MIND YOUR MANNERS
"If this is the Greg who is married to Marianne," said Susan Black, "you should know your wife calls her ex-fiancée daily and tells him she still loves him." She hung up.
"You really need to let it go."
Susan spun in her chair and found Nancy Malone, the office manager standing behind her. "I told him and told him he needs to move on and stop talking to that woman."
Malone reached out and tapped the phone on Susan's desk with a pen. "And you need to avoid making calls like that from the office. If they trace that, we can get sued."
Susan laughed. "Him? He won't sue us. Hell, that limp-dicked idiot is letting his wife talk to John even though they're married now."
Malone nodded. "And you care because…"
"Because he's back in Louisiana and living with me. Isn't that enough?"
"Just have those numbers for me by the end of the day. I've got a meeting tomorrow morning, and I don't have time for you to screw around."
Oh, Susan was done screwing around. Put the bug in that wimp's ear, she told herself. Start a little trouble in their marriage. Teach that bitch to interfere with John coming back to Susan.
True, Marianne never said, texted, or IM'd that she still loved John, but why even stay in contact with him? She had a husband in Chicago now. John had come back to New Orleans. All she needed was time to bring him around.
The phone rang around 4:30 that afternoon.
"Brent, Scott, and Gervais," she said. "Susan Black. How may I help you?"
"Did you know that, even with star-six-seven," said a male voice, "and a different area code to filter out the call, a talented IT team can trace screened calls made to voice-over-IP phones?"
The voice sounded familiar, but Susan couldn't place it. "I’m sorry. This is Brent, Scott, and Gervais. Can I help you with your account?"
"Just a friendly reminder," said the man, "that tracing such a phone call is admissible in court. Since we're talking about calls between states, federal court's a safe bet."
"Who is this?"
"Make another call like you did earlier," said the man, "and you'll find out. Have a lovely evening, Susan."
John wasn't in when Susan came home from work. Her hands shook as she found the old cigarette case. She almost didn't get the lighter to the tip then realized she stuck the wrong end in her mouth.
Once the cigarette burned, she made her way to the bathroom and found John's stash of vicodin. She swallowed two, then three pills dry. It took two shots of vodka before any chemically induced calm took hold. By then, she began to see things more clearly.
So Greg Springer had traced her call. She should have anticipated that. He did work in IT. But to threaten her? From Chicago? He must have thought he was being cute. Federal court? Let him prove it. All she said was that his slutty wife had been sniffing up John. That was the truth, wasn't it?
She knocked back another vodka. Forget Greg Springer. Forget Marianne and her clingy need to hold onto John. John lived here, under Susan's roof. Soon enough, she'd have his wedding ring back on her finger.
The next morning, she found a two-page fax on her seat waiting for her. The coversheet revealed little, an 866 number, no subject, and only "Concerned Friend" for name. She went through the faxed pages. The actual fax itself revealed little else, only a printout from Southwest Airlines web site showing a $69 fair from Chicago to New Orleans.
Susan gasped and rushed to the copier room to shred the fax. When she returned, the message light on her phone flashed.
"You work at Brent, Scott, and Gervais," said the male voice from yesterday, "a paper company based in Baton Rouge. You drive a 2004 Hyundai Accent, gray, according to the Louisiana DMV. You live near the edge of the French Quarter and Treme and your daughter attends St. Catherine's Elementary. How am I doing? See, I can look things up about you, too."
Oh, that sonofabitch! She would put a stop to this. Maybe she'd fly to Chicago and show this Greg Springer person two could play at this game. Would he like that? Maybe she could get into John's phone and email again and print out all that incriminating…
That was it.
She went back to her desk, logged into her computer, and pulled up John's Gmail account. Pulling up the web site of the company where Springer worked, she pieced together the naming convention for their email addresses and started forwarding Springer's wife's emails to him.
As she shut her computer down at the end of the day, Susan found herself humming. Nancy Malone happened by her desk.
"Well, you're certainly in a good mood today," she said. "I haven't heard a word out of you since the morning."
"Oh, Nancy," said Susan, "I think everything is finally going my way."
Malone smiled. "Good. Join the rest of us at the bar tonight?"
"Why not? I could go for a cosmopolitan." Susan grabbed her purse and followed her boss out the door. Three of their coworkers waited in the lobby, and the group walked over to Simon's, a bar in the strip mall across the street. Once parked at a table with the drinks flowing, Sandra, the Asian girl who worked in Accounting, asked, "So, Susan, what's got you absolutely glowing?"
Susan couldn't help grinning. "I think I finally got rid of that bitch John was engaged to in Chicago."
"Oh, really? What did you do?"
"I sent all her emails to John back to her husband." She sipped her cosmopolitan. "Bet he dumps her just like John did."
Sandra raised her glass. "To getting your man back."
Everyone clinked glasses.
That night, she came home wobbling from too many cosmopolitans, thanking God there were no cops between Simon's and her house. John sat in the recliner, bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his hand. He was watching the Cubs on WGN.
"Where have you been?" he asked, not taking his eyes off the ballgame.
Susan crossed the room and hugged him, planting a sloppy wet kiss on his lips. "Just celebrating getting my baby back."
John clicked the remote, silencing the TV. He pushed her away and rose. "I already packed my stuff. You're psycho. I should never have come back."
It felt as though her heart stopped. Her chest became tight. "You're leaving?"
"I can't believe you've been calling and threatening people behind my back. We're through."
The pain in her chest faded quickly, replaced by rage. "You walk out that door, I'll make sure you never see the kids again."
John smiled. "See you in court. Next time, don't leave a paper trail." He walked out the door. Outside, his pickup rumbled to life.
She spent the night drinking. Some time around midnight, she lost it and threw John's bottle of Jack Daniels against the wall. Snatching up her cell, she speed dialed his number.
"Welcome to Sprint," a pleasant voice told her. "The number you have reached is no longer in service…"
Then she did the only thing she knew she could do. She found Greg Springer's work number, dialed it, and waited for his voicemail to pick up.
"Hi," Greg Springer's recorded voice said, "you've reached Greg Springer at Marshal Property and Casualty IT Services. Please leave…"
Susan punched "1" and said, "I swear to God, Springer, I am going to kill you wife."
Susan's head pounded as she came into work late the next morning. Nancy Malone spotted her and rushed her into her office. "What's wrong? You were in such a good mood with the girls last night."
Susan collapsed into Malone's visitors chair. "Oh, God, Nancy. I fucked up. John found out what I'd been doing and left me."
"You look horrible."
"Yeah, well, a night of excessive drinking will do that to you." She looked up and saw the look on her boss's face. "I know. I look like a plague victim. Let me slog through the morning. I'll get some eggs at the deli later and drink lots of coffee."
Malone gave her a thin smile. "You're a trouper, Suze, but don't let this happen too often."
Susan waved her off and shuffled to her cubicle. Her message light flashed. Her first thought was a rather tough client who was threatening to bolt for Office Depot. In her current condition, there was nothing she could do about it now. Oh, well. Better to face the music and get it over with. She'd need to do it soon enough when John took her back to court.
She brought up her voicemail. It wasn't the client.
"It's on, bitch," said an angry Greg Springer. "If you want to play, we'll play."
Susan's heart skipped a beat. For the rest of the day, she tried to remind herself that the Springers were in Chicago, too far away for them to be a direct threat to her.
By noon, her hands shook. For lunch, she had four shots of vodka and little else. She came back to work shaky but calm. Malone stopped by her desk around three.
"Go home," she said. "You're drunk, and I'm not going to have you staggering around the office."
"I'm not unsympathetic, but you're a mess. And you're not going to get anything useful done today. Go home. Get it out of your system. Get your head together, and don't come back until you do."
Susan got up and left, ignoring Malone's offer of a cab.
Outside, she found her fenders, headlights, and tail lights smashed.
Susan didn't dare call the police. She took the car to a friend of John's who did body work. Suspecting the guy thought he had a chance now that John had walked out again, she did her best to charm him into waiving her insurance deductible. She also charmed him into a loaner, both of them knowing full well she would never really follow through on her implied offer of something more than some intense flirting.
The auto body man gave her a late model Jetta to drive. She didn't mind. When John was away, she'd looked at a Jetta, then opted something more sporty when she lured him back to New Orleans.
She stopped at Simon's on the way home. This time, she opted for a pinot grigio to calm her nerves. The drinking would have to stop. She knew that now. If John was well and truly gone, for whatever reason, she had to accept the fact that he no longer loved her and hadn't since he left for Chicago. If she were honest with herself, she realized she had driven him away originally. He was clingy, suffocating, needy. She couldn't handle that and kicked him out. In the wake of Katrina, leaving for Chicago was a no-brainer. Susan still wondered why she didn't follow suit. Brent, Scott, and Gervais had a larger office in Dallas.
The wine gone, Susan climbed into the Jetta. When she got home, she'd call a counselor. Maybe in a couple of days, she'd go back to work and tell Nancy Malone she wanted a transfer. Time to move on, start over. She hoped Marianne Springer was happy.
The door to her house stood wide open. Inside, a spider-web pattern of cracks stretched across the television set. Someone had slashed open the cushions on the couch, the recliner, and the overstuffed chairs. Susan found her wedding china smashed on the floor and huge gouges carved into the dining room table. In the kitchen…
"Hello, Susan," said Greg Springer, holding a tire iron. Susan noticed he was wearing surgical gloves. "Time to learn some manners."
Jim Winter is an evil code monkey in the booming healthcare industry. Your sickness is his good fortune. The maladies and mishaps of the general populus help support Jim's writing habit and his wife and stepson, whom he lives with in Cincinnati. His stories have appeared in Crime Factory, Darkest Before the Dawn, and Spinetingler. He is the author of the 2008 novel Road Rules, which you will soon have to pay for. Because it's worth it. You can stalk him on Twitter at @eviljwinter or at the following haunts:
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