"Thank you, sir, for granting this interview," began the ass kissing young reporter. "Since you're retiring as CEO of one of the area's largest employers, our paper wants to feature you in a article in the Sunday edition."
"I understand that. I'm just afraid that there isn't much to interest your readers," I responded. "We are successful because we make a superior product at a competitive price. I really don't think that's a corporate secret. Most successful companies follow that formula."
"What I was looking for was a human interest angle, sir," replied the kid. "I want to know things like how long it took you to rise to the top of the company. Were you ever discouraged? How long have you worked at Norris Enterprises? Did you start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder? Was there any turning point in your career that you can point to as the day you knew you would assume leadership of the company, or was it a gradual thing?" quizzed the whiz kid.
"You're serious aren't you? I guess you're too young to remember the business climate in 2009. It was a very difficult period, as you may have read in some history books. You probably think dinosaurs walked the planet ten years ago," I mused. "You'll learn that time tends to slip away. Actually, I vividly remember the day I realized I was destined for success with this company, like it was yesterday and not ten years ago.
"The story isn't going to be what you might be expecting, so just sit back and I'll try to reconstruct events as I remember them. You have a few minutes, don't you?" I asked as I leaned back in my chair and thought about that spring day so long ago.
The ringing of my cell phone woke me. By the time I found where I had dropped my pants on the floor the previous evening, the ringing had stopped. A quick glance at my cell told me that I had missed seven calls! I had gone to sleep after Leno's monologue. The clock on the nightstand showed it was just a few minutes after six AM. Something had to be up to get so many calls between midnight and six!
The last call had come from my boss' home phone. I punched in the number and waited for an answer.
"Hello, Frank?" answered what sounded to be an agitated Marge Larson. "I'm glad you called back! There's hell to pay around here. You'd better get home as soon as possible. My husband, your wife, and your wife's brother-in-law are in the hospital. They'll recover, so don't worry about them too much, but you need to get back here and help me clean up all the shit that went through the proverbial fan."
"What the hell are you talking about, Marge?" I demanded. "Why are so many people in the hospital? Was there an accident, or a bombing? What happened?"
"I only wish the reason were so mundane, Frank. I have to leave for the hospital, then visit my lawyer's, and finally get to the plant and see if I can figure out what the hell is going on. I wish I had been paying more attention to the business lately."
"Roberta knows the situation fairly well, Marge. Let her take care of the business while you concentrate on more pressing matters," I suggested as my mind struggled to make order out of the information Marge had disclosed to me.
"Oh, yeah, Roberta! I forgot to mention that she's in jail. I have to go now, Frank. Just try to get your ass back as soon as you can. I need you here!" urged Marge as she terminated the call.
I checked out of the motel and pointed my car toward route 81 north. As I drove, I tried making some phone calls to determine what was going on at home. My wife and sister-in-law didn't answer their cells. My wife's parents professed no knowledge other than that my wife and their other son-in-law were both in the hospital. Both my kids were living in the Washington DC area and wouldn't know any more than I, if that much. I arrived back in my home town almost three hours later with no further knowledge of the situation.
I walked into the hospital at nine AM and went immediately to the desk. I soon discovered my wife had been treated for a broken nose and a concussion. She was now under observation, whatever that meant. She smiled weakly when I was shown into her room.
"Frank! This is all a huge mistake, Darling. You have to believe me," she began.
"Well that's really good news, Tessa!" I replied sarcastically. "I guess the rainbow colors around your face and the fact you were unconscious for half an hour or so fooled the medical staff here. They mistakenly thought something had happened to you. If it's an error, we may be able to get a big malpractice settlement. Let's go home."
"No, Frank, that part wasn't a mistake. I have a concussion and a broken nose. I'll have to have surgery once the swelling goes down. The mistake was what happened with Jeff," she revealed, before slowly adding, "and Jack."
"That pretty well explains everything, Tessa," I acknowledged. "You're all fucked up because of a mistake, as you put it that involves my boss and your sister's husband. Can you possibly anticipate any questions I might have, answer them, and prevent us from doing this the hard way?"
"I can guess some of the things that you could be wondering about, Frank, but I'm still recovering from a concussion and don't think it would be a good idea to talk too much right now. I'll be better soon and we can discuss everything then, okay?"
"I see that all that time working for a law firm is paying off in spades, Tessa," I snapped. "You just rest up. While you're at it, maybe you'll dream up some sort of story that will explain everything to my satisfaction, and probably demonstrate that you're a helpless victim of some sort of conspiracy."
I was too angry to remain in the same room with my wife. I had already learned that she, my boss, and her sister's husband were all taken from my house by ambulance the previous evening. Add to that the fact that my immediate superior at work, Roberta, was arrested and hauled off to jail at the same time, and also from my house, created feelings of anxiety and concern I couldn't shake. Was I paranoid to worry about such trivial matters? Then she tells me that she's too fragile to tell me what the fuck went on last night, in my house?
As I reached the lobby on my way out of the hospital, I was stopped by a man in a suit. He flashed me some sort of ID with a lot of small print I couldn't read without my cheaters. Even though I'm a bit far-sighted, I could easily tell the guy was a cop of some kind. Things were getting more interesting every minute.
"Mr. Barker?" he began the questioning. "Could I ask you a few questions? You have some time, don't you? You can't take your wife home for a few hours, can you?"
"By almost any definition, you just did," I replied with irritation. "Will that be all? Or are there more?"
He looked at me for a few seconds, mulling over my terse response. Finally he shrugged and plunged on.
"I'm trying to piece together what transpired last night at your home. There are several versions of the events, but they all seem to have you as the central force in this "perfect storm" of a cluster fuck. Where were you last night?"
"I was in Harrisburg. I met with a client and then had dinner with him. I stayed in a Motel Eight near Hershey and checked out this morning just after six AM. I was sent there by order of my boss, Jack Larson, by way of my immediately superior, Roberta Peters. Since they were two of the cluster fuckers you have already interviewed, you should have known that already, if they were in a truthful mood," I added sarcastically.
"They both told me you had been sent to Harrisburg," admitted the detective. "Things are just a bit more complicated than that. Ms. Peters said you called from Harrisburg and asked that she deliver a package to your home last evening. Her complicity was a direct result of her responding to your request."
"That's a crock of shit!" I stated flatly. "I never called her. I never spoke to her and I had no knowledge of her going to my house for any reason. I did call my boss' house last evening and spoke to Mrs. Larson. I asked to speak to her husband, but she told me that he was out town. He had gone to upstate New York fishing and would be back late the next day. Mrs. Larson asked me if it was important. Since her family actually owns the business, I didn't feel I could keep her in the dark about anything, so I explained my dilemma.
"I had purchased an expensive pearl necklace for my wife's birthday and had stupidly left it in my office desk. I was both concerned about leaving it there and that my wife wouldn't get it for her birthday, which is today. I told Marge that I was going to ask Jack, my boss, if he would drop it off at my house. My wife was going to be away visiting her aged grandmother in a nursing home in New Jersey. She was going to stay in a motel nearby and return home this morning. I had hoped to have the necklace in the house so I could call her and have her try it on. Then she would praise me for being a very thoughtful, loving husband, even if I had to travel for business on her birthday," I reasoned.
"Ms. Peters pretty much told me that same version. Except she claimed that you knew Mrs. Larson would call her and ask her to perform the task since her husband was out of state fishing. She claims that you set her up," finished the detective.
"Set her up for what?" I demanded. "I called my boss to ask him to do a personal favor for me. I had no idea Roberta would wind up involved. I still have no idea what the hell happened! Why are you asking me questions? Why is she under arrest? What the hell did happen at my house last night?"
"Did you ask Jeff Rogers to go to your home to let Ms. Peters in?" continued the flatfoot, proving he had the temperament, and brains, of a bulldog.
"Where the hell are you getting this shit?" I asked in disbelief. "I had called my wife's sister, June, and told her that she might be getting a call from my boss. That was before I spoke to his wife and found out that he was out of town. I asked her if she would go over to our place with the spare key to our house that she kept, meet my boss there, and let him in. It was a pretty simple request."
"So it would seem," uttered the damn idiot detective, sounding more like Charlie Chan's number two son than a modern day cop.
"Will you tell me what the fuck is going on? How did my wife or any of those other "cluster fuckers", wind up in the hospital? Why has Roberta been arrested? Who was voted off American Idol this week?" I demanded.
"All I can tell you at this point is Lil Rounds is toast," admitted the retreating lawman as he headed for a fresh box of donuts just delivered by a patrolman.
"Son of a bitch!" I snarled at the detective's back. "I thought she'd win the whole thing!"
I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I headed home. I was royally pissed at my wife for using her evasive lawyer-speak to me when I asked her what had happened. I really didn't care much for Jeff, my erstwhile brother-in-law, or my jackass boss, Jack. The former had been a pain in my posterior ever since my sister-in-law dragged his sorry ass home from college around fifteen years ago. He had been a second string tight end on a Penn State team that just barely lost the Orange Bowl. Somehow, that had elevated him to hero status in the asylum my wife called her family home. The fact that he never graduated and couldn't hold a steady job was unimportant. He was a fucking Nittany Lion!
My boss was another dickhead. I had repeatedly demonstrated my knowledge of the business and my value to the company. Without bragging, I knew more about Norris Enterprises than he and Roberta put together. The lone demerit on my work record was that I was male, so Jack, my jackass boss, promoted Roberta ahead of me. It was based on her sole quality; she fucked like a mink. I suppose it was affirmative action since she never told him "no".
Now Roberta was in the slammer and the rest of the usual suspects were in the hospital. I had not been able to find out why, except that Tessa had a concussion and a broken nose. The extent or cause of the injuries to the other two were some sort of secret. I didn't even know why Roberta had been arrested. The notion that they somehow blamed me was ludicrous.
The house looked like a bomb had gone off. The front door was broken down and nailed back up in some half-assed fashion. I walked around to the kitchen door and let myself in. The first thing I noticed was a trail of blood coming down the stairs. Following it, I found even more pooling on my leather sofa. It appeared to have the texture of liver, and was very bright crimson.