Time to work on rewrites/edits on Move! That's right, the mystery novel-in-progress is, well, progressing again. Here's a peek at the first chapter where you meet the protagonist, Ruby Josen, and learn a bit more about where we're at and what's going on in the small town of Tanger Falls, Tennessee:
Ruby Josen wound her way around the people crowded at the end of the buffet table, trying to find a seat at one of the picnic tables while balancing a plate of barbeque, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and green beans in one hand and a large cup of sweet tea in the other. It was a bright, clear day and Mr. Goodard, the CEO of the firm where she worked, reserved the best picnic area next to the Smoky Mountain National Forest for the annual company picnic. Then again, beating out completion for the space wasn’t hard. Goodard Graphics did all the graphics and advertisements for every business in the Severville and surrounding areas. Although the company was established in Knoxville, the branch office in Tanger Falls, Tennessee, located just outside of Gatlinburg, brought in almost fifty percent of the company’s revenue. It made sense, considering the tourism in the area around the National Forest. Their workload was consistently high.
“Hey neighbor, what’s up?” Denise Rockwell said, squeezing in the seat next to Ruby. Denise was a graphic artist and looked every bit the part of an artist with her wild, brown hair, deep blue eyes, and bright clothes. Today she was wearing a bright pink shirt and jeans held up by a white belt with so many metal loops that she would never make it through an airport metal detector.
“Hi Denise,” Ruby said, brushing her long, blonde hair behind her ear. Denise was Ruby’s best friend and neighbor in the one and only apartment complex in Tanger Falls.
“Why are you sitting out here with the wacky artists by yourself?” Denise asked. She motioned to the tables near the podium with a plastic fork. “Why aren’t you up there with the office folks?”
Ruby glared at the executive staff with sad, blue eyes. “I’m not comfortable being around them.”
“Are you still miffed about being passed over for the executive secretary position a couple of months ago?”
Ruby looked down. “No, it’s just,” she poked at her baked beans, “Millie isn’t very nice to me. She’s a bully.”
“Is she still giving you problems?” Denise glared at Millie Banks, chuckling at the head table beside Mr. Goodard. A strand of red hair fell from her loose bun, dangling next to her porcelean skin. “I could snap her in half. She’s a stick.”Denise chuckled. “Five minutes in the sun will probably give her skin cancer. Those redheads burn easy.”
“That’s not nice,” Ruby mumbled.
“Sorry,”Denise said. “What’s the problem? Is she still trying to say you’re rude to customers and messing up work? Because that’s total crap. All the customers I work with say you’re a ray of sunshine.”
“We didn’t get off to a good start,” Ruby said. “I was late getting the paperwork done for one of the vendors when she first started and they got the payment past the due date, so we got hit with late fees. She tore me apart.”
“Ruby, everybody makes mistakes. That could have happened to anybody. And it was what, once in how many years?”
“Eleven years,” Ruby said.
“Heck, that’s the best track record I’ve heard of.” Denise paused to stare at Millie.“You know, I’ve heard a few of the graphic artists say she’s trying to change everything. A vendor called me last week and said they got their pre-production package digitally, and it nearly crashed their server because the attachments she sent were too big. I had to come to the office, print it out, and hand deliver it myself. Is she doing that a lot?”
Ruby nodded, glaring at Millie. “All the time. I try to tell her that she needs to talk to Mr. Goodard about these changes, or at least with the vendors, but she goes ahead and does what she wants. She’s always telling me I need to be more innovative and to fully embrace technology.” She snorted. “She talks to me like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know more than she does. Heck, I’ve been grinding away as their receptionist for eleven years. I was more than qualified for that job, but they brought her in from out of nowhere.” Ruby sipped her tea. “I don’t get it. Cheyenne said she’d give me a reference. I sure thought the business manager’s word would have weight, especially since she hired me.”
“Did you ever ask Cheyenne about it?”
“What, no! I can’t do that. That stuff is confidential. She can’t talk about the hiring process.”
“Ruby, quit being a doormat. She promised you a reference. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask if she gave it.”
“I don’t know …”
“Just ask her. I’m sure there’s something she can tell you without violating any sacred policies.” Denise looked around and spotted Cheyenne getting a tea refill. “Come on, I’ll get her for you now.”
“Denise, no!” Ruby said, but before she knew it Denise had jumped from her seat and was chatting with Cheyenne. She saw Cheyenne frown and shake her head. Denise glared at her and grabbed her arm, practically dragging Cheyenne to the table.
“Come on Cheyenne, we just want to talk to you for a minute. Have a seat.”
“I need to get back. I told Millie …”
“Have a seat,” Denise said again sternly. Cheyenne looked at Denise for a moment, then sat across from Ruby.
“What’s on your mind?”
Denise poked Ruby in the arm. “Go ahead, ask her.”
Denise sighed. “I was wondering. I mean, I know you hired Millie for the executive secretary position a couple of months ago.”
Cheyenne furrowed her brows. “This isn’t about that bill you paid late, is it? Look, I took care of that …”
“No, it’s not about that,” Ruby said, interrupting Cheyenne. “I was just wondering.”She trailed off and looked around.
“Ruby, what?” Cheyenne asked, irritated.
“A while back when you were taking applications for that position, you said I’d be an excellent candidate for that position. You even said you’d give me a reference for the job. I was just wondering, did you?”
Cheyenne set her jaw and glared at Ruby. “I don’t recall saying any such thing.”
Ruby’s jaw dropped. “But you did! It was right after Valentine’s Day. You said Mr. Goodard wanted an executive secretary in this office and that my long history with the company would make me the perfect candidate. And you did promise me a reference. You told me to put your name down as a reference.”
“Oh that,” Cheyenne looked around. “I think you misunderstood me. What I said was that I’d understand if you applied for the job and wished you luck. I never said you were guaranteed the position.”
“No, that’s not what I said…”
“And furthermore,” Cheyenne said, cutting Ruby off, “I couldn’t be a reference because I’m your direct supervisor. That would be a conflict of interest.”
“No it wouldn’t!” Denise said. “It makes perfect sense. Besides, don’t people usually call the current supervisor when they’re interested in hiring someone?”
Cheyenne set her jaw again and looked away. “Perhaps.”
“Well, did Mr. Goodard call you after I interviewed with him?”
Cheyenne started to stand, but Denise grabbed her arm. “There’s a question on the table.”
Cheyenne glared at Denise. “I wasn’t aware that graphic artists were familiar with office terms.”
“Oh, I’m familiar with more than you can imagine. Come on, Cheyenne. It’s a simple question. Answer it and you can go.” She chuckled and nodded toward the head table. “I don’t think the ‘in crowd’ has missed your presence yet. Now please, answer the question and we might let you get away before they see you consorting with us losers.”
“Fine,”Cheyenne said, glaring at Ruby. “The truth is that I’m not at lliberty to say whether Brett called me or what I said if he did. That’s confidential information and I’d be violating the law and putting my own job in jeopardy if I answered that question. So I’m completely within my rights to say it’s none of your business.” She stood. “I’m sorry you’re upset about getting passed over for the job. You were a good candidate, but I’m afraid Millie was a better candidate. Reality isn’t always nice and I’m sorry. If you feel you can do better, I certainly won’t begrudge you if you decide to move someplace you feel is more appropriate for your life right now. In fact, I wish you luck.” She glanced at her watch. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some people to speak with before I pick up my son from school.” Cheyenne stormed off.
“I hope she gets TMJ from clenching her jaw so much,” Denise grumbled.
“That’s not nice,” Ruby mumbled. She looked at Denise. “Thanks.”
“For what? That did no good. All we discovered is that Cheyenne’s a liar.”
“So you believe what I said about her promising me a reference?”
“I’ve never known you to lie before. Now her,” Denise snorted. “Sometimes I think she’s spent the last five years lying to me.”
“Well, at least it’s not just me.”
“Oh, I think she’s an equal opportunity type of person. She lies to everybody. That’s probably why her husband walked out on her at the beginning of the year. Did you hear about that? I heard he left her a note on New Year’s Day saying he resolved to correct the mistake of marrying her and start a new life. Things are never that abrupt unless something big and nasty happened.”
“Maybe,”Ruby mumbled. She put her head in her hands. “Oh Denise, what am I going to do?”
“I don’t know, but maybe she gave us a clue.” Denise said. “You’ve been here a long time. Maybe it’s time to get out of this rut.”
Ruby threw her fork on her plate. “In this small town, the opportunities to do that are rather limited.”
“Well, you never know what tomorrow might bring. It could be an opportunity for a miracle.”
Ruby snorted. “Or a disaster, like the past five years.”
Denise patted Ruby’s hand. “Nothing last forever, friend. Just wait and see. I feel things will change very soon for all of us.”