Illustration by Leigh Legler
A Predator Walks Into A Bar
by By K. Eisert
Jake’s stomachs growled. The big boss had sent him into town to meet with the company’s newest computer geek. The noob had selected a Marriott near the spaceport. Jake hated Marriotts, always full of squirrels. All the butcher shops were closed, which forced him to go to the hotel bar. He doubted they’d have anything decent to eat, but maybe they’d have some good vino. He needed to take the edge off. If he didn’t get more business for his division, his head would roll.
When he ambled in, his nose hairs caught fire. Damn prey species, always rolling in something nasty to throw off their scent. Like that didn’t scream, “I’m delicious! Just scrub me first!”
A two-legged squirrel sat at the bar. It didn’t show any overt bigotry by screaming and running. Jake flashed his Platinum Elite card, and the bar reconfigured itself to his specifications. The bird perch of a stool disappeared replaced by a wide bench with a carved-out space for his tail. He tapped the bar to access the menu. As the place mainly catered to squirrels and herbivores, nothing looked particularly good. He flipped on his translator and asked the squirrel what it recommended.
It had a mouth full of omnivore teeth. Jake would have to keep an eye on his wallet.
The squirrel squeaked, “For you? Perhaps the nachos or a hotdog.”
At least it didn’t suggest twigs and sticks. Jake said, “I’ve tried the nachos before. Too spicy and not enough meat.”
He ordered some wine and a hotdog. He’d seen dogs before. They seemed okay to eat. The robotic barmaid arrived with the squirrel’s meal. It didn’t look half bad. Jake asked about it.
“A hamburger,” it said.
Disappointed, Jake said, “I had pig once. Didn’t like it. Meat’s too white.”
The barmaid returned with his glass of wine. He took a sip. Not bad with a lovely bouquet and earthy overtones. Soon after, his hotdog arrived. He was sorely displeased. It was tiny. He complained to the squirrel. “Is this it? I expected the whole dog.”
The squirrel twitched and said, “It’s a specialty.”
He understood. This was a fancy Marriott. “Oh! It’s that part of the dog.”
Brian had just ordered when the predator walked into the bar. It looked like a cross between a T-Rex and a tiger, sporting the scarier features of both: claws; fangs; large, bright eyes set in front; muscular shoulders; and big thighs with a backward knee. It probably couldn’t run that fast, but leaping across the room in a single bound? No problem. It was furless, but the orange striping was quite stunning. He could see why someone might want to make a coat or boots out of its hide.
He’d chosen the Marriott because of its supposed great security. He fingered his handheld. He doubted security could get there in time, and he just knew the TASER feature wouldn’t do anything but piss off the behemoth. Of course, it decided to sit next to him.
Should he ask for a go-box? He didn’t want to be racist, but neither did he want to be lunch. It’s hard to tell with predators whether they have any intelligence. They just stare as if unsure whether you’re edible or not. But this one did have a plutonium whatever card.
Soon, Brian too would have such a card. Despite being a college dropout, he’d just gotten hired at $2500 a day with expenses to install software on some bozo’s computers. Ha ha, Ma! He didn’t need no stinkin’ degree.
The barmaid rolled up with a punchbowl. It stunk of fermented fruit, and champagne-like bubbles ran up the sides through the murky brown fluid. The predator wrapped its enormous paws around the bowl and dumped the chunky liquid down in one splash. It belched like a frat boy on game night. The robot returned with the predator’s hotdog. The beast shish-kebabed the meat with a 4-inch nail and flicked it down its throat. Two thin tongues snaked out and licked its lips.
It eyed Brian and asked, “So what exactly are you?”
“Human.” Silently, he added, “And I’m made entirely of white meat.”
“Yeah, I had one of you guys once.”
Brian sputtered, “With sauce?”
The predator guffawed so loudly the sound nearly knocked Brian off his stool. “Good one. Nope. On payroll.” Shaking its great head, the predator added, “It didn’t last too long.”
The robot brought another bucket of swamp wine, and the predator downed it. Brian decided he didn’t need dessert, even on the company dime. A predator was bad enough, but a drunk predator?
Its eyes shone. “So, what brought you to our fair city?”
“Job.” He shoveled the last of his fries and washed them down with his Coke.
“Me too. I’m hiring some IT guy.” He glanced around the room. The place had cleared out but for the two of them. “I’m supposed to meet him here.”
In his head, Brian could hear his Ma snort. He asked, “Excuse me, whom do you work for?”
The burger and fries tried to crawl up his esophagus. Now Brian understood the $2500 a day.
Jake escorted the new hire to security. They were late. The traffic out of the city had been horrendous. Doug, the regular guy, was on vacation so they had to deal with a temp too stupid to figure out how to work the camera on the badge maker. This did not improve Jake’s mood. He’d just gotten word that they’d lost another bid.
The squirrel lost patience and made its own badge. Maybe they’d lucked out, and this one actually knew something. Jake got a text to report directly to IT. Just as the doors of the elevator were closing, Suze, a parasitic wasp from PR, buzzed in.
She hovered at Jake’s shoulder and eyed the squirrel. “It’s so ugly it’s cute! How much did it cost? My kid’s got a birthday coming up.”
It squeaked. “I’m not a pet.”
“Oh! It talks.” The elevator door opened. “Can you eat it?”
Waiting for them on the floor was the Head of Personnel. Estelle bellowed, “No! You can’t eat it! Acme, Inc. is an equal opportunity employer. He’s installing the new BPC front-end on the SAP 9000 accounting software.”
Estelle is a whiptail and mean enough to scare the spots off a sea croc. Jake understood why the squirrel, clutching its computer bag, had backed into the corner. The whole elevator reeked of fear. The scent made him salivate. He checked his phone to see when the lunchroom opened.
“That’s the consultant?” asked Suze.
Estelle’s frills fanned up. “Yeah. You gotta problem with that?”
Suze thrust out her antennae in a placating gesture. “No problem at all!” She zoomed out above Estelle’s head and disappeared over the cube farm.
Estelle shuffled back, making room for both of them. She officially welcomed the squirrel, giving it a company mug and lanyard for its ID.
To the squirrel Jake said, “Well, I guess this is it.” He wanted to be friendly so he patted it on the head. “Maybe I’ll see you in the lunchroom sometime.”
Estelle pointed a clawed finger and waggled it. “Oh no, you don’t. You’re late.” She sent him a file. “Here’s its itinerary. You have to escort it. I’m busy. I have to layoff more folk.”
Jake groaned. It would take hours to get the squirrel onboarded.
“Don’t argue. If you guys could secure a contract, I wouldn’t have to fire people.” Jake’s ears drooped. Estelle took pity. “Hey, I know it’s not your fault.”
Steve sauntered by carrying his coffee and a bag of chocolate-frosted rodents.
Estelle glanced at Steve. She thumbed her phone and checked a list. “It’s the economy that’s bad.” She unfurled her tail. The tip glistened like a steel wire garrote. “But look at it from my perspective.” She snapped her tail and guillotined Steve. She moved so fast she caught his coffee before it hit the floor. “You know, reducing headcount isn’t all fun and games.”
Steve’s noggin rolled to the feet of the squirrel who screeched and jumped back. Jake understood. Nothing’s worse than trying to get bloodstains out of khakis.
Ted prairie-dogged over his cubical wall. He yelled “Woohoo! Barbecue!” Estelle snatched up the bag of rodents and hurried down the main hall as she sipped Steve’s coffee. She had several more people to let go.
Jake sighed. And not just over the loss of the rodents. He’d have to work on this latest bid after the kids went to bed. He hoped his wife would understand another late night. He looked down at the new guy’s agenda. First, Bob in IT.
Brian clutched his computer bag to his chest. He pressed himself into the corner of the elevator. The creature dwarfed the predator. It had a hippo mouth, platter-sized eyes, a lizard body, and a metallic tail. The only thing that kept him from crapping his pants was that it had painted its claws gold and wore powder-blue cat-eye glasses. That made it a girl, right?
The wasp thing shot off and the predator motioned him to follow. It introduced her. This was Estelle? From their emails setting up the job, he’d envisioned a bottle-blonde out on her first off-world adventure. For the love of God! This she-beast had flirted with him.
She welcomed him and stressed how Acme, Inc. believed, above all, in the empowerment of its employees. She sent him a link to the employee manual — two hundred and seventy pages of strict rules — and then presented him with a bucket and leash.
Despite the insanity of it, he was relieved when Estelle assigned the predator to escort him. As Brian rolled up his leash to put in his bucket, a gorilla-badger mix strolled past. The thunder lizard adjusted her glasses as she looked down on her phone. She moved so fast Brian couldn’t figure out what happened until the badger’s head careened toward him. He screamed and jumped back.
Brian checked his contract. Yep. They still had to pay if he died. At least Ma would have that.
A wolf-like creature popped its head over a cubical wall and howled something about the lunch menu. It licked its canines, and its yellow eyes trailed Brian as the predator led the way to IT.
The head of IT was an anaconda with old lady arms. A huge lump ballooned in its middle. It lay snoring in its doublewide cubicle. The predator punched it. “Hey, Bob! Wake up!”
It opened one eye. “What do you want?”
“The squir — I mean new hire — needs access. You were supposed to set up an account for him. Estelle sent the specs.”
“Yeah.” He nodded off.
The predator kicked him.
Bob said, “Cut me some slack. I only ate yesterday. I need to digest. Come back later.”
“How much later?”
“Three, four days…” Its eyes closed before it finished speaking.
Brian objected to the delay. Despite getting paid by the day on an open contract, this was not an office in which he could putz around on the Internet to rack up hours. He needed to get his work done and bug out if he had any hope of living long enough to enjoy his cash.
The predator said, “Let’s at least get your diversity training out of the way.”
As they penetrated deeper into the cubicle forest of doom, Brian cracked, “Da longer I verk here, diverse it gets.” The pun didn’t survive the translator.
Training took the rest of the morning. He had to pass a multiple-choice test on every workplace stereotype. He especially liked the part that explained, as an omnivore, he was genetically pre-dispositioned to steal.
The predator suggested they head to the cafeteria before trying their luck a second time with Bob. Brian said, “Sounds good. As long as I’m not on the menu.” The predator didn’t laugh that time. Its ears drooped. Something wasn’t going well.
Jake shouldered his way through the crowd. The squirrel stayed glued behind. The word had spread about barbecue, and everybody had ditched their sack lunches. Steve had roasted up nicely over the mesquite charcoal briquettes. Jake’s mouth watered. He piled lots of meat on his tray and ladled more sweet sauce over the mound. He grabbed a dozen baked potatoes and a pint of sour cream. The squirrel just stood there. Its eyes wide, clutching its tray.
“I know. It’s almost too much isn’t it? Now remember, we don’t get a spread like this every day.” Jake scooped a smaller portion onto its tray.
It squeaked. “I don’t think I can eat this.”
Jake pulled out his phone. “You’re human. Right?”
Jake opened an app and punched in human.
“I’ll just have a potato and some salad.” It pointed to the greens bar.
“Only eat those greens if you have to hawk up a hairball.” Jake turned the screen to show the squirrel. “See? You’re good. No allergies.” He slipped his phone in his belt. “This is a great app. I’ve got a lactose intolerant kid, and I’ve used it a lot. I’ll send you the link.” He pointed to the sauces. “Sweet or spicy?”
“Little bad ass, are you?”
It twitched and took a single potato. Contrary to what people say, omnivores really don’t eat that much.
The dining chairs were too big for the squirrel so Jake pushed a table up against a window, and it perched on the sill. Jake dug in. Maybe the food would calm him, and he’d be able to focus on the bid. He wasn’t some herbivore that would stampede at the slightest provocation. He’d assembled the best team. He wouldn’t let them down.
Brian ate his potato and wished he’d gotten two. He was starved. He hadn’t had time to eat breakfast before the predator picked him up that morning. He poked at his grilled gorilla-badger. God, the word fired meant something entirely different in this part of the galaxy. He took a tiny taste. Damn, if it wasn’t better than filet mignon. Huh. He wondered what Ma would think. She’d probably tell him to clean his plate. He did.
The predator waved at a land shark thing at another table. It explained that she was one of his best engineers. So good in fact, she’d shaved-off two weeks on their project and they were due to come in early and under budget. “I owe her a round of hunting and a beer.”
Its tail hung limp and its ears were down. Brian asked, “You don’t seem happy about it. Isn’t coming in early a good thing?”
“You’d think. But soon we won’t have any work to do, and we can’t let the big boss figure that out.” The predator turned down the volume on the translator and leaned in. The beast smelled like Aqua Velva. “For some reason we can’t make our bids. Hoederer & Sons keep eating our lunch. They always undercut us. And I’m taking it down to fang point.”
Over the aftershave, Brian smelled a nasty mix of ammonia and diesel. He looked to his right as an ursine creature zipped up. It’d just peed on the wall.
“Oh my God! Did you see that guy? What the heck?”
The predator nodded. “Yeah. That’s Murdoch, the new VP of Operations. He’s marking his territory.”
“Could be worse. Most VPs pile on worthless projects to prove their worth. What’s a little urine by comparison?”
After lunch they returned to Bob’s cubicle.
“Listen, Bob. I gotta get some work done. Shoot me an email when you get the new guy set up. I’ll escort him to his cubicle. Estelle’s assigning him Steve’s old space.”
The anaconda yawned. “What happened to Steve?”
The predator belched so loudly the cubicle walls rattled.
Bob flicked out his tongue, tasting the air. “Right. Well, he was LOFO.”
“What’s LOFO?” asked Brian.
“Last on, first off,” said Bob.
The predator wasn’t gone four seconds before Bob was snoring again. Brian tapped him. Then punched him. Then jumped up and down on him. But all Bob did was roll over and say, “Not tonight, dear. I’m digesting.”
This was ridiculous. Brian looked over at the antique computer Bob had sitting on his desk. Humans might be squirrels, but they were smart squirrels. Selling aliens one-hundred year old tech, then upgrading it with ninety-nine year old tech, and six months later ninety-eight. Moore’s Law on steroids. He should be able to hack this.
He sat on one of Bob’s coils and pulled the keyboard over. For login he typed ADMIN. He didn’t know a single admin ever to use anything else. Now to guess the snake’s password. He looked for a Post-it attached to the monitor or tacked on the board. No luck. He tried “password.” Nada. He tried “password123.” Bingo! He granted himself a separate admin account and started work. He installed the software, copied the app shell and ported over Acme’s account structure. He was about to populate the data cube when he heard a howl and snuffing like a dog on a trail.
The wolf creature leaned against the cubical opening. “Well, hello there. Aren’t you a tasty little morsel?”
Brian glanced around for a weapon. The stapler wasn’t going to cut it.
The elevator door opened, and Ted pushed past Jake into the car. Ted had an icepack pressed against his face, and one of his ears had a notch out of it. Jake held the door open. “Geez, Ted. What happened?”
Ted punched the first-floor button. Jake leaned in. “Dude! Is that a staple in your ear?”
“Shut up!” yelled Ted as he shoved Jake’s hand away and the door closed. Apparently, his sales meeting hadn’t gone well.
Jake entered Bob’s cube. The squirrel whirled around wild-eyed and soaked to the skin. In one hand it held a Swingline and in the other an old metal router on a coaxial cable that it swung like a mace.
Stepping back, Jake said, “Whoa. Take it easy.” He knew squirrels could be spastic, but this one was about to crawl out of its skin. “Who slobbered all over you?”
It chunked down the router. “I’m sweating.”
“What’s sweating?” It explained. Jake said, “That’s gross. Why can’t you pant like a normal person?”
“I wouldn’t be sweaty if that wolf hadn’t attacked me!”
“Yeah, the guy who yelled barbecue.”
Now Jake understood his encounter at the elevator. “Ted. Yeah, he’s a cheap SOB. Always stealing other people’s lunches.”
Squirrels are so inscrutable it was hard to tell, but Jake thought it looked insulted.
It kicked at Bob. “I can’t work under these conditions.”
“You still don’t have access?” That would delay Jake’s plan to work on the bid.
The squirrel hemmed and hawed until it finally admitted it’d hacked Bob’s computer and given itself access. That was such an omnivore sort of thing to do, but who can argue with success? “So, you can work under these conditions?”
That caught the squirrel by surprise. “Yeah. Actually, I got a lot done. Until Ted tried to eat me!”
Squirrels can be so obsessive. “I saw Ted. You are a little bad ass.”
Jake reached over grabbed the squirrel’s bag. “But enough for today. The little woman has invited you over for dinner. And you aren’t even the main course.” Playfully, Jake punched it in the arm, accidentally knocking it over.
The squirrel didn’t laugh.
Traffic was light and the predator drove fast. They got to its house in no time. From the backyard rose such a caterwauling Brian wondered why police weren’t out front. It sounded like a cross between someone eviscerating a pack of hyena and a bad garage band with a blown sound system.
The predator said, “Don’t you love the sound of children playing?”
They cut directly through the garage onto the back deck. Brian expected a roiling mass of thousands, but there were only three kids, roughhousing in a large suburban backyard.
“Because Carol’s job only gives her unpaid maternity leave,” said the predator, “we decided to go with a small litter this time. The little one is Ramon and the other two are Selma and Amy.”
Ramon stood about five foot ten. Brian asked, “So how old are they?”
“Six months. Kids grow like weeds, don’t they?”
Brian felt the deck tremble beneath his feet. He turned and his neck cramped from having to crane it so far back. The predator was big, but Mrs. Predator stood twice his height. Despite the late afternoon heat, her shadow chilled him to the bone. She did have a lovely heart-shaped locket around her neck the size of a tractor tire.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Brian. The new guy from work.”
She grabbed the predator and dragged him to the side. She tried to whisper but the sound carried like an elephant trumpeting. “You didn’t tell me it’s a squirrel. Does it have its shots?”
“It wouldn’t have gotten through customs without proof of immunization.”
Either Selma or Amy, Brian couldn’t tell them apart, leaped up on the deck. She poked him with a claw and licked him.
His voice a little high, Brian said, “Ah… your daughter’s tasting me.”
Mrs. Predator snatched her away. “Stop it! You don’t know where that’s been.”
The predator coughed in its paw. She paused and said, “Sorry. Why don’t I get you a beer?” She returned with a bottle bigger than a magnum. Seeing it took both of Brian’s hands to hold it, she said she’d fetch him a glass. All she could find to fit his hand was a plastic sippy cup. Whatever.
Time to feed the kids so Jake rolled out the cage with the aught-aught. The thing was scrawny and probably weighed only one twenty. He could see why it was on sale. He whistled and the kids took position in the backyard.
The squirrel asked, “You’re not going to let them hunt that? Are you?”
“Well, yeah,” said Jake. What could be its objection? Kids have to learn and aught-aughts aren’t genetically modified or pumped up with harmful antibiotics. Then he got it. “Oh! No worries. They’re lactose-free.”
Carol patted the human on the head. “And I removed the stinger. The children are perfectly safe.”
The squirrel staggered under Carol’s caress. “Well, if you removed the stinger.”
Jake opened the door and smacked the back of the cage. The aught-aught shot out. The children attacked and the aught-aught’s spines extended. It spit, sending up puffs of smoke from the burning grass. Selma dodged left and Ramon right.
Carol wrapped her tail around Jake’s. She whispered. “You’re right. I’ve got to get over my prejudices. To worry about someone else’s kids like that. How sweet of him.”
Jake sighed. He was such a lucky bastard. A beautiful wife so empathetic and yet able to take a tantor without breaking a nail. Amy leapt in, snapped off a spine, and twisted away avoiding a face full of quills. She parried just like her mama. But after a few moments, while the children regrouped, his stomachs felt hollow. Not from hunger but worry. What if he didn’t make this next contract? Even if he could avoid Estelle’s steel-tipped pink slip, how could he support his family? How could he keep Carol from leaving him for somebody better?
The squirrel must have sensed something was wrong because it suggested they go inside. Jake led them to his office. He did need someone to talk to. He couldn’t share his fears with Carol, and the squirrel already knew about Acme’s financial situation.
It stared at the couch.
Jake said, “It’s okay. You can get on the furniture.”
As they sipped their beers, Jake explained how every single time Hoederer & Sons undercut them. Jake couldn’t go any lower or Acme wouldn’t be able to make the bid, and he’d get fired for that. He was stuck between an active volcano and an acid ocean. “I know all the guys on the team. I just can’t believe that one of them would sell out to those damn raccoons.”
The squirrel pulled out his computer. “I don’t think you have a spy. I’m pretty sure I know how they’re doing it.”
Jake’s ears quivered. “Do tell.”
The couch in the predator’s office was the size of two king-sized beds end-to-end and made out of a rhino-like hide dyed puke green. Along the back, ran cutout areas from which extended tail-rests like a series of lazy-boy recliners in reverse.
When the predator started to question the loyalty of his team, Brian pulled out his laptop to verify what he already suspected. And sure enough, the bidding system had more viruses than his mother’s daycare in December.
“How do you think they got in?” asked the predator.
“You guys have such lame-o security, I could’ve hacked you in third grade.”
Predators are so inscrutable that Brian couldn’t be sure, but Jake seemed insulted. “You know, implying that carnivores are backward techno-phobes is bigoted.”
“And telling me I could get on the furniture isn’t?”
The predator paused. “Point taken. What do we do?”
“You? Nothing. I’ll run some anti-virals, and it’ll be clear by tomorrow. No biggie.”
The predator flopped down on the couch so hard Brian became air-born for a second or two.
“Really? That’s it?”
“Yep,” said Brian
“You saved my ass. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Hell yeah! Be my bodyguard. Keep me alive.”
“I can’t follow you around all day. I’ve got my own work.”
“Then I’ll have to quit.”
“Now, hold on!” The predator flicked his ears. “Let me gnaw on this a bit. I may have a technological solution. Can you give me a day or two? Can you do that, Brian?”
It was the first time the predator had used his name. “Yeah, Jake. I’ll try.”
Jake flicked his tail with pride. His team had fabricated his design in just a few hours. He texted Brian, “Your problem is solved. Come see.”
Minutes later, Brian scurried into the engineering shop, carrying his router on a cable. The metal box had a big dent and a tuft of Ted colored fur wedged under one of the screws.
Jake pulled back the curtain. “Ta da!” He listed the features of the large polycarbonate sphere. “It has keyless entry, and the shell has been reinforced with nano-fibers. Nobody’s going to be able to chew through this puppy.” He patted it. “You control the ventilation holes from the inside and here’s the best part. Check out the docking station. It has a Wi-Fi booster. Is this not gorgeous or what?”
Brian hopped into the sphere and marched it around the room.
“We also verified the dimensions. The sphere will pass through all standard hallways and elevator doors.” His ears twitched with excitement. “This is going to revolutionize the modern corporate office. We should investigate a patent.”
Brian tapped the sphere with a stubby finger. “Not to rain on your parade, but you can get these at any pet store on Earth.”
“Yeah. They’re called hamster balls.”
Brian warned him he had more bad news. Jake sighed. The highs were always so short lived. He braced himself. “Okay, now what?”
“Our virus problem is back.”
“I thought you got rid of them.”
“I did, but some idiot downloaded an infected video file. Take a look.” He climbed out of the sphere so Jake could see it on his computer.
The video showed a Leonid female, and she was hot. She stretched and vamped for the camera. She sauntered to a tree and marked it by rubbing her hindquarters. The camera zoomed in and focused on a spot of blood she’d left. She wasn’t just hot; she was in heat!
Jake yelled, “Turn it off! Turn it off before Estelle catches us. She doesn’t tolerate any form of sexual harassment.”
Brian stopped playback. “Cool. I’ll show this to Estelle. She’ll kill the guy. Literally.”
Jake asked, “Who downloaded this?” Brian showed him the ID. “Crap. That’s Murdoch the VP.”
“The guy I saw peeing in the cafeteria?”
“Yeah. He’s the CEO’s brother-in-law. Not even Estelle will touch him. We’re screwed.”
Brian thought for a second. “Does this guy really read the bids?”
“I’m sure he does.”
Brian just kept staring at Jake with his beady omnivore eyes.
Jake said, “Okay, maybe not.”
“It’s simple. I’ll wall off his computer from the LAN, and we’ll feed him a false bid. Hoederer & Sons will undercut the bogus bid and Acme wins.”
“I don’t know,” said Jake. “Why not just clean his computer?”
“Cuz he’ll download something else.”
“I’ll get fired if anyone finds out we gave him a fake bid.”
“And if you don’t, you’ll get fired anyway.”
“You’re such an omnivore. I mean that in a good way.”
Predator porn. Brian should’ve figured. When both the legit and fake bids were finished, Brian made it happen. He felt good he could help out a fellow wage slave.
Six weeks later, he got the buy off on the BPC project. His work was done. When the money hit his account, he immediately paid off his student loans. It left him broke again, but at least Ma would never know he’d “accidentally” forged her name as his loan guarantor.
As he was cleaning out, Estelle stopped by.
“What brings you to this part of the cubicle forest?” asked Brian.
Brian’s stomach dropped. Not because he was afraid she was going to decapitate him, but rather that implied Jake’s contract didn’t make. Damn it.
“Engineering?” asked Brian.
“Nope. Accounting. The new software you implemented renders half the accounting staff redundant.”
“But those folks helped me design the reports the software produces.”
“Eat or be eaten. But I actually stopped by here for another reason—”
Before she could finish her sentence, Jake roared up with a tablet in his claws. “We won the bid! We won!” Brian braced himself, and despite the fact that Jake tried to be gentle, the pat on the back sent him ass over teacup.
Jake pointed to the cardboard box of stuff. “You leaving?”
“Yep. Job’s done.”
To Estelle Jake said, “We should hire him. If it weren’t for Brian, we wouldn’t have found the leak. This is a multi-cultural workplace, and he’s a squirrel. You want security, you need a squirrel. Who else can think all devious like?” He turned to Brian, “No offense.”
Estelle adjusted her glasses. “We were just about to discuss a permanent position before you interrupted us. I was telling Brian to check his email.” She reached into his Acme bucket and plucked out one of the dead rats he kept there. She swallowed it whole. “The money isn’t as good as a consultant’s pay, but there are health benefits. Please consider joining our team.”
Her tail unfurled, and she zipped down the hallway toward accounting.
Jake looked in the bucket. “What you got there? A candy jar?”
“Alice, one of the admins, keeps leaving dead stuff on my desk.”
“Dude,” said Jake, “that means she likes you.”
Brian shrugged. “Have one if you want.”
Jake grabbed a handful. As he chewed, “So, you’re going to accept, right? We need you, man. Besides, you’re my friend.”
Brian had never been both needed and wanted before. The steady job would make Ma proud, but Ted wasn’t the only employee who licked his chops when he rolled by.
“I’m not saying I’ll stay, but if I do,” Brian patted the sphere. “The ball’s ventilation needs a redesign. I always look like somebody’s chew toy because it’s so hot in there.”
Jake agreed. He accessed the design software on his tablet. “Should be an easy fix.”
Off in the distance, someone in accounting screamed.
“I hope you stay,” said Jake. “But wait to make your decision until after lunch because…”
Jake and Brian high-fived each other. “Barbecue!”
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