A Nose For Numbers
idol season 11 | week 10 | 1300 wordsOpen Topic (Or in this case, the story I started for a previous topic and didn't want to let go of!)
He'd been at this job ten years now, and sometimes it seemed longer. This sure as hell wasn't his dream career—not even close. But at least it was a living:
Jimmy the Duck, Bookkeeper to the Mob.
The truth was, Jimmy had never wanted to be part of the Duck Mafia. He'd hoped to go legit when he finished his schooling, and he'd honestly thought it was possible. He had a nose for numbers, a real beak for business
. He should have been able to work anywhere.
But his father, his grandfather, and all his uncles had been made ducks
before him, and the pressure had been overwhelming. Jimmy had never really had a choice.
He'd actually enjoyed the work at the beginning. Pulling off Mafia-style accounting magic required both flare and expertise. Jimmy kept double sets of books, and applied inventive "business expense" write-offs. He used creative accounting to disguise protection-racket money as other income, and laundered the Mob's funds through an extensive chain of subsidiaries that included everything from Power Preen feather-wash franchises to web-wax salons.
But over time, Jimmy had grown tired of the whole thing. Tired of the sleaze and the warped code of ethics. Tired of the trashy females, with their wing extensions and those screeching voices that had all the charm of a stuck oven timer. Tired of his pencil-dick boss and all the other goons just like him, with their slicked-back head-feathers and their diamond-encrusted spats.
It all became very dull somehow, all of the lies and secrets and the endless pages of numbers that defined Jimmy's days. It was possible he was bored with accounting itself, of course, but he refused to even consider that. It was the job, Jimmy was sure of it.
It was enough to drive a duck to drink.
Jimmy had always been a drinker, and he'd had his share of lost weekends after too many rounds of fermented pond water or bulrush ale. But what he really liked were milkshakes, and stress always brought him back to his first love. After the disillusionment about his job really settled in, he became a bird of a different feather. Whether he was in a bar or his office or just wandering the streets, he usually sported a glazed-over expression and a straw stuffed into his beak. It earned him a new nickname, the Milkshake Duck
What a travesty. At least he wasn't a button duck, like his uncle Gianni. No one could respect a button duck with a name like that.
Jimmy wondered if maybe that wasn't part of his problem as well. Not that he wanted
to kill anyone, but there was no denying that his position in the Mob was unimpressive. Honestly, it was a lousy situation. He had most of the danger and none of the glory. Where was the prestige?
In the meantime, he avoided the wrath of Jake the Drake, and he ran the numbers, cooked the books, and tried to keep the numbers as uninteresting as possible where the I.R.S. was concerned. This was some job, all right, where you could find yourself feeling both nervous and bored at the same time.
Why hadn't he held out for the real thing, or even just dodged the bullet altogether by moving out West? Jimmy was kicking himself now.
He tried to talk to his Uncle, Manny the Mark, about it. "You know," Jimmy said, "I was thinking… Maybe this isn't the right fit for me, working for the Family. I'd like to try something new, like actuarial work or estate preparation."
"Hey," Uncle Manny said, "you don't leave this business, kid, you got that? Nobody gives a crap what you want. Grow that ulcer on your own damn time, capisce?"
"No buts! This is good, steady work, and it's kept you in crackers all these years. Don't bite the hand that feeds you."
"I was just—"
"And what's with all the junk food, already?" Manny asked. "You're puttin' on weight."
Jimmy had forgotten what a temper Uncle Manny had. He approached his cousin, Billy the Hook, instead.
"Are you nuts?
Not so loud!" Billy hissed. "You can't go around talkin' about stuff like that. That's how you wind up dead
Jimmy waddled around dejectedly until he came to the pond. He hopped in, paddling in slow circuits and thinking. Was it really so wrong to want to be more than the sum of his family's bad choices? What was he willing to give up to make it happen, and was there any hope of surviving if he did?
The whole thing made him feel sad and tired, and he badly wanted a chocolate milkshake to help ease the pain. Instead, he dozed on a rock in the middle of the water for awhile, surrounded by the sounds of flapping, quacking, and splashing.
The air eventually turned cold. Jimmy left the pond and headed home, stopping at Waddling Wallie's Snack Shack along the way. There, he decided to forgo the Friday Fried-Frog special in favor of the tantalizing Butter-Baked Finwich Supreme. The Finwich was heaven, pure culinary heaven, and Jimmy was floating on a cloud of its remembered deliciousness until he walked past the Tailfeathers Lounge and his craw froze up all over again.
The Lounge's windows blared its wares at him: Premium Plumage! Hens, Hens, Hens!
Tailfeathers was another of the Mob's moneymakers, a piece of despair trapped between a neon sign and a weed-infested parking lot.
Jimmy spread his wings over his eyes. I can't do this anymore!
A limo pulled up in front of the Lounge, and Jimmy braced himself. Emerald Eddie got out, flanked by Vito the Claw and Barbed-Wire Benny. Even in the fading light of the setting sun, Eddie's head gleamed the brilliant green so envied by all the other ducks.
"Jimmy," Eddie said. "Missed you around the back room this week."
"Oh?" Jimmy croaked out.
"Heard you was maybe getting cold feet about the business…"
"No sir," Jimmy said, "not me!"
"Glad to hear it." Eddie and his crew went inside the Lounge.
Jimmy stood there for a second, and then forced himself to move slowly and casually as he continued on his way home.
He yakked up the Finwich in an alley half a block later, knowing it would be his last.
After that, he gave in to speed. He trotted a few steps into the alley and took flight, arcing his way toward his apartment. Once there, he slipped in through the bedroom window, and started packing in the dark.
He tossed money, crackers, Worm-Slurm, and a tube of Feather-Preen in his satchel. Then he went out through the kitchen window and flew to his parent's house. He could say goodbye to his mother while his Pop was at the track, betting on the roach races.
"So, it's true," his mother said, when she saw the satchel. "Whatever—you were never cut out for this life anyway."
"I love you too, Ma," Jimmy said. "Tell Pop I'm sorry, and no disrespect intended."
"Yeah, yeah," she said. "Like anybody'll believe that…"
So Jimmy headed off, flying west-southwest and hoping for New Mexico or somewhere else quiet where a duck could disappear. He'd dye all his feathers black and run a cash register if he had to, see what the change of scene brought him.
Someday, if everything worked out and he found a nice hen to settle down with, he'd have to make up an explanation for the chicks.
Maybe he'd say he was some kind of mutant. Surely that was a thing among mallards.
And he was already used to living a life where he didn't quite fit in. At least this time, he hoped no one would want to kill him for it.
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