Dirty Little Flowers

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Chapter 2

Manuela, Lane's boss, had a meeting fetish. It was expected for a sales team, especially a large one, to have regular meetings; weekly, maybe even daily. That wasn't enough for Manuela, though. It had been some time since she had actually been responsible for making sales, and any reports or statistics she could think of could be generated in a few minutes, so she kept herself busy with micromanagement and meetings. They could happen at any time, for any reason; to introduce new product features or to review some minutiae of company policy.

“You know what this is about, Lane?” Danny Brinn, the drone at the next desk asked him as they all shuffled to the conference room.

“Nah. I just hope she's not announcing another round of small team performance coaching. I still don't know how we all survived the last one.”

“Too true, my friend.”

“Have a seat, everyone.” Manuela was madly trying to herd her staff into the room with the frantic energy of someone who feels they always have to justify their existence and rarely feel like they've done an adequate job. “This won't take long.”

“That's foreboding,” murmured Danny, nodding toward a couple of mid-level managers sitting in the corner. “Wonder what they're doing here.”

“Who knows. Manuela's probably doing something they want to take credit for. That's always how it works, right? You do something wrong, they crap on your face, you do something right, they steal your credit. Bottom rung management has it even worse than we do.”

“Very true.”

Manuela must have been standing close enough to hear some of what they were saying; she shot them a strange look before addressing the room.

“Settle down everyone. This won't take long. We've only got two things to go over. There's good news and bad news. I'm sure it's not going to surprise anyone that the monthly sales prize is going to our own Jared Lane again.” She paused for a little halfhearted clapping, one of the management types shifted uncomfortably in his chair and coughed a little.

“The other thing isn't such great news. I don't have to tell any of you that times are tough out there. We're lucky to have jobs at all in a time like this. All things considered, we're not doing too badly, but sales are down, and we need to make up for the slack somewhere.” The manager bees nodded their heads in unison, as though their demonstration of understanding would make the pill easier to swallow. “Nobody's losing their job, but we're cutting back on the perks a bit. The sales incentive program is one thing, we're giving that up, and the snacks in the break-room are another. There will be a company wide memo tomorrow with more details. I just wanted to give my team a heads up.”

“If we all pull together as a team and work hard, like I know we can, we're going to make it through this just fine. Let's everybody get back to work and keep our heads up! Thanks, guys.”

Lane lingered as people shuffled out of the room, caught some of the managers' conversation. “Ms. Huerta, I am amazed at the optimistic spin you're able to put on everything.”

Jared got back into bed after opening the window to let some air in and looked at the nightstand. Business and fashion magazines. Her place was like a dentist's waiting room.

“What? Oh, Jesus. I'm sorry, Jared, I fell asleep there. It's so hot tonight.” She pushed the covers off.

“I didn't miss that. You snore like a bear.”

“Watch yourself. I can fire you.” Manuela slapped him playfully across the back of the head.

“Hey, speaking of firing, what's with the cutbacks at work? Should I be looking for a new job?”

“Ugh, I hate talking about work when I'm naked.” She fished under the bed for her lighter and lit the burnt out roach she'd left on the windowsill. “You don't need to worry about anything. Management isn't planning any layoffs right now, and even if they were they'll always need sales and you're the top salesman. You're one of the safest people in the building.” She offered him the joint, its red glow reflecting in her glasses. “Even without our arrangement, you've got nothing to worry about.”

“So a little fucking is all it takes to keep my job? Maybe I should branch out a little, see if I can get a promotion.”

“You wish! You can barely handle one woman part-time, what do you think you'll do with more? Hey, I could go for another round, but I've got a church thing in the morning. Are you okay to get home?”

“So that's all I am to you? Use me and kick me out?” Jared folded his arms across his chest.

“Get out of here already!” She grabbed his shirt from where it was crumpled on the floor and threw it at him in playfully feigned disgust.
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