Cedric Goram had attended many meetings in his time. Not long ago he had attended one wearing an orange jump suit and handcuffs. Today, as head of Human Resources at Huber Moneda Hospital, he was attending the monthly all-staff meeting wearing a designer sport coat and silver cufflinks. The hospital’s Chief Financial Officer, Brian Asch, stood at the podium. Brian wore a fine light-weight pinstripe suit and a toupee. He was talking about profitability.
Cedric himself had always been a people person, not a numbers geek. His mind wandered.
The conference room featured sleek chandeliers illuminating leather chairs and a new hardwood floor. Cedric’s eye automatically sought portable items – the calculation of portability-to-value ratios was one of his areas of expertise – and he noted a Waterford crystal pitcher and matching tumblers on a cherry sideboard. However, his examination of the room’s contents was strictly an academic exercise. He would not risk spoiling the first legitimate gig he’d had in over 15 years. He wasn’t getting any younger, and it was time to settle down.
“….market share,” bean-counter Brian was saying. “We’ve invested a lot of money in the Surgery Tower. Unfortunately, surgical revenues are falling all across the region, and our return on investment is impacted.” As he spoke, he directed a red laser dot at various areas of a graph projected behind him.
“What can we do to boost our surgery numbers?” Brian Asch asked, wrapping up. “Recommend HMH to your friends. Encourage your healthcare providers to send their patients to us. You’re the solution, people, work it!”
Cedric, an experienced practitioner of persuasive techniques, caught the tired-looking nurse beside him rolling her eyes. Most of the young people in the row ahead were busily texting. Brian Asch had failed to captivate his audience.
Resisting a slight temptation to pocket one of the crystal glasses, Cedric left the conference room and headed for home.
Later, as he was seated on the patio of his foothills condo, sipping a martini and watching the mountains turn pink in the sunset, the phone rang.
“Cy? Hey, it’s Brian,” said the voice.
“Oh, yes,” said Cedric.
“How’re you doing this beautiful evening?”
“Fine, thanks. What can I do for you, Brian?”
“Well, here’s the thing, Cy. I’d like to speak with you. I was wondering if you might be able to drop by the house this evening.”
“I’m a little busy right now, Brian, how about tomorrow, in the office?” said Cedric, who disliked the unexpected.
“Seriously, just a word,” said Brian. “And we’re practically neighbors here on the East side, right? Say, are you a Scotch drinker? I have a great single malt to share.”
Brian, as CFO, was effectively Cedric’s boss.
“On my way,” said Cedric.
Brian’s large stone and glass house was perched on a ridge with panoramic views of both cityscape and mountains.
“Cy!” Brian opened the door.
The house decor was similar to that of the hospital conference room, undoubtedly a creation of the same interior designer.
“Sit, sit!” said Brian. He busied himself at a well-stocked bar.
“Here, try this,” he said, offering a crystal glass containing a couple inches of golden liquid. The tumbler was a twin to the crystal in the conference room.
“So,” said Brian. He paused. “This is a little difficult,” he added. “The thing is, Cy, well, I just happened to find out you didn’t actually attend Yale University,” Brian said.
“It’s the alumni office there in New Haven, Cy. They never heard of you.”
“Bureaucrats,” he said, and took a sip of Scotch.
“Well, maybe, but … we really pressed them on this, Cy, and they just don’t have any record. On the other hand, the FBI and the cops in Cincinnati and San Francisco had no trouble locating their records on you.”
The bean counter shook his head and clucked his tongue.
Cedric saw the CFO’s toupee shift slightly. Not a great fit.
“Felony burglary, Cy. And the silver-trading scam, you served five years on that one.”
“I’ve paid my debt to society, Brian.”
“But the point here is, well, you lied about all of it on your application, my friend. Felonies, that’s serious stuff.”
Asch tasted his Scotch, savored, swallowed.
“See, the hard part here is, Cy, we’ve been really happy with your work. I’d say you have a natural talent for it.”
“I’ve enjoyed the challenges,” said Cedric.
“The way you handled that recruiter’s labor grievance last summer was sheer genius.” “I’m happy to take credit where it’s due, Brian, but you do recall she actually quit?”
“Exactly,” said Brian. “She went over to Cactus Sunrise East, so she’s their headache now. Our legal staff was completely satisfied with that outcome. And by the way she’s the one who alerted me to the, ah, anomalies in your background… I guess she was kind of mad at you! Anyhoo,” he continued, “we don’t want to lose you. But this stuff with the application and resume inaccuracies and all, I mean, it just doesn’t fly. You can appreciate that, Cy, right?”
Cedric carefully put his empty tumbler down.
“Ok,” he said. “What’s the deal?”
“Well,” said Brian, “so, it’s looking like we might need to let you go.”
“You can fire me in 3 minutes in your office. Why the Scotch?”
“Here’s the thing, Cy,” Brian said. “You were at the meeting today, right? We’ve got three-point-five million dollars in that darn Surgery Tower, and the darn place is half empty. We’re so far below our budget projections for the year, it isn’t even funny.”
“Surgery numbers are down all over, if I understood your graphs this morning.”
“True, Cy, sadly true. It isn’t that we’re not topnotch, I mean, we have state of the art everything, and those private rooms with the spectacular views, and the good-looking nurses (male and female, Cy), and the new marble floors – those are really nice, have you seen them? No, the problem isn’t us. It’s that people aren’t having surgery.”
“Some might consider that a good thing, Brian,” said Cedric.
“Long term, yes, Cy, yes of course. Healthy community is the goal. Meanwhile, though, we’ve got to keep the operation going, if you see what I mean. If we don’t survive, the community suffers. And here’s the thing, Cy, if we don’t get more bodies on gurneys pretty quick we’re not going to survive.”
“I do see what you mean, Brian. What I don’t see is what it has to do with me.”
Brian sat, set down his glass and leaned forward.
“We don’t want to lose you, Cy. Luckily, at the moment this is just between you and me.”
“And the recruiter who’s now at CSE,” said Cedric.
“Oh, right. Well, she’s a… good friend of mine. Don’t worry about her.” Brian winked. “So I was thinking everything over, and it struck me that you might have some special skills we could use in this situation.”
“Such as?” said Cedric.
“I think you had an assault conviction in there somewhere, didn’t you, Cy?” said Brian.
“Ancient history,” said Cedric. “You want me to beat someone up? Not my thing these days, Brian, it’s more a young man’s game.”
“No, no, haha!” said Brian. “No, I meant more generally, being used to, uh, coloring outside the lines, maybe you could help us think outside the box here at HMH.”
“What do you have in mind, Brian,” said Cedric, “exactly?”
“Bicycles,” said Brian.
Two months later, Cedric set up a canvas umbrella chair near the route of the Prickly Pear Blossom Senior Cycling Classic. He’d picked this spot carefully, where the race course ran over a flat stretch, with a sharp turn to the next downslope. He shifted the chair around, assessing the view. When the chair was perfectly situated, mostly out of sight of racers and spectators, and shielded from above by its umbrella, Cedric took two items out of his pockets, sat, and composed himself to wait.
“Just to be perfectly clear,” Brian had said, “we don’t want any accidental fatalities. Killing people doesn’t help the Surgery Tower, Cy. We can’t do hip pinning on corpses. Let’s just get few of the seniors, Lord bless ‘em, knocked off their bikes, cracked femurs, broken wrists, like that. We’ll fix ‘em up good as new. Think of it as a pilot project. Going forward we can tweak operational details, look at other surgical specialties besides orthopedics, focus on folks with the Cadillac insurances. By the way,” he’d added, “not to micromanage, but I’d appreciate if you let me know where you plan to, uh, get the job done. Don’t tell me details. I just want to be there to admire the result.”
A week before the bicycle race, Cedric stopped in the CFO’s office.
“Try standing on the north side of the route west of Paseo Diablo Dorado,” he said. “Good view there.”
That day, on the way back to his own office, mindful of operational expenses , Cedric detoured to the deserted conference room and picked the lock on a mahogany cabinet.
Now the racers came streaming into sight over the top of the ridge, on to the short flat stretch before the final descent began. Here, the riders slowed slightly, aiming water bottles at their mouths or turning to speak to other cyclists. The sun was just past its zenith, the sky brilliantly blue.
The group began to roll down the slope, picking up speed. In Cedric’s left hand the laser pointer moved, sending a tiny beam of red light dancing among the leading cyclists, dazzling and flash-blinding their aging eyes.
Startled riders turned their heads away. Bicycles swerved, wobbled, careened into each other. Caught in the chaos, five elderly folks tumbled to the pavement. As they fell, Cedric fired the small gun in his right hand, the sound of the shot lost amidst the metallic cacophony of a cycling catastrophe.
A figure standing on the side of the road jerked convulsively and catapulted backward, disappearing into a cactus-filled ditch. As the body vanished, a small furry-looking object twirled sideways, landing on the edge of the road. There it settled like a flattened brown squirrel, its trajectory closely observed by a turkey vulture floating overhead.
The crowd was churning and shouting. Four of the fallen cyclists were writhing in pain, and one sat groaning, holding his elbow. No one looked in Cedric’s direction.
Cedric stood, pocketed the pointer and gun, folded his chair and slipped it into its canvas bag.
Back in the day, assassination had been Cedric’s most polished skill. But one such job had earned him a nasty scar, and another had left him vomiting on his shoes. So eventually he had moved on, taking less dangerous, more esthetically pleasing, directions.
But whatever the job, he’d never reneged on a contract and never lied to a client, and this project was no exception: old folks down, no accidental fatalities.
The phone rang as he sat in his BMW, sirens howling past. It was Sophia Vanderpoole, the recruiter who had investigated Cedric’s background and divulged it to Asch. Now, she wanted Cedric to bring red wine for dinner. Sophia had been annoyed when he first contacted her six weeks ago, but they soon got beyond that, neither of them being in the habit of bearing grudges.
“Good day?” Sophia asked that evening.
“Very,” said Cedric, pulling the cork from the bottle. “Soph, what would you think about us getting married?”
“Maybe,” said Sophia. “Put the past behind us?”
“Definitely,” said Cedric.
“Done,” said Sophia.
Six weeks following the tragic events at the Prickly Pear Blossom Senior Cycling Classic, Cedric Goram became CFO of Huber Moneda Hospital, replacing the late Brian Asch.
“A new hat for you,” said the CEO.
“No toupee, though,” said Cedric.
“Thank God,” said the CEO.
Two months later, newlyweds Cedric and Sophia attended an estate sale at the Asch home, where they purchased a set of Waterford crystal tumblers.
Bio: Annie lives in the mountain West of the United States with her husband. When not writing, she enjoys hiking and watching both people and wildlife.