed the puddle of blood would be big enough that she’d think she already killed me and would leave. I sucked in a deep breath and held it inside big puffed out squirrel cheeks.
“Oh, get up,” she said.
Can’t hear you, I thought. I’m super dead right now.
I am good at this.
“Kevin. Get up off the floor or I’m going to shoot you twice right in the butt hole.”
That popped me onto my feet. I turned around slowly, my arms above my head in conciliatory distress. I quickly noted that she did in fact have a gun, and though it was not leveled on me at the moment, I had no doubt that she would swiftly rectify that if I gave her even a smidgen of a reason.
So how had we gotten here, you might ask? A few months back some guy hired her to kill me. She has had multiple opportunities to do so since then, although she hadn’t yet been able to bring herself to, for reasons neither of us seemed to understand.
So we stood there for a while in the darkness of my bedroom. She glared at me. I looked anywhere else but her. To say the moment was uncomfortable is putting it mildly. I have a hard enough time with small talk, let alone chatting with someone who may want to kill me. Eventually it got to me though. My fear of awkward silences is apparently greater than my fear of death. I took a deep breath.
“Soooo…. Melanie. What brings you he–”
“Kevin, don’t talk. There’s nothing you can say that will save you. I am going to kill you. I’m sorry, but I have to. I am going to put a bullet right between your eyes. I am going to beat you to death with a ball-peen hammer. I am going to disembowel you and strangle you with your small intestine. I am going to cut off your head and–”
She stopped. In the middle of her threat chain her stomach let out a wet little gurgle. It was so out of place, so squeaky and disarming that I couldn’t help but laugh. Her glare latched onto me and I clapped my hands over my mouth.
Shit. I always knew this was going to be what killed me.
Well, that was it. I had doomed myself with a giggle. Her countenance grew darker than the night around us. Her fingers moved on her gun. My life flashed before my eyes and left me largely disappointed.
Then the corners of Melanie’s mouth turned upward.
And just like that the tension in the room dissipated. Well, mostly anyway. She did still have a gun, after all. But instead of shooting me she just sat on the foot of the bed and shook her head, smiling despite herself. Her hair shimmered like a waterfall in the moonlight.
I let loose a little bubble of courage. “Look, are you hungry? Do you want like a pork chop or something? I got these new frying pans with the insurance money from when you burned down my kitchen and I’ve been dying to try them out.” My eyes flicked to the pistol in her hand. “Not literally dying, mind you. I don’t want to do that. Eager, is what I meant. I’ve been eager to try them.”
She sat there for a long while, not saying anything. Then eventually she let out a heavy sigh which turned into a nod. I couldn’t restrain my smile.
The T-fal Ultimate Cookware Set (13 piece) is an all around solid collection of cookware. They’re stainless steel with copper bottoms, which allows for better heat conductivity or something. I’m not really sure, as I haven’t cooked all too much with them. Now that I had Melanie to impress, I hoped that these pots and pans would help me cook the best meal I possibly could
“These are pretty terrible, Kevin,” Melanie said as she waved a piece of fried pork at me.
I had just finished ripping the batteries out of the last of the smoke detectors before I sat down next to her at the table. I glanced over at the blackened frying pan sticking out of the garbage. It was quite beyond cleaning at this point.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I’m not that great of a cook, actually. I get real paranoid about food poisoning so I tend to overcook stuff as a precaution. ‘If it’s too tough to cut, then it’s done!’ That’s what I always say.” I frowned. “Doesn’t really have a ring to it, does it?”
She prodded the leathery meat with the barrel of her pistol. “Well, you’ll just have to make me something better tomorrow night, won’t you?”
I gulped involuntarily. “Uh, tomorrow night?”
She set the gun on the table with a heavy thud. She never took her hand off of it. “Yeah. Tomorrow night.”
She left before morning.
* * *
The next night I left my bedroom window unlocked. It wouldn’t have made that much of a difference anyway.
I had almost woken up when she shoved the barrel of her pistol into my mouth so deep I felt like I should be getting filmed and paid for it.
You know the look.
Melanie jostled the gun aggressively against my teeth. “Tell me why I can’t pull the trigger, Kevin! Watch this.” She pulled back the hammer on the pistol. I let out a little whimper. “The gun is loaded. Safety’s off. Killing you would make my life ten million times easier. So why can’t I do it?”
I tried to answer her but it just came out as mumbling and slobber. It was like trying to talk at the dentist’s office, if the dentist was also blatant about his desire to murder you.
She pulled the gun out of my mouth and pressed it against my eyeball instead. “Talk,” she said. “Say some dumb shit that will make it easier for me to want to kill you.”
I blinked. “Well it’s probably not going to be too hard for me to manage that, is it?”
She sighed heavily and let her gun arm go slack. “Goddamn it, Kevin. You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?”
I shrugged and got out of bed to make her dinner. We had shrimp pasta.
* * *
She came through the window at 2 AM wielding a shotgun. This time I was waiting for her.
“Surprise!” I said, holding out a sheet of warm, freshly baked cookies.
She blasted them out of my arms with the shotgun. They scattered all over the room and buckshot ricocheted into the walls.
Sure, that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction when confronted with this terror.
“I made those for you,” I said. “They’re from scratch and everything.”
She stared at the pieces of dough and chocolate chips that she had reduced to smaller than bite sized pieces.
“I bet they were shit anyway,” she said.
I yawned. “Probably. I guess I’ll just have to try better tomorrow, won’t I?”
* * *
It’s not like I didn’t try going to the cops. About a week ago I drove straight to the station instead of going to work. I had gotten about twelve feet from the door when out of nowhere a bullet whizzed past me and put a hole in the sidewalk. I felt it go through my hair.
“That was a warning shot,” Melanie told me later. “Next time you try to go to the cops I’ll be sure to fucking kill you.”
“Why not just do it right now?” I asked, nudging the shotgun she had pressed so hard against my chest that it left indents in my flabby pecs.
She sighed for about two minutes straight.
I waved my hand in front of my face as I caught the scent of liquor on her breath. “Have you been drinking?”
“Heavily. I thought it would help dull my conscience. But it did the opposite and now I’m all mopey and shit.”
She hiccuped stereotypically.
I nudged the gun aside “Do you want bread or anything? I can make you a sandwich or give you some crackers too.”
“Kevin, I’m trying to murder you, okay? Stop offering to cook for me.”
* * *
So I stopped offering. Instead, when she came around I would already be in the kitchen, whipping up my latest attempt at a souffle or waffles or borscht. My cooking skills were actually starting to improve. I burned fewer pans than usual, bought a couple recipe e-books, and even watched Rachael Ray once for about three minutes.
I got the gist of it.
Melanie began to come over earlier and earlier. Always with her weapons. Always with her scowl. But still, she was spending time with me.
“Hey,” I ventured at one point. “At the risk of sounding like a damn hippie or something, do you want to just, you know, TALK about things?”
She shot two holes in the linoleum and I decided to leave it at that.
Eventually things became routine. When I went to the store (where Melanie no longer seemed to work, mind you) I bought food for two. When I went to bed I made sure to leave the window unlocked. Sure, occasionally the murder-bug would strike her a little harder and I wind up semi-grievously wounded. But I adapted, and got really good at bandaging.
All in all, I treasured the time we spent together.
* * *
Melanie aimed her pistol in my general direction as I stood by the stove, deep in concentration. I had gotten further along without burning anything than I ever had before and I was determined not to screw things up now. As I cooked, I kept catching glimpses of Melanie out of the corner of my eye, watching me. Finally, I decided to say something.
“How come the only time we hang out is when you’ve got a gun?” I said. “I’m starting to worry that’s all we have in common.”
Good,” she said. “Things are going to be better if we keep it that way.”
I shimmied the frying pan a couple times and then left it on the burner to simmer. I walked over to where she sat and folded my arms. Maybe it was the ego boost that came with becoming slightly better at cooking, but I felt particularly emboldened at that moment. I leaned on the table and looked straight at her.
“You know what I think?”
“No. And I don’t want to.”
“I think that you’re actually here protecting me.”
Her eyes flashed toward me.
I shrugged. “After all, you said yourself that there are other people with contracts out for my life, right? Hell, I even met a couple of them. That Fork guy is still alive, presumably, so he’s probably still gunning for me. I’m guessing there’s more than just him too. You were (are?) working for some allegedly powerful people, so there’s no way I’m safe on my own.”
The muscles in her arms and neck started to tense up. In the vague recesses of my mind I had the sense that maybe I was pushing things a little too far.
You know the look.
Fortunately I seem to have developed a knack for ignoring my intuition, so I leaned in further.
“I think that if you really were going to kill me you’d have done it already. Back when it would have been easy. Back before you really knew me. But now we’ve spent all this time together and that’s got to make it harder. Because honestly? If I were to make a wild guess, I would say that you are actually starting to like me.”
I leaned back, a smug smile of self-satisfaction forming my entire aura. Again we found ourselves locked in silence, our eyes having a conversation of their own. Melanie gave a little cough.
She spoke slowly: “Well Kevin, you want to know what I think?”
* * *
“And that’s when she shot me in the head,” I said.
Dilbert Cline stared at me, removing his face from his palm where it had been resting for the past half hour.
I poked at my gauze. “She just grazed me – mostly on purpose, I think. So that’s good.”
He blinked. “You realize that this is a textbook abusive relationship, right?”
I cocked my head.
He sighed. “And you realize that I’m definitely going to have to call the cops. Per section seventeen, you know.”
I nodded. “You do that and she’ll probably kill me, though. Plus, what if I’m right? What if she is really protecting me from those other psychos?”
“We go to the authorities. This isn’t even a question of company protocol anymore. This is just basic common sense. Or at least I would think.”
He gave me a pointed look which I probably would have been able to read as a criticism of my mental capabilities, had I not been so woozy.
“But we’re doing lasagna tonight,” I said. “I think I might actually avoid adding too much butter this time.”
2-3 cubes max.
Dilbert drummed his fingers on his desk. “Is she at your place now? This girl with the guns?”
“No, probably not. She’s been showing up shortly after I get home from work.”
“Go get your stuff then. Now. Grab your essentials and get back here. You can sleep in the waterbed in the break room until we get this sorted out. In the meantime I’m going to call the cops.”
I started to protest, but he raised a hand. “You have an hour, Kevin. Go.”
* * *
At Cline’s direction, one of our security guards, Otis, came to play bodyguard while I went and gathered my things. I tried to insist that it was overkill, but Dilbert is not the kind of guy you argue with, especially when he’s looking out for the best interests of his employees.
So Otis and I headed to my house. We made light conversation, but mostly I just tried to figure out what was going to happen next. Would the cops arrest Melanie? Would she hate me for running away from her? Could I just talk to her maybe? Work things out?
It was quiet inside my house. Melanie wasn’t here. Otis went to scope out the other rooms just in case. I just stood in the entryway, uncertain where to start. Then something caught my eye. A piece of paper stuck to the wall. A note. I snatched it and read it six times, trying to decipher it for hidden meaning. It was brief:
Kevin. There’s no great way to say this, but I have to leave. For good. I’m sorry for what’s probably going to happen next.
Love (goddamn it),
Next to her name was a really detailed drawing of a frowny face. Perhaps it’s just because I was in love, but I felt that she could have easily had a career as an artist.
From the other room came a grunt and what sounded like the dull ringing of a muffled gong.
“Otis?” I said. “You all right?”
No answer. No sound at all.
My voice cracked. “Melanie? Is that you?”
Clearly something bad had happened in the next room. I was drawn to it like a bug to a zapper. I wish I could say I was surprised by what I saw.
Otis lay unmoving on the floor of my living room, a trickle of red along his skull. Above him stood Fork, the violent Goliath. He was missing his right hand. My gaze followed his arm down to the stump of his wrist, where something metal and shiny protruded from it. Not a hook, but a…
Fork spun the frying pan in his good hand. Blood wicked off the bottom of it.
“This is a nice frying pan you’ve got here,” he said. “Got some heft to it.”
“What do you want?” I asked, as if this interaction was going to lead to anything else besides him trying to kill me.
He held up his severed arm. “You’ve got some debts to pay, Kevin. And Melanie isn’t here to save you anymore.”
I looked between him, the note in my hand, and my possibly dead bodyguard laying on the ground. I found that I couldn’t think of any way to stall for time.
“Well,” I said. “Shit.”
Fork moved toward me in a flash, every huge muscle in his body tensed with rage. Then there was a frying pan in my face and then pain and then blackness.
[Kevin Harper could not be reached to deliver a final rating on this product.]