BY: MICHAEL PAUL MICHAUD

A vacuum salesman by day, the introvert lives a quiet life alone with his dog until a work relationship and a dark secret from his past team up to create an uncomfortable imbalance in his otherwise ordered life, one that soon finds him squarely at the center of a murder investigation. With his thoughts continually urging him to make people “red and open” and to “achieve it” with his girlfriend Donna, what follows is a sometimes brutal, oftentimes hilarious, and absurdist account of the life of one very anti-social and unexpected anti-hero.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: The story is cute, poignant, and thought-provoking. I loved it.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: I was totally charmed. I read it twice, just for the sheer enjoyment of it.

The Company Culture Handbook

Always Stay Positive
Every Day is a Good Day to Buy
Set Your Clock to Lombardi Time
Be a Humble Student
Assault Them with Honesty
Always Diffuse Discomfort
Control the Conversation
Nobody Likes a Challenger
Dress the Part
The Company is Your Friend

CHAPTER 1

“Sir, have you got a second form of identification?”

She was looking at me from her seated position behind the counter. She wasn’t much of a clerk. From what I could see, she was shabbily dressed, and there was a half-eaten container of Chinese noodles on the counter with a plastic fork sticking out from the cardboard box, and since it was morning, I figured that it must have been leftovers.

“You have my driver’s license,” I said.

The woman behind the counter smiled, and I wasn’t sure why because to me she didn’t seem very happy.

“Yes sir, but I do need to see a second form of identification.”

“I’m just renewing my license,” I said, and I thought that might settle things.

“Sir, I’m afraid we require a second form of identification before we can proceed. If you’d like to come back another time, perhaps?” She was still smiling, but now the smile was waning.

I turned to look at the line behind me that snaked back to the door where I’d first been standing when I’d come in almost forty minutes ago. Then I turned back to face the clerk, but for some reason my eyes caught again on the cardboard container of Chinese noodles and the white plastic instrument peeking up over the edge, and it made me nauseous just to see it.

“Sir?”

When I looked back up, I saw that her smile was all the way gone.

“My license expires tomorrow,” I said, looking again at the noodles.

I needed my license to drive my car legally. It wasn’t much of a car, but I still needed a valid driver’s license to drive it.

“I understand that, sir, but I’m afraid we do require a second form of identification.”

I brought my eyes to her face and stared blankly at the fat sphere in front of me and noticed that the lipstick on her lips was red and the mole on her neck was brown, and though both were hideous they at least made me briefly forget about the Chinese noodles. “I have credit cards,” I said.

I could hear people grumbling behind me when I said this.

“I’m afraid that isn’t sufficient, sir.”

It was the third time that she’d said she was afraid, only she didn’t seem afraid. I’d seen people afraid before and their eyes usually went wide and open and white and their mouths gaped sloppy or crooked.

“I have to be at work in ten minutes.”

I wasn’t exactly sure why I said it since it didn’t seem entirely connected to what we were talking about. But then if she’d have just allowed me to renew my driver’s license then I probably wouldn’t have been worrying about being late for work, so then I thought that maybe it was a little bit connected after all, if not all the way connected.

“Sir, perhaps if you came back another time?”

I could tell that she was trying to get rid of me.

“Why would someone who isn’t me ever want to renew my license?”

“Sir, I can’t comment on that. But we do have our regulations…”

I could hear the sighs and the grumbles growing heavier behind me so I fished in my wallet for some other form of government identification though I knew it was hopeless even before I tried.

When I looked back up I could see the clerk staring at me and the smile was back on her face now and even enhanced in a way that it hadn’t been before, as if perhaps with more fake friendliness I might go away faster and then she could take another bite from her container with the plastic fork or move onto the next customer or both.

A man stepped up to the wicket to my right. He’d been one of the people staring at me when I’d last turned around so I was relieved that he was now being served, but then I figured there were many others still staring just as intently so I didn’t feel relieved for very long.

The clerk continued to smile at me, and I thought again how she wasn’t much of a clerk. It wasn’t very professional to have opened food at the counter. It wasn’t very nice to smile at people when you didn’t really mean it. Finally, she apologized once more and slid my expiring license back toward me on the counter.

That was when I noticed the letter opener.

It was resting in front of her, long and steel and quite clearly sharp at one end, all shiny and polished and silver. It was easily within reach, and before I knew it I was again thinking of how she was making me late for work and how the boss wouldn’t like that. Then I imagined picking up the letter opener and stabbing down viciously into her plump pasty white neck and how I wanted more than anything in that moment to see her red and open.

Red and open.

And I thought that I’d have to thrust the opener with real force to pierce the thick layer of fat around her neck and I imagined how the blood would be gushing out red and wet and slide down over her hideous brown mole and how then she really would be afraid with her eyes opened wide in fear and her mouth twisted apart and how people would be running in fear behind me and there would be screams and gasps and commotion all around and how the clerk would be wishing she’d have just let me renew my driver’s license before she succumbed to the attack only by then it would be too late.

“Sir?”

It felt good to think it, but instead I just picked up my driver’s license from the counter and turned away because I knew that she didn’t deserve it.

She wasn’t much of a clerk, but she certainly didn’t deserve it.

© 2016 by Michael Michaud