Aimee Woodley gulped down her double espresso with machine-like briskness, but not with a machine's invulnerability to feel pain. The waitresses and customers in this tiny restaurant were too involved with their own matters to notice the brief look of anguish on her face. Her tongue, mouth and upper throat were all scalded, not seriously, but enough to affect her speech for a few hours. Not what she needed, waiting for her perspective boss to show up.
As the pain subsided, she decided to look outside, to wait for her potential employer and size up what could be her new home. The little coffee-shop's large plate-glass windows gave a nice view of the town; a small taste of New England in the Midwest. There was the village square, and narrow storefronts. A gazebo stood in the town square. Snug Federal-style houses lined the streets. One house, a large, three-story colonial, which she would later learn was the Town Hall, even had a widow's walk on the roof, even though the nearest large body of water was fifty miles away.
But Aimee was a misplaced city girl, forced by economic need following her divorce to find work wherever it took her. And if that meant moving to this rust-belt version of Mayberry, she had a car and luckily not too much to pack.
Jacob Brierly entered the shop and immediately noticed the one person he did not recognize. "Miss Woodley?" he asked. "Well, hello darlin.'"
"Misteh Briry?" she replied, standing, her words slurred by the scalding-hot coffee. She showed him the empty coffee cup, "Drang too fas," she explained, feeling completely embarrassed. She stealthily drew in some cool air across her tongue to try to ease the swelling.
The tall, gray-haired man smiled and sat down. His light brown jacket and pants seemed to fit the town's rustic appearance. "I'll have the usual," he called out to the bar. Then he looked at Aimee. "I must say, a very impressive resume. It's rare we get anyone in these parts with your experience. The smart ones go off to college or the military and never return."
"Thakoo," she replied, smiling. She sat down and continued her therapeutic inhaling.
"I like city people," he continued. "They understand the importance of discretion. Around here, the slightest misunderstanding can grow into a scandal in no time flat."
She simply nodded, thinking of the "scandal" that cost her her marriage. Her ex-husband's pet fantasy whose realization created an unbreakable barrier between them. She was, as it turned out -- and much to her own surprise --"that" sort of girl.
"I will admit," he said, taking the whipped cream and chocolate concoction from the waitress, "I've made my share of mistakes." He stopped briefly to thank the waitress, who smiled when he patted her backside. "Anyway, I need people in my office who understand how damaging gossip can be."
Hold it there, Buster, Aimee thought. Why are you telling me all this?
After a sip of his drink, Breirly went on. "City people know the side the butter's on. They know how the game works and how to play it."
What game? Aimee was starting to feel very uncomfortable. There was something unwholesome about this man. Was he simply some aging lecher, or a corrupt small town magnate? Was she expected to keep quiet about his affairs or his malfeasance?
"Whud evils," she asked, "would I hafta turn a bli-eye to?"
"You don't want to know," he replied, chuckling. "I will tell you, though, that the Government has made it impossible for anyone running a business to be honest. OSHA, the EPA, the FTC, and dozens of others have made running a business hell on earth. And everyone cuts corners to make do. You think your old employers never did the same?"
"Dunno," she replied, "I'uz low-levow funcherry." Damn, 'functionary,' she thought, now wishing she'd ordered an iced tea.
"The Feds are like having another wife -- one without any wifely duties. They nag, bitch, refuse things you need and then raise the roof when you find someone who will do those things for you." Then he looked at her with an icy stare. "You might do in that capacity," he said, "although I have had an investigator check you out, and in your present condition, you might not want to think about such matters."
An investigator? One who might talk to her ex? Aimee stood up, drawing in a long cool breath, letting the air flow across her tongue. "Mister Brierly," she said, unable to hold in her anger, "Fuck you."
Jacob Brierly broke out laughing. "A very good answer," he said.
"What the hell?" she said, confused, not realizing her speech was improving. "This some sort of test?"
"No, no, no," he said, smiling. "I am truly one son of a bitch. But unless I find someone who can slap me back in line from time to time, I'm going to lose this company. My company. A company I've spent my life building up from a tiny one-man operation in my garage to one hundred and fifty men and women in a nice, modern complex. To be honest, a random lawsuit is something I fear far more than I even death itself."
Aimee could see both sides of this man, and she had faced down enough of her own demons -- at the cost of her marriage -- to understand his plight. "In that case," she said, sitting down, "I guess I'm your girl."
"Okay then," he said, nodding. "So what ever happened to all that 'if a female is over 14 you've gotta call them a woman' bull crap?"
Aimee smiled. Keeping this Neanderthal in line was going to be a real challenge. But work certainly would not be dull.