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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes story about a taxman

The Office Patsy   
Martin Green 

Everyone in our office was on edge waiting for the axe that we knew sooner or later was going to fall.  Still, it was traditional that we all go out to lunch on a birthday.   “Someone’s got to stay to cover the phones,” announced Tom Crusher, our assistant manager.   All eyes immediately turned to Henry Cooper.   
“I’ll do it,” said Henry.   “You guys go and have a good time.”

In the car with my buddy Jack Reynolds on the way to the restaurant, I said, “I feel a little guilty about leaving Henry behind again.”
“Why?” said Jack.  “Henry’s a born loser.  When they cut our budget, I’ll bet he’s the first to go.”
Our office was part of the agency that handled state income taxes.   We had a dozen  professional staff, called agents, and four clerks.  Henry was one of the agents.  I suppose every office had its patsy and Henry was ours.   He was a small man in his 30’s, with sparse brown hair and wide innocent eyes behind thick glasses.  He looked pretty much as you’d imagine someone who peered at tax figures all day long would look.   If there was any dirty work to be done, such as staying behind to watch the phones, Henry was always the one to do it.  He made the coffee, went out to get lunches and got the cases nobody else wanted to do.
At the party, conversation turned to Henry and Crusher echoed Jack’s statement that Henry wouldn’t be with us that much longer.   “I’ll miss old Henry,” said Crusher, who rode him unmercifully. He had Henry run errands for him almost every day, even to picking up his laundry and dry cleaning.   He also constantly kidded Henry about his “love life,” or lack of one.
“Have you seen the budget yet?” asked Jack.
“Not yet,” answered Crusher, “but we may soon have to start making our own coffee.”
Sure enough, two weeks later, the announcement came.   The agency director assembled everyone in the office and said that through cutting such things as supplies and travel, we’d avoided a major layoff.   But one agent had to go and, as we’d all expected, it was Henry.   “I’m sorry, Henry,” said the Director.   “These things happen.   We’ll give you a good reference, of course.”
 Later, on coffee break, Jack wondered aloud what would happen to Henry now.  “Maybe he can catch on with some other agency,” I said.
  “Not a chance,” said Crusher.  “Everyone’s being squeezed, just like us.   And I don’t see him going out and getting a job someplace else.  I remember when we hired him he’d been on the street for almost a year.  He was so grateful to get a job it was pathetic.”
“He does do some tax work on his own,” I said.
“Yeah, but that’s not going to pay the bills.  Henry’s in for a hard time.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ending up in some homeless shelter.  Hell, he’s a loser.”

I’d told Henry to keep in touch and when I hadn’t heard from him in a month or so I called him at home and then took him out to lunch.   Across the table, he looked small and forlorn.   As Crusher had predicted, he hadn’t been able to get another job.  He was doing some tax work but the season was almost over.    I picked up the check and again told him to keep in touch.   But when I called him after another month had gone by I got a message saying his phone had been disconnected.   I stopped by his apartment building and the manager told me Henry had left without leaving a forwarding address.   Eventually, I kind of forgot about him, although every now and then Crusher would make a joke about some homeless guy coming up to him in the street and his thinking it might be Henry.

But Henry hadn’t become homeless, as I would find out only it was almost two years later.   My wife Ellen and I had taken a short trip to Los Vegas.   We went to a lounge show, whose featured act was a flamboyant one-named singer, Roxanne, who belted out country songs with a relish.   She had red hair and a voluptuous body.   I gathered she was pretty well-known in country music circles, although maybe less for her singing than for her other assets..   After she finished, the lounge lights came on and a small man approached our table.   He wore a maroon jacket and velvet pants and had several gold chains around his neck as well as a gold earring.   But he was unmistakably Henry Cooper.
 I invited Henry to sit down and introduced him to Ellen.; I was on the point of asking what he was doing here when the singer; Roxanne, appeared and sat down next to him. “How was I, baby?” she asked him.
  “Great, as always,” he said, then he introduced Roxanne as his wife.
I must admit my jaw dropped.   The last time I’d seen Henry he’d been broke and unemployed and now he was married to this  red-headed bombshell.   Roxanne put her arm around Henry and said, “This here man saved my life.”
“He did?” I said.
“He surely did.   My taxes were in a mess, my agent was cheating me and I didn’t know what to do until I found Henry.”
“But how did you find him.”
“I went down to that State tax office and there he was.”
“It was that day everyone else went out to lunch for somebody’s birthday,” said Henry.
“That’s right,” said Roxanne.   “He was the only one there.   Of course, I didn’t know he’d saved my life then.   I left him all my papers and went on tour for a couple of months.   When I came back, Henry had everything figured out.   So I fired my cheating agent and hired him.   Then I figured I better not let him get away so I married him.”
The next night, our last in Las Vegas,  Henry and Roxanne took us out to dinner and we were treated royally.   I had a great time but I was looking forward to an even greater time when I got back to the office on Monday and told everyone about Henry the loser, especially my friend Jack and Tom Crusher.
© Martin Green  April 2005
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