Excerpt from Alone on the Shield
*Excerpted from Alone on the Shield: A Novel by Kirk Landers with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2017. All Rights Reserved
Blue stood. It was an imperious gesture to a subordinate that the meeting was over. Pender slouched in his chair and crossed one leg over the other.
"So, are you going to the bathroom or have I been fired?" Pender asked.
"Nothing left but the handshake," said Blue. He tried to keep his voice nonchalant, but Pender's act was irritating him.
Pender uncoiled his six-foot frame and stood in front of Blue. Neither of them offered a handshake or tried to hide the contempt he had for the other. "I wish I could say it was a pleasure working with you," said Blue. "But it wasn't. You are an arrogant, egotistical self-righteous editor and you've been earning this termination from the time I met you."
"Well, thank you, Blue," said Pender. "I can only hope I irritated you as much as you have me. It's a lot to hope for, but I do."
"There you go again, Pender. Do you even understand what you've done to yourself? Your wife left you, you've got no job, you're sixty years old in an economy where forty is ancient. You'll never work in magazine publishing again. You won't be trotting off to Paris to speak. No more interviews on CNN. You've won your last award. You've chaired your last meeting. All that's left of your life is an empty house. Get it, Pender? You're dead."
Blue put his hands on his hips and rolled on the balls of his feet, a corporate warrior's victory dance.
Pender stared at Blue with an expression that began as curiosity and morphed into an intensity that made the executive uncomfortable. That was the very moment that it came crashing into Pender's head with a force that pushed out all other thought, that was when he realized everything he had done, everything he had believed in, everything he had wished for had been truly and completely corrupted in the space of his adult life. This company was a lie. America was a lie. He was a lie. The truth was Charles Jamison Blue, standing in front of him like a braying jackass. Rage clouded Pender's vision.
"You can pick up your separation kit in HR," Blue said. "Go on, now. We're done here."
As the last syllable evaporated into the ether, months of suppressed rage burst from Pender's mind to his fist and he hit the man in his plentiful gut. It was a short, wicked left hook, thrown with the unleashed fury of an enraged genie escaping at last from a bottle. Pender's fist drove deep into Blue's diaphragm, forcing the air from his lungs. The starched impresario gasped and doubled over. Tears came to his eyes. He fell ass-first onto his chair, his lips forming a fish face as he tried to feed air into his lungs. When he could finally breathe, Blue wept tears of frustration and anger.
Pender watched, mesmerized. He couldn't believe what he had done. He was astonished to see a grown man cry from a single punch. He could still feel his fist driving into the fat man's middle, could feel the flesh give way like it was made of pillows and water balloons. Dimly he understood this was certainly the end of his career. This was the end of everything.
Excerpt from Alone on the Shield
Christy stared at her mother. "You two didn't just date in college, did you?" She said it suspiciously, more statement than question.
"What else do you think we did?" Annette responded flippantly.
"I mean, he wasn't just another guy you dated. He was special."
"I guess he was, in a way."
Christy cocked her head and smiled. "Come on, Mom," she said.
"He was special. Of the men I knew in college, your father and Pender are the only ones I remember." Annette paused. "We argued a lot. Sometimes, he'd argue the other side even when he agreed with me. He could be really frustrating, but it was always interesting with him."
"He sounds like one of those people who likes to hear themselves talk." Christy wrinkled her nose when she said it.
"No. That was your dad. Pender liked to engage me in debate. He was showing off, but he respected my intellect, too. Sounds passé to you now, but back then a lot of men didn't like women who had opinions and smarts. He did. That's why it was so exciting being with him. One reason."
"Were you involved with him sexually?"
Annette paused, trying to decide how much she should share with her daughter. "Yes," she said, finally.
"And we enjoyed each other. And that's as far as I'm going with this."
Christy laughed. "I believe you're actually blushing!"
"Believe what you want."
"Still," said Christy, "I'd feel a lot better if someone was going with you. Just in case. I can get away for a few days, just to make sure he's okay…"
"That's sweet of you, honey," said Annette. "But no. I'm going alone. I can handle whatever comes along. Goodness knows, I've dealt with men when I had to."
"What if he, you know, wants to have sex?"
Annette laughed. "Christy," she exclaimed, "I'm sixty years old. So is he. If he wants to have sex and has the erection to prove it, let's just accept it for the miracle it is."