I didn’t want to remove myself from the space between the walls immediately. I needed to wait until the three of them were safely gone.
I waited for what seemed like a minute or two, and then backed out the way I had come, reminding myself not to rush, lest I trip and fall.
Relax, I told myself. But I couldn’t relax. My heart was thudding in my chest.
I found myself behind the Coke machine again. All I had to do now was carefully walk around the machine and—
“This has all gone to hell,” I heard Donnie say, “all because of that idiot, Sid.”
“Shh,” Bethany said immediately afterward. “Don’t talk about it out here.”
Now I heard coins being deposited in the Coke machine, and I realized that Donnie and Bethany were using the vending machine that I was standing behind.
I stood perfectly still. I allowed myself only shallow breaths.
“Well, you have to admit that Sid is an idiot,” Donnie said.
A can of one of the Coca-Cola Company’s products fell down in the service bin of the vending machine. Several more coins were deposited into the coin slot.
“If Sid is such an idiot,” Bethany said, “then how come he’s a manager, and we’re peons?”
“That’s got nothing to do with it. Sid was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. You know that. I don’t see why you’re always defending him.”
Another can of cola fell down. Either Donnie or Bethany—there was no way I could know which one—retrieved it.
“Yeah, well, I don’t see why you’re always running him down.” This was Bethany, her voice trailing away. They were leaving.
I waited for what I believed to be one minute. Two minutes.
I eased myself out from behind the Coke machine, then along its far side. I said a quick, silent prayer that they hadn’t lingered just beyond earshot, but where they could still see me.
I was out in front of the Coke machine now. Donnie and Bethany were both gone. I was alone.
I walked back to my desk. Donnie and Bethany had both arrived there ahead of me.
For once my presence did not occasion dirty looks or sarcastic remarks from them. Their minds were otherwise occupied.
With thoughts of “eliminating” Ellen Watson.
Ellen, too, was at her desk. She stayed put most of the day. She was a nonsmoker, and she never seemed to take bathroom breaks. I wasn’t even sure, now that I thought about it, if Ellen customarily went out for lunch, or ate in the company cafeteria. As I’ve said, Ellen kept to herself.
I sat down, and pretended to look at my computer screen.
Now the serious questions began. What could Donnie, Bethany, and Sid possibly be involved in that was so secretive? What would drive the three of them—strange bedfellows by any measure—to collaborate? And what did Ellen know that was so compromising that they would seriously talk about “eliminating” her?
Several facts, aside from the immediate ones, were now staring me in the face. Clearly I had underestimated Donnie and Bethany. Despite my recognition of Donnie’s obvious physical menace, I’d dismissed them as ne’er-do-wells who lacked any real sophistication. But if Sid was collaborating with them, then they must be more sophisticated than I had thought.
And Sid: I hadn’t known Sid as well as I thought I’d had, either. I’d gone so far as to see him as a surrogate father figure. Well, I was pretty sure that my dad, despite all his faults, had never “eliminated” anybody.
How was I going to react to the revelations that, a mere half-hour ago, I would never have imagined? I had choices to make: I couldn’t un-hear what I had heard. I had to do something.
I was involved now, whether I wanted to be or not.