Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

The List – A Short Story

on January 12, 2022

“If I could get away with it, I’d fire you. But there’s nobody to take your place.”

Henry looks at his boss in dull silence then gives a short laugh.

“Don’t laugh, Henry, I’m dead serious. Johnson over there is the only one who does any real work around here.”

Henry stares at Johnson, who is busy directing the arrangement of blackjack tables in the Pit. A small flame of resentment ignites in his gut.

So all my work is for nothing.

Henry recalls all the extra hours he has worked over the last two weeks, even sacrificing his days off, to take care of all the little details involved in setting up a blackjack tournament. He has barely slept at night because all the annoying little details keep tap dancing around in his head. As a result, his migraines have returned with a vengeance, and his wife nags him for not taking a day off.

“There’s nobody else on day shift who can do it,” Henry wearily explains.

The phone rings early in the morning, waking Henry from a troubled sleep. The phone rings late at night, preventing him from getting to bed. Johnson, the evening Pit Boss, and Girard, the graveyard Pit Boss, are always calling him for advice or direction. Henry takes his job as day shift Pit Boss seriously and gives them good, solid answers.

As he watches Johnson waving his arms and barking orders, Henry feels himself slowly deflating like a worn out tire. He sinks down into his chair. The awful words cling to him like plastic wrap, suffocating him into silence. He has a wife and five children to support. He needs the medical insurance.

When his boss leaves, Henry’s wife Lottie gets an earful over the telephone.

“Why do you let him do this to you? Why don’t you stick up for yourself?” Her words are an accusation fired through the phone line.

“What good would it do,” Henry says. “He would probably just fire me.”

“At least, if the bastard fires you, he has to give you severance pay and unemployment. Why are you such a wimp, Henry? I feel like calling up that little twerp and giving him a piece of my mind.”

“Don’t do that,” Henry pleads. “It would just make things worse.”

“Then grow a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Why I ever married you, I just don’t know.”

I wonder, Henry thinks to himself. But he says out loud: “What I really wanna do is look that jerk right in the eye and say, ‘I quit! You can find someone else to run your stupid old tournament!'”

“You can’t do that!” Lottie sputters. “You have a wife and five children to support! We need the medical insurance.”

But Henry wonders: could I really do it?

* * *

On Monday morning, the Big Honcho arrives from Las Vegas.

“We need to cut back on personnel,” he orders. “I want nine dealers fired from the Pit. And don’t worry about the legalities. We have a team of lawyers who will handle all of that.”

Henry is upset. He knows that the corporation made a healthy profit last year. He sees no reason to fire anybody. The dealers on his shift have been loyal employees. He does not want to choose which innocents will be sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed. He demurs. But the Big Honcho, pounding the desk for emphasis, pressures him to choose four day shift dealers to fire.

“I don’t know what to do,” Henry complains to his wife. “There’s nobody on my shift who deserves to be fired.”

“You can’t just fire somebody without a good reason. You need documentation to back it up. Did you talk to someone in Human Resources?”

“He specifically told us not to go to Human Resources. He says they have lawyers who will handle everything.”

“Sounds fishy to me. They’re trying to pull a fast one, Henry.”

“I know that! But if I don’t do what he says, he’ll fire me. He’ll get me for insubordination.”

“Well then, do what he says. Don’t you have any employees who are always calling in sick or punching in late? Don’t you have any new people on probation?”

“What he really wants,” Henry confides, “is to get rid of all the old people and the ugly women. He wants to hire skinny young girls with big breasts like they have in Las Vegas.”

“But that’s discrimination! He can’t do that!”

“He thinks he can. He doesn’t like anybody over the age of thirty. He only wants pretty young girls who won’t object to wearing skimpy outfits and working long hours for low pay.”

“Where’s he going to find that around here? Good workers are hard to find. This isn’t Las Vegas.”

“I know that, and you know that, but he doesn’t understand.”

“Go through your list of personnel and choose the ones with the most points against them.”

“I have, but none of them really have any points currently against them. I have good people on my shift, and most of them have been here for years. There’s no reason to fire them.”

“Explore your options. Is business slow right now? Can you cut back on hours? That would help cut labor costs without having to fire anybody. The people who can’t afford it will look for another job.”

Henry considers the idea. “You know, I think that might work. I’ll take another look at the schedule.”

***

“What’s going on, Henry? Are some of us gonna be laid off?” Margie Benson looks at him with a Big Question Mark in her heavily-shadowed dark eyes. Henry forces himself to smile. He has been instructed by his boss to say nothing about future lay-offs.

“Everything’s okay,” Henry says. “Don’t worry.” But Henry is aware that Margie is a single  mother with two young children and plenty to worry about. He has just added her name to his list of potential lay-offs because a customer filed a written complaint against her five years ago. It was all he could find in her personnel file.

“If you say it,” Margie says, “I’ll believe it. You wouldn’t lie.”

I would if the stakes were high enough.

“Margie, just try to be flexible and plan ahead, just in case things change in the future, okay?” Henry looks at her long and hard, and he knows that she understands the hidden message behind his words.

“Thanks, Henry,” she says quietly. “You’re a good man.”

Henry turns away, feeling sick to his stomach. For the rest of the day, he is haunted by the look on Margie’s face.

***

The Big Honcho calls from Las Vegas.

“This list is no good,” he shouts into the phone. “You’re being too soft on these people. Our lawyers say there are at least twenty people on that personnel list who can be fired!”

“Where are they?” Henry says, feeling his hackles rise. “I’ve gone over that list again and again. I’ve researched the personnel files. Those four people are the only ones who even remotely qualify.”

“Go over that list again! If our lawyers can spot them, so can you!”

“I’m not a lawyer,” Henry shouts back. “I’ve never had to do this before.”

“You’re supposed to do what I want!” the Big Honcho screams.

“Fuck,” Henry says under his breath.

“What did you say to me? Did you say what I think you said?”

“Yeah, I said exactly what you think I said,” Henry says proudly.

“You haven’t heard the last of this,” the Big Honcho says. “Get me that list!” And hangs up the phone.

Henry’s heart is pounding in his chest, and his hands are clammy and cold. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with an old wad of tissue he finds in his pocket. He picks up the personnel list lying on his desk and tears it in two. Then he tosses the pieces into the waste basket.

***

Henry has submitted five versions of the personnel hit list to the Big Honcho in Las Vegas. The Big Honcho has found reasons to reject all five. Henry calls him with version number six.

“Thank you,” the Big Honcho says gruffly. “And Henry — I haven’t forgotten what you said to me.”

Henry does not respond. He hangs up the phone, struggling to keep his composure.

Late in the afternoon, the Big Honcho calls back. “This list is no good. We don’t have enough documentation to fire these people.”

Henry explodes. “You said not to worry about that! You said you had a team of lawyers who would take care of the legalities!”

“Stop shouting at me.”

“I’m going to shout at you! I told you we didn’t have enough documentation to fire these people! I told you it couldn’t be done!”

“As a matter of fact, we’ve decided to put the whole thing on hold until after the blackjack tournament.”

“Good!” Henry shouts. “That’s the smartest thing you’ve said to me yet!” He slams down the receiver, not caring anymore what the Big Honcho thinks.

***

“We had considered you for the position, Henry, but your attitude just doesn’t fit in with our corporate goals.”

Henry’s boss frowns, shaking his head disapprovingly. “We’ve appointed Johnson Top Dog, and everybody — including you — will now answer to him. Johnson, in turn, will answer to the Big Honcho in Las Vegas. I hope you’re happy, Henry. If it were up to me, I’d fire your sorry ass.”

In his mind, Henry hears his wife yelling at him. “What do you mean, you didn’t get the promotion! Don’t you care about your family? Henry, we need that extra money!”

He begins to laugh.

“Don’t laugh, Henry, I’m dead serious.”

“I know you are. And you know what? I — don’t — care!”

The look of shock on his boss’ thin, colorless face turns to horror as Henry pulls a small pistol from his pocket and points it squarely at the spot between his boss’ terrified eyes.

“Now, now, Henry, no need to go postal on me.”

Henry continues to laugh as he swings the gun around and points it at his own throbbing temple. His head disappears in a cloud of smoke.

***

When Henry’s boss calls the Big Honcho in Las Vegas to deliver the news, he hears a satisfied grunt on the other end of the telephone.

“Good! Henry Jenkins was at the top of my list.”

Dawn Pisturino

January 12, 2022

Copyright 2011-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


16 responses to “The List – A Short Story

  1. Bravo.
    A wonderful piece of writing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Iowa Life says:

    What are we going to do with you Henry? Besides burial I mean. Reminded me of a joke from the 70’s: “The management regrets that is has come to their attention that Employees dying on the job are failing to fall down. This practice must stop as it becomes impossible to distinguish between Death and natural movement of the staff. Any Employee found dead in an upright position will be dropped from the payroll.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow cold!! but great storytelling Dawn!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. A bit melodramatic, but not far from to-days reality that is becoming increasingly the norm. The caldron is heating up and can be expected to boil over soon.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. balladeer says:

    This was very entertaining!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. You hooked me from the 1st line. Awesome work.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. A good story… I guess Henry’s wife in part two, is going to have to hire a chain smoking, foul-mouth PI who as a seemingly permanent half bottle of bourbon in the bottom draw of his desk… who has one instruction… “Get me that motherf#@king…. Big Honcho in Las Vegas… I need payback…!!!”
    🇯🇲🏖️

    Liked by 3 people

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