ALL FOR ONE, ONE
A file drawer,
partially open, spilled folders
onto the floor. The bookshelf was in disarray, and three of her desk drawers
were gaping, obviously searched. Lisbeth stood in the doorway and watched Billy
Wood, his back to her, open another desk drawer and paw through it. Her heart
seemed to be in her throat and her stomach at the same time, and she felt as if
she were watching something obscene. On silent feet, she crept away. What was
he looking for? She had nothing to hide in her office.
* * * * *
The day had started
all wrong for
Lisbeth. Soon after she arrived at work, April Simmons, her boss, called her in
to complain about a phone message Lisbeth had taken. The name and phone number
both were wrong. April was obviously annoyed, but mystified. Usually her
assistant took impeccable phone messages. Lisbeth mumbled an apology and backed
out of the room without a real explanation.
Backing, she bumped
into Jennifer, the departmental
clerk. A file folder tumbled, contents
spilling everywhere. “Oh, Jenny, I'm
sorry. Here, let me help. I didn't see you.”
to see someone when you're backing
up—you're not equipped with mirrors, you know,” Jenny joked as they bent down
and scooped up papers together. “Is something wrong, Lisbeth?”
about lunch with the bunch? We're
going to Denny's.”
thanks. I've got lots of
work to do, so I'll eat here.”
never go out with us anymore. You've become a regular hermit. And you end
up eating with the Princesses of Unhappiness in the cafeteria. Not healthy.”
“Is that what you call them?”
You ever notice they're always complaining? You get like that, and I'll
misfile your memos, make lots of typing mistakes and mess up your phone
messages.” She stopped when she saw the look on her friend's face. “What
is it? Something's wrong and has been
for a while. I just know it.”
really, Jenny. Now I honestly
do have an awful lot to do.”
Lisbeth turned away, walked
to her office, and closed the door, allowing her shoulders to slump in
discouragement. Severely slender, and losing weight lately, she knew she should
not slump. She was pretty, with even features and luxurious brown hair which
tumbled down her thin shoulders. Dark circles and faint lines had started to appear
around her soft brown eyes. She'd stopped looking at herself closely in the
mirror. Mentally she shook herself and noticed all the drawers were shut and
her office looked pretty normal. She
walked to her desk, banging her hip on the corner. Absently she rubbed it as
she sat down and began working.
A little after
noon she went to the
nearly deserted cafeteria, joining the table where Millie sat with several
other secretaries. Few employees took advantage of the cafeteria, so it was
quiet, though a bit dumpy. Lisbeth understood why Jenny dubbed the group the
Princesses of Unhappiness. Millie, Personnel Secretary, dominated the group. She
was the largest, both in height and girth, and she had a loud voice which she
used to give her opinion about everything. Next to her sat Ellen, mousy and
mostly quiet, but when she did speak, it was almost always to say something
negative. Ellen was the Personnel Department Assistant. Nancy and Melissa from
Accounting rounded out the group. They were complaining about their bosses
while Lisbeth remained silent. Then the conversation turned to the up-coming
bought anything new to wear,
yet, Lisbeth?” Millie asked.
have. It's silver and slinky.”
Sounds like you'll have
to pull your hair back and wear dangling earrings,” Millie told her. Snakelike,
her hands reached out to pull Lisbeth's hair away from her face.
violently, upsetting her
soda into Millie's lap.
sorry,” Lisbeth said as she
grabbed napkins to hand her.
Everyone was quiet
while Millie dabbed
at her skirt, vexation showing on her pudgy face. Lisbeth quickly finished her
lunch and hurried back to her department where April saw her and asked her to
come into her office.
April looked so
upset that Lisbeth was
sure she had made another mistake and that April was ready to fire her. Her
supervisor motioned for her to sit, so she perched on the chair, clutching her
hands tightly in her lap.
April began. “I don't know
how to say this. Where to begin.” Her voice trailed off as Lisbeth held her
breath, her fingernails digging into her palms.
to tell someone, someone I can
trust.” Lisbeth relaxed a little. “It's about Billy Wood.” April paused once
again and looked searchingly at Lisbeth, eyes pleading for understanding. “He's
been harassing me. Sexually. He calls me into his office, closes the door, and
says terrible things to me. I can't even repeat them. Then he pressures me to
go out with him. He says I can never prove anything, that he talks like that to
me and no one else, so I'd better not try charging him because I'd lose my job.
Today he gave me one week to decide between going out with him or being fired.”
How awful.” Lisbeth was
horrified. “What are you going to do?” Lisbeth knew April needed the job. She
was a single mother, and her ex-husband was months behind with child support.
know. You know how hard it is
to prove harassment.”
still. April, I believe you. I
want you to know that. And if there's anything I can do--”
that, Lisbeth. I had to
tell someone.” Lisbeth nodded her understanding and got up to leave. April came
around her desk, and impulsively, they hugged.
Lisbeth went back
to her office, and a
few minutes later her intercom buzzed. Billy Wood told her to come to his
After she arrived
and sat down, Lisbeth
waited for an explanation.
tented his fingers and looked searchingly at her before beginning.
that your behavior has become
Her body tensed
as if awaiting a
physical blow. “What do you mean by erratic?”
have trouble walking a
straight line, close the door to your office an awful lot, avoid co-workers and
get phone messages wrong. Some of your other work is slipping, too, I hear.”
you that?” she demanded.
talking to me first. What were you looking for in my office?”
he said flatly.
blank for a moment, then
she scowled at Billy.
loudly, just once, on the
door. It was April, who entered, breathless.
going on here? Billy, you have no
right to talk to Lisbeth without my knowledge and even my consent. Jenny saw
what was happening and told me you even searched Lisbeth's office, for heaven's
case, I do have the right. I
have reason to believe she's been drinking on the job.”
you crazy?” April looked from
one to the other, wide-eyed, then sat down abruptly in the other visitor's
Lisbeth said, chin raised. “Did
you find any bottles in my office?”
there are none. I rarely
drink—a little wine now and then. I would like to know who suggested the idea
“Oh, I can't
tell you that. But, of
course if you were drinking, you wouldn't admit it. What other explanation do
you have for your behavior?”
Then, with both April
and Billy staring at her, she slowly raised the hair covering her ears and
removed two hearing aids, placing them carefully on Billy Wood's desk.
year ago I noticed I couldn't
hear the phone ringing from outside my door like I used to. Then my ears started
buzzing. And when I put my head at a certain angle, the whole room whirled. So
I went to a doctor, who sent me to an audiologist, who fitted me with these. They
can't fix the buzzing or the occasional dizziness. They help me hear better,
but sometimes things still aren't clear, especially when I get tired.” She
turned to April. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier. Somehow, I was ashamed. I
thought maybe you'd think I wouldn't be as much help. I close my office door to
hear better on the phone. I don't go to noisy restaurants because with these
aides I hear the noise as loud as the conversation at my own table, so I have a
real hard time understanding. Yes, I stagger—I have an inner ear balance
problem.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding. “I was scared when this happened.
I can't lose my job—I have hardly any savings, and no one in my family can help.”
She reached out
and put the aides back
in her ears. Then with dignity, she said, “Mr. Wood, I think you owe me an apology.”
do, Billy,” April told him. “And
whoever started the rumor that Lisbeth drank on the job should be fired. Who
knows how many people heard it?”
“But if she has these
problems, she may not be capable of doing the job she was hired for. We'll have
to evaluate this information and make a decision.”
you might let me go?” Lisbeth
possibility,” Billy said. Lisbeth
could tell by his expression that he had made up his mind to get rid of her.
A loud crash made all three of them jump up and rush to the door.
area, they stood stunned. A
broken vodka bottle was smashed on Millie's desk. She looked at them in shock. “You're
fired,” Billy told her. “Get out now.”
want to hang around this
train wreck. She and April sprinted to their offices.
all right?” April asked where
they arrived at Lisbeth’s door.
I'll always be fine. Billy
better watch his back, though,” Lisbeth said through clenched teeth.
Millie sobbed as she
dashed past them toward the ladies’ room, eyes awash with tears.
Millie,” April shouted at
her as she ran down the corridor. She slowed, and April and Lisbeth caught up
to her. “I think we need to get out of here. Grab your coats and stuff and meet
me in the lobby.” Lisbeth and Millie nodded agreement as they rushed to get
a small bar and grill
around the corner. She knew the plush red booth seats had high backs that blocked
some sound and would give them some privacy. They ordered Margaritas, fried calamari,
and fried zucchini. No one said anything until the drinks were served.
really your bottle, Millie?” April
at her, but April only
said, “I'm not surprised. He's the one who's erratic.”
They ate the appetizers
another drink, hardly speaking. Millie popped a fried calamari
into her mouth. “I feel like killing him. It’s the only solution. Corporate
could all quit,” Lisbeth pointed
April shook her
head. “I love my job
here. I just hate dealing with Billy.”
The waitress approached.
right here?” she asked.
The three of them
stared at her a few moments.
“We’re fine,” Lisbeth said, “Thank you.”
When she moved
away, Lisbeth said, “We better
keep our voices down and pretend we’re having a great time.”
have any ideas on how to handle
Billy going forward?” Millie dipped a zuccini slice in ranch dressing and took
all complain to corporate. Maybe
check out some of the other workers and see if they’d join us.”
anyone would?” Lisbeth took a
long swallow of her margarita, almost emptying her glass.
April shook her
head. “If we start
asking around, it will get back to Billy. He has a few allies, you know.”
Millie said. “I vote we just
April and Lisbeth
stared at her. “Really?
How?” Lisbeth asked.
own gun. He keeps it in his
bottom desk drawer with the booze. I happen to have a key.”
and her jaw fell open. “Do
you know how to use a gun?”
“Of course, or I wouldn’t
have mentioned it.”
Lisbeth and April
exchanged glances. “Tempting,”
The waitress appeared
and asked if they
needed their drinks refilled. They said yes and waited until she was far enough
away to continue their conversation.
slow down here.” Lisbeth waved her
hand at them. “Does Bily have any redeeming qualities?”
Both and April and Millie said,
then laughed ruefully.
he divorced his wife,” Millie pointed
out. “And she told me he’s always behind on child support and usually bails on
time with the kids. He wasn’t abusive, but he was a jerk with her, just as he
is with us.”
awful,” Lisbeth said. “We need to do something. I really believe he’ll get all
three of us fired.”
The other two
nodded. “So,” Millie said,
“we kill him?”
heart pounded. She was so
tempted, but also scared. But she was more scared of losing her job, especially
now with the hearing loss. It could be difficult to find another one. She
glanced at April. “What do you think?”
“I am so
sick of him.” She turned to Millie.
“He’s been harassing me, and I know he’s going to get me fired because I won’t
give into him. Let’s do it!”
terrible,” Millie said. “You don’t
think anyone will believe you if you report it?”
“No, I don’t.
what should we do? Like I said,
“Let’s go back to work,
hide out in my office—no one would think it odd if my door is closed—and wait
for quitting time, then get the gun and kill him. We’ll all be in on it
together, and we’ll keep our jobs.”
They drank to
the idea. Lisbeth wondered
if April and Millie still felt the hot anger that crawled deep inside her. That
and the humiliation. They had one more drink each and left the bar, still so
righteously angry that April and Millie barely staggered, and Lisbeth walked
steadier than normal.
Jennifer was leaving
as they marched in,
and she gave them a long look, but was anxious to go home, so asked no
questions. Lisbeth noticed she seemed more harried than usual. They waited in April’s
office until five-thirty because Millie assured them that Billy never left
They all wanted
to be the one to pull
the trigger, but Millie said, “I’m the only one who’s fired a gun before. Only
at targets, but Billy will be close enough I can’t miss.”
The minutes ticked
by so slowly that
Lisbeth thought she would scream. The liquor seemed to have lost its effect on
her, and she wished for another drink.
They watched the
clock on April’s wall,
and at exactly five-thirty they stood up, checked out the deserted hall and
headed toward Billy's office. They made it without meeting anyone.
When they entered
his office. Millie shrieked.
April gasped, and Lisbeth slapped her mouth with her hands so she wouldn’t scream.
Billy lay sprawled
across the desk with a
wound in his back, very obviously dead. The bottom desk drawer was wide open. The
gun had been placed next to his hand, a cushion from the reception area thrown
in a corner, spewing its stuffing.
All three backed
out slowly, April
returned the cushion she had clutched to her chest to its chair. Carefully
checking the hallway, they went back to April’s office without discussing the
fact that that was where they were headed.
closed the door behind
them, and they sat down in the chairs they had just left, too stunned to talk.
Lisbeth finally said. “It's too
bad I have such a good motive, and no alibi.”
you mean?” Millie asked.
can't prove I was on my way
home at the time of death, can I? Therefore, I'm a prime suspect.”
can all three vouch for each
other,” Millie said.
April said. “I don't have an
alibi, either. And of course Lisbeth will have to tell the police that he was
sexually harassing me.”
Realization dawned on Millie. “And
I had just been fired and have nobody to vouch for where I was during the time
of the murder.”
the least we can do for the
killer. I’m sure she had her reasons. It had to be a woman.” Lisbeth said. “I
wonder how the police are going to solve this one.”
* * * * *
Jan Christensen is a writer of short stories (over 70 published. Examples:
Mysterical-E, Hardluck Stories, and Untreed Reads), mystery novels (12 published),
and non-fiction. You can find her on her website: www.janchristensen.com and on
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=596611147 Now she’s off
to write another story.