I hate the life that’s led by mostly everyone. Full of worrying about beauty and labels. Status and ego. Their pursuit of money and ownership of other people. When you work in marketing like I do, sometimes you marvel at our ability to push a product that is nothing more than boiled shit. And I’m no exception. I’m as fake as they come.
It’s hard to break out of that cycle of being sleazy and knowing it. Everyone around you in the office is pushing. Encouraging. But is that really anything for a man to be proud of? Getting clients to part with their money when at the same time silently screaming for them to turn and run before they get duped? Yes, I’m that good; I can sell a man back his own asshole.
The reason I’ve been examining my shell of a life lately is due to a recent hire in our department, a man named Julian Marcus who would make an angel seem like a ball-scratching perv. He’s known for making clients feel like they need him more than he needs them. Damnedest thing, he makes the client chase him. He seems to be getting first bite at all the new accounts and this guy actually turns most of them down.
“I can’t in good conscience get behind this product,” I’ve overheard him say. “Momma didn’t raise no empty peddler.” I wanted to knock him out, that high-horse riding choir boy. But I loved him for it just the same. All the panties in our branch get soaked over the guys like us, not him. Still, for some reason I wanted what Julian had instead. Ever look closely at a man’s face when he’s sitting by the ocean? I noticed it with my Uncle Kevin one summer when we all went to Coronado Beach. Julian had that look on his face all the time, like he had nowhere to be and all the answers to the mysteries of our existence.
The new guy arrived early and was always the last to leave each day. Not me or any of my buddies. We were chomping to leave, packed up, and switched off by 4:30pm. We’d hit up a club or two and crawl home after that. Except one night, I didn’t drink so much and decided to stop in the office on my way home. Call me curious, I guess. Julian’s car was still in the parking lot. I just wanted to see what he could be working on for so many hours.
Most of the lights were off when I got inside. I saw Julian Marcus heading into the main boardroom with a gym bag he brought into the office every day. He didn’t notice me. I was about to call out to him and say hello but decided to wait and watch. He started unpacking his bag onto the center of the boardroom table: a huge black pillar candle, an antique-looking box, and a jar. The central heating system clicked on then and gave me a little cover to creep closer to him without being heard. Julian struck a match to light the candle then went to his knees. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but he was whispering something repetitively and rocking back and forth.
The ornate box started rattling and a hinged lid popped open. I gasped and saw Julian freeze and turn his head towards his right shoulder. I backed up and ducked into the nearest cubicle.
Julian’s whispering resumed after a few minutes and I couldn’t help myself, I had to stand back up and peek over the cubicle wall. I wanted to see what in hell this guy was up to. He reached into the box and pulled out something misshapen and held it above his head.
“I eat each night,” Julian said. “I eat each night. I have vowed to eat from what you offer each night.” He brought whatever it was to his mouth and took a loud crunching bite that he chewed and chewed.
After placing the object back into the box, Julian raised the jar over his head. In the dim light I could see it was partially full of red liquid.
“I drink each night,” he went on, reciting louder now. “I drink each night. I have vowed to drink you each night.” Julian took a swig from the jar (I don’t even want to say what I knew was in it) and twisted the lid back on. Then he dropped to the floor in uncontrolled convulsions. It was too much. So I ran to the parking lot and left for home.
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I considered calling someone. But what did I see, though? I couldn’t be sure. And even if something sinister needed to be addressed, I had no proof and picturing myself explaining it all to the higher-ups did not sit well.
Friday’s all-staff meeting was on my mind the whole next day. Every hour that passed, I grew more paranoid about going into that boardroom, and worse, facing Julian. I managed to get a seat furthest down the long table from him, thank God. I doodled and took unnecessary notes to keep my hands from shaking and my eyes down. My knees bounced.
I drink you each night.
I drink you each night.
I. Drink. You.
“I’ll drink you every night, Katowski.”
“W-what? What the hell did you say?” I said shrilly.
“I only suggested that we drink the Bedtime Tea from the new Milford account each night,” Julian said, staring at me, still with that gazing-at-the-sea expression on his face. I didn’t respond.
Why was he asking me? Me, of all the people in the room.
“Don’t you think that’s a good idea Katowski? Hmm?” Julian had to raise his voice to reach me across the expansive table. “To see if the product does as it claims?”
My eyes darted around the room. My breaths came quick and short. Everyone stared at me in silence.
“S-sure…uhm…yeah. We should d-drink it. Drink the tea. Not anything else.” There was a little tittering of laughter in the boardroom. Someone made a comment about what in hell my lunch must’ve been laced with.
Everyone got up to leave for the day. But not Julian. And I couldn’t move either. He looked at me, unwavering. Blinking slowly. Then he got up and floated towards me. As a reflex I rolled my chair backwards until it slammed against the wall, and I covered my face with my forearms. Julian grabbed me.
“What are you doing, Katowski? Here.” Julian shoved a box at me. I looked down and read the label: Dr. Milford Lee’s Red Bedtime Tea.
“Oh, yeah. Thanks.” I exhaled all my air.
“Don’t mention it.” Julian leaned towards me and his ever-peaceful look changed. His nostrils flared and his eyes became threatening. He whispered into my ear as a flame-like heat singed the side of my face, “Don’t. Mention. It.”