“Walter Blanks’ Suitcase,” by Laura Maggio

Dec 9th, 2020 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Walter Blanks was the head honcho at Mundayne Insurance Company—until I discovered, one day, that he wasn’t.

Within a week of starting at Mundayne Inc. as a correspondence clerk, I pinpointed Walter Blanks as a man in charge. Although I was fresh out of college and unsure what C-Suite title he held, I did know he was a man to be respected; After all, Mr. Blanks was meticulously well-dressed.

Walter Blanks was the spitting image of Morpheus, sporting a stylish three-piece suit of midnight black, wing-tipped shoes, and small, distinct spectacles. I experienced the terror and awe Neo must have felt upon first meeting Morpheus on the day Mr. Blanks first materialized in my cubicle maze. I later learned that he routinely stalked the cubes with the look of Zeus watching from Mount Olympus, ensuring that his minions cranked out profit. I never did grow accustomed to those terror-inducing inspections; instead, I would cower mutely in his presence. And upon observing the burdens of his sovereignty etched in frustrated furrows on his face, I concluded that Mr. Blanks surely held untold corporate power and responsibility. This was a multi-million dollar company, and somebody had to run the place—a somebody who would have been, no doubt, well-dressed.

As I think about Walter Blanks now nearly 20 years later, I can still vividly recall the day on which I discovered the shocking secret behind his well-dressed authority.

“Good morning, Mr. Blanks,” I had murmured as we approached each other on the balcony overlooking the entrance of our corporate center. “How’s Monday treating you?” I cautiously asked that man of mystery, trying hard to conceal my reverence.

Looking back, I realize I had instinctively turned toward Mr. Blanks for leadership and guidance. Although I had finally leveled-up to a “real adult” when this prestigious institution hired me, I was crestfallen to discover that my role as a glorified typist was laughable. Was this even a real job? I completed mind-numbing mail-merge forms for eight hours in a cell of three grey felt walls. I felt like a small child playing pretend, costumed in her father’s suit and her mother’s sensible shoes, so unsure of myself and of how to be a professional.

“Livin’ the dream,” Walter Blanks replied that day, as he paused in front of me clutching his ever-present leather briefcase case.

That briefcase. Instinctively I knew that, somehow, the very source of his corporate authority lay within that elaborately monogrammed case with its gleaming gold fixtures.

Mr. Blanks was never without that case—always clutching it with an iron grip, unable to leave its priceless contents unattended for even a moment. I had once asked a coworker, “Do you think he showers with that thing?” We had both chuckled, but then quietly acknowledged that it wasn’t implausible.

The fate of the company surely lay within that briefcase.

As time passed and the insignificance of my job became clearer, I coveted requiring such a badge of a real working adult.

“You know,” I conceded that day on the balcony, “I always feel like a fraud around you.”

“Why’s that?” he asked, his gaze inscrutable through his round spectacles.

“Because I’m not important enough to need a briefcase yet,” I admitted. I felt bold gathering this truth from the ether and speaking it aloud – like how naming an evil can manifest that very evil.

“Briefcase?” Walter Blanks asked, momentarily perplexed. “Oh, this?” he said, holding the treasured valise aloft as a look I couldn’t decipher crossed his face.

“Do you want to know what’s in this briefcase?”

A trap!

Of course I did, and did not, want to know what an insurance mogul stored in his briefcase. On one hand, poring through financial and death claim documents could be tedious. On the other, were I privy to plans for a hostile takeover of a failing bank or small country, then The Secret of how to succeed in business would be mine!

I hesitated to answer but, regardless, Mr. Blanks forged ahead. After all, it was such proactive disregard for approval that raised him to his seat of stylish power in the first place.

He placed the revered object on the polished railing that kept us from plummeting to the marbled tiles of the foyer below. A single beam from the overhead light fixture spotlighted that hallowed briefcase.

Casting a look over his shoulder at me, Mr. Blanks gingerly placed his thumbs on the latch releases nestled on the front of the valise. The case and he were so well acquainted that it knew his intent without him actually utilizing its mechanics. The thing seemed to spring into action before he even depressed the buttons, its shackles launching outward with a metallic click.

Walter Blanks, with a wolfish smile, hesitated with his hands resting on the lid for the slightest moment. As the anticipation built and I fought to stifle a gasp, he slowly lifted the lid. The secrets of how to become a successful adult were seconds from being revealed.

There was a moment of angels softly murmuring while I gathered the courage to look. At my hesitation, the dulcet tones crescendoed, encouraging me to action. Fear paralyzed my eyeballs, but with a determined breath, I overcame my dread and corporate naivety and lowered my eyes.

The contents of the briefcase flashed into focus, and there lay…

A Thor comic book and a hot-pink roll of Bubble Tape.

My brain struggled to understand, as my perceptions—of business, of success, of leadership, of adulthood – all shattered.

I didn’t know how to respond but knew I must be quick on my feet so as not to disappoint Mr. Blanks.

“Alas, an executive can’t be without his Bubble Tape?” I lamely observed.

“Executive?” he half spoke, half laughed. “You think I’m an executive?” he asked, throwing his head back and squeezing his eye shut. Through fits of laughter he shouted, “I’m a Contract Process Associate. I don’t even know what that means! I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing here!”

The newly forged gears of my young-adult mind clicked into place and an epiphany dawned: The business world is a charade, just like the illusion of authority cast by Mr. Blanks’ suitcase.

I felt bewildered and perplexed in this strange new corporate world, not merely because my job seemed ridiculous, but because it was ridiculous. It was artificial and inconsequential. The entirety of the life insurance business was absurd – built on opportunism and manufactured prestige not earned, but granted by a title, a suit, and a briefcase.

At that moment, I saw Walter Blanks for what he truly was behind his sartorial supremacy—a good-natured guy who wanted to spend the day enjoying a comic book while blowing hot-pink bubbles. Corporate America, I marveled, is just a continuation of adolescence. A confusing time of finding oneself and struggling to fit. All the while acting as if you had it all figured out.

After that memorable day, Mr. Blanks and I became fast friends. Time revealed that he was a dedicated worker and all-around great guy: A gentleman who happened to know that dressing well and looking annoyed at work leads to great things. A guy who still enjoyed the occasional comic book accompanied by approximately one foot of bubblegum.

Walter Blanks was also a guy who knew the secret of success: You are a true adult only when you successfully trick others into thinking you are.


Laura Maggio is a writer, colonial fifer, and entirely sane cat lady. She lives with her husband and completely reasonable number of cats on the outskirts of Philadelphia, all crammed into an 18th-century abode constructed of log and stone. Ms. Maggio, who has a thing for bumbling detectives, is currently pursuing her M.A. in Publishing.


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