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                                                        The Bonus

Hubert listened to Carol Sue in the shower. He slid open Buck’s balcony door and watched the traffic thirty floors below. “Accountant Jumps From Penthouse Love Nest.” They’d chalk an outline around his body. Hubert backed away from the railing. Dreaming. He’d never have the nerve.

Inside, he buttoned his vest and shrugged on his jacket.  Buck’s “little woman” was plenty promising, with sly touches at parties, throaty utterances on the phone, asking after her “wayward cowboy” who “left her alone at night, like as not.” She wasn’t the bonus he’d planned. Hardly worth the effort.

He knotted his tie. Yesterday, Hubert had expected to get a fat bonus. Instead, Buck suggested he take a fall for the Feds: “Nine months. Country club prison. I’ll make it worth your while, Hubie. Think on it, an’ gimme your answer tomorrow.” 

But Hubert’s oncologist had pronounced a more severe sentence: three to six months, max. No way would Hubert spend his last months in jail. This morning when Hubert refused Buck’s offer, Buck just stared at him, nodded and called Security. The guard took his passkey and escorted him from the building. After twenty years, Buck gave him a single nod of thanks.

The hair dryer whined. Hubert opened the drawer to Buck’s bedside table and dropped his monogrammed cufflinks inside. He wouldn’t need them.  He emptied a vial of pills into his hand, threw them into his mouth, and chased them down with two big gulps of Buck’s vintage wine.

No more, “Hubie, book me on the ten thirty, and get me a clean shirt. Pick up some Chanel for the little lady.” Hubert was a man of finance, not a goddamn valet. He reached into his pocket and removed a tiny computer transfer disk. He arranged himself on the bed, one hand gripping the disk and the other clasped over it, coffin style. The coroner would find it.

“Hubie, you got no ‘magination. No feelin’ for the game. Don’t worry your head. Jes’ line up the columns nice and neat ‘n’ leave the rest to me.”

Hubert smiled and closed his eyes. Numbers were his game. He fondled the little disk. So tiny and unobtrusive. So jam-packed with numbers, a synopsis of deals, arrangements, and loopholes.

Hubert’s stomach churned. Bile rose in his throat. He swallowed hard to keep from throwing up, but the second wave was more insistent. He raced to the door but didn’t make it to the railing, splattering lunch and pills on the balcony. “Shit.” He didn’t have a Plan B.

The bedroom door flew open. Buck strode in and stopped short. His eyes traveled from the closed bathroom door to the messed sheets and then to Hubert on the balcony.

“Great view,” Hubert stuttered, backing to the railing.  “Lousy lay.”

“You little shit.” Buck charged. His loafers skidded on vomit and pills. He crashed into Hubert, catapulting both of them over the railing.

Hubert looked into Buck’s startled eyes and nodded: “My bonus.”

“The Bonus” was the NEWN (formerly New England Writers’ Network) flash fiction contest winner, published in the Summer 2007 issue, Volume 13, Number 1.

Here are the editors’ comments in “Why We Chose the Flash Fiction Winner:”

“Love, hate, sex, betrayal, attempted suicide, and a surprise ending–Katherine Fast nailed it in 500 words in “The Bonus.”  The story moves quickly (as it must) revealing three levels of conflict (having the affair, taking the fall, receiving the diagnosis), past a failed resolution to the sudden, satisfying twist ending.  In flash fiction, we know that there is a back story, but we don’t need to know the details.  Great job, Katherine!”