Venus Tripped Here – excerpt

VENUS TRIPPED HERE

CHAPTER 1

The can, and the boy I thought was a man.

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.

Lori spat out a breath of bad attitude and slammed her gaping mouth shut. “You’re kidding?” was all she could say, staring up at her boss’s face, looming over her and contorting like it might explode any second.

“Sorry, Lori. Hands off the keyboard.” Donna’s voice squeaked like the words were being ripped from her mouth against their will.

The state trooper shifted his body further into Lori’s cube and hooked his thumbs in his belt. He held himself rigid; his uniform shining against the faded government-mauve wall. He looked at her hands and raised his eyebrows.

Lori balled her fists up, put them in her lap, and then 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.” She slapped a rolled up piece of paper against her hand. “The official reason is ‘unauthorized interview with a person of the media.’”

Lori almost laughed at the irony. 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. Contain yourself! She wanted to laugh. 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 had retired, and one had gotten married and gone 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 Lori. Donna’s face scrunched up, and her eyes were getting wet.

Lori stood, and Donna grabbed her up in a big, desperate 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 trooper cleared his throat.

“Don’t worry about it, Donna,” Lori said as she gave her one last squeeze, then let her go. She really didn’t want Donna to feel bad about this. Lori pulled her badge from around her neck, put it 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, tears were streaming down Donna’s face and the silent trooper 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 put one foot in front of the other through the tunnel of white noise her brain always created around forced endings.

Even out the door, it wasn’t over. The trooper walked her down the long, two-hundred-foot entrance before handing over her box of pathetic office crap. Even with the sun in her eyes, she could see her co-workers’ eyes widen and jaws drop as they passed her. Yeah, we all know it can happen, but the dreadful, escorted walk out still has good shock value.

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. 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 got in the way of a self-devoted management staff led by corrupt politicians.

She’d known all along that it could end this way since she’d helped 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…dang, dressing for work.

Her second thought was dreamy because Bobby would make everything okay. That she 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.

“You’re home early,” he said as he stared at the box in her arms.

“I got fired, Bobby,” she said as she squeezed by him.

“Fired! Why?” He was right on her heels, and his shrill voice drilled into her ears and made her flinch.

“For talking to that reporter about the corruption scandal at work.” She put her box on a chair and turned to face him. “I told you so’s” were written in a hundred different ways all over his face.

“Lori, you need to get right back out there and get another job.” That sounds like an order. Like an order coming from a ten-year-old. 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’s more afraid than I am. “Bobby, it’s going to be okay.”

“Come on, Lori, you’ve got to get serious.” He was wringing his hands together and pacing between her and the sofa. “Get right back on that horse and don’t waste a day. I—we’ve got a great setup 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 eight a.m.