Chapter 2 – Four to the (Shop) Floor
Break Room – SB Electrical Superstore
“What’s our position, Number one?”
Sookie smiled as she finished unpacking the bags of drinks and snacks. “Everything is set, Gran. We’re just waiting on the Bellefleur contingent and the n00bs to start the meeting.”
Adele nodded and squeezed her Granddaughter’s shoulder affectionately. “I’m glad you agreed to the Tech Manager position, Sookie. A big store like this would be impossible for me and Caroline to manage on our own. Add her ill health into the mix … well; it’s best we make a clear hierarchy for everyone’s sake.”
“Has she decided on Andy or Portia for Sales Manager?”
Adele grimaced. “Not yet. Andy wants it more, he has the drive and he cares more about the family business. But Portia is more intelligent … that’s pretty much all she has going for her.”
“Andy is friendlier – he’s more of a people person. That alone should convince Caroline to choose him.”
“Never underestimate Portia’s talents for debate. It doesn’t matter how well her brother is suited for the job – she wants the authority and she’ll argue any point to make sure she gets it. I sure wouldn’t want to be Caroline right now.”
Their discussion was cut short as Bill walked into the room smiling. “Good morning Ladies! It’s looking good out there. Who came up with the name ‘Geek Clique’ for the Tech Support desk?”
“Me.” Sookie smiled. “How are you, Bill? We haven’t had much time to chat with all the moving and stuff.”
“I’m fine, I’m great actually. I hope this isn’t too forward, but I was hoping that I’d be considered for the Geek Clique at this meeting rather than the Sales Team.”
“It’s a given Bill – assuming Caroline signs off on it.”
Bill sighed in relief and Adele shook her head before stating that she was going to go and check on Security Officer Worf.
“Gran – that’s no way to talk about Quinn!” Sookie bit back a laugh but gave in when her Gran left the room and Bill’s chuckles became infectious.
Bill looked at Sookie, her smile was as bright as ever but her eyes just weren’t reflecting it anymore. He wondered why she had come back before finishing her degree, everyone wondered. He’d heard that she was kicked out of LSU – but a reason for the expulsion hadn’t been forthcoming.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
“Sookie, why are you here?”
Sookie’s smile dropped and her body tensed. “I’m here because my Gran offered me a job, Bill.”
“You know that’s not what I was asking, Sook.” Bill leaned forward and placed a hand over hers. “Why are you in Bon Temps instead of finishing your degree?”
“I … I was framed for drug dealing and drug use.” Her voice was quiet as a mouse, just a hair above a whisper. Bill strained his ears trying to hear as she continued. “I went on a date with a guy, he was on a break from his girlfriend and she didn’t like it. So, when they got back together, they hatched a plot to set me up. They didn’t just want me out of school Bill, they wanted me arrested. They wanted to not only ruin my chance at finishing my degree but to ruin my chance of finding a decent job.”
Bill was shocked speechless, but he knew his silence would stress Sookie out even more than having to tell him what happened.
“You didn’t deserve that Sookie. I hope that this girl and her boyfriend get caught and punished for what they’ve done to you.”
Sookie sniffed and tilted her head to the side in thought. “Well, she did have to have her nose reset.”
“You beat her up?” Bill gasped.
“No! Silly! My friend, Pam, did. That’s why she got expelled too, you’ll meet her soon – she’s coming to work at the store.”
“Oh? Well, I hope I won’t do anything that might make her want to reset my nose.”
Sookie smiled and removed her hand from Bill’s grip so she could pat his arm. “So do I, Bill. So do I.”
I-20 – Eric’s Corvette
Eric slapped Pam’s hand away from the stereo for what felt like the thousandth time. He decided, right there and then, that if he got this job after the meeting today – he would ask for different shifts so he would never have to car pool with her again. Being near Pam made him uncomfortable, not because he had taken her virginity, but because she was so open with her … geek-ness. He’d been trained to hide what his Father referred to as ‘oddities’. First as a child by his parents, then as a teen in high school and then as an adult amongst other adults – who would very certainly frown upon collecting Thundercats figurines.
“Leave the radio alone, Pam. Seriously – Driver picks the music; shotgun shuts his cakehole.” He winced as he said it.
Dammit! Twenty minutes with a fully fledged geek and I’m quoting Dean Winchester.
Pam pouted and crossed her arms. “Yeah, yeah, I get it.”
Eric sighed internally, relieved that she either ignored his slip up or didn’t pick it up at all. Things went smoothly for around ten minutes before Pam slapped Eric’s hand away from the stereo.
“What the fuck Pam? What did we just talk about?”
“But its Rush, Eric. Not just Rush, but Tom Sawyer. Its legend!”
Eric grit his teeth and held the steering wheel in a death-like grip. He knew the significance of the song. Any decent ‘Chuck’ fan would.
“Fine! So, who is this Sookie chick anyway, your campus girlfriend?”
“She was my roommate.”
“So she was your campus, live-in lover?”
“No – just my roommate, she’s not into fuzz bumping.”
“Is she pretty?”
Pam laughed. “Why? Do you want to practice a new sales technique on her?”
“I was just asking.” Eric sighed. “But I do need to find a new angle.”
“Here’s a novel idea – why not try … being yourself.” Pam grinned.
“I’m not sure what you mean.” Eric gripped the wheel tightly.
Pam levelled a look at him. “Why do you need an angle? If you’re honest and the customer trusts you, then the sales follow.”
Eric sagged in relief, for a moment he thought Pam had seen past his ‘cool guy’ persona. “Oh that! Of course, yes, you’re absolutely right!”
Pam raised her eyebrows, it seemed like her cousin was hiding something. All she knew about Eric was that he was a workaholic and very rarely socialised. Any time she had been to a family dinner in the last few years he’d never spoken of friends or hobbies. He talked about work, about Buy Everything and about how he was sure he’d make Store Manager before he was 30. The journey passed with no further conversation, even when Justin Bieber came through the stereo speakers – neither made a move or a sound.
The retail park was easy to find and the parking lot around SB Electrical Superstore was empty. Eric shook his head at the ‘Opening Soon’ messages that had been hand painted on white bed sheets and hung over the windows either side of the front door. He followed Pam as she confidently walked up to the door and tapped at it with her knuckles, waving to someone inside. The door was opened by a very large bald security guard, Eric reckoned the guard was at least as tall as he was and a little wider. Pam folded her arms as the guard tried to stop her from walking in.
“Back off man, I’m a scientist!”
Eric heard a snort coming from his left but ignored it in favour of making a good impression. “Hi I’m Eric Northman and this is Pam Ravenscroft. We’re here to see Sookie.”
When the guard moved his arms, Eric was able to see a photo ID clipped to his belt.
John Quinn… why does that name sound familiar?
They walked behind the guard as he led them through the store. Eric thought it was small on floor space considering how large the building looked from the outside. A wiry man with red and gold hair tipped an imaginary hat to Pam and she smiled back at him as he sat on the edge of a counter with the guts of several walkie-talkies and a soldering iron. Eric’s questions about the size of the building were answered as they walked through a set of double doors into a large stock holding area.
The racking was set up like aisles in a supermarket, there were aircraft steps, work assist vehicles and a small forklift truck parked to one side. Across from the racking were a number of doors with signs indicating what the room was for. Manager’s Office, Server/Security Room, Cash Office and Locker room were all there, but the room that interested Eric and Pam the most was the one where chanting could be heard through the door.
Eric couldn’t quite make out what was being chanted, but the fact it was coming from the break room unsettled him. Quinn opened the door as a cheer erupted from around the table. Andy was clapping and Bill was patting Sookie on the back as she screwed the side panel on, what looked to be, a very old PC.
“You did it, Sook, You fixed Gordon!”
Pam threw her arms up in the air and shouted. “Gordons Alive?”
“Pam!” Sookie dropped her screwdriver and ran over, wrapping her arms around her friend before pulling back and extending her hand toward Eric.
“It’s nice to meet you Eric, I’m Sookie.”
Eric looked at her hand and smirked at her before taking it in his own and kissing the back of it. “Well, aren’t you sweet?”
Sookie narrowed her eyes at him. “Not especially.”
Adele cleared her throat and nodded to Caroline who stood, a little shakily, and addressed the room.
“Terry, Pam, Eric and Arlene – we’d like you to follow us into the Manager’s Office.”
Pam accepted a high five from Sookie as she passed by with Adele, Caroline and Andy before the rest followed them into the other room. Eric stayed a good few feet behind the others, simply so he could admire Sookie’s rear. He’d struggled to look into her eyes as she introduced herself, her ‘zombie defence: Horticultural division’ shirt had been a little on the tight side. On the back pocket of her jeans was a patch which had been stitched on haphazardly. As Eric admired they gentle sway of the embroidered Starbug – that’s when it hit him.
John Quinn was the guy I bought all those Red Dwarf DVDs from on eBay!
He stopped walking for a second, making sure no-one had noticed his epiphany. Eric was glad he’d used his VikingGod email address rather than his named address – the last thing he wanted was for anyone to know he’d bought them. He had a reputation to uphold, after all – salesman, charmer, expert in flirtation. He was popular, normal, not a geek … at all.
Sookie held the door open and looked into Eric’s eyes as he walked past. She was amazed at how blue they were, like the eyes of the desert nomads of Arrakis. She sniffed him, unconsciously, to see if a wave of cinnamon assaulted her senses.
“Pam, I don’t remember you telling me Eric is a Fremen.”
Eric blinked and tried to ignore what she was saying. He walked over and took a seat next to the other man, Terry, in the hope that distancing himself from Pam and Sookie would quell the eccentricities that were rising inside him. He knew he was hiding who he was. Was hiding the same as lying?
Only a lie that wasn’t ashamed of itself could possibly succeed. Well said, Isaac, but I’m not ashamed of the lie – I’m ashamed of the truth.
“Eric, are you okay?” Sookie thought she saw a sheen of sweat on his brow but discounted it as new job nerves when he flashed a winning smile at her.
“I’m absolutely fine. Will the interviews be taken individually?”
Sookie looked to the others in the Management team and Andy spoke up. “They’re not really interviews as such – we need experienced people ASAP, you experienced people are available. It’s just a small group chat, very informal – that’s how both families ran our respective businesses. I don’t see any need to change that ethos now that we’re one, larger, business.”
Adele glanced at Sookie behind Andy’s back with a surprised look on her face. Despite their judgements about him, he knew what he was doing when it came to speaking for the group. He quickly arranged drinks and had everyone seated and ready to begin. Adele and Caroline kept quiet for most of the discussion, leaving the majority of questioning and answering to their progeny. Neither were disappointed in their choices for second in command.
Pam was reserved during the chat, as Sookie suspected she would be. Although Pam had the look of a friendly milkmaid, she wasn’t a people person at all. But she knew her way around a computer, despite her majoring in bio-science, and Sookie wanted the Geek Clique to have the talent to back up the service they were offering.
Eric leaned forward in his chair as the subject came round to remuneration. He was content with the package outline that was handed to him in an envelope but he wanted more than money – he wanted a future.
“I know this store hasn’t even opened yet, but I’d like to know if you had any plans for expansion – another branch, perhaps, with room for promotion and ladder climbing.”
The management team all looked at one another but Caroline took the ball and ran with it. “You’re an ambitious young man; I understand that – all young men are ambitious. We don’t have any plans for expansion – but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. If that isn’t good enough for you then I suggest you leave now and let us contact someone else.”
Eric was shocked at her bluntness. He didn’t want to commit to a company with a low chance of furthering himself, but he needed this job after being fired. “Well, you didn’t say ‘no’, so that’s good enough for me.”
Caroline nodded and Pam relaxed. Pam had thought for a moment that Eric was going to embarrass her after she vouched for him. They finished up in the office and Adele put an announcement over the PA system for all staff to report to the break room. Sookie and Andy looked at each other. They knew they’d be in the store after everyone else had gone, going over the list of employees and picking their teams.
Like Dodge ball. Sookie thought.
Moments after having that thought, Sookie found out how much like Dodge ball it would be when Andy suggested some team activities so everyone could get better acquainted. She found out that it was actually Dodge ball.
“Don’t you think that’s a little juvenile, Andy?”
Andy grinned at Sookie. “It’s only juvenile if you’re a geek who can’t play Dodge ball.”
Pam narrowed her eyes and sneered. “O what men dare do. Dodge ball is an awful game to unite people.”
“But, I’ve got all the balls and everything.” Andy replied down heartedly.
Sookie rubbed at her temples with her fingertips and exhaled loudly. “Okay – we’ll play Dodge ball, but just one game … and only because there are too many people to plug in and play an MMO. Bill?”
“Yes, Sookie?” Bill bit his lip nervously, unsure of what Sookie wanted.
“Set up the Wii. I know a way to unite everyone, have some healthy competition and have a lot of fun at the same time.”
“Surely you don’t mean …”
“Yes, Bill, I do … and don’t call me Shirley.”
Bon Temps Retail Park – Delivery Yard, SB Electrical Superstore
The game had been tough and Andy had picked his team exactly as Sookie suspected he would. He picked the biggest and the strongest, where Sookie picked the smallest and quickest. Sookie, Bill, Pam, Sam and Hadley had put up a good fight but eventually lost to Andy, Eric, Terry, Arlene and Jason. Portia had insisted they needed a referee despite Adele and Caroline’s declaration that they could handle such a task.
“Well.” Andy smirked. “That was refreshing! Shall we go back inside so I can whip your team’s ass again?”
“Go ahead and make your jokes Mister Jokey Joke Maker!” Sookie stuck her tongue out before continuing. “My choice of game is a four-player. From my existing team I pick Pam, Hadley and Sam.”
Andy rubbed at his chin. He knew Bill played a lot of games where he ran around in the forest with an axe because he was useless at shooting games. He, stupidly, concluded that Sookie had left Bill out of her team for that specific reason.
“I’ll pick Eric, Jason and Terry. What’s the game?”
“Just Dance.” Sookie grinned.
Bill tried to disguise his amusement at the look on his Uncle Andy’s face. Andy hated computer games with their silly joysticks and buttons upon buttons to press.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky!” He turned and grinned at his team.
Bill placed a hand on his Uncle’s shoulder and did his best impersonation of Alec Guiness. “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.”
Everyone made their way back into the building to the break room. A 32” flat screen TV had already been installed to make the room more comfortable for the staff and Bill had connected the Wii while Andy had been gathering his balls earlier. Sookie took the four controllers and plugged them in before turning the console on.
“Three rounds, one song per round. First and second rounds are last man standing between the four players on each team. Third round will be the highest scorer from each team. Clear enough?”
Everyone nodded. Sookie handed controllers to her team mates and, in the spirit of fairness, Andy was allowed to choose the song they would dance to. In the spirit of trying to make the opposite team look like asses, Andy picked Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex. At that moment, Sookie vowed she would get even with him if it was the last thing she ever did.
By Grabthar’s hammer, by the sons of Worvan, I shall have my vengeance.
And, later, when she saw Andy trying to follow the dancer onscreen to the dulcet tones of Kylie Minogue – the score was settled. Adele clapped along with the others but soon held her hand up for calm.
“The final round … Sookie versus Eric. Why don’t we make this a little more interesting? The loser spends tomorrow’s grand opening at the front door to greet the customers.”
There were some gasps and mumbling around the room. Store greeter was first point of contact and, therefore, first in the line of fire from whiny, irate and generally crazy customers who would blame you personally for something as innocuous as the traffic on the highway. Sookie and Eric stood toe to toe, jaws set and shoulders tense until finally Sookie held out her hand.
Eric looked at her hand for a second before grasping it firmly. “Like Donkey Kong.”
They stood, controllers secured, with their backs to the screen as Adele and Caroline debated over the song that they would dance to. Sookie narrowed her eyes at the older women as they giggled. Eric felt the sweat bead on his brow.
“You may begin.”
Caroline announced as the opening riff of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ filled the room.