Betty Dustin was naturally upset. After this past year she didn't think she could take the pressure any more. So how could this be happening to her right now? She was only just thirty. Not even middle-aged by any yardstick yet she felt a hundred or so. Add in all the trauma and dramas she had been in over the past few years you would think the gods would give her a break. But hell no. Here she was faced with yet another stupid ass idiot standing between what she needed and had to do. She wished this was the first time but it was becoming commonplace in her jobs and life.
"Come on, Betty. You know you want me. Stop playing hard to get." Gabe was insincere, and standing between her and the outside. He ran a hand over his head and gave her puppy dog eyes. He liked her, obviously, but failed to get her heavy-handed hints that she wanted him far away. He just heard "wanted". She figured she had better clarify.
"Gabe, I don't even like you much less want you," she flipped her long dark hair back and glared. Her anger rolled off her and again he took it to mean something else.
"Ah, baby, those gorgeous caramel colored eyes can't be lying," he said in what he thought was a sexually compelling tone.
Betty wanted to vomit. She pushed past him but his six foot frame was more than a bit of work for her five foot nothing size. She made a mental note to eat more food and learn to kick ass. Especially lame ass twenty-something-year-old lust-filled kids. It didn't help that he was the boss' son. If he had just been another employee she could have kicked him to the curb with a lawsuit or three.
Betty sucked in a deep breath and tried to keep calm. She didn't feel calm but figured if she survived this newest twist she might actually see thirty-one. Doubtful, but hey, a girl had to keep her dreams. Her chest was tight and she wanted to pound Gabe into tiny bits of nothing. He just smirked at her and said, "Betty, come on, who would know? You are so damn sexy. I know you want it. You just think you have to be good because we're at work. We shut the door -- nobody would have a clue."
All she wanted was a good strong weapon and some time to annihilate Gabe. Carving a bit of Gabe's ego off would quench her desires for the moment. She smiled and said, "Gabe, you know what I really need is a drink. Think you could find me something wet?" She smiled suggestively and let his misfiring brain do the rest.
"Sure thing, I'll be right back, you just stay here!" Gabe ran for the door.
As Gabe flew out of the office she looked around her space. She had to use this ugly room because it had been carefully arranged by the demented over-the-top wife of her boss, Artie. Denise was Gabe's step-mom. She was a charming child of twenty eight. It had taken her weeks to precisely place each piece of the hard tacky Danish modern furniture that overfilled the room. It wouldn't have been too bad but Denise had paid for an online course to learn the art of feng shui.
Staring at the jarring colors and misaligned furniture, Betty thought how there were some lovely books out in the real world showing feng shui properly applied in a workspace. But from everything she saw in this office and the remainder of the corporate suites, Denise had skipped those books entirely and stuck with the lessons from some overpriced modern day con man who gave her an oak framed certificate pronouncing her a feng shui master, complete with a gold embossed seal.
Betty knew all about the certificate because Denise had felt obligated to show it to everyone at least twice a year. It was usually after someone tried to rearrange the muck in their space. When Betty saw the mess she had made of the entire suite of offices, she went online and found the business was under investigation by various organizations and government agencies for wire fraud and other swindling charges. Denise was so pleased she graduated from feng shui school Betty never had the heart to tell her it was a scam. But then Denise barely made it through high school from the stories she heard. Gabe was fond of telling everyone all about Denise and her mistakes. Betty never got why Gabe didn't hit on his step-mom. She was much prettier and nicer than Betty ever was to Gabe.
She felt guilty about having those thoughts and left her office how Denise had tormented it into shape. Thus no good deed goes unpunished. Her office demonstrated that fact. The wall in front of her desk was blood red. Not a nice quiet burnt red or even a pale sunset red but the red of a freshly killed animal. If that wasn't bad enough the wall to the right of her was mustard yellow. Neither were her choices but Denise swore that the ambiance of the placement of furniture and prosperity of such a choice of colors was going to make Betty successful for all of her life.
She looked around the room and wondered how the hell she got caught in such a normal appearing life. Her computer chimed a reminder message and she saw she was late for a conference call. She quickly picked up the receiver and punched for an outside line. Dead silence again. The wiring in the building was forever blinking on and off and the phones had started dropping lines in the past week. She swore and ran out of the room.
Betty was pissed off to run smack into Gabe. He had said he would be right back but she forgot. Rarely did she pay much attention to Gabe other than avoiding him as much as possible. He came back with a can of pop. Nothing she would ever drink since it was a sugar-laden soda. Hell, what girl over the age of fifteen drank sugar on purpose? He tried to hand her the soda but she just lifted her eyebrow in distain. Then she jumped as she saw he wasn't alone.
Behind Gabe was a shifty-looking guy nearly as tall as Gabe. Gabe saw Betty's eyes widen and said, "Oh, Betty, this is Rob. He just came into town last night."
"Hi Rob, so are you a friend of Denise and Artie?" He looked old to be hanging out with Gabe. Gabe, at twenty-two, was pretty immature and usually clustered with like-minded fools, while Denise and Artie had a gamut of friends all ages.
"Come on Betty, he's my buddy. What, I can't have friends that don't know my folks?" Gabe was pretty uptight about that. Come to think of it he really didn't have many friends outside the ones he forced himself on at work.
Rob smiled somewhat, but said, "Hey, Gabe you said you were going to introduce me to the folks this time. We need to do that business we discussed last week."
Gabe and Rob exchanged a dirty smile and Betty felt slimed by them.
"Okay, then see you guys later." Betty tried to pass them in the hall.
"Don't think so." Rob said while nudging Gabe.
"Ah, Betty, we need you to come into your office and have you look up some information," Gabe wasn't really asking but commanding. There was a feeling of menacing pressure coming from Rob. Betty wanted nothing to do with either of them but Gabe's hand snaked around her wrist and pulled her back inside closing the door. He placed the soda on the oddly shaped hip bruising end table Denise had left in the corner of the room. It was next to a dying palm tree. Betty made a mental note to have the plant replaced next time she saw the plant service.
Betty quickly yanked her hand free from Gabe and said, "Excuse me, I was just leaving."
"No, now you're sitting behind your desk and finding out what Gabe needs," Rob almost put a question in the statement, but Betty still was uncomfortable and thought there was something odd happening. Rob was standing too close to her and he basically forced Betty into the chair.
This was utterly stupid, Betty all but said aloud. She wisely bit her tongue, keeping her thoughts to herself and looked up at Gabe and Rob standing over her. They both were heavily looming above her with a tangible air of menace. But all she could think was how the hell she got into this mess. The fact they could harm her was pushed aside as she brooded.
She knew that Gabe would never have threatened her in any way if it weren't for his supposed buddy, Rob. Rob had active waves of anger rolling off him and the mean pinched look of someone who was more than willing to back the unspoken threat of violence and damage. Not exactly the sort one took home for the family dinner.
Betty was pretty sure what this was all about because it was why she was even working here. Gabe's dad, Artie, was an idiot and had been siphoning off thousands of dollars a week under a dummy corporation to the Cayman Islands. From there the money went in all directions. He hired a new bookkeeper every few months after firing the old one for incompetence and mismanagement of accounts. The constant changing of people was his idea of clever and sneaky. For the past six years he had been under the illusion his fraud was undetectable.
In spite of herself Betty found herself sympathetic to Artie and Denise. They were felony stupid, granted, but they really weren't obviously mean-spirited in any way. Artie had begun snipping a few dollars here and there to cover some of his son's debts and his new shining wife's schooling. He kept throwing more money after the black hole they both created in his world instead of cutting them off and getting them some help. Now Artie was over a quarter of a million in the red. He was getting greedier as the clock ticked. Her clock.
She had found out about the fraud when her favorite cousin got fired by Artie. Kennedy was a shy, reserved gal who was happy to find a job in her field just out of school. Artie did his usual grab and snag and fired Kennedy after four months. Betty and Kennedy talked on the phone weekly and she knew all about the man, and that Kennedy had found something odd going on in the business. Before she was fired, Kennedy had sent Betty an envelope full of copies of documents that were confusing her. Betty had barely begun to look at them all when Kennedy was fired. Kennedy took it personally and tragically. Shaking her head, Betty tried to remove the memory of the funeral. Kennedy had felt she failed, and slit her wrists after drinking a bottle of tequila. That was three years ago, but it seemed like yesterday. It only took Betty two months after her death to get a job with Artie. Not the bookkeeper but as an executive marketing director.
Rob brought Betty back to the moment with a loud hand smacking down on her desktop right in front of her. She jerked but didn't say a word. Rob stood over her. He was very close, nearly touching her hair with his body. His belt buckle was less than an inch away. If she turned her head too fast she would be encountering Rob's belt and possibly more. A grin played over his face as he noticed her gaze on level with his waist. The pulse of awareness let Betty know that Rob not only saw her position, but took some small pleasure. He was a predator.
"Okay, girly, stop stalling." He growled and looked at Gabe while asking, "Is she like brain damaged or something? She keeps spacing out." Rob shot another glance at Gabe. It was obvious he now blamed Gabe for whatever mental defects Betty had.
Gabe shrugged, "I don't usually talk to her much." He cringed a bit. Gabe was trying to distance himself from Betty, and as she watched Rob's reaction she understood. Rob was bristling at Gabe's reply. Betty noticed Rob's hand curl into a fist with his knuckles white with the movement. Gabe didn't know he was on thin ice, but he suspected something was off about his buddy.
Betty kept her mouth shut at the lie. Gabe was forever babbling and talking around her, trying to include her in his world and life. Mostly he just talked at her since she pretty much ignored him as much as she could. If asked for any information about Gabe she doubted she would be able to tell Rob much, other than she thought Gabe was weak willed and needy. She didn't think Rob looked like he was very understanding of such weakness.
"Well, you need to start finding where Artie hid all his money." Finally Rob gave a direct order. He cracked his knuckles and tapped his fingers roughly on Betty's monitor. His eyes bounced around the room distracted by all the weird placement of objects and strangely colored walls. It was really bugging him but he couldn't put a finger on exactly why.
"What's with this shit?" Rob asked while sweeping a hand around at the office.
Gabe answered for Betty, "My dad's screwy wife did it. Looks like ass, doesn't it?"
Rob shook his head, "Hell no, I like ass. Man, it's all fucked up, that's for sure. You sure there's some money?"
Nodding his head Gabe said, "I can get some from them but not enough."
Ignoring basic office protocol Rob lit up a cigarette and replied, "That's a fact. We need some cash now, not six months from now. That deal won't be around forever. Once we get the money we can live like kings." He laughed and tapped the computer again.
"Get cracking, babe. We need about forty thousand by noon tomorrow. And don't say you don't know what I mean. I know you have the skills." Rob laughed.
Betty had skills alright. Rob was still laughing at her when she spaced out, remembering how her communication skills had got her in trouble before and how. She had spent most of her college years recreating history in the form of zeros and ones. She was pretty good at hacking out a trade and that was how she had faked her resume and talents. She was well aware of where Artie kept the files and funds but wasn't going to help these two losers destroy all her hard work. She tapped some nonsense and watched the screen bounce around with some fake data she used to stall Artie when he wanted her to actually work.
Gabe and Rob were getting impatient at her stalling. Her delaying tactics weren't going to work for much longer. Gabe was looking puzzled at the stream of running numbers and words. Rob had the befuddled look of someone who wouldn't have any clue what was real.
Her phone shrilled out on her desk causing Rob to jump exclaiming, "What the hell?"
Gabe snickered, "What, they don't have phones in where you're from?"
Rob punched Gary in the arm. Betty did admire the way Gary only whimpered and didn't cry. The phone rang again.
"I'm supposed to be on a conference call," she said while picking up the phone.
Rob was stopped from snatching the receiver out of her hand because just at that moment Denise walked in saying, "Betty, you have to answer your phone."
She noticed the men.
"Gabe, who's your new friend?" Denise fluttered her overly mascara-laden lashes while putting her hand on Rob's arm. Rob looked down to the claw holding him and started to pull away when he noticed how many jewels were in the various rings that were on her hand. The skating rink that made up the engagement ring was so large it appeared at first glance to be fake. Rob was busy calculating the value of all the gems when he slid Gabe a sly grin.
"Gabe, you didn't tell me you had a sister," the flattery fell from his lips. Given how close in age they were it wasn't exactly a stab, but still Betty thought it was pretty lame.
"Rob, this is my stepmom. Denise, this is Rob." Gabe reluctantly parted with the manners.
Betty continued with her phone call. It was the coordinator for the conference call. She was helpless to stop the train wreck heading for Denise.
"Oh, charmed!" Denise was still going for the gracious lady of the manor persona.
Rob was more than happy to depart with the walking jewelry store. Gabe had paled as it dawned on him that Denise was soon going to be liberated from her jewels. Rob looked over to Betty and said, "Don't leave, we will be back after lunch and take care of that little bit of business."
The men drew Denise out of Betty's office. She cut her call short and calmly hung up the phone. Pulling up a screen on her computer she began to key in some codes. Once the transfer was done she pulled a disc from her purse. A few more tabs and the virus was launched. She waited until it was finished and removed the disc. Purse over her arm, she left. She figured she had another half hour before the boys were back and by then she would be on the plane to the islands. It was so nice of Gabe to bring in that man. He would wear the embezzlement frame perfectly. Smiling, she knew her cousin would be proud.
-- Lydia Manx
Originally appeared 2006-06-12