New Heights

Roger stared at his new cufflinks with a grin. They were a perfect match for the grey pinstripe suit he wore (his other birthday present to himself). The silver outline of his initials glittered in the mirror. The customization was expensive, but the effect was worthwhile.

Loretta watched him from the doorway. Roger caught a glimpse of her frowning in the corner of the mirror. She leaned against the wall with crossed arms and a furrowed brow.

“You should smile. It’s the universal cure.” Roger quipped.

“Can we really afford that?” his wife asked.

“You look great in that bathrobe.”

“Answer the question.”

“Of course. The new job can cover it.”

“That’s what you said about the Ford. And the radio.”

“What happened to that flapper hat you used to wear? It made you look distinct. Mysterious even.”

She glanced at the dark green cap in the corner. “There’s no ‘mystery’ after a year of marriage.” said Loretta, taking the bait. “Why imitate something I’m not?”

Satisfied with his diversion, Roger grabbed his coat. “Looking the part is the first step of making something a reality, Loretta.”

He slipped through the door before Loretta could respond. Roger never visibly ran anywhere; he simply seemed to slide through spaces while no one was looking. He prided himself on detecting trouble before anyone else even bothered to look, and this conversation could only end with him on the couch.

* * * *

The company operated in a newly-constructed building one block from Wall Street. The Maxim Traders logo dominated the front of the structure, drawing the eye away from the plain double doors leading inside. Roger wondered when they’d be replaced with something showier as he pushed them apart.

It was hard not to chuckle as he walked toward the elevator. The greeter looked uncomfortable in his own skin. The red cap sitting lopsidedly on his head was a size too small, and his forced smile was betrayed by the obvious nervous tension in his eyes.

The elevator operator gave Roger a nod of familiarity as he stepped inside. The man had avoided talking ever since his Midwestern accent had become an office-wide joke, but Roger had spared him (to his face, at least).

“How’s the family?”

“Cold, sir.”

Roger smiled with surprise. He hadn’t expected a real answer. The question was as habitual as shaking hands or tuning out his wife.

“I thought we gave the help a raise after the big trade last month.”

“A greeter can’t feed four kids sir. Even here.”

“It’s 1929, why aren’t you playing the market? You stand next to experts every day.”

“I’ve put in a little money, but I don’t know enough to really invest.”

“It’s never too late to get into the game. If you want some advice, I’m your guy.”

“I’ll think about it.” the operator said as the elevator doors opened. Roger gave him a pat on the back before strolling out.

This was his element. A bustling room full of sharply dressed men, making money in a niche that didn’t exist a decade ago. It was a race of fast-talkers, and he was the fastest of them all. It was hard to believe he’d only lived like this for a year.

Only one face was missing. The vice-manager stood in Swanson’s usual spot. Roger decided to investigate on a whim.

“Morning, Vick. Where’s the boss?”

“Swanson told me to handle things out here. He’s been in his office all day.” Vick said without looking up from his newspaper.

Roger raised an eyebrow. “Hands off” were the last words he’d use to describe his boss. Swanson had breathed down their necks every day since they’d been hired. Something was off.

“I’m going to check in with him.” said Roger. By the time Vick looked up to respond, Roger had already made his way to the office door. He returned to the sports news as Roger slipped inside.

For a moment, Roger thought it was someone else. His boss gazed at the floor, mumbling incoherently to himself. Unkempt locks of blonde hair obscured his eyes. His left hand loosely gripped a bottle of whiskey.

“Mr. Cole.” Swanson said as he looked up. He seemed to acknowledge Roger’s existence with pure reluctance.

“Aren’t you in the Temperance League?”

“It doesn’t matter. We’re finished. All the shares in this building couldn’t pay for your damn suit.”

“You’re a laugh riot, boss.” said Roger with an awkward chuckle.

“I’m not joking.”

“You’re drunk.”

“I’m not…wait…never mind. But what I said is true.”

Swanson pointed at a sheet of paper at the corner of his desk. Roger picked it up, skimmed the first line, then dropped it back on the desk like it was on fire. His look of mild unease had evolved into a panic. He wordlessly turned away from his former boss.

Roger stepped out of the office in a daze. The sound of the door slamming behind him snapped him back to reality. He broke into a dead run, darting past idle coworkers at breakneck speed. The greeter raised his eyebrows at Roger’s sudden return.

“First floor.” Roger said between sharp intakes of breath.

“Um, sir? About that advice you offered?”

“Sell everything. Now do your job.”

As the elevator descended, Roger’s mind raced. There was still a small chance. Most shares were probably already next to worthless, but the traders doing the grunt work didn’t seem to know yet. Swanson’s stupor could be his savior. If he pulled out without telling anyone else, he might be able to get enough money to settle his debts. Or at least eat tomorrow.

He made his way to a telephone booth. He had a personal hatred of their claustrophobic aura, but was in no position to choose.

His fingers worked the rotary dial with a speed he’d have thought impossible. The familiar voice of his partner greeted him after a moment’s frustration.


“Hey Robbie, could you do me a small favor? Liquefy everything.”

The line was silent for several seconds. “Roger? Could you repeat that?”

“You heard me. I have…a big purchase lined up, and I want to have as many of my assets freed up as possible. Keep it quiet.”

Roger hung up before more questions could come. He leaned against the glass of the booth, closed his eyes, and tried to collect his thoughts.

He was surprised by his lack of emotion. Fear was there, but it felt muted. He’d already done all the damage control he could, so there was no point in panicking further. He suspected that anger or tears would come later, but at that moment any pathos felt distant and muted.

“I never got breakfast.” he muttered to himself. It was an insane thought, the furthest from the chaos that was about to tear his world apart, but it dominated his mind. An empty stomach was his main complaint against fate. He hoped it wouldn’t become a familiar sensation.

* * * *

The jeweler sat casually on a wooden stool, contentedly whistling beside the shop’s main display case. He scrutinized the cufflinks with a small magnifying glass, eyes searching for the small flaws that betrayed the imitations would-be con artists paraded before him every week. When he was satisfied, he gently put the items on the counter and met Roger’s gaze.

“Eight dollars.”

Roger stared blankly in response. For a single moment, he wore a comically vacant, slack-jawed expression. The jeweler forced back a laugh.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Is that a serious offer? Eight goddamn dollars apiece?”

“No, that’d be insane. I’m offering Eight dollars for both. Big difference.”

Roger grabbed the cufflinks off the counter and stormed out of the store. His immediate impulse to scream was delayed by the flow of human traffic. Something had gotten the attention of the peanut gallery. Roger deigned to follow them.

A crowd had gathered outside the Maxim building. A line of policemen held back gawkers and journalists as a still figure was hoisted onto a stretcher. Roger caught a glimpse of a familiar head of yellow hair before the ambulance doors slammed shut.

Roger looked up, and saw the open window of Swanson’s office. It didn’t take long to fill in the blanks.

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Roger muttered before beginning the march back home. He decided that he would break the news to Loretta after lunch.

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