“Looky, looky, looky!” Jeremy, our public relations coordinator foisted a massive foam hat at me as I walked into the back room. “Just in time for May.”
Two-foot masts blossomed with canvas sails. Hemp rigging attached the sails to the two and a half foot boat.
“It’s a ship,” I blinked, taking it from Jeremy.
“The Mayflower.” Jeremy identified the hat with a Scarlet O’Hara twang.
“Wait ‘til you see the pilgrims,” growled Doreen.
“Is this an anchor?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Calvin smiled coldly. “Turn your head just right and smack! You hook someone’s eye with it.”
Everyone laughed nervously because as much as we loved Calvin, sometimes he wasn’t joking.
Doreen clapped her hands for attention. “Good morning my Perky Ambassadors! Welcome to the first Monday in May!” She called our monthly associates meeting to order, and turned the meeting over to our newest of a long line of short-lived managers. He stood before us, trim, tidy, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, red power tie, and shiny leather shoes.
“Good morning. My name is Thomas Ambrose. I have been known to change traditions. I’m going to do so this morning. I would like us to go up into the café for our meeting. I think it’s very important for every employee to know all of our products, not just books, so I’m going to treat you all to breakfast. Tea, coffee, doughnuts, and bagels.”
“Please tell me you brought them in from Martin’s Bagels down the street,” Calvin gasped.
“I love humor in the workplace,” replied the new GM grimly.
“Then you’re gonna love the coffee!” Jeremy swished.
“A bribe by any other name,” suggested Sam Wayne. “You’d think these GM’s would leave notes for each other. GM number 572, treated staff to breakfast to get them on my side.”
“That’s a good idea, but then they’d have to keep tallies of how many died from food poisoning,” laughed my best friend Lilly.
“But NOW, they have to make another list of tallies for those who died from being ripped apart.” Henry shoved past us.
“Well, looks like someone didn’t enjoy being taken downtown for interrogation about Mrs. A’s murder!” Calvin did the teapot gesture, so I smacked him on the head.
“Interview, not interrogation,” I smirked.
“Did you get that detective’s phone number, Henry? He could ask me anything he wanted—at anytime,” cat-called Jeremy.
“Now, now, children,” scolded Angelique. This stunning six-foot blond with an hourglass figure, stiletto heels, size D cups, and blood-red fingernails’ real name was Adam. He smoothed his linen suit over his hips and tugged the hemline of his skirt a little closer to his mid-thighs.
“We’re not really going to wear that thing, are we, Uncle Billy?” Bessie was a new ambassador. She clung to Billy’s arm.
“There, there, little girl. You’ll get used to the h#%&&* things. Pardon my French.” He patted her hand.
Each of us sat with a steaming cup of Perky’s finest brew and a pastry; no one except Henry had touched them yet.
We looked up at the new GM without quite achieving the expectant hush most new GMs demanded. “My name is Thomas Ambrose.” He glanced around the tiny café. “I expected a larger turn out. I’m sure you are aware that these monthly meetings are mandatory.”
“Preaching to the choir, brother,” sang Jeremy.
“This is the entire staff. He fired seven people this week,” Calvin mumbled.
“Seven?” I usually keep my mouth shut at these meetings, but Calvin’s information startled me.
Lilly held up seven fingers.
“Yes?” Thomas pointed at Lilly. “The woman in jeans and the Have you martyred a Christian today T-shirt. Did you have something to add?”
“Sir, no sir!” she snapped. Despite a face like an angel haloed by glossy black ringlets which cascaded below her shoulders and were held back with a turquoise ribbon; despite size eight faded jeans and hemp sandals; despite rings on her toes and no need for a bra (due to firmness, not size); once a Marine, always a Marine.
“Mr. Thomas?” Bessie raised a trembling hand.
“We don’t really have to wear that thing on our heads, do we?”
Thomas glared with obvious distaste at the Mayflower sailing on top of Calvin’s head. Calvin had almost managed to hook Angelique’s hoop earrings twice now. Thomas sighed in disgust. “Yes. They will help identify you as Percival Floor Ambassadors.”
“Or escaped loonies,” Sam Wayne snorted.
“Ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” Jeremy pointed at Sam.
“I notice none of you are eating or drinking. Or—few of you.” Thomas put his hands in his pockets. Henry snatched the shiny doughnut off of Doreen’s plate.
Doreen was a solid chunk of muscles and would have been happy plowing fields, baking bread, and slaughtering hogs on a prairie farm during the Western Expansion. At five foot one, she was the only Perky Ambassador shorter than me. She wore beautiful dresses that just didn’t look quite right on her, and scuffed Doc martens, which she’d gotten from the Catholic thrift store for two dollars. She brooked no insolence from anyone for any reason. But she had a soft-spot for Henry.
Thomas continued. “I’d like to take this time to thank,” he peered at an index card in the palm of his hand. “Elizabeth Smythe-Covington for filling in as café manager during your recent loss.”
“Who?” Sam asked.
“Elizabeth Smythe-Covington,” Thomas repeated.
“Who’s that?” Angelique questioned.
Thomas referred to his card again. “Did I pronounce your name wrong?”
“No. It’s fine.” Henry kept her eyes on the tabletop.
“Elizabeth? Your name’s Elizabeth?” Sam gawked.
“Yes.” She glared at him.
“Like, a girly girl’s name, Elizabeth?”
“Sam, don’t piss her off!” I warned softly.
“Well, I can see why you’d go by Henry. It’s a man’s name. Manly. For a man.”
“Sam!” Lilly hissed. “Don’t make it worse!”
“Sam, Henry’s real name is Elizabeth. She’s called Elizabeth because she’s a girl.” Billy said this in a stage whisper, behind his cupped hand.
Perky’s Books and Gifts
© Evelyn Rainey 2013