Tom Shandler was frustrated. Not just in business, but in life as well.

It had become more and more apparent that he was trapped in a rut at the Porthaven Metromert. The managers that he originally trained with at his home store in Newport News had long since outranked him; he’d read about their promotions in the company newsletter that appeared every Friday at his apartment like clockwork. At first, he’d hung them on a nail in the kitchen, the way a writer might hang rejections slips. Now, though, they went straight in the trash after a brief perusal.

To be left forever in a dead-end middle management position as no kind of fate for a man like Shandler, no kind of fate for the man who had pulled himself up by his bootstraps from a lowly sales position at that first store. He was destined for great things, and every snag along the way—every former friend promoted over him, every smartass worker beneath him, was carefully noted in a mental register, for retribution when the time came. He had the letter he’d send them all written in his head for years.

Still, despite pushing his workers hard and increasing sales in his division by five percent, there was no sign of that kick upstairs. Marcus, in produce, was being considered to manage his own store—or so Gus, the manager, had said over lunch the other day. This made Shandler resent him all the more; Marcus was popular with his workers, and handsome.

Something had to be done, and time was running out to do it. A grand gesture of loyalty to the company was what he needed—some extraordinary act that would throw him into the limelight and show that he, Thomas Darren Shandler, was the man for the next big opening. Since nothing ever seemed to happen in Porthaven, he was ever on the lookout for a break, the one chance that would see him covered in glory or resigned forever to his niche, even fired. There was a plan for that too, in the desk drawer, freshly oiled and loaded.