Power Play, chapter 2

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    Power Play
    Chapter 2: Name That Tune

    Despite my aches, I arrived right on time at Brisbaine Hosiery the next morning. And after I clocked in, I was at the computer punching out the accounts while they punched out my life. Just a little before 8:45, though, I got a pleasant surprise in my instant messager.

    BahamaMamaBank: Hey, Monty-kin!

    Only one person I knew called me that. I happily let my left hand type the IM text, while my right handled the number keyboard.

    Th3Fu11M0nt33: Ma! 😀 You figured out the instant messenger?

    BahamaMamaBank: Took me a while, but yes. The instructions you e-mailed helped a lot.

    Th3Fu11M0nt33: Great, thanks. So, think you can explain it to Dad?

    BahamaMamaBank: I'll try.  But you know what a caveman he is.

    Th3Fu11M0nt33: Hey, isn't it past your bedtime over there? ;-P

    BahamaMamaBank: Figured you could use an early morning chat.  So how are you doing in Australia?

    Th3Fu11M0nt33: Me?! How are YOU doing in Iran?!

    BahamaMamaBank: You wouldn't recognize it. The new matriarchy's completely turned it on its ear. Women are wearing Western style clothes, showing bare arms and faces. And they're roaming the streets freely.

    Th3Fu11M0nt33: Wow!  :-O

    BahamaMamaBank: Wow indeed. They've also legalized non-Islamic religious beliefs. Your dad's missionary work is doing well. Famine's hit them pretty hard, though. We're trying to keep security tight while we're donating food to the needy. And there's a lot more booze and vice spreading.

    The3FullM0nt33: Yeah, I read about those mothers rioting at the Esfahan bakery. You keep safe… remember, you're an American.

    BahamaMamaBank: Don't I know it. So, how's your coffee supply holding out?

    I glanced over to the business envelope box on my desk, and peered at the lonely single packet I'd stashed. The pure, sweet, manna-like aroma wafted out. I was down to my last cup. Boy, was I grateful Ma dug in and mailed me some of her personal stock during the shortage. But before I could write a proper thank-you for keeping the family addiction alive…

    >>LHarridan has been added to the conversation.

    BahamaMamaBank: Well, who's this, Monty?

    LHarridan: Excuse me, who are you?

    BahamaMamaBank: This is Monty's mother.

    LHarridan: This is Ms. Louise Harridan, Mr. Bank's supervisor. Is this IM pertinent to the operation or conduction of this business?

    Urk. I quickly typed, "It's OK, Ma, I'll catch up with you another time. Love you." But before I could hit Enter…

    >>You are no longer part of this conversation.

    BahamaMamaBank: Huh? I was just catching up with my son.

    LHarridan: I'm sorry, but this instant messenger was meant for professional use only. I must request that you contact Mr. Bank on his personal time. Good day.

    >>BahamaMamaBank is no longer part of this conversation.

    LHarridan: Monty. See me in my office. Now.

    Groan. I clicked the upper right X-square, grabbed my coffee mug and last packet, and stepped to the boss lady's office just quickly enough to get this over.

    Ms. Harridan had big soft cushions on her couch. She said it was for making her visitors comfortable. I knew better, though. Back in college, a mass communication student buddy told me most bosses used plush furniture so their guests would sink in, and unconsciously give the "high ground" to their hosts.

    Mr. Harridan pointed. "Sit," she said. I did, on the edge, back straight. She leaned forward and her black steel-wool brow narrowed down toward her bridge. "Well?"

    I twiddled my thumbs. "Well, what, ma'am?"

    "Don't you have anything to say?"

    I knew better. I shrugged silently. "Well?!" she demanded again.

    "With all due respect, I don't know wha–"

    "You know full well what this is about, Monty! Need I remind you, you're here to balance the inventory, not prattle to your mummy!"

    "I've got the numbers on the summer line ready," I said swiftly.

    "You did nonesuch and you know it."

    "Check the figures. I was adding them up when Ma IMed me, and finished the job by about her third post."

    She pecked on the keyboard and squinted at the monitor, and saw that I did do somesuch. Allsuch, in fact. "You actually juggled keying the numbers AND typing to your mum at the same time?" she huffed. I spread my hands and scrawny arms with a shrugging smile. She just stared at me like Anne Robinson on The Weakest Link. "Well, you could have and should have worked on the fall lines while you were at it."

    Before I could ask how I could have done it before we'd done the fall projections, she pursed her meaty lips. "These numbers are off," she frowned.


    "Right here. The revenue's 15% short of our projections last season."

    I peeked at it and nodded unconsciously. "Well?" she demanded.

    "Uh… well, what, ma'am?"

    She sighed and said slowly as if to a child, "Well, why did the figures come up so low?"

    I gave a boneheaded reply: the simple truth. "Because we sold less than we hoped?"

    She turned a bright red, and I could count the veins in her neck. "Wrong answer, Monty!" she bellowed.

    "Sorry, but that's–"

    "We have a potential nationwide retailer meeting us next week, you know!"

    "I just add the numbers, Ms. Harridan! That's what we got! What can I do?"

    "Be creative!"

    I furrowed my brow. Calming down, Louise picked up a candy dish. "Look. How many chockies would you say are in here? Take a guess."

    "I don't know," I said, "20, maybe 25?"

    She took it back, and counted them out. I'd low-balled it: 36.

    "See?" Louise said, as she poured them back in. "Now I know that the computer SAYS that we put maybe 25 dozen pairs of socks in each carton. But I bet we did gave our customers more for their money and did perhaps 36 dozen or so per."

    I narrowed my eyes. "And you want me to do that a few hundred thousand times, huh?"

    Her thick lips turned into a smile. "Now you've got it. Being creative."

    I frowned. And before I could talk myself out of it, it talked itself out of me. "Back in the States, we'd have called that being dishonest."

    Louise's smile faded. She steepled her fingers and sat quietly for an agoniously long moment. "Do you enjoy living in Australia, Mr. Bank?"

    I tensed. She seldom said anything pleasant after a man's surname. "Lovely mountains, rainforest and rivers."

    She stood up. "Ever think of your homeland much?"

    "I've got wonderful memories… before."

    "But would you want to return to it just now?"

    I stiffened. "Not as it is now, no."

    She walked around the desk. "Do you enjoy working here?"

    I took a breath. "I'm glad I've got a paycheque."

    She walked up to my couch and overshadowed me. "Especially with unemployment as it is, right?"

    I said nothing. She leaned in and I got her halitosis' full effect. "Monty, you've been reliable and spectacularly dependable. Never missed a day's work, clocked in tardy, or even gone on vacation since you've been here. I realise our nation's relaxed workplace attitude seems a little… foreign to you. But as I've told Shelly… a friend of mine who works in customs, you should meet her sometime… I've told her that a cooperative attitude and going with the flow is just as important as good conduct, professionalism and proper… deportment."

    She glanced down at my coffee mug and back to her teacup on the desk. "Crimson Cow's people will meet ours in a few. Make us a pot, and cart it to us. Then get back to work, check the numbers again… search between the lines… and see what you can come up with."

    I stood up. But before I left, she reached over with her long, phone-pole-thick arm, and plucked my mug out of my fingers. "And you, Mr. Stickler, know the rules. Tea's for executives only. Rationing, you know."

    "Hey, wait!" I protested, showing my coffee bag. "I was–"

    "You were going to buy your drink from vending like all the other non-officer personnel." And she waved me off.


    Grumbling, I poured the water by hose nozzle into the tea urn. I'd have urinated in it, but Louise would've known. "Oh, I went down south to see my Sal, sing Polly-Wolly Doodle all the day…" I sung growlingly, trying to cheer myself. It didn't work. Life sure was a suckfest.

    Then I heard a sweet American soprano pick up the verse: "Oh, my Sal, she is a spunky gal, sing Polly-Wolly Doodle all the day."

    I turned around. A charming woman in her mid twenties, standing 5'6" tall with short blonde hair, a bright red ascot, and a very neat grey blazer and skirt smiled at me. Angela.

    "Fare thee well," she lilted.

    "Fare thee well," I sang back.

    "Fare thee well, my fairy Fay," we joined together.

    And on the spur of the moment, I harmonized to her melody: "For I'm goin' to Louisiana, for to see my Suzi-Anna, singin' Polly-Wolly Doodle all the day!"

    Angela Tiffany, Georgian and fellow expatriate, was probably the only reason I hadn't shaved my head and joined a monastery. She worked for Crimson Cow Beverages, an energy drink company for whom we made logoed socks. She dropped by every two weeks or so in all the months I'd worked here. We first met the day the boss ordered me to move a big TV on a cart to the boardroom. Louise and I both knew I couldn't push such a heavy load all by my lonesome, and when I'd tried with other stuff, the boss lady'd berate me and finally shoo me off and do it herself. Louise must've gotten some sort of sick jollies out of it.

    But Angela saw me struggling with the TV, offered to help, and I gladly accepted. That's what I liked about her. She wasn't like so many of these radiated ogresses who'd lord over me with their beamed-down muscle like they'd bodybuilt it themselves and did nothing useful or helpful with it. Angela was, as far as I could tell, 100% all-American woman next door. And I'd rather have just her meager body power helping me than a platoon of European Uberbabes any day of the week.

    I'd have gladly asked for her home phone number by now… if I had my own to offer her. But with Louise squeezing every brass razoo, I couldn't even afford my own line in my room, never mind a cell phone.

    Anyway, we laughed like kids. Angela chimed, "I haven't heard or sung that since third gra–" Then she gasped. "Monty, your face! What happened?"


    "Again?!" She touched my jaw tenderly as I nodded. "Monty, you've got to move out of that neighborhood!"

    "With what, Monopoly money? I can't afford better."

    "Ask for a raise!"

    I shook my head no. "I'm on Louise's eesht list right now. She caught me in an IM with my mom, and wants me to cook the books on top of that."

    She looked at the urn. "Aw, that's how you got tea duty, huh?" She snorted. "I prefer coffee, anyway."

    I nodded, grunting. Then it hit me. At last. Something I could do for her. "Look what I got." And I showed her my last single.

    "Wow! How'd you get hold of that?!"

    "Package from Ma. Want it?"

    "Oh, no I couldn't…"

    "Sure you could."

    "No, that's yours."

    "It's my coffee, my worry. And now it's yours."

    "Look, you shouldn–"

    "Angela, please. I've always wanted to do something special for someone. I'm emasculated enough as is."

    She stared at me. Then she smiled warmly. "Okay, okay. You twisted my rubber arm. Thanks." And she took the packet, grabbed a clean cup, and hosed in the tap water. And she hummed a tune. I recognized it after three seconds. "Ah. Peter's Theme," I said. "From Peter and the Wolf."

    "Oh, you like Tchaikovsky, too?"

    "Uh… yes, but Tchaikovsky didn't write that one."

    Angela turned from the microwave. "Say what, now?"

    "Tchaikovsky didn't do Peter and the Wolf."

    She looked at me askance. "You sure? My boss looked up the mp3 for our presentation and everything. Said she was positive it was Tchaikovsky."

    "Then I'm afraid she's positively wrong. It wasn't him."

    "Oh it wasn't, was it?" That wasn't from Angela.

    I turned to the door. Right there stood a sharply dressed businesswoman in her mid 40s. Two things about her unnerved me. First, she was 6'4" tall, broad shouldered, deep-chested, and very imposing and all business in her red pinstriped charcoal grey coat and skirt. I'd guess she weighed in at 215 lbs. dead minimum.

    But what really spooked me were her eyes. Under that silver blonde twin-peaked 1940s doo-wop hairstyle were the wildest steel grey eyes I'd ever seen. They looked like she'd carve a hole in a frozen pond, skinny dip, and let it freeze back over just for giggles. Like she'd enter a lion's cage wearing nothing but a smile and a T-bone steak around her neck. Like she'd go shark hunting with herself as bait… and when that 40-foot great white swam up, mutter "I'm gonna need more tartar sauce."

    And now those eyes were scanning me over and sizing me up. "So who we have here?"

    Angela broke in. "He's–"

    Wild-Eyes held up a finger. "He's got a tongue, let him talk." I stood silently as she stepped closer. "You can speak, cantcha, boy? Woof woof?"

    I turned the urn on and let it brew. "Well, ma'am–"

    "Did my mum just walk in here? I ain't that old, mate. I got a name, y'know: Gracie."

    "Yes, well, Ms. …" I trailed off. "I never caught your last name."

    "Never threw it. Just Gracie's good enough."

    "Well, ma'… er, Gracie. I'm Monty. Monty Bank."

    "Pleased to meetcha," she said, offering her hand to shake, with just enough pressure to make it solid. "So what's this about Tchaikovsky and Peter and the Wolf?"

    "Well, I know he didn't write it becau–"

    "You believe he didn't."

    I was sick of getting cut off all the time. "Look, I don't believe, ma'am, I KNOW."

    She grinned condescendingly. "I don't believe you know, either."

    I checked the urn to make sure neither of us boiled over. "Back in college I had an old tape of 'Weird Al' Yankovic and Wendy Carlos performing Peter and the Wolf. And I would've distinctly remembered if it were composed by Tchaikovsky. But it wasn't."

    "Then who did?"

    "I don't remember."

    She rolled her eyes. "Don't you even have the tape with you to check?"

    I shook my head. "I loaned it out to another student and never got it back."

    "Suuuuuure you didn't."

    That tore it. "Look, MA'AM, if you want to be a musical mental midget for the rest of your life, that's fine with me. Tchaikovsky didn't write Peter and the Wolf, and that's that."

    I saw Angela cringing behind Crazy Gracie, who put her hands to her hips and leaned in. "Sure enough to bet your next paycheque on that?"

    I paused. Was she kidding? I was living hand to mouth as it was! And last month I was in a bind because I had to pay for an extended visa, and when my rent was late, Charlie had dumped my stuff right on the doorstep the very next day! I had to beg and plead for him to get my room back, too, even though I had the cash there and then! There was no way I could afford to lose another week's wages! Forget this, I didn't have anything to prove to this loony bat, anyway! Let her stay stupid! I glared right at her smug, jeering, patronizing, arrogantly beaming face… ooh, she burnt me up! "Yes, I am!"

    She nodded. "One born every minute. Angela? Check Athena, Peter and the Wolf."

    Angela flipped open her laptop, clicked "Search" on Athena, the comp's encyclopedia, and entered "Peter and the Wolf." Craning my neck around to see, I fidgeted as her boss looked over her shoulder confidently. What if she WAS right? I sure hoped she would've taken odd jobs in lieu of cash payment.

    Then her smirk fell off her face, and one sprouted on mine. The article started: "Peter and the Wolf, written by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in 1936, is a delightful children's piece introducing the instruments of the orchestra."

    I unconsciously folded my toothpick arms in triumph. Then I very self-consciously dropped them to my sides as Gracie peered at me very hard.

    Very, very slowly, an honestly pleasant smile then cracked her lips. "Well, well, well. Looks like I owe you some money."

    "Looks like," I said simply.

    "Monty!" bellowed Louise down the hall. "Tea! NOW!"

    I winced. "Sorry, ladies," I said as I unplugged the urn on the trolley and checked the cups, sugar, cream, and stirrers. "I've got to go now!"

    "Ah, yah. The meeting. We're going there, too." But before I could push it out, Gracie caught my elbow. "This ain't over, Mont," she said quite sanely. "You won fair and square, and I'm gonna honor it. I'll see you later today." And she pushed the cart with one hand to help me build up momentum.

    To be continued in Chapter 3: Friend or Foe?


    I’m loving it so far. I like your writing and I like your main character. He seems to be a strong person having to live a weak, weak body. I’m anxious to read more, specially when Monty will start to interact more with the "ogresses".


    Here’s a little interesting tidbit when I was writing this chapter:

    It was early Monday morning, February 2 in Guangzhou, China, and I didn’t have classes to teach, so I wanted to see the Superbowl. So I went to an American expat sports bar to check it out. And I brought my notebook and pencil so that I could scrawl in the dialogue on this story.

    I was planning to write during the game, since the main reason I watch the Superbowl was for the high-zoot commercials.

    But later, I learned that the Superbowl was being beamed in by ESPN Hong Kong, not CBS. So I got ESPN promos, not cool ads. Bummer. I actually watched the game, and wrote during the breaks.

    And it was close. I was enjoying it. Halftime came along. Having stopped giving a freep about current popular music around the year 2000, I tried to tune it out and focus on my writing.

    I saw Kid Rock shaking his thang, and doing a pro-USA, get-out-and-vote number… and saw a flash of the student and tank at Tienamen Square. Urk. That was gonna go over like a lead balloon here.

    I went back to my notebook. Later on, I heard somebody groan and say, "That’s disgusting!" I thought, yeah, I’m not a big fan of that music either. And I kept writing.

    Well, to my disappointment, my Panthers lost by a field goal in the last minute, and I was majorly bummed. Close game, but a disappointment. I decided to head back to the office and check in.

    Later I learned I’d missed a meeting with the other teachers, and I apologized. My boss told me he’d been keeping track of the Superbowl himself.

    "So how about that halftime show, huh?"

    "Yeah," I said. "I was wondering what the Chinese thought when they flashed that student and tank shot of Tienamen Square in Kid Rock’s video."

    "Huh? I meant Janet Jackson."

    "Say what now?"

    "Didn’t you see it?"

    "See what?"

    Then he took me to the computer and showed the news articles on MSN.

    Yep. I had a TV over my head, a wide-screen one off on the left wall… and I missed the whole Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" thing.

    And NO. I don’t want any pics to show me what I missed. 😛

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