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First pages

Welcome to Macey Malloy’s World

 

My name is Macey Malloy. My world is chaotic. In the midst of mysterious deaths and scary happenings, you’ll be meeting a very diverse group of people. You’ll also be right here with me as I start my new job as the university Employee Relations Director. You would think with that job title, I’d be better with people. But no.

 

The Work Gang:

 

Leila Frey is the Recruitment Director. She’s cute, funny… and her accountability to me chafes her butt like a leather thong.

 

Whitney Smith is a recruiter, both for the university and for her team. She loves to stir the animosity between Leila, who is her boss, and Angela. Her pink-haired friend Luci plays guitar in a band and possesses hidden talents.

 

Angela Langford is the Employee Relations Manager. She needs emergency mentoring with her relations with employees, especially me, her new boss. I snatched her coveted promotion out from under her, to hear her whining about it. She hates me almost as much as she does Leila.

 

Joris Cobb, supervisor of the Employee Records Department, is rotund, white-haired, and sweet as a molasses cookie… one baked with a tart lemon filling and rolled in green persimmons.

 

Katie Brewer, one of Joris’ Employee Records Clerks, hides behind her fall of long brown hair. She only ventures out to suck up to her boss or to make my life miserable. Considering Joris’ attitude toward me, she can hit two goals at one time.

 

Greta is the receptionist. Rather than greeting visitors and answers the phone, she watches slasher movies in bloody streams on her work time. She’s also determined to take me down, with the help of a bulky friend.

 

My Boss

 

Tanna Woods is the Chief Human Resources Officer. She’s also my boss. My predecessor, Jennifer Hughes, asked Tanna a lot of questions. So do I. Let’s hope I don’t end up like Jennifer. She was deleted from the payroll… permanently.

 

People I Pissed Off My First Week at Work

 

I have limited space, so I’ll stick with the Top PO’ed at Macey List.

 

Dr. Eric Monroe functions as both the county coroner and the medical examiner. They got a BOGO, buy one, get one, with him. His talent is great eye contact… with my breasts. I’d like to take him back for a refund.

 

Dr. Andrew Paine runs the university’s Body Bequeathal Program. When he’s not drooling over body donations to promote science, he teaches classes in the School of Medicine. His students call him Dr. Pain in the Ass.

 

Cynthia Myers is the Chief Nurse Executive and chief pain in my ass. She’s waging a one-woman war on cooties. She also runs the nursing area with an iron fist in a titanium glove.

 

Lareton Smith, Nursing Director, growls like a guard dog when Cynthia invades his territory.

 

Charity Settle, Nurse Manager, is caught between Lareton and Cynthia. She may have to get creative to keep them both happy.

More garage mechanic than professional nurse, Craig Roberts is incensed when he gets caught threatening a patient. As the Employee Relations Director, I suspend him. An unknown stalker has a chilling, longer-term plan for the nurse.

 

Minerva is a beautiful Latina firecracker, intent on opening a can of Whoop on my Ass.

 

Other People Not Likely to Join the Macey Malloy Fan Club

 

Feel free to mix and match people from my Gang at Work, My Boss, and non-fan club members. They won’t mind.

 

Legal expert Trusty Cole is ambitious. He wants to climb the campus ladder… and his statuesque administrative assistant, with rungs in all the right places.

 

Candi, a cute, jiggly blonde college student, uses her Cam to record her entire life on video. She streams it to middle-aged men to stock her war chest… and to pay for its enhancements. 

 

Bethany Spencer is another blonde, neither jiggly nor flighty. She’s the assistant to Dr. Paine, helping him with the administrative side of the Body Bequeathal Program. Dr. Paine would love for her to donate her body, but not to the Bequeathal Program.

 

Sergio is Minerva’s handsome brother. He exudes a certain earthy charisma. His pet name for Minerva is Minnie Mouse, but I like Nervy Minvery much better.

 

Rowen Sands cannibalized his family farm to develop a luxurious community. Austin Cramer has a vested interest in the real estate beyond the role of caretaker.

 

Hunky Guys Who Don’t Like Secrets, Surprises, or Secret Surprises

 

Detective Vince Knox is dedicated to law enforcement. He’s muscular, handsome, and disconcertingly intuitive. If opportunity Knox, I may or may not answer the door.

 

Dr. Brett Reed teaches medical students. He also sees a special sort of patient in the academic medical center. He’s funny, brave, and not afraid to drive a conga line to the rescue. If he wrote a joke book, I might be tempted to Reed it.

 

My Roommate

 

Wikket is strong, courageous, and ready to rumble. He’s grumpy, sensitive, and hard to live with. He’s a nosy busybody, loves to meddle in my business, and thinks he knows everything. He’s not my mother. He’s a cat. Note I didn’t say “my cat.” He’s his own feline.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

“It’s your fault my husband is dead. Now, I’m getting even.” Her black, curly hair wild around her contorted face, the woman slapped my desk with one hand. Her body, the generous curves stuffed in a tight black dress with the hem barely south of the law, shook. She held the butcher knife in front of her like a short sword, the blade gleaming in fluorescent light.

The first day at work is the hardest. I’ve had difficult first days, such as the day I began my job at the trauma hospital. I’d parked in a board of director’s plum, downtown space. Her contorted face at odds with her pretty pink suit and white silk blouse, she’d screamed at me, attracting the attention of everyone walking from the parking garage. An onlooker had called the police. I’d ended up in the irate chief executive’s office, trying to look contrite as he’d droned on and on about how much money she’d contributed to the hospital. Good thing he was old school when it came to technology. He didn’t find out until later about the viral video.

I’d thought that was my most horrible first day. Now, this was shaping up as the new winner of the Worst First Day at Work award.

The strange woman’s eyes burned with rage as she leaned over the desk. She pointed the knife at my chest. “Virgil killed himself because you fired him on trumped-up sexual harassment charges.”

My primitive hindbrain screamed run. The more intellectual thought processes clamored that running equaled a knife in my thorax. I quelled the flight instinct with a promise to listen if I couldn’t think of another option.

As my heart hammered and my body shook, I forced myself to concentrate. Since it was the first day of the fall semester as well as my first day at the university, the lobby upstairs was jammed with students, signing up for their work study assignments. My staff was helping out with the melee, excuse me, the high volumes, leaving me alone in the deserted basement work area. My office was tucked away in the far corner with the other offices. The cube farm, employee records dungeon, and the front counter were between me and help.

The front counter! Fear jabbed my racing heart. “What did you do to Angela?”

Surprise replaced the fury on her face. “Who?”

“The woman at the counter! Did you kill her?”

The woman rolled her eyes, pulling down the edges of her mouth in disgust. “I wouldn’t hurt an innocent person. There was no one at the counter. I simply hoisted myself over the barrier. I wandered around until I found you.”

I was relieved Angela was safe, in spite of her thinly-veiled animosity toward me. She’d wanted this director job. Tanna Woods, the Chief Human Resources Officer and my new boss, had warned me about the venomous Employee Relations Manager. Angela had thought my job would be the next logical stepping stone in her career. When she told me about it, Tanna had snorted. She said Angela did well enough in the role, but lacked the skills to move up the ladder. Tanna said the other woman didn’t have the needed diplomacy skills, poise, and tact for the director role. Angela had a tendency to say what she thought, especially when senior leaders said and did stupid things. I didn’t think it was the best time to inform my new boss that I shared my new subordinate’s weakness.

I jerked my thoughts back to the present. I couldn’t dial 911 on the office phone before she stabbed me. My cell phone was in my huge black-and-red purse. I’d tossed it in the corner when I’d come in. The bag might as well have been across campus. Some human resources offices have panic buttons. If this office had one, then I didn’t know where it was. I felt gingerly under my desk top. Nope, nothing but a wad of old gum. Ew. 

Out of ideas, I decided on honesty. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t fire your husband. This is my first day at work.”

“Nice try. You fired my husband, Miss Hughes. You deliberately kept him from getting unemployment. You leaked the story to the local newspaper. With the false accusations dogging his steps, he couldn’t get another job. Out of options, he killed himself.” Tears flowed down her round cheeks, along with mascara.

“You’ve made a mistake, ma’am.” I did my best to look open and honest. “My name is Macey Malloy. I took Ms. Hughes’ position as the Employee Relations Director.”

She glared. She was mad, upset, and grieving. She was not convinced of my innocence.

Very slowly, I stood. Over the years as a manager, I’d been in meetings that dragged on and on. I’d thought death would be a sweet release. I winced now at the irony of those irreverent thoughts. Over time, I’d learned that standing up would generally end a meeting. I didn’t have much hope that the body language would work on a grief-stricken widow bent on bloody revenge.

I was right.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Twisting toward the doorway, she used the knife as a pointer. “The name on the office door is Jennifer Hughes.” She pivoted back to me. With her free hand, she grabbed a sheaf of loose papers from the desk. She glanced down at them. “Memos to Ms. Hughes.” She threw the papers to the side. She picked up the nameplate engraved Jenn Hughes from the messy desk. She used it to shove my office phone off the desk, baring her teeth when it clattered to the floor. She waved the nameplate in my face, and then she threw it.

I screamed and ducked as the metal whistled past my ear to crash into the corner behind me. I stumbled, my knees weak. I fell backward into my office chair. “Ms. Hughes left the university very abruptly, without cleaning out her office.” My voice shook with fear. I didn’t sound convincing, even to myself.

“You’re exactly as Virgil described you. He said you have thick, black hair, shoulder length with the ends curled under. You’re not pretty, but you’re attractive, despite your long nose and wide mouth. He also said you’re exactly eight inches taller than me, which makes you five feet, ten inches tall.”

A new frisson of fear slid down my spine. Did Tanna hire me because I resembled the previous Employee Relations Director? I remembered the president of the small Kentucky college where I’d worked until a month ago. He hired petite blonde women, collecting them as if they were dolls for his curio cabinet. Tall, dark, and not even close to petite, I didn’t fit the profile. His predecessor had hired me. He inherited me, so to speak, but he wasn’t happy about it. His chagrin went deeper than just my non-Barbie-doll looks.

“Virgil was right, you’re a little pudgy, but hey—” she broke off to stare down at her short, thick body “—even a dog likes some meat on his bone.”

I preferred healthy, not pudgy, but I wasn’t correcting an enraged woman with a knife. “I can’t help it if I share a physical description with Ms. Hughes—”

“Shut up. I’m talking. The university owed my husband. Virgil Greene played football for this university. He was—”

“—the Lean, Greene, Fighting Machine,” I finished. In spite of my watery insides, I was impressed. “He carried the university to prestigious bowl games every year he played. He went on to the NFL.” I frowned, poking through my memory. “He got hurt his second year as a pro. He packed on weight. The last I heard, he was bankrupt, diabetic, and working a dead-end job as a custodian for a university—”

Mrs. Greene bellowed like a wounded moose. “The university made millions off him, without paying him a dime.”

Too late, I realized I’d been less than diplomatic. Good thing Tanna’s not here to see it, I thought.

“The pros used him up, and didn’t care when he shattered his leg on the field. Virgil never planned; he thought he’d always have the money rolling in. He spent millions of dollars partying with his entourage. When the money was gone, so were his friends. Broke, he came back to the university, begging for work. People still remembered his name. He got a job as a janitor. He was working for ten freaking bucks an hour, coming in when he was too sick to work, and cleaning up after self-centered students who couldn’t be bothered to pick up after themselves. After all, their mommies and daddies made them the centers of their universes, giving them everything they wanted—”

As Mrs. Greene continued down what sounded like a well-worn rant road, I tried to think. In the outer area next to the cube farm, high windows were on a level with the parking lot. There were no windows in my new office, and only the one door. In the basement, like outer space, no one could hear me scream.

“And then, you investigated Virgil for sexual harassment. You claimed he was following the cheerleaders around campus. Actually, he just loved the football field.” Mrs. Greene’s face softened, the dark eyes melting like milk chocolate.

If I ignored the knife, Mrs. Greene was a pretty young widow, her face reflecting her grief and love for her dead husband.

“He spent the happiest years of his life on the field,” she continued, her voice low. Without the rage, her tones were musical. “In some unconscious way, he was trying to recapture those glory days. He wanted the kids cheering for him, asking him for his autograph, and reporters interviewing him.”

I pictured a sick man wishing for his glory days. In the here and now, I saw a woman who loved her husband. My heart melted. I tried to reason with myself. This woman was holding me at knife point, ready to plunge her weapon into my chest or swipe it across my throat.

I sternly ordered the sympathy to get the hell out of my heart. It refused. I sighed. This was exactly why I had taken in a cantankerous old cat, against my better judgment. Of course, the cat couldn’t hold me hostage. At least, not yet. Wikket was a pretty smart feline.

“Those hoity-toity sorority girls decided he was a creepy old man following them to cheerleading practice. And you agreed, you heartless bitch!”

Spit flew in my face. I was afraid to reach for the hand sanitizer. 

Mrs. Greene growled. Her fury chased away the remaining wisps of humanity. “He was just crossing the campus behind them, not stalking them!”

My sympathy dried up more quickly than the globules of saliva on my face. I was sick of being at the wild woman’s mercy. I couldn’t keep waiting for the staff to return to the basement. They were scheduled to help in the lobby all day.

I decided I’d had enough. Mrs. Greene was focused on her husband and the great injustice. If I rushed her, I might overpower her. I might even live through it. I braced my hands against the arms of my chair.

Movement at the door caught my attention.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

“Shall I take a number and wait out front?” The lazy tones were idle, as if the speaker couldn’t care less. His white lab coat and khaki pants covered a lanky frame, leaning negligently in the doorway. His dark hair was short and wavy, as if it would curl if it grew. He held up his phone in one large hand, the device small in his fingers. Behind funky hipster glasses, his dark eyes were watchful, at odds with his relaxed body.

Mrs. Greene darted around the desk toward me.

I tried to scream. “Get away from me,” I squeaked, rather than my intended bellow. My feet scrabbling, I pushed my chair back as hard as I could. I slammed into the book case behind me.

Her fingers pinched my shoulder. With her other hand, she held the knife at my throat. I swallowed. I tried to press myself in my chair, away from the sharp blade.

She craned her neck, keeping the sharp metal on my neck. “Did you call the police?” Her voice screeched, high enough to break the lenses in the man’s glasses.

He winced. “No, I’m recording this to post to YouTube. I’ll get millions of hits. I’ll be famous.” He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling.

“You damned vampire.” I’m pretty sure I hit a higher note than the deranged woman holding the knife to my throat. At the moment, I was angrier with him and his stupid wish for fame than with her, and her violent intention to hurt me. “You’d rather rack up hits on the internet than save a fellow human being?”

“Shut up, Ms. Hughes,” Mrs. Greene ordered. “You’re the ultimate hypocrite. You could have saved my husband, but you didn’t. Instead, you hounded him into taking his own life.”

Hounded. I zoned out for a moment. The office, the man in the doorway, even the woman holding the knife to my throat, receded. I’d felt hounded for the past ten years. I wasn’t certain they were chasing me. They could be hunting me. Or, given the years, they could have forgotten me.

Wasn’t perception reality in this case? They, not the same they who’d been (maybe) stalking me, trot out the well-worn clique about dog years. They say that dogs age seven years for each human year. In my case, I’d felt hunted for seventy dog years. If one of my (possible) pursuers had me trapped in my office, rather than the enraged widow…

In my head, someone grasped the string attached to the dark light bulb of ideas and pulled. Illumination flooded my brain. I finished my sentence in my head. If one of my (could be) pursuers had caught me today, he wouldn’t have played with me like a cat with a scared mouse. He’d have slid that knife into my flesh like it was Play-Doh, slashed my heart with his Fuzzy Pumper Assassin Dagger, decorated my chest with red Gummy Blood Worms, and slipped away like a shadow.

I came back to the present. I was positive Mrs. Greene was not an assassin. Galvanized by my epiphany, I grabbed the widow’s wrist. I twisted it as hard as I could. She screamed right in my ear. The knife fell to my desk. She seemed to levitate away from me.

The man was neither lounging nor in the doorway. He’d grabbed Mrs. Greene around the waist and lifted her. He hauled her to the corner and deposited her on my huge purse. She screeched, hitting the same point on the decibel scale as a terrified monkey pursued by a leopard on speed. She flopped on my bag. She hid her face in her arms, her shoulders heaving with her sobs.

“Hey, my computer is in that bag! You probably crushed it when you threw her on it,” I protested. I leaned over to pick up my office phone. I put the receiver to my ear. No dial tone.

“I just saved your life, and you’re giving me hell?” He glared at me.

“Instead of giving me hell for giving you hell, why don’t you call the police? I’m sure you’ve got plenty of footage for your five minutes of fame,” I sneered.

“For your information, Ms. Hughes, I made that up to keep her from checking my phone for outgoing calls.” He leaned over my desk, the hem of his white lab coat catching and dragging the papers Mrs. Greene had crumpled. “I listened outside your office. When I realized she was holding you hostage, I did call the police. They should be here any minute.”

“I’m not Ms. Hughes!”

* * * * *

Detective Vince Knox’s thick, bare fingers pranced over his tablet, his sausage digits surprisingly graceful. He looked up, his pale brown eyes seeming to take a permanent picture of the office, its inhabitants, and its contents, and filing them away in his skull. “I think that’s all of the information I need for now, Mr. Reed and Ms. Malloy.”

The detective slid the tablet into his jacket pocket, causing it to hang lower with the gadget’s weight. As if he’d done it a million times, he twitched his light French beige jacket straight over his wide shoulders. For such a muscular man, he was unexpectedly agile as he moved to the office door.

“Detective, what will happen to Mrs. Greene?” I asked.

The lawman swiveled to face me. He rubbed one large hand over his short blonde hair. Under the florescent light, his skin looked delicate, with freckles scattering his nose and cheeks fractionally darker than his skin. He could have been a monochromic image. “She won’t see the light of day for some time. She’ll be under a mandatory hold in the psychiatric hospital for at least seventy-two hours. After that, she’ll go to jail. It’ll be up to the judge to set her bail.”

“I think Mrs. Greene was temporarily unhinged with grief,” I said.

Detective Knox lowered his pale eyebrows. He grunted, the sound hard and disbelieving. “You a psychiatrist, Ms. Malloy?”

Brett Reed, still lanky but his disinterested air long gone, moved to stand next to me. “Detective, you don’t have to be sarcastic. We both feel sorry for Mrs. Greene. She obviously loved her husband very much, and she felt he had been done wrong by the university.”

“You’re right. Too bad all wives aren’t like that.” His face sagged, as if the bonds of professionalism and public service momentarily loosened. His distress was more human and less like a driven, law enforcement machine. His lips trembled, adding a poignant hint of vulnerability. Instead of cold and hard, his face was warm and soft.

“What do you mean?” I asked, wondering about the dramatic change in his manner.

“My partner was married to a woman who made his life miserable.” Detective Knox’s voice shook with grief and rage. “She physically and emotionally abused him. Derek was convinced lawmen should be tough under pressure. He was too embarrassed to bring charges against her. Before he could divorce her, he unexpectedly died at home. She’s living happily ever after on his life insurance money and community donations.”

The light bulb went on in my head. In its intense light, I saw the lawman as an avenging angel. His light hair looked as soft as duckling down, and his clothes as pale as an angel’s robes. He was tough, yet he had a heart. What if I shared my personal situation with him? What if he could help me figure out if I was a target, or safe? What if I could finally be free of those pursuing demons?

In my brain, my wishful thinking and the miserably hard reality collided. The traffic in my synapses was as snarled as Louisville’s notorious Spaghetti Junction in rush-hour traffic. I slammed on the brakes, my thoughts crashing and burning in a huge pileup. Mentally, I shook an admonishing finger. The person in charge of pulling the string in my head had miscalculated. Sharing my situation could bring attention to it. If I hadn’t been pursued before, I would be then. I told her she was fired. No more string pulling if it reaped results like that dumb idea.

I wrenched my thoughts away from my troubles. Wanting to ease the detective’s hurt, I put one hand on his arm. Under the pale suit jacket, it was hard as a rock. “You think she got away with murder.”

The detective flushed, his pale skin infused with red. He jerked away from my hand. “Forget I said that. It’s nothing to do with this case.”

As the sound of the detective’s footsteps faded, I raised my eyebrows at Brett. He looked confused. He finally shrugged.

“Macey Malloy.”

It was the voice of a new doom. I sagged away from Brett. I closed my eyes, wishing I were anywhere but in my new office. Perhaps I’d overslept on my first day. This was all a dream, sent to torment me so I’d wake up and scurry around my apartment to make up for lost time. I willed myself awake. Nothing happened. Sadly, I wasn’t miraculously whisked away to my bed. My only choices were to fake a heart attack, or face my nemesis. Squaring my shoulders, I opened my eyes.

Tanna Woods, my new boss, loomed in the doorway, her short, coarse black hair nearly touching the top of the doorframe. Her spine was ramrod straight, her fists clenched, and her dark chocolate face was contorted. “Macey Malloy.” Her chest heaved, expanding her bright crimson jacket. “What have you done on your very first day at work?”

I opened my mouth to ask her why she’d hired me, a ringer for her last Employee Relations Director. I decided to save it for Day Two, if there was a second day for me. Instead, I answered, “I defused a violent situation without anyone getting hurt.”

Next to me, Brett fidgeted.

“With Brett’s help.” I waved to include him in the onsite rescue triumph.

Tanna turned to him, her nostrils flared, as if she were a predator getting his scent for an impending hunt. “What are you doing here, Dr. Reed? Don’t you have enough work with dead bodies without making trouble among the live ones?”

Doctor Reed? Dead bodies? The earlier traffic jam in my head seemed like a mere joy ride on a deserted country road compared to this collision.

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

“What if I’d been the one attacked by Lisa Greene and not you, Tracey? I have custody of my grandchildren. They depend on me.” Angela Langford, thirty-year veteran of the employee relations department and nonstarter from my job, glared across the conference table. Her face was crisscrossed with lines like a map marked for battle, her short, spiky gray hair as rigid as a combat helmet.

With an effort, I unclenched my jaw. “It’s Macey, Angela, not Tracey.” I forced myself not to point at my shiny, new nametag.

Leila Frey snorted, the rude sound at odds with her pretty face and the pale, sugar-cookie-colored hair that cascaded to her trim waist. “We’re tired of you always playing the Martyr card, Angela. Why don’t you pick a different one? How about Betrayed Wife? You haven’t used that one in some time.” She smiled, her full lips as pink as cotton candy.

Angela’s face reddened, the battle lines deepening to furrows. “Don’t you dare—” she choked.

“Your husband tracked down his high school sweetie on the internet, broke up her marriage, and left you for her middle-aged, wide-load ass.” Leila recited in a singsong voice, as if she’d memorized it like a tricky multiplication table. “It might have been easier for you to accept if he’d left you for a younger woman, rather than one even older than you.”

Angela’s chair overturned with a clatter as she leaped to her feet. She planted both hands on the conference room table and leaned over to meet Leila’s malicious gaze. “I’m not a martyr. I’m a loving grandmother and mother. My son moved heaven and earth to get custody of his four children. He trusts me to take care of them while he’s working on his degree at night.”

As I forced myself to keep my face smooth and expressionless, I wondered if August was too early to put in a call to Santa Claus. I’d love to ask him to take these employees to his Island of Misfit Toys. “We’re getting off topic,” I interjected. “Let’s list our goals for our department. After we finish our goals discussion, then we’re going to run through a teambuilding exercise.”

Angela and Leila ignored me.

I forced a laugh. “We’re not going out into the woods for the teambuilding, I promise. I think that fell out of favor before I was born.” I tried to catch the other employees’ eyes. Their avid gazes were fixed on the combatants.

Only one person met my gaze. Whitney Smith was one of Leila’s recruiters. “Excuse me. How can we have a department meeting without Joris and Katie?”

Mentally, I bopped myself on the forehead. I felt a flush start in my cheeks and work its way down my chest and neck. Admitting I’d forgotten about the employee records staff, even though they were tucked away in a corner of the dungeon, would not cover me with glory with my staff.

I raised my chin. “If anyone’s late for a meeting, we start without them.”

Someone giggled. It was instantly stifled.

I lifted a hand. “However, since this is our first departmental meeting with me as your director, I’ll fetch them.”

The section of the basement dedicated to the employee records area was as quiet as a grave, and nearly as cold and dark. Black, gray, and green metal filing cabinets taller and older than me lined the concrete walls, with more rows of them forming a maze. Large tables at one side held towering stacks of paper. I crossed the labyrinth to the little offices at the far end, the lights slightly brighter than the remainder of the area.

In one of the offices, several temporary employees were seated at computer workstations. They fed paper documents into the scanners. They all sported earbuds, and were intent on their work. None of them looked up.

In the other office, Joris Cobb, supervisor of the Employee Records Department, was sitting with her back to the doorway. With her fluffy white curls and light blue polyester pantsuit, she looked like an elderly church secretary preparing to work on the pastor’s sermon.

I hesitated in the doorway, not wanting to scare her. I cleared my throat.

Joris started guiltily. She rose, twisting as she moved. Her round face was tight. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

I could have sworn Joris was hiding something with her body. “The staff meeting started. I came to get you and Katie, the records clerk. We’re not including the temps in the meeting.”

The supervisor didn’t move. She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes behind the thick glasses. “Oh, I forgot all about it. I’ll get Katie, and we’ll meet you in the conference room.”

She didn’t move.

Neither did I. Why was she acting like I’d caught her red-handed? Had she been shopping online, and hadn’t had time to minimize the screen? I glanced at her desk. No, that wasn’t it. Her computer and monitor were too far away for her to reach. But she was hiding something. She’d been hunched over that something, now blocked by her wide body.

I stared around her office, thinking. There were boxes of papers and files stacked on the floor, reaching nearly to the ceiling. Her desk was covered with more stacks of paper. I spied a picture on the wall behind her. The image was a young couple dressed in the fashions of the early twentieth century. I darted to the photograph. “Are these your parents?” I asked innocently.

I lunged behind her desk. She tried to block me. We scuffled. She had the weight advantage, but I had youth and height. I bent over her shoulder. I sucked in a shocked breath. “Oh, my God! That’s a typewriter!”

The ancient machine was worn, the black paint chipped, exposing shiny metal. Like a symmetrical gargoyle, it squatted on the heavy, clunky cart, not a lightweight aluminum or plastic cart. On the front, the typewriter had big, plastic eyes, positioned over the keys. The keys were black teeth, each tooth engraved with a letter of the alphabet, a symbol, or a letter in white script.

“Joris, you and Katie, along with a fleet of temps being paid a good rate of pay, are getting the paper records scanned into the system. We don’t need a typewriter.”

“You’re young. You’re part of the information age. You rely on computers. But there are times when we absolutely need a typewriter.” Joris bent to put her arms around the typewriter. She hugged it, ready to fight me to the death over it.

“When do you need a typewriter?” I tried to keep the accusing note out of my voice, but my ears told me I’d failed. I tried, “Educate me,” but it sounded like a challenge.

“We get requests from banks for verifications of employment. Those requests are on forms that they fax to us.” Joris’ full cheeks quivered in anger.

“You don’t need faxes. The online system handles requests to verify employment.” I did a better job that time modulating my tone. “If they insist upon sending a form, just ask them to email it to you. Complete and email it back to them. Drop the completed, electronic form into the online employee file.” I reached around her for the cart, and tugged it.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jada Ryker lives in central Kentucky with her wonderful husband and their cat, rescued from the animal shelter. The cat rules the household and also loves to collect shiny trinkets. Once, she stole a Bluetooth and hid it under the couch. It took her humans several days to locate her ill-gotten booty. In her day job, Jada works in higher education. She holds a master's degree in public administration.

Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
You’ve heard of people donating their bodies to science? An element of the story is the body donation program. When I researched body bequeathal programs, I ran across an interesting reason for donation on the MedCure Body Donation website: “I want to continue to travel to new places after I die.”
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Macey Malloy spends her life looking over her shoulder, afraid the past will catch up with her. People can get so caught up in the past that they miss out on the present.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Jada loves to hear from her readers. Connect with Jada: Email: jada_ryker@yahoo.com Website: http://jadaryker.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jada.ryker.author

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