Everything okay there, Roger?
“Everything okay there, Roger?”
On the screen, Rebecca in New York smiles but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
The other faces in their squares variously frown, squint and glare as I dip my head and hold Dougal at bay by my feet. He wants to jump up. He wants to lick my face.
Wisconsin Ronny says, with a touch of snark, “If now is a bad time, Roger, we can come back to you.” Like he’s chairing the call, like he has the right to cut me off!
For any other agenda item, I would simply turn off my camera, grab Dougal by the collar and drag him back to the kitchen where I'd left him. The damned lock must be broken.
But this is the Polykel account, my baby. Ronny and Jocelyn and all the others would give their right arm for the Polykel account. The commission alone dwarfs their annual salaries. I have maintained control for seven years with careful stewardship, impressive sales figures and unstinting loyalty to the higher-ups.
“I’m good. I’m good,” I say laughing, making light of the situation the way you’re supposed to when a pet interrupts a video call. Shouldn’t they be laughing along with me? This kind of thing happens when you’re working from home, right? These people are vultures. They want me distracted. They want me off my game so they can steal.
Dougal is big, much bigger than when I first got him, and he struggles as I restrain him.
This is bad. Rebecca needs to know I am going to close out the year on a high. It could make or break her. Hell, it could make or break me.
I was on a roll too. When Dougal bounded in, bashing the door open with his head and almost jumping across my carefully curated headshot, I had them nodding. I’d skipped through the (admittedly disappointing) figures from quarter two, giving them a soft landing, and was about to move on to the optimistic uplands of quarter four.
But Dougal is here to fuck the whole thing up.
Somehow, I manage to hook my big toe inside Dougal’s collar and stamp down, keeping his head pinned to the floor beneath my desk. Regaining my composure, I sit up and centre myself in the webcam frame and get back to my report.
Strategy is in place, I tell them. Changes have been made. My team is poised to hit it out of the park. I know exactly what I am doing. Somehow, even with Dougal wriggling against my foot-hold, I get through it.
I study Rebecca’s features for a reaction, and even before she speaks, I can tell there is a problem. I twist my foot in the collar and Dougal groans, which is fine because I’m on mute now. I twist harder and snarl at him through my teeth, “Shut the fuck up.”
He falls silent.
Rebecca is responding to my presentation. She is not smooth like she normally is with me. There is none of the borderline flirting from the golden days when every quarter was unblemished by downturns and third wave pan-fucking-demics. She uses phrases like “laser focus” and “granular understanding” as if I am somehow lacking in these things.
There are questions from the others, of course. We are supposed to challenge each other in these meetings. We are supposed to welcome this because it is supposed to boost both individual and collective performance. But these are not team players. They are only interested in exposing weakness in their rivals, real or imagined.
“Tricky managing performance remotely, hey Roger? We’re all learning.” This is Seamus in our European office. “If you need a chat offline to go over some techniques, drop me an invite,” he says. I fantasise on the specific image of pulverising his face.
“Thanks Seamus. I’m good. Just some seasonal bumps. You know better than most.”
Rebecca shuffles in her chair now. She is impatient with these exchanges the way a lioness is impatient with scrapping cubs. She says, “Let’s move on. Roger, stay on the line at the end.”
And, like a kid being told to stay behind after class, I know the Polykel account is gone. I’ve seen her do it to others, amused by her bloodlust. Now, I am the prey.
The rest of the meeting passes me by. I can only think about how Dougal has done this to me, about how he was supposed to stay put in the kitchen, about how ungrateful he is. I feed him every day. I give him a warm home. A place to sleep in the barn. I let him come in the house this morning, which I never do, and now this.
He has stopped struggling now. I push my foot in his face and he whines again.
The meeting is over and the squares are disappearing. As each one leaves, Rebecca’s face grows bigger and bigger on my screen. When we are alone, she starts to speak to me, exactly the way a teacher speaks to a naughty child. She says I need a new challenge to freshen up. She has decided to “shift” the Polykel account over to Ronny. I am about to protest when, from nowhere, Dougal bucks hard and my foot comes loose from his collar. He rears up and lunges at me, his teeth aiming straight for my neck.
I am quick. The two quick jabs to his face are powerful, very powerful. I hear bone crack.
Did he came into shot? Nobody is supposed to see Dougal. He's supposed to be my little secret. I swivel back to the the laptop.
Did she see his milky white skin and those oh-so-faraway eyes? Did she see what I've done to his arms and legs?
She gapes open-mouthed, her eyes wide with incomprehension. She looks ill.
I guess it makes sense for an outsider to be shocked by his appearance. I have carefully curated his diet, his behaviour and his circumstances for one purpose and one purpose only - for obedience. Today, of course, that has broken down, but for many years it has worked just fine. He isn't supposed to be aesthetically pleasing.
And now I see.
I see my life for the next few days and weeks. I will take Dougal out to the barn and put a bullet in his head. I will collect together my essentials and disappear. I will need to steal a car. I will need a new identity.
The weight of disappointment drops from my shoulders, an intense physical sensation.
I wave at Rebecca, turn off my laptop.
I take Dougal under his arms to drag him to the barn.