What Is Best In Life (Flash Fiction)

“Anything else, Boss?”

He looked up from the screen and shook his head. It was past midnight, and his very attractive secretary had plans with her boyfriend of the moment. “That’s all, Carly,” he said. “Have a good time with Jordan.”

“Jordan said he had to find himself in some cave in Africa or something,” Carly said with a devil-may-care tone. “Whatever.” She came over to him, leaned in so he could admire her cleavage and kissed him on the cheek. “Tonight’s Bart. We’re going to that new discotheque on forty-seventh.”

“Well, have fun,” he said. He smiled at her.

Carly stood up and put her hand on his shoulder. “You’re thinking about it again, aren’t you?”

He nodded.

“I can stay if you like. Bart’s pretty flexible, and he’s got plenty of offers.”

“No. You’re sweet to make an old man feel wanted, but no.”

She frowned and ran her hand through his hair. Carly was way too young, and she was an employee. A bad mix, especially for a dinosaur like him. “Erik,” she said with disapproving tone. “Stop dwelling on ancient history.”

“I know.” He was wistful now, and he swiveled his chair to face her. “You go on. I appreciate your caring. I’m grateful.”

Carly looked at him, put her face as close to his as she could without touching him. “I can stay.” Her breath smelled sweet, like green tea and mint with lemon.

“No,” Erik said. “Another time.”

She pressed her forehead to his then stood. “All right. I’ll be in at 9.”

“I’ll be here at 10:30.”

When the door slid shut behind her (and she had a magnificent behind, he noted not for the first time) he was alone with all the trappings of his success. His fourth success, he counted, after three periods of being very low, indeed. Self-made didn’t even begin to cover it but that’s what they called him in the media. Though the eggheads had extended human life to well over the century mark and he had taken advantage of every opportunity, he was finally feeling his age. Now he was weary.

The big office looking over the center of the city and out to the ocean, the stereotypical giant oak desk, the expensive and plush chairs, the fine whiskys in the liquor cabinet – none of it kept him warm at night. Carly was an enthusiastic and considerate bedmate, too, though that was a -what? Perk? Bonus? She genuinely liked him and thought she could heal him by giving him her body. He had resisted at first, but she was persuasive and he was weak after all. There was trust between them, just as there’d been between he and his wife. Personal assistant didn’t seem to do Carly justice but that was her title, and it went along with an exorbitant salary. If he’d been eighty years younger he might have called it love. He’d have been wrong.

Erik pushed the speaker button on his phone, left video off, and said: “Call Glenn.”

The line rang three times before a deep voice answered. “It’s been a while,” Glenn said. He was cordial though sometimes people misunderstood him. Despite that, Glenn was just as successful as Erik. His public business took him all around the world to open drinking establishments in college towns. He conducted his private business in those towns or nearby, too.

“How’ve you been?”

“It’s all good, man,” Glenn said. “Is it about her again?”

Erik nodded but spoke up when he realized Glenn couldn’t see him. “Yeah.”

“What’re you gonna do?”

“What do you think I should do?”

Glenn paused and Erik could hear him puffing a cigarette and exhaling. “I think you oughta let it go and move on. If you haven’t done anything about it in sixty years you don’t want to.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Erik rested his chin on his fist. “But don’t you think maybe closure would be a good thing?”

“Do you want to know what’s going on with her? I can tell you.”

Erik shook his head and shifted in his chair. “No. I don’t want to know any goddamn thing about her.”

“Well, then,” Glenn said. “That’s your closure, isn’t it?”

They made small talk about business for a while and reminisced about the times they’d worked together, the people they knew that were still alive and kicking and ones who were just breathing. They talked about their kids, their extended families, and they affirmed the friendship that had lasted them these last six decades.

At last, Erik yawned. “I’m gonna have to go,” he said and stretched. “Is everything still in place?”

“Yeeeaaah.”

“What do you think I should do?”

A long exhale from Glenn. “I advised you at the beginning of this conversation, man. You don’t need to do this.”

“But my risk is minimized, right? I mean: no one can trace it back to me?”

Glenn sighed. “No. It’s solid.”

“Then go ahead. I’ve waited long enough. Light the fire. Burn it all.”

“You’re sure? There’s no takebacks.”

“I’m sure.”

“All right, man. I’ll let you know when it’s done.”

Erik said his goodbyes and wished Glenn well. He rose, went to the liquor cabinet and pulled out the best whisky and a glass. Back at his desk he poured three fingers worth of alcohol and swirled the amber liquid in the glass. Sipping, he looked out over the city toward the ocean. Erik closed his eyes and let the warmth of the whisky course through him.

When he finished the glass he poured another three fingers worth of whisky, woke his computer screen and started typing. He hoped that Carly wouldn’t open the email until morning and knew that Glenn would see it almost instantaneously but that couldn’t be helped. Erik didn’t want to waste the time to schedule the email. He wanted this done. Maybe they’d forgive him when they saw the checks they had coming to them.

“I hope you suffer,” he said to his empty office. “Your actions were reprehensible and childish. There was no good reason to do what you did.” He drained the glass and poured another.

Standing was a challenge now, but he pulled himself upright and braced against the desk. “Stuff’s working fast,” he said. Everything tilted all at once, and then the world whirled around him, and Erik fell like a sack of potatoes to the floor.

He was glad of the ultrasoft carpet but it didn’t stop the crunch of his skull as he hit the floor. It didn’t stop the bright flashbulb of white going off. It didn’t give him the closure he really wanted.

With his last breath, the poison whisky working on his compromised immune system, at the age of one hundred seventeen, Erik said, “It’s so cold…”

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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