The eight-year-old girl sat in the principal's office. Kari had only been inside during a tour of the school when she started there two years ago, and back then, it had seemed a menacing arena for the punishment of various child crimes. Now, alone in the office for the first time, awaiting her interrogator, the menace was gone and she was perfectly calm. She was dressed in business attire that was incongruous for her age. She was not only two years older, she was immensely wiser due to a highly serendipitous meeting that had occurred on Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.
She had gone with her father to the finance firm where he worked. While she was waiting patiently outside of her father’s office for him to finish a meeting, a sharply dressed, no-nonsense business lady sat down next to her and introduced herself as Susan. The Business Lady pressed her on what her favorite shows and toys were and proceeded to tell her the prospects of the corporations behind them. The Business Lady was animated to the extreme and everything she spoke of seemed to be the most important thing in the world. Kari had laughed as Susan jumped about explaining her concern for soybean futures. Her father’s secretary wondered what the little girl could be laughing about so hard sitting there by herself.
As her Father came forth from his office ready to leave, Kari said goodbye to Susan the Business Lady much to the dismay of the secretary who continued to see an empty chair. “She is laughing and talking to chairs. Perhaps it’s time her father took her to a specialist of the mental kind.”
Kari was in the backseat on the way home and her father was complaining about someone at work who was not pulling their weight and what do you know Susan, the business lady popped up in the back seat, howling.
“Fire them! Kari tell him to fire them,”exclaimed Susan.
“Maybe you should fire him?” said Kari.
Her dad, curious, asked, “Why should I fire him, sweetheart?”
Susan chimed in, “Because he obviously hasn’t got the stones and is probably dipping his hand in the cookie jar, if you get my meaning.”
Kari repeated, “Because he obviously hasn’t got the stones and is probably dipping his hand in the cookie jar, if you get my meaning, Dad.”
Her father nearly crashed the car from laughing.
“Maybe you’re right, K.”
Later that week her father fired the guy in question and an internal audit showed that he had embezzled many dollars to complete his bobble-head collection. Kari and Susan had been as thick as corporate thieves ever since.
The principal entered and sat on his principals throne, awkwardly assuming his most intimidating form.
“Hello, Mr. Garrety,” Kari cheerfully said, “You’re looking well. I wanted to commend you on the suspension of Kevin Beverly. Wise move. He was a great distraction and hopefully this will curb his attempts to disrupt the other children’s education.”
Taken aback and slightly flattered, “Thank you. I felt it was an appropriate punishment.” Unable to believe she had manipulated his pride, he got to the matter at hand.
“Look, Kari, the reason I brought you in is that it is circulating through the school that you are some sort of kingpin.”
“I have simply consolidated many different interests under one banner. Kingpin is a bit cartoonish wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, a bit cartoonish. But these are not my words. Many teachers have brought it to my attention that you are gum-running and engaging in other less than savory trades.”
“Well, sir, my imaginary business lady told me she noticed some people making ludicrous trades on the lunch room floor and gave me some insight how I could run the whole racket in two months, if I took the right steps.”
“You're imaginary business lady?” Mr Garrety asked as he squinted in disbelief.
“Is your imaginary business lady, Susan, here now?”
“Yes. She doesn’t like your suit. For a man with such power as yourself, you should really dress the part, she says.”
“Well, that sounds like it’s just coming from you,” he opined.
“No, I quite like your suit. It has a discombobulated grandfatherly quality to it that endears you to the students, or at least invokes some level of pity. Which my imaginary business lady thinks you could possibly use to your advantage. Sad sack with a big stick kind of thing, she says.”
“Sad sack with a big stick, hmm?” Mr. Garrety said as he tried to hide his agitation “Well, Kari, don’t you think you’re a little too old for an imaginary friend.”
“She’s not my friend. We have a business relationship. We have very different interests, so a true friendship is out of the question. She thinks you’re overpaying for paper products, by the way.”
“How would she know that?”
“She’s been through your spreadsheets.”
Mr. Garrety nervously turned off his computer.
“That’s probably illegal, Kari.”
“Tell that to her, sir. I’m over here.”
“Also I’d like to know if you and your imaginary business lady have anything to do with the janitors threatening to strike.”
“I don’t. Susan does.”
“And what exactly is her involvement in this issue?”
“She noticed that you were not only underpaying them but denying them overtime wages for working basketball games. So, she organized them. I simply passed on the information. I think it’s best to comply as any of the janitors can go one district over and make more money. And we wouldn’t want the school inundated with filth, would we, Mr. Garrety?”
“No, I don’t think we would, Kari. But we do not necessarily need your or Susan’s help with these matters. These are matters for the adults.”
“Susan is an adult. She has 20 years of experience in corporate consulting and had a highly successful run as a VP for Nabisco.”
“That’s very impressive, but, Kari, the truth is …”
Suddenly the school bell rang, signaling the end of the period. Kari impatiently checked her watch.
“Sir, I really should be going unless there is anything else. It’s recess and that’s a busy time for me. I am sure you understand being a busy man yourself. Before I go, Susan wants you to know there is soup on your tie. Split pea is not a flattering look, she says.”
Mr. Garrety self-consciously looked down at his tie to find this to be true. He took his kerchief and began vigorously trying to clean his soup-laden neckwear.
“Oh, and if you ever want to brainstorm some cost-cutting measures, she and I are available at your whim. After all, it's your school. We just attend it.”
Kari confidently walked from the office leaving Mr. Garrety questioning his qualifications and nervously reaching for the bottom drawer of his desk. He struggled for some time to choose between drinking from the bottle of Pepto-Bismol or the flask of bourbon.
The bourbon won, and as it burned his throat, he wished desperately he could have had a more useful imaginary friend. His had just made him start fires, steal candy, and unsuccessfully runaway from home. It’s just the luck of the draw with imaginary entities, he thought as he turned on his computer and looked at the spreadsheet in question.
Susan was right, god damnit! Susan was right!
*Feature image by Christina Conti (Adobe)