I Lost My Boss

A contemporary short story

This short story was the first one I’ve written in years. It was a prompt from The Lisbon Writing Group, when somebody mentioned they’d lost their boss. They meant their boss had moved to another office. But I liked the phrase and used it as a prompt for this story. This is the first time I’ve ever written anything in the first person and I rather enjoyed it. All my novels are written in the third person and for novels, reading and writing them, I prefer that. But for a short story first person works rather well.

I lost my boss
It wasn’t intentional. I stepped out of the office for a gossip with the girls downstairs and when I came back he was gone. That was a month ago.
I thought nothing of it at the time. When I got back to the office, his jacket was hanging over the back of his chair and his computer was on. He’d been looking at emails, as always. A half-drunk cup of coffee was sitting just a little too close to his workspace. Since he’d knocked over his mug splashing coffee all over the keyboard only a few days ago, I went over to move it to the end of the desk. The mug was still warm.
I assumed he’d gone to the loo, or to smoke a fag and went back to my desk.
There’s only the two of us in the office. We’re a small local outpost of a large multinational. I often used to joke that Head Office would never know if we didn’t come in to work.
My boss was the self-important type who was certain, down to the very bottom of his brown Oxfords, that the company needed him. They would fall apart if he wasn’t around. For this reason, he never took a sick day and only half his allocated annual leave.
I got distracted by the report I was writing, so didn’t notice till lunchtime that he’d not come back. It had been two hours. His trips to the loo could be fairly long, but not two hours.
So I texted him. A discrete ping came from his leather satchel, placed where it always was against the side of his chair. I didn’t dare dig around in the bag, so I decided to go for lunch. I was certain he’d be back when I returned.
He often ate at his desk. He was too important to be unavailable should Head Office phone. Even if he went out for lunch, he’d keep it short. In the seven years we worked together, I can’t recall him ever taking more than half an hour for lunch. I took my full hour.
When I got back to the office, he still wasn’t there. Usually I like it when I have the office to myself. I don’t feel like I am being continually observed and judged. According to my boss, my performance is just below satisfactory. Personally, I think he uses that as an excuse not to give me a pay rise.
This time I felt a bit lost. I swung my arms about, twirled on the spot and let out a sigh that puffed up my cheeks, what to do, what to do. Without really knowing why, I walked over to the open window and leaned out, checking the ground below.
We weren’t very high up, just on the fourth floor of an old factory building that had been converted into offices a decade or so ago. There was the usual car park full of grey, black and white cars. Nobody buys a colourful car anymore, I wonder why.
Aside from that was the threadbare strip of garden planted with a meagre collection of over-pruned shrubs and half-dead trees. I guess you can’t expect management to bother with proper gardeners on the money we pay for rent.
Thankfully, there wasn’t also a splattered body splayed out on the paving stones below either. My overactive imagination gave me a flash of what that could have looked like, protruding broken bones and rivulets of blood wending their way into the parched soil of the flowerbeds. I hastily pulled my head back inside, closed the window and made sure it was properly latched shut.
Maybe he had gone to the loo and something had happened, a heart attack or a stroke. Maybe he was slumped, pants around his ankles, in one of the stalls. Was that possible? Wouldn’t somebody have noticed already?
Best to check. I hurried to the gents, finding it difficult to breathe just imagining what I might find. Then I stopped, took a fortifying breath, and was about to push my way inside.
At the last second I turned my push into a knock and shouted, ‘Is there anyone there? Boss, can you hear me?’
I listened, counting to ten while waiting for a sound, a hint that it was safe to enter. Nothing. Now I had no choice, I’d come this far, I was going in.
The smell was disgusting. I don’t know why men think urinals are such a great idea, they always stink. Trying not to inhale, I walked briskly down the short corridor between the urinals and the stalls. Fortunately, most of them stood open. It was just the end one that was shut. I flicked it with my fingers. Already imagining a grey, lifeless face. The door creaked open.
Empty, thank God.
I hurried back to the office, hoping he’d be back, but by now, not expecting to see him. I was right, still no sign of him. So I went back to my desk and, keeping my eyes on the office door, willing him to come back, I phoned reception.
‘Hi Willy, it’s me from 406, have you seen the big man this morning?’
It was a long shot. Willy works for the building owners, he controls the arrival of visitors, takes in parcels and manages building maintenance, but he isn’t the most observant person in the world.
‘No, I haven’t,’ Willy said. ‘Not since he came in this morning.’
‘Are you sure? You didn’t see him step out around 10ish, maybe a bit later?’
‘Neither hide nor hair,’ Willy said.
That was pretty accurate, even if Willy didn’t know it yet.
‘Thanks,’ I muttered and hung up.
That was that. He didn’t show up that day or the next. By the third day, I poured out the undrunk coffee because it had started to grow a layer of mould on the milk that had separated and risen to the top.
I also wondered whether I should call the police. I decided his wife had probably already done that, although it was odd that she hadn’t called the office to find out if he was here.
Maybe she didn’t need to. Maybe he was at home. Maybe I should call his house and find out? The thing was, I didn’t want to.
He never spoke much about his personal life or ask me about mine. That was fine by me. I was glad that he wasn’t the overly sharing type because he might expect the same from me.
In the end, I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. I always did his emails for him, he wasn’t very technical. He came from an era where he’d had an administrator do things like type his letters for him. He was so useless at IT he’d always ask for my help whenever he had to do more than straight number entry into Excel. So, from the second day onwards I had an out of office message on his emails and I just responded to the important ones.
At the end of day three, I composed an email, pretending to be him, to Head Office, asking to take the rest of my annual leave. He still had three weeks owed him. I expected HQ to come back with a query, after all he’d never asked for more than two weeks all year. They okayed it within the hour. So much for being essential, I thought.
The next three weeks were bliss. I did what I wanted. I dressed casually, had long lunches with the girls downstairs and went home bang on 5pm.
Week four was trickier. At some point, somebody was going to want to see the boss. His holiday was supposed to be over, financial reports were due. To be fair, I’d done most of the work for them, and I was pretty certain I could send them into HQ with no questions being asked.
The thing that bothered me, really worked under my skin and made me feel uncomfortable, was his leather satchel. It sat there, resting against the chair leg, the flap open, some random papers and the paperback he’d been reading on his commute poking out the top. His phone had stopped its occasional ringing and pinging a week ago, presumably because the battery had gone dead.
It was eerie, accusatory. Every time I looked at it, I knew something was not right. But I’d been far too happy to have the place to myself to really think about it. Now it sat there like some sullen brown leather beast skulking in the recesses of my conscience.
So I called the police. It was one of the most embarrassing conversations of my life.
‘He’s been missing how long?’ The incredulous voice on the other end of the line had said.
They came and took away his satchel. It turned out he’d even left his wallet, and his wife hadn’t reported him missing because they’d separated. Three years ago. I can’t believe he never mentioned it.
The pair of cops who looked over the office and took away his things said they didn’t think we’d ever know what had happened to him. Some people, apparently, just vanish. No rhyme or reason they just disappear.
‘Probably depressed,’ the policewoman said vaguely as she went through the drawers of his desk.
I tried to think back, to guess at his state of mind. He’d either been depressed for the full seven years we’d worked together or he’d hidden it well, if he became depressed later, because his behaviour had never changed.
I wanted to feel sorry that I hadn’t noticed he was suffering, but I didn’t really, not deep down. That was kind of sad. Maybe that was why he’d vanished. He was so unimportant the only one to notice his loss was me.