“Inhuman Resources” by William Gerke

She must have weighed ninety pounds soaking wet, but she was a ton of trouble. Power crackled and oozed off her like water from a damp basement wall. I’m about as psychically sensitive as a dump truck, but even I could feel it. My boss could, too. Vern hunched in his big leather chair in the same defensive half-crouch he used during audits.

“I’m Gary Tolliver,” I said, extending my hand to her. “Human Resources.”

She introduced herself, adding that she was a Federal Marshal. She seemed put out when I asked to inspect her badge, and she made sure both her gun and the wooden stake were visible when she took it out of her pocket. The picture on her ID had shorter hair; the woman in front of me had bigger bags under her eyes. Other than that, everything looked in order.

“I told her you could help,” said Vern, happy as usual to pass the buck.

“You have a Promise Sundowner working here?” asked the agent.

“Yes,” I said. “She’s one of our night crew.”

“You are aware of what she is?”

“A vampire? Yes. We have several on night shift. Aside from having to adjust their hours with the sun, they’re exemplary employees.”

We also, occasionally, had to fire one who violated our workplace relations policy – feeding off a coworker could cause as many problems as dating one. Promise had never done that, but she had used those hypnotic vampire eyes on one of the other customer service reps, which led to a written warning in her file. I wasn’t entirely shocked that she might be in bigger trouble.

“I need to talk to her about a series of recent attacks in Roxbury,” said the marshal.

“As you’re no doubt aware, the sun’s already up. She’s not here.”

“You have timekeeping records. I’d like to review them to establish her movements. I’d also like her home address. The one on her driver’s license is out of date.”

“I’m sorry, but we don’t release personal records without permission or a warrant. And I’m guessing you don’t have her permission.”

“Payroll records aren’t personal, Tolliver,” said Vern. “Give her what she wants.”

“I can give you the payroll records. It’ll take a little time to pull and print them.”

“But not the address? Your employee matches the description of a vamp who mesmerized two boys at a commuter rail stop and fed on one of them. He’s in critical condition, and you won’t give me what I need to arrest this monster.”

She stepped towards me. I stepped back, raising my hands. Vern sank deeper into his chair, practically vanishing into the seams. I took a deep breath and hoped my trembling wasn’t too obvious.

“I wouldn’t stand here and listen to you call an African American employee a – well, you know,” I said. “And I won’t put up with that. They may not be fully human like you and me, but they’re not all monsters.”

“Fine. But this one is a suspected of feeding off a minor, and if the boy doesn’t survive, that’s a capital offense.”

“I appreciate the seriousness. I’ll run the reports and fax them over immediately. Once you have the warrant, I’ll do the same for her address.”

“Well,” said Vern. “That’s all settled then. Why don’t you show the lady out.”

She rolled her eyes, and we shared a brief moment of mutual contempt for my boss. The moment passed, and I was hustling to catch up with her as she strode towards the elevator bank. We rode in awkward silence, and I was grateful when the doors opened, and we stepped into the lobby with its high glass windows, little coffee kiosk, and security turnstiles.

She looked up at me. Her dark, hard eyes searched mine.

“You’re not one of hers, are you?” she said. “The vamp didn’t get to you?”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m an H.R. professional, and I do what is right to protect this organization and its people.”

She scrutinized me a moment longer. All the hairs on the back of my neck rose up, and I wondered if she was checking me out magically. There were all sorts of stories about what people like her could do. Finally, she pulled a business card out of her coat, making sure that I saw the gun again.

“Here. Fax me the records. And call me if you change your mind about the address. If not, I’ll be back with a warrant.”

As soon as the card was in my hand, she whirled on her high-heeled boots, coat flaring dramatically. She wrestled briefly with the turnstile and then stalked through the revolving doors.

The desk security guard, Walter, gave me a friendly nod. He was bald on top and hairy everywhere else – ears, nose, knuckles. A greasy brown paper bag sat on the expanse of blonde wood and brass in front of him.

“Don’t let Vern catch you eating at the desk,” I said.

“The big guy’s upstairs.” said Walter through a mouth full of sausage, bacon, and cheese. “He won’t come down again until lunch.”

He buzzed one of the I.T. guys through and reached into the sack for another breakfast sandwich.

“Hungry much?” I asked.

“Always wake up hungry during a full moon,” he said, talking between bites. “All night, locked in a cage in the garage. The change takes a lot out of you.”

“You should lock some food in there with you.”

“I do. They got these pigs they sell us. I lock one in with me every night. Have a heck of a time cleaning up the mess in the morning.”

“You eat a whole live pig?”

“My vet says having to catch and eat a live animal soothes the beast. I wouldn’t know. I don’t remember anything. I must eat it all right away. That’s why I wake up hungry. My wolf side’s not so good at saving for later.”

I patted him on the shoulder. “Only one more night.”

“Please don’t do that. It feels too much like being petted.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I know you don’t mean it that way. You watch out for folks like me.”

I pondered his words on my way back to the elevator. I didn’t think of it as watching out for them. I was just doing my job and making sure we complied with the law.

The Massachusetts Parahuman Rights Act extended to non-, para-, and post-humans the same rights under Massachusetts law as ordinary citizens. Other states had enacted their own laws and a Federal one was already being discussed. NuSolutions was a progressive company. We had a vampire and a ghost on our board of directors. No strict directive had come out, but the Recruiting department made every effort to reach out to mystically-altered or dearly-departed applicants. The result was a whole new world of employee relations issues for me to sort out.

That work waited in my office, a sub-standard-sized beige box of beige containing a cheap laminate desk, a tackily-upholstered guest chair, and an ergonomically-adjustable chair for me. Vern’s considerable bulk was weighing down the comfortable chair when I arrived, contemplating my rather dubious view of the interstate and the town of Burlington.

I sat down in the guest chair, figuring I might as well let him have his little power play.

“Why can’t you ever take the easy way out, Tolliver?” he asked. “If you’d given her what she wanted, we wouldn’t have to deal with her again.”

“The easy way and the right way aren’t always the same thing. We can’t just hand out personal information.”

“Why not? It’s in our files.”

“But it’s not ours. You’d appreciate it if the police were asking about you.”

He snorted. “We both know she’s going to show up with a warrant eventually. When that happens–”

“I’ll give her the address.”

He stood up, tugging at the sleeves of his coat and smoothing his lapel.

“You’re always telling me about protected classes and who can sue us if we fire them,” he said, baring his too-white teeth in a grimace. “Well, I may not be able to fire any of these creatures for causing me aggravation, but I sure as hell can fire you. And if any more so-called ‘employee relations’ problems get to my office in the next month, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

He strode out of the office, although the effect was ruined when he clipped the side of the desk and accidentally kicked the wastebasket. I reclaimed my warm chair, took a sip of my coffee, and logged back in to my computer.

Vampire attacks are reported as routine crime, and a few minutes with the Boston Globe‘s web site gave me a list of recent attacks. Pulling up Promise’s timesheet revealed a disturbing correspondence. Now, correlation is not causation, but given her behavior at work, the marshal’s accusations didn’t seem completely unlikely.

I printed the timesheets and filled out the fax cover sheet with the information from the marshal’s card. I felt bad, though. Vampires are predators. It’s in their nature. You might as well ask a scorpion not to sting or a panda bear not to eat bamboo. Most of them find willing meals, but sometimes one gets a taste for stolen blood or encounters someone whose smell drives them crazy. It’s like walking past one of those cinnamon bun places in the mall. They never taste as good as they smell, but that doesn’t stop you from buying them anyway and regretting it later.

I’m not saying it was right for Promise to attack the kid – if she had. I’m just saying it’s understandable.

I fed the papers into the fax machine I keep in my office for confidential faxes. Its beeps, clicks, and whirrs nearly drowned out the feather-soft knock on my door frame. Once I was certain the fax was going through, I looked up.

Today was my day for short people. The young woman who stood in the door was only a bit over five feet tall. Where the Federal Marshall had been all muscle and hard edges, this girl was so soft and round that she seemed almost out of focus. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, but stray hairs sprung out all over, adding to the impression.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know it seems silly for someone in human resources, but I’m terrible at connecting names to faces.”

“I’m Mandy Baker,” she said. Her voice was very soft.

“Oh yes, from the call center. Why don’t you come in and sit down?”

“I don’t want to bother you,” she said, settling into the chair, folding her hands in her lap, and looking at the stack of papers on my desk. I flipped them over, doing the same with several other stacks. “I’m sure Carrie’s talked to you about me.”

She had. So had other people. If rumors were true, I was glad Mandy had finally come to my office, but I would need to approach the situation very carefully.

“She tells me you’re good with the customers but have some problems with attendance.”

“She’s right. I have been late. I know I’ve been late. I’m doing my best. It’s just things come up, and I can’t get out of the apartment right away. I know I should plan accordingly, and I shouldn’t let my personal life interfere with work, but sometimes it just does. But there’s nothing you can do about that.”

“But you came up here because you thought there might be. So why don’t you tell me about it.”

“It’s just this time, it really wasn’t my fault,” she said, looking everywhere but at me. “I missed my bus. But not because of me. Look, this isn’t really like me. I mean, I’m not normally like this. I don’t get in situations like this. So I didn’t really know what to do. But everyone says if you have a problem you can go to H.R.” She finally made eye contact. She had big, soft, liquid brown eyes, like a puppy dog or a calf. “What I tell you, it’s off the record, right. You won’t tell anyone else, will you?”

“I’m not a priest or a doctor or a therapist, so there’s no legal confidentiality. But I will keep it between us, unless you tell me about workplace violence, theft, or sexual harassment. Those things I have to act on.”

“It’s not one of those things. At least not exactly. I just don’t know where to start.”

Her hands flopped loosely, and she shuddered. I tried to remember if I had any tissues handy. This was going to get messy.”Just take your time. I’m not in any hurry.”

“I live with my boyfriend, Brad. We moved in a couple months ago. Things were going well, and you know how expensive it is to find a place in Boston. But this morning, I made breakfast, and I didn’t have time to do the dishes. I told him I’d do them tonight, and that I had to get to work.” She paused, took a deep breath. “But he hates to leave dishes in the sink all day. He says it breeds cockroaches. I asked him to do them for me, but he grabbed me and dragged me over to the sink. He bruised my arms.”

She pulled up the sleeve of her lightweight sweater. Dark bruises stood out against her pale skin where rough fingers had wrapped around her skinny arms.

“Is that all he did?” I asked.

“No. When I tried to pull away, he shook me. He shook me hard. And he slammed me. He slammed my head against the cabinet.”

She shuddered, her breath coming in short, quick gasps. Tears slid silently down her cheeks. She looked down at her lap again. I took a chance on the middle drawer of my desk and found one of those little packets of tissues women carry in their purses. Mandy peeled one off and blew her nose, taking another to wipe at her eyes. I left the packet on her side of the desk.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make a spectacle.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “You have every right to make a spectacle.”

“I’m not normally like this. I’ve been on my own since I was eighteen. I’m really very capable. I mean, I don’t normally date guys who do this, and I don’t know what to do.”

“The first thing you need to do is not go back home. Do you have someone you can stay with?”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. Brad would be furious. He’d come and find me.”

I took a deep breath and kept myself still, very still. You have to treat people like Mandy like frightened animals – stay calm, keep eye contact, talk in a steady, soothing voice.

“You came to me because you thought I could help. The best thing you can do is get out of that apartment. I’ll give you the number of our Employee Assistance Plan. They have professional counselors.”

“I don’t need therapy.”

“These people help with all sorts of things. They can help you figure out what to do next, and they’ll keep it confidential. They won’t even tell me what’s going on.”

I slid the card across the desk. She reached for it and then pulled back.

“I don’t know. Brad’s really a good person. He just gets mad sometimes. He’s the one who should talk to a counselor. They could help him, maybe teach him self control.”

“Maybe they could. But your first concern is making sure you’re safe, and you’ll be safest somewhere else.”

“I’m not in any danger. It’s not like Brad’s going to kill me. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt me. He just got upset and lost control, that’s all. It was an accident that I hit my head.”

“That’s not what you said a minute ago.”

“I was upset. I’m sure it was an accident. Most of the time he’s really quite sweet. He’ll probably buy me flowers to make it up to me.”

I stifled a sigh. I knew what I wanted to do – stage an intervention, drag her to a friend’s place, call the cops, file a restraining order, show up at her apartment with a baseball bat and give the bastard a taste of his own medicine. But I wasn’t just Gary Tolliver here. I was a representative of NuSolutions, and in that role, there was only so much I could do.

“Mandy, this isn’t the first time you’ve been late, and I’m guessing this isn’t the first time your boyfriend has done something like this. It sounds like he’s apologized with flowers before, and things have gotten bad enough that you came here to talk to me.”

“It’s just that I need this job. Like you said, I’m good with the customers, and I like it here. But Carrie said if I was late again, I’d be fired. I guess I was hoping you could help me not be late.”

“There’s only one way to do that,” I said, gesturing towards the card. “If you’re not ready to take that step, it’s not going to happen. Why don’t you take the rest of the day to think about it? I’m usually here until six, so you can come back any time. And the EAP number is good twenty-four hours a day.”

“All right,” she said, taking the card. “I guess I should get back to the phones. You’ve been really good listening to my ranting and crying.”

“It was no trouble at all. And it wasn’t ranting. Just promise me that you’ll think about what I said.”

Mandy stood up, pushed the guest chair up against my desk, and backed out of my office. She stopped, framed in the doorway, and smiled a small, tattered smile, like a ragged ray of sunshine through a break in the clouds. She raised the hand holding the EAP card in a little wave.

“I will. I may not look it, but I feel a lot better. It helped just talking to you. Thank you.”

Then she was gone.

I hate when people say that. It isn’t gratitude – it’s a dismissal. They say that talking to me helps because they aren’t going to do anything to fix their situation. Talking is a placebo. It looks and tastes like action but will do nothing to cure what ails them.

I poked through my e-mail, looking for something to do to take my mind off Mandy, but I couldn’t concentrate. I sipped my coffee. It was cold, but I knew where I could get more.

Pausing to dump out my cold coffee and rinse my mug in the men’s room sink, I walked down the hall to Accounting. The department was a warren of cubicles lined with stacks of paper. Our accountants moved furtively between the cubes, head low, voices hushed, like the chittering of small mice. I wove through it to the Controller’s office. A single desk lamp cut the windowless darkness, spotlighting the payroll register on Frank’s desk. He hunched over it, eyes darting between the tiny columns of numbers and something on his monitor. I coughed to get his attention.

With his crew cut, uneven teeth, and pasty complexion, you might mistake Frank for a typical accountant, until you noticed the mismatched eyes, missing ear, and ragged scar that ran up from his jawline and circled his forehead. Most constructs grew long hair and beards to cover the scars – if they could – but Frank seemed proud of his heritage. His choice of name certainly didn’t shy away from it.

“I know what you’re here for,” said Frank.

“Sometimes I come just to visit.”

His chuckle sounded like a gargling rhino. He had a taste for high-end coffee, and he kept the coffee maker behind his desk, so he could control who he shared it with. I was one of the lucky ones. Given our two roles, we both saw a lot of confidential information that we could only discuss with each other, so we’d bonded over shared secrets. He was the closest thing I had to a friend at work.

Frank took the coffee mug from my outstretched hand, set it on the counter, grabbed the pot, filled the mug, restored the pot, and handed the mug back to me all using only his right hand.

“All right, I’ll bite,” I said. “Why do you have a plastic bag over your left hand?”

He waggled it at me. The transparent bag plastic bag was held in place by a thick green rubber band around the cuff of his blue button-down shirt.

“To protect you from the smell.”

Before I could stop him, he pulled it off. The odor of rotting meat drifted across the table.

“Ghaaa. What died?”

“The original donor. And longer ago than any of the other parts of me.”

“Your parts aren’t all the same age?”

“The good doctor used whatever he could dig up intact, and not all the bodies died at the same time. He did what he could to preserve them, but they still go bad. Thankfully, not all at once.”

“You made your point. Put the bag back on.” He did so, snapping the rubber band into place. “How do you replace them?”

“You take whatever donor is available. Things are harder now that us spooky types have gone public. We have to wait on donor lists with everyone else, and we’re pretty far down. Most people don’t volunteer to donate body parts to monsters.”

“What did you do in the old days?”

Frank grinned; his scar stood out sharply against the skin.

“We made our own donors.”

“Belay that talk. Let’s stick to the present. How long until you get it replaced?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got a doctor primed to do it, so now I have to wait until a free hand turns up.”

“Let’s hope it’s soon, or you’ll have to work one handed. That bag won’t keep the stench down forever, and Vern won’t like you stinking up the place.”

“Speaking of things that stink, what’s the story with Mandy? I saw her leaving your office earlier. I hear she’s got one foot out the door. It’d be a shame if she got fired. She’s a real sweetheart and cute as a button.”

“She’s got some attendance issues. Carrie put her on a final warning today. But there’s more going on than that.”

“She’s got an excuse?”

“More of an explanation, but I can’t really talk about it.”

“It’s the boyfriend, isn’t it?” said Frank. “He hits her.”

“Woah! What made you go there?”

“The rumor’s all over the floor. Plus, when you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you learn to recognize the signs.”

“You were in an abusive relationship?”

“I was built from scratch and brought to life to do a madman’s bidding. You wake up and here’s father, mother, God, and Santa Claus all rolled up in one. He sends you out to do the most horrible, bloody things you can imagine and never once a word of approval. I’d call that abusive.”

“I never thought about it that way.”

“I don’t really talk about it – except to my therapist – but guys like that piss me off. At least my guy worked out his issues on a soulless construct. This asshole is doing it to an innocent girl. If I got my hands on him … I don’t know what I’d do.”

“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” I said, pointing to the payroll register in his hands. During his speech, he’d torn the phone book-sized stack of papers in half.

“Oops.”

“It’s all right. I’ll ask the mailroom to print up a new one and bring it down to your office.”

He grinned. “Thanks, Gary. Always taking care of me.”

“Just doing my job,” I said, standing up. “I should get going.”

“Don’t forget your coffee. And if there’s anything else I can do for you – anything – you just let me know.”

“Are you coming on to me, Frank?”

“No, I’m offering you the help of a tireless, superhumanly strong biological machine.”

“Still sounds like a come on.”

He gargled out another laugh that followed me and my coffee out the door and back to my office.

I got back to my e-mails, sorting my way through requests, shooting off quick responses. As the afternoon wore on, I found myself in a special kind of spreadsheet hell reserved exclusively for middle management. I couldn’t keep my mind on my work. I thought about Promise and the marshal, Walter eating at the desk, and Frank’s stinking hand. All of them were problems that could come to Vern’s desk sooner or later, and about the only thing I trusted him to do was follow through on his threat to fire me.

Mostly, though, I kept thinking of Mandy. I’d seen this sort of thing before. She wouldn’t call the EAP. She’d be back tomorrow or the day after, all smiles and apologies for bothering me. Things were better now. Brad apologized and said he wouldn’t do it again. She would try harder to get here on time. What she’d really be saying was that she’d try harder to make him happy. But there’s no such thing as hard enough with guys like him. That darkness would be boiling up inside. One day, he’d find an excuse. Then she’d be late to work again. Or she’d show up with sunglasses and too much makeup. Or she might just not show up. We’d call and get no answer. After three days, we’d call it job abandonment. I’d send a letter telling her she didn’t have a job anymore. Best case, she’d be there to get the letter, and he’d hit her for that. Worst case, she wouldn’t be there at all, because he hit her one time to many.

I hadn’t typed anything in a while.

I saved my work. A few clicks on the internet took me to a site that listed the times when the sun and moon rose and set. I used my spreadsheet to do some calculations. Satisfied, I closed my door and dialed Frank’s extension.

“Do you have any meetings this afternoon?” I asked.

“Nothing I can’t cancel. Why? You want to golf?”

“No,” I told him. “Something a little more interesting.”

I explained my idea. He sat silently through the whole thing and for long enough afterwards that I started to worry I’d gotten myself into trouble.

“Makes sense to me,” he said at last. “Several birds, one stone, a half-dozen felonies. Do you think Promise will go for it?”

“She faces death by sunrise if she’s guilty. You don’t live to be as old as she is without being afraid of that. If we let her know they’re onto her and warn her not to come in tonight, she should be grateful enough to do this little favor. Besides, she’ll want a snack for the road if she’s going to run.”

“That’ll work. I’ve talked to her during happy hour. She’s got a dark side. All the blood drinker’s do. That’s the problem with having no souls.”

“What about you?” I asked. “You okay with this? You said your creator made you do bad things. I don’t want to be that guy.”

“You’re not making me do anything. This is my choice. Besides, vampires aren’t the only ones without souls.” He paused. “I’ll need to get the general ledger allocations done before I can leave. Will 3:30 be early enough?”

“Plenty early.”

I gave him the two addresses and hung up. I checked the directory and dialed another extension.

“Carrie Banks,” said the breathy voice on the other end of the line.

“It’s Gary in HR. Is Mandy back on the phones?”

“Yeah. Did she come up and see you?”

“After you gave her the final warning, she came to me about some personal issues.”

“Figures. Making her excuses.”

“Don’t be so cynical. Can you do me a favor? You got any overtime you can give her tonight? A special project or something?”

“We can always use some extra hands on the West Coast calls this time of year. That’d give her four or five hours.”

I checked my calculations. “If you could make it five, that would be great. The extra money may be just what she needs.”

“I don’t want to know any more, Gary. I trust your judgment. If I learn too much about the reps’ personal lives, I’ll start to care about them.”

“You’re all heart, Carrie.”

“That’s H.R.’s job.”

She hung up. I leaned back in the chair looking at the figures on my desk pad. The sun set around 7:20 pm. The moon rose around 9:00 pm. Carrie would keep Mandy at work until 10:00 pm. That should be enough time.

***

Sunlight streamed through the windows, illuminating the wood and brass of the security desk. The business-casual throngs hustled through the revolving doors, transforming from commuters to employees in a whirl of glass and metal. I joined them and checked in with Walter at the security desk.

“What, no sandwich?”

“Strangest thing. I wasn’t hungry this morning.” He burped, covering it politely with one hairy hand. “A little gassy, but not hungry.”

“Maybe a stray cat or something wandered into the cage.”

“It did look like there were some extra bones when I threw them out. I’ll have to check the garage for holes.”

Before I could step through the turnstile, Walter pointed back into the lobby. Frank stood in line at the coffee kiosk. He waved me over; his left hand was swaddled in bandages that disappeared up into the cuff of his perfectly-pressed shirt.

“You’ll have to grab yours,” he said. He’d already ordered a plain coffee for me and something polysyllabic and high octane for himself. I took my coffee, and we walked away from the kiosk and any curious ears.

“New hand already? That was quick work.”

“You have to act fast in these situations. Fortunately, my kind of doctor keeps odd hours and doesn’t ask a lot of questions, so I was able to see him last night.”

“Everything went okay, then?”

“Easy. Promise did that hypnotic thing with her eyes, and the jerk was docile and cooperative – all the way to the end.”

“Promise took off?”

“After she helped me dispose of the evidence. She said to thank you for the tip-off and the snack, and she didn’t tell me anything about where she’s going. Everything’s perfect.”

I sipped my coffee. The revolving doors spun. Mandy emerged from the far one, wearing a blue summer dress and off-white sweater. She waved when she saw me and walked towards us.

“The fruits of our labors,” said Frank. “Drop by the office later and let me know how she’s doing.”

He patted my shoulder with his bandaged hand and wandered off through the security turnstile.

“I’m so glad I saw you,” said Mandy, a little out of breath from rushing across the lobby. “The weirdest thing happened last night.”

“Really?” I said, putting my free hand in my pocket as we walked slowly, side by side, toward the security turnstile.

“Carrie made me work late. I tried calling Brad to let him know, but he didn’t answer his cell phone. I thought he’d be mad, but when I got home, he wasn’t there.”

“He didn’t come home?”

“No, I mean, he was gone. He’d left. He packed some of his clothes in a bag, left a note with some money and moved out.”

We paused to navigate the security turnstile. Walter waved us cheerfully through.

“Did he go to his parents or something?” I asked as we continued towards the elevator bank.

“He didn’t say where he was going. He just said he was really sorry for how he treated me, that he knew it wasn’t right. He said he was going away to get some help. That I’d probably never see him again. He left money for rent and said I could sell his stuff if I needed to. I can’t imagine him doing anything like that.”

“It seems like a kind of miracle. I guess he realized the destructive path he was on and mended his ways before it was too late.”

“Do you think he’s really going to get help?” she asked. “He really is a good person if he could just learn to control his temper. He even bought me flowers to apologize, like I said. They were lying by the note.”

“I think anything’s possible,” I said. “I even think it’s possible he’ll never hurt anyone again.”

Vern was waiting for the elevator, and we both clammed up when we got there. I guess Mandy was a bit intimidated by him. I just didn’t want him to nose into what was going on. He looked back and forth between the two of us and raised a plucked eyebrow.

“Any problems, Tolliver?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I answered with a smile. “No problems at all.”

The elevator arrived, and we both gestured for Mandy to precede us. As we all turned to face the doors, she flashed me a great big smile, and I remembered what Walter had said the day before about how I took care of the employees.

Promise had a good head start, Frank had his new hand, Walter wasn’t eating at the information desk, and Mandy had a chance to at a new life. Just because this jerk was gone didn’t mean she wouldn’t fall in with another abusive boyfriend – these unhealthy patterns often repeated themselves – but I would encourage her to get the help she needed, maybe talk to one of the professionals from our EAP.

Basking in the glow of her smile, watching the numbers tick up towards my floor, I thought that maybe it wasn’t just about being a professional. Maybe I really did take care of my people – all of my people – because it was the right thing to do.


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About the Author

Born and raised in Minnesota, William Gerke lived in New York City for almost a decade. He has worked in a suburban basement, in downtown office buildings, and on an aircraft carrier. He has a Masters in English Literature and works in Human Resources for a large, global corporation. When he’s not busy being a good corporate citizen, he reads, runs, and writes. He currently lives in Boston with his patient wife and the obligatory cat. Learn more about him at http://williamgerke.com.