The Corporation

by J. S. Kierland

She filled out her work report, completed the termination form, and shoved it into the envelope before heading downtown to drop it off and pick up her final check. She was leaving the Corporation "to spend more time with my kids," she'd written in the large space they'd provided under reason for leaving. Josh had turned thirteen and Mary was coming up on ten. It'd been nine years of juggling schedules and long hours of hard work. It was time to move on.

The cell phone burred in her pocket. She took a breath and punched the button. There was silence at the other end, and Murdoch finally said, "I can't believe you're leaving."

"I'll miss you too."

"What will you do for money?"

"Take in sewing," she said, but he didn't laugh.

"I could put you on special assignments."

"I've got to study for the Bar Exam. I can't keep putting it off. Besides, I promised the kids I'd be home with them a lot more. They need me at their age."

There was an even longer silence. "I could give you an assignment right away...this evening," he said.

"What's the pay like?" she asked.

"Three times the monthly rate you get now per assignment. We certainly know you can do the job. It's just a matter of being on call."

She seemed to be winning whatever game they were playing but wasn't sure she wanted to win anything. She had saved enough to get them through the year and take the bar exam along with it, but there were always emergencies.

"I can't do all that traveling and be a mother at the same time," she said, quickly following with, "About all I could manage would be a Boston-New York run once in awhile."

"Why not include D.C.?" he asked, still in the game.

She hesitated, and stared across 57th Street at a man and a woman dressed in evening clothes getting into a taxi. 'How do you explain to a corporate executive what it is to be a mother?' she thought, and than said, "D.C.'s too far and too dumb. I'd end up having to move down there and I never quite got used to the place."

That long pause came again. "All right, no D.C. But could you at least cover upstate New York along with the city?" he asked.

She hadn't expected an offer like that, or even this phone call. "It might be tight around the hips, but I could try it on," she quipped. He still didn't laugh.
"Fine," he answered, slipping back into a professional tone again. "I'll just shred this termination form."

"You're selling me the dress before I've tried it on." "This evening's assignment is not far from the office and he'll be carrying the usual manila envelope," he said, ignoring her remark. "The instructions are in the envelope for the both of you."

"Sounds simple enough?" she asked.

"It really is," Murdoch said without missing a beat. He waited for her to say something else and when she didn't he asked, "Do you know St. James Church?"

"The one on Madison? Episcopal, isn't it?"

"Yes," he said. "Seventy-first Street. Tuzov's there at a concert now."

"Is he expecting me?"

"He's expecting someone within the hour," he said.

"That crucial, eh?" He didn't answer. "I'll take care of it at the new price we discussed, but don't shred anything until you hear back from me," she quipped again, hung up, and headed for Madison Avenue.

She'd worked on an assignment with Tuzov before. It was a complicated drop near London's Heathrow Airport. She remembered that Tuzov knew the area and had done the driving while she did the back end of it. They'd performed a complicated maneuver in a minimum of time but no one upstairs had acknowledged their work.

Tuzov had once told her, "Corporations eat people and shit money," and they'd both laughed the laugh. Of course he was right, but that glib talk never won you anything. She'd played it the other way, holding her low numbered cards close to the vest, and casually mentioning she was going to leave whenever they were short of people. Invariably, they'd thrown extra money at her and she'd taken it like a dog at a bone.

She called the kids when she hit Madison. Mary answered. "MOMMY," she squealed.

"What're you two doing?"

"Nothing," she said in that clever way little girls have that make you wonder what they're really doing.

"Is Josh there?"

"Uh eh. You coming home?" she asked.

"Yes," she said. "But I'll be a little late so tell Josh to heat up the leftover pizza from last night."

"Can we have soda too?" she asked.

"Just one can."

"There's only one left."

"Split it. I'll be home in a few hours."

"You want to talk to Josh?"

"I don't have time right now. I'll call back later," she said, as a taxi stopped to take her uptown.

When the cab got to the Church she ran the steps just as the chorale was reaching a crescendo. The voices kept rising and a short balding man moved to help her but she waved him off and headed for the north side of the Church as if she knew where she was going even though she'd never been there before.
The choir seemed to explode as she slid into one of the polished pews, and then their voices fell away into a sudden silence that seemed to hang in the Church's open space above her. She hoped Tuzov had seen her come in because the cantata was over and people were starting to drift toward the doors. She stayed for the benediction and the final hymn, and a paunchy man carrying a large manila envelope slipped into the empty pew just in front of her. It was Tuzov.

"Hello," he said in his slight Swiss accent. "You barely made it. Long time no see."

"How have you been?" she asked.

"It's been a good afternoon," he shrugged. "The cantata you just missed was magnificent."

"Have you had a chance to peek at the assignment?" she asked, nodding at the manila envelope under his arm. He shook his head and she looked surprised.

"I was just told to pick it up," he said. "I follow instructions to the letter, don't you?" She took the envelope from him, ripped it open, and took out a folded legal sized piece of yellow paper. "Shouldn't we be leaving with everyone else?" he asked.

She nodded, quickly read the paper, and handed it back to him. "I have a few phone calls to make so I'll meet you at the sailboat pond in the park," she said.
"We can go over the assignment there. We only have about an hour, or so." He nodded and left. She edged through the empty pew to the center aisle and watched him leave along the far side. He kept ahead of her and headed for 72nd Street. The cell phone burred in her pocket.

"What's the matter, Josh?" she said impatiently.

"You told me not to use the stove."

"You can heat up the pizza in the toaster oven. Remember? Turn the top knob to 400 and flip the middle one to on. Five minutes ought to do it. Use a piece of aluminum foil and be careful not to burn yourself." Tuzov caught the light and crossed to the north side of the street so she crossed on the south side and stayed behind him on the opposite side of 72nd Street.

"There's only one soda and three pieces of pizza."

"I know. Cut one of the slices in half and-"

"Give my sister the biggest piece," he said.

"You're learning, Josh. Do the same thing with the soda and use the short glasses." She crossed Madison and waited for a reply but there was none. "And don't forget to turn the toaster oven off when you're through," she said, and hung up. On the other side of Fifth, Tuzov slipped into Central Park and she followed him.

People were carrying their coats in the unexpected warm weather, but the early April twilight was beginning to cool things off and some were drifting toward the Park's exits. Tuzov came toward her from the other side and they headed for an empty bench. There were no model sailboats on the pond and the water was low and muddied with wet leaves. The little boathouse, that served food and drinks, was still closed for the season and the evening's cool breeze gusted over the park's emptiness.

"How are the kids?" he asked, as she approached.

"They're fine," she said with a shrug.

"Was that who you were talking to on the phone?"

"Yes," she smiled. "Josh is fixing dinner tonight."

"Has he gotten over his father's death?"

She was surprised he'd remembered that. "No, not quite," she said. "I'm not sure he ever will."

"The world has gotten even crazier since then," he said, sitting heavily on the bench.

"Our assignment seems clear enough," she said, in an attempt to change the subject, and realized she sounded like Murdoch, but went on anyway. "We meet a man wearing a camel coat and a black fedora on the west side of the park in front of the Dakota, probably a diplomat," she added. "He'll arrive in a cab and hand me a locked leather pouch."

"That about sums it up," Tuzov said. "We've done a lot more complicated things, haven't we?"

"They probably don't know this diplomat and wanted a backup to make sure everything went smoothly for a new client. Are you on special assignment?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. "I cover the northeast corridor. Have for about a year now. Live in hotels and wait. Not quite the kind of thing for a married man?"

"I didn't know you were married."

"I'm not. Did I give that impression?"

She shook her head. "Would you like something to calm you down?" she asked, reaching for her bag.

"I'd rather stay on top of things," he said. "The only problem is they assigned the drop at a busy intersection where people are going and coming."

"The subway and the bus stops are right there too. The diplomat probably lives in the Dakota, or close by."

"We ought to get started," he said, glancing at his watch. I like being early. We can set up before he arrives. The orders did say you were to take the drop."

"He's expecting a woman," she said.

"I noticed there wasn't any code."

"Probably don't need any."

He got up off the bench and she followed him along the path that went over the hill to the lake on the other side. Tuzov was good at the game but somehow he was different. Changed. She knew the Corporation didn't care about kids, bar exams, warmed up pizza, or anything else. She knew that even before she took the job. Her qualifications had been limited but they took a chance on her. The pay wasn't bad, and she knew the pitfalls.

Tuzov finally stopped to watch a couple drifting aimlessly in a rowboat on the lake. The still water reflected in the late twilight like a piece of glass, and from there you could see the top three floors of the Dakota just above the budding trees along Central Park West.

"We better go over what we're going to do," he said.

"It's a simple procedure," she said. "You go out first and find a spot on the north side of 72nd Street where you can take a picture of the drop. I'll be at the corner when he arrives. He'll be expecting me. You better come toward us to make sure it's clean."

He nodded his agreement, and asked, "Would you like to have dinner after we deliver it?"

"I'd love to...we could catch up on things."

"I'd like that," he said, staring out at the couple in the rowboat. They were out far enough on the water, but from here to the Dakota they'd be dealing with lots more people and traffic. The path they'd taken was empty and the park lights had come on to break the approaching darkness. Her purse touched his leg, and when he glanced down at it she drew the knife and spun at the same time, pulling him in close to her as it hit. He grunted and she eased him toward the bench they'd just passed and sat him down. There was a look of surprise on his face and she reached up and closed his eyelids, checked behind her, removed the knife and wiped it across his shirt. His body leaned forward and he started to bleed. She laid him across the bench in a sleeping position, and only then saw the gun in his hand. It was a Corporate issued silencer. She threw it into her purse, and started walking toward the Dakota.

The woman out in the rowboat waved to her as she came into view but she pretended not to see her, and stayed on the path that would take her out to the west side of the park. She took out her cell phone and hit the speed dial. Josh answered, and she said, "Did you heat up the pizza?"

"Yeah, it was good. Even better than last night."

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Did you really quit, Mom?"

"Yes, I really did," she answered, and he cheered. "I'll pick up some chocolate ice cream on the way home. It's Mary's favorite," she said, hung up, and looked for an empty cab in the rush hour traffic along Central Park West.