Drew Barrymore, aged 47, lived a perfectly respectable life. He had a respectable wife and two respectable kids and owned a respectable house in a respectable neighbourhood. His head was respectably balding for his age and he drove a respectable car to and from his office, where he downed a respectable amount of coffee, no sugar please, every morning. In short, Mr. Barrymore was a self-produced businessman, covertly proud of his empire but cautiously aware of it too, with a keen eye for the profession and a nose that kept him well out of trouble, or risks, or anything that could possibly put his respectability to shame. On this particular day he had a respectable spring to his step; a large order which was being discussed in recent weeks has just been finalized, and he was scheduled to sign it before lunch. With his large leather suitcase in his left hand and the morning newspaper in his right – he never read the thing but it added to his respectability – he emerged from the elevator, nodding to greetings left and right as he passed the rows of cubicles that were his employees, and strode into his office on the 17th floor of a respectable building in lower Manhattan.
Mr. Barrymore owned a printing business, specializing in advertisements and pamphlets. As such, it was not uncommon to find bundles of papers, respectably stacked, along the walls, behind doors, on top of desks, chairs, shelves, floors, or any flat surface, really. As a rule he never allowed the overflow into his office, but respectably endured the odd sheet slipped through the door every now and again. Today he found next to his first fresh cup of coffee an unusually muscular, clean-shaven young man, with his hands on his hips and shorts that were rather too small for him. Plastered over were the words ‘Say Hello To The New You, Call 509-SEXIBODI Today’ followed by one too many exclamation marks. Mr. Barrymore thumbed his nose at the offensive young man before respectably turning the flyer over.
A knock on his door signalled the arrival of his personal assistant as he settled himself into his chair and readjusted his tie.
“Come in, Thomas.”
“Good morning, sir. How are the family today?”
“Good morning, Thomas. And respectably well, as always, thank you.”
As he sipped his coffee, the lanky young man read his way through the day’s to-do’s and have-done’s, looking up at the end of every line for approval. This took the greater part of half an hour, after which some orders were given and pleasantries exchanged. As Thomas rose to go, a sudden thought entered Mr. Barrymore’s head.
“Oh, and Thomas, call Mr. McCaughney about his order. I want to double check that all the paperwork is ready. Tell him he can send the files over at his earliest convenience”
“Well, that’s just the thing, sir. He’s dead.”
“D-dead?!” He sputtered, nearly upending what’s left of his coffee. “What? How?!”
“Pardon me, sir. I thought you’d seen by now. It was all over the papers. They found him crushed under his car last night in a ditch by the interstate. Car accident, sir. That’s what the police are saying.”
Mr. Barrymore sunk into his seat in disbelief. What was to be his new biggest customer, dead! And a car crash, of all things! For a moment, he was stunned into silence.
“Sir? Sir? Are you alright?”
“…Quite…quite alright, thank you. Thomas, may I ask you to call in Miss Carrie, please?”
“Right away, sir.”
As his assistant hurried out of his office, Mr. Barrymore swallowed the rest of his coffee and attempted to do the same with his astonishment. Failing that, he stood up and paced up and down by the window.
“You called, sir?”
He turned at the sound of a woman’s voice and instinctively clasped his hands behind his back. Carrie Sadila was the new secretary, hired in a rush when the previous one resigned unannounced. Although clearly competent, Mr. Barrymore found her love of short skirts and translucent blouses both horribly disrespectful and annoyingly provocative, a mistake he just couldn’t bring himself to sack. He cleared his throat deliberately before continuing.
“Miss Carrie, did you hear the news about Mr. McCaughney this morning?”
“Oh yes, dreadful news, sir. Just dreadful,” the pretty brunette smiled, showing two rows of perfect teeth. “He seemed such a nice man when he was here, too.” The top of her blouse was unbuttoned, exposing a dainty golden necklace and just enough cleavage to make the respectable Mr. Barrymore’s skin tingle. She mindlessly fidgeted with the former as she spoke.
“Indeed. You saw him when he came yesterday, right? Did he…” He had to force his thoughts away from the young woman by the door. “Did he say anything to you while he was here?”
“Nothing beyond the usual, sir, but you know how he is. I let him in like always.” She was playing with her hair now, twirling a strand of it with her finger as she thought. “Ah, but he was here a full hour before the scheduled time.”
“What? You should have phoned me then.”
“I told him you were just out for lunch, sir, and suggested he come back later, but he said he’d wait and not to bother your break time.” She tossed her head and lightly folded her arms below her chest. “So I asked him into an empty meeting room and made him some coffee to sit with until your return.”
Mr. Barrymore nodded slowly. “Yes, yes, that was very good of you, thank you. It’s odd that a man as busy as he should opt to wait voluntarily for another, but you did very well to keep him comfortable while he was here.”
She giggled, a jingling sound that sent little chills up and down his spine. “Oh yes, he was quite comfortable, I dare say. Why, he wouldn’t let me leave him alone, sir. Said he’d get angry with the wait if I wasn’t there to entertain him. We had…a rather pleasant time.”
He had to clench his fists behind his back to avoid giving in to the pounding of the blood between his ears. She was teasing him now, he thought. She must be. He felt the heat crawl up his cheeks and cleared his throat again.
“Hm, yes. That would be all, Miss Carrie. You may leave now.”
“Thank you, sir. Shall I refill your coffee before I go?”
“That won’t be necessary, Miss Carrie, thank you.”
The young woman moved to go. With her hand resting on the doorknob, she turned again as if on impulse.
“Sir, do you think they’ll do an autopsy on the body?”
“I imagine they will. Why do you ask?”
“No reason. It’s just that, if they do, they might find something unexpected.”
A pause, and his fingers grow cold.
“W-what do you mean?”
“Well, they might discover that he died before his car rolled into the ditch.”
Drew Barrymore felt his legs give way as the new hire walked out of the room. Though he couldn’t have seen it, she smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach the blueness of her eyes.
word count: 1198