Chapter 1 (continued)

     “Right,” Marvin said resignedly, sinking into his chair. “You can always count on me.”

                                                                              *   *   *   *   *

      As soon as Marvin turned the corner, Herbert knew something was amiss. His walk was not the confident stride of a man
who had been elevated to a position worthy of his abilities, but rather the forceful, brutish march of a man possessed by
      “That pea-brained idiot doesn’t know his bum from his—”
      “Heyyy!” Herbert cut in, saving his friend from career suicide. “You don’t mean that. What happened up there?”
      “I didn’t get the promotion, Herb. I didn’t get the promotion!” Marvin’s voice reached a fevered pitch. “After all the time I’ve
put in at this mangy place. We’re surrounded by idiots! Idiots!” Heads started to turn in Marvin’s direction. The tone of his
voice had pricked some ears.
      Herbert Walter, out of either incredible wisdom or incredible fear, wrapped his arm around Marvin’s shoulder guided him
down the hall to the men’s restroom. “Man, what’s wrong with you? Get a hold of yourself!” Herbert gasped. “Don’t you know
that They could be listening?”
      “I don’t care what They think, Herbert. They gave my promotion to Bobby. Bobby!”
      “Bobby? The skinny kid from the mailroom?”
      “One and the same. And Victor wants me to ‘assist him in making this transition.’ That’s what the meeting was about.”
      “Oh man, I don’t know what to tell you.” Herbert ran both his hands through his hair, processing this new information. “No
wonder you were steamed. But you can’t walk around talking crazy like this. They’ll have your head, not to mention your job,”
he rationalized, hoping that reason would calm Marvin’s temper.
      Marvin slumped against the tile wall and slid down to the cold bathroom floor. Herbert was right, at least about his
outburst. How many people had heard him? Seen him? Word would spread quickly. They would surely get the word back to
Victor. Marvin began to feel despondent as the truth set in. Nothing could be worse.   
      “Wait,” said Marvin, perking up slightly. “I never read my letter from the Old Boys’ Club.” Acceptance to the Old Boys’ Club
would change everything. Membership in the Club would open up doors to all sorts of opportunities and usher him into a
whole different life. He could rub elbows and set tee times with the big boys. Better yet, he would be a big boy. Marvin
imagined himself finally getting the respect he felt he deserved. He started to pick himself up from the floor.
“Hang on,” said Herbert bashfully. “I, ah…well, I couldn’t wait. I was so excited for you that I read the letter while you were
talking to Van de Kamp.”
      “I think you should read it for yourself.” Herbert handed him the envelope. Marvin unfolded the paper. He knew what it
said even before he even read it all.  

      Mr. Early:
                      We have finalized the review of your membership application. At this  
              time, we do not believe that you are a suitable candidate for our organization.
              Thank you for your interest in the Old Boys’ Club.
              The Membership Committee

      “I’m sorry,” said Herbert. In all their years of friendship, Herbert had never seen his friend so sad. He searched his heart
to see if there were anything he could do or say, and knew that it was best to keep silent. He sat down on the tile next to
Marvin and stared at the opposite wall. Both men were still for a long time, but it was clear from the intense furrow in Marvin’s
brow that he was thinking hard.
      Marvin finally spoke. “Herbert,” he began, “have you ever wondered why our lives are the way they are?”
      “What do you mean, Marv?”
      “We come to work every day, just like anyone else. But other people seem to be living better lives than we do. Look at
some of our childhood friends. Clayton, for example. He’s become a wealthy banker. Clayton, who was always asking me to
borrow lunch money, says I don’t qualify for a loan at his bank.”
      Herbert knew this to be true, and nodded.
      “And Jacob, the jeweler, drives his luxury sedan and lives in the best part of town. But he was lucky—he never could have
opened his store if his wealthy uncle hadn’t left him an inheritance.”
Herbert had to admit that Jacob’s inheritance was a huge boon. It had been all the talk around Upper Stanton at the time.
      “Look around us. There are lots of people who spend more money in a month than we make in a year. Think of the cars
in the parking lot. I know you’ve always wanted a convertible. At this age, why should you not be able to have one? Why
shouldn’t I have the house that I want? Other people are living the life of my dreams.” Marvin looked directly into Herbert’s
eyes. Herbert had no answer.   
      “I have never thought about it much, Marvin. I’m just hoping that one day—”
      “One day never comes,” Marvin cut him off. “Can’t you see that? We’ve been waiting for ‘one day’ for many years now.
We have no day but today.”
      Herbert looked away. “I have never heard you say things like this before.”
      “I haven’t ever thought like this before. Haven’t we done what is required of us? Don’t we come to work every day? We
made decent grades at college. We’ve worked hard. We go to church and put what little money we can in the collection plate.
We have done all that we are supposed to do. Have you ever asked yourself why we don’t get any breaks?”
      Marvin stared at his hands again. They were clenched into fists. “I think I’m being held back.”  
      “By whom?” Herbert asked. “Victor’s a—” Herbert checked under the bathroom stalls to make sure there were no feet “—
jerk,” he whispered, “but I don’t think he’s thinking about us that much.”
      “Not by him. Somebody bigger.”
      “The president of The Company? I don’t think he even knows who we are.”
      Marvin shook his head, and then his eyes steeled over. “Think about it. My career, my goals, my life—none of them have
turned out the way I wanted. Every time I feel like I’m getting close, it’s all taken away, right before my eyes. Only one person
has the power and resources to do that to me time and time again.”
      “What are you saying?” asked Herbert, afraid of the answer.
      “Herbert, I think The Man is trying to keep me down.”           
      “Have you lost your mind?” Herbert gasped. “If anybody knew you even mentioned…him…who knows what could
happen? We are not having this conversation.”
      “I don’t even care any more,” Marvin said defiantly. “I’m tired of living like this. Door after door slammed in my face. I can’t
take it anymore.”
      “So what are you going to do? What can you do?” It was a rhetorical question that Herbert regretted asking as soon as it
came out of his mouth.
      “I’m going to stop him. I’m going to find The Man and get the life that I want.”
      “B-but,” Herbert stammered. No matter. Marvin had already picked himself up off the floor and pushed the swinging
bathroom door aside, and suddenly found himself in the middle of a small, nervously chattering throng. A dozen or so people
had been trying to eavesdrop through the bathroom door. He was sure that They knew something, but he couldn’t tell how
much. It was common knowledge that They had secret agents in almost every facet of public life, but it was almost impossible
to discern who They were. Despite the fact that They were shrouded in shadow and secrecy, no one could deny the influence
They had. “You know what They say” was a common phrase, even though most people didn’t know exactly what They said or
who They were. The crowd parted for Marvin as he walked through the sea of Company employees.
      “Dolores,” he said to the receptionist on the way out the door, “I’m taking some time off.” He did not look back.

Copyright 2007 Randall Croom