Venus Tripped Here – excerpt

VENUS TRIPPED HERE

 

CHAPTER 1

When the guy with the gun and the badge shows up at your desk with a box and your boss, you know the gig is up.

“You’re kidding?” was all she could say.

Lori’s heart had stopped when she’d seen the gun. Her mind was blank except for the recognition of what was happening to her. Again. She spat out a breath of bad attitude and finally slammed her gaping mouth shut.

“Sorry, Lori. Hands off the keyboard.”

The deputy shifted his body further into her cube and hooked his thumbs in his belt. He held himself rigid, his uniform shiny against the faded government-mauve wall. He looked at her hands and raised his eyebrows.

Lori balled her hands up in her lap and held them against her jumpy stomach. She could feel her face twitching, but one thing she wasn’t going to do was give them the satisfaction of a tear.

“Why?” It was the same question she’d asked every time she’d been uprooted. And it had always been asked of a government employee. She was beginning to see an uncomfortable pattern.

“It’s not a simple answer, Lori. The truth is that a layoff was the best I could do for you. The official reason is unauthorized interview with a person of the media.

She hadn’t expected to be fired. All she’d done was tell the truth. Apparently, someone in charge hadn’t seen it that way, and now here she was, speechless and unemployed.

“Witch hunt?” Lori asked. She was containing herself well, she thought. She wanted to scream. She wanted to hit someone. She wanted to find the real witch and throttle her. Or him.

Donna squeezed Lori’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Lori. I’m not allowed to say.”

She didn’t have to say. The other two whistleblowers were already gone­—one retired and one got married and went to work for her husband’s company. Lori was the only pawn left. At least Donna really did look sorry, same as everyone else who’d ever dumped her had. Donna’s face began scrunching up and her eyes were getting wet.

Lori stood and Donna grabbed her up in a big goodbye hug and whispered into her ear, “Everyone knows the truth, Lori. You did good. I’m so sorry it turned out this way. You, Phillip, and Clara are our heroes. I’m proud of you. We’re all proud of you.”

After a moment, the deputy cleared his throat.

“Well, I guess I am a talkative witch,” Lori said. Don’t worry about it, Donna.” She really didn’t want Donna to feel bad about this. She put her badge into Donna’s outstretched sweaty hand and signed the papers that confirmed she was no longer employed.

Boss lady and the guy with the gun stood by quietly as she packed her personal belongings. Within minutes, Donna’s tears streamed down her face and the stone-silent deputy was escorting Lori out of the building in a humbling parade through the halls and out the lobby doors.

People had stopped to watch, but that barely registered on her radar. She just put one foot in front of the other through the tunnel of white noise her brain always created for forced endings.

Even out the door, it wasn’t over. The deputy walked her down the long 200-foot entrance before handing over her box of pathetic office crap. Even with the sun in her eyes, she could see co-worker eyes widened and jaws dropped as they passed her. Yeah, we all knew it could happen, but the escorted walk still had good shock value.

Well, at least the day couldn’t get any worse. She took a deep breath, sucking in a big whiff of hot parking lot pavement, and expelling her hopes and dreams.

She knew she was lucky to be laid off instead of fired, although she also knew that it was only because it was so hard to fire a State employee, what with all those basic human and employee rights that really get in the way of a self-devoted management staff led by corrupt politicians.

She supposed she’d known all along that it could end this way. After all, she did help blow the big whistle with lots of details to a reporter. Heads had rolled right and left. Apparently, they were still rolling.

But the last laugh was on her. The obviously corrupt movers and shakers had paid the price. The real power wanted an impression left on the remaining crew, hence, she was sure, her stewardship of the position example.

Political corruption would hopefully be a thing of her past. She was ditching this government racket just like they’d ditched her.

As she stood alone in the parking lot assessing her predicament, she had only two thoughts. No more wearing jeans to work. She’d have to start… hell, dressing for work.

Her second thought was that Bobby would make everything okay. That she’d knew for sure. Bobby… boyfriend, artist, kind, caring, creative, helpful… just plain wonderful human being all the way around. She smiled thinking about him and couldn’t wait to see him. She opened the back of her car and tossed in her box of office crap.

She’d been crazy about Bobby from the moment she’d met him at his art show during the Pecan Street Festival the previous year. He was an amazing artist. He’d also been starving.

He’d help her through this crisis just like she’d helped him. They’d weather it together. He could get a job, even part time, and she could look for temporary work until she landed another IT job. She wasn’t worried. She was a skilled woman with a loving man by her side.

Lori arrived home hauling her box, and Bobby met her at the door.

“I got fired, Bobby.”

“Fired! Why?”

“For talking to that reporter about the corruption scandal at work.”

“Lori, you need to get right back out there and get another job!”

She’d expected poor baby. What she got was a face full of worry.

“You’re a smart woman. You’ve been to college.”

He was more afraid than she was.

“Bobby, it’s going to be okay.”

“Come on, Lori, you’ve got to get serious. Get right back on that horse and don’t waste a day. I… we’ve got a great set-up here.”

“I know, Bobby. Don’t freak out. I kind of expected—”

“Come on, baby, homeless and hungry is no fun. You’d be surprised what people will do when it happens to them. You’ll get another job. I know you will. You just have to try.”

She spent the whole evening trying to comfort Bobby. Early the next morning, and every morning thereafter for eight weeks, he had her up, fed, ready to job hunt, and out the door by 8 a.m.