Samuel Cott gazed at the young man who stood before his desk with hardened eyes and asked, "Say that again Mr. uh...?"
"Bronson," replied the young man and continued, "I've been having an affair with your wife for the past three years."
Samuel rose from his chair and asked, "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because she's great in bed," Mr. Bronson replied with a straight face.
Samuel noticed the hardened look in Mr. Bronson's eyes, and he couldn't restrain the smile building on his flustered face. He glanced out toward the window, then quickly looked back to the young man standing before him and commented, "My wife divorced me five years ago. I'm afraid you got the wrong fellow. Sorry."
Mr. Bronson held up his hand and said, "No, you're the right guy, all right. Why don't you come with me so I can explain?"
Again, Samuel stared into Mr. Bronson's boyish face, gave a silent laugh and nodded his head. "Oh, all right. You lead the way, my dear lover-boy."
Mr. Bronson opened the door and let Samuel through.
"SURPRISE!" exclaimed a room full of countless people.
Mr. Bronson turned to Samuel and wished him a happy birthday with a pat on the back. Across the room, Samuel could see his cake, whom his good friend, Jake Peters, was bringing up to him. Good old Jake!
"Hey, Sammy, you're blushing!" Jake exclaimed. He was a tall, slender, black man with a clean-cut flat-top and an old, experienced fašade about him. Only now, he looked as young as Mr. Bronson, who couldn't be more than twenty-three years old.
Samuel studied his friend's face as he handed him the frosted-coated cake, and proclaimed, "So, it was you! You were the ring-leader to this crazy shenanigan," he stuck his finger in the cake, licked it, and continued, "An affair with my wife, eh? Where did you come up with that idea? For a minute I thought I was in the Twilight Zone."
The crowd chuckled.
"I would like to introduce you to our new, young actor, Edward Bronson," Jake amused, "He was just hired to the billing department a couple weeks ago. Come up here," he raised his hand, mentioning for Mr. Bronson to approach. Jake turned to Samuel and said, "This is my friend, Edward. I knew his father for years and helped him out a little."
"Hello, Edward. Say, you're pretty good. You should be nominated for an Oscar," Samuel said as they shook hands.
The crowd chuckled again.
For a half hour Samuel, Jake, Edward and the rest of the staff conversed and ate cake. After their bellies were full as much as their heads, they went back to their offices to finish up their paperwork. Samuel Cott strolled down the hallway which lead to the elevator. He always met Jake at The Water Dub; a bar and restaurant just around the block. Somewhere along the way somebody handed him a doughnut with a candle on it. Samuel received it without objection and scarfed it down. His stomach started to feel pretty full. Ever since his wife left him, he had been on an eating binge that, well, lasted five years. He couldn't help but eat, though his favorite foods were sugar and frosting.
It took only seconds for the elevator to arrive which surprised him, for last time during the lunch rush he waited nearly fifteen minutes for the damned thing. It must be my day', he thought to himself.
As he entered the elevator, he turned and pressed the lobby button. Instantly a short, Italian man cried out, "Sir? I know how to do my job!"
Samuel's head jerked up and he asked, "Who the hell are you?"
"I work here. I'm the elevator man," the man answered with a wide grin, which showed his brownish teeth. Obviously, he smoked.
"Oh, you must be new. I've never seen you around," replied Samuel. "I don't mean to insult you, but I didn't think they still hired people for this position?"
"Well, today is my first day on the job, and I know the boss's wife personally," he held out his hand and said, "I'm Anthony Benzello."
Samuel shook his hand and replied, "Samuel Cott," then continued, "You know, this company's been hiring a lot of people lately. Maybe the recession's improved during the party."
"Yeah, today's my birthday."
"Really! How old are you?" Anthony asked, grinning.
"Forty-five, going on sixty," Samuel replied, amused, as he patted his gut.
"Do you mind me asking where you're from? I always like to get to know the people in the buildings I work in." He asked, showing the same old grin.
"No problem at all," Samuel replied, "I'm from Vaskeem, Indiana. Your from New York, right?"
"Yeah, family came to America back in twenty-eight. They're originally from Sicily," Anthony confirmed.
"Oh, wow! Do you visit often?" Samuel inquired.
"Ah, nah. I haven't been there in years. Last time was a family reunion," Anthony answered, still grinning.
The elevator doors opened and Samuel said his farewell as did Anthony. Before they closed, Anthony watched Samuel walk down the hallway and out the building with narrow eyes.
Jake Peters sat in the local bar and was finishing up a beer as he noticed Samuel walk in. He waved to get his attention and Samuel smiled, walking toward him. He sat in the empty stool next to Jake and ordered a beer.
"Forget it! This one's on me," said Jake, "Put it on my tab, Don." He replied to the bartender. Don nodded his head in agreement and poured Samuel his drink.
"Thanks Jake. Just help me remember to do the same thing on your birthday," his voice was muffled by the overlapping conversations surrounding them.
"Nope, no one around the office is ever going to find out the day I was born. As far as I know, I'm still thirty-two." Both men laughed. "Plus I'm never going to get as humiliated as you were this morning," he finished with a chuckle.
"Jake, have you seen the new elevator man?"
"Elevator Man?" Jake responded with a rigid expression on his face.
"Yeah. A short, stalky Italian. Name's Anthony. Wears a little hat," he explained.
"I think your surprise gave you a brain lapse or something," replied Jake.
"Well, maybe you took a different elevator."
"You'd think if they hired one guy for that elevator, that they would hire others for the rest of the elevators. In the same building at least," said Jake as he hand-signaled Don for another beer.
Samuel considered what Jake had told him, then said, "All I can say is I know I was talking to someone, I mean, I couldn't have imagined it. And I could hear his voice," he pointed to his ear, "He had a New York accent. His name was Anthony Benzello, and he wore a red uniform with gold trim, and..."
Jake laughed heavily and said, "Obviously you're stressed about your birthday, pal."
"Stressed? Well at least I'm not gray, and old, and self conscious about my age," teased Samuel.
Jake chuckled, finished his beer then said, "Hey, maybe we'll see each other in the shrink's office soon."
"Definitely!" Samuel roared.
Jake stood up, nodded to Don and spoke to Samuel, "I got to go, man. My wife's going to be calling my office soon. I think it's menopause, but she insists she's worried about me. Ugh, I miss being single."
"Yeah, and I miss being married. Dating sucks and women now-a-days have way too many piercings. They look like holiday ornaments."
Jake laughed and said, "Tell that to my daughter..."
Both men rolled their eyes.
Jake slid his jacket on and said at last, "Catch ya later, bud. Happy birthday."
"Thanks, man," Samuel said with a smile then watched him exit the bar. Slowly, his smile faltered into a grimace. He finished the rest of the beer, ordered another and finished it off quickly.
As Don came over to pick up the empty glasses, Samuel asked, "Don, do I seem insane to you?"
"You always did," his voice was harsh, yet soothing. It fit his Jonathan Winters' look.
"No, I'm serious. Do I?"
Don's gaze locked with his, then he said, "Is everything okay? I mean, you're not feeling like you're having a mental break-down, are you?"
"Oh, it's my birthday," replied Samuel as he slowly stood up from the stool.
Don thought for a moment, and came to a conclusion, "There's a medical theory that states, if you think you're falling off your rocker, you're not crazy. Only the crazy people think they're normal. So when you get home from work, relax, take it easy and go to bed. Next thing, you'll wake up and everything will turn out."
"Hey, I expect to see you tomorrow, loony or not. By the way, happy birthday."
"Thanks Don, see you tomorrow," Samuel said then left.
Samuel re-entered the building and walked toward the elevator. He speculated to himself that if he wasn't crazy he would see the stout Italian as he had before, but if he wasn't there he would immediately schedule an appointment with a counselor. Sweat bedded on his brow as he approached the elevator. He pressed the button and a soft orange light radiated from within.
A peculiar smell arose in the air. Samuel cringed in disgust. It smelled like burnt hair. Thirty seconds passed... a minute... two, and right when he was ready to turn away the elevator opened with a mechanical jerk.
Inside, he saw the elevator man with the same uniform, and his same pleasant smile. Samuel hoped he had the same name.
"Well, hello, Mr. Cott. I've looked forward to seeing you again."
"Hi, again," this time Samuel's friendly tone was dry and strenuous.
"You know," replied Anthony, "I rarely remember faces, except yours."
"Maybe I'm special."
"I wouldn't go that far," Anthony amused.
Samuel smiled, but his laugh inside never escaped his tightened throat.
"Which floor are you heading too?"
"Oh, eight," he muttered. Samuel started to calm down and actually enjoyed the fact that he had someone to talk to on his way up to his office.
"So, what position are you in this company?" asked Anthony.
"I'm the head chairman."
"Ahh, Big Bucks!" proclaimed Anthony, still smiling. "Wife? Any kids?"
"Divorced and no kids."
Anthony shook his head mournfully and said, "Shame, a real shame."
"Yeah, we fell in love during high-school, but we just lost interest over the years."
"What about kids?" Anthony replied, "You've been married for that long with no kids?"
"I don't think I'd make a particularly good fath-"
"Why's that?" He interrupted.
"Well, it's just..."
Samuel glanced toward the elevator door as it opened then repositioned his eyes to where Anthony Benzello stood. Only, he wasn't there any longer. It was as if he vanished into the thick, soupy smell that sprung up around him.
Quickly he searched all around and croaked, "Anthony? Anthony?" He wiped his forehead with his sleeve before the sweat could get in his eyes.
A young lady who stood outside the elevator cleared her throat. Samuel tilted his head as his eyes fixed on hers. She seemed concerned. Samuel peered around himself again then looked back at the lady and asked, "Did you see another man standing beside me just a second ago?"
The lady raised her eyebrows and said, "Uh, no."
More people gathered in front of the elevator and stared at Samuel with concerned faces. Samuel slowly stepped out of the elevator and through the on-looking crowd. He felt humiliated as he shied away and continued walking toward his office. His skin felt cold and the hairs along his arms were standing straight up. He peered back behind him and the crowd was still there, gawking in his direction.
Samuel felt the heat rising in his cheeks, and the sweat soaking his underarms. What a day! The thought grinded in his mind over and over again.
Jake was reorganizing his stacks of notes and memos when he noticed Samuel on the way to his office. He seemed awfully pale, so Jake left his papers and went after his friend.
"Samuel! Hey Sammy!" He called out.
Samuel never turned around. He walked straight to his office, closed the door and began packing. Moments later, Jake barged in with concern and asked, "What's going on, man? Retiring so soon?"
Samuel didn't answer Jake. In fact he didn't even know he was there until Jake spun him around to face him.
Hey, stop it man. It's me, Jake. Talk to me man."
Samuel froze then dropped in his chair. His arms were shaking, and he exhaled in short bursts, "I- I- I can't... explain."
"What happened, Sammy?" This time Jake's voice was more harsh, more tense.
"I saw someone... something," Samuel continued, "Tomorrow, I'm retiring. That's it, my mind's made up."
"Well, Jesus, Sammy, you're pale white. It looks like you just saw a ghost!"
Samuel's eyes widened to the extreme and immediately he flopped to the ground, holding his chest in pain. Jake backed away then realized Samuel was having a heart attack.
"Oh, God!" Jake cried out. He rushed out the door and screamed out, "Some body call 911! Some body call 911, now!" He then returned to his friend and held his hand.
Samuel screamed out in agony, then fell limp in Jake's arms. Jake couldn't move. He just sat there with Samuel's hand in his, looked into the eyes that were his friend's and realized that he was gone forever.
After the paramedics carried Samuel's body out of the building, Jake felt he needed to take the rest of the day off and be with his wife. He gathered his things together and proceeded to the elevator. He pressed the button and within seconds the elevator arrived. Jake stepped inside and extended his arm to press the button which would take him to the lobby. Then a voice startled him from behind. Quickly, Jake spun around, confronting the short, Italian man who had a grin etched across his face. "Hello, I believe that's my job, sir."
"Who are you?" asked Jake.
"I'm the elevator man. Sorry I startled you, but today's my first day..."
Copyright © 2003 by Brian Grisham