On my first day back to the office, I tried to play it cool. I didn’t get in Mandy’s face, even though I wanted to more than anything. To my surprise, he acted civil toward Cory. I found myself wondering if, now that Cory had been completely humiliated, he would no longer be the target of Mandy’s harassment. Much to my dismay, I was right. It didn’t take long for Mandy’s new target to be flushed out.
It started quietly enough. First, Sherry’s pictures in her cubicle went missing. Then, the taunts began. Mandy mocked her clothes, shoes, makeup, and hair. By lunchtime, Sherry was a ball of fury but there was little she could do. Her attempts to stand up to the oppression were turned against her. Every word was twisted and used to make her out to be a bigot. At the end of the day, we clocked out and Sherry practically ran to Cory’s car. She’d held it in all day but her anger had reached a boiling point. Trying to put her anguish into words made bitter tears of frustration spill down Sherry’s cheeks. Cory had no words to ease her suffering. I wished I could tell her that I was going to make Mandy suffer for making her cry but I couldn’t risk telling them my plans. Cory and Sherry could never be implicated in my schemes.
Because Cory and Sherry had to be shielded, it meant separating myself from them. Since Grandma left me everything that meant I also inherited her car. As much as I hated to do it; I started driving myself to work. I actually manipulated the conversation to make Cory think it was his idea. After planting the idea that Sherry’s attacks stemmed from her ties with Cory, it didn’t take long for my surrogate siblings to recommend spending less time together at work. Moments later, they insisted that I needed to drive myself to work. I confess; that was part of my plan. I needed to familiarize myself with Mandy’s schedule and I couldn’t do that with Cory and Sherry in tow.
The very next day, I drove myself to work. I missed the cheerful banter between Cory, Sherry and I during the ride but I knew it would be worth it. If anything, it fueled my hatred for Mandy, making me that much more committed to my plan. I made mental notes of Mandy’s cohorts at work and paid close attention to even the tiniest details of his day. For example, I learned that he arrived at the office anywhere between thirty and forty- minutes before work. We were only permitted to clock in five minutes early but, everyday like clockwork, Mandy arrived no later than 7:55 AM and we started at 8:30AM
What really surprised me was that Mandy did not arrive at work in drag. “Darren” would stroll in wearing jeans or jogging pants, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap then make the transformation into Mandy in the men’s room. Likewise, every evening after everyone clocked out and management was gone; he would wash off the makeup, strip away the pantyhose, dresses and heels then put his street clothes back on. Not even the hair was his. Underneath his poufy, carrot-curled wig, Darren wore his ginger hair short and tousled.
I was baffled by the Darren/Mandy transformation each morning but even more surprising was what happened after he left work. I suspected that he lived with his parents and, perhaps, he had to hide his true identity. I almost felt sorry for him until I realized that he lived alone.
Mandy’s home was in a tiny duplex on the outside of a lonely, long- forgotten development. Many of the homes on his street were empty with foreclosure signs staked in the scraggly lawns. The few neighbors I observed were senior-citizens that went to bed before 8PM. Mandy’s place was a once-white, dingy stucco building with faded green shutters. His décor was a strange hodgepodge of second-hand furniture and those self-assembled pieces sold at big box retailers. It lacked the flair that I expected from someone with his orientation and, truth be told, he was a bit of a slob. Clothing and empty take-out containers littered the floor and countertops.
He went home every night, flopped on his threadbare sofa and watched television until it was time for bed. The only time he moved was to answer the door for delivery or to use the bathroom. His routine, or lack thereof, meant it would be easy to put my plan into effect. I was both anxious and relieved that I could move forward with my revenge.
Resolved that I would soon put an end to the cruelty and malice of Darren/Mandy, I decided to remove my self-imposed quarantine and I sat with my friends at lunch. Cory was nervous that I had joined them and quietly tried to discourage me. Sherry appeared to be in her own world, her eyes were red and watery and she looked pale. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me she’d found her cat, Jinx, dead. She said it look like the poor kitty had been attacked by another animal, his stomach had been torn open and his guts were hanging out.
I don’t know why but my thoughts drifted to Mandy; it seemed like the kind of cruel thing he would do. I had granted myself a desperately-needed night off from following my least favorite thug the night before so; it was possible. I immediately tried to dismiss the thought. He had proved to be lazy and cat-murder seemed like too much work. Still, the thought wouldn’t subside; it kept gnawing at my insides like a giant rat.
Just as we were leaving the break room, Mandy said something that made my skin crawl. “Sherry, I see you’re experimenting with a new look…sort of a Night of the Living Dead meets nerds-are-us. Keep trying, Princess, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I grabbed her arm and pulled her from the room. There was no way I was going to let Mandy have the satisfaction of seeing Sherry cry. Cory and I walked her to her cubicle and there, scattered across her desk, were all the pictures of Jinx; only someone had drawn slash marks across his belly in red marker. It wasn’t hard to piece together that Mandy had murdered Sherry’s cat. That was the last straw! I decided set my plan into motion on Friday, after work.