copyright © 2012 Lloyd R. Prentice
all rights reserved

Kimberly

The last thing Kimberly expected when she stepped into Temple's office was termination.

Now, she smells the funky testosterone of the two security guards standing behind her chair.

“These two gentlemen will escort you off premises.”

“But I need my purse— coat—”

“Sorry. Your office is sealed. Your personal belongings will be delivered by courier when we've finished our investigation—”

“Investigation?”

“Oh yes. Serious issues here.”

“But you haven't told me anything except— except— you're fired fuck you very much.”

“Sorry.”

“So what have I done?”

Temple shrugs.

“I need my car keys.”

“Sorry, your car is impounded.”

“But you— can't do this.”

“We can.”

“I'll sue big time, mister man!”

“I have a copy here of the agreement you signed when you accepted your position. I can assure you that it covers this situation thoroughly. You have a copy in your termination packet.”

“Don't think the media won't hear about this—”

“And here's the confidentiality statement you signed. You'll find a copy in your termination packet.”

“Temple, what's going on here? I thought we were friends.”

“Sorry, Kimberly. Think I like this?”

“Then why are you doing it?”

“I do what I'm told.”

“Always the good German.”

“You stepped on the wrong toes.”

“Well, Seig Heil! and screw you too. You haven't heard the end of this, you shit. You're not the only one with friends in high places.”

“Kimberly, I'd strongly advise you to go quietly. You're lucky we're not pursuing criminal charges— yet.”

Kimberly stands. Each guard grips an upper arm. She struggles, but they grip harder, almost to the point of pain. One guard has a shaved head, purple veins and razor nicks. The other a Fu Man Chu mustache over an ax-thin face.

“Let's make this easy, ma'am,” shaved head says.

The guards shove Kimberly through the door. Last thing, she sees Temple pick up his phone, hears him mumble softly.

They near frog march her through the cubical bays. People stare— avoid eye contact— people she's known around the office. All she can think about are the cut flowers she'd brought in that morning to freshen up her desk, golden irises.

Suddenly she feels feverish, sticky with cold perspiration.

They frog march her to the elevators. Fu Man Chu presses LL. Now she feels fear.

“Where are you taking me?”

The guards are silent.

“Where?”

“You'll find out soon enough.”

In the lower level, an area Kimberly has never seen, they frog march her to a white security pickup. White Toyota. Like the Taliban, she thinks.

“In—”

They drive up the ramp and out bay doors into glaring sun. The two fat bodies press in on her. Rank masculinity. She tries to shrink into herself. They drive past the shift-workers' parking lot and up to a secondary plant exit that Kimberly never knew existed. The security hut is unattended. They stop.

Kimberly notes the steel teeth rising out of the exit ramp. A skeletal sphere of tumbleweed, caught on a tooth, quivers in the desert wind.

Kimberly releases her breath, feels violated by foul breath and body odor, stale cigarette smoke. Fu Man Chu presses hard against her, removes his wallet, swipes his ID. Kimberly watches the yellow arm rise, the steel teeth sink between two steel strips.

They drive through the gate, creep onto the frontage road and brake; no cars to be seen.

“Out, Miss,” baldy says. “And have a nice day.”

Kimberly watches the white truck creep back through the gate.

Unseasonably sharp winter wind knifes through her thin ivory silk blouse. Her fingers, moist with perspiration, pucker the surface of the termination packet, raise tiny rolls of fibrous cruft. She turns 360 degrees. Stares back toward the plant.

Razor wire, rising beyond a dry sandy ditch, stretches in both directions, an SVS Aerospace sign, aggressive logo, wired to the chain link every hundred yards.

Tumbleweed clogs the ditch, is banked up against the fence. Beyond the wire the four-story administration building now seems so far, so alien. Her eyes sweep the vast sea of cars. The assembly plant, low and dark, stretches beyond sight.

Kimberly follows the razor wire for a quarter of a mile, stops to stare through the wire at the small landing strip, the concrete control tower, just beyond Facility C.

She sees a corporate Gulfstream powering up on the apron, red navigation lights flashing, three black Ford Expeditions moving in formation toward the hanger bays.

Kimberly chokes back tears.

“I've failed you,” she says.

Now Kimberly turns toward the highway that flanks the frontage road, becomes aware of semis swishing past, trailing swirls of sand.

Across the two lanes south, the sand and cactus median, the two lanes north, she sees the silvery arc of irrigation spray, alfalfa, and cows, some grazing. One cow seems to stare at her, but she knows it's too far to know for sure.

Heat mirages ripple off the far desert. Purple mesas rise above the horizon.

Kimberly walks, pauses, looks down at her week-old Via Spigas. Scrimped two pay periods to buy them. Her comfortable shoes, the Reeboks she wears into work, are in her office, under her desk.

Already her feet hurt— hot and swelling from the seering blacktop.

A white F-150 panel van whips around her on the frontage road, brakes, backs up. The driver leans across the passenger seat, opens the door.

“Ya'll look like a lady could use a ride.”

Kimberly starts to thank the driver, climb in, but takes a second look.

“No— No thank you,” she says. “Someone's on the way.”

“Suit yourself, bitch,” the driver says, slamming the door, peeling away with the sound and smell of burning rubber.

Six miles. Six miles to a phone. She can do it— even if her feet are killing her. She walks.

Now a Saab approaches from behind, passes and stops. The driver door opens.

“Kimberly? My God—”

“Mika?”

“I saw those thugs drag you through the office. What's going on, Sweetie?”

Kimberly starts to cry, but holds back.

“Get in, Sweetie. You look like a girl could use a drink.”

The Shadow Lounge is nearly deserted this time of day, too late for the last of the lunch crowd, too early for happy hour.

“How can they do this to you?” Mika asks, a whisper over the distant drone of a vacuum cleaner.

Mika has an exotic look. Pale blue eyes. Kimberly envies her sleek near-white hair, flawless pampered complexion. Her white tailored suit, accessories, are worth a month of Kimberly's salary— former salary.

“You didn't really do anything— wrong— did you Sweetie?

“I mean—”

Kimberly so wants to confide, but holds back.

Mika's office is on the top floor, three doors down from the CEO. Something to do with strategic planning.

Kimberly hears a soft musical note. “Sorry,” Mika says, “My cell—

“Yes,” she says into the phone, smiling at Kimberly as she slips the tiny smart phone back into her purse.

“You're very talented, Kimberly,” Mika says. “I know you'll land on your feet. It's so pleasant here, out of the office, just us girls. Would you like a refill?”

It's near dark when Mika drops Kimberly off in front of her small fake adobe home. Kimberly steps out of the car, glances back, sees Mika lift her smart phone.

Kimberly feels warm and woozy from the drinks, a hollow pit in her stomach as she thinks about her lost job, her daughter's tuition— mortgage payments.

She opens her front door, feels suddenly stricken.

Her home is trashed. Floor to ceiling— holes punched in the Sheetrock, lamps broken, mantle pieces smashed on the flagstone hearth.

She sobs. Enters her daughters bedroom. Even her daughter's Coldplay posters have been ripped from the walls. She grips her termination packet in both hands, nearly tears it in two. Thank God her daughter is in a dorm this year.

Her daughter— My God!

She turns for her iPhone, but it's in her purse— locked in her office. She steps across books with broken spines, pried up floor tiles. Her kitchen cabinets— swept clean; china and glass shattered on the yellow vinyl. Cabinet drawers are strewn haphazardly, contents scattered. Her refrigerator door stands open, light still on, box emptied, the floor a hazard of shredded cartons and shards of glass among broken egg yolks and splatters of Aunt Jemima maple syrup.

She finds her kitchen phone coated in raspberry yogurt; wipes the worst with a dish towel. Thankfully, hears a dial tone.

She dials the number he'd made her memorize.

“They've fired me,” she says. “How did they find out so soon?”

Writers Glen logo

The Gospel of Ashes

by Lloyd R. Prentice

Available June 1, 2012