I have a year long plan. This month is dedicated to writing.
Ellis fidgeted at her desk, trying to concentrate on her report. Touch-typing, she watched the door of the break room while keying out familiar phrases.
“Inventory ordered automatically, acknowledged and charged to company following S.O.P. for . . . .”
There, Doyle was finally going to lunch. Empty tea mug in hand, he sauntered through the swinging door. Ellis continued typing, fingers firm on the keys.
“When received, stock was found to be a mis-ship. The supplier’s packing slips indicate stock was destined for a competitor, raising the issue . . . .”
Ellis strained to hear over the hum of the surrounding cubes. Was that the icebox opening and a gasp of surprise? Was someone sorting files, or was it furious rummaging through containers of microwaveable meals and yesterday’s lasagne? The break room door heaved open and Ellis’ face relaxed to innocence, eyes focusing on her monitor.
“It is recommended that the mis-sent stock be kept, both to inconvenience the competitor and as data in analysing their business plan.”
When Doyle swung into view, Ellis was carefully proofreading the report, her face still composed. Doyle draped himself too casually against a partition of Ellis’ cube, waiting to be noticed. She paused half a beat before looking up.
“Doyle! Aren’t you on lunch? How can I help you?” Doyle shifted like a compressed spring.
“Ah yes, Ellis, about that. I was heating up some of the missus’ split pea when I discovered that my last can of super-caff was missing.” Ellis nodded interestedly and punched the print button on her console. Ignoring the whirring, Doyle continued. “The case was still there, mind you, but it was empty.” With a small murmur of sympathy, Ellis ejected a miniature cassette of the report and rubberbanded a destination slip around it.
Doyle waited while it was fitted into a canister and dropped down a pneumatic tube in the desk. “Well, you got anything to say about it?”
Ellis remained impassive. “About what?”
“You damned know about what. Did you take my last can of super-caff?” The surrounding cubes fell silent. Ellis straightened her back and answered.
“Yes. I took your last can of super-caff.” There was an intake of breath among the cubes. Doyle sputtered.
“It had my name on it. The case had my name on it and each can did too. There was a note!” Ellis didn’t blink. She sat poised, marvelling at her own calmness. The next move was all Doyle’s. His fingers twitched where they gripped the partition. He didn’t want to do it. Holding Doyle’s gaze, Ellis pushed.
“Despite your note and intra-office policy, not to mention proper neighbourliness, I drank your last super-caff and I do not plan to buy you more.” A muffled cry sounded from a cube down the row.
Doyle swallowed hard. Policy and convention demanded the next step, but he hesitated. There was something in Ellis’ eyes he did not like. This was about more than the super-caff. Staring at the industrial carpet, Doyle forced out his words with painful clarity.
“For the ignominy of stealing my last can of super-caff and refusing to replace it; I, Hardwick Doyle, challenge you, Ellis Montgomery, to a duel. You will receive a memo from my second and we will resolve this like gentlemen at the end of the workday on the company’s field of honour.”
Ellis relaxed. The difficult part was done. With a new assurance she answered, “Your second needn’t bother, Doyle. Just send me the paperwork by tube and I’ll fill in the weapon choice and sign.”
Doyle nodded and took himself back to the breakroom to finish lunch.
Ellis waited on a bench in the locker room, playing with the cuffs of her red duelling uniform. Her second, Frances, a girl from the typing pool who shared Ellis’ commute, was pacing in front of her. Frances broke stride and wrung her hands, looking down at Ellis.
“This won’t prove anything.” Her voice rang sharply against the bare walls.
“I know.” Ellis’ words were calm. It inflamed Frances.
“It’s absolutely pointless Ellie!”
Ellis didn’t change her tone, “I know, kid, but it’s a matter of honour.” Frances’ reply was cut short by the autocom.
“COMBATANTS TAKE PLACES.”
The two women moved down the hall. Ellis, with an easy smile, laid her hand on Frances’ shoulder. “Hey, it’s for the best I never got that promotion, huh? We’re only going to first blood.” Frances didn’t laugh as she followed Ellis to the field.
The company grounds were clearly laid out. A small pedestal stood at each end to hold the second’s control panel and the weapons of choice. Ellis had picked the default duelling pistols. While Frances loaded and checked the lightweight little firearm, Ellis squinted at Doyle across the grounds. He did not look happy.
Both seconds signalled readiness. The autocom sounded again.
“ARM COMBATANTS, STAND AT READY.”
She took the pistol from Frances and relaxed into a waiting stance. The autocom whirled to the correct program.
“COMBATANTS FIRE AT WILL AFTER MY MARK, TO HIT OR FIRST BLOOD. SECONDS STAND ASIDE.”
Ellis watched Frances leave the field from the corner of her eye, keeping her focus on Doyle.
“READY.” Doyle cursed being pushed to defend his honour. He should have just ignored the missing super-caff.
“AIM.” Ellis raised her arm smoothly and she smiled.
The projectiles for their rank were low velocity and designed to penetrate no more than one centimetre into flesh when used on regulation grounds. They were perfectly capable, however, of punching a hole through anything thinner than that.
Ellis got her shot off first and the side of Doyle’s face exploded into blood. His shot went wild as he dropped to his knees, grabbing at his ear.
Setting her weapon on the pedestal, Ellis crossed the grounds to Doyle, who was mewling inarticulately. She leaned into his undamaged ear, enunciating her words carefully.
“That is for sleeping with my wife.” Doyle grabbed at Ellis, but she dodged his bloody hands. He choked out,
“Why this way?”
“Rather than branding myself a cuckold?” Ellis shook her head. “I love my wife, Doyle. Besides, I have a sense of honour.”