Short Fiction - El-Presidente

Benjamin Britworth

The big boss, El-presidente as he was known in the company corridors, was a strong man, a big man and a powerful man. He enjoyed his power, just like they all did, those significant people at the top, and wasn't afraid to show it.
Blunt brutality. That's how these sort-a companies rolled: hard and fast, with a cutthroat blade slipped between the teeth. Bow to the captain, and he'd bestow you with gifts. Cry 'mutiny', however, and he'd skin you alive. Not that you'd realise such things from the nameplates on the doors. No, they were fancy and made to impress, with slick oak and spit-shined gold smearing lies all over. Beyond those plates was where all the drama went down, deep in the company bowels! There are some stories worth telling... this is one of them, I suppose...

I joined up with my degree ink still wet. At first the wildness of the place scared me. Nonetheless, I loved it, the fear giving an edge. The pressure lit a fire under my ass and set me going something crazy- I had to have more, and pushed to climb. Soon I was basking in the glow of the upper-trades. Your average Joe couldn't make it to that point. In fact, I'd wager I'm one of maybe a few hundred people in the whole history of this squalid planet as to make it into that elite pool, and that's the truth.
Of-course, there were always those better than us: the great and eminent, the people who scraped the sky. I should've be one of those people. I was good enough, and still am, but there was something stopping me from climbing. Only a few more rungs to heaven, but they were all greased, and I kept slipping. I'd have done anything to grab past them, anything at all. 
So, get this, I was sitting at my desk one day, working over the details of a big deal, a really big deal, when El-presidente sidled over. He stopped beside me, reeking of expensive cologne (a sure sign he'd done the dirty), and sat, check that, lounged across my paperwork. It was like he didn't even care I had this deal going down. Not that I expected him to care, but still, that was the biggest deal I'd ever done, and he was acting as though it didn't matter one bit. He knew I was riled. I could tell because of the big grin slapped across his chops.
When he sat I emitted an internalised sigh, thinking the worst, and asked, “Hello, sir, what can I do for you?”
Was that a hint of sarcasm in my voice? If it was, I reigned it in. It wasn't worth the trouble of being rude.
“Oh... well...” the arrogant so-and-so meditated.
He knew I couldn't go anywhere. He knew I couldn't react. It wasn't as though I had papers to work on- not like there was a massive gamble spread out under his ungrateful backside.
“Well...” he said again. It was excruciating, “You've probably heard about the shake up, yes?”
Had I ever! It was all the water cooler'd gobbed out that past week. Apparently somebody was going to get the chop. He wasn't planning on firing me, I hoped, because I could bet you a pretty picture if he had. I would not have gone quiet. I'd have kicked and screamed and brought the whole place down.
“Well...” he said a third time. Spill it already, El-presidente, I thought, and we'll have it out like men. “The board's been talking,” he continued, and, oh, don't tell anyone this yet, but we've been thinking of giving you a promotion.”
What? Is he joking? El-presidente never joked, what was I thinking, he was being honest! Funny thing, I'd had a feeling he'd been considering me from the second I spied him. I mean, I was about to close what was probably the biggest deal in company history. Clearly he wasn't planning on firing me.
“Well...” he said a fourth time, not that I was counting. No, really, he could've said 'well' a million times if he liked, “The only issue is we think you're a tad young to be considered for the position.”
Young?! I wasn't a tad young! I could handle anything he threw at me!
“We'd really like to see some more of what you can do,” he said, Would you be interested in working alongside me for a couple of weeks, just to see how you cope?”
Sure, why not. I'd have liked nothing better than to be his go-to guy, not if it got me a slot at the top table.
“Wow, that'd be great!” I responded.
Too positive? Nah, he adored suck-ups!
“I'd love to see what it's like working with you for a while!”
Roll around in his muck! Lap it all up!
“Excellent,” he smiled, big white teeth gleaming out, “I'll have my assistant write up the necessary paperwork.”
...Nailed it!
He left, and I returned to wrapping my huge deal.

The next day, I was back on duty, except I was El-presedente's right hand man. He led me through several board meetings, easy as pie, and a massive lunch, and then afternoon tea. All the while he rubbed shoulders with clients and partners and the occasional board member. The whole day was like one great commercial for those at the top, as though he was selling this fantasy. If only I could reach out and touch it, it'd all be mine. I had to prove I was the man for the job. As such, I was his party-boy the entire time. I did everything and anything he wanted me to do. If he'd asked me to skip rope all day I'd have done it. I'd have drunk toilet water if he wanted. Anything, anything at-all!
Finally, after a whirlwind of an evening, we were back in his office. He sat behind his desk, and with a great exhale he loosened his belt. He stuck out a finger, waggled it at me, and said, “That, my boy, is a working day. Phew-ha! When I was young I'd have done a day like that standing on my head.” He sighed. There was something oddly sanguine to his tone.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“In all honesty I'd probably have done double what we did and not even blinked. I think if I hadn't been at those meetings, slowing them down, you'd have closed them pretty well by yourself...” he trailed off, pensive.
“Yes sir,” I said, and chuckled. Bingo! Promotion, here I come!
“Well... Well, you were very good, but I don't quite understand why you're here.”
“Heh- What?”
“It's something about your demeanour, I suppose. You're welcoming and friendly, and do a darn good job at being polite, but it's like you're not really with us. Do you think that's a fair assessment?”
“Now, hold on a minute, I don't really know about that,” I replied. Oh no, my fingers are slipping on that ladder.
“You don't know?” he said, a small smile curling his lip. He lent back, his stomach deflating, “I've seen hundreds of people pass through this company, and thousands more fail before they even got inside. Most were nothings, and will always be nothings- useless wastes of space that'll never amount to more than dust collectors. Some survived a bit better, and managed to dig their claws in for a while. A very select few broke into the inner sanctums, rooms like this one. Those people were dogs in a dog eat dog world. They were vicious, and they fought well. The ones who are still around are just as vicious as they ever were, and... they also understand what it takes to get power. Sadly, after all these years of experience I'm led to believe that you don't have what it takes to be a dog eater. Today has shown me enough to know.”
My lip trembled. I was unsure what he wanted me to say. That was unexpected: of-course I could get along here. I knew I could. Only yesterday I'd closed the biggest deal the company ever made... didn't I?
“Ha-ha,” he laughed, and wiped his lips, “I know. It's difficult to come to terms with such a thing, isn't it?”
“But... but, what do you mean?” I was confused, “Haven't I shown you I'm good at my job. Hell, your talk of a promotion yesterday sounded like a sure thing?!”
“It was, but I talk about a lot of things that are 'sure things' until they fail. I wanted to see your mettle before I considered asking the board-”
“But you said you spoke to the board-?”
“I say a lot of things...” he reiterated.
“Fine... Fine, whatever!”
I went to stand, scraping back my chair. I didn't need to hear anymore. If he wanted to fire me he could go ahead. I'd rip him apart in court with a nice juicy lawsuit. Spinning on my heel I made to leave. The stupid son-of-a- Clunk...! Something weighty sounded out behind me. It was a fat and solid something hitting the mahogany desk.
“Do not leave,” his tone bit. He was serious in a way a teacher is when a child is bad. Angry, but controlled. Fearsome, in just the right way.
I rotated. El-presidente was sitting bolt upright. Before him on the desk was... a spiked knuckleduster?
“What if you could prove you have what it takes? What if you could have all that I have, live this life at the top, and become a dog eater?”
Gladly. I would do anything, wouldn't I? I am ruthless. I am brutal. I am what this company needed. I could do anything for El-presidente, I would walk through fire just to be like him, to be a dog eater.
“Sure,” I said, not without uncertainty.
“Sure?” he questioned.
“Good. I hoped you would say that. Please, lock the door and return to your seat. We have needs for some assurances of security for the next part.”
A prickle of nerves ran up my spine. That fire under my ass had been turned up. I did as he commanded and returned to the desk like a good little lapdog.
Sit puppy – sure thing, master!
He picked up the knuckleduster and chucked it closer to me. It vibrated on impact, ringing out like a tuning fork.
I peered at the instrument.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
I nodded.
“Good. I want you to pick it up.”
I did so. The metal was cold in my hand. I turned it over. I'd never seen such a thing up close before, not in reality. The knuckles rose to spikes. Something rusty painted the tips. I hoped the red wasn't-
“Do you have the guts to stay in this company?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Are you sure?”
“Certainly, Sir,” the weight of responsibility lay heavy in my palm.
“Excellent. I knew you had the stomach. In that case, would you kindly kill me.”
Silence... what?
“Are you... joking?” I said, a bemused twist crossing my lips.
“No. I am perfectly serious. I would like you to kill me. If you think you deserve a place in this company you must earn it. You must kill me and assume my position. Dog-eat-dog-eat-dog.”
“Ha-ha,” I laughed. Am I missing the joke?
“Unless, of-course, you are afraid?” His expression was cold and calculated.
“No. I just don't believe you actually mean what you're saying,” I replied. Yet somehow I felt he was serious. Something in his rigid body language gave it away.
“I can assure you of my sincerity. Such an act is a right of passage in this company, and many like it. The board of directors know well what happens here, not that they'd admit it. No, they keep a close eye on all affairs and hide the evidence once deeds are done.”
“I...” I answered, unsure of what to do. It was not like I could just dive across the table and smack him around the head, could I?
“Look at that weapon. Do you see the blood on it? It's been used many times before, by men like you, to assume control.”
Had he done such a thing? I wondered, Am I sitting opposite a murderer?
His eyes glinted with recognition. He knew the thoughts that slipped my skull.
“Power may be asserted in a handful of ways, dear boy, yet it must always be taken to be assumed. How do you think this company has remained above the fray so long? How do you think we've survived? Because we're a pack of wolves, that's why! Because we're led by men who will do what the competitors won't. We go further and take more because. we. can.”
I swallowed, audibly.
“Do you have the guts?”
I slipped the knuckleduster on. The metal was soft and sleek, as though it had been used a thousand times before and ground down.
“That's it. Feel it on your fingers. Feel the power course through you,” El-presidente hissed.
I stood from my chair, my legs weak, and stumbled round the desk. I was waiting for him to tell me to stop, and laugh out loud and slap his knee. It didn't come.
I stood before him. He looked up, his stare solid. A vein pulsed in his forehead, I could see the blood rushing through the old man's body. He lived. he breathed. He was human. He had a life.
I waited for an eternity.
“Do it,” he snarled, “Do it now!”
I raised my arm. The weight of the duster was enormous. It was so heavy I could barely lift it.
“Do it!”
I dropped my hand. Smack! Metal on meat. There was a second noise in the hit too- bone splitting- of the spikes driving home in his skull.
“Ooph,” he sputtered. He was suddenly old and broken, a little elderly man about to die.
My eyes were closed. I didn't want to look, and yet I had to. I cracked them an inch. He was still alive, slumped in his chair, blood running down his forehead where a great gash was carved.
“What are you waiting for...” he gasped through red bubbles, “Keep going... Keep going...”
Wham! I slammed my fist again. This time I saw the hit, I saw his skin pop, scratch, and the hot red slide forth.
He spasmed, his body rocking back, rigid as a board, before falling forward in a slump. He was dead- I hoped he was dead. There was enough blood to make him dead. My hands shook. I couldn't believe what I'd done.
Good boy, who's a good boy?!
I took the knuckleduster off. It slipped in my fingers, wet with blood and sweat, and dropped to the floor, where it jangled, and bounced under the desk.
I took a step away, a hollow, forgettable step. Then another, and another, until I was up against the wall. I felt along to find the door handle, unlocked the door and backed out. Never once did I take my eyes off the unmoving form of the big kahuna, El-presidente, not until I was away and gone, and then I ran.
That night I didn't sleep, instead I tossed and turned and fretted. I kept thinking the police were going to knock on my door. I was afraid they were going to shoot me. You don't kill a man like El-presidente without consequence, do you?
The morning after, I was a wreck. I couldn't even brew a coffee without shaking. Nothing was clear, no lines were straight. Nothing I could do was ordinary.
I realised that it'd look weird, downright culpable, if I didn't go into work. Did anyone know I was the last one to leave yesterday evening? Did El-presidente and I get seen going into his office together? A thousand questions, all of the same ilk, ran through my mind.
The train into work seemed like a hotbox. I couldn't breath. I sweated badly. I probably looked like a junky coming down from a hit. Oh please, don't let them know it was me, please!
I walked into the building. There was no sign of police. Maybe they hadn't noticed yet? Maybe his body was still sprawled in his chair and nobody'd bothered to go in and check?
Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.
I got in the lift and headed up. The receptionist greeted me with a smile. She doesn't know- she doesn't have a clue. She didn't even bat an eyelid at my appearance, maybe I wasn't looking as bad as I felt?
But, do I really feel that bad? I mean I should... I should've been falling to pieces. Maybe she was just being polite?
I smiled back and passed her desk in the direction of my work cubicle.
When I reached my cubicle I sat down. I fumbled around for the computer start button, looking around to see if anyone was staring. It took me a whole two minutes to realise that my hand was sweeping over an empty desk. There was nothing laid out anymore. It'd all been cleared.
Was I going mad? Things were getting strange. Super, mega weird.
I headed back to the receptionist. My stuff might have been moved for cleaning-? Or perhaps I was sitting in the back of a police van, hallucinating this whole morning. I was a basket case, rattling away like a broken clock.
The receptionist was all smiles. In a mumbled tone I asked her if she knew where my stuff went. I felt like a bad kid, like I'd done something wrong.
She laughed, and said, “Ha-ha, silly! You're in the private office now, the one at the end of the hall.”
As she said it I feel an icy hand clamp my throat. That was his office- El-presidente's.
She must know, everyone must know. They were all testing me. The police were listening in on this conversation and they were going to jump me the second I showed signs of cracking. I had to keep it together, keep it together, keep it together...
I arrived at his office. I reached for the handle, the same handle I reached for with shivering hand last night. It turned in my fingers. I couldn't stop myself. I had to keep going, and acting like there was nothing wrong. If I kept the charade up they'd all think I was innocent. They wouldn't suspect a thing.
I entered...!
The office was clear, save for my stuff. It was eerie, like a magic wand had been swept over the place. Not a single sign of the old room remained. It was like it'd been power hosed or something.
“I'll be...” I muttered, stunned.
Could it be true... Did the company cover it up? Did the company really want me to kill El-presidente? Was this all real?
“Ha-ha!” I laughed out loud, “Ha-ha!”
I walked into the office and closed the door behind me. Did that mean what I thought it meant? Was I the boss now? Was I in charge? Had I got all the luxuries? Did I get to have long lunches, and talk with the directors, and live the swanky life?
Ha-ha, indeed!
I settled myself into the new leather chair. It was soft and smooth. I felt relaxed, much more so than before. I was almost comfortable, happy even. I couldn't believe it, I'd got away with murder- legitimate murder-
There came a knock at the door. It was the receptionist. She grinned, her red lips wide.
“You all well?” she asked, “Settled in?”
“Sure thing,” I replied, “Sure thing!”
“Great,” she said, “If you need anything just give us a shout, El-presidente.
She closed the door. In those moments after she'd gone I couldn't help but reflect on what she called me - El-presidente. Was that who I'd become? Was I really him? It was an empowering thought, great, even! It's just, I wondered, how might my reign end?

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