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Book 1 – Chapter 3 – Corpse Fox – Part 1

There are few things I can honestly say I regret. One is that I never got to tell my grandmother how much I really loved her before she died. Another is meeting with Elory Burke.

The morning started off well enough. It was Monday and I planned to wear my tail into work. I didn’t sleep well, so I had time to check my blogs early. Chet had linked to one of those furry-hater web pages, but its author had posted an addictive Flash game on it.

It’s well known on the internet that everyone hates furries. It’s the first thing newcomers learn when they log on, before they even know what a furry is. Furries are fat and sad little sexless beings who spooge constantly to Disney’s Robin Hood. They desperately pray to become raccoons because they don’t have the balls to be men. Nicer people admit that there aren’t enough of them to have any impact on the culture at large, but since it’s a politically correct world, it’s important to respect them like the cripples and the shemales.

Despite the fact that the bigot believed all this crap, I couldn’t tear myself away from the game on his site. A line of furries in silhouette ran across a field toward my steroid-pumped wigga avatar. Based on the cards I had, I could pop their ears off with a Magnum, or toss a grenade to blow their tails into chunks. Once they were exposed, I could pummel them into gold to buy more cards next round. I had enough gold for the STFU-Yiffer rocket launcher which made their ears fizzle and shoot in the air like fireworks. Then my alarm beeped again.

I left Chet a comment to thank him. “It’s like the ‘Birth of a Nation’ of Flash games,” I wrote. “Keep them coming if you find them.”

I checked the temperature on-line so I didn’t have to open the window. I had sewed a set of ears onto my hat on Sunday, and at 10 degrees with wind-chill, I’d have been crazy not to wear them.

I was far less fearful of walking in daylight with my tail. I had no problems when I joined the other commuters down the escalator into the Davis Square subway. I trained myself to be mindful of the space behind me.

I picked up a Metro paper for the ride into town. It was a biased, Bush-loving rag, but it was free. The suits around me had the same paper under their arms, and I was right there, with ears and a tail, a clearly identified affront to all that was good and holy about the American Trinity: Mom, Apple Pie and Football. Nobody cared, even when the tail brushed them.

I escaped the train at South Station and wedged myself in the crowd heading up the stairwell to street level. I didn’t mind that we were stuck at the pace of the slowest climber, but the woman behind me did. She knocked her briefcase into my tail as if I would pass it along to the person in front of me. Halfway up, she pulled out her cell phone and announced she would be a few minutes late to work. They would have to hold the meeting for her.

At the top of the stairs, I spun around to face her on one knee. I clasped my hands with my thumbs up and index fingers out. I aimed at her Newbury Street haircut. “Bang,” I said.

She blinked and caught herself to keep from plowing into me. Just as quickly, she rushed by. I bet she would tell everyone at work about me. A few of them would snicker and wish they had done it first. The legend of Cheryl the Fox had begun.

Except I rose up too fast as another foot stepped on the tail’s end. The base scraped over my skin as it twisted ninety degrees. I caught myself from falling, but I rose bow-legged. The cold went right up my back. My skirt was pulled down in the middle of rush hour pedestrian traffic. A few passing guys had a good look.

An old woman had tripped on me, and she helped me regain my balance. She was very sweet and apologized too many times. She offered to take me to her office so I could straighten up. I said I was all right. Eventually, she left me alone. I ducked into South Station and adjusted myself behind the ATMs.

My ropes weren’t working out. I had to buy a real harness to hold my tail in place.

I guess you could say my job was subversive, in a highly corporate water-cooler-and-coffee-fund sense. I worked for Littleman’s Support Networking. Our CEO founded us in the dot com boom as an experiment. We supported other companies’ software without their permission, and we did a better job. I had a stack of applications that I was supposed to learn over the coming months. I had left them in our test bed in the corner. That was Benny’s domain. He was our tech head. He didn’t look like a geek at all. He was clean shaven and wore a funky orange-plaid suit. Manager Badger let him get away with it. He said he had the best job. He tore down programs like MatLab and JAWS and wrote up the harder bug solutions for us.

We targeted companies that charged an arm and a leg for support of their products, so we could undercut them and make a profit. Half our calls were from guys who stuttered or skipped words when they explained their problems. They usually had downloaded their programs and didn’t have the validation codes, but we gave them service as long as their credit cards worked.

Benny said we’re so lucky that we can be honest about other people’s software here. He said that we’re a new breed of mechanics. My enthusiasm for breaking new programs had waned, alas, as it was so effortless to do. It depressed me that everything else I use can fail just as easily. Internet Explorer? Don’t get me started. I snagged an account from Simon so I can read Gmail in any browser I want. I preferred things simple, consolidated.

Justine was working in the cubicle across from me that day. She had started a few months ago and she had a talent for keeping her voice calm. She made Manager Badger very happy. She learned the science of snapping the earphones off to scream at her client. My favorite was when she wished on one woman, may the blue of the toilet water shower over her the next time she tried to catch a snowflake on her tongue.

Justine also had crackers. I appreciated her for that. I traded my Smarties for them. She called the sugar pellets “crack.” She even loaned me crackers when I was behind in my payments. Very few of the other support people had warmed up to her. We had a few retirees and some of Manager Badger’s in-laws. One guy was our CEO’s son from an affair, but we weren’t supposed to mention that. He didn’t look English at all, mostly Teutonic. He didn’t even get the joke about our company name, let alone find it funny. It was short for a “little man down in the village” whom the aristocracy would call on to fix any of their technical problems. I know. It was idiotic. I could see how it might be amusing, but our CEO is an absolute nutcase. I have no idea how Manager Badger got his job.

I had a secret in the right bottom drawer of my desk. I wrote a poem about Fuhrer Badger which would be discovered in case I was ever fired. I showed Justine and she approved it. It went like this:

Manager Badger has staplers and papers and capers all over his desk
With forms for vacations and certifications in piles that are so statuesque.

He’ll never forgive, or will let you outlive, any work time that’s undocumented.
He mumbles and grumbles, occasionally bumbles about with a scowl unrelented.

If you aren’t on the phone, or aren’t working alone on a program he’s told you to learn,
He’ll deduct from your check what we’ve come to expect is the pay he considers you burned.

If a caller will holler, your help has been squalor
Then Badger’s a mauler to you.
But if caller says, “Y’all’er the absolute baller!”
Then dollars will surely ensue.

Manager Badger gets up in the morning, his paperwork processed away
And the look in his eye seems to say to the sky, “Now, how to abuse them today?”

He actually wasn’t that bad, but I enjoyed reveling in the pretension.

I didn’t tell Justine about my tail. I said hi, strapped on my headset, and tried desperately not to search for ponygirl harnesses on the internet. We weren’t supposed to use it except for clients, but when the client is rebooting his computer, I can play a Flash version of Gradius or some other shooting game and they’d never know. I spent one session going through six months of ‘Ozy and Millie’ webcomics. The temptation to surf only had to shrug its shoulders and point me to the browser button. I wouldn’t search for anything Manager Badger would find objectionable. There was no telling what he had rigged up to monitor us.

When it was lunchtime, I went to trade stashes with Justine. She kept wiping a corner of her eye, but I didn’t notice any wetness.

“Crack dealer,” I said. She smiled at me, but she had to strain to do it. I accepted the sleeve, but I glanced over at her the rest of the day.

I went through two calls back to back; the second one was probably on hold during the first. The queue is always sent to me before anyone else. Justine said I was the best, but I didn’t believe it. Benny said he’s the best here, and I offered to give him some of my calls. He shook his head and said it wasn’t going to happen.

After my second call, I cracked my spine after being hunched over. I waited for the next call and restrained myself from putting porn on my computer. That was when Justine broke down. She began sobbing out loud. I rushed over. I wish I had wanted to comfort her, but my first thought was to keep her quiet. Manager Badger might have heard her.

I petted her shoulder as she ripped off her headset. The mute button was not on. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “I wish I could help you.”

I grabbed her headset and strapped it on. “Just a moment,” I said and waited for the client’s voice to see whether I should say, “Sir,” or “Ma’am.” I heard breathing and I muted the phone.

It was too late. Manager Badger was hovering behind me. He was the most calm I had ever seen him, as if he had stumbled on a daughter weeping in her bedroom. He took Justine’s coat from the wall. “Why don’t you go home,” he said.

She nodded to him and put on a good show. He held her coat for her as she slipped each arm in. She slung her purse over her wrist and walked out with every eye on her.

Manager Badger waved his thumb at the headset. “Montague,” he said, “You take it.”

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 3 - Corpse Fox.

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