NOTE: This is the short story I finally wrote based on the tarot cards I pulled during this post HERE – A Journey through “Tarot for Writers” – Part 1 the Exercises. I enjoyed this process, sorry it took so long to actually finish it and get it posted. If you enjoyed these two posts, let me know. I can do more of these exercises from the book or I can show you how I’m using the cards in my actual writing projects. Enjoy!
The Hanged Man
By Jennifer Gregson
“So, Mr., uh…” she flipped the folder open, using her long red fingernail to scan down the page, “Fundi.”
“Yes,” he said, coming fully into her office and shutting the door behind him.
“Please, have a seat, we need to chat.”
Eli sat down, adjusting his shirt, noticing that he had buttoned the bottom two buttons wrong and that’s why he was having issues all morning.
“Mr. Fundi, HR will be here any minute. Do you know why?”
He looked at his boss and then down at the floor. Yes, he knew why but, he couldn’t say a word, he had promised.
“Don’t look at the floor, look at me,” she said, standing straight up in front of him. Her gray wool suit and beige silk camisole, both very expensive, showed very little creasing. He wondered if she had sat at all that day. She was known to walk the hallways while thinking and talking to her assistant, Carol, who tried to keep up with her.
“Elijah, I’m very disappointed in you. You were well liked, well respected around here. I never suspected you would steal from us.”
“What? No, I never. I didn’t,” he stammered. He flexed his fingers. Now what? He couldn’t turn on his friend. Not now, not after what he told him last night. But they think he did this? Was he going to be fired? Is that why HR was on its way? To escort him out of the building with a box of his belongings in his hands?
“Well, you had access to the Harris Toy Company’s file. You had access to all of the information. Information that their competitors now have, and are using against them. Using to create their own campaign. Harris is ruined and they’re blaming us.”
Eli looked down again, this time at his fingers. He started ticking off the reasons he’s keeping this secret. AJ’s girlfriend just told him she was pregnant. AJ’s mom is still very sick and needs to be moved to a better nursing home. AJ has a record. This will be three strikes. AJ will go to jail. That’s a definite. Did he want his friend to suffer? His friend’s family?
“Mr. Fundi what are you doing? Are you mumbling to yourself? Are you trying to confess?”
“No, ma’am. Ms. Fields, I’m not. I am very sorry.”
“Yes. I made a huge mistake. I let my mouth talk when it shouldn’t have. I talked while drinking with my buddies and someone heard me.” It seemed like a plausible enough lie, but that’s not what happened at all. AJ sold that information, on purpose, for a boatload of cash.
“I know you’re lying to me,” she said, sitting on the edge of the desk, her skirt hiking just slightly above her knee.
“No, I made a mistake.”
“Well, that’s definitely true. But that’s not what happened. We know money exchanged hands. We know it was a calculated issue. We know ‘someone’ did this on purpose.”
Eli looked right up into her eyes. He was always so nervous around her. Patricia Fields – so polished, poised, and powerful. And beautiful. Her eyes were the prettiest blue he had ever seen, but they were sad. Cloudy. Too much coffee, not enough sleep.
Patricia looked back at him. A lost puppy, that’s what she always thought about him. But, not in this moment, he looked strong. He looked like a grown up. Ready to take on the day and the world. He was definitely covering up for someone. They would figure it out, with or without his help. HR was coming and he would be escorted from the building. She couldn’t help him from that without him talking.
As he walked back to his desk with HR and security, he hung his head, so as not to make eye contact with anyone. He didn’t want his coworkers looking at him with shame in their eyes. He boxed up the few things he kept at his desk, and followed the security guard and HR manager out the door, another security guard directly behind them. At the front door, they collected his badge and handed him a letter. Sealed. He tossed it on the top of the box and walked toward his car in the parking lot.
After placing the box carefully in his car, he sat in the front seat and wondered aloud. “What now, idiot?”
A knock on the window made him jump. AJ, looking nervous and damp, was looking in. Eli didn’t want to talk to him. Not now, and especially not here. I mean, was he the biggest moron ever? He had to know they were watching him, didn’t he?
After a few, very long, seconds, Eli rolled down his window and just said, “Not now. Meet me at the bar tonight, 6 pm, and you better….I lied for you, man. Now go back to work.”
Eli nursed the beer he was drinking and checked his watch for the fifteenth time. 5:59 pm He glanced at the door, but still no AJ. He better show up. Alone.
6:03 pm, AJ stumbled into the bar, looking like he already had a few, but where? He only got off work a little while ago. AJ flopped down across from Eli.
“You are my hero!” he said, motioning to the bartender.
“For what? Getting my ass fired? Saving your ass from jail?”
“Well, yeah…that is a true friend. Who got you that job anyways? Me. I saved you, you saved me.”
“But you cost me that job. A job I was good at. A job I was starting to really like. Now what? I can’t get another paralegal job because of this so I’m back at square one. Worse. Because I have bills too and I need another job fast.”
“I can help with that. I have more information. Good information and I need a go-between.”
“Are you insane? Or just stupid? You went to college right? We were there together, right?”
“Yes, and I finished.”
“My father….” Eli trailed off. He grabbed his beer and finished it, “If you really cared about me, AJ, if we were really friends you’d do the right thing. You’d come forward, on your own and clear my name.”
“I can’t do that. The baby, my Mom. She’s not herself, and you know that.”
“Yes, and I have a mother too.”
“Not one with Alzheimer’s. I go visit her, she thinks I’m Dad or her older brother.”
“I get that. You have problems. Dude, I understand, but you know what? I did my duty, I protected my friend. You thanked me. Great.” Eli stood up, grabbed a ten from his wallet and threw it on the table. “Beers on me, see you around. Maybe.”
AJ didn’t try to stop him. Eli walked out into the early evening cool air and headed to his car.
The next day Eli realized he had nowhere to go and piles of laundry so he took them over to his Mom’s house to talk.
“Okay, so why are you here on a weekday? What happened?”
Eli took a deep breath, “I got fired.”
“What?” his Mom sat down next to him on the couch.
Without meaning to, Eli opened his mouth and the entire truth poured out of him.
“I did it to save my friend and now I feel like the biggest idiot in the world. I thought I was doing the right thing, in the moment, but now I’m not so sure. I think I just ruined my life.”
Eli’s mom looked at him with a mixture of pride and sadness.
“What?” he asked her.
“I’m proud of you, but I have never liked that AJ boy, he got you into so much trouble in college and it just keeps happening. Is there anything you can do? Can you go back to your boss and confess?”
“I could, sure. AJ is an idiot, but he’s my idiot. I wish I could talk to him, make him understand, make him see the right thing, you know? But he’s so caught up in his own, um, stuff to see that he’s throwing away 10 years of friendship. I’m out. I’m done.”
“Honey, you are old enough to say shit in this house.”
“Eli, you need to start thinking about you. You and your happiness. When was the last time you stopped and asked yourself if your life was making you happy? That job was good, it was good money, but did it make you happy? Has anything since the accident made you happy?”
Ugh, she had to go there. He was a mechanic, a damn good one, until…the accident. A small leak, gas most likely, caused his garage to blow up. He was in the office doing paperwork when it happened, which saved his life, but after that, he couldn’t walk into another garage. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is what the doctor’s called it. Scared was what he called it. He couldn’t work for months. AJ got him out of his funk and got him the job at the law firm.
“No.” The only thing Eli could say. Nothing had made him happy in a long time. But, seeing his boss every day made him smile. She was so confident and sure of herself. She was amazing. Watching her think and work, watching her win at all costs was such a, well, turn on, I guess. He didn’t want to think about her in that way, but she was stunning.
“Son, you need to stop worrying about everyone else. You worry about me too much and you worry about your friends too much. Who worries about you?”
“Besides me,” she said with a smile, “Your friend is only thinking of himself. You like working with your hands, right? So, maybe there’s something there – I mean, there are other jobs besides a mechanic that allows you to work with your hands.”
“So, what are you telling me to do Mom?”
“I’m not. That’s the thing. You have to figure this out all by yourself. The only thing I’m telling you, stop worrying about me. Stop worrying about AJ. Just think about you, for once.”
His mom got up to put his laundry in the dryer. Eli stared out the window. He knew he needed to do the right thing, even if it got AJ fired, even if he got him in trouble because AJ was acting like an idiot. He thought he was being a good friend, but AJ was just going to make more deals, more mistakes and get himself fired….or worse. He was going to throw away his life, then what would happen to his child and his mother?
Once he got home, he pulled out a piece of paper and hand wrote a note to his ex-boss asking if it would be improper or illegal to meet out of the office for coffee, that he had some information, something that would help her figure things out. He put her address on it and a stamp and put it in the mailbox. That was it. It was going out and there was nothing else to do now but wait.
His leg wouldn’t stay still. It had been three days since the letter went out before she called. He had started wondering if she was going to just ignore the letter, ignore him. He had sent the letter and then started creating a file of sorts, with information, but no outright names. He wanted her to have the clues, but not the answer.
“I don’t have time for games, Mr. Fundi,” she said as she chugged the hot coffee, steam rising up to meet her face.
“I know, but, I need to make things right. I just can’t tell you what’s going on, though I do have a folder with enough information that you should be able to know exactly who it is without me having to name names. And there’s more than one name involved. The fallout won’t be pretty.”
“Selling information goes up higher than just a paralegal?”
“Yes, the said paralegal in question had help. A lawyer dropped the file by accident, on purpose and they’re splitting the money.”
“What? Are you positive?” She looked up at him, he nodded. “Why tell me now? Why didn’t you confess this the other day in my office?”
“Because I am an idiot. I thought I was being a good friend, but I was wrong.”
He handed the folder to her and motioned for the waitress. After ordering a slice of pie he sat back and watched her read the file. She was wearing a dark red skirt and black sweater, it was casual Friday in the office.
“You can’t be serious? He’s on his way to making partner…are you sure?” She looked up from the file, “Why are you smiling?”
“You’re so smart. I’m probably too stupid for thinking that information was going to be harder to gleam.”
“No, it’s just that I started looking into things myself. You knew two other paralegals so we started there. I just didn’t think to look any higher. You’re sure? 100% sure?”
“Yes, ma’am. I didn’t want to believe it either, but apparently your ‘on his way to make partner’ lawyer has a gambling problem.”
They sat for a few minutes in silence while the waitress set Eli’s pie down and refilled the coffee mugs. Eli took a bite and looked over at this smart woman trying to figure things out.
“You want to walk?”
“What?” she asked, clearly lost in her mind.
“In the office, I’ve never seen you sit this long.”
“I sit in court all day so when I get a chance to stand and move around, I do.”
“I’ve seen you come up with brilliant things while walking around the office.”
“How long did you work for us?”
“Yes. I liked working there, but to be honest, I wasn’t happy there.”
She looked down at her coffee and stirred the cream in with a spoon.
“You were a hard worker though.”
“I always work hard, ma’am”
“Ugh, enough with the ma’am shit, okay. Call me Patricia.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why? You don’t work for me anymore. I’ll call you….”
“Elijah or Eli.”
“Eli, I like that.”
They sat in silence again for a while. Eli finished his pie and drank his coffee.
“What are you going to do with that information?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. I know we need to take care of this, of both of them…but I’m wondering, have others done this? Is it the first time? And how do I get more proof?”
“I can’t help you with how many others, but…you have a big case coming up, correct?”
“And some of the information you have is critical and confidential to a certain large pharmaceutical company, correct?”
“Yes, and that lawyer is helping me. He asked to help me. I just thought it was because of him making partner, he wanted to look good for the higher ups, but….you’re saying….no, I still have a hard time believing this.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. But it’s not just my paralegal friend. Yes, he is in it and he might have started it, I’m not sure. All I know is my friend and your lawyer both have money issues and need cash fast. This is a way to do that.”
“But they have to know we’re looking into things, right? I mean, after firing you, we’ll be on high alert.”
“Do they? Or do they think they got away with it? People get cocky. They slip up, make mistakes.”
She closed the folder and put the notes in her bag. She finished her coffee and sat back. She looked at me for a really long time, before a smile crept across her lips.
“What?” Eli asked.
“You are smart. Too smart for your own good I think.”
“That’s what my Mother says.” Eli smiled too.
“What can I do to help you? You didn’t deserve to be fired. I can help you find another job, talk to someone, let them know the inside scoop, as it were.”
“No, I’m done with the legal field. I miss working with my hands. I used to be a mechanic.”
She smiled even wider.
“What?” he asked.
“I can’t picture you in dirty coveralls, covered in oil.”
He laughed and looked down at his khakis and a button up shirt, “Well, that was me and I liked it and I was really good at it, but…well, it’s difficult right now to do that work. My past…it’s just….well, I’m actually going tomorrow to talk to a construction firm about a job opportunity.”
“Construction. I think you’ll be good at that. I have a feeling you’ll be the boss soon.”
“I don’t aspire to anything that big, but…maybe I should huh?”
She threw down $50 and got ready to leave.
“Don’t you want to wait for your change?”
“No, give her everything. I come in here a lot and I know she just lost her husband, and they have two kids.”
He smiled at her.
“What?” she asked.
“You are very different out of the office…” he wanted to go on but stopped himself. He knew she’d never say yes.
“Can I contact you again, for more, information if need be?” she asked.
“Of course, you have my phone number.”
She smiled. He smiled. She walked out and he watched her. Maybe he didn’t do the right thing right away, but he felt good. He was going to lose his friend, that was a guarantee. But growing up sometimes meant leaving people behind.