The Gold Watch

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Ronald Patrick Murphy, Duke to his friends, stood alone in the living room of his small apartment, surveying the collection of cardboard boxes stacked against the wall. They didn’t seem like much when you considered that they represented just about all he owned after fifty-eight years. Running his hand across his grey haired crew cut, the still trim, former office manager wondered once more if he’d made a mistake in accepting the early retirement package his company had offered.

The situation had seemed clear enough at the time. The company was downsizing his department, and if he wanted to stay, it would’ve been at a greatly reduced salary. Additionally, there was no guarantee that if he stayed on a few more years, the package he got then would be anywhere near as generous.

In the background, the baseball game he’d lost interest in an hour before still droned on and the once frosted mug of beer sitting on the table next to his chair had long since grown warm. There was no escaping the fact that, after initially being excited about all the things he could now do with his free time, he was already becoming bored.

Come tomorrow, the movers would be here to transport the boxes, and whatever other worldly goods his ex-wife had failed to spirit away following their divorce three years before, to the small house down by Saint Petersburg that he had inherited from his Uncle Wallace. By the end of the week, Duke would be there as well, leaving his old life eight hundred miles behind him.

Thankfully, the bequest had come after the final divorce decree; otherwise, Caroline would’ve been entitled to half the house as well. Not wanting to sell the house, Duke had kept it as a vacation retreat. Not that he’d been there often enough in the last year to need much more than a change of clothing in the closet. The job always came first, which was one of, but hardly the only grievance Caroline had laid out in her divorce complaint.

Duke clearly recalled the day his twenty-six year marriage had finally fallen apart, when, over dinner, Caroline had simply stated she was leaving, or rather she wanted him to leave. The announcement coming with no more drama than if she’d asked him to pass the potatoes. While it had come as a surprise, he couldn’t honestly say it had been totally unexpected.

Their union had been in increasing decline for two years, dating back to the death of physical intimacy soon after Caroline’s forty-ninth birthday. A declaration, Duke remembered, that had come with similar abruptness. Like many couples, their frequency of sexual congress had slowed over the years, and its cessation could’ve been overcome – but not when any and all other semblance of a relationship followed. By the end, they’d become virtual strangers sharing a living space.

After Caroline had left, Duke became even more involved in his work, if such a thing was possible. In fact, some of the boxes awaiting the movers hadn’t even been unpacked since he’d moved into the apartment, but had simply been moved into the spare room and then forgotten. The house he had paid the mortgage on for twenty-five years had gone to Caroline.

Unpacked boxes were hardly the only thing Duke had proved oblivious to. As word of his new bachelorhood spread around the office, more then one female coworker expressed interest in knowing him better. Without fail, every overture went unacknowledged. Duke had long ago convinced himself that he was far too old to rejoin the dating scene and start over.

‘Well, I’d better get used to it,’ he told himself as he walked over to where he’d left the remote and used it to turn off the television. ‘As the old saying goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life.’

As he carried the now undrinkable beer out to the kitchen, where he poured it out into the sink and then rinsed out the mug, he couldn’t help but think how little comfort those words brought.

The unexpected chime of the doorbell abruptly interrupted his melancholy musings, replacing them with the thought of who that could be at this hour. Anyone he knew would undoubtedly be at work in the middle of the afternoon. Leaving the glass on the drying rack, he tightened his bathrobe around him and headed for the door. That he was still in his robe was yet another sign of his dissatisfaction; having been unable to fall asleep last night until long past midnight, he had consequently slept in until well past noon.


“My, we have really gotten into the swing of retirement life, haven’t we?” the young, dark haired Hispanic woman who had been at the door remarked when she saw how Duke was dressed.

Maria Gutierrez was twenty-seven years old and stood a half-foot shorter than Duke’s five foot ten. Olive skinned with jet black hair that reached just below her neckline, she had a slim framed build and small rounded breasts, perfectly proportioned orbs that filled out the sleeveless green dress she wore. Up until a week ago, Maria had been Duke’s administrative assistant.

Four years ago, when she had first walked into Onwin Duke’s office, the then fifty-four year old had mistakenly assumed the young woman was one of the high school interns the company usually hired for the summer. She had looked that young, and even today was still sometimes mistaken for a college student.

When told she had been hired to fill the recently vacated assistant’s position, Duke had wasted no time in calling Human Resources to voice his objections. He needed someone with a head on their shoulders, he’d said, not some airheaded millennial who felt society owed them a living. Much to his chagrin, HR informed him that the job was hers and he was just going to have to live with it.

‘We’ll see about that,’ had been Duke’s thought before he’d even hung up the phone.

He assigned her every crap job he could think of, allowing barely the time that a more experienced assistant would have needed to complete them. Then on top of that, he’d added personal errands and some of the thankless tasks usually reserved for interns.

Much to his surprise, Maria did not voice a single complaint, to him or to HR, but completed every assignment on time and in a manner that not even Duke could find fault with. Eventually, he began to give her real work, which she handled with equal success, forcing him to rethink his preconceptions about her generation, or at least about her. In time, they had even become friends, or as much friends as two people a generation apart could be.

“Very funny,” Duke said as Maria walked past him into the apartment. “I overslept this morning.”

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” Maria said as she saw the stacks of boxes, ignoring the fact that she knew he was moving.

Closing the door behind her, Duke wondered what she was doing here. Several possibilities presented themselves, only one or two of which he would consider good news. The cold expression on her face said she hadn’t stopped by to say a final goodbye.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, concern in his voice.

“Possibly,” she said as she dropped her bag on the coffee table and turned back to face him.

“What happened?” he asked, moving to within a few feet of her.

“Jim Walsh called me into his office this morning,” she began.

‘Oh my God, did that idiot fire her?’ Duke thought, recalling the number of people who’d been let go during the reorganization.

“He offered me your job,” Maria said matter of factly, “well, not exactly your job since I’d only have a third of the staff under me that you had – but it’s still office manager.”

“Maria, that’s great,” Duke said as a wave of relief washed over him.

“You think so?” she replied.

“You don’t?” he asked.

“All the way over here, I kept asking myself,” she answered, “when exactly did Duke lose his mind?”

“What does that mean?” Duke asked.

“You did recommend me for the job, didn’t you?” she replied. “Even though everyone expected it to go to Bob Johnson, someone who’s been there for nearly twenty years.”

“Yes, he has,” Duke agreed, “but he’s not what that department needs right now. It needs someone who can think outside the box and not constantly fall back on the way it used to be. In my mind that’s you, not Bob Johnson.”

Maria didn’t reply right away, taking a few moments to digest what he’d said.

“You really think I can do this?” she finally asked.

“Maria, as fond as I am of you, I’d never have recommended you for the job if I didn’t have absolute faith that you were the best person for the job,” Duke replied.

Another long moment passed until a small smile began to form at the corner of her mouth.

“You could’ve at least warned me,” Maria said, her tone now softening as she dropped onto the end of the couch. “At least then I wouldn’t have been so surprised by the offer.”

“I didn’t think that would be a good idea,” Duke said as he sat down beside her. “After all, I honestly didn’t know if they’d even pay any attention to my recommendation. And if they didn’t, well, even just knowing that you had been considered could’ve spoiled your relationship with Bob, if they followed conventional wisdom and went with him instead.”

Again, she considered what he’d said, and again realized that he was right. If she’d known she’d been considered and passed over, it could very well cause friction between her and Bob Johnson. Especially since there was no guarantee that he’d value her input the same way Duke had. She would’ve always been thinking, if only she was the one in charge.

“Well, it was a hell of a surprise,” she said. “I never imagined that I’d be offered office manager.”

“Oh come on,” Duke laughed, “you can’t tell me that you haven’t wanted my job almost from the day you first walked into my office.”

“You mean the day you tried to fire me before I could even find a desk,” Maria clarified with a grin.

“Yeah, that day,” he smiled as well.

“Well, maybe,” Maria replied. “But that was when I thought Onwin Giriş you were some outdated dinosaur stuck in the stone age, before I learned that old ideas weren’t always necessarily bad ones.”

“Just as I eventually learned that they weren’t always the only ones, or even the best,” Duke admitted.

“Dios mio, where do I begin?” Maria exclaimed as her mind finally shifted from concern to acceptance. “I have so many ideas.”

“And I’d love to hear them,” Duke said, a broad smile filling his face as he recognized the familiar pattern in his former assistant, “that is, if you want my opinion.”

“Of course I want your opinion,” Maria quickly replied. “I’d be a fool not to take advantage of it.”

“Fine, but do you mind if I grab a quick shower and get dressed first?” Duke asked.

Looking again at the well-worn robe that had seen better days, Maria agreed.

“Why don’t you order us some lunch while I clean up?” Duke suggested, knowing that Maria’s normal idea of breakfast was a granola bar washed down with a cup of coffee.

“Sounds like a plan,” Maria said, the idea reminding her that she’d even skipped that meager fare this morning. “How does Chinese sound to you?”

“That would be fine,” Duke said over his shoulder before disappearing into the bathroom. “Just order what you think I’d like.”

“Don’t I always,” she replied as she pulled her cell phone out of her bag.


For the next hour and a half, over Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, Chicken and Broccoli, Lo Mein, and a couple of beers, Maria and Duke, who had now changed into a pair of slacks and a t-shirt, bounced ideas back and forth, the latter offering suggestions, but making it clear that in the end it was her decisions that mattered. She shouldn’t ask herself what Duke would do, he said repeatedly, but rather what she thought was the best option.

“You know, I still can’t believe all this is happening,” Maria said, a lightness in her tone fueled by a now full stomach and the beers.

“Well, you’ll certainly believe it come Monday morning, when they announce it to the rest of the staff,” Duke said, not feeling too bad himself.

“How do you think they’re going to take it?” Maria asked.

“Most will accept it right off; they’ve seen the work you’ve done the last few years,” Duke said without hesitation. “The rest will fall in line once they remember that not everyone who left recently did so with a retirement package.”

That reminder caused a pause in the discussion. That some people had been laid off in the reorganization was a part of business, one neither of them had any control over.

“I’m really going to miss you, you know,” Maria said, changing the subject. “This last week I could’ve just imagined that you were on vacation, not that you took too many of those the last few years.”

“I’m always just a phone call away if you need advice,” Duke pointed out.

“I’m not just talking about the job, but that’s nice to know,” Maria replied.

“Change is inevitable,” Duke said, “and I’m going to miss you too.”

“I would hope so,” Maria laughed, “seeing as we’ve probably spent more time together than most married couples.”

“I guess that’s true,” Duke grinningly agreed, thinking that before the divorce, he certainly did spend more hours a day with Maria than with Caroline. “At least the staff thought you were nicer than my last assistant – prettier too.”

His last assistant had been sixty-three and weighed close to three hundred pounds. She certainly knew her way around the office, but scared the hell out of most of the staff.

“Not that you ever noticed,” Maria commented, but the remark seemed to go right over Duke’s head as he continued to focus on what other advice he might offer.

“What you should do,” Duke went on as he picked up the plates and started towards the kitchen to clean them off in the sink, “is consider the advantages of my not being there. I’m sure if you think about it you can find a few.”

“You mean, like not having to listen to your razor-like wit,” Maria said as, picking up the beer bottles, she also got up off the couch, “or lack thereof?” she added a breath later.

“Oh how cruel is the sting of an ungrateful child,” Duke called out, misquoting his long ago high school Shakespeare.

“You couldn’t be so lucky as have had me as a daughter,” Maria asked as she tossed the bottles into a recycling bin, “although that might’ve made some things a little weird.”

“What?” Duke asked as he looked back at her, not quite understanding what she meant.

“Never mind, it doesn’t matter,” Maria replied. With a shrug of his shoulders, Duke returned to the task at hand. In doing so, he missed the look on her face that said, it did matter.

Finishing the plates, Duke didn’t notice that Maria had uncharacteristically grown very quite, her mind racing as she thought about what had been, and what soon would be. About lost opportunities and regrets, and most importantly that while you can’t change Onwin Güncel Giriş the past, you could change today. Especially if there was no tomorrow.

“You know, there was one thing about being your work wife that I always hated,” Maria said, a mischievous grin on her face as she moved to just a few inches behind Duke.

“What was that?” Duke asked as, having finished rinsing off the dishes, he placed them in the drying rack.

“A work wife misses out on the best part of being a real one,” she said, whispering the words into his ear as she pressed her body against his.

Not having realized that she had moved so close, Duke was surprised by her proximity as he tried to turn around, then found it impossible not to do so without rubbing his chest against hers.

An invasion of her personal space that Maria not only didn’t seem to mind, but one she further encouraged as she threw her arms around his neck and pulled his face down towards hers.

“I know one good advantage of us not working together any more,” she said as she brought her mouth to his, “there’s no longer any reason why I can’t do this.”

The kiss she planted on his lips was definitely not the sort normally shared between coworkers, or even just good friends.


That the kiss, and the nature of it, came as a surprise to Duke was an understatement if there ever was one. Even at the office Christmas parties, when maneuvered under the mistletoe by playful coworkers, the kiss they’d shared had never been more than perfunctory. But now, even though his mind had gone momentarily blank, his body’s automatic responses hadn’t.

The press of her tongue deep into his mouth sent a warm flush throughout his body, even as his arms took on a life of their own, pulling her closer. He returned the kiss until his brain suddenly came back to life, the brief fire within abruptly dampened by a sense of wrongness.

“Maria, what are you doing?” he said as he broke the kiss and, releasing his grip around her, took a very large step back.

“If you have to ask, then I must be doing it wrong,” she replied in a whimsical tone.

“This is wrong,” Duke said.

“Wrong?” Maria said in a perturbed tone. “How exactly is this wrong?”

“Because…” Duke started to say, but then came up short as to an actual reason.

“Because you’re my boss, because you’re old enough to be my father, because you’re not interested in me that way,” she offered.

Duke didn’t reply, still a bit stunned by the unexpected turn of events.

“Well, first off,” Maria pointed out, answering her own interrogatives, “as you’ve pointed out, we no longer are boss and subordinate. Second, while you might well be my father’s age, you aren’t him, so what difference does that make?”

Duke couldn’t contest either point, but he did have a counterpoint.

“Maria, I’m flattered, I really am, but what would you want an old man like me for?” he said.

“Older, not old,” she said in response. “There is a big difference.”

It was a difference that Duke had a hard time understanding, causing him to misinterpret her actions and say the worst possible thing that he could have said.

“Maria, you don’t owe me this,” he said.

“I’m going to assume you really didn’t mean to say that,” Maria replied, that the suggestion had hurt evident in her tone. “Do you really think I would be doing this out of gratitude?”

“No, I don’t, I’m sorry I said that,” Duke replied, his apology sincere.

“Forget it,” Maria said, remembering why she had done what she did. “I already have.”

They stood there looking at each other for a long breath, then Maria went on.

“Even though I know you’ve been totally oblivious to it, the fact is that I’ve been attracted to you almost from the day we met,” she said. “Well, at least from the day I finally decided you weren’t the ignorant jerk I first thought you to be.”

Duke couldn’t help but smile at that.

“But I also knew that if I acted on it, it would be the worst thing I could do, at least career wise,” she continued. “It would eventually get out, it always does, and once people think you’re fucking the boss, well, it’s hard to be taken seriously after that. It’s bad enough that there are people in the department that think that anyway.”

Not that he’d ever shared them with Maria, but Duke had heard comments to that effect from a few of the more boneheaded men in the department. Rather than refer the problem to HR, he’d taken the less politically correct path of curbing the false rumors by pointing out to the offenders that they’d be less likely to repeat them with a few missing teeth. Seeing that Duke had boxed as a young man and still maintained an imposing physique, few wanted to test the possibility that he wasn’t serious.

“But now, none of that matters,” she continued. “In fact, the only thing that does is, how do you feel about me?”

She paused a long breath to let him think about that, then left no doubt as to what thoughts she’d entertained in the past.

“If you can honestly say that you’ve never imagined bending me over the desk and fucking my brains out,” she said, her words carrying the full force of the graphic image, “then tell me and we’ll just forget this conversation ever happened.”

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