The mustard from Chris's liverwurst sandwich clings, in ochre gobs, to the corners of his mustache—which he makes a move to wipe on his Budweiser T-shirt's sleeve; thinks better of it; uses instead a scrap of discarded ledger paper. He has locked himself in his office to do the books, ostensibly—actually, to think. He has been made an offer. No big deal. Nothing to get all worked up about. And yet it sticks in his craw, impossible to ingest. Girls. A friend (well, not a friend exactly, more like an associate) approached him about procuring girls for a private get-together. Why not? Easy enough to ask. "An after-hours party next Saturday night; anyone interested?" Easy—except that this associate talked cold-hard cash—some for the girls, some for Chris—making him suspicious. Smelled like pimping. Chris is not a pimp. In his book, pimps are scum. He would sooner have one shot than let one on the premises. Sounded less contemptible, though, at the time. Which is why he agreed; Chris did agree. A done deal. He had shaken on it.

"Goddamn-it!"

He stabs his pencil repeatedly into the desk pad. Should have thought it over, should have asked Molly. Molly showed good sense about such matters. Too late, now. After the fact, he might as well keep his trap shut. Molly would likely...

"Chris?"

Michelle's intrusive call gives Chris a guilty jolt.

"WHAT?"

"Chris, can I come in?"

"NOT NOW."

Michelle remains outside. Bad mood? With Chris, everything is timing. Catch him right and the world is practically yours; catch him wrong and you flirt with losing your livelihood.

"Chris, it's important."

"Shit; I swear to God, I'm goin' back to cowboys. Tits 'n ass are one huge pain in the butt."

He crosses to the door. He lets Michelle in.

"Sorry. Hope I'm not bothering you."

"You are." She turns to leave; he stops her. "You're here; let's have it."

"No, it can wait. Looks like you've got other things on your mind."

"Other than what? Come on, you're wasting time, Michelle. Just spill it."

"Can I sit down?"

"Christ, what is this?! Okay, sit, sit. Want half a sandwich?"

Out of sheer politeness, Michelle takes a bite... chews... swallows hard; the liverwurst reminds her of raw sewage.

"Thanks."

"Wanna beer?"

"No, that's alright. I have to ask a favor."

Chris resumes his guardedness. Favors, by employees, make him cringe. And yet he cultivates the role of benefactor, when it costs him no money—rarely the case. Michelle, unlike the others, has never so much as asked. Not even for a raise; and everyone gets around to asking for that.

"I'm listening." Chris has sensed the issue is other than lucre. What then? Why the suspense? Michelle, while built like a bimbo, does boast a brain. Chris respects that. The fact that she keeps stalling, however, grates on his nerves. "Well?"

"I want that you should not let go Leanne. Hire her back, I mean."

A favor granted grants a favor in return.

"You got it."

"Really?"

Michelle is stunned. She had been hopeful, of course, had rehearsed a lengthy argument, but knew that Chris infrequently changed his mind—as in almost never.

He flicks his tongue out, grooming the tips of his mustache.

"That all you wanted?"

Michelle, relieved, nonplussed, has little more to add.

"Yup."

"If you don't mind, then, I've got work to do."

Retreating to the door, Michelle abruptly turns.

"You'll call her, Chris?"

"Tomorrow."

She casts him a skeptical look.

"You'll shake on that?"

"With you?"

"With me."

He shrugs. She ventures back. He wipes his hand on his pant leg.

"Sure; what the hell." Sealing their agreement, Chris maintains his grip longer than is necessary. "You owe me one, Michelle."

She nods (suppressing an inner shudder), walks back to the door, and solemnly leaves.

 

 

Morgan's thumb...

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