A Long Night
[Below is the story I sent this year with our family’s Christmas card. If you received a card from us, you’ve already received this story; I didn’t alter or change it from the version which went out with our cards. If you aren’t on our Christmas card list, well then, this is new to you! And new to everyone: A BONUS ILLUSTRATION (attached at the end; 3 images total: 1 full view and 2 details).
And yes, I had every intention of publishing this here on the blog yesterday or the day before, but it just didn’t happen…so consider this your Boxing Day present from me, because Boxing Day doesn’t get the attention it deserves, IMO. Enjoy!]
Nick tried to sit still, but it was to no avail.
He tapped his feet, drummed his fingers on his knees, and glanced every few seconds at his phone sitting on his desk. He had been tracking the package incessantly since it had been ordered, and it was finally scheduled to arrive today. He couldn’t wait for it to get there. It was going to be the beginning of the two of them making amends after all the contract talk nonsense of the past several months.
Had it been several months? It had felt like several months.
He was mid-fidget when his phone started buzzing; he still jumped even though he’d been waiting for this moment for close to an hour. He picked up the phone, took a deep breath, and answered.
“Hey—oh…hi, Robert. This is Robert?” Why is Robert calling? This can’t be good.
“Nicholas, we need to talk.”
“Well, okay, sure. What’s going on? Why are you calling on Rudy’s phone?”
“Nicholas, I’m calling on Rudolph’s phone because I know you’ve blocked my number…”
(This was true.)
“…and because he is disgusted and—quite frankly—scared by that little stunt you pulled today. He has no desire to speak with you at the moment.”
This guy, with the drama. “Robert, I can assure you that I have no idea what you’re talking about. Although I was expecting a call—from Rudy—because his gift was to arrive today, and the card—”
“Yes, the card asked for him to call. I’ve seen the card. I’m calling in his stead for the reasons I’ve already stated. And, by the way—a gift? That’s what you’re calling what was sent to my client’s home this afternoon?”
‘In his stead.’ Guy thinks he’s friggin’ Jack McCoy, I swear. “Yes, Robert. It was a gift. A gift that was not given to the rest of the staff, mind you. It was a bonus. A peace offering. I know we—”
“A peace offering, Nicholas? Really? Do you think this is funny? Is this a sick joke?”
Ugh. Ask me one more rhetorical question, I dare you. “No, I—”
“It’s bad enough that you insulted my client’s intelligence on internationally syndicated television, but to—”
“Robert, hold on. We’ve been over this.” Like, a million times already. “What I said was a poor choice of words and something I blurted out without thinking it through. I said I was sorry, and—”
“And what, Nicholas? And you decided to follow up that insult with threats to my client?”
“Threats? Robert, I…I can promise you this is a huge misunderstanding. I don’t know what, exactly, you’re considering a threat. I sent your clien—I sent Rudy a meat and cheese tray, for Pete’s sake. That’s what arrived, right? It was the nicest, largest one they sell.” And the most expensive. “It was for his whole family to enjoy! It was a gift, from me, personally, just to say again that I’m sorry!”
“First of all, Nicholas, my client is a vegetarian, so I don’t know—”
“Well, see, that’s where you’re wrong.” Thinks he knows everything. HA! Yeah—his TERRIBLE BOSS knows him better than you do, ya dweeb! “I know for a fact that Rudy eats mostly plants but he eats meat every once in a while, as an indulgence. What better time to indulge than at the holidays! Robert, I promise you I meant no harm, and I still don’t understand what was so upsetting about the gift. I thought it would be a special treat. If he doesn’t like it, he can return it for something else. Or I’ll return it and get something else for him! I’ll do all the work! He won’t even have to hassle with it!”
“Oh, you’ll get him something else, will you? Like what? A gift-wrapped noose? A sightseeing tour of a big game hunting ground?”
“Robert, with all due respect”—which isn’t much, I can assure you that—“you’re being hysterical. And for the life of me, I don’t know why. I know you think I pulled some sick stunt or something but I honestly am not following why you or Rudy feel that way. Like I said, if he doesn’t like the gift, I will get him something else.”
“Well, Nicholas, I am just…flat out appalled at your refusal to acknowledge what’s going on here. If there was a mistake or a misunderstanding on our part, it was a mistake thinking we could negotiate with you in good faith, and a misunderstanding of your true nature.”
Sure, don’t hang up or anything. Keep talking, stringing me along with lecture after lecture WITHOUT ACTUALLY TELLING ME WHAT THE PROBLEM IS. “Robert, you really have to believe me when I tell you I’m pleading ignorance here. Obviously I’ve made some dumb mistake, and apparently I’m so dumb I don’t even know what that mistake is. So please just tell me what it is and I will fix it.”
“Okay, Nicholas, we’re done talking with you. I will just leave you with this: We read the ingredients list of the Havershire Farms Ultimate Party Platter, and: Message received, YOU MONSTER.”
“Robert, I—” Right, you hung up already. Because you always have to get the last word in.
Nick stared dumbly at his phone for a moment. So what was that supposed to mean about the ingredients? Pssh—probably Havershire Farms’ cheese isn’t made with milk from free range cows or something…
He powered up his phone again and Googled “Havershire Farms Ultimate Party Platter ingredients.” A few taps and swipes later, and he was scrolling through the ingredients list.
Okay…some preservatives, nitrates…a bit high in fat and sodium, but what the heck? I mean, it’s not advertised as health food, am I right? I still don’t know what the prob—
And then Nick stopped breathing. His ears felt like they were on fire, and the veins in his neck seemed to be constricting, if that was even a thing that could happen. On the screen right in front of him, straight from the Havershire Farms Web site, one of the ingredients in the Winter Solstice Sausage—the centerpiece of their Ultimate Party Platter—practically leaped from his screen and throttled him:
Contains: Beef, salt, dextrose, venison hearts, natural spices, monosodium glutamate…
Nick phased out after “monosodium glutamate.” When he came to a moment later, he read the first four ingredients again, just to be sure he had read them right.
If anything, ingredient number four looked even larger in his mind than it had the first time he’d read it.
I thought their sausage was all beef…didn’t I read that somewhere? Or did I just assume…?
Then, he got angry. He reached for his staple remover, to throw it across the room. It was the thing he normally reached for to throw across the room when he got angry…but then he remembered he no longer had a staple remover. He had thrown it into the trash a few weeks before in a previous fit of frustration.
And then, he went into crisis mode—a mode that was unfortunately becoming second nature as of late. He called up his assistant.
“Deb, it’s me. Get me someone from Legal on the line…it’s about Rudy. Look, I can’t tell you everything right now, but long story short—and don’t freak out, but—long story short, it’s bad…Deb? Deb, please, calm down. I shouldn’t have said that, it’s not that bad, just—just get someone from Legal and we’ll work it out. No, Deb, you’re not going to quit, okay? Okay, thank you…it’s going to be fine, Deb. Deb? I promise you, it’ll be fine. Thank you. Thank you.”
Nick hung up and waited for Legal to call him back. He was hoping for someone who could give him some advice on handling a workplace threat of violence that just happened to be completely unintentional.
He tossed the phone onto his desk and sunk into his chair. It was going to be a long night.