Short Fiction for Guests of the Wordfeeder
Monday, December 5, 2011
Leaning up against the desk inside his carrel, one of a cluster with short walls, his legs crossed, his arms folded, Ross was busy watching the girls go by. For most men, it was an innocent enough, casual if not altogether discreet hobby. For Ross, it defined him. Charlie, in the adjacent carrel, was focused on the work for which the five of them in their team were collectively responsible. The less Ross did, and it was hard for him to do any less, the more slack Charlie and the others had to pick up.
“Hey.” Ross had been watching the elevator doors.
“What?” Charlie responded, not bothering to look up from his screen.
“Take a look at Katherine. Could she be any more…”
“Give it rest.” This time he did look up, “and would you please get back to work. None of has time to cover you ass.”
“And if I don’t?” Ross responded, but without taking his eyes of his incoming target. “Colliers is going to hold all of us responsible if we miss his freakin’ deadl.. ..Ooo,” he interrupted himself for what he considered to be more important business. Katherine was just passing by, doing her best to ignore him. She was appropriately dressed, but there was no minimizing her chest, and no reason to around normal people. “I don’t know, Charlie, can any tits that perfect be real? What do you think? A few pounds off those hips and she’d..”
“Hey!” Charlie, who had gotten back to work, snapped his head in Ross’ direction. “She can hear you, asshole.”
Katherine, now just a few feet past them, stopped. Standing there, her back to the two of them, she wondered if saying anything would make any difference, and then turned to look over her shoulder at one of them. “Thanks, Charlie.” He was one of the good guys. She and the other women who Ross taunted knew it. “He’s a jerk. Sorry you have to work with him.”
Ross smirked and tilted his head side to side when he heard it.
“Me too.” Charlie agreed, glancing at Ross, but then really looking at Katherine who smiled at him.
“Call me?” She wanted to encourage him, and doing it in front of Ross made it all that better.
“Yeah. Sure.” He was serious. She blinked once, smiled again and gave him a quick wave goodbye as she walked away.
“Listen, Dickhead,” Charlie spoke up as soon Katherine was out of ear shot. “You don’t mind if I call you ‘Dickhead,’ do you? In you’re case it’s literally tru. ..Do you understand ‘sexual harassment’? Sooner or later someone is going to complain or sue your ass off, and damn if I’m not going to be a witness for them, so shut the fuck up and get to work – or do us all favor and go fake it somewhere else.”
“Wow.” Ross stood all the way up, and stepped over to lean his folded arms on the short wall separating their work areas, his lame ass way of getting into Charlie’s face. “Wow,” he said again, nodding his head, “you must be banging the livin’ shit out of..”
“Wow, yourself. You’ve been doing this crap for months, ever since they set us up. How much longer do you think you can get away with it?”
“When did you go to law school?” Ross decided to give him a mini-lecture. “It’s not harassment for me to comment on girls in the office. It’s guy talk. Obnoxious maybe,” he almost cackled when he said it, “but as long I don’t make those comments directly, and none of them works for or even with us…” He’d obviously thought it over. “And staring, even leering at them doesn’t count. Makes them feel uncomfortable maybe, which is a real kick by the way, but it’s not harassment.”
No response from Charlie who just stared back.
“It’s not,” Ross finished up. “I’ll God damn say whatever I want. ..Now why don’t you shut up get back work before we’re all in deep shit.” And he stood up, rapping the tips of his hands on the edge of the wall. “Besides,” he raised his eyebrows, “I’ve got porno I need to check out.”
On the far side of the floor, Katherine and her closest friend, Judy, were walking back toward Judy’s office – Judy had real one, with walls and a door. – after a meeting with other staff in the small conference room. “You know,” Katherine had decided it was long overdue, “we need to do something about Ross.”
“No, kidding. Do you know he’s been telling some of the guys that Evelyn’s been coming onto him, ever since she told him to go screw himself.”
“Which I’m pretty sure is the closest he’s come to getting laid.”
“I mean, she’s got a boyfriend she really likes.”
“The AM at the grill down the street?”
“Yeah.” Judy walked around her desk and sat down. “Robert something, I think. Ross’ crap could screw all that up. I think he’s been going there, buying rounds, there hoping it would.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” And then Katherine, plopping down in the chair in front of Judy’s desk, hesitated for a moment. “..We’ve got to do something to get him fired.”
“It’s not enough. He’ll just pick up somewhere else where he left off here.”
“So what,” Katherine wondered out loud, rubbing the underside of her neck, “what does that leave?”
And then they looked at each other as if someone was suggesting that they knock him off, but then smiled while they both said, “Nahhh,” in unison.
Two days later, late one evening after work, Ross was on the couch in his apartment, on his second beer, a half eaten bag of pork rinds lying on its side next to his open laptop on his coffee table. Across the room, the widest flat screen TV he could afford, and the first thing he turned on when he came home at night, was playing nothing in particular while he read through his personal email that he hadn’t managed to take care of at the office.
“Work. ..Work. ‘De-leet.’ ..Whoa.” He stopped at one that featured a great looking picture of an almost naked blond. “Classy, but yet trashy at the same time.” It was a look he liked, although there weren’t many he didn’t. “Hmm. Sixty minutes of free live chat time? ..Why not?” Ross asked himself out loud, pressing the tacky “Cum’on!” button on the site’s homepage. A second or two later, he was there.
“Hey.” It was a twenty-something girl with short blonde hair, the same girl as on the email, wearing a t-shirt, the steelworker kind, over a bra judging from the straps he could see, and shorts, running shorts like she’d been exercising. She was leaning into her screen, for a cleavage shot and to adjust the angle of it so her guest could see her sitting back on a blanket – as good a prop as any – loosely tossed over a really comfortable looking easy chair.
“Hey,” Ross responded. “Can you hear me?”
“Sure can. Got a camera?”
“So turn it on. I like to see the man I’m having sex with.”
“Maybe later.” Ross wasn’t a bad looking guy, but wasn’t sure of himself, not around women, even the kind that got paid to make him happy. “What’s your name?”
“Peg. It’s Peg. What’s yours?” she asked him back, reaching across her chest and pulling her t-shirt off over her head, and then behind her back to unhook her bra.
“You don’t waste any time.”
“Can you zoom in on me if you want.”
“Yeah,” Ross was already on the edge of his couch, his right hand on his mouse, the crosshairs on the screen marking places on her body he could make larger. It kept him glued to his screen.
“Foreplay’s for people who don’t have sex on a regular basis – and for people in love, I guess. Are we in love,” she started to ask, but then realized she didn’t know what to call him. “What’s your name? You can make one up if you like.”
“So are we in love, Ross?” Peg looked at him coyly, slowly massaging her breasts.
“No. ..Not yet.”
“Okay then, let’s do this.”
What happened next was a full sixty minutes of Peg taking off the rest of her clothes, which she did quickly, and touching herself, first casually, then more and more seriously, getting herself going, then holding back, keeping Ross’ attention while he waited for her to start up again. All the while, Peg’s voice, now soft, confident and enticing, was reeling him in. Talking to him, without really expecting or wanting any response. Talking to someone who was paying attention, but not really listening, not in any conscious sense, to what she had to say. And then, with just a couple of minutes left, she lost or pretended, although it didn’t seem that way, to lose control. Only then did the words stop and, moments later, before she was done, the image cut off to a pitch for his credit card.
“Fuck.” And that was that. No way was Ross was paying for any of this. “There’s always another freebee out there.” Besides, an hour of porn, four beers, what was left of the bacon rinds and half a bag of Cheetos later, he had some urgent personal business to take care of.
About three weeks later, Katherine and Charlie were in the small conference room, setting up for a working lunch with Judy who was talking on her cell phone in the double-doorway. Foil wrapped sandwiches they’d picked up from the deli across the street were lying together in the center of the table, piles of napkins, plastic folks for the cups of coleslaw and potato salad, and bottles of lemonade and Coke nearby.
“Looks good, guys.” Judy was off the phone. Leaving the doors open behind her, she walked into the room and, still standing, dropped the papers she was carrying at the end of the table. “Is your cousin stopping by?”
Charlie looked up. “She’s going to tr…”
“Hey guys!” There, standing in the doorway, pulling her backpack off her shoulder, was Charlie’s cousin, Sarah, a graduate student working for her doctorate in Psychology.
Judy was the first to greet her, smiling ear to ear while she held out her hand. “And you must be ‘Peg.’”
“Yeah.” Sarah giggled excitedly. “That’s me.” And Katherine and Charlie came around the table to meet her at the door. “Hey, Charlie,” she gave him a kiss on his cheek. “And you’re Katherine?”
“Right,” Katherine and Sarah had talked once on the phone, when Sarah interviewed them all about Ross, before he visited the website they’d set up for her experiment.
“So,” Sarah had been getting feedback on a daily basis as part of their deal, “I gather Ross is a new man.”
“Damn straight,” Katherine blurted out. “One hour with you and he’s turned into Mr. Polite.”
“Still repulsive,” Judy thought there was a need for clarification, “but borderline tolerable. Good work!”
“Yeah, I seem have that effect on men,” Sarah laughed, the four of them still relishing the moment. “Sadly, it appears to have something to do with seeing me naked.” She’d tell them later, over lunch, how well her research was going, demonstrating how effectively you could unknowingly hypnotize someone in the context of a live, on-line chat if.. if you can keep the subject focused, but generally oblivious to the verbal pitch the therapist is making. It was anecdotal, and not at all a scientific test and, obviously, not something she could show to her faculty. (The email they sent Ross had been set to self-destruct as soon as the session ended.) What it did do was lay the groundwork for what promised to be some really interesting thesis research on the use of involuntary hypnosis for behavior modification.
“We’ve talked,” Katherine had to know, “but you never told me how you’re keeping him in line, what happens if he starts mak..”
“Hey!” Speaking of the you-know-what, it was Ross, on his way to drop off some papers nearby, seeing them standing there, attracted by the chatter coming through the open conference room doors. “You’re the chick from the website?!” ..And then he got it. He was sure what he got, or what had happened to him, but now, whatever it was, he knew they were all in on it. “You fucking cun.. Ahhh!” and he stopped talking, his body cringing in pain, his legs squeezing together, his right hand curling into a fist, wanting to press on his crotch as he started walking away as quickly as he could.
“Oooo!” both Judy and Katherine winced. “So that’s what happens.”
“Ouch,” Charlie was feeling sympathetic. “Pain in the crotch? How perfect is that?”
“Don’t worry,” Sarah reassured them. “The farther away he goes from target of his meanness, the less the pain. ..And it’s all in his head. Nothing’s really happening down there.”
“Oh, yeah? Better his crotch,” Katherine was thinking out loud, wondering to herself if it was okay to feel good about something like this, “than pain in my ass. ..Com’on. Let’s eat.”
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