By Charbel Adam
With a last name like Woodcock, I got more than my fair share of teasing throughout my childhood and teen years. The day I turned eighteen, I escaped my father’s sleeper hold and went down to the city hall to remove the last four letters of my last name. But the girl at the counter refused to perform the circumcision. She loved my name and pleaded with me to keep it. I agreed and in return I got sex for the first time in my life.
Things got even better after that. In university, I was the big man on campus. Girls loved me and guys wanted to hang out with me. The name Woodcock just seemed to inspire happiness. It was a great name to shout out at a party. It was a great name to use at the beginning of a story. Any student walking the halls of my school was sure to hear Woodcock echoed throughout the corridors.
When I entered the workforce, my name meant money. I got a job in real estate and when my boss needed something, the first name that popped into his head was Woodcock. Realtors hung out around the water cooler and talked about the house that Woodcock just sold. Every new girl they hired to answer phones was waking up the next morning with Woodcock. At the end of the year, the name at the top of the sales board was Woodcock.
My name was on billboards all over town. When people wanted to buy or sell a house, they called Woodcock. It was Woodcock with a high five at the bar or Woodcock with a wink and a smile at the grocery store. Soon it would be Woodcock for mayor.
Then one day, the boss hired a new guy to boost sales because the rest of the staff was selling squat. He brought him in during a Monday morning pep meeting and changed my life with a few words.
“I want you all to meet Ironcock.”
All eyes were on me and all lips quivered, suppressing smiles and holding back laughter. I was expected to react because they all knew that the introduction of this man was an affront to my existence. I said nothing, waiting to be let in on the joke but two weeks and one sale later I realized that Ironcock was here to stay.
Soon after that, it was Ironcock on the tip of the boss’s tongue. The name pricked my ears every time I walked by the water cooler where realtors regaled each other with tales of his latest sale. I’d try to chat up the new girl at the front desk, but all she wanted to talk about was Ironcock. Ironcock was beginning to be a pain in my ass.
Weeks went by like that as Ironcock thrust me further into the background. I sat in my office waiting for my phone to ring. I called up a client who told me to check in with him in a few months and see if he was ready to put his Victorian duplex on the market. Ironcock had already sold it. It was a corner lot, too.
I told the new girl I was going out to meet a new client. She had her hands busy with Ironcock and ignored me. It didn’t matter. I was lying.
The snickers and chides followed me out into the streets and beyond, towards the farthest corners of town. Those that had once praised me now mocked me. Ironcock reigned supreme. Why settle for wood when you could have iron? He was better simply because
I drove through town without any direction in mind. I couldn’t remember that last time I received a commission cheque. I was living off of what I had in the bank but between the mortgage on my lakeside condo and the lease on my beamer, that wasn’t going to last long. I had to think of something fast.
Was it really over? Were my years of success and happiness merely a result of a name?
I had the top down on my beamer and looked up at the overcast sky in search of a silver lining. I felt my chest tighten and I couldn’t breathe. I slammed on the brakes and got off the road as horns blared by me. It wasn’t a heart attack. It wasn’t the sudden realization that I was nothing but a name and with that gone, I was nothing. It was the billboards. Where Woodcock had once stood tall and erect, Ironcock stood taller and broader. They towered over me, lining the horizon in every direction. This town wasn’t big enough for the two of us. Ironcock had to disappear.
I drove back to the office with a goal in mind. I’ve never spoken to Ironcock before. The first thing I had to do was study my enemy. If I could find out what made him tick, I could make him stop ticking.
His office was empty. The new girl thought I was a client when I asked her if she knew where Ironcock was. She thought it was hilarious when I told her I worked in the office two feet behind her and walked by her desk three times a day. She told me that he just left with the boss. They were off to Vegas for the weekend. I used to be the guy the boss took to Vegas.
It was over. I lost my place at the boss’s side. I lost my place in the world. He was going to have the whole weekend to butter up the boss. By the time they got back, Ironcock would be so far up the boss’s ass that there’d be no prying him loose. His fate, and in turn mine, was sealed.
There was still some hope. After a pity nap in my office, I lifted my head up from my desk to find that the lights were out and everyone had gone. I noticed the door to Ironcock’s office was slightly ajar. He forgot to lock up.
The boss built Ironcock a new office out of a smaller conference room we rarely used. It was huge. I was awestruck by the bold letters of his name emblazoned on a gleaming metal plaque on his door. I entered and an aura of success filled my senses and evoked my envy. I felt my shoe sink into the deep fibers of his plush carpet. The thick smell of new leather furniture hung in the air and the scent of cologne that seemed to be reserved for the nostrils of the elite almost made me feel like I was stealing by inhaling it. His large wooden desk was so broad and shiny that it gleamed with only the faint light that shined between the closed slats of the blinds.
Degrees and awards bordered in gold filled his walls. I sat behind his desk sinking into his soft leather chair that immediately conformed to my body. There was a picture on his desk of him and the boss standing next to each other in fisherman garb hoisting up their large catches. The boss never took me fishing.
After rummaging through all of his desk drawers and cabinets, I found nothing I could use to bring Ironcock down. I sat back staring hopelessly at the wall and then something caught my attention. Ironcock and I attended the same university. We had the same major and graduated in the same year.
I knew everybody in that school. If there had been an Ironcock, I of all people would have remembered. I thought long and hard going through every face in my head. Ironcock wasn’t the best-looking guy. He was rather plain, with a few distinguishing characteristics. One being that his light-blue eyes was a drastic contrast from his jet-black hair. I remembered a guy like that, kind of a loner. He was in a few of my study groups. I couldn’t remember his name, but it sure as hell wasn’t Ironcock. Ironcock was a fraud.
The following Monday morning the boss summoned me into his office before I had a chance to knock on his door. There could be only one reason why he wanted to see me. I hadn’t sold a house in maybe two months and Ironcock had the whole weekend to convince him to get rid of the dead weight. I had to beat him to the punch. Hopefully the truth about Ironcock would make him second-guess his new protégé.
He rushed me into his office and shut the door behind me. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair was a mess. His couch looked like he slept here last night. He was already into the booze.
“Woodcock,” he said putting his arm around me. “I’ve made a huge mistake. I should have taken you to Vegas instead of the new guy.”
“That’s alright, boss,” I said breathing easier. I knew things could only get better from here. “No hard feelings.”
“You’re too good Woodcock,” he said leading me to the couch. We sat down and I watched as he finished what was in his glass. “The man is scum. I should have taken you instead like I always do.”
“I was kind of hurt, boss. We’ll just have to have twice as much fun next time.”
He poured himself another glass from the bottle on the table without offering me anything. “He just doesn’t get it, Woodcock.” He downed the glass and slammed it on the table. “It’s perfectly normal for a guy to get away, have a little fun and unwind.”
“What happens in Vegas,” I added. I’ve witnessed many of my boss’s indiscretions. He’s a married man, but he works hard and takes care of his family. He deserved a little fun and it wasn’t my business to judge him. I guess Ironcock was a little more self-righteous than I was.
“He’s threatened to tell my wife, Woodcock.” The boss rocked himself back and forth while clutching his knees. “I could lose everything.”
“Is there anything I could do to help?“
“Yes,” he said grabbing my arms. “I need you to kill him.”
I leaned back, horrified. “You’re kidding right?” I tried to squirm out of his grip. His eyes and hands had a hold on me that said he was serious.
“He wants a million dollars to keep his mouth shut and I’d give it to him if I could trust him. You kill him and I’ll give you twice that. Hell, I’ll give you anything you want.”
“I’ll do it,” I said. I surprised both of us. But I knew all along, back when Ironcock first walked into my life, it would come down to this. “All I want is for things to go back to the way they were.”
He let go of me and composed himself.
“And I want his office,” I added.
“Alright then,” he said calmly. He stood up and paced around his office while revealing his plan. “I’ve booked you and Ironcock a private ferry to the island. A widow is putting her mansion on the market and wants to discuss it with my two best men over dinner. You make sure he has a few drinks. On the way back, somewhere between the quay and that island, you push him overboard.”
I met Ironcock on the ferry. He was already seated below deck when I boarded. I said hello and we shared a few words of small talk before I went back up by myself. I decided that if he followed me I would throw him overboard ahead of schedule, but he stayed down below. The boss and I covered the scenario of Ironcock staying down below. Ironcock loved an evening cigar and I had one to lure him out, if I needed, to on the way back.
We met the old widow and she took us on a long tour of the mansion starting with the grounds. Only I took notes. At dinner, she couldn’t get over the absurdity of our last names and begged us to confess that it was a farce for her amusement.
“Just a coincidence,” Ironcock said. “We get teased about it every day.”
I gave him a look of contempt. He was oblivious to what hid behind my eyes. I knew he was a liar, a fraud and a dead man. The last thought stirred up a little nausea but I fought it down. I thought of having my life back and all the good things that came with it. I knew so much more than he did and I reveled in the power of that knowledge while pouring him another glass of wine.
Dinner ended and later that night I found myself alone on the deck of the ferry staring across a black abyss to the approaching city lights. I patted the cigar in my breast pocket. It was time to kill the thing that almost killed me. I was about to descend below deck when I saw Ironcock already on deck at the other side of the ferry. I quietly walked up behind him. Not only was he at the railing but he had climbed onto it. The son of a bitch was going to jump. All I had to do was nothing.
I watched as he solemnly bent his head forward, contemplating his final resting place. He turned his head, maybe to say goodbye to the cruel world. There wasn’t enough time for me move. He saw me and I quickly approached ready to give him a shove.
“Don’t stop me,” he said turning completely around.
“I won’t,” I said coming closer.
“You remember me, don’t you?” He dropped back down to the deck and smiled.
“You’re a fraud.”
“I guess I am. But were you going to push me over a name?”
“It’s my name,” I stated proudly. “And it’s my life.”
“Easy come, easy go,” he said laughing at me. “It’s the perfect crime. Your motive is so absurd they never would suspect you.”
“The boss begged me to kill you,” I said bluntly. “It’s also his life I’m here to protect.”
“He begged you to kill me,” he mouthed the words almost inaudibly and fell back against the railing.
“I know you threatened to tell his wife he was screwing other women if he didn’t give you a million dollars.”
“Other women,” he repeated in disgust. “I’m the other woman.”
He told me that back in university he had a love affair with the boss. The boss would have given up everything for him, but he was too young and scared to handle his passion so he ran away. It was a decision he regretted for years and finally came back a few months ago to make things right. He rented a motel room contemplating a way to get back into the boss’s life. One night while working up the nerve to ambush him at a bar, he caught one of our commercials in which the boss brags about the mighty Woodcock’s ability to sell a house. He remembered how ridiculous I looked hiding behind my name and riding it to success. That’s when he got the idea to ride an even better name back into the boss’s life. He showed up for an interview and the boss welcomed him back with open arms.
“Things were perfect,” he continued. “After Vegas, I told him that I was going to tell his wife about us. I thought that in the end he would forgive me when we wouldn’t have to hide our love anymore. He got scared and said he never wanted to see me again.”
“Sorry,” I said, in bewilderment.
“I can’t believe that bastard wanted me dead. I can’t believe I was going to kill myself over the selfish prick.”
“You can blame the wine,” I offered.
“I can’t swim,” he said. “I’ll sink to the bottom.”
“Neither can I,” I confessed. “I can only float if I lie really still.”
“So what do we do now?”
Ironcock, or whatever his name was, agreed to leave town. He had only come back to reclaim a lost love and now there was nothing here for him.
I told my boss that I scared the hell out of Ironcock and we’d never see or hear from him again. He was relieved and satisfied, so I didn’t have to tell him anything else. He praised me as his hero and the name Woodcock was restored to its rightful place at the boss’s right hand. Once again, I could walk through town with my head held high and the name Woodcock stretched across the sky.
After what I went through, there were moments when I felt that my name was not enough. I thought about changing it and starting over again in a new town. One name that often popped into my head was Goldcock. Nothing beats gold.