Lost & Found
by Arthur Davis
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Henderson felt vindicated, but only partially so. He felt the old man was now toying with him with a smugness that wasn’t suited to his advanced years or his position. He pushed the gift box back toward the center of the counter. “How old are you?”
“Well, that’s really none of your business,” the old man said, his eyes narrowing into a pinched glare of indignation.
“It’s a reasonable question.”
“It’s as reasonable as you are entitled to be arrogant. Now why don’t you take your ill-gotten gains and get out of here?”
“What did you say?”
“You heard what I said, you bloated, festering carcass of lard.”
Brinkley Henderson could scarcely believe his ears. No one, absolutely no one, had ever spoken to him with such egregious disrespect. He didn’t know what to do: jump over the counter and thrash the man until he begged forgiveness or find the president of the store and have the villainous cretin dismissed on the spot. “How dare you speak to me in that way!”
“It’s not hard, especially to a loud, overbearing, pompous twit like you,” he said. “I was back there in my office and overheard the way you treated one of my staff. Shame on you, sir. Shame on you.”
Henderson choked back his rage. “I want your name, sir.”
The old man stepped up to the counter and leaned forward. “You want my name?”
“If you please.”
“Why, don’t you like your own?” the old man chortled.
“That’s not funny.”
“Oh, I think it was a pip. A real pip.”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is? The shape of your empty head?”
Henderson’s face flushed red, his heart pounded. Bolts of pain exploded in his head. He hadn’t taken his blood pressure pills this morning or for that matter, yesterday morning either. He was neglectful in that way. This incident had pointed to the error of his ways. He needed to be more careful with whom he came in contact. In the future, he would let his staff deal with such offensive creatures. Let them be insulted and ignored. Let them be burdened with sloth and stupidity. “Well, I’ve never...”
“Tell you what, you give me the million, and you can have my name.”
“So, is it a deal?”
“I wouldn’t make a deal with you if you were the last man on earth. Not for a dollar or a million dollars.”
“What if I were one of the two last men left on earth?”
Henderson grabbed the box, turned and made for the door. “Sir, you are an offense to the good name of McClane & Winthrop.”
“Want to hear another pip?”
“Hardly. I’m leaving.”
“But not before you hear another joke. You can’t. It’s about a whore and a sailor.”
“I come and go and do as I please, sir; as you will find out when my attorney contacts the president of McClane & Winthrop demanding an explanation of your conduct and the promise of your immediate dismissal.”
The old man raised his hands up to the sides of his face and wiggled them like a donkey’s large floppy ears. “Ooh, you’re a scary, fat sucker, you are.”
“You work in this miserable hole for probably less than nothing and you are judging me, you repellent, inconsequential troll.”
“Your kind is hardly worth taking the time to judge.”
Henderson could feel himself starting to shake. The distance from the counter to the door was not as important as the distance from the door to the nearest telephone. By the time he was done with this madman, he promised himself, he would be on the breadline. Worse, in court. No, even better, suing him for conscious pain and suffering, as they called it in the ambulance-chasing business.
He would go home and call his physician and complain of pounding chest pains and racking headaches and, after a week or so, of not being able to sleep. He would eviscerate the grotesque little snot, Henderson said to himself, pulled open the door and slammed it shut behind him with great satisfaction.
He tugged at the doorknob, glad to be done with the incident. Even the sight of the old man had become intolerable. Henderson looked down at his shoes. The tips of his Italian loafers were scuffed. It must have happened when he moved closer to the counter to examine the money. It bothered him that he would have to wear them out into the street. His pants seemed to have lost their crease, but of course that was quite impossible. Hopefully, no one of consequence would notice how poorly he was now attired.
When he glanced up, Brinkley Henderson was greeted by a corridor lined with a handful of unfamiliar doors. He didn’t recall the route he had hurriedly taken down to this part of hell and started walking with an indifference of bearing that had so marked the attitude of the last half of his life.
He was a philanthropist, a charitable man of the community, a person of some business and social consequence who was not to be trifled with. He would see to it that before the week was over, that the manager of the Lost and Found Department would be himself, lost forever.
He tried one door but there was no response even after he slammed his fist against the creased wooden surface. He continued down the corridor to another door. It too was locked. He made a left turn as the corridors intersected, so possessed by his anger he failed to notice that none of the doors was marked with name or number. He clutched his million and continued on at the same exaggerated pace.
“Bloated, festering carcass of lard,” he announced at the top of his lungs. “I’ll have you for this,” Henderson said, then realized he was screaming. What would his father, or worse, his grandfather, make of such undignified behavior? Those were men of great bearing, men to whom you spoke in hushed and obsequious tones. Those were men who would have thought nothing of throttling the manager without fearing the wrath of a tediously liberal culture.
Henderson walked on a bit longer before he sensed he had already passed some offices several times over. There were cracks in the paint and frame, scuffmarks on the sides of the office doors that he was instinctively using as benchmarks for his search. He turned. There was no noise. It was as quiet in the corridors as it was in that quack’s office.
What had happened to the workers who once filled the halls with problems relating to accounting, finance, design, importing, sales, shipping, marketing, and collections? Where were the phones that rang every step of the way of his initial foray?
There was also no light. Not that the corridors weren’t well lit. They were. Except that there was no visible means of illumination anywhere, no fixtures hanging from the ceiling to justify the bright narrow corridors in the bowels of McClane & Winthrop. Winthorp, indeed!
He made a few more half-hearted gestures but none of the doorknobs gave way under his insistence. No voice was to be heard. Nothing seemed familiar, yet he was positive he had come this way before.
Brinkley Henderson found himself opening the gift box and making another quick count of the money. “At least there are some honorable constants,” he said, tightening his grip on the box of cash. “Hello,” he said then repeated the overture in a louder, though still not urgent tone.
It was difficult to know when and where Brinkley Henderson realized he might be in serious trouble. A man of his importance and stature rarely came across a situation he could not buy or reason or command his way out of. He was used to being the master of his surroundings, and of those around him.
He glanced down at his watch. It was past four o’clock. But that was impossible! Six hours couldn’t have passed. He doubted a half-hour, or even an hour had gone by since he had bolted from his limousine and parted the surprised crowd standing in front of the large brass doors of McClane & Winthrop.
That left only two hours before the Ruskin’s cocktail party. Charles and Diana were his very best friends. They would probably know the president of McClane & Winthrop personally. What if the man was at the party himself? What a rare and opportune coincidence there would be for him to vent his pique.
But that did answer one ringing question. Apparently, he had left the Lost & Found as the various operational departments had just closed for the day. The night shift would be on, but they would be out on the sales floors dealing with customers.
Then his heritage called out with an idea so simple he would have grinned, had he regained his composure. It wasn’t so much where he was going that was at issue as much as not retracing his own steps over and over. As a bird would follow breadcrumbs, he would set out each of the hundred dollar bills so he would not traverse every turn and corridor twice.
He lifted the top of the gift box, took out a packet of bills, and then hesitated. What if he was not really alone? Someone could just as easily pick up the money, following him around until he was penniless. Hundred-dollar breadcrumbs: that was a good idea and demanded some further consideration.
He could feel the moisture build up under his arms and spread across his chest. He knew he had to get back to his limousine. He knew he had to calm down. His great fear was that he might have to take off his jacket before he could change his shirt. Ever since he was a child, he would work up a sweat long before his friends, the telltale dark stain spreading out from under his arms sending him into a humiliating panic.
Doctors didn’t appreciate his complaint. There was no malady and therefore no cure. It was something his parents couldn’t understand and many times accept from their only son. And the more he panicked the more he would sweat and then the more he would panic. And all because of the evil gnome in the Lost & Found Department. That was it. He had to find his way back there. But, which way to go? Where to turn? Each hallway, each door looked like the next.
Henderson put down the box of cash as though it weighed more than he could possibly manage. He flipped off the lid of the box with the tip of his shoe. The cash was still bound in neat secure packets. He bent down, picked it up, and marched down the corridor with renewed resolve.
Then he saw it, the small black placard on the door that read Lost & Found. Finally, an answer. He rushed to the door, then straightened himself up. He checked the knot of his tie, pushed back his hair, and grabbed the doorknob than, with a prayer he would never admit to composing, he gave it a sharp turn. It sprang open.
A swell of relief washed over his body. Henderson could still feel the dampness under his jacket, but at least he could get to a phone to speak to somebody, to find answers to his misery and outrage.
“Hello,” he said moving slowly into the familiar surroundings. “Hello?” he asked again. “Anybody here?” The table on the back was cleared of all returns so he knew there had to be someone else here. Hopefully the indifferent clerk and the crazy old manager had left for the day so he could speak with more suitable representatives of McClane & Winthrop manning the evening shift. “Is there anybody in there?” he asked, trying to figure out where the manager’s office might be.
He set the box down on the counter. He had held it so close and so tightly that the lid was crushed and torn. He regretted that. It was a handsome box. Brinkley Henderson appreciated handsome things. He knew the importance and value of being handsome. His father had told him repeatedly that being handsome was a certain sign of character and control. Only those with breeding and bearing were the most handsome of all.
Henderson looked around for a way past the counter but there didn’t seem to be any entry gate. He called out once more then decided it was time for boldness. His father was bold. His grandfather had dug into the forbidding Montana hills and after a dozen years came out with fistfuls of gold that were the foundation of their family wealth. If his grandfather could survive in the primitive wilderness for all those years on his own, his grandson could jump over a mere wooden barrier.
It sounded ridiculous, Henderson thought, concluding that he might rip his jacket. But he wasn’t going to take it off. He grabbed the top edge of the Formica counter and hefted himself over the barrier with some strain and awkwardness. He made it over the top, straightened his jacket and tie, and looked around.
To his horror, there was nothing to the left and right of what he had seen from the customer’s side of the partition. Stained white walls enclosed the small space to the left and right and all the way to the back of the room where the empty table stood.
There were no doors, drawers, or compartments, no storage space or anywhere to exit from the room. There was also no compartment on the side of the counter from which to hide a million dollars in a handsome gift box. He looked back across the counter in stunned surprise. He traced his hand along the sides of the room just to make sure. It might have looked silly to an outsider he thought, but he had to be certain.
At first all he could think of was where had the fat clerk disappeared to? In a way, she reminded him of his brother’s younger daughter who had left home many years ago. She only called in from time to time for money and to make his brother’s life miserable. Henderson was glad he had never married.
Maybe he had been too abrupt with the old man. After all, how would he have felt if a stranger asked his age? He too would have thought it impertinent. Why wouldn’t others? He quickly realized that while he wasn’t about to offer the old man an apology, after all, he was merely an employee, he had to represent himself in less harsh tones if he was going to get out of this unfortunate predicament.
“Hello,” he muttered to himself softly.
He had already given up the possibility of getting to the Ruskin’s party on time. And he wasn’t one of those blueblooded snobs who believed that arriving fashionably late was a statement of your importance. He believed punctuality was next to godliness. He was already resigned to missing those impossibly delicious hors d’oeuvres for which the Ruskins were so famous.
He examined the area around the counter a second time and found the pad of gold and blue gift certificates that had fallen between the counter and the partition separating the customer’s side from the service area.
He removed the one the old man had filled out from his pocket for three hundred and ninety five dollars and examined his signature. His name was Sam. “Sam.” That was it. How completely undignified it sounded as it rolled off his lips. It was composed in handwriting so simple a child could copy it.
That gave Henderson an idea. He pulled off a half dozen sheets, folded them in half and stuffed them into his pocket so hastily you would have thought the police were about to burst through the door and arrest him.
A half-dozen gift certificates for his closest friends. How thoughtful, he judged himself. The first two would be used for Charles and Diana. Obviously. Then again, he might need more than six. After all, he was a man with great taste and wealth and dear friends on both continents.
As the late afternoon bled into early evening, Brinkley P. Henderson became hoarse from calling out into the wilderness of optimism and weak from anticipation that he would soon be rescued. He thought of vaulting over the counter and returning to the empty corridors outside, then decided otherwise.
He clutched the tattered gift box to his chest. It was comforting being so close to so much money.
He would wait it out until the next shift came on duty. There had to be a next shift. After all, this was McClane & Winthrop. Or was it Winthorp?
Copyright © 2013 by Arthur Davis