I had always known that there was something wrong with Stanley. Something in my gut told me so. I thought he looked terribly lonely. He didn’t have any good friends amongst the other men at the office and I never saw him receiving any visitors. It was his awkward uncertainty that had drawn my attention to him at first; the way he hid shyly behind technical jargon and his fancy silk ties. I liked the nice suits and the lovely ties in their dark shades of blue, green, red and grey. He always looked neat. Every tuft of hair aligned on his square head, straight lines running down the arms of his shirt and standing out when he peeled off his jacket on a hot afternoon or when the air conditioning broke down as it often did, his ties always sitting right in the middle of his neck beneath his huge Adam’s apple. He wore the same black leather watch; which likely explains why he was always five minutes early for staff meetings and report presentations. Whenever he got up to speak on behalf of the accounts department, everyone would listen. Stanley became a different man when he stood before a crowd to explain statistics, trends, facts and figures. The research he carried out was extensive as it was interesting. The boys could make fun of his awkward mannerisms and how anal he was about everything remaining in its place, but that was only in the corridors or at the parking lot when he wasn’t round to hear it. His office was almost always organized, except for when he was crunching numbers or poring over some book or the other. He listened to Beethoven during his lunch breaks and played chess on Monday mornings.
Stanley was pleasant, mostly. Although he came off as a little standoffish if you weren’t patient enough to let him crawl out of his cocoon. He made time to help people with their day-to-day accounting and never sighed impatiently if you didn’t know how to value a property or trim your household or personal expenditure. He made Math interesting. And this gave him a little sex appeal that even I could not explain successfully with words. Otherwise, Stanley would sit alone and scribble away or burn through hundreds of pages of numeric formulae and chess moves inspired by Mikhail Botvinnik. I noticed the same whenever I took and received files from him in his little grey cubicle. He spent so much time there that the room still smelled of him when he was out for lunch, which didn’t happen often. As far as I could tell, Stanley was particular about what he ate, when he ate, how much water he drank and beating his deadlines by several days. However, he remained non-combative even when the pressure to deliver came crashing down on him and he took it upon himself to keep everything well ordered and predictable. As far as I could see, the man had no particular views on how the world worked, except for the stock exchange or inflation and world economies.
One day, Stanley didn’t come to work. I asked around, but no one had his number; which was strange because he had been around for four years and had never asked for a day off outside of his leave days. I tried sifting through his files in the human resource records and found it. Just then, the directors called an emergency staff meeting and I didn’t have the chance to check up on him. In attendance were a couple of men introduced to us as police officers. One of them told us that Stanley was a dangerous man and that he’d been a wanted fugitive for a little over a decade. I found myself trying to figure out how old that would make him, but I didn’t know his birthday or how old he was. When I asked around later, no one else did either. We huddled together for coffee between the police interviews and thought back into the recent past, recalling how nice Stanley had been. None of us could go beyond his pleasant yet weird personality because there was nothing else we could bring up about him. So we stood in the tea rooms and came up with silly jokes and conspiracy theories to make the time pass because the interviews were taking longer than we had expected them to and we had been barred from using our mobile phones and computers.
Later that evening, when everyone was leaving, I pretended to have misplaced my keys so I could sneak into the records office and fish for some tangible evidence that Stanley had actually existed at the company. I found an old key he had brought in for safe keeping a long while back. I remembered because I was sorting the files in the office while he spoke with the old lady at reception of the old records office. From the serial number on it I could tell that it belonged to one of the drawers. Using my own key as a reference, I could work through the other numbers and guess close enough to the drawer I was looking for.
I only realized how poor my judgement of people was when I found an absurd journal with the most disturbing entries I had come across all my life. There were descriptions of outdated medical procedures practised using crude tools and kitchen equipment. I found myself at the police station after I came across a list of names written in red. Some were familiar. The most familiar was mine, right at the third position from the last of thirteen names. The first eight names, all of them unfamiliar, had been crossed out.