From the Malafarina Files, ‘Inspector 17’ a short story by the master of horror Thomas M. Malafarina

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“He who steals a little steals with the same wish as he who steals much, but with less power.” –
Plato

“What goes around comes around, and karma kicks us all in the butt at the end of the day.” –
Angie Stone

Bob Jenkins drove up the hilly grade of Centre Street looking for a decent spot close to
McKinley’s Hardware Store. Bob was a man on a mission. After two trips around the block, he
noticed a car pulling from a parking space directly in front of the store and Bob managed to back
right in, much to the chagrin of the driver of the car behind him who was also looking for such a
choice spot.

“Mornin’ Charlie,” Bob Jenkins said as he walked through the front door of the store
hearing the all-too-familiar jingle of the welcome bell, which hung over the door.
“Bob,” Charlie returned, nodding in his direction. “What can I do you outta today?”
“Well,” Bob said with noticeable frustration. “I’m in a bit of a pickle. It’s that cordless
drill you sold me yesterday. It don’t work for squat and it even looks like it might be a bit
damaged.”

“Are you sure, Bob?” said Charlie. “That drill wasn’t no rebuilt; it was brand-new right
outta the box from the Wamaha Tool Company up in Franksville.”

“Maybe so,” Bob insisted. “But it don’t work worth a damn.”

“Did you charge it overnight?” Charlie asked. “Remember I told you it had to charge
overnight.”

“Of course, I did,” Bob said with a tinge of anger. Then he explained how he had charged
it overnight and the fully charged light was lit when he woke up this morning. However, what
Bob had neglected to tell Charlie was how he had put a drill bit into the chuck and then accidentally
dropped the drill. It fell straight down on his cement garage floor and, as luck would have it, the
thing hit right on the bit, driving the tool up into the chuck, obviously damaging something deep
inside. Bob knew it was his own fault, but he wasn’t going to miss a chance to dodge this bullet.
“Here, see for yourself,” Bob said. Charlie checked out the condition of the drill and if he
had suspected Bob might be lying about what happened, he didn’t bother to confront him about
it. Instead, wanting to keep a much-needed customer, Charlie apologized for the faulty product
and immediately gave Bob another new drill in exchange. He also swapped the battery so Bob
wouldn’t have to wait another 24 hours for the new one to recharge.

“I’m terribly sorry about this, Bob,” Charlie said. “I’m as frustrated about this as you are.
I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna complain to the Wamaha Tool Company as soon as
you leave. I believe I’ll send an email expressing my dissatisfaction.”

Bob hesitated for a minute, perhaps feeling guilty about deceiving the store owner,
perhaps not. But what was done was done and he felt pretty sure Charlie would get fully
refunded by the Wamaha Tool Company.

“Y… yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

Then Bob thought of something else. “Oh yeah. This might be helpful. I found this inside
the box.” He handed a small square white piece of paper with the message “Inspected by 17”
typed in bold letters.

As soon as Bob left the store, Charlie sat down at his computer and drafted a very nasty
email for the attention of his local sales representative from the Wamaha Tool Company. He
made a point of mentioning that the tool was supposed to have been properly inspected before
leaving the facility and he noted the tag from Inspector #17, which was inside the box.
When the salesman at Wamaha received the email, he too was quite unhappy. His
company had a reputation for impeccable quality but for some unknown reason a bad product
had ended up in the hands of a customer. This was simply unacceptable. He assured Charlie he
would take care of the situation and immediately issued McKinley Hardware a credit for the
damaged drill. He then decided to take it up with his supervisor, who then suggested he address
the problem with the manager of quality control since in his opinion they had to have been the
ones who dropped the ball.

Then the sales representative wrote his own nasty email to the head of quality control and
also attached a copy of the email from Charlie McKinley. When the head of QC saw the email,
he was fuming. He immediately fired off an email to the shop floor QC supervisor; a man named
George Lee and insisted that something be done about this problem. He noted the problem had
been caused by one of George’s employees, Inspector 17, whomever that might happen to be. He
indicated that George should consider firing the employee if possible. George assured him the
problem would be resolved immediately.

***

The clock on the shop wall read three-twenty-eight. Just two more minutes until the
workday was finally over. As his eyes moved from the clock to the large window of the office
overlooking the shop floor, Al Girard saw his boss George watching him anxiously. He was
always watching someone or something. And now Al noticed he happened to be the target of
George’s icy stare.

At one time George had been close friends with Al, his Inspector 17, but that was before
they had their falling out. For the past several months, George had been gathering paper against
Al; creating a file of as many infractions as he could find, until one day he would finally have
enough to fire him. His boss had just given him the last piece he needed to satisfy the labor
union’s requirements for dismissal. Earlier that day his boss had practically ordered him to fire
Al; what better time to drop such a bombshell than the very end of the day.

As Al stood at the time clock punching out for the day, he saw George calling him to his
office.

“What does this idiot want with me now?” he wondered as he walked over to George’s
office. He could instantly tell something was wrong. George was standing behind his desk
looking very serious as he indicated Al should close the door behind him. Despite his concern, or
perhaps because of it, Al said with a noticeable amount of frustration in his voice, “Yes George?
What’s so all-fired important that you had to call me over here on my own time after I punched
out for the day?”

George couldn’t help feeling a bit smug about Al’s surly attitude. The man obviously had
no idea he was about to lose his job. George had originally been prepared to ease into the
dismissal and try to keep things as civil as possible, but after Al’s response, he decided to simply
let him have it.

“Al. You’re fired,” he said curtly. “I want you to bring your toolbox over here for me to
inspect and then Sam from security will escort you out of the building.”

“W… wa… what?” Al said confused. Then he began to grow angry. “What the hell are
you talking about, George? You, you can’t just fire me like that. I want to see my union rep.”
George looked at him with confidence and said, “I’ve already spoken with your shop
steward as well as the union president. They’re backing me one hundred percent.”
“That doesn’t make any damn sense!” Al shouted. “You’ve no grounds to fire me,
George. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Actually, I do, Al,” George insisted. “Ever since that run-in we had a few months back
you’ve developed a very bad attitude and created a hostile work environment situation. I’ve been
keeping track of every insolent and insubordinate comment you’ve made since then. Every time
you deliberately disobeyed one of my orders. I’ve kept the union informed all along the way as
well. I’ve also documented every time you’ve screwed up lately, which even before today’s final
straw has been quite a bit.”

Al looked at him questioningly, wondering what he meant by final straw. “Final straw?
What are you talking about, George? What final straw?”

George showed Al the emails from the sales manager and the store owner as well as one
from his boss ordering him to take care of the problem. Suddenly Al began to lose all his bluster,
perhaps realizing for the first time that he truly was about to lose his job.
“B… but… but I’ve worked here for over twenty-five years. I’m almost sixty years old,
George. Where the hell am I going to find another job?” he asked, feeling somewhat weak and
supporting himself by leaning on George’s desk. “What, what am I supposed to do? Please,
George, you can’t let me go. I have a house, a wife, and a son in his third year of college. I can’t
tell them I’ve lost my job.”

George looked at Al with no sympathy. Now he was the one wearing the smug and
defiant look, saying, “Look, Al, I’ve no time for this. Just leave now, get your toolbox and wait
for Sam to arrive to escort you out.” George extended his hand out, palm up, finger-pointing at
the door.

Suddenly a fury arose up in Al, one he never would have thought possible. He reached
out and, grabbing George’s hand he pulled him forward. The boss’s overweight body fell across
the top of the desk. Al looked to his right and saw a trophy of some sort; something George must
have won for some ridiculous company promotion. It appeared to be a metal replica of a large
drill bit mounted to a circular base. Al grabbed the base and, without thinking, drove the tip of
the trophy drill down hard and right through the back of George’s neck. Blood gushed from the
wound, shooting through the spiral flutes of the drill bit. George cried out momentarily then his
body twitched once, then twice before it went still, and the spurting shower of blood became a
trickle of pooling gore which was slowly absorbed by the green felt desk blotter.

Realizing with horror what he had done, Al turned and ran from the office, slamming the
door behind him, blood dripping from his right hand. He raced out to the parking lot when he got
into his bright red sedan and sped away from the terrible scene. He drove like a maniac down the
highway, thinking at first of nothing but getting as far away from the Wamaha Tool Company as
quickly as possible.

As he got further from the factory, he slowed down slightly, not wanting to attract the
attention of local police who might already have been called if anyone happened to find
George’s body. He had to come up with some plan to escape but had no idea what he should do.

He found himself going over everything George had told him and showed him. He recalled the
series of emails starting with some storeowner named McKinley whose customer Bob somebody
had returned a drill that Al had apparently let slip through his quality check.

This infuriated Al even more because he was always very conscientious and careful about
his job responsibilities and had been proud of his work for many years. He was certain there was
no way he would have let a damaged unit leave the factory. He suddenly broke down in tears,
crying and screaming hysterically at how unfair everything, which had just happened to him had
been; how unfair life was. He began slamming his left fist against the steering wheel then both,
never noticing that his car was crossing the double-yellow line in the middle of the road.

***

Bob Jenkins drives home from the grocery store after picking up a few items for his wife
for dinner. He was feeling pretty good about himself and how his luck had been. He had
managed to cover up his mistake and the careless handling of his new drill by blaming the entire
thing on some unknown Inspector 17 and was even given a brand-new drill at no cost to himself.
He was just thinking how good life was when he saw the bright red sedan swerving over onto his
side of the road. Bob understood he was a dead man a millisecond before the two cars collided
head-on and burst into flames.

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