Professional Courtesy by Chris Bauer [fantasy]

Imprint - Fantasy Imprint Logo 200wProfessional Courtesy by Chris Bauer

Cliff didn’t remember driving home. He put the car into park, turned off the motor, and stared blankly out the windshield.

Fired. Canned. TER-MI-NA-TED.

He had received a six-word email from Personnel asking for a meeting. Cliff was up for a promotion, or so he’d hoped. He responded with a carefully worded “yes.” Arranging his entire work day around the appointed time, he left for the meeting five minutes early. Marching down the hall, he couldn’t help but fantasize about a pay increase, maybe a larger cubicle, or even a computer that didn’t crash without warning.

The Personnel director was waiting at a conference table as large as Cliff’s living room, topped with enough marble to build a mausoleum. Her platinum-blonde hair, with the texture of fiberglass, was carefully coiffed. Flawlessly applied makeup emphasized glacier-ice eyes, lips the color of blood, and crimson fingernails. She smiled faintly at his appearance, then promptly forced a business-like expression. Her fingers drummed a death march on the table, the red-pointed nails clicking rhythmically. It was hard not to notice them—they were too long for her size of hand.

“Please. Sit,” she said pleasantly.

She slid a sheet of paper, dense with tiny print, across the table. “You are terminated.”

Cliff looked at her, then the paper, then back again. “Terminated?”

“Yes. Terminated for misconduct.”

Cliff became frozen in his seat except for his mouth, which dropped open.

“Misconduct? What did I do?”

She grinned for an instant, baring snow-white teeth, sharp and pointed. “Used the Internet on lunch.”

“Everybody uses the Internet on lunch.”

“But you’re the one we’re terminating,” she hissed.

He sat upright, his voice firmer and a little louder. “Nobody enforces—”

“I’m enforcing it NOW,” she purred. “Which means you’re lying when you say nobody enforces the policy.” The Personnel director whipped out a file from nowhere, and diligently made more notes inside. “A second cause for termination,” she noted.

“Ready?”

Cliff spun around. Two armed security guards stood at the office entrance.

He collapsed into the chair. He reached out, retrieved the paper, and read it. One page of virtually unreadable print, and all it said was he acknowledged he violated policy, was receiving no severance, no vacation pay, no benefits, no references…

Cliff cleared his throat. “No.”

“You…will…sign,” she growled.

He spoke louder this time. “NO!”

“Take him away,” she commanded, dismissing him with a flick of the wrist.

Cliff had a vague memory of walking to his car and…then he was home.

He swallowed hard, and dragged himself to the front door.

“So. What are you going to do about it?”

He turned his head side to side, looking for the source of the throaty, female voice.

“Typical. Look down here.”

A mixed-breed cat curled against the door. “Cat’s don’t talk,” he said, not entirely certain.

“I’m not a cat.” The feline uncurled itself, slinked over, and circled his ankles. “I’m a demon.”

Cliff didn’t answer, being too busy following the cat’s figure-eights around his legs and going dizzy.

“You know, ‘demon.’ As in horrifying creature with vast powers visiting from another plane of existence.”

“OK,” he said, appreciating he was talking to a cat.

The feline settled on his feet, nestling its head in its paws. “I’m bored. How about some revenge?”

“You’re a cat,” Cliff repeated.

A blinding glare erupted at his feet, its force bouncing him against his car. From the light materialized a fiery creature, definitely female. Nine feet tall, with four pointed breasts, patches of flaming scales, and the face of an angry goddess.

“Okay. You’re a demon,” Cliff acknowledged.

A puff of sulfurous smoke wafted in the breeze, and the cat was at his feet.

“So, do you want revenge or not?”

Cliff cackled like as madman. “You bet I do.” He paused to ponder the most satisfying, shameful nature of his payback. “I want the Personnel director fired for dancing naked on the president’s desk at tomorrow’s board meeting.” He imagined the sight, then envisioned some enhancements. “All her hair should fall out… The police should drag her out in handcuffs. And…I want to see it all on the primetime news, including the dancing naked part.”

The cat trotted to Cliff’s car door, deigning to look up at him. “Sounds good to me. Now, get in the car and buy me a fish. Fresh albacore would be nice.”

Cliff slept well that night, dreams of revenge sweeping away the implications of unemployment and a long job search. That morning, with plenty of time to spare, he gave the cat a saucer of milk, and then drove his companion to the office.

He double-parked outside the reserved spaces, recognizing the Personnel director’s red sports car. Cliff glanced at the car’s clock, and then over to the feline. “You know, I really appreciate this,” he said. “Want another fish afterward? A carton of milk?”

“The satisfaction of a job well done,” answered the cat, bounding through the open window. “That’s all I need.”

Cliff watched the cat enter into the building, and then, suppressing a wild giggle, he watched the minutes click by.

When the board meeting should have been over, the cat leapt from thin air into the car.

Cliff glanced at his watch twice, to be certain he was right. “Where is she?”

The feline refused to look him in the eyes. “You know about ‘professional courtesy,’ right?”

“Yeah. Like, cops don’t give cops parking tickets, lawyers help out lawyers…”

The Personnel director sashayed from the building, fiberglass hair in place, red nails glinting, and high heels clicking on the concrete.

The cat shrugged, then began to lick clean its paw. “You figure it out.”

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