“Blindsided,” Chapter Six
With the air-conditioning blowing full-throttle in my face and my window all the way down, I happily puff away on my first smoke in what seems like for-damn-ever as I drive down what remains of Whirlaway Road before it turns into Citation Street.
This is WAY better than chocolate. Maybe I’ll just take off somewhere and inhale the entire pack.
Instead, I do the responsible adult thing and reluctantly head into the heart of downtown Bluegrass.
One more turn onto Main Street and I’ll be pulling into the Daily Herald parking lot. The cheap-ass fuckers who own the paper, including the building and both lots, make us pay for parking by automatically docking our pay. The monthly rate is cheap by today’s standards, but it still blows chunks to have to pay to park at the place that employees me. I always park in the lot adjacent to the building, but I use the second across the street when this one is full.
I get out of my shit-tastic car, grimacing at the damage to the front grill. I hit a deer a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t bother getting it fixed. Hell, I only shelled out $800 two years ago for this heaping pile of garbage — $800 more than it’s worth — so I’m not about to pay a $1,000 deductible to fix the damn thing. I’ll damn well drive it until it falls apart first.
I flick the remnants of my smoke into the butt receptacle by the side doors before swiping my electronic security card to get into the building, feeling for the second time today like I’m awaiting my own execution. I feel worse now, the euphoria of having a smoke wearing off too fast as I literally walk toward the lion’s den. And by lion, I mean Dickhead. You have to see the man in action to fully understand that it’s not at all a trite analogy.
It really is a jungle in there.
I hesitate on the threshold of our busy newsroom, feeling more and more like I’m about to be standing in front of a firing squad made up of Dickhead clones.
Get a fucking grip.
My sense of right and wrong propels me into the room, all the while urging me to stay true to myself and come clean about everything. As much as I love my parents, as much as I care about the coaches Hardy and as passionate as I am about my work, I cannot lie. That’s why I didn’t look at Jason as I left the high school. I don’t make a good liar at all. One look, and the jig is up.
I groan a gazillion times inwardly.
He doesn’t need to repeat himself. He never does, the fucking Limey bastard.
I quite literally drag my feet all the way to the doorway of his office, not wanting to do what I know needs to be done. I purposely avoid eye contact with my fellow brothers and sisters in arms.
Game, set and match.
“Get in here!” he barks like a rabid dog in that proper English accent of his that I’ve come to hate. “And close the damn door!”
They’re not requests. They never are. He doesn’t ask for anything. I don’t even think he knows HOW.
I do as he orders. I don’t feel like sitting in one of the many shitty plastic chairs we use for staff meetings in his office, so I stand. They’re not made for comfort.
The silence looms as it begins to swallow what’s left of my sanity and bravado.
“Do you have anything useful,” he demands.
It’s not a question.
It takes every ounce of strength I have remaining not to give in to my sudden burst of bitchiness to bow down at his feet like the fucking servant he thinks I am to him.
Instead, I try the diplomatic approach. In a roundabout way.
“Well, I do know, after talking to Amber Hardy, who’s married to Shane Hardy, an assistant varsity football coach, that … ” I begin.
“Cut the shite,” he says.
So much for stall tactics.
“I know everything.”
Well, fuck me running!
“Huh?” I squeak out.
I try playing the dumb card. I even attempt to appear puzzled.
He doesn’t buy into either because anyone who knows me well enough — even HIM — knows I suck at lying. He’s smart. Even I have to admit that. But it doesn’t take a genius to read me.
I’m an open book.
“You don’t have it in you to lie,” he says. “It’s one of your best qualities. And one of your worst.”
See? Told ya so! I can’t keep a poker face to save my life.
But he sounds almost compassionate. Like he cares.
Uh uh. No way. Can’t be.
THIS is NOT the Dickhead I know and so vehemently love to loathe.
Surely, aliens must have abducted the real Dickhead and cloned him. That has to be it! That, or I have a gob of wax in my ears and just am not hearing him right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a more likely possibility!
Again, it’s not a request. But I sit down this time, still taking in this newest, most shocking side to Dickhead. Make that Impostor Dickhead, in his case. I not-so-furtively look around his office, anywhere but AT him, trying to see if Real Dickhead’s body is stashed somewhere behind or underneath the office furnishings. I don’t see anything out of the ordinary, but that doesn’t mean I have to stop looking and hoping.
“I just got off the telephone with Amber Hardy,” he says without preamble. “She was worried that you might do something rash, so she rang me and spilled everything. Even your friendship. But I already knew about that.”
I’m openly gaping at him now. I can’t help it.
Impostor Dickhead is unnerving. He seems almost human.
Not a fucking chance, you idiot! I inwardly berate myself.
I can’t fall for it the way everyone does in the movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They duplicate people in pods while they sleep, with the ultimate goal of replacing humanity with alien beings completely devoid of emotion to ensure the survival of their species.
Focus! Quit with the conspiracy theories already! Get your head out of your ass! It’s not like you have to fess up to anything. He already knows it all.
“How do you know about Amber and me,?” I ask. “Our friendship?”
Un-fucking-real! THAT’S the best you can do?!
Geesh. I’m beginning to sound like Dickhead. But it IS something Real Dickhead would say. I’m not so sure about Impostor Dickhead.
I give him a surreptitious once-over. He’s an attractive enough guy, I suppose.
If you like the domineering, Attila-the-Hun type.
I’m not certain about his lineage, but I don’t give inconsequential stuff like that any thought. Not even when it comes to him. We are who we are, and that’s good enough for me.
He has short, dark hair that’s almost black. I can’t tell you if it’s curly or straight, though, because he slicks it back with a ridiculous amount of product. In fact, I’ve never seen his hair so much as move. I’ll hazard a guess he goes through two or three tubes of hair gel every week, and I’m being conservative at that.
It’s probably too afraid to fall out of place because he’ll yell at it if it does.
He has a harsh, unforgiving face permanently scrunched in irritation or anger to go with that strong aquiline nose of his.
And he’s definitely built beneath those crisp, white long-sleeved dress shirts he favors, not that I spend my precious time checking him out all day. He always rolls the sleeves up on his shirts, so it’s hard to miss the definition of muscles in his forearms and the way his entire body strains against his clothing in general. He probably stays fit by punching homemade dummies of us every morning before coming to work and each night before going to sleep to dream up new, more innovative ways to terrorize his staff. Still, even I can appreciate a fit body, strictly speaking from a purely scientific standpoint, of course.
And those eyes. They’re diabolically dark, like the rest of him. What I can see of his arms and face, I mean. Tan. I don’t know what the rest of him looks like, and I have NO intention whatsoever of finding out, either.
He’s not at all how I envision the stereotypical pale Englishman. But oddities aside, he’s a jerk — all 6 feet however many inches tall of him — and assholes like him never change.
Impostor Dickhead is only temporary. Real Dickhead will return soon enough to go all rabies-infested Cujo on me and everyone else in the newsroom, just like always.
Yeah, fine, sure, Dickhead is very easy on the eyes, notwithstanding his beak-like nose. I’ll admit it. Not publicly. Not to another living soul. But to myself. OK. Yes. What can it hurt? No one ever is going to know, that’s for damn sure.
But hell, so was serial killer Ted Bundy. Easy on the eyes, that is. Not in my opinion. But many women DID find Bundy handsome and charismatic, which unfortunately led to their untimely demises. Not that I’d go quite that far or quite to such extremes as to compare Dickhead to Bundy. I’m not a cruel person.
But Dickhead sure is an icy bastard. And charisma might as well be a foreign language to him.
I guess you never can entirely peel back all the layers of another human being because we spend too much time protecting ourselves by developing thick skin to get through this fucked up thing we call life.
In Dickhead’s case, I don’t want to know. I’m not the least bit interested in carrying on with him. Never will be.
Not happening. Uh-uh. No way. HELL NO.
He’s not married, never has been — that I’m aware. Big surprise there. Nor have I heard of him dating anyone, not around here anyway, and not that I give two shits.
Who, in their RIGHT mind, would be dumb enough to date that heartless bastard?!
Indeed, the person sitting at the desk in front of me is not what he seems. I have to beat down the temptation to ask Impostor Dickhead what he did with Real Dickhead’s body. I want to know where he dumped it so I can see for myself. Not that I get off on that kind of thing. I just want proof is all. Proof that there still is justice in the world, that all of the Dickheads of this planet truly do reap what they sow eventually.
No you don’t. You know you don’t.
Damn. I really need to shake these dark, morbid thoughts.
I don’t wish Dickhead dead. Not at all. I simply want him to be on the receiving end of how he treats people so he knows firsthand how he makes the rest of us feel 24/7.
Nothing is more powerful than words. I hate it when people wield them like weapons. He uses them to cut, to belittle, to ridicule, to humiliate.
I know I have a potty mouth. I know I come up with all of these not-so-nice nicknames for people. I know I’m not perfect. I’ll be the first to own up to my shortcomings. But I keep all of that shit to myself. OK, OK. Except for Dickhead. Everyone in the newsroom, sans Dickhead, is privy to my pet name for him.
As for Dickhead, he lives to tear people down when he should be building them up. And he always makes sure he has an audience to bear witness to our humiliation. People like that have no hearts. They’re incapable of change. They’re incapable of empathy. And they don’t care if everyone knows it.
But this — Impostor Dickhead — is unsettling. I don’t like it. Not one bit.
Which brings me back to the present.
“Daydream over?” he asks quietly.
My face turns lobster red. I can feel the heat of my embarrassment, taste the shame of it.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
OH, HELL NO!
What is he, a fucking mind reader?!
He’s messing with me, using me as his lab rat in a mindfuck experiment. That’s the only explanation I have for this newest tactic of his. It can’t possibly be anything else. He doesn’t know any other way to be.
Surprise, motherfucker! I’m onto your tricks!
Instead, he throws me another curveball.
“We’ll figure this out together,” he says.
I’m beginning to detest Impostor Dickhead more than Real Dickhead.
He was hired for one reason: To get the paper in the black again. Sure, there is a spike in profits, but that’s mainly because he pushes everyone to their limits at any cost necessary. And I’m not talking money here.
He’s like a mercenary on a mission. Ruthless. I guess some people might admire him for that, for his single-mindedness. I don’t. I won’t. I can’t.
But then, I don’t own a newspaper, either. Who knows? It might be different if I was trying like mad to keep my business afloat in an economy sinking farther and farther into a recession that seemingly knows no end.
Not that I’m excusing Dickhead’s behavior. There is none.
However, I can understand the owners’ desperation to keep their paper, a family-run business for more than 100 years, alive in a high-tech world that relies heavily on the Internet for its news.
More and more people fancy themselves reporters, writing untruths or uploading pictures and videos without taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We, as journalists, uphold ourselves to the highest of standards to report truthfully the news without bias while minimizing harm.
But that’s not the case anymore. Just about every paper in the free world is online now, which is fine by me. But anyone can get on the Internet, write what they want, post it with the simple click of a mouse and pass it off as the truth when, in reality, it is not. It’s THAT easy to ruin someone’s life nowadays. But I believe — I HAVE to believe — that the good still outweighs the bad.
Then again, I’ve always been an idealist, a dreamer.
And here I go on yet another tangent. No wonder everyone thinks I’m in my own little world all the time. I can’t help myself.
My mind never stops. I swear, I can almost hear the whirring within.
It seems like I’ve been in Impostor Dickhead’s office for hours as I continue to lose myself in my own thoughts when, in fact, I haven’t been sitting here five minutes. OK, maybe 10, tops.
I don’t wear a watch.
I zoom in on Impostor Dickhead again.
He’s studying me, looks as if he’s been studying me for the entirety of my mental rant against journalistic injustice.
Another day, another time, it might even be funny. But not now, not in this moment.
“Sorry,” I say, at a loss as to how to excuse this latest brain fart of mine even to Impostor Dickhead.
He smiles knowingly.
Halle-fucking-lujah! Here it comes at last!
Genuine. His smile is genuine. Amazing.
What the hell is wrong with me?!
I need a reality check, a slap in the face, a smack upside the head — something, anything!
I have got to stop reading so many smut books and watching chick flicks. This isn’t one of those simpering romances where the heroine gets swept off into the sunset by her dashing, rich boss to live happily ever after. I can’t even bring myself to give it Bride of Frankenstein billing. Anaconda is more like it. It’s about a giant snake that eats people. Fits Dickhead to a T.
The shit of it is that all of my friends like to joke about me secretly being in love with Dickhead because of the Diana Palmer books I read. The men are always mean to the heroines in her novels, interestingly enough, but I most assuredly am NOT in love with Dickhead. Let me be clear on that.
I follow one Golden Rule: Don’t shit where you eat. In other words, don’t fuck the people with whom you work — or for whom you work — in any way.
Besides, his lips always are cruel and unsmiling, I reprimand myself, remind myself. And this is all a fucking hallucination that’s going to end with me taking up residence at the Funny Farm.
We have a winner!
I hate that he’s throwing me off-guard. I hate feeling vulnerable with Impostor Dickhead, not knowing what he’s plotting and scheming next. This is just WRONG on so many levels.
Has he been taking people skills classes recently, or what?
“We’ll get through this together,” he reassures me.
This time, I can’t help but gape.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he suddenly snaps, losing patience, “close your mouth and stop looking so gobsmacked!”
Real Dickhead is back.
“I’m not the monster you think I am.”
And, just like that, he’s gone again.
Make up your mind, pal. Hell, make up MY mind!
“The friendship?” I ask for the second time. “How do you know?”
He doesn’t answer as he stoically gazes through the mammoth floor-to-ceiling window in his office that allows him to watch the goings-on in the newsroom.
There isn’t time.
“The bobbies, er, police are here.”
I need another smoke. NOW.