Sue clacked away at her keyboard. Baltimore was a good place to be a reporter. Charm City had a lot going on plus the action of DC just down the road and New York a few hours to the north.
Tom, Editor in Chief, lumbered out of his office and scanned the cubicles as he ground his stogey between his teeth. Sue ducked behind her monitor. He only came out of his cave for bad reasons.
“Sue,” he rumbled.
“Jim!” he yelled. “Office. Now.” Hibernating bears are nasty when they’re awakened. After the command ‘Office’ from Tom, rugby players had left his office in tears.
Every set of eyes peeked over the walls of their cubicles. Sue smoothed her skirt as she stood and walked tall. She knew what Tom was on about, and her plan was to let Jim step into the bear den first.
Sue gave Jim her friends-for-life smile as they entered Tom’s office. He scowled and shoved past her, and they sat in the chairs in front of Tom’s desk.
Tom’s square jaw was tight and his crew cut looked extra spiky as he sat behind his desk. “What the hell?” he said folding his arms across his chest.
Sue let Jim start.
“Of course I’m going to HR when I get kicked in the balls! Be glad I didn’t go to the cops.”
“I can see where they’d be real helpful in that situation,” Sue said, choking down a laugh.
“Why do it?” Tom said, staring at Sue.
“Well…” Sue said, stalling, hoping Jim would interrupt her.
“How was I supposed to know she wasn’t interested?”
“In what?” Tom said.
“Sex on the copier,” Sue said.
“What else am I supposed to think when you’re rubbing yourself all over the copy machine like that?”
“I suppose ‘Go away’ would be the first hint.”
Tom’s teeth clamped onto the stogey and he snarled, “Strike one.”
Sue could see the white’s of Jim’s eyes. He was worried. Good.
“I just gave her a compliment!” Jim said.
“Of course you did,” Tom said, shifting the stogey to the opposite side of his mouth and staring at Sue.
“He said, ‘Nice skirt’. I told him I wasn’t going to share where I bought it.”
“Exactly!” Jim said. “No reason to kick me in the nuts.”
“Your reply was, ‘Good one!’ Since you didn’t want to actually wear the skirt—”
“—you must have meant something else.” Sue looked at Tom and tilted her head.
Tom leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. This was Tom’s thinking pose, and Sue was certain Tom was weighing who would cause him the most trouble.
“I complimented her again,” Jim said, unable to keep quiet.
“You were looking at her ass when you said it,” Tom said.
“I was waiting for the copier behind her. Where else am I supposed to look?”
“Strike two, idiot,” Tom said.
Sue smiled. She just had to keep Jim talking.
“Now wait a minute,” Jim said. “I was assaulted!”
“You were battered,” Tom said. “Sue was assaulted. Idiot.”
“Oh yeah, well I complimented her again. That isn’t assault.”
“He said…,” Sue said.
“… that you’re a good-looking woman,” Jim said. “A compliment any woman would love to hear.”
Tom stood up and leaned is fists on his desk, and the stogey was less than an inch from Jim’s nose. “I’m afraid to ask what you said next.”
“Something every woman loves to hear,” Sue said. “‘Would it kill you to wear some make-up?’”
Tom’s hands flew into the air and he roared, “You’re a fucking idiot!” His stogy shot out of his mouth and hit Jim in the chest, where it hung for a second and then slipped to the floor. A slimy brown trail stained Jim’s white shirt.
Sue folded her hands in her lap and smiled at the stain. “Is that strike three?” she said.
Tom’s stubby index finger almost poked her in the nose. “Shut up. You’ve got one strike for the battery, and I’m sure I can find two more.”
Jim was looking at the stain. “Why exactly are we in your office?”
“Because you two yahoos have each cost the company money. The powers that be want that to stop.”
Jim said, “I bet she has. I’m a model—”
“You’re a model idiot!” Tom said. “My advice is that both of you retract your complaints.”
“Not a chance!” Jim yelled.
Sue studied Tom as he unwrapped a cigar. If she didn’t have to work with Jim, she could downgrade to a complaint rather than a lawsuit. “I get a raise and my own office and I don’t work with Jim. Ever.”
“This … isn’t …,” Tom said puffing on his cigar as he lit it, “a … negotiation.”
“Oh yes it is,” Jim said. “I want the same.”
“Nobody’s getting raises,” Tom said on a long exhale, cigar smoke filling the room. Tom was in his seat again, hands behind his head. Sue didn’t say a word.
“You’re threatening me,” Jim said. “You’re making this a hostile work place. That’s harassment.”
“You still want your other demands?” Tom growled at Sue.
“You can’t give that to her without giving it to me,” Jim said.
Sue held her breath. Please, please, please…
“You got it,” Tom said.
Jim grinned at Sue. Sue looked at Tom. Tom said, “Jim, pack your bags. You’re going to North Dakota.”
“What! Why?” Jim said, confusion spreading across his face.
“That’s where your new office is,” Tom said.