Outside The Walls

by: Dell R. Lipscomb

A stirring work of fiction that considers the human cost of corporate greed and misconduct…

“So this is where you have been spending your evenings.”    

Edmund stood with his arms folded, his baritone voice startling Corinne as she turned towards him.

“As well as a few mornings and afternoons,” she replied. “You followed me? I never saw your car in my rearview mirror.”

“A private investigator has been keeping tabs on you,” Edmund said with a stern expression on his face that held no trace of shame for having his wife shadowed.  

“So, you thought I was having an affair? Just as I’ve been saying, I needed fresh air and a change of scenery. If an affair were my objective, I assure you I would have come up with much better explanations for leaving the house.”    

Edmund didn’t fault himself for suspecting Corinne of extramarital activity. The best private fitness instructor in the area was keeping Corinne trim and healthy. It would be no surprise if she were to seek an alternative to her husband’s middle aged physique.

“Point taken. I trust you will be available tomorrow evening? Herman Tate is going to be at the club.”    

“Senator Tate has already done what his campaign contributors desired,” Corinne wearily stated. “He helped Congress block limiting environmental and financial regulations. He assisted with preserving tax breaks for people like us. No need to schmooze with him any longer I figure.”

Edmund briefly examined the surroundings. The park was near the outskirts of the downtown area. Maple trees and dogwoods sporting white and pink flowers dotted the landscape. A row of benches flanked both sides of a brick path that ran through the park’s center and up a slight incline before veering off left.

“You’d rather be here?”     

“Here or some other place outside the walls of the Harper Meadows Country Club.”

“Outside the walls of the club and our home, apparently.”

Corinne turned away from Edmund and directed her gaze towards a couple on a neighboring bench. The man and woman appeared to be in their early or mid thirties. The woman spoke in a soft tone as the man sat with his head down. He raised his head and looked off into the distance. He stared plaintively, looking as if he were watching his aspirations drift into the unreachable past. The woman positioned herself in front of him and cupped his face in her hands, long fingers gently cradling his cheeks.

“They come here fairly often,” Corinne stated. “She resembles Lori, don’t you think?”    

Edmund took a closer look at the slender woman. “She does. Hopefully she has better judgment than Lori.”

Corinne’s exasperated moan was the type Edmund heard whenever he denigrated their youngest child in Corinne’s presence. “Lori is content and doing well with her life.”   

Edmund snorted. “A life of wasting the opportunities we provided to her. Thankfully Bridget and Gregory are sensible.”

“Maybe Lori feels she should provide for herself.”

“I would not call what Lori is doing ‘providing for herself.’”

Corinne rolled her eyes and gave another one of her exasperated moans.

Edmund had little desire to continue this recurring debate. He wanted a few fingers of Cognac and a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s meeting with the shareholders. “Can I at least count on you to accompany me to the club tomorrow evening?”

“Sure. We can’t risk Senator Tate being lonely, can we?”

The shareholder’s meeting was an occasion for celebration. Edmund, the president of Tarkin Bank and Trust, knew it would be. The quarterly financial report was excellent, better than the previous quarter’s results by nearly twelve percent. Reducing salary and benefit expenses by way of “constructive discharge” — terminating employees for trumped-up reasons — worked as well as expected. Reducing customers’ credit lines was another effective strategy. Reducing credit lines of numerous customers so Tarkin could keep the money customers paid into the credit line instead of being able to make purchases was proving itself incredibly profitable, more profitable than he and the other executives expected when they initiated the policy. The shareholders were not let in completely on how profits were being maximized, exemplifying the saying about not showing a diner the unappetizing process of making sausage before they eat. Just give the shareholders the positive news, smile when they applaud, and savor the catered lunch along with thoughts of the four million dollar bonus that would be his reward. This day was a triumphant one full of applause, compliments, hand shaking, and backslapping.     

Corinne played the role of killjoy when Edmund came home that evening.     

“Lori e-mailed me today,” Corinne announced when she greeted Edmund in the mansion’s foyer.    

“Tooting her horn about her latest nonprofit endeavor, no doubt,” Edmund replied.    

“She genuinely believes in the work she does. It’s not some corporate public relations function.”

“Those functions generate publicity that’s good for business. Lori expends a lot of effort that’s reciprocated with little financial gain. It’s impractical.”      

“Then go to the club and shower love and praise on Herman Tate since you have none for your daughter.”

Edmund said nothing until after Corinne stormed out of the foyer. He followed and called to her as she ascended the stairs. “Let’s skip the club tonight,” Edmund said. “We’ll go wherever you want.”

The restaurant where Corinne wanted to go was called Mellow and Saucy, located downtown. It was a glorified hole-in-the-wall bistro as far as Edmund was concerned. Interior walls of exposed brick displayed classic movie posters and framed photos of aging or deceased recording artists. A blues-pop fusion band was performing on a stage not much larger than Edmund’s reserved parking space at work. “What inspired this choice?” Edmund inquired, feeling overdressed among the other, casually attired patrons.    

Corinne turned away from the five-person band. The lead vocalist, a lank young woman with a pixie hairstyle, swayed and weaved as she sang into a microphone. “A review in a local lifestyle magazine,” Corinne replied with a smile. “The reviewer gave this place four out of five stars.”     

“It’s the kind of place Lori would recommend.”    

Corinne’s smile vanished. “ She hasn’t been near this city in almost three years. This is a relatively new establishment.”    

Edmund didn’t reply; mentioning Lori was a mistake. He looked around and saw a reason to change the subject. “Not many people in this alleged four-star establishment.”    

“There aren’t many people downtown this evening. Did you hear about Francois’ Restaurant closing? No more of their delicious chicken cordon bleu.”

“Fear not, chicken cordon bleu is served elsewhere.”  

“Francois’ served the best I’ve had in this area.”

The waiter appeared and took their orders. The blackened fish entrée Edmund ordered turned out to be slightly better than he expected. When the check was presented the waiter asked how everything was. “Fine,” Edmund grunted as he flicked his credit card onto the table without looking directly at the waiter. After the card payment was approved, Edmund left a ten percent tip before he and Corinne departed. The downtown traffic was lighter than it usually was when they moved to the area nine years ago. GKE Enterprises and Roc Tech had facilities there at the time. Downsizing and outsourcing led to the closing of the facilities — appropriate moves that saved revenue, Edmund believed.     

“Let’s go to the park,” Corinne suggested as the car passed an empty building with a’ SPACE FOR LEASE’ sign in one of its large windows.

“We were there last evening.”      

“We didn’t properly enjoy it together.

Corinne had not been so adamant about them doing something together in quite some time. Edmund did not want to reciprocate with a refusal. “All right.”  

There were still a few remnants of light in the sky when Edmund and Corinne arrived at the park. Edmund was grateful for this; if it were late fall it would already be dark. The woman who resembled Lori was sitting with her hands buried in her face. Corinne stood still for a couple of moments, listening intently. “I think she’s crying,” Corinne whispered to Edmund.   

Edmund could also hear the woman’s muffled sobbing. “Evidently so.”

Corinne sat next to the woman and gently touched her shoulder. Edmund remained several paces away from the bench, wishing Corinne would not get involved in the affairs of strangers. He also did not want to be there when the sky fell completely dark. He stepped forward to bring an end to Corinne’s amateur therapy session.

“I found him this morning,” the woman said to Corinne, her voice hoarse from sobbing. “I shouldn’t have left him alone.

He’d been getting more and more depressed about losing his job.”

“I’ve seen him here with you from time to time,” Corinne said. “He was handsome.

“We were going to get married. Buy a house. Then Tarkin Bank and Trust fired him. The gave him a poor performance evaluation even though the department he supervised always got high ratings from upper management. He was with Tarkin for over twelve years and had nothing to show for it except a termination on his job history. He couldn’t find a decent-paying job afterwards, and then he gave up on looking for a house. Gave up on everything.” The woman buried her face in her hands again.     

The numbness that overcame Edmund went away when Corinne turned to him a few moments later. “It’s almost completely dark,” he said as he walked away, assuming — hoping — Corinne would follow. When he reached the car he stood with his fingers curled in the door handle, waiting to see if Corinne would be there anytime soon. He stood with his back turned to the scene he’d left behind, wondering how long he should wait before returning and insisting that Corinne come with him. The crunch of Corinne’s high heels on the parking lot gravel heralded her arrival.

“I recommended counseling,” Corinne said as she opened the passenger door and got into the car. “She said she would think about it.”     

Edmund took his place behind the steering wheel. “That should be the end of your involvement.”

Corinne said nothing.    

Edmund occasionally glanced at Corinne as he navigated the car out of the park. Corinne’s eyes didn’t meet his; her head was turned towards the passenger side window. At least she wasn’t looking backward. They were about a couple of miles from the park when Edmund came up with something to say to Corinne. “You would have been spared an unpleasant experience if we hadn’t gone to that park.”  

Corinne’s silence remained unbroken.

The car hit a pothole and Edmund winced. Many of the city streets hadn’t been repaired in years. “It’s early,” Edmund stated. “We can still go to the club. Maybe Gretchen Marlowe will be there. The two of you seem to get along well.”

Corinne’s response was a mild grunt.

Edmund took a right at the next light, then a left. They were more than walking distance from the park, and soon they would reach the place where Edmund desired to be.

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