Chapter 1

Eight by ten, eighty square feet, walled on three sides using a gray-carpeted frame, one side a blank grey texture, with a desk on two sides. On one side was an overhead cabinet, and an overhead shelf was on the other. My 'In' basket was on the far left and my 'Out' basket on my far right. In the middle corner were my three PC screens that were giving me a headache by four in the afternoon. Why three monitors? So I could multi-task. At least, that is what management said they were for. I can have two active projects and look up information on the third, or play solitaire on all three at once. I didn't do that except for one day after five. I tried it and found out it wasn't much fun. Actually, I kept two monitors going to see who was on a call and what their totals were. The third was everything else including e-mail.

After checking my watch again, I looked up at the clock on the wall, thinking my watch had broken, and it was still twenty minutes until five. Everything is out of my in basket and in the out basket. I'll do one more walkthrough on the phone banks to see how busy we were. I could do that on the PC, but it was more fun to observe first hand.

There were people in about thirty of the fifty stations. We might have had too many people on shift today, but probably only one or two. Everyone seemed to be handling orders efficiently. Even the new people on the end closest to my cube appeared productive. The reports would show and tell all.

Our company took orders for all those great items you see on television. When you called a specific number, it was routed to the next available agent. Their PC simultaneously switched to an order form for that specific sale item, along with a script to sell add-ons. The agent would answer the call, enter the information for the order, and try to sell an add-on before thanking the customer and pushing their off button. That gave them forty-five seconds to "wrap up" the sale information or to just take a breather. If we were busy, another call would route to them as soon as the forty-five second timer ended. If we were not that busy, the person with the fewest calls for the shift would get the next call. Very efficient, and it must be a money maker as we paid agents decent wages. New hires were paid eight fifty an hour, with a raise to ten bucks an hour after thirty days. It went to eleven dollars at six months, and twelve at a year. Not a lot of money, but better than most phone rooms. They did get a commission on add-ons, so you know they would ask.

There was a group of people standing in the doorway, ready to assume the seats for the evening shift. They would sit at a station, turn their PC terminal on, enter their agent number, and wait for a call. The beginning was as orderly as was the ending. One by one, the agents finished their last call, gathered their add-on slips, and handed them to me as they passed by on their way to the time clock. One, two, three it begins, one, two, three it ends.

Back in the cube, I looked over the add-on sales slips before placing them into the out basket. It looked like a pretty good day for knife orders. There must have been a couple of "Paid Programming" spots on the knives, as most of the add-ons were for the big wooden blocks that held the knives. I keyed in my supervisor number to log off my shift, looked up at the clock to see it was already five ten, stretched, and went toward the elevator.

I really wasn't in a hurry to go home. Home was a tiny one bedroom apartment that cost an arm and a leg, because they had security and private parking. The few decorations I had were pictures I took on the Florida Keys the previous year. I took my vacation there and had really enjoyed the warm weather during the middle of the winter. Speaking of winter, I remembered just before the elevator dinged that I didn't have my coat. By the time I was back in front of the elevators, one of the four was on the twenty-second floor and the other two were on their way down to lower floors. The fourth, the really slow elevator, was coming down, nearing my floor. Oh well, like I said, I wasn't in that much of a hurry to get home.

"Hi, Pete, you're leaving late tonight." I turned to see who was talking to me. Ah yes, the new management secretary. Four of the mid-level guys shared one secretary. It was rumored those guys did more than share their secretary as the last secretary left pregnant and didn't know who the father was. These guys were all married, so it couldn't have been one of them, ha, sure, right.

"Hey, Sonja, it's only five thirty, so it isn't that late."

Sonja said, "You're right; it really isn't, but the men I work for always want to kibitz before I go home. I'm invited out for drinks and dinner all the time. I don't think I should do that, and they have accepted my refusals so far. I'm sure their wives would rather that they come home instead of taking their secretary out for drinks."

I was nodding my agreement when the elevator dinged and the door opened. It was only the two of us all the way to the first floor. By chance, this was the end elevator, known for how slow it was.

I told Sonja, "I'm going over to 'The Office' for a cold beer. You can come along if you want. The place is really more for guys than girls."

Sonja said, "You're right about that. The uniforms the girls almost wear are enough to make the guys keep coming back."

She reached over and picked up my left hand and rubbed where a ring would be worn before saying, "I'll go with you. You don't wear a shackle on your finger."

With a laugh I said, "No, no wife, no girlfriend, and no prospects. I'm saving for a dream."

When we walked out the front door, the bitter cold wind took our breath away until we covered most of our faces with our neck scarves. We quickly moved across the street at the crosswalk and down the street a hundred feet or so, before opening a big heavy door and entering the outer area of "The Office." They had a secretarial desk with a phone, PC screen, and a mannequin sitting at the desk. I suppose it was supposed to be the receptionist. Our company receptionist had about as much personality.

We could hear the music and laughter through the big double doors that were labeled "Conference Room." Inside we found a stand up table away from the jukebox speakers. A scantily clad waitress took our order for two mugs and a pitcher, plus a big bowl of popcorn, as we loosened our cold weather outerwear.

When the waitress came back, she pointed to a nearby booth and said, "They are leaving, want to sit down?"

That earned the waitress two bucks instead of the usual single I tipped. When we were sitting, sampling popcorn, and taking our first drink of beer, Sonja asked, "So what is the dream that keeps you from being a chaser like most of the men at the company?"

I smiled at Sonja and told her, "I want to move to Florida. If I could get a job, I would move to Key West tomorrow. I've been attending classes to become a bartender. Now that I've graduated from that school, I hope to get some real experience with a part time job that could be a way to be employed down there."

It was Sonja's turn to nod, "That's a smart idea. Other than the sunshine and warm weather, why do you want to move to Florida and the keys?"

"I took my vacation down there about this time last year and really enjoyed myself. I met a lot of nice people, including a couple of nice ladies, but most of all; I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. I spent some time on the beach everyday, wandered completely around the island on a bicycle, and even tossed some cracked corn at a few of the chickens that run around down there. I want to do that every day."

Sonja looked up at me, "I went there last year too, but it was for my senior college spring break in late March. My dad helped me with expenses, so it didn't cost much, and I was able to stay with him and my stepmom while I was there. I really liked it as much as you do."

I couldn't believe this girl ended up in ice cold northern Ohio instead of near her dad on Key West. I had to ask, "How come you stay up here if your dad lives down there. Do you live with your mom?"

"No, Pete, mom passed away several years ago. If she was alive, both mom and dad would be down there. I went to school on a scholarship up here and haven't really had the money to make a break to go down there. Dad said he would help, but when I go, if I go, I want to pay for it myself. I'm rooming with three other girls right now, and that really helps the budget. There are only two bedrooms, so we all share, but we only pay two-fifty each, including utilities, for a decent place."

My turn to nod, "Wow, I should get a roommate again. I tried it before, but the guy was a slob and wanted to party every night. He couldn't get over that I didn't want to go out with him all the time. I might do that again. Maybe I'll get lucky this time."

Sonja asked, "How long do you think it will take for you to save up enough to move?"

I told her, "I think I have enough right now. I'm figuring that I have to have enough to rent a place and have food for at least three months. I'm sort of thinking I need six months, since jobs are tough to find, but that's why I've taken the bartender classes. I can always work as a waiter, or even a busboy, if that's all there is."

"Wow," Sonja said, "You are ready and have thought this through. I suppose I could do it now since I could stay at dad's place, but I don't want to be a burden on him and my stepmom. They need their privacy too."

I asked, "Does your dad still work?"

"He sure does. He's an assistant manager at a big hotel down there. He often has some screwed up hours, but Clara, my stepmom, and dad go to the beach nearly every day and enjoy the warm weather down there."

"Sonja, just talking about it has me wanting to pack up and leave."

The sweet girl said, "You can always rent a trailer to pull behind your car."

I laughed, "That's probably another reason I don't date much. I don't have a car."

Sonja looked startled, "What do you do? Do you ride the bus or walk?"

I was still laughing at her surprise. "I'm just a real bubba, Sonja. I have a pickup truck. I bought it so I would have a way to haul what I have down to Florida. Actually, I don't have enough to fill the bed of the truck as it is."

"Won't your stuff get wet if it rains? Do you plan on putting everything in plastic bags?"

I looked at the sweet young thing, "No, it has a cap. A really tall fiberglass cap that keeps it dry inside. Heck, if you are like I was when I finished school, anything you have would fit in one as well."

Sonja sort of twisted her mouth up, "No, I don't have much. Dad has some of my stuff down there in a storage locker, and all I really have here are the bare minimum of clothes and knickknacks."

Off-handedly, not really meaning it, I asked, "Want to pack up and head to Key West?"

Sonja squinted at me, but she wasn't smiling. I felt like she was looking into my soul. "Yeah, I'd like that. I'd like that a lot. If you are willing to be a busboy, I'll bet I can be a waitress or shop clerk somewhere. I'll bet dad wouldn't mind if I stayed there for a month or so until I could find a roommate or three."

I stared back at her, "Do you mean it? If you do, that would be all it takes for me to pack it in here and head south."

With a smile, Sonya said, "Yeah, I mean it. I'm not hot for this job anyway. I think they want a lot more than I'm willing to give. I even heard a couple of them talking about getting someone more willing. If you want to, let's do it."

We had finished our popcorn and a small pitcher of beer. When the waitress checked on us, I ordered a repeat of what we had when we came in.

Before the waitress was back, Sonja said, "I want to get something straight though, I won't sleep with you for taking me along. I'll share the cost of gas, tolls, food, and we can even share a motel room, but no hanky-panky. I'm not that kind of girl. Can you keep your hands off of my lush body?"

With that, she was laughing loud enough to attract attention.

"Okay, okay, I get the picture. Let's do it. I'll do my best to keep my hands off you, but you have to do the same. You know I'm a real Adonis complete with a six pack. A cold one in my fridge."

It was her turn to laugh, "My kind of guy. At least I run every day to keep my figure."

I sighed, "I run too, but I use the weight room at my apartment as I need the exercise to compensate for the pitchers I have in the evening while watching the cute waitstaff."

Sonja reached across the table and punched me in the shoulder. "What's the matter; you can't ogle a friendly face?"

"I could, but you've already built the fence. I don't know whether the waitresses have a fence yet."

Sonja shook her head, "Their fences will go up when they find themselves being chauffeured in your Silverado limousine."

"I'll have you know my pickup is a reasonably new Ford F-150, with under a hundred thousand miles."

Still grinning Sonja asked, "Just how new is the limo you're talking about?"

"It's a 2000, only twelve years old now. Like new, you'll see."

"You're not kidding, are you? You're planning on hauling us to Florida in a twelve year old pickup!" she exclaimed.

"You'll see; it's like new and has all of the interior enhancements. It even has power windows, cruise control, and air conditioning."

Sonja couldn't stop laughing, "My my, it is a plush pickup, isn't it? You'll have to show me your pride and joy when you can."

"Okay, okay, I know the truck sounds like a rat trap, but it is nice. It had thirty five thousand miles when I bought it, and it only has eighty-five now. I just put new tires on it and had all of the recommended dealer service. The paint is great under a couple dozen coats of wax. Every time I get turned down for a date, I wax the truck. I don't ask girls out often, too much wax on, wax off."

After another laugh, she asked, "Did you drive your truck in today?"

"Yes Ma'am, I did."

"I don't have a car yet; you can give me a ride home so I can see your dream truck."

I waved at our waitress, settled up for the last pitcher, suggested to Sonja that she use the restroom before we leave, and hurried to the men's room as well.

We walked to the parking lot near our building. I bought a monthly spot because the bus is too much of a hassle and with its schedule, I would have to be at the office almost an hour ahead of time. Can't have that, can we?

At the lot, Sonja was surprised at how nice my pickup was. When I opened the door for her, she was even more surprised that the interior smelled new. Everything was perfectly clean, and I was thinking, ready for a trip down to Florida.

Sonja looked over at me, "Are we really going to do this? Are you really going to resign? I have some inside information that you're slated to be promoted into the manager supervisor for incoming. That is going to mean a nice raise for you."

"It figures. I decide to beat feet to get out of here, and I'm passing up a nice promotion. Well, too bad, I want to go, especially if you're going with me. We can help each other adjust to being busboys and store clerks."

Sonja said, "I did run a cash register and restock groceries at the big grocery store here while I was in school. Actually, I made almost ten an hour doing that. Florida may not pay as well as they do up here, but I'll bet we can get jobs."

As we neared her apartment building, she asked, "Do you want some spaghetti? I have a bunch of that with some meat sauce. I even have some lettuce for a salad. Come on, eat with me and we'll tell my roommates what's up."

I'm a guy. Mention food, especially that I don't have to cook, and you have a friend for life. When she offered me a beer to go with the food, I was in love; at least as much in love as I could be with a babe that already told me I wasn't getting any. So what else is new?

We yakked while we cleaned up the kitchen and talked until we both yawned. I saw it was getting close to eleven, so I said I had to leave. At the door, Sonja smiled, gave me a hug, and told me, "If you drive in tomorrow, I'll ride in with you if it isn't too far out of your way. Do you mind swinging by to pick me up, that is, if you don't live across town?"

I didn't want to give away where I lived, so I told her I would see her at seven fifteen and left.

Funny how I was smiling all the way home, or at least all the way to my dinky apartment. I didn't waste any time. I stripped down, brushed my teeth, smiled at the friendly face in the mirror, and slid into bed. I was thinking of Sonja, seeing her through a guy's eyes instead of a working cohort's eyes, and it was nice.

Sonja was about five six or seven and probably weighed about 130-140. She was not fat, but not scrawny either. She had a caboose to die for, and she had a nice top but didn't show off a lot of cleavage at work. She had medium brown hair that probably turned blond in the sun. Her skin tone was just a shade dark as if she had some Italian in her. Well, she said she wasn't available, but I'll bet she'll be one hell of a good friend, and that's what I needed more than a punch. As far as that was concerned, Martha and her five daughters took care of things when necessary.

When the alarm woke me the next morning, I lay for a minute thinking about the crazy conversation I had with Sonja. Was it the beer, or was it real?

I quickly dressed in cold weather running gear and rode the elevator down from the fifth floor. I should have looked outside as it was white out there. Sometime during the night, it had snowed to the point that there had to be six to eight inches of the slippery stuff on the ground. Well, no running this morning.

Instead of running outside, I went to the apartment gym and was lucky to find a free treadmill. You were limited to a half hour on the treadmill as more and more people came in, checking the meters of each of us running or walking. I always marveled at all the people who worked out in the gym as they all wore scowls instead of smiling. I smiled at all of them, if for no reason other than to piss them off. I hate it when all someone does is frown and scowl all day. Every time I received an agent like that, I could almost predict how many days they would last. If you are not friendly on the phone, you sell nothing. A smile while talking will always get a customer to say yes.

I was shaved, showered, and dressed early this morning, and I thought I should get an early start as it was going to be murder to traverse the roadways to get downtown. When I pulled up to Sonja's apartment, she came out the door, ready to leave.

She waved me off as soon as I started to get out of the truck to open her door, and before I could get behind the wheel and shut the door, she was in the truck, seated, and putting her seatbelt on.

She smiled at me, "Sure glad you remembered me this morning. The news says the public busses are all running forty-five minutes to an hour late. If we get downtown too early, we can go to the deli for breakfast."

The snow was still coming down hard all the way to the city. Surprising though, was the lack of traffic. I suppose everyone thought business would stop because of the snow. Hopefully, I would have a full crew this morning, or it would mean that I had to log in as an agent to help out. With all of the potential customers staying away from work for the day, our sales could go up dramatically.

We did have time to go next door for a bagel with cream cheese and an egg. No sausage, bacon, or ham at Lieber's Deli. They were good Jews and wouldn't corrupt their beliefs even for an extra buck.

When Sonja and I parted for the day, she said, "Give it some thought about when you want to turn in your notice so I can give mine at the same time. If you still want to move to the Keys, I'm in."

We waved goodbye, and I entered the call in area. It didn't look like the night shift had a full crew, so I was concerned about my day staff. I went to the break room where people began assembling before shift change and found at least a couple dozen people waiting.

Back at my cube, I looked at the scheduling and decided we would be alright as we were only scheduled for twenty-eight this morning and thirty four this afternoon. There must be a couple of promos this afternoon that were thought to attract business.

I went back to the break room and counted noses. I had twenty-six of the twenty-eight with ten minutes to go until start. Back in my cube, I wrote a pop-up for the agent's screens that any volunteers for a day shift would be appreciated at time and a half. I typed in that some could sack out in the break room until this afternoon as I would need more people then. All they would have to do is to return my pop-up, and I would get the agent number for who was willing to stay. I sent that information to personnel explaining why I was heavy today.

Just as I was getting up to go out on the floor to make sure everyone had logged in, Sonja came to the opening to my cube and said, "I don't have to worry about giving notice, they gave me notice that I was finished Friday, tomorrow. They told me I just wasn't compatible with their needs. How's that for a brush off? I'm thinking good riddance."

I must have frowned as Sonja looked startled, but I assured her, "I'm disappointed management acts like that with our new employees. I'd bet that's where Miss Sheba is this morning. She logged in, but received a message to report to personnel. I'm sure you've seen her. A mile of cleavage, and if her skirt was another inch shorter, you would be able to tell if she was wearing a g-string."

Sonja laughed, "She's in with Stan, the king, being interviewed right now. She's already interviewed with Bob, who was looking very happy when she came out with her hair a mess. Oh well, one more day and I'm gone."

I asked, "So what brings you down to the trenches this morning?"

"Wanted to tell you the scoop and be out of the way for a few minutes while Sheba services the rest of the crowd. There really isn't much work to do up there, and I was promised a good letter of recommendation because I walked in on them with her on her knees in front of Bob. I couldn't care less as I'm sure a waitress or store clerk job doesn't require a whole lot of references."

I told Sonja, "I'll be sending something up this afternoon. Let me get it composed and begin planning on what and what not to take with us."

When she left, I scanned the monitors to see we were having an exceptionally heavy traffic day. With the snow keeping a lot of people at home, they were sitting in front of the tube looking at junk to buy. Instead of twenty-eight, I had thirty-seven, and there were another eight waiting to go on this afternoon. I went to get those eight and put them in seats. After gathering all of the overtime employees, I told them, "I'll set your wrap up timer for two minutes to give you a longer breather. It won't be enough for a nap, but it will give you a chance to take a break. Anyone needing some additional time let me know and I'll log you out."

When I saw that the shift had settled in, taking calls as fast as they came in, I used my center monitor to pull up Word so I could type my demise, my ending, my leaving the frigid north.

I was about to send an e-mail to the four managers, but needed to hit the john and get a cup of coffee.

The one thing being in management that was good was the semi-executive washroom. The place was plush enough to make you wonder what the executives have. I was relieving myself when Bob and Stan walked in. Stan was on one side of me with Bob on my other side. Stan said, "Pete, you need to come up to our office area this morning. You're going to be taking Bob's place as soon as he's transferred upstairs. We are having a new sex-re-tary start next week, who is giving auditions this morning. She is really good, and you will get a chance to use her everyday if you want. Come on up, and give her a tryout. You and me can give her a dp, you know, a double play." He laughed, "She's a proverbial viper. She can suck a softball through a garden hose, if you know what I mean."

Bob said, "I think the babe craves the juicy stuff. She's already taken two loads from me and was back under my desk before I came in here."

Stan made me a little ill when he said, "You should have just told her to drink your piss, my man. I'll bet she will do that and more. Man, I can't wait until we get rid of Miss Goody-Two-Shoes and have a real sex-re-tary working up there."

That made up my mind; I sent my resignation and notice directly to personnel. No need in having to fend off the four managementeers and their wanton mistress.

By noon, I was visited by a vice-president, as well as the XO of personnel. I told all of them the same thing. I had been saving for a move to the Keys and was looking forward to warm sunny weather. No one suspected anything else, and I sure wasn't going to rain on anyone else's parade.

At four in the afternoon, Stan came down to my cube, "Hey, Pete, are you really going to leave with a big promotion coming? You know this is going to almost double your income and besides that, you get all the pussy you can handle. You're single; you know how hard it is to get laid sometimes. This is a dream job, Pete. Give it some thought."

I looked Stan in the eye and said, "I'm staying through the next two weeks to give you a chance to get someone ready for the job. This can be a disaster if you don't work the people right. I promise to have someone ready by then."

Stan turned cold, "Tell you what, Pete, log off and give me your keys. If you have any personal property, get it and I'll walk you out. When management resigns, the company doesn't take any chances and drops them immediately. I have your two weeks severance and your vacation days in a check right here. Let me help you clean out your desk."

There was nothing personal in the cube. I picked up my Cross pen, put it in my pocket, handed Stan my security card, and smiled. "I'm ready, give me the money, and I'm out of here."

All the way down in the elevator, Stan kept trying to talk me out of leaving, constantly telling about the Hoover they had just hired to be the secretary for the mid-level managers.

We shook hands and I went through the revolving doors. Stan didn't look back, but I did to see him punch the elevator button and to go back to his Hoover.

Standing outside the revolving door, my thoughts were interrupted by, "You too? I thought they might take you up on your two weeks notice. The four argued about it until Stan said they needed to abide by the policy. He had me send personnel a note requesting your check and mine. Really a class act."

Sonja asked, "How about taking me home so I can pack? You do that and we can be on our way in the morning."

Primary Editing by Pepere
Proofing and Continuity by Sagacious
Helicopter Guru, Rotorhead

Thorsten Thoroughly Thrusts Thru
Last one through - Deenara2000

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