by Kate Thornton
Enjoy yet another Christmas mystery short story. This one has never been published before.
Have you ever been so in love with someone that you would do anything for them? Me neither. What a crock.
The interns we hire – they may not be in love with the staff, but they’ll do anything for us. A real May through December romance. And I certainly use that to my advantage. I’m a tough guy, after all.
Well, okay, not tough like I pick fights in bars or anything, but tough the way I need to be in business, you know, that no-regrets kind of tough you need to give someone a shove out of the way to make sure you get your due. Banking is a cutthroat business, and investment banking is not for sissies. But we get wimp kids every year as interns.
Yeah, we work ’em till they drop and make them say, “Thank you, Sir!” I like letting them know who’s boss, and around here everyone is boss over the interns.
The way they crawl and suck up is great. And they do it for free. Yeah, they all expect to get a job when it’s over, but they’ve got no chance. That’s the part that really makes me laugh. We’re not gonna hire any of them, we’ve already got all the staff we need, execs and clerical cows, and next year, we’ll just get another bunch of bright-eyed young lambs to lead through an eight-month slaughter of their hopes. Baaa!
They arrive in May, we work them to pieces over the summer, then they get kicked to the curb in December, so they have a head start on all the new grads who flood the workplace in June. Most of them get jobs at other firms. All the other firms know if they intern with us, they’ll do anything to survive.
I didn’t see her until October, but the summer is always a busy time for me. I got back from the Caribbean with a tan and another offshore account. I first caught sight of her near the big double doors.
She wasn’t pretty, and she was too quiet for an intern. Most of them want to get noticed so they’ll have a better shot at a position, but she seemed to deliberately fade into the woodwork. I’d catch a glimpse of her but she’d be gone before I could give her whatever scut work I could make up on the spot.
After a couple of weeks, it was a game with me, and I’d look for her when I came in every morning. I had bunch of meaningless tasks lined up, copy-and-shred stuff. I came up with some choice remarks for her, barbs that always put the interns in their places, and I even gave her a nickname – Mousie.
But she was always too fast for me, just like a real mouse that darts into the baseboard whenever you spot it out of the corner of your eye. I’d see her walk by while someone important was talking to me or as the elevator doors closed on her stooped figure.
I tired of it being a game and it became a challenge. I like a challenge.
I came in early one day, avoided the office cows in the secretarial area, and went through the personnel files on the interns. The more she avoided me, the more I needed to confront her. It was like she was outwitting me with this disappearing stuff and I couldn’t let that happen.
The files were useless, though. The pictures and resumes all looked alike. Smart kids, top of their classes, yada yada. Hard to believe Little Miss Mousie was just like that ninety-hour-a-week kid who brought the coffee. That kid did everything but shine my shoes. My boss, “Shark” Shapiro, actually did get his shoes shined by an intern. He’s way too busy to really work them the way they need to be worked, but I’m not. I look at it as part of my job. Only I don’t want just any intern. I want my Mousie.
According to the files we had six interns, four guys and two gals. I’d met one of the girls, a flashy number with expensive clothes and a shrewd idea of who did what. She’d already cozied on up to Shark’s boss, the Big Guy, and was now off limits to the rest of us. And there was another one, a serious sort who spent most of her time running between the Starbuck’s and the copy machine. I’d had a few laughs at her expense.
So that left no more girls. But that couldn’t be right. All the interns wore their blue intern badges, and I’d seen Mousie’s hanging on a cord over her dowdy twinset. I checked the files again. The previous year we’d only had one female intern, sorta plain from her personnel photo, and she didn’t last. There was a notation about a lawsuit, but no details. Probably some sexual harassment thing. Stupid twits, don’t they know we can do anything we want? Our law guys can get us out of anything for a price.
The year was slipping by and soon we’d have our big holiday party and the interns would be gone the next day. Shark always planned the party for the week after Christmas when it was cheaper. Shark was cheap, I’ll give him that. No Santa Claus or presents, but there’d be a buffet and a mediocre DJ. The firm’s top dogs would get their bonus checks and the interns would get their letters of recommendation and a slap on the butt on their way out. Attendance was mandatory or I’d shine the whole thing on. But the Big Guy, Shark’s boss, was always there, so it was important to show up and get counted, especially if you wanted that bonus check.
The Big Guy was tough. I didn’t know him too well, but he made the firm what it is, a high-power shop that traded successfully on everything imaginable. Okay, the whole toxic mortgage thing was a little iffy, but we came out smelling like a rose. And the medical insurance scam? We must have made close to a billion on that one alone. Yeah, he was my idol, if I had one.
I didn’t see Mousie around, although I looked for her. Then that Friday I saw her come out of the Big Guy’s office and scurry down the executive hallway. I followed her, but Shark saw me go past his office and hollered, so I lost her once again.
Damn, it was all going to be over and I’d never have the chance to say anything to her. It grated on me. But I cheered up. Maybe there’d be a spectacular opportunity to embarrass her at the party. It would serve her right for avoiding me. By the time I put on my Rolex and Armani suit, and got into my new Hummer, I was already practicing a few cutting phrases.
The party was a bust. I got a couple of drinks and sat at a table where I could watch the freak show. All the movers and shakers were lumped in a corner, still doing business. I shoulda been with them, but I wanted to scope things out.
Okay, I was looking for Mousie.
The interns were cheaply overdressed, nervously holding drinks and darting glances at the movers. The staff cows were in their holiday best, JC Penny practically stamped across their wide butts. A few of them were head down chowing on buffet plates, the only freebie they would see out of our firm. The so-called DJ put on some loud music.
I saw her. I couldn’t believe it. She was beautiful. Her dark hair was done up and she wore some simple black dress that looked like it came off the pages of a magazine. The glasses and the stoop were gone. She scanned the room until she saw me, then walked over.
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
She leaned close to me. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she purred in a low, sexy voice. “Let’s dance.”
I stumbled to the dance floor in a daze. She held me close and laughed a bright silvery laugh, as if I had just told the world’s best joke. I grinned stupidly.
Shark saw us and tried to cut in, but she told him she was my girl. He wasn’t used to being turned down. He frowned and went back to the movers. They all turned to watch us, even the Big Guy. I think I was close to enjoying myself.
Then it was over and she disappeared.
When I got to work on Monday, the office was buzzing, but all the noise stopped the minute the office cows saw me. I headed for the elevator up to the executive floor.
The Big Guy’s secretary was waiting as the elevator doors opened. “He wants to see you,” she said. “Now.”
It didn’t sound good.
The Big Guy was looking out his window, his back to me. “Siddown,” he ordered. “How long did it take you?” he asked without turning.
“What?” I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Don’t play stupid with me. I’m going to see that you are buried in a hole so deep no one will ever find your body. But first, I want to know how you did it and why you thought you could get away with it. And why’d you show up today? I’d think you were stupid, only it took some real brains to do what you did.”
“Do what, Sir?”
“The Feds are on their way, and if I go down, you go down harder.” He turned to face me, his skin mottled with anger. “I’ll give you one chance to come up with the money.”
“What money?” I was genuinely puzzled.
“The firm’s money!”
“What are you talking about? Are you saying it’s gone?”
“You know it’s gone. Billions. Even the political slush money. You and your squeeze stole it. You’ve got one chance to tell me about it before the Feds show up and we’re all toast. And believe me, if that happens, you’ll be hoping for prison, because it’s the only place you’ll feel safe.”
“My what?” I was in shock. What the hell was he talking about? It would take a lot of brains, determination and access to divert even a small portion of the firm’s funds, much less the whole caboodle.
“Your little princess from the party.”
“Mousie? She’s just an intern, ” I explained.
“Do you think I’m stupid? That was no intern. The only decent looking intern this year worked for me. She couldn’t have done it without you, Romeo.”
There was no time to answer. The Feds swarmed all over with search warrants and handcuffs. They’d been tipped off.
The Big Guy screamed death threats at me as they hauled him off.
I got twenty years for fraud and racketeering, and not at Club Fed, either. But I didn’t know where all the money went, so there was no plea bargain for me. I babbled on about Mousie until my lawyer started talking insanity.
I thought I saw Mousie at my trial, just for a moment, out of the corner of my eye. She looked good, not plain, but not glamorous like at the party, either.
I got a lot of time here to think about stuff. I put it together that Mousie was the one who set me up, and that it musta been her sister or something who had really been an intern the year before, that’s how she got the badge. But I never did figure out how she got the money or what she did with it.
I think about it all night, instead of sleeping. I’m tough, but jeeze, this is a federal prison. There are guys in here who make me look like a pussycat. Or a mouse.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section. You can check out all of the Christmas short stories that have gone up this month, and the ones going up yet over the next week, in our Terrific Tales section. There will be more mystery and pet Christmas stories.