The Voucher of Benessere


Two things: First, I wrote this for Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge, but I failed miserably at the word count, so I decided to wait and publish it in it’s ~2200 word form. Second, The title and the opening are allusions to Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” because it’s a revenge story. Beyond that there aren’t many similarities, but you should definitely read the Poe story while you’re at it because, to me it’s a foundational revenge tale!

The thousand injuries of Melissa Long I had borne as best I could, but when she ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge…

No; I didn’t bury her in my creepy-ass wine cellar, if that’s what you’re thinking, but I would be avenged. And like my allusory muse, Montressor, I too would be avenged at length, and with impunity.

When I started at her marketing firm it was great. I had been out of a job for a while and after she hired me, I felt like a worthwhile human being again. It was nice getting to know my new colleagues, though at times things felt a bit off. See, I’m gay, and though I’m not ashamed of it, it’s hard enough getting a job as a college drop-out who’s been fired from nearly every job she’s had. I didn’t need to be a queer college drop-out who’s been fired from nearly… you get the idea. The point is, I wasn’t in the closet, but nobody asked, so I never told. Besides, my sex life is my business, not anyone else’s – especially coworkers.

And at first it was fine. The other women would talk about normal gossip – TV shows, news, and guys. I would just smile and nod. Then I noticed some offhanded comments at staff meetings about religious and political topics. It quickly became clear that my views would be contrary to those being espoused by my colleagues, so I kept quiet about it all for months.

Then one morning at a staff meeting Melissa announced that we would be attending a team-building seminar that afternoon and all of the next day. Everyone seemed to be really excited about it. I pretended to be.

At noon, we migrated to a pizza joint across the street. There were only about fifteen employees in all, and as we entered the conference room, we were greeted by a woman and a man who looked to be in their fifties. Janice and Gary, they were called, and they had church-folk written all over them, which figured, as Melissa was deeply religious. They were sharply dressed and had the room arranged for a typical corporate team-building summit. The first day of the presentation was all introduction. Boring as hell, but at least we got free pizza and a break from clients.

The next day, the actual “team-building” work started. By lunch I was already exhausted. Once more the pizzas were brought in and the conversation turned a little lighter, though I was still not really included. As we ate, Gary chatted up Melissa and some of the other employees, while Janice reviewed the personality profiles we’d completed.

After an hour or so of pizza and politeness, the session started up again. Janice and Doug passed out everyone’s results and started their bullshit interpretations. I noticed that Melissa kept doing the thing where she would pretend she wasn’t glaring at me by looking away every time I glanced at her.

Then Janice finished her explanation of energy styles – you know, the capital E verses the lower-case i. She moved on to the cognitive style – this time, the capital S to the lower-case i. She started her spiel by using masculine/feminine comparisons. The starkly scientific “Sensing” thinkers being compared to men, and the irrational “Intuitive” thinkers being compared to women. She called on people to share personal anecdotes about their personal relationships with the opposite sex in order to… I don’t know… to reinforce her idiotic, backward ideas, I guess.

In any case, I was the first one she called on, and everyone’s eyes went straight for me. I blushed and looked away. My hand went instinctively to my sternum because my chest was breaking out in hives.

I caught my breath and swallowed a mouthful of the ice water that was in front of me. “Umm,” I stalled.

“Ivette?” Melissa asked, tilting her head in a confused look that had a molten ocean of condescension boiling just beneath the surface.

“Well, my, uhh…” I fumbled, “They don’t like that I need to have the TV on when we go to sleep. Keeps talking about the science of the light and all of this other stuff; I just want to know I’m not alone.” I forced a giggle, thinking I had covered adequately.

But Melissa decided to be a venomous bitch.

“Hmm.” She said. “They don’t like that you have the TV on? Are you saying you have more than one boyfriend?” For a moment, I thought she was genuinely confused. The boiling condescension beneath her bright and ignorant smile seemed to still for the briefest of instants – the way I imagine all of the birds and other forest creatures would be silent right before an eruption – then she said, “Wait…” her nose crinkled in disgust, “Ivette,” she chuffed out, “are you gay?”

I dropped my glass and water spilled all over my pizza and papers. I was speechless, but I stood up instantly.

Mellisa chortled again. “I mean,” she said, “I guess it’s not like it’s a big deal or anything.” The last thing I saw was a slight eye roll when she finished the final syllable. I didn’t say a word. I just left and went back across the street to the office. I grabbed the few personal things off of my desk, threw down my badge and my key to the building and sped out into traffic and away from there.

My next stop was a lawyer’s office… right? Yeah. That’s exactly what I needed. A long, drawn-out law suit in which Melissa’s extensive corporate insurance policy would fork out far more money toward smearing my name and parading my sex life in front of a courtroom than… Sorry. No thanks. I had something much better in mind.

A few months passed by, and I had no luck with another job. Melissa was definitely blackballing me. I once got fired from a temp job after they called for references in order to hire me on full-time. Anyway, while I was temping and trying to find another full-time gig, I devised my vengeance.

The thing about small marketing firms is, they are run by space-headed marketing nitwits who don’t understand the back end of their businesses. They hire based on personality rather than competence. As such, Melissa had hired Gladys to “keep the books” in the office. Gladys was as inept as it gets with modern computer systems. She went to “business school” in the ‘80s, where she was evaluated on her ability to save DOS files on a 5.25” floppy disk. Yet, that was qualified enough for Melissa to hand over the financial reigns of her multi-million dollar book of business.

I spent far too much time at Gladys’ desk fixing her shit. I had not only her login info, but I had her work computer’s IP address. It was the work of a couple of hours to make the necessary changes to my own system and to hack into Gladys’ work e-mail. From there, I discontinued the auto-pay she had set up for the company’s property/liability insurance on the building. I then opted to receive all communications from the insurance company electronically. From there, I rigged her e-mail client to re-route all e-mails from the insurance company to a dummy gmail account I set up with Gladys’ IP address. I also set the mail client to Bcc the dummy gmail account whenever any e-mails from the bank came in. I set a notification up on my phone whenever any of these keywords showed up in the gmail account. I also set the gmail account up to delete e-mails across all devices, so all I had to do was delete the flagged e-mails on my end, and Gladys would never see them.

I waited until almost four months after the insurance policy was canceled before I finished her off.

You meet all sorts of interesting people when you’re unemployed for extended periods of time. Sure, you can get unemployment benefits without ever setting foot outside of your home nowadays, but those only pay a percentage of your wages. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to go apply for food stamps. It was during this process, at the DHS office, that I first met Ernie.

Homeless and schizophrenic, he pushed all of his earthly belongings around in a shopping cart, and he wore a thick winter parka even in the middle of the summer. Ernie was one of those people who kind of slipped through the cracks. He was sometimes-functioning, when he had his proper meds and was in the system and getting the care he needed. The problem was, the grants that provided the funding for a lot of the treatment he received were drying up, which meant that more and more often, Ernie was on the streets without meds or supervision. Every few days he’d get arrested for shoplifting – either food or something nonsensical like a packet of thumb-tacks. He’d spend a night or two in jail, but he never did anything bad enough to warrant a serious sentence, one that might at least get him back on the treatment he needed.

I waited three and a half hours that day to speak with a counselor who grilled me with questions before giving me a card worth a couple of hundred bucks for food each month. He hurried me in and hurried me out, and as I left I saw the forgotten rungs of society – those people who either fell and had no one around to help them up, or those who were dealt the shit end of the stick from the beginning. In any case, they were the ones who’d been left behind. I thought about Melissa and her Lexus and the new Range Rover that she bought her husband for their anniversary. Then I looked around the room again. I saw Ernie coming out from his appointment looking every bit as shell-shocked as I’m sure I did.

I went outside and waited for him to catch up. I lit a cigarette and gave him one. I asked him how he felt, and he said he was feeling black. I asked him what he meant. He said he knew that everything was messed up in his mind. He just wanted the black to go away.

I’m sure you’ll say this is a case of me justifying my incomprehensible deeds, but I believe I saw lucidity in his eyes when I asked him if he would prefer jail to this. He grabbed my shoulders and said “Yes. You don’t understand the black. Jail is grey. Even at night. Jail is grey.”

The security footage showed a homeless man in a large winter parka pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk in front of the Long building. He stopped. He then appeared to scream at the building for about two minutes, before picking up a cinder brick and throwing it through the front window of Melissa’s office. Then he returned to his shopping cart and produced a Molotov cocktail. He lit the rag and threw the bottle of Everclear through the hole he’d made with the brick. Then he sat down next to his shopping cart and waited for the police to show up.

The building was a total loss, but during the course of their investigation, the forensic cryptologist found evidence of embezzlement, investor fraud, and a whole host of other white-collar crimes. Of course, they also found that Melissa’s corporate insurance policy had been canceled for a few months.

A few months later, I was visiting Ernie at the county psychiatric hospital. I wasn’t able to legally defend him, but I acted as his advocate and worked with his legal team to get him into treatment rather than prison. He’d settled in and seemed to be enjoying himself the first time I went to visit. He was more lucid, even if less bright. We sat in the common room together and watched the news. A story about Melissa came on. Usually the orderlies would change the channel in these situations, not wanting to trigger the patients with news about their crimes. The goons on duty, however, were both engaged in phone games in their respective corners. The TV showed Melissa’s haggard mugshot, then footage of the burning building, then an interview with one of Melissa’s “good church friends.”

“You know,” she said, “I think that it just goes to show you that some people are wolves in sheep’s clothing. I ain’t one to speculate, but she must have had some kind of secret sin – the insurance being expired and all that – that’s the work of the Lord. I tell you what, she had to have done something.”

“Indeed,” I thought; and Ernie and I smiled at one another.