Autumn rain had darkened the sky for most of the day, causing the sidewalk outside the Law Offices of Flagg & Hame to become the bed for a small stream, upon which floated leaves and various detritus. Despite the rain, Julia Talbot longed to step outside, as her day so far had been made up of only stress and boredom in equal measure, and she desperately needed air. Unfortunately, as the firm's only receptionist, she wasn't supposed to leave her desk, except for lunch, and that one respite of her day had been over two hours ago. Though none of her co-workers should have been able to say anything against her stepping out, since they all took periodic smoke breaks, she still made a quick check to be sure none of them saw her leaving her desk.
She just about had her black, cotton jacket off when her boss stepped from his office, a stack of papers in his hand. The sight could only mean one thing: it was time for one Ms. Talbot to spend some quality time with the copier, which was older than she was (at over two and half decades was saying something) and worked as slowly as any other senior citizen she might have visited. She slid the jacket back onto her shoulders, knowing the short trip outside to warm up was definitely not going to happen now. The overweight figures of the men running the office meant that even on a day like today, when rain cooled the air to around 60 degrees, the air conditioning still blew vigorously and chilled the staff inside to shivering masses unless they wore many layers.
Julia tried desperately to look busy as Mr. Hame approached with his face holding its usual sour expression, emphasizing his lifetime of deep wrinkles. Though in truth, when the phones weren't ringing Julia's job was a lot of 'sit around and wait'; anything—even attempting to reorganize the paperclips—would be better than the monotony of making copies of that many documents. But Mr. Hame was either too oblivious to notice she was in the middle of something or he wasn't falling for it, because with a heavy thud he placed the large pile of papers on the corner of her desk.
If there was one moment that Bill Hubert looked forward to within every demarcated portion of time that passed for a day in Hell, it was Coffee Break. Of course, there was no coffee and it wasn't really a break. But that didn't concern Bill. Coffee Break was what he desired, so Coffee Break was what he labored to experience. Of course, the eternal torture never ceases in the bowels of perdition—that's what makes it Hell for those who experience it, after all. Even the eardrum-piercing screech of the break siren was torment. What was most closely allied with eardrums in Bill's no-longer-corporeal body burst at the sound and took precious seconds to heal, for they had to be ever-ready for rupturing anew, eating into the already limited pseudo-interval allotted. Even that suffering couldn't truly dampen Bill's spirits, for eardrum rupture and repair always led directly to his favorite part of the day.
The former human resources officer—famous in life for his ruthless pleasure in firing subordinates and for his comb-over—strode down the passage that was entirely unlike a fluorescent light-illumined hallway but served well enough for one. He oozed rather than walked, it is true, for Bill's underworld form resembled on the outside the gelatinous, evil-smelling muck that had made up his insides when he was alive. He both looked forward to and dreaded what he could find at the end of this seeming walkway, for he sought, just once in the forever of Hell, to actually have the Coffee Break of his fondest dreams. The hope was strong enough to persist beyond life, no small matter within the relative smallness of Bill's ultimate worth.
Concisely put, Bill Hubert's Coffee Break dreams involved a secret office romance consisting solely of sex in the break room. There were detailed imaginings of specific co-workers and underlings, of positions and dirty talk, but the key facets were the secrecy, the sex, and the office—a constellation which he had never (despite efforts bordering on harassment) experienced.
The distance between the simplicity of his unachieved dream and the reality of Hell's Coffee Break for Bill was, he estimated, as vast as the chasm between life and death. If the primary quality of Hell was its unendingness, it simultaneously managed never to lose its immediacy. Something that lasted forever without change would at some point cease to impress—from the greatest pleasure to the meanest pain. So Hell's demons had to keep the affliction ever-inflammatory, ever-evolving, ever new. Thus, logically, Coffee Break, Bill soon deduced, was a respite from ever-changing torture but not relief from the awfulness of hell. It was almost gripping the cliff's edge to pull himself from the gaping mouth of the abyss, the nearest he could get to putting a pat of butter on burning flesh. In short, it was sex with his third wife Louise.
The atmosphere in the room had grown quite tense. Perhaps it wasn't surprising, given that it was nearing the end of a long day interviewing candidates. Lynsey reached up with her right hand and massaged the back of her neck. Adam, the personnel manager, glanced down at his notes. "Well, I've made my mind up; how about you?"
Lynsey thought it was an obvious choice. Though he was quite young, only one of the five people that they had interviewed had the qualifications that they had stipulated as a basic requirement for the post. "Greg," Lynsey said.
Adam nodded emphatically. "Absolutely. I think he'll be a tremendous addition to the team. So, you'll be managing him, Ms. Croft; did you want to do the honors and ring him?"
"By all means," Lynsey replied.
The call was short, sweet, and very businesslike. Greg seemed suitably pleased with the news and expressed how much he was looking forward to starting.
"I'll be working in your team, won't I?" Greg asked.
"You will indeed."
"See you a week on Monday, then."
As the call ended, Lynsey was sure that she had made an excellent choice.
In no time at all, Lynsey's suspicions were proven correct. In terms of work, she couldn't ask any more of Greg. He took to his role quicker than most and was diligent, thorough, and popular with his colleagues. The only matter that slightly puzzled Lynsey was that she found him quite flirtatious. Initially, Lynsey thought that she was imagining things; after all, Greg was only half her age. She then began to think it might simply be that Greg had developed a bit of a crush on her. It certainly appeared so given the way that he behaved during his three month appraisal.
As Lynsey sat down, she thought she noticed Greg glance at her legs. She found it quite a compliment, Greg being so much younger than her. As she crossed them, Greg's eyes strayed downward and lingered on the shiny black tights that she was wearing. Lynsey coughed politely. Greg looked up at her. He grinned rather sheepishly having been caught in the act. Lynsey tried to suppress a smile; however, it wasn't easy. After that, though, the appraisal proceeded as she had planned, and Lynsey thought nothing more of the meeting.
The quick, hard rap on the door had Teri Martin looking up with a scowl of impatience. She quickly smoothed the expression off her face when she saw Chris Thompson smiling in the doorway. As per usual, her belly tightened, but she ignored the wayward spike of lust and gave him a polite smile. He hesitated just a moment before striding purposefully into her office.
"What are you doing, Boss?"
Teri leaned back in her chair, fighting to keep her eyes on his and not let them roam over his tall, lean body. "Working."
"You know, I'm pretty sure it's bad luck to work on New Year's Eve. Even worse to work during my going away party."
She tucked an unruly strand of dark hair behind her ear and kept her tone as neutral as possible. "Yeah, well, next quarter's budget is due in—" she glanced at the clock, "—exactly eight hours. Apparently, everyone around here thinks it's no big deal to turn their reports in two minutes before closing time."
"You'll miss the fireworks."
"I can see them from my window."
"Come on, Teri."
She held herself still as his plea, spoken in his unique, soft tone, washed over her. Part of her wished he would just leave already. The rest of her wanted nothing more than to throw the thick pile of line-item budgets in the trash and go join the party. His party. His going away party.
In less than an hour, the ball would drop in New York City, and the fireworks would shoot off over the Baltimore Harbor. Another hour after that, the party would be over, and Chris Thompson would no longer be her employee.
She still wasn't sure how she felt about that.
When he'd turned in his resignation, Teri hadn't known whether to sigh with relief or cry at the loss. It was damned awkward to face him every day when he filled the starring role in her fantasies. And yet, he was brilliant, the best at what he did. She'd almost rather go on as they were before, discomfited as she was, than lose him. But he'd found a better job, and she couldn't ask him to stay.
Cindy's eyes flickered over to the clock on the wall next to her, and she sighed as she took in the time. One thirty. She didn't know if this day could crawl by any slower. Flopping herself back in her chair, she crossed her legs and glanced at her computer monitor in the hopes of finding something to do. Anything to pass the time a little faster would make her happy.
Before she had a chance to open her inbox, the phone chirped softly. With a slight shift, she hooked the receiver with a couple of fingers and brought it up to her ear. "Harman and Whitman, Mr. Blackstone's office. How can I help you?" She kept her tone polite and friendly, making sure the boredom she felt didn't bleed into her words.
Settling the cool, smooth plastic between her ear and shoulder carefully as she listened to the gruff, male voice on the other end, she clicked open her inbox. She was glad that he couldn't see her as her eyes rolled slightly. Of course he needed to talk to her boss.
"I'm sorry sir; Mr. Blackstone is out of the office for the day." The reply when the man finally paused long enough for her to get a word in was smooth with the ease of having repeated it several times today already. "No, I'm sorry, he won't be in until tomorrow. I can ta—" Sighing as her offer was cut short by an angry click, she settled the receiver back in the cradle and deleted two messages without opening them. Spam filters never seemed to work completely.
Her fingers pushed through blonde locks that she had never bothered to tie back today. "Today is never going to end," she muttered softly as her eyes settled back on the clock. One thirty-five. Letting her gaze slip away from the offending wall decoration with a frustrated sigh, she glanced at the empty inbox on her desk.
"All caught up on work, hun?"
The amused, sultry tone helped bring a smile to her face and she swiveled her chair a little. Leaning back, she nodded at Marissa. "Yeah. He never leaves me much to do on Fridays." She shook her head a little. "You know the drill: tell people he's out or in court, even though he's taking it easy with a cold one in a sand trap. But we, my dear, get stuck sitting here while he and the other partners have fun."
Vikki glanced over at her interoffice Instant Messenger, annoyed when it flashed on. She had two reports to complete before the end of the day and a presentation to get started on. When she realized it was Marcus, though, she felt a familiar tightening in her belly and a flush creep up her neck. Even her nipples tingled. Damn it, her response to that man was positively Pavlovian!
MDyer: Meet me in my office in twenty minutes.
VMcDaniels: Is it important? I have 2 reports due by EOB.
MDyer: How important does it need to be, Victoria?
A tingling of another sort jangled along Vikki's nerve endings. He only used her full name that way when he meant business. It was one of their "codes" that they gave each other to signal which headspace they were in, with no one else the wiser. She suppressed a shiver and typed her reply.
VMcDaniels: I'll be there, Marcus.
MDyer: Very good, Victoria. Please be sure you are prepared for the meeting.
Vikki drew a sharp breath, and she felt her nipples pebbling under the silk of her blouse. What did he have planned? They seldom played at the office, aside from the occasional cloaked IM banter to set up a date. As professional equals, there was nothing in the employee handbook that contravened a relationship between them, but in the year since they had discovered their mutual and complimentary sexual predilections and had begun to act on them, neither had seen fit to make their relationship known to outsiders. There was just something... exhilarating... about keeping it secret. And since they had no other personal relationship outside this (other than their work relationship), it didn't seem appropriate anyway. What would she possibly say to Jacqueline, the coworker she occasionally had lunch with, or anyone else in the office? "Oh, by the way, Marcus Dyer and I are having a torrid no-strings-attached affair. Oh, and also? It's based on dominance and submission. Yeah, hard to believe I'm a submissive, isn't it?"