Third

“Nichols, you’ve got to step up the pace of your work or else your job may be in jeopardy. I am getting pressure from Home Office, and they may force me to fire you.”

Mr. Daniels tried to look sympathetic as he sat behind his big desk, but his voice carried a tone of sternness that Timmy couldn’t miss. Timmy didn’t know whether to believe the threat came from Home Office, or perhaps even from, say, Mr. Daniels’ receptionist, Cynthia, but it didn’t matter. The threat was real.

“Yes sir, Mr. Daniels. I’ll speed things up.”

Timmy turned and walked out of the office as quickly as he could without being obvious. He didn’t even look at Cynthia as he passed her workstation, but he imagined she was grinning grimly at his back as he made his way out. She never liked me, he thought to himself, and now she’s trying to get her revenge.

He sat down at his desk, oblivious to the stares of his coworkers. He looked at the invoice on the top of the stack of papers in front of him and began inputting the figures into the spreadsheet on his computer screen.

That Cynthia, she doesn’t know anything about me, he thought to himself. None of them know. I’ve got the world’s third highest score ever recorded on the Mad Men’s Mahjong computer game. Third highest in the world! They’ve got a genius in their midst and they don’t even know it. I’d tell them myself, but I don’t want them fawning all over me and asking me favors. They’d think they’ll get to take pictures of themselves with me and the other celebrities who come to congratulate me, but I won’t let them. I’ll keep it a secret until I win the championship, and then I’ll just quit this miserable job. I won’t even come into the office to tell them I’m quitting. I’ll hire a personal assistant with part of my winnings and send her in to deliver my letter of resignation. They’ll see my picture in the papers and then they’ll be sorry about the way they treated me here.

Timmy got up to fill a paper cup with water from the cooler in the corner, and then returned to his seat.

And they don’t know how much sacrifice it took to get this good at Mad Men’s Mahjong. Countless hours alone in front of the computer in my apartment. Sometimes I even forgot to get up and turn on the overhead light, my room lit only by the glow from my screen. Some nights I barely got any sleep at all before it was time to shower and get ready for work again in the morning.

All that sacrifice. Developing such intense concentration that he could tune out almost any distractions. Most phone calls went to voicemail, or the callers hung up. Almost nobody ever rang the front doorbell, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because Timmy wouldn’t have answered. The mail was all either utility bills or advertisements.

Third highest score in the world!

Aside from his mental prowess, physical coordination played a major role too. Timmy had to be able to scan the screen in an instant and let his hand move the mouse and click on the icons just as fast, almost as if his arm were an extension of his eyes. It wasn’t enough to just know what move to make, you had to actually make the move too and do it quickly.

Third highest in the world. And soon he’d be the second. And then the first.

“Nichols!”

Mr. Daniels’ voice startled Timmy. He looked and saw that his hand was hovering over his keyboard, and the same invoice was still sitting on top of the stack of papers in front of him. He looked at the screen and saw what must have been a hundred numeral 3’s across the page, as if he had left his finger on the key.

“Nichols, I’ve been watching you stare into space for the past 10 minutes. This is the third time I’ve caught you daydreaming instead of working. Here,” he said, handing Timmy a small cardboard box. “I want you to clean out your desk and leave. Cynthia will give you your final paycheck and will take your keycard and i.d. badge. I want you to leave within the next 10 minutes.”

As Timmy made his way to the bus stop to go home, he fished the check out of his shirt pocket and looked at the amount. He realized he didn’t have enough to cover next month’s rent. But I’ll be able to pay the rent with some of my winnings, he remembered with a smile. Maybe I’ll even have enough to buy my own house.

And another thing occurred to him when he got off the bus and shuffled home. Now that I don’t have to get up early to go to work, I’ll have more time to practice. I’m going to win sooner than I thought.

Those people never knew. But they’ll be sorry. 

 

Patrick W. Andersen, a former award-winning journalist in San Francisco, will publish his first novel, Second Born, in the fall of 2017.