idol prize fight |week 22| 1880 words
It was still dark when Jack got the call to come into the office, but he was surprised to find that someone else had beaten him in.
"Hey, Cole, how're you doing?" he said.
"Jack! I haven't you in a while. How long's it been? Last summer? Or maybe last fall?"
Jack grinned. "Sounds about right," he said. "I like the look—black suit, red tie. It's really sharp. Have you been here long?"
"Nah, I just flew in from the back forty not too long ago. Say, you're looking trim these days."
"Thanks! I've been changing up my nutrition—trying more turkey instead of beef." Jack patted his stomach. "I think it's helping. Now I've just got to work on my blood pressure…"
"Yeah, I'm always trying to shed a few pounds, get down to that optimal size. It's all about making the best impression you can—camping gear's a competitive business. One thing at a time, though." Cole looked around the room. "Have they remodeled in here? It seems bigger."
"It does. There's definitely more light. Can't say the furniture looks any different, though. Are they ever going to get more chairs?"
"Seriously. With this many employees, you never know who's going to get called in, or how many of them you'll need for the job." Cole looked past Jack's shoulder. "This guy looks familiar. Do you know him?"
Jack turned to look. "Oh yeah, Hank? He's great. Super easy-going, very dependable." He waved Hank over. "Hey, man!" he said. "What's it been, about five years?"
"Naw." Hank ducked his head. "It can't be that long, can it?" He nodded to Cole. "Hi, I'm Hank," he said.
"Cole. Pleased to meet you."
"So, I see you're still going with the classic all-white look. You keeping fit?" Jack asked.
Hank shrugged. "As much as I can. You know how it is—you start to sag a little, and pretty soon people think you can't do the job. Then you're out, like yesterday's news."
"I hear you," Jack said. "Are you seeing many customers these days?"
"No, not really." Hank's shoulder's drooped. "They don't ask for me as much as they used to. I'm just your basic tube-sock rep, and it's all about custom patterns now, silk this and merino that. Most days, I just sit in my cubicle and wait."
"Aw, Hank." Jack bumped him softly with his shoulder. "You just have to keep selling yourself," he said. "You know how it is. Look at the market, look at your skills, work on your brand… Maybe it's time for an image makeover? Find a way to, uh—hey, what's the phrasing I'm looking for here, Cole?"
"A way to stay relevant?" Cole asked.
"Yeah, that's it!" Jake said. "We can talk about it later if you want, Hank. I'd be glad to help out."
Hank smiled shyly. "Thanks, Jack. You want some coffee? I'm going to get some."
"Yeah, that'd be great, thanks buddy," Jack said. He watched Hank wander off. "Poor guy…"
Cole was still watching the door. "Looks like the Tech guy is here too," he said. "Look at all that gear! Damn, he's intimidating." Cole shook his head. "I've never talked to him, though. His name's Victor, right? Didn't you room with him on a couple of trips?"
Jake nodded. "Victor? Oh, yeah. But he's a complicated guy, hard to get to know. Really capable, but he kind of closes himself off from everyone else…"
"Oh. I see." Cole twisted uncomfortably. "You know, it might not be on purpose. Some people are just really self-reliant, and they don't always look outside themselves… Doesn't mean they're not friendly."
"It's okay, don't worry," Jack said. "Nobody thinks of you that way, you've always been awesome."
Hank was back. "Here you go," he said, handing Jack a cup of coffee.
"Oh, thanks." Jack took a sip. "Hmmm, not too bad."
"It's better than I remember," Hank said, "but I haven't been here in a while, so who knows? Hey, I'm going to go sit down."
"Okay. Save us a couple of places, would you?"
"Sure thing." Hank shuffled off across the room.
"Kay's here now, too," Jack said. "Did someone call a meeting? Have you heard anything?"
"Nah, they never tell us anything," Cole said. "So, I suppose you've worked with Kay, too?"
"Oh sure, we go back years," Jack said. "She's very earnest. A little nutty, sometimes, and those outfits…wow. I mean, purple and yellow together? Really? But she always gets the job done."
Cole eyed Kay critically. "She could use a little more fruit and a little less chocolate, if you ask me."
"Hey, hey, c'mon now." Jack frowned. "I think she's fine just the way she is." He crossed the room to greet her. "Kay?" he said.
"Oh, hi, Jack!"
"Great to see you!" Jack squeezed her hand. "New look?"
"Yes, I finally decided the yellow was a bit much. So, how've you been?"
"Good, good. This is Cole, by the way," Jack said.
"Kay Kars. Any idea why we're here?"
"We were just wondering that ourselves," Cole said.
"Hey, come sit with us," Jack said. "We're over there. You want some coffee first?"
"Oh no, I stay away from caffeine." Kay smiled brightly. "But thanks."
Jack guided Kay over to where Hank sat, relaxing and enjoying his coffee
"Hey, Kay, you're looking good," Hank said.
"Hi, Hank!" Kay sat down next to him. "It's good to see you. You haven't changed a bit!"
"Yeah, I know…" Hank sighed.
Jack sat next to Kay, and Cole took the spot next to him. Jack was about to say something, but sneezed instead. "Oh, god," he mumbled, and sneezed again.
"What's going on?" Hank asked. "You okay?"
"Too much cologne," Jack choked out.
"It must be the guy wearing head-to-toe green over there." Kay's eyes watered. "I hope he stays on the other side of the room."
"Wait it looks like he's leaving now," Cole said. "Maybe he was in the wrong place?"
"I guess," Jack said. "Thank god for that." He sniffled, wishing he had a Kleenex. "Huh. Who's the lady coming through the door? She's, like, wall-to-wall mascara. Not quite what you'd expect with this crowd."
"Boy, I got no idea what's going on here," Cole said. "You?"
"Not a clue."
"Maybe she's a corporate consultant?" Kay suggested.
"So, are we just having a meeting?" Jack wondered. "Or is this a prelim for something like going on a hike? Like those corporate team-building activities with ropes and trees?"
A piece of paper floated down between them.
"Oh, is that the agenda?" Hank asked.
"Looks like," Jack said. They all leaned forward to take a look. "Not too bad, only six or seven items..."
"Get a load of this clown, waltzing in on his own personal schedule," Cole muttered. "Anybody know him?"
"Nametag says 'Skippy'," Jack said.
Cole groaned. "Boy, I hope that's a nickname…"
"Right?" Kay added.
"I mean, you don't think he uses that name when he goes out in the field, do you?" Cole asked.
"Surely not." Hank looked troubled. "You have to respect the customer if you want him to respect you."
"Heck, respect yourself," Cole said.
"Exactly!" Jack squinted at the chunky-looking newcomer. "Maybe he's someone's nephew?"
'Skippy' wandered over to the coffee station, then searched all along the back wall. "What, no donuts?" he asked.
"Definitely someone's nephew," Cole said.
"Oh look, they've updated the agenda," Kay said. "They're splitting us into two groups, and then we're traveling to a remote site."
"I hope it's not too far." Jack fidgeted. "Some of these trips take days."
"Darn, I'm in the other group," Hank said. "I guess I'll be finding out more about 'Skippy' soon..."
"Whoa, it looks like we're leaving already. C'mon, you two," Cole called over his shoulder, as he followed Victor and the mascara lady out the door.
"Sorry, Hank," Jack said. "We'll catch up with you later."
"Okay, I'll see you then." Hank waved. "Safe travels!"
It was a short trip to the transport field. As the largest passenger, Cole boarded first and settled in.
The others followed in turn. Jake nestled in next to Kay as they prepared for takeoff. The mascara lady introduced herself as 'Lori,' and was soon cozying up to Victor. They confirmed they were all secured for transport, and then—
"Hey, who turned out the lights?" Cole said.
"Whyyy?" Jack moaned. "Is it a power failure? Oh man, we could be stuck on this runway forever…"
Kay shifted uncomfortably. "God, it's so cramped in here. And I thought my cubicle was packed! This is making me claustrophobic."
Victor finally spoke. "It'll be all right, Kay, hang in there. There's still plenty of room."
"It feels more crowded in the dark, though," she said.
Jack felt her tremble, and he took her hand. "I'm right here with you," he whispered. "I'm not going anywhere."
Then the flight began.
It was a horrible trip, fast and bumpy. The passengers braced themselves and tried to keep calm, each too rattled to even speak. Again and again, the ride seemed to be over. They would wait and wait for the doors to open, wondering why it was taking so long.
But then they would be jolted back into action, and everything would start up again.
Jack thought he could hear Cole mumbling through the darkness, "Please don’t let us die, please don't let us die…." But the words might just have been looping inside his own head.
The flight got noisier as they went, and then suddenly there was silence.
They quivered in the dark. "Is this it?" Lori asked.
Then they set off again with a whoosh, the flight turbulent and unsteady.
"May-day! May-day!" Cole said.
"Would you stop?" Victor hissed. "The pilot can't even hear you."
They landed with a thud, and an alarm bell sounded.
"Okay, that's not good…" Victor said.
After a moment, there were banging sounds, and then a jerk as they took off yet again.
"Ugh, I think I'm going to be sick," Jack groaned.
"Keep it together, buddy," Cole said.
They bumped to a stop, and waited again. Scratching and scraping sounds came in deafening waves, as they were heaved to and fro.
Then at long last, the doors opened to a blinding expanse of light…
"Hey, Josh, whatcha got there?"
"An Amazon delivery, left on our porch by mistake. Looks like camping equipment, turkey jerky, trail mix, and a Swiss Army knife. And makeup, for some bizarre reason."
"Nice! I love random Christmas, don't you?"
"Heh. Always. So, I'm calling dibs on the knife, dude, but you can have the trail mix if you want."
"Deal. And the camping thing, too."
"You got it. Hey, I wonder if this jerky's any good?"
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The cast of characters