The page on the screen in front of Samantha was filled with numbers. It was almost funny, and she would have laughed if they weren’t so damn infuriating. “Jim, can you come over here for a minute?” She hated asking for Jim’s help. Or anyone’s for that matter. She’d always been an independent soul, but this problem was becoming bigger than she had time for.
“Hey Sam, what’s the problem?” He asked, but he already knew what the problem was. Jim had been working on the same issue for the past two weeks, nearly as long as Samantha. As the top person in the department, he should have felt more pressure than the constant smile on his face displayed. Maybe it had something to do with his parents being loaded.
“It’s Samantha.” She said it angrily, but she didn’t actually care if people called her Sam, or Sammy, The retort was more to keep him on his toes as it was a call for respect. She didn’t blink an eye when he asked to be called Jim even though it’s the shortened version of his MIDDLE name-what are name’s anyway she would often think. Most of the time people just say “Hey” or “Miss” or, worst-case scenario, “Ma’am.”
“Right, sorry. What’s going on?” She couldn’t tell if he rolled his eyes when he said this or if he saw something across the room, but it was almost time to leave for the day and she didn’t feel like missing her bus again questioning Jim’s motives.
“These numbers don’t add up. At all. There’s no way x gets you to y or z or any other letter because the whole thing’s a shit show. I’ve looked at this every day for almost a month and there’s no way the average donation is twenty-seven dollars. It’s constantly fluctuating, but math isn’t as malleable as language so they keep claiming the same thing even though it hasn’t been true for months!” Samantha had tired of this project after about two days. She knew it didn’t make sense, but the bosses wanted them to check the numbers anyway.
“When I came to work for this newspaper as a fact checker, I didn’t plan on spending thirty days doing math a kindergartner could tell you doesn’t work out.” She didn’t mean to, but it came out in a way that made it sound like she might be walking out and never coming back.
“I know.” Jim put it so matter-of-factly it actually pissed Samantha off quite a bit.
“You know? You KNOW!” In her eighteen months of employment at the paper, she’d never been so upset. “Well, great. Then what the fuck are we doing this for? Let’s move on to something that actually matters!”
A few people in the office had stopped working to listen in on the conversation happening in the southwest corner of the office. It was approaching six, which meant the glare from the sun was bright enough that Samantha and Jim looked like shadow figures dancing on the wall.
Jim moved a bit to make sure the others in the room couldn’t see his lips move as he finally told Samantha the truth: “We’re sitting on a story right now that’s big. So big it’s gonna blow the lid off this whole election season.” He got closer to her now, enough that he could whisper and be certain that she heard, “I can’t say which candidate, but we have sources telling us that one of them is working with a foreign power to swing the election.”
Samantha’s head spun. She left the office in a daze and didn’t speak to anyone the rest of the night. How could Jim present that information and not go any further? With 11 candidates left, the culprit would be tough to pin down. She was pretty sure it wasn’t Hillary, or Bernie. Ted Cruz seemed likely, because he just has that face, ya know? Trump’s too stupid and Carson…well, it’s more likely Carson is colluding with a cartoon dog than a foreign government. Could it be O’Malley? Why else would he be sticking around? He knows he has no shot if it’s up to the voters.
She couldn’t sleep. The next morning she buzzed through five cups of coffee before she got to work. The twenty-seven dollar project was still going, but she spent most of her morning googling O’Malley, looking for any shreds of evidence that he was up to something. After a couple hours the most damning thing she’d found was that he wasn’t a fan of the show “Homicide: Life On The Street,” which she deemed jail-worthy, but would admit it would be hard to prosecute.
Jim was at her desk after lunch, nervously tapping a pen on the hard laminate counter. “Finally,” he sighed. “I need to talk to you. Now.” Her face lit up. Would this be it? The moment in time when her purpose in this would be revealed and they’d set forth in bringing down Martin O’Malley’s (or whomever the guilty party might be) campaign? If she’d been able to sleep the night before, this is what she would have dreamt about.
Before she had a chance to say a word about her morning of investigating Jim asked her to come to his office and have a seat. “Look. Yesterday I told you something I shouldn’t have in the hopes that you would stay on and help us with this new project.” Samantha was beaming at this point, with thoughts of Pulitzers and Congressional Medal Of Freedom ceremonies in her brain. “Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. I have to let you go.”
The office went black. Samantha had never been fired before, and even worse, fired by Jim. She couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move. Her brain was shut down, with only one thought repeating over and over, “The system is broken and no one will ever fix it.”
“We’ll have your things delivered to your apartment later today, but I need you to leave. Right now.” Jim was stoic and Samantha couldn’t tell if it was because he was trying not to show any emotion or because he actually didn’t care that he was firing her. She was in too much shock to process it now anyway, and she got up, collected her jacket and purse and left the building.
Later that night, still combing through the events of the day trying to figure out what happened, she got a phone call from an unlisted number. Normally she wouldn’t answer such a call, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
“Hello,” she whispered.
“Samantha, my dear. How nice to hear your voice. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.”
The voice was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. “No that’s ok. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well actually I thought I could help you. I’m sure you’re wondering what happened this afternoon?” The voice was so calm and deliberate it could have been a robot reading from a script.
Still confused as to what was going on, and perhaps in a fog due to the margarita she poured herself a little while ago, Samantha answered curtly, “I got fired. I don’t know what else there is to say about it? The paper fired me for no reason.”
“Well, here’s the thing, Samantha” the voice got deeper now, to an almost sinister level, “this is Martin O’Malley.” The glass Samantha was holding fell to the ground, sending jagged shrapnel across the floor and ice cubes and lime bits onto the couch. “I heard you and your colleague Jim were working on a piece about me for the paper.”
Panicked and shaking after the spilled glass, Samantha thought she could level with Mayor O’Malley. “I was just told about this project yesterday, sir. I didn’t even know it was about you!” She laughed a little bit at the end, and regretted the nervous tick immediately.
“Well now,” the voice was getting angrier, but still very calm, “If you didn’t know it was about me, why were you googling me this morning on your work computer?”
Samantha couldn’t speak. There was silence for a solid twenty-seven seconds before the voice on the other end returned “Honey, Jim is dead. Somehow his brakes weren’t working and he swerved off the highway a couple hours ago. If you want to avoid a similar outcome, you’d better keep your mouth shut. The story will never be published.”
Jim was always kind of a prick, but Samantha never wished him dead or anything like that. Still, after being fired by him, this wasn’t the worst news she’d ever heard. The confidence she’d been lacking since taking the job at the paper was starting to return. Her energy felt boundless now, as if a great weight had been lifted and the gravity of the earth was no longer enough to keep her feet on the ground.
She smiled, and coolly told the threatening man, “I take the bus.”
Hanging up the phone, she tossed it across her small living room. She grabbed a broom and cleaned up the broken glass, poured herself a glass of wine and drew a bath. She knew, in that moment, that Martin O’Malley would never be president. Even if he colluded with ALL the foreign powers.
“That man is just unlovable,” she thought to herself as she slipped into the warm embrace of lavender bubbles.