"I'll take care of your coat for you, Prudence," I offered as I helped her remove her fur jacket.
"Thanks, Mike," she smiled. "I'll see you at the bar after you've finished that little chore."
That was when I noticed Steve Watkins and Barry Reynolds standing between me and the coat room. I could barely conceal my distaste as I attempted to walk around them to hang Prudence's fur.
"Did I hear you call your wife 'Prudence', Mikey?" laughed Steve. "That's a name you don't hear very often. In fact, she has to be the first Prudence I've ever seen."
"I really don't know what you heard, Steve," I responded. "I don't think you heard me call my wife by name, however."
"You're always playing word games and being so damn precise, Mike! I'll make it a lot simpler," growled Steve. "Is your wife's name Prudence, or not?"
"Well, yes, that's her name but you can't expect me to tell you what you may have heard," I maintained.
I had worked for The Dittmar Corporation for twelve years, but had only been assigned to the company's Utica branch a few weeks prior. In that rather short interval, I had learned to strongly dislike Steve. He was lazy, obnoxious, conceited, and amoral. Barry Reynolds was his sidekick, or so it seemed. He played Robin to Steve's Batman.
Steve and I each believed we were in line to become the branch manager and thus a natural rivalry had spawned. He went out of his way to ridicule me and my work. Because his efforts were so blatant, I never felt the need to respond to his actions directly. I simply kept doing my job as well as I could. I just happened to be far better at it than Steve was, at least in my humble opinion. That little fact only spurred him into more flagrant offenses against my reputation.
"Your wife has a great set of tits, Mike. They look like a c-cup, at the very least," observed Steve. "That dress sure shows a lot of them, too. Is she some sort of slut?"
Steve's efforts to bait me were pathetic. It was obvious he was trying to get my goat. I had played the game long enough to know how to win. Patience and brains always beat a big mouth and rash actions.
"I really don't think I'll discuss my wife's breasts with you, Steve," I answered. "She certainly isn't a slut. She's a lady and will be treated as such at all times."
Steve wouldn't let it go. I realized he must have had a few drinks already. He was like an animal on the prowl. He wanted a piece of me any way he could get it.
"If you're so confident that your wife is a lady, you should be willing to make a little wager," reasoned Steve as he winked at his sidekick, Barry.
"I don't make bets, Steve. You'll have to excuse me now," I insisted. "I should circulate around the room."
"It's a little early to kiss ass, Mike," chuckled Steve. "Old man Mumford won't be here for a couple hours, at least. He called Tom and told him that he'd be late for the party and that he hoped everyone would still be here when he arrived."
That piece of news annoyed me. I had felt compelled to arrive at the Christmas party early to make a good impression on Dirk Mumford, who had recently been named CEO of Dittmar Corporation. I had worked under him several years ago and I knew he insisted that employees live up to his expectations. It was either his way or the highway. Now I would have to hang around a few extra hours just to be certain that he was aware of my attendance at the company affair. That meant Steve would have more opportunity to irritate the shit out of me. It was going to be a long evening!
Steve saw how this news had annoyed me even more than his tasteless babble. That seemed to cheer him up and led him to make his wager.
"You act so damn superior, Mike. You think you're a lock for the manager's position. You think your trophy wife is so loyal and devoted. It makes me sick!" he practically spat at me. "I'll bet I can get my hands on your wife's tits before midnight. I wouldn't be surprised if I got even farther, but I'm willing to bet fifty bucks I can get that far!"
"Do you actually think I'd ever be involved in such an asinine wager, Steve?" I asked in disbelief. "You know nothing about my wife. We'll leave her out of this senseless discussion. In fact, this talk is over!"
"You chicken-shit wimp!" snarled Steve. "You keep pretending you're better than me. The truth is that you don't trust that slut out of your sight. You're afraid I'll win the bet, so you pretend to be indignant. You're a real sorry fucking piece of work!"
Now I was livid! How could a man allow another man to speak that way about his wife and still keep his pride? I quickly formulated a plan. It was time Steve was eliminated from the field of work force competition.
"Fifty bucks isn't worth my time!" I sneered back. "Let's make it five hundred and have Barry hold the money."
As I spoke I opened my wallet and pulled five bills out and handed them to Barry. To Steve's credit, he hardly blinked as he followed my lead.
"This is going to be a real pleasure!" he gloated. "We need a couple simple rules. You can't warn that bitch about our bet. In fact, you don't even talk to her unless Barry or I are present."
"Fair enough," I agreed. "Barry will hold the thousand. If you don't manage to get your hands on my wife's tits before midnight, he gives me the money. If you do manage it, he gives you the money. That's the entire bet."
"That's fine with me. If I get my hands on your wife's tits before midnight, Barry gives me the money. Otherwise, you get it," agreed Steve. "Barry has to hang pretty close so he can witness the demise of your goddamn uppity attitude."
"I'll agree to have him be the judge as to whether or not you succeeded with my wife enough to collect the wager," I conceded.
"You have a bet, Asshole!" chuckled Steve. "Just don't blame me if your wife loses interest in you after I play with her tits tonight. She'll probably want me to fuck her, too!"
"Steve, if you manage to manhandle my wife's breasts before midnight, you can fuck the shit out of her as far as I'm concerned," I admitted. "If you're that good, I wouldn't be able to stop you anyway."
"Now you're talking, Mike! I like that attitude. I'll give her the best sex of her life just to ruin her for you. She'll never be happy with you again after tonight," crowed Steve.
With that, Steve and Barry turned and walked toward the bar and Prudence. I still had to go find a hanger, so it was a few minutes before I emerged from the coat room.
I saw Steve dancing with Prudence when I rejoined the party. I went to the bar and ordered a beer. Then I began to casually make the rounds. I had time to kill so I visited with folks seated at tables, or standing around conversing. I was determined to stay away from Prudence the rest of the evening. I really didn't think she would even notice that I was avoiding her.
I didn't want to do anything that would ruin my chances to pick up an easy five hundred dollars as well as get Steve out of my hair for good. It occurred to me that I could be making a MasterCard commercial. It was Christmas time and the extra money would be useful. The open shot at the manager's position was priceless.
I spent some time schmoozing with Tom Barriger, the current branch manager. He had already made it known that he planned on retiring by next fall. He had dreams of spending his winters golfing, rather than shoveling snow.
"I guess you've heard that Dirk Mumford called to say he'd be late?" asked Tom. "His flight was delayed and he was pissed. I'd suggest everyone give him a wide berth when he does arrive."
"You've got that right, Tom," I agreed. "He spent 10 years in the Marines and won't take any shit from anyone, even on a good day."
"Have you met him, Mike? You seem to know something about him," observed Tom.
"He was my boss in Harrisburg for three years. We aren't pals or anything, but we get along," I conceded.
"I wonder if Steve knows about that!" chuckled Tom. "He's determined to beat you out for my job when I retire. As you know, I don't get to pick my replacement, nor would I want to. Steve would have his head so far up my ass; I'd have to see my proctologist just to take a shit! Let him suck up to Mumford when he arrives."
"Mumford will fire Steve's ass on sight, Tom," I stated.
"I think you're letting your hopes and dreams replace your logic," allowed Tom. "Steve can be annoying, but his record is clean and he's paid his dues. He's managed to make a few influential friends in high places. As much as I hate to admit it, he has as good a chance to get my job as you do. Maybe better."
"You like a good wager, Tom. I'll bet you five hundred dollars Mumford fires him tonight. That would help buy you a new set of clubs like Tiger uses," I goaded.
"Have you been talking to Mumford?" demanded Tom. "Do you have inside information?"
"Only that Mumford is ramrod straight. He'll fire Steve's ass before the end of the evening, unless he doesn't get here at all," I stated confidently.