ni zyu nana

The roads were plowed to a semblance of usefulness overnight.  They had even managed to rescue Sigue-Sigue and Vim, forty hours after their original broadcast had begun, but not before the former had taped twenty minutes of her exhausted partner snoring and broadcast segments of it intermittently all night long, between ads, increasingly less radio-friendly music, and public service announcements.  The parts at which Sigue-Sigue and the janitor could be heard giggling in the background were the best.

The road conditions were good enough that everyone showed up for work at the fish store.  Maybe they’d just run out of things to do.  Either seemed likely.  Liz had little to say to any of them.  Murphy tried to talk to her, but she shrugged him off.

Shortly before noon, she saw Charles struggle into the parking lot, slipping and sliding in his rental car.

“Shit!” she cried.

Keith had just handed her a sixty-pound box of shrimp.  “What?  The other one was heavier than that.”

“Nothing, nothing,” she said, struggling inside.  Her arms screamed with the effort, but the noise got quieter every day. She dropped it in the freezer and almost flattened her right foot in her haste to be rid of the burden.  Liz rushed out into the store in time to see Mr. McIntyre and Charles–dressed in a different suit than the one he’d been wearing when she first met him–go into the office and close the door.

Why was he here?  Hadn’t she told him thank you, she could handle it?  She couldn’t pay for this!  Liz resisted the urge to go and knock on the door.  Short of calling Charles a liar, there wasn’t much she could do now except let him take care of it, but she was kind of pissed that he’d taken it out of her hands like this.  Gritting her teeth, Liz went back outside to finish with the truck.

She had moved one more box before Mr. McIntyre came outside.  He glanced at Liz, nodded, and then called Eric inside.  Eric went, favoring Keith with a smarmy “what the fuck?” look.

“What was that all about?” Keith asked, stopping to light a cigarette.  They weren’t supposed to smoke; no one ever bothered to stop Keith.

Liz shrugged.

“Did the boss call you yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you work?”

Liz nodded.  “Nine hours,” she said.

“Aw, man, I knew him calling was bad news.  I told him to kiss my ass.  Put on ESPN and stayed stoned all day.”

She had nothing nice to say to that, so she said nothing, grabbed another box and went inside with it.

Mr. McIntyre met her at the door to the walk-in.  “Liz.  My office,” he said.  He sounded angry.

She followed him with a sigh of resignation.  Either she was getting fired, or Eric was.  Maybe both of them were.  The walk was short, but she had time to contemplate two or three ways to tell her father that she’d lost her job.

Eric and Charles were in the office already.  The office was built for two average-sized people, a desk and a filing cabinet; considering Charles’ size, it was a little crowded.  When Mr. McIntyre came in behind her and closed the door again, it was quite cozy indeed.  Charles and Eric had both chairs.  A puddle was forming under Eric’s feet as the snow on his shoes melted.

“You stupid bitch,” Eric said.  His anger made goosebumps rise on her arms and neck, and she felt paradoxically guilty for getting him so mad.  It wouldn’t stop her from kicking his ass if he took a step toward her, of course.

“Shut up, Eric,” Mr. McIntyre said.  “Liz, Mr. Katz says that Eric has been harassing you and taking money from you.  Is this true?”

She couldn’t tell from his tone of voice if he knew about the video or not.  That was all that mattered.  “Yes,” she said, looking at the floor as if she were talking to her father.  Which, in a way, she was.

“How much money has he taken from you?”

“Three hundred dollars.”

Mr. McIntyre sighed.  “Okay, Eric, you’re fired.  Go home.”

He jumped to his feet, eyes wide.  “What?”  His voice cracked.

“You heard me,” Mr. McIntyre said, pulling a file out of a drawer.  “Get out.  You’re fired.  And you owe Liz the money you stole from her.  If you don’t have it on you, I’ll take it out of your last paycheck.”

“But I was just kidding around!”

“You’re the only one who got the joke, apparently.  Good-bye.”  He stood up and opened the door.

Eric turned on Liz.  “I’m going to fucking kill you, you stupid whore!”

At that, Charles stood up, forming a solid, imposing wall of lawyer.  “Thanks for the threat,” he said.  “If she so much as slips on the ice and hits her head, we’ll see you in front of a judge.  Does that sound like fun to you?”  Liz looked at him in surprise.  His tone had put the fear of jail into her heart too, and he wasn’t even talking to her.

Mr. McIntyre added, “If I hear that Keith or anyone else at this store somehow saw that video, I’m going to let Liz’ father know you’ve been making life hard for her.  He’s a state cop, you know.”

Liz didn’t say anything at all.  She didn’t need to.  She did, however, make sure that she met Eric’s eyes, so that he didn’t think she’d set something in motion that she couldn’t control.  The look was to tell him that she knew exactly what she’d just done.  He passed very close to her on the way out, eyes locked to hers.  Liz was ready for him to grab her or take a swing, but he didn’t.  Eric dropped his eyes and left.  As he went out the door he made a little sound in his throat like he was going to cry.  The back door burst open with a crash that suggested he’d thrown all of his weight into it, and closed with an impotent click.

When he was gone, Liz let out the breath she had been holding.  “Thank you,” she said to both of the men in the office.

Charles said nothing.  Mr. McIntyre murmured, “F’gedaboudit,” and got up.  “Let’s get back to work, eh?” he added.