Call It My Signature Kill by Kristina Ten

When did I start leaving “Best,” off my emails?

Best, Greg. All the best, Greg. Thanks and best, Greg.

It wasn’t always a lie, though by the end I couldn’t type the word without the tips of my fingers starting to burn. Imagine wishing Jay MacArthur in global sales the best and actually meaning it. Or Johanna Wrigley with her long list of demands, every one of them tagged, impossibly, priority number one. Or Brian Warner from HR, who once told me to my face that I might improve my rapport with the team by including more friendly exclamation points in my emails.

How we say something is as important as what we say.

All my best to you and yours! Greg.

Hard to imagine, but it’s true: when I started at the firm, I harbored no ill feelings toward any of them. I was there to do the work and collect the checks, and I wasn’t closed off to the idea of making a friend or two, having drinks at our local, watching the game back at mine.

But then you get to know someone. And it’s Jay with the Bluetooth headset always in one ear, taking loud calls in the shared bathroom, closing the deal in the stall next to mine while I debate whether to relieve myself or hold it in, whether I want whoever’s on the other end of the line to hear or not. Not in the best interest of the firm, sure, but could that foul sound be my weapon in finally bringing Jay MacArthur down a peg?

I chicken out, of course. Sit and wait, tense from the waist down. Wonder if he sleeps with the headset in. Wonder if he wears it with his wife.

So what came first: realizing I didn’t wish good things for these people or realizing that it was working—the wishing, I mean? Now, I’m not ordinarily one for delusions of grandeur. But you can’t argue with the facts. I joined the firm, I sent the emails—best this, best that—and by all accounts, they all seemed to be doing really, really well.

Don’t get me wrong. When we met, they were doing all right. Brian Warner with his shiny new son and homemade baby food. Once he accidentally packed a jar of it into his own lunch and when he pulled it out in the break room, everyone laughed and awwed like, new dad, endearingly frazzled, and makes his own baby food, too. Goes the extra mile. Sweet potatoes and wet banana mashed lovingly by hand.

Like I said, doing all right. But then I join up, fire off a few bests in his direction, and Brian gets a promotion and starts rolling an Alfa Romeo into the company parking lot.

And get this—get this!—Johanna signs a publishing deal for a goddamn memoir. I watch her empty three packets of instant oatmeal into a bowl every morning and stare at the microwave as the seconds count down. What could possibly have happened in her life that’s worth paying to read about? I wonder if her manuscript editor, like her colleague, will suggest more exclamation points.

Don’t believe me yet? How about this: IT guy, Alan something, nice enough actually. Haven’t exchanged more than a few quick words since he got me set up on my first day. We get into a long email thread about a glitching office printer and hours later I find out he’s put in his two weeks’ notice. Why? Huge inheritance. From? A dead great-aunt he didn’t even know.

Best, Greg. Very best, Greg. Really, why don’t you just win the lottery already? Greg.

So here’s what I did: I stopped. Call it a test, to confirm or deny my suspicions. Call me a man of inquiry. It’s not a crime. Show me a single piece of documentation inside or outside the firm that requires me to sign off with “Best.” You can’t. It doesn’t exist.

Hi Johanna,

Please find attached the files you requested.

Greg

Greg. Greg. Greg, Greg, Greg! And just like that, the spells I had unknowingly cast over the employees of Centurion International began to wear off.

And it was satisfying. It was what I wanted. More than that, it was what they deserved.

Suddenly, Johanna starts talking less and less about her writing deadlines—of which everyone has been so supportive, by the way: “Two hundred pages by Monday? Well, you’ve simply got to cut out early! The firm will understand.”—and come to find out the publisher dropped her.

One day, I pull into work and see Jay’s truck parked in the spot furthest from the building doors. That ridiculous oversize luxury pickup, invariably gleaming, no matter the weather, as if under hot, bright studio lights. As I drive by, I see he’s shirtless and shaving, the driver-side mirror flipped down, his heavy chest pushed up against the steering wheel.

Me, I’m not heartless. I was just about to feel sorry for the guy when I saw the Bluetooth headset already lodged in his ear.

Yes, satisfying seeing them get put in their place. At first. But the mind is amazing in its ability to recover from minor setbacks, and sure enough, everyone was back to their regularly scheduled programming within the week.

Then there’s this new hire, Paul Pritzker. “Call me PP,” he says and makes no indication of joking, displays not a molecule of self-consciousness. And the worst part is: people do it! Out loud, in person, straight faced, on the phone. When a difficult client shows up on the roster, they say with confidence, “Don’t worry. PP’s the lead on that one. He’s got it under control.”

But I consider myself a measured man. Level headed, not prone to overreaction. Hey, let him be called what he wants, right? Who’s it hurting? It wasn’t until this PP sat on the corner of my desk—sat, his full body weight, on the corner of my desk—to carry on a bit of mid-afternoon small talk with Rachel, who sits at the desk next to mine, that I made the decision. Straw, meet camel’s back.

So what goes in my emails now? Not “Best,” and not nothing, either. That wide white nothing after the body of the email and before my name, Greg? Well, you know what they say: empty spaces yearn to be filled.

What we say is as important as how we say it.

Use your words.

Granted, I have to be smart about it. I can’t be so obvious. It takes a certain finesse, an understanding of human psychology, multiple meanings: something our friend Paul Pritzker clearly doesn’t have.

Let them think you’re wishing them luck:

Break a leg,

Greg

Or celebrating their successes:

You’re on fire,

Greg

Or hoping they enjoy that conference in Vegas you never get to go to, no matter how long you’ve been with Centurion or how many times you apply for a spot:

Have a hell of a time,

Greg

Yeah, a real hell of a time. Let them think what they want.

Then watch them pack up for the day, every employee, no matter who they are, grabbing the same assortment of objects: two things they’re addicted to (smokes, phone) and two things they think they’ll need later (keys, wallet).

Watch them pull out of the parking lot.

And watch it come true.

 

Kristina Ten is a Russian-American writer of short fiction and poetry, and a 2019 graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in LightspeedBlack StaticAE Science Fiction, and elsewhere. Find her at kristinaten.com and on Twitter as @kristina_ten.

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