I first met Kevin in his office for an interview to be his secretary. He was an accountant and a mortgage broker, and I hoped my lack of experience wouldn’t show. I’d never been an actual secretary before. At the tender age of 19, my only experience was with data entry. I hoped it would be good enough.
Kevin greeted me warmly and led me to sit down across from his desk. He was a large man weighing about 300 pounds, and his face was red and sweaty just from the walk into his office. He asked me questions, and we talked for a while. He ended up hiring me on the spot. I had a good feeling about him. He seemed to be a genuine person.
He let me know he was taking on a partner named Mark, who would be in the office next to his. Mark didn’t have a secretary yet, so Kevin told me I’d be working for both of them. That sounded fine to me. Before Kevin, I worked in a glorified sweatshop where they made vertical blinds. The company was run by three brothers, each more awful than the next. It thrilled me to give them my two-weeks notice.
In the days before Mark moved in, things were relatively quiet. Kevin had me type up a few letters and run errands for him, but mostly he stayed in his office on the phone. He asked me to set up an account with Charles Chips to deliver once a week, something he said he always wished his boss would do when he was younger. He was so kind to me that bad memories of the three brothers faded quickly.
I knew Mark was trouble from the day he entered the office with his boxes of files. He was loud and rude, calling me his “girl” several times. He’d ask me to call his mother and tell her off and laughed at me when I refused. He seemed to have a circle of businessmen around him who were just as obnoxious as he was. I ignored their comments about how “sexy” I was and tried to focus on my work. It was hard to concentrate with Mark blasting old 50s music from his office and turning down the air to 60 degrees.
Kevin stayed out of the office more often once Mark showed up. Maybe he couldn’t stand to be around Mark either? I wasn’t sure why they were partners in the first place. Mark was so sketchy with the way he did business and treated people. The two seemed to be polar opposites with nothing in common. Still, I couldn’t exactly complain to Kevin about Mark, who was also technically my boss. I didn’t want to be labeled as a troublemaker.
As the secretary, I was in charge of all the mail that came in. That was how I noticed Mark stashing away the company’s credit card bill every month. He’d ask me for mail as soon as he arrived, and he always selected the bill from the others and put it in his pocket. It worried me that he was hiding it from Kevin, who was so busy every day he probably didn’t think about it. I could only imagine the damage Mark had done.
The next time the bill came, nobody was in the office but me. As soon as I noticed it, I quietly slipped it into my desk drawer. When Kevin got back to the office, I gave it to him with the rest of the day’s mail.
“Mark has been hiding this from you,” I told Kevin in a low voice. He nodded and took the bill into his office. Even though I took orders from both of them, Kevin had my loyalty. He was a good man, and I hated to see him railroaded.
A few hours later, Mark returned to the office. Kevin followed him to his desk and shut the door behind them. I heard yelling but couldn’t make out what either of them was saying. When they emerged, I looked down at my typewriter and acted like I was working on something really important. Mark didn’t say a word to me as he walked out the front door.
Kevin approached me next, leaning over my desk. “I just want you to know that Mark and I aren’t going to share an office anymore. I’m moving into a smaller one across town, and I’d like you to come with me.”
The new office was much smaller, just a tiny reception room and an office next to it, but Kevin seemed almost as happy as me to be there. The building we set up in overlooked the intercoastal waterway, and in my free moments I’d watch the boats go back and forth. Going to work was almost peaceful.
Kevin even let me work half days on Friday, again something he wished for himself when he was a young man in the business world. He took me out for a fancy lunch when I turned 20, and a year later he came to my first wedding. It was almost like having a second father looking out for me, and in return I worked as hard as I could to make his life easier.
After a while, I noticed Kevin was losing weight. His face slimmed down and his clothes were looser. He told me he’d been doing the Opti-Fast diet and was drinking shakes three times a day instead of eating. I was proud of him, but I worried losing weight so fast could be dangerous. He then admitted to having a special somebody in his life who motivated him to lose weight. I hoped she was treating him right. Kevin deserved a woman who was nice and sweet as he was.
He brought her by the office a few days later. Her name was Neela, and she was a petite Latin woman with stunning brown eyes and curly hair down to the small of her back. She was dressed to the nines in the middle of the day, and I felt embarrassed by the semi-casual outfit I wore. She smiled and shook my hand with her perfectly polished manicure and left me dazzled by her beauty. I didn’t think I’d ever seen a woman so gorgeous. Kevin stood next to her beaming with pride. I’d never seen him look so happy.
Kevin lost well over 100 pounds with Opti-Fast, and he began spending more time out of the office to be with Neela. I noticed him dressing better whenever I saw him and wondered if Neela took him shopping for a new slimmer wardrobe. Meanwhile, my duties decreased with Kevin gone so much. I spent most of my workday by myself reading or watching the boats, waiting for him to call with something he needed.
Strange people started showing up to our little office, older men who looked angry and a bit rough. They grunted and stormed out when I told them Kevin wasn’t there. I began to lock the front door when I was by myself, not knowing what other shady people would show up. It made me wonder if Kevin was doing business with people like Mark again, those who cheated and evaded and made questionable business decisions.
Kevin threw a huge party for Neela’s birthday that year and invited me. He spared no expense, renting out the dining hall in an exclusive hotel and feeding us a five-course meal. There were boxes of candy on the tables with the box itself made entirely of chocolate. There was champagne and caviar. Kevin was careful with every minor detail, wanting the party to be perfect for Neela. She seemed delighted and was the life of the party, hugging and dancing with everyone and smiling from ear to ear. It was the fanciest party I’d ever attended. On my way out, I caught sight of Kevin in the hotel lobby.
“Thank you for inviting me, Kevin,” I said to him. “This was really awesome.”
For a split second, Kevin looked like he was about to cry. He smiled weakly as he lowered his head, then quickly caught himself and gave me a fatherly hug. I didn’t understand what was bothering him. He seemed on top of the world with his amazing girlfriend and fancy parties and business going well, but he didn’t look happy at all.
About a month later, Kevin didn’t show up for work. I tried calling his cell phone, but it just rang and rang. After I got off work, I drove by his condo to find nobody there. I wondered if he got busy and forgot to call me. It seemed odd because he called me every single workday. I went to bed worried that night, hoping it was just a misunderstanding.
I arrived at work the next day and Kevin wasn’t there. Could he have been sick? I imagined different scenarios that might keep him from getting in touch with me, but none of them made sense.
Sometime that afternoon, a police officer knocked on the door I’d locked.
“Is this about Kevin?” I asked, praying it wasn’t.
The officer told me Kevin’s body was found in the trunk of his car, stripped down to his underwear and curled in a fetal position. Somebody shot him four times in the head and the stomach and then parked his car on a side street like it was nothing. I burst into tears, but the officer kept talking and didn’t stop to comfort me.
“It looks like a cocaine deal gone bad,” he said. “We arrested a suspect, but I wouldn’t expect much. The courts don’t want to hear about some drug dealer dying.”
My face felt red and hot with anger, but I said nothing. It had to be impossible that Kevin was involved with drugs. He was an accountant for God’s sake, not a pusher. I let the officer continue talking, but I decided not to believe a word he said. The whole thing was ridiculous.
After the police officer left, I spent a long time watching the boats from my window sailing along carefree as if nothing terrible had happened. It occurred to me that I’d have to look for another job with Kevin gone, but I reasoned it didn’t have to be today. I stayed in Kevin’s office until it got dark outside. Leaving my desk felt too real, like Kevin was actually dead and wasn’t coming back. I wasn’t yet ready to accept it.
I walked into Kevin’s office next door to mine and sat in his black leather chair for a while. Papers were all over his desk, deals he was making and people’s tax returns he was working on. Why couldn’t have that been enough for him? I didn’t understand a world where Kevin sold drugs. He was like a father to me and was a gentle man who would never hurt anybody. Nothing made sense anymore, and I felt lost and alone in my grief.
That night, Kevin’s adult daughter Lisa called me. It surprised me to hear from her. She hadn’t been around the office much during the years I worked for Kevin, and I assumed she had a turbulent relationship with her father. Now I could hear her crying over the phone.
Through Lisa, I pieced together the puzzle that was Kevin’s murder. The cops told her Kevin got involved with some bad guys and was in the midst of a $50,000 drug deal. When he showed up with the money, the bad guys shot him and took both the drugs and the money. They disposed of his body in the most humiliating way possible, tied up in his underwear in the trunk of a car they simply parked on the street.
“He was trying to impress Neela,” Lisa added. “He just couldn’t keep up with the life she was accustomed to living. She was all about the money. I tried to warn him, but he wouldn’t listen.”
There was no funeral or memorial service for Kevin, nobody to memorialize him and talk about what a good man he was. The circumstances of how he died didn’t matter to me at all. He would always be the Kevin I knew in my heart; the man who treated me like his own daughter and bought canisters of potato chips for the office and let me go home early on Fridays.
I wish he was as proud of himself as I was. He had no reason to be ashamed of the living he made or anything else. I wished he would have believed in himself. For a long time, I wished I would have known what he was doing so I could have talked sense into him. Maybe he was too smitten with Neela to listen, but at least I could have tried.
I’ve had several jobs since Kevin, but I’ve never forgotten him in all these years. It makes me sad that I can’t introduce him to my husband and children. I would have been proud for them to meet no matter what mistakes Kevin made. He wasn’t the person everyone made him out to be after his death, a filthy drug dealer whose life had no value. He gave me far more than I could have ever given him, and I’m glad to have the memories of his smile.